Local Austin artist creates clock piece representing COVID pandemic

Hanaa Irfan

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the April 2 issue of The Daily Texan.

After a long, COVID-19 pandemic-induced hiatus, Madeline Irvine finally returned to her messy art studio in September 2020. As she tidied up, she stumbled upon a box of washers, when inspiration struck.

The washers would become a central element in her seven monthlong abstract art project called “Pandemic Clock.”

“I didn’t have any idea what I was doing other than that it was important to me,” Irvine said. “It took six weeks or more before I realized I was making the pandemic.”

Each day, Irvine rearranges the washers into different spirals on her desk, photographing the new configuration. The local multimedia artist said each different photograph represents a new day of the COVID-19 pandemic, from March 16, 2020 to the present day.

“I wanted it to have the calendar form, but for me, it felt more like a clock,” Irvine said. I could really hear that time ticking.”

The 36 configured washers all have different colors and surfaces. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has placed new limits on people’s everyday lives, Irvine said creating new configurations represents how each day is still unique.

“I think of the washers not just (as) abstract actions (that) are taken in the day … but also as distinct individuals going through the pandemic in their own life,” Irvine said.

Irvine settled in Austin in 1993 after attending graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design for fine arts and working miscellaneous art-related jobs.

“The pandemic clock is made up of two series,” Irvine said. “One is a forward moving clock, which happens in real time, every day. Retrospect is a backward looking clock, photographing each day (from September to) March.”

When business freshman Lyba Zia first read about Irvine’s piece, she said it reminded her of how infinite the pandemic has felt.

“She makes this clock that represents this endless cycle of time, which I think a lot of students experience, staring at a computer screen throughout the entire day,” Zia said.

After moving away from her home in Houston to West Campus, Zia said it feels as if time moves much faster, and her days blur together. She said Irvine’s piece provides her solace as it reminds her that each day holds the potential to be different.

“It’s not as conventional, but (Irvine’s piece) really shows a story while being relatively simple to understand,” Zia said.

Vandana Seshadri, chemical engineering junior and artist, said she uses the same intentions Irvine presents in her piece in order to track her progress.

“I kind of have the same idea of taking pictures of my work and that being kind of like a calendar for me too,” Seshadri said. “I measure time by the amount of work I’m doing.”

Like Irvine, art was an important part of Seshadri’s time spent at home in summer 2020. She said the downtime allowed her to embrace her creativity while contributing to her community amid the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

“I felt really hopeless and very isolated from everything that was happening, and I just wanted to help,” Seshadri said. “So I started a fundraising campaign and a bunch of commissions.”

Artists such as Seshadri and Irvine have used the experience of living in a COVID-19 pandemic for artistic inspiration.

“I don’t want the experience of this pandemic to be minimized in any way or forgotten,” Irvine said. “The project kept me connected to the studio when living in the pandemic took so much time away (it).”