Cindy Lu is alert to how cold Boston can be. In ordinary times, people are sometimes brusque. But under stressful conditions — like during a pandemic — latent hostilities can burst out and linger in the air.
Lu, who is Asian American, has been treated like the vector of the disease that’s frightening people and disrupting their lives, rather than as a neighbor, equally frightened and thrown off track. It’s an extra layer of isolation in already isolating times.
Lu grapples with this by trying to introduce warmth where the cold and fear have closed us off from each other. A favorite bench in Franklin Park stands for her as a place where people from the many communities that mingle there might sit close together in peace.
Bringing the sensibilities of her scientific background, Lu intervenes with an act of protection, wrapping the sitting space of the bench in parafilm, a material used to safeguard samples in labs.
Though elegant as a temporary installation set against a sterile winter landscape, the piece is also a performance.
In the cold, the parafilm is stiff, unwieldy to work with. In a laboratory it wouldn’t be done, but an artist can breathe on the material to warm it up, so Lu does, softening it as she goes about wrapping the bench and the space. Her breath — this doubly-toxic thing in the minds of some — becomes part of what is preserved, part of what preserves, and what perseveres as pandemic time plods on and we endure.
With the ritual of wrapping, breathing on and stretching the parafilm, time slows down.
A fully wrapped chrysalis sits in apparent quiescence. Snow comes and goes.
And then, when the length of a quarantine has passed, Lu unwraps.
The bench is reborn, ready for spring to come. Faint graffiti invites us to “sit”— cautious but hopeful after prolonged enclosure. Yet with this unveiling, questions linger: What has been lost? What has survived? Is transformation possible?
Instead of discarding the bench’s parafilm shroud, Lu continues to work it with heat, compressing the lightweight material along with traces of breath and dirt until it is solid.
Placed in a raised sanctum at the base of a nearby tree, it looks (almost) natural. As if it belongs there.
— Heather Kapplow and Cindy Lu
Cindy Lu is an artist-scientist with a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology and post-doctoral training in neurobiology. She has been making art full-time since 2017. Drawing from her scientific training, her artistic practice generally emphasizes process and focuses on experimentation with materials and techniques, as well as research-based projects. Just as her scientific research focuses on morphogenesis (how organisms or parts of an organism develop into various complex forms or shapes), her artwork uses materiality and transforming spatial forms to try to capture intermediate states of processes that are in flux. She is interested in intermediate states or inflection points in processes that have the potential to take multiple different trajectories. Her work dwells in these intermediate states, whether in an effort to anticipate possible end states, or to reimagine alternative trajectories. She lives and works in Boston.