Visualizing the Air We Breathe

(photo by Madalyn Rowell)

Where we lived in my neighborhood in Prior Lake was not so separated from the spaces that were left wild. A large portion of my free time was spent in forts constructed out of logs in a marshy wooded area between our house. A pond crept into our lawn. 

My youthful days shaped my desire to explore landscapes that are both familiar and foreign to me. Now as an artist, I work at an intersection of science and art. I ask questions, research ideas, quietly observe, and engage with the world around me. 

A vital part of my current practice includes long hikes and exploration of remote wilderness. My art asks questions about how our human bodies relate to the ecological systems that surround us and support our existence. 

I think about boundaries — the self-imposed edges that we create around ourselves. Most of us have psychological separations in the social and political realms of our lives, but we might also imagine borders between our human lives and the wildness of ecosystems.

My work explores barriers, patterns, and tensions between infinity and closed space. I use air quality data and imagery that resembles sky to create depictions of interconnection. I use color gradients in my work to communicate optimism — a reminder of infinity and refusal to choose sides. 

This past year, I have been interested in exploring the idea that the air we breathe is the same. It gets recycled through your lungs and mine, and through the plants and other living beings on this planet. Over and over, it is recycled for millennia. 

The current pandemic is an illumination of the interconnectedness of life on this planet. We are connected in so many different ways — biologically, economically, socially, and emotionally. Reduced levels of global pollution during the COVID-19 pandemic, in tandem with our shrinking human economy, is evidence that our systems are interdependent. 

Normally, we may think only of our discreet physical bodies. With coronavirus, we pay closer attention to the invisible particles we absorb, ingest, and expel. Virus makes it easier to envision how we overlap in microscopic ways. Athough the transfer of contagion is terrifying and deadly, it  enables us to see how we extend beyond our physical bodies. 

While each of us is experiences COVID-19 in a differently — sickness, financial crisis, deaths of loved ones — the pandemic urges us to dispel our illusions about  separation. 

Since the arrival of COVID-19 in Minnesota, I have had moments where I need to remind myself to breathe. What are normally automatic processes become strained. 

The arts help all of us process, question the status quo, heal from trauma, rediscover our purpose, and imagine a new future. 

I am still very much processing the spectrum of what COVID-19 has brought into our lives — from invisible to visible. It has not yet generated new visual content that is distinct from my previous work. But I am taking the idea of interconnection literally, and working on blurring the edges of my work in a way that pushes it beyond its physical bounds. For example, I am using fluorescent paints on the sides of the canvases to case a glow on the wall around each piece. 

“Recherchebreen – Extremities”

In the “Recherchebreen – Extremities” image, you can see an example of what this looks like on the wall. 

“Northern Lights – No. 1” with wall render

“Northern Lights – No. 1” is a test canvas I have created recently to see how I can manipulate the colors that reflect onto the wall.

At home I cannot control the lighting like I can at the studio. We don’t have any white walls, so I have not been able to see what this actually looks like in a gallery setting.

I am learning how things look differently when seen in different environments.

Lindsy Halleckson (she/her) creates art that lives at the intersection of art, science, and environmental activism. Her work has been shown in exhibitions across the country, and she has received numerous grants, fellowships, and residencies.