FRANKFORT — COVID-19 changed the world as we knew it. The Oliver Art Center “Kiss Me, We’re Dying” art installation embraces surgical masks as canvas to evoke the pandemic’s emotional impact.

The collaborative work by poet and educator Jennifer Sperry Steinorth and multidisciplinary artist Gretchen Carr is on display through Nov. 1 at the Frankfort arts center. The exhibit explores human vulnerability with collages consisting of masks, autumn leaves, gauze, pastels, ink and torn pages from discarded books.

A soundscape created by Carr reflects COVID-19’s sonic environment and accompanies Steinorth’s five accordion-bound mask books and five suspended pieces.

While the installation weaves together a complexity of sentiments brought on by the pandemic, Steinorth conceived the exhibit in 2018. The work expressing aversion, grief, human frailty, heroism and transience became uncannily appropriate to current times.

“I could not possibly have foreseen the way this work created two years ago would anticipate issues now at the forefront of our collective consciousness,” Steinorth said.

It portrays the poignant paradox masks arouse in confronting risk, power, trust, fear and relationship.

“The discord between people when someone becomes vulnerable is a barrier to intimacy and close connections,” she explained.

Steinorth’s deteriorating autumn foliage framed by masks suggests change.

Select text from torn pages of outdated books compel the viewer to examine their own mortality.

Carr describes her “Kiss Me, I’m Dying” contribution as a sound diary documenting the pandemic. The 20-minute, 20 second (2020) piece incorporates personal experiences and pandemic responses heard across time and distance.

“I don’t recall the birds ever sounding so wild and uncontrolled as in the spring of 2020,” Carr wrote in an artist statement describing her work.

“Between the continual phone alerts and media reporting the grim statistics, there were the Italians who sang from their balconies.”

Carr’s soundscape embodies the singing Italians and frenzied bird songs, a heart monitor and ventilator, pertinent music selections by Giuseppe Verdi and Johann Sebastian Bach, dogs barking into the night and the closing of a door — “because we didn’t welcome guests into our homes,” she said.

“Kiss Me, I’m Dying,” expands on everyone’s’ notion of what art is, said center executive director Mercedes Michalowski.

“It’s an immersive exhibit in which seeing and feeling brings the message home. I hope people take away a sense of comfort and calm,” she said.

The display isn’t the first Oliver Art Center exhibit to shake a few norms.

“We’ve had political shows before in which the purpose was to evoke conversation,” said Michalowski. “We want to give people something to think about.”

Feedback shows “Kiss Me, We’re Dying” accomplishes that mission and more.

“We were pleasantly surprised at how people are impressed,” Michalowski said.

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