Creativity in the cards Artistic sisters combine interests to chronicle pandemic experience

When the COVID-19 pandemic ushered the world into lockdown in March, sisters Natalie Baird and Ariel Gordon began working on a poetry and visual art chapbook called Pandemic Papers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/08/2020 (944 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When the COVID-19 pandemic ushered the world into lockdown in March, sisters Natalie Baird and Ariel Gordon began working on a poetry and visual art chapbook called Pandemic Papers.

The unbound collection of 75 pieces of paper, each featuring handmade art, poetry and bingo, officially launches Thursday as Phase 1 of the series, which explores what it means to live in and through a pandemic.

Gordon is a Winnipeg-based author and editor, while Baird is a visual artist, filmmaker and community-based researcher with a background in environmental science.

Prior to the pandemic, the sisters — who have a 20-year age difference between them — would share notebooks back and forth as a way to connect as siblings and document their experiences.

“I’ve been a writer for most of my life and Natalie has been an artist for most of her life,” says Gordon, 47. “A couple years ago we started this way of connecting our arts practices. I’d write in mine and she would draw in hers and then 20 minutes later we would switch and have sort of these composite artworks.”

When Winnipeg went into lockdown in the middle of March, they wanted to keep working together, but knew they had to adjust their process a bit for safety.

“We didn’t want to be pushing one notebook that we both touched a lot back and forth,” says Gordon. “So we put together two boxes of paper and every few weeks we’d switch, so she would draw on the things I had written on and I would write on the things she had drawn on.”

They would sanitize the boxes when they traded off — and four months, two boxes and about 75 sheets of paper later, Pandemic Papers was born; the collaboration has been published by Winnipeg publisher At Bay Press. 

“I was very drawn to finding these markers of things changing and time passing,” says the 28-year-old Baird, who would capture the world with photos and use them to come up with ideas for drawings. She says the project helped the two document “the edges of our experiences.”

“Even though we’re sisters and living in the same city, we had different experiences.”

“It’s been a really useful way to document all the ups and downs,” adds Gordon, whose pandemic-themed bingo cards are featured in the papers and will be a part of Thursday’s event.

“I wanted to draw people in and make it participatory,” she says. “People would joke about the bingo card for 2020 having murder wasps and I was like, I’m just going to do a bingo.”

The bingo cards include events typical of a normal Winnipeg summer, such as first mosquito bite, goose attacks and high pollen counts, as well as pandemic-specific events — or events specific to the very strange year that 2020 is proving to be — including murder hornets, anti-Asian racist attacks in Vancouver, finding a latex glove on the ground and antiseptic-wipe shortages.

The physically distanced, in-person launch takes place Thursday at 5 p.m. at the back of the Laura Secord School playground (980 Palmerston Ave.), adjacent to the Wolseley Farmers Market, where market vegetables, baking and ice cream will be available for purchase.

Activities on the schedule include live drawings by Baird, live readings by Gordon and bingo with plenty of prizes to be won. Event organizers are asking that everyone wears a mask and follows distancing guidelines. Copies of Pandemic Papers will be on sale at the event for $35.

Twitter: @franceskoncan

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Frances Koncan

Frances Koncan
Arts reporter

Frances Koncan (she/her) is a writer, theatre director, and failed musician of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent. Originally from Couchiching First Nation, she is now based in Treaty 1 Territory right here in Winnipeg, Manitoba.


Updated on Wednesday, August 19, 2020 8:35 PM CDT: Corrects references to Thursday

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