“Blueberries”, Nathalie Bertin
Here is my first pandemic mask. It’s a concept piece that was inspired by a telephone conversation I had with my mother a week or so ago (late March 2020). She had already been self-isolating alone in her condo for a couple of weeks with only the rare trip out for necessities and some drop offs from my brother. During the conversation, I realized her anxiety levels had increased thanks to too much TV and the snowbirds that were returning from the south, going about their daily lives as if everything was normal. She was so worried about going out even to check the mail box but didn’t have any masks. She went through her recycling, found an empty, plastic blueberry container from the grocery store and cut the lid off. She stuffed tissues in the lid, got some elastic and fashioned herself a mask. Then, with rubber gloves and a couple of q-tips to push the elevator buttons, off she went to check the mail. (I’ve since mailed her some masks.) When she first told me about her make-do solution, I laughed! You have to know my mother. If nothing else, she’s always been resourceful. This was genuinely funny. On the other hand, she’s also very mistrustful thanks to a lifetime of experiences. Just as I wondered at the level of insecurity and paranoia that a person could reach, she recalled how her grandmother – my great grandmother -- had died of “consumption” (aka tuberculosis) at a fairly young age. It caused us to pause for a moment because that wasn’t really that long ago. And then we were hit with the realization that we knew nothing about our common matriarch. We don’t even know where she was buried except she went into a mass grave somewhere in North Bay, ON. Other than a census record showing she lived on Nipissing with my great grandfather, there is no other documentation of her except a general death notice. Without these two records, and some relatives’ memories, she almost would never have existed. I have to wonder how many other people are feeling this same sense of loss…?
ABOUT THE MASK: I chose blueberries atop a blueberry flower surrounded with silver beads to represent the container my mother used. Blueberries are also great anti-oxidants. She had noted that after a while it was hard to breathe through that hard plastic with all the tissue and could feel condensation build up by the time she was back in her own space. This is represented by the blue and clear beads. I used moose hide to represent our matriarchal clan. I used fur as edging to symbolize further filtration of air that could get in through the sides. This isn’t what I would have done from a design perspective but my mom definitely would have for the perceived practicality. There are also tiny beads on the moose hide symbolizing the free born particles that float around us all the time. Unless you look carefully, you can’t see the “one” that might just infect you. On the inside, there is a pocket for cedar. Another good medicine used for the prevention of chest infection and irritation.