After two years of unthinkable loss and isolation, we find ourselves adapting to what has been referred to as “the new normal.” In our most optimistic moments, the pandemic was framed as an opportunity to address the social and economic failures of the system in which we live and envision a path forward. Yet, in this “post-pandemic” reality, we find ourselves compelled to return, without skipping a beat or time to mourn, to the life before the rupture.
Tender Presence serves as a site for rumination. It is an opportunity to meditate on loss, resilience, and possibility. The immersive installation is a new chapter in Magid’s continued Tender project, which she began in 2020 with Creative Time. In its initial manifestation, 120,000 newly minted 2020 pennies served as a vehicle through which to explore human vulnerability and the effects of the coronavirus on both a personal and national scale. The text “the body was already so fragile,” taken from an article addressing the precarity of the United States economy, was incised into the edge of each penny—functioning as a scar and an enduring reminder of the toll of Covid-19. Throughout the course of 2020, Tender Pennies found their way into the US economy through individual transactions made across the five boroughs. Tender will remain in circulation for at least forty years as dispersed and defuse memorial.
Magid’s new work, Tender Presence explores the city of New York at the height of contending with the realities of Covid-19, and lockdown, through an immersive film and live sound installation. Located in the neoclassical landmark of The Dime, formerly known as the Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburg, the project brings forth the architectural similarities between financial institutions and sites of worship. A vacant vault sits where a church altar would be found, flanked by imitation Corinthian columns and illuminated by clerestory windows. Today, the once grand bank sits decommissioned and in disrepair, reflecting the condition of and dissonance between our economic and collective wellbeing.
Cut flowers caught in a moment between life and death usher the public into the bank. These bouquets are presented on tiers reminiscent of those found outside of bodegas throughout New York City. The floral installation simultaneously echoes the businesses that were the cornerstones of communities throughout the pandemic as well as the memorial function that flowers so often serve.
At the center of the installation is a film that navigates a city marked with the signs of the pandemic, as masked individuals engage with the essential businesses and services that kept the city afloat. In this context, pennies are minted, engraved, and disseminated. The Tender Pennies pass hands through gestures that feel dissonantly intimate during a time when human touch was feared as a primary mode of viral transmission. The audio for the film is played live. Eight musicians create a sonic landscape centered on the breath that was robbed of many infected by the most aggressive cases of the coronavirus.
Tender Presence is a pause—a moment of reflection on what we have endured and what the pandemic has wrought. It is a reminder that the challenges and loss experienced during the pandemic were not unprecedented, but rather amplified. The body was already so fragile.
— Justine Ludwig