Garden Smoke

Garden Smoke
Judy Chicago
Photography and Printing by Donald Woodman

There is some argument about when the first COVID-19 case was reported in the United States but it was sometime in early 2020. Although we had been following the news about the pandemic in China and then, its devastating impact in New York, we still had very little understanding of how it would affect our lives or the economic havoc it would cause for so many people. At first, I was glad for the sudden quiet precipitated by the March 23rd “Stay-At-Home” order in New Mexico. Our lives had become overly busy and incredibly demanding which affected my studio time. But I felt guilty about my feelings in the face of the hardships afflicting so many others.

Of course, we were fortunate; even though we were confined at home, we live and work in a spacious building with enough room for our staff to practice social distancing once they were able to return to work. But everyone had to wear masks which made it somewhat difficult to understand each other. And like everyone else, we weren’t able to travel much (except by car), socialize (except via zoom), eat at our favorite restaurants or see/much less hug our friends. And as the months went on, these restrictions became increasingly odious.

At one point during our many months of confinement, I thought I’d amuse myself by reprising my early days in California when I began my “Atmospheres”, which were intended to soften and feminize the man-made world. My friends and I simply drove around placing colored smokes wherever I wished; in parks, on beaches, in the desert and even in the national forests, which would be unthinkable today. But then I discovered that fireworks were prohibited on all New Mexico state and federal lands, possible on private property only with cumbersome permits.

Consequently, over the summer of 2020, I decided to fill our own gardens with colored smokes in an effort to express my feelings during this period; also, to attempt to wrest some moments of beauty from these difficult months. In these prints, I surrounded the images with words that are intended to convey the many emotions I experienced as we – like the wafting smoke – came up against all the impediments to our freedom brought about by the coronavirus. Sadly, I learned that this disease emerged as a result of our mistreatment of other creatures and disdain for our environment. Moreover, it became apparent that, unless we change course, it is only a harbinger of what’s to come.