Photo Credit: Spring Yu

Creating in COVID: Mary Pedicini ’15

By Grace Talusan

Mary Pedicini ’15 can’t leave her flat for the next fourteen days. She has just arrived in London to begin a graduate program in sculpture at the Royal College of Art and is complying with U.K. protocols. 

“This year has been a lot less productive for me than I had wanted it to be,” Pedicini says. “Being in the pandemic and everything that's been going on has been making people quite sad. You have probably heard of the myth of the depressed artist and people, like Van Gogh, who are inspired by their sadness. If I'm sad, I just want to go to sleep.”  

Still, despite these difficulties, including not having access to her studio and supplies, the pandemic didn’t stop Pedicini from making art or even showing new work she made during this time in a solo show at a Boston gallery aptly named Shelter in Place. “I didn't have a studio for most of that time, so I just used things that I had,” she recalls. “I found an old dish that my mom had and poured latex onto that, which copied the pattern. I wanted to really engage with the space.”

She added cardboard and paper to create the installation, “There are Rooms which are Sometimes Forgotten,” inspired by the writing of Bruno Schulz, a Polish Jewish writer killed during the Holocaust. Pedicini had reread his work recently and explored themes of his work, wondering, “What if you can't trust the place you're living in to be stable? What is it like to be in a place and think you know it, but then you walk through and suddenly there are different rooms than you imagined. It's a space that previously had one identity, but suddenly, other identities emerge.”

The most striking elements of the installation are the two wooden hoops attached to the high ceiling beams in the center of the sunlight-filled space. Cream-colored material hangs from the hoops and floats above the wooden floor like twin spectres. There is a dreamy quality to the installation, and if museums were open, one might feel compelled to step inside the soft translucent walls. But that would be impossible, even with masks on. 

“It's fooled a lot of people,” Pedicini explains. “It's a miniature gallery.” 

Created by Boston artist Eben Haines to give artists a place to show their work during the shutdown, the space measures only 20 by 30 inches. Viewers experience the art by visiting the gallery online.

After Pedicini graduated from Dartmouth College with high honors in studio art, she stayed on for another year, continuing to create work in the studio in exchange for assisting the department. This would culminate in a solo exhibit of her work during the spring term, but the pandemic changed everything. Before Pedicini left campus to return to Boston to shelter-in-place with her family, she managed to install “Imaginary Tyrants,” which remained visible to the few remaining people on campus who happened to pass the building.

At Commonwealth, Pedicini studied art seriously along with her other subjects. “I’ve always known that I wanted to be an artist. That was always the plan,” Pedicini says. “During my time at Commonwealth, I was also thinking, What can I do with that? Can I get paid to do art?”

Pedicini says, “When I was younger, I was perfectly convinced that art would be the thing to save the world. But that isn’t the responsibility of art. I don't think you should put that on to art.” During challenging times, art may not save the world, but artists like Pedicini can return some beauty and wonder to it.

Author and educator Grace Talusan is the recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines and an Artist Fellowship Award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She is currently the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence at Brandeis University. Her first book, The Body Papers, is a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection.