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Merrilyn George

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Despite having visited the shut ins and those in prison over the years, this year was my first real personal experience of being isolated from community, when my hobby/job in college was abruptly ended because I was over 70 and our Government had deemed I was in the vulnerable group. The stages of Covid 19 management advanced very quickly along with fears of uncertainty and change. My husband of 54 years, who visits town and local family every day was shut in a bubble with me. Schools and all except essential services shut down. Churches were closed. Communication went on line. We were extremely well looked after, designated grandchildren to do our shopping, market gardeners dropped off extra vegetables and Iwi workers extra food. Life slowed down. I missed the physical hugs. I felt well protected as if in a chrysalis.

My reading at the time was Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss and Creative Strength Training by Jane Dunnewold. I enrolled in SAQA 100 days challenge with the aim of keeping focused on daily art practice, however small, and then later in Aotearoa Quilters 100 day challenge with a focus on animal, vegetable and mineral, using what I have and what I was seeing in my backyard. It was autumn with the array of colours and seed heads in the garden. In the stillness the bird song and dance was audible and visible. I was seeing much more, defined shapes and clearer colours.

There were advantages. No visitors - no need for house work and extra cooking. There was more time to do art, and I enjoyed the uninterrupted hours to draw, sew, garden and sometimes sit, contemplate and observe. I wrote a lot, about my childhood, thoughts and what I care about. I recorded thoughts for my collage series on bridges-communication. My home has big windows looking out on three sides to a normally busy small town street with the constant mountain to the north. I am reminded of the time a student said to me, “Miss you should close your curtains at night because you can see right into your house”; to which I answered, “It’s okay, I’m not doing anything wrong”. We judge basically from our own lived experience, and although you can see into houses (just like you can see the forming of another through the veil of the chrysalis) and think you know people it is the thoughts, emotions and metaphysical you cannot see. Isolation doesn’t help this knowing.

What I found personally from this enforced Covid isolation time was that I looked more closely at my own life, and the ‘whys’ and ‘whats’, and I believe that the time has allowed me to make the transformation to a better life and person. Transformation requires change.

So now to my quilt, Isolation. Through my observation of the life cycle of the green puriri moth, a species endemic to the North Island, New Zealand/Aotearoa, there was an analogy for this transformation. It is NZ’s largest moth, with a wingspan of up to 150mm. As many as 2,000 pale yellow eggs are scattered by the female moth on the forest floor. For a few months the caterpillar lives off the forest floor and then makes a burrow in the tree trunk where it lives and feeds, for a variable number of years changing its form in pupation. It emerges from isolation as a beautiful adult moth. It doesn’t have mouth parts so does not feed but lays eggs again before its life of a few days is over. During its adult life the moth is very active at dusk where they mate to continue the life cycle.

I started with my fabric making- the rusting on linen fabric and the Maori design, depicting the earth/paptuanuku and the myriad of lines made by the litter phase caterpillar after the hatching of the eggs. I auditioned my fabrics to find colours that fitted my earthy colours, but during this time I also had a spell where I decided to use up the dyes I had brought home after a workshop to dye recycled white linen and cotton garments. I was having difficulty finding the right blue and wanted a ‘duck egg blue’. I mixed cyan blue with a little yellow and very small amount of red. One of the several pieces was perfect, the linen garment scrunched and left in a bucket gave a range and depth of colour that looked good with my earth colours and the possible greens.

A cotton organdie was chosen for the moths, but needed to attach it to a fine lawn to make it a little opaque over the blue fabric. I painted a few versions because the first lot were too big and overpowered the piece. My artistic licence chose an indigenous base for design. While I was wanting to depict the change brought about by the isolation I wanted to further express the reason for transformation, hence the outline shape of the chrysalis the place of isolation and transformation, making them larger than life to express the point of it, deliberately leaving off the detail to wonder.

The isolated situation we found ourselves in would not have been the life I would have chosen, but it has taught me a great deal about myself and others. The world has been bombarded with so many sad stories over this year, that looking for the half full glass is my way of coping, and looking to the positive.