A figure’s floating head is seen in profile against a flat black background. Protruding from the back of their head in replacement of any hair is a fluorescent green circle that could be perceived as an orb or a planet. A smaller version of the same shape is seen just in front of their face. The figure has their eyes closed and tongue sticking out as if they are about to lick the smaller shape.

"Wayne Bennett, Quantum Entanglement: The Spooky Action of Desire", 2020 acrylic and Flashe on canvas

Visual AIDS Archive Intern and guest curator Journey Streams speaks with artist member Wayne Bennett about his artwork, "Quantum Entanglement: The Spooky Action of Desire", featured in the September web gallery, "Ampler than Loneliness: Documenting Collective Resilience through HIV/AIDS and COVID-19". Bennett’s piece resonates with ongoing themes of solitude, intimacy, and connectedness central to many experiences in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with Bennett, five other artists were interviewed on their experiences. Click here to watch/read the additional interviews.

Journey Streams: Wayne, thank you for joining me.

Wayne Bennett: Sure, my pleasure.

JS: Where are you calling from?

WB: I'm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, enduring the summer heat, but doing well otherwise.

JS: I'm glad to hear it. I'm really interested in hearing more about your work, and also your life during this current era of isolation. In curating the web gallery, I realized the experiences of artist members is somewhat crucial to understanding the work that you all have submitted. If you'd care to speak at all to what life has been like in quarantine, I'd love to hear it.

WB: A little backstory. My husband passed away about a year and a half ago, I'm recently retired, and, of course, going through isolation just like everybody else. So, oddly I feel like I've been more of a spectator rather than a participant in any of this. I feel like I'm an observer to everything that's going on around me. I'm home like everybody else, but I'm not facing a lot of the struggles outside of the social issues.So I kind of just feel like I'm watching everything happen around me, and I'm not really an active participant in life at this moment.

JS: I'm so sorry for your loss, first of all.

WB: Thank you

JS: I can't imagine what it must be like to be going through something this intense so soon after the loss of your partner. But this idea of spectatorship, and being outside of what may seem like the rest of the world is something that I think many of us can relate to feeling. You submitted a work titled Quantum Entanglement: The Spooky Action of Desire. I'm really interested in that "spooky". Could you speak to how this work is inspired by these current times, or how you developed this beautiful piece.

WB: Since my husband's passing—we were together for 35 years, so this has been really tricky, navigating whatever life is supposed to look like now. I had been noticing shortly after he passed that seeing other romantic relationships, there was initially an internal anger I would say. That developed more into a frustration, like "why can't I have that?" I started looking at the emotions I was feeling, and some of it felt like jealousy, some of it felt like desire, and I was trying to balance both of those.

I've always been interested in science, so I've been studying a lot on the computer just trying to get a layman's understanding. And the idea behind "Quantum Entanglement" is that particles that are always unrelated can still connect and interact. With COVID, how do we navigate something that we know actually exists on a personal level? And the idea of desire and jealousy having so many similar components? The title is the reaction. When the concept of quantum entanglement first came up, Einstein didn't think the math worked, and he dismissed it as "spooky action at a distance". He claimed it was something strange that couldn't really happen. One of the most important minds in human history didn't think that something that is real actually was real. So I wanted to play with the shape of desire and jealousy fully neutralized in the figure's head and externalized as something he was trying to connect to. In a lot of ways, whether it's external or internal, it is connected. They aren't truly separated; they connect through the concept of quantum entanglement. We just don't always realize that. So it's kind of a mish-mash of ideas, which I do a lot with my work.

JS: I love that adaptation of this Einsteinian origin, grappling with what is real through the scientific lens, and where you're taking it now. Our relationships with intimacy are so strained right now, and I think it's such a potent space of analysis, especially for you. It's such a visceral, personal experience that does translate in some universal way. Intimacy is something we are constantly grappling with now. How would you describe your relationship with the concept of intimacy during this pandemic? Does it relate at all with your experience as a long-term survivor?

WB: Oh wow. Nonexistent? [laughs] My partner and I were together for 35 years. I'm not interested in pursuing a relationship, either emotional or physical intimacy. I'm quite content with family and friends, relationships I have now. I wish there could be a little more physical connection in that regard. The whole mask, six feet, social distancing thing... It's kind of a balancing act for me. It's not anything I really crave, but the need for social connection is something that is just innate. I kind of feel like I'm walking on an unnatural path, by choice. But still, it’s not something that is human at this point.

JS: Right, completely. And in thinking about entanglement in this framework of desire and jealousy, do you see sites of possible disentanglement in your work? How do we actually make sense of what is in front of us? How does this entanglement interact with the realities of the current conditions of the world?

WB: The short answer, I think, would be no. I don't think we can disentangle. The older I get, I'm seeing more and more connectedness between everything. In the things that we see as being completely disconnected, completely disparate, there is still so much unaccounted for. On a cellular level, on a subatomic level, on a conscious level, there are connections there that I think we often push aside. Maybe because we don't agree with them politically, or socially, or internally, but we are all still connected even now when we're all locked in our homes. Behind our masks, that connection is still there. And it's necessary.

JS: I agree, and I think it's something we are having to recognize as we look for new ways to connect to one another. I sent you a preview of the web gallery since it hasn't been published yet. Did you get a chance to look at it?

WB: I did! I really like it, and again going back to my idea of feeling disconnected but still feeling connected, I really liked how the work is not just about COVID. BLM protests, social justice issues, they're within the framework of things that weren't COVID related, but are connected to our experiences now. There seemed to be this nice defiance and resistance coming through the images. In a lot of the images there seems to be a quiet resignation present in the work. As it should be. This isn't something anybody has a handle on.

One piece in particular, Gregory Farrar Scott's "Urban Mask #98", the mask made of a bicycle helmet and toilet paper roll. It's biting, funny, just a really powerful statement. And all the takes on masks in general. There is one [by Joseph Golden] that is kind of tribal-looking. For me, it was kind of a reminder that this is nothing new that we're going through. Humanity has gone through it over and over again back to the ancients. I really like the variety of masks and the different variations.

JS: Yeah, there is so much work centered around resilience and resistance. Artists' adaptations and use of the mask was really interesting to me, highlighting how the mask has evolved as a symbol so quickly to varying degrees depending on medium and location in the world. We see how the mask has become this universal iconography that we have to invest in culturally and materially as a part of the way we see each other. It's interesting to see it wielded as decoration, a site of joy even for some.

WB: It's so great to find humor in a situation that's really pretty bleak and pretty grim. It speaks to human resistance.

JS: There's so much work documenting their experiences with resistance, and also how that is somehow becoming an everyday act just in living our lives. I feel like so much of our current conditions put us in this place where we can't feel anything but the anguish that comes with self-isolation, but there is space for other feelings.

WB: I'm so glad to be a part of this project, and congratulations to you and all the artists. I look forward to seeing the gallery online and in full.