April 12th, 2020

by Kelly McGovern

How will this time of loss, stress and anxiety affect those who didn't experience or witness it? 

I approached the subject of nearness by examining experiences I have had with my family and the way in which historic events affect generations later on. I came to this grouping of pieces because they are personal stories about how very small moments in my life were created because of much larger issues in the world. These images are all scans from my sketchbooks, which have amounted to seven volumes now of personal experience. They serve as an archive of thoughts, quotes, imagery that has moved me, changed me, as well as people and places I have photographed throughout my life. 


One of these sketchbook scans - the second one in the series, which is titled Difficult Hope - includes a story about going to a record store with my father when I was a teenager. I had wanted to get this Dead Kennedys poster, which had a reproduction of a photograph by Eddie Adam on it, showing the street execution of a Viet Cong prisoner. My dad wouldn't let me get the poster; the image made him sick because he remembered when this execution had occurred. This work examines the after effect of witnessing death and destruction in the world, how it permeates one's mind and how an image can bring back that memory. The impact that it had on me at the time was very small, but I remembered it and learned from it, and it has made more and more sense to me the older I get. 


New Meaning and Light, the fourth and fifth scans, include text taken from the memoir of David Wojnarowitcz, titled "Close to The Knives". Wojnarowitcz was an artist and AIDS activist during the time of the AIDS crisis. Though different, of course, from our current situation, the AIDS crisis was a time where illness took people away, created fear, and was wildly under-addressed by our government. The memoir dives into the personal effect of political unrest: how it changed people, how it changed the country as a whole, how it has affected the LBGTQAI+ community (and will continue to forever, generation after generation). Though, again, it was a very different type of medical crisis, it harkens to the current situation, where the lack of action taken by the US government has brought the country to where it is now: imbued with fear and uncertainty.  During this time, I can't help but wonder what this means for our future, what it will mean for the next generation - how this time of loss, stress and anxiety will affect those who didn't experience or witness it. Will the impact be large or will it be small? What shape will that impact take?


There are moments of tenderness in all these works despite their focus on loss. The isolation of this time in quarantine, I hope, will later bring us all together. I hope it brings community and tenderness that will affect the future for us all.

Kelly McGovern is a multimedia artist living and working in Philadelphia. Her work examines loss and longing in search of new meaning. At times her work portrays hope beyond despair; at others, it shows failure despite effort.