The coronavirus wasn’t the only phenomenon that spread across the globe like wildfire in 2020 and 2021. Another, more insidious ailment sent pulses racing, stomachs churning, and blood pressure skyrocketing: anxiety. Especially in the early days of the pandemic, we all had big, scary questions: would we catch the virus? What if we lost our loved ones? How would we pay the rent? Would the world ever be the same? Uncertainties like these can give even the most stoic among us a panic attack. At times, the sense of doom felt like a massive wave gathering behind us, threatening to crest and pull us under.
German artist Jörg Gläscher captures this feeling in a stunning series of temporary land art installations he created as part of a visual pandemic diary called C19. Though he works primarily in the field of documentary photography and photojournalism, covering stories like violent division in democratic governments worldwide, he also produces more personal works that tell emotional stories. During the pandemic, with his usual work disrupted, Gläscher retreated to a secluded location near Hamburg, where he spent his days gathering deadwood and constructing nine massive waves on the forest floor.
The slightly wavy branches are gathered and woven into wave shapes symbolizing the way in which nature can be an all-destroying force, capable of bringing even a rich country like Germany to a complete standstill. The largest of the waves measured 13 feet high and almost 30 feet wide. After photographing each sculpture, Gläscher dispersed the branches back to the forest floor, allowing that pent-up energy to calmly dissipate. The resulting images have a sense of eeriness, tension, and foreboding, especially with the foggy winter woods in the background. The unexpected and uneasy visual of undulating branches building into tides across the forest floor echoes the pandemic-induced feeling of helplessness in the face of nature that many of us personally experienced.
Describing the wave as “a periodic oscillation or a unique disturbance in the state of a system,” Gläscher explains how creating and destroying these waves reassured him that things aren’t always as bad as they seem. “Nothing is ever as it seems,” he says. “Are appearances deceptive? No, they are not necessarily deceptive, but they join me on a journey, wash over me, swirl through me, make me anxious, retreat, and then rush towards me all over again. I can go through them, stop them, touch them, but everything comes to a standstill and goes no further. I have to let it go. Standing up, the second wave rolls over me. It is unique, it was unique. I lift my head, take it by the hand and recognize the vibration and the recurring sensation, and with it the fear disappears. Should it come, I will be ready.”
Gläscher’s “The Diary Complex: C19” series is all about channelling the emotions that a major disruptive event can elicit in a positive, healing way. Other works in the series include small forest huts made of branches, portraits of people mid-scream, storm clouds, discarded latex gloves, and 14 pages of hand-typed corona RNA.
“It is about finding a fruitful, rather than fearful, way to deal with fear,” Gläscher explains of the series. “It’s not about allowing the fear to grow into the spirit of things, or unleashing the ghost of fear; it’s about not allowing the fear to become neurotic; when that happens, the fear can become an instrument of populism.”