Cindy Lu
Appearance of Quiescence

A tryptic containing three consecutive black and white photos of the same park bench in a snowy park space. The initial image is the park bench alone, centered in the frame. The second photo is framed identically except that half the bench is wrapped in strips of a light, flexible material that makes it appear cocooned. The third image follows the pattern, but the bench is wrapped almost entirely. The surroundings are the same in all of the photos, other than the shadows which change in length and direction.
Appearance of Quiescence, Fig. 1a-c, installation and photography, 2021

[Image Description: Three images side by side of a bench in a park, showing the bench alone in the left image, partially wrapped in strips of a flexible material in the center, and almost entirely wrapped in the image on the right.]

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

A black and white close-cropped image of a person holding a long sheet of thin film-like material close to their open mouth. The person is seen from the nose to just below their shoulders and is wrapped in a winter jacket.
Appearance of Quiescence, Fig. 1d, installation and photography, 2021. Photo by Faith Johnson.

[Image Description: An image of a person holding a strip of semi-transparent material close to their face.]
A black and white photograph of a snowy park area. Centered is a lone park bench tightly wrapped in strips of a thin flexible material, making it look cocooned or mumified, with the arm rests straining against the covering. Bare trees stand skeletally in the background.
Appearance of Quiescence, Fig. 1e, installation and photography, 2021

[Image Description: A three-quarters view of a bench wrapped in strips of thin material in a snow covered park.]
A partial view of a bench, seen in black and white, in the snow. There are bare, skeletal trees in the background, and the word SIT is faintly spraypainted onto the back of the bench.
Appearance of Quiescence, Fig. 2a, installation and photography, 2021

[Image Description: A cropped black and white photo of a park bench in the snow.]
A black and white photo shot from above of a park bench on which rests a loose mound of lightweight, film-like strips of material.
Appearance of Quiescence, Fig. 2b, installation and photography, 2021

[Image Description: A pile of discarded plastic wrap-like material on a bench.]
A white stone nesting in the space where the branches of a tree join together as the trunk, seen in black and white.
Appearance of Quiescence, Fig. 3, installation and photography, 2021

[Image Description: A stone placed in the crook of a tree trunk.]

Artist Biography

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.