About the Project
Remarkable Presence is an immersive art installation and AR experience that includes thousands of small, paper suitcases, representing the total number of COVID-19 related deaths in Arizona.
As of January 2023, over 32,500 people in Arizona have died of COVID-19. They were people with family and friends, children, pets. People who mentored others and changed lives. They are gone, and all of their belongings and memories are left with the people involved in their lives.
During the COVID pandemic, my own sister was dying of cancer. I began going through her belongings with her while she was still alive and then again after she died. There were objects, mementos, projects half-done and work from the past, tucked away in boxes and suitcases. All of these things she kept were now mine to decide on what to keep, give to other friends, donate, recycle or put in the trash. They would become someone else’s things to go through again in the future. I imagined all of the things my sister owned and had ever created being packed tightly into a suitcase and then bursting out of it when opened.
As Arizona came to lead the world with the highest COVID-19 infection rate, over a hundred people were reported dead each day. For each one of those people, there was a family devastated, like me, who was faced with going through their loved-one’s belongings and making decisions.
I decided I needed to make something that represents and honors each one of these individuals. So, I’m making a paper suitcase for every person in Arizona who has died of COVID. Some of these are pop-up suitcases that include information from over 450 obituaries related to COVID in Arizona.
These were initially installed mainly at the Walter Art Gallery in Scottsdale but also in other satellite locations where I hosted public events to distribute the suitcases. The community was invited to receive a suitcase at these events with the agreement to emotionally tend to that person’s memory and belongings. Additional exhibitions of this installation are currently in planning.
I hope that these events and this work will be an opportunity for us to share in the grief we’ve experienced over the past year and a half. I hope it will give people the chance to think or talk about the person they miss.
Collective Grieving Events
Throughout the original exhibit dates, I held several events I’m calling “Collective Grievings.” Throughout the pandemic, memorials and funerals have been put on hold “due to COVID’, delaying or suspending the grief of family and friends. For my own sister, her memorial didn’t take place until months after her death and then only local Seattle friends could attend. Only two family members, including myself, could be there. I learned how important gathering is to have a small sense of closure and how this suspension of collective grieving extends and silences our suffering.
Whether community members have directly lost a family member or friend, nearly all of us in Arizona know someone who lost someone. We are all grieving this loss. These events took place at the Walter Art Gallery, Practical Art and Vision Gallery in Chandler where people safely gathered to receive an empty, numbered suitcase from the installation. The only thing I asked is that each recipient agree to emotionally tend to the person’s belongings and memory, even if they don’t know exactly who that person is. If we can address this pain and loss together, maybe we can better acknowledge the impact the pandemic has had on us all, rather than sweeping it under the rug and “moving on”.
Remarkable Presence Augmented Reality
In addition to the physical presence of nearly 18,000 suitcases, this piece includes an augmented reality (AR) experience both in the gallery space and anywhere you can access the AR app. For those unable or unwilling to attend the public event, the AR element allows you to get a sense of the volume of loss Arizona has experienced, while being able to get in touch with the reality of these individuals lives.
(I recommend you first download the Hoverlay app on your phone)
This piece is made possible by the generous support of:
A grant from Awesome Without Borders
A program of the Harnisch Foundation
A grant from the Walter Hive
Individual support from the following:
In honor of all lost to COVID
In Memory of Chacho Martinez
Lisa Tolentino and the Esler family, In Memory of Annie Morales (Los Angeles) and Noel Guirao (Batac, Ilocos Norte, Philippines)
Lawrence & Tiana Golding, In Honor of Johnny Lee Gardner II
In Memory of Joseph Skutches
In Memory of Deiedre Leisure
In Memory of Jerome Miranda
The Wolf-Donnay Family
Mark and Debra
Jill Krantz Bernstein
Wilhelmina Veronica Hassell
Nathan Simpson & Trista Sobeck
Ms. Shawn Rorke-Davis, Jennifer B., Rachel D.
Dr. KPC Hudson
Carol and Dave Saker
Chad Urso McDaniel
And many more who wish to remain unnamed