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Jonathan Bumble

first performed on May 14, 2021
14th Street, New York City, NY
performed three times in 2022


Brooklyn, NY


The Covid-19 pandemic required our public face to be masked to protect ourselves and others from spreading the virus. While masks are more optional since the vaccine became widely available, and we are able to freely hug our friends in greeting once again, some of the ways we move through the world may be forever changed—fewer people commuting to offices, fewer handshakes, more distance. This pandemic wasn’t the first and won’t be the last.

I wear an art garment inspired by a plague doctor costume from the seventeenth century modernized to resemble contemporary medical PPE. The beaked mask and wide brimmed hat are meant to reference the black death; the jumpsuit, modern pandemics; everything taken together to create an overall effect of 1970s fashion.

The fabric is printed with love letters to NYC, to those we’ve lost, to Black Lives Matters protests (racism is also a plague), along with poetry and snippets of overheard conversations. The costume also incorporates botanical drawings of medicinal herbs, illustrating the four humors (Sanguine, Melancholic, Choleric, and Phlegmatic) near their associated organs. The form of the writing is inspired by the visual poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire, whose visually playful poems expressed the suffering of WWI, and who himself died from the Spanish flu. The head-to-toe protective suit exaggerates layers of separation, but the writing visually expresses what a covered face cannot. This costume is meant to give lightness and warmth to coverings associated with death.

As the Modern Plague Doctor, I move along 14th Street dispensing prescription cards printed with writing from the suit and information about medicinal botanicals, offering healing through humor and a connection to nature and each other. I ask, “How have you been feeling through the pandemic? Is there anything you’ve been struggling with? Can I offer you a prescription?” Depending on the answer, I may offer a Sanguine card featuring Rose for opening the heart; a Choleric card featuring Marshmallow for cooling inflammation; or a sunny Marigold encouraging the recipient to “Talk to a Stranger.”