It would be easy to assume that Covid is over. It's four years since we first heard of the new virus spreading across the world, heard of the deaths, those daily statistics and started to learn that new vocabulary of lockdown, homeworking and the two-metre rule.

The world seems to have rushed to get back to normal, ditch the masks, and relegate the term social distancing to the dictionary of lost words. Perhaps we have moved on. There has even been an inquiry complete with WhatsApp scandal and political point-scoring.

But, say the creators and documenters of I remember - Scotland’s Covid Memorial, as we approach this year’s Day of Reflection this Sunday, it’s about remembering and connecting to an event that, for many, is not over yet.  The memorial walk and its sculpture tree structures in Glasgow's Pollok country park are quite definitely not a full stop.

Alec Finlay, the artist behind I remember, says there are many people for whom the pandemic is still very present. He says: “People who carry the deeper memory of the pandemic are the bereaved and those with Long Covid. Also those that lost businesses and so on. I know so many people with no help, no support.

"There are still people dying. Some research has suggested that at one point 1 in 10 people got Long Covid. There are also huge issues around heart attacks in young people.”

A report published last year showed that 100,000 more people with cardiovascular disease than expected had died since the start of the pandemic in England. A US study found that heart attacks in people ages 25 to 44 increased by 30%  over the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finlay knows all too well the enduring impact of the pandemic, partly because he has spent so much time communicating with those at its hard edge, but also because, as a sufferer of Long Covid, he feels it daily in his own life.

I remember, a series of simple wooden structures - rune-like stick figures, arranged in touching and expressive postures of support against the park’s trees - offers a place for those who want to focus their memories.

The campaign to create it was initiated and led by The Herald with a public fund launched to contribute towards the almost £250,000 project.

The Herald: I remember. - Scotland's Covid Memorial in Pollok Country Park

The wooden forms are based on poses adopted by the bereaved who had lost loved ones to Covid. They are haunted by intense feeling. Finlay recalls: “When the bereaved families were choosing their tree and making their pose, they were remembering. They were being transported back to the person they had lost.”

The memorial offers a welcoming public space in which we can remember, or stumble across, unexpectedly, our own memories - but it's not possible for everyone to get there. More can now do so through the book, titled  I Remember: a Visual Record of Scotland’s Covid Memorial, and its meditative photographs by George Logan.

The most uplifting of Logan's images, perhaps, is of an open-armed figure that seems to be welcoming a grove of young birch trees that appear in his photograph to lean towards it.

This arrangement, says Finlay, was inspired by a painting by Piero della Francesca.

“With the supports,” he says. “It’s about trying to find basic human postures that represent supplication, faith, all kinds of different feeling. The rest of the poses are all from ordinary people, but there was something very special about making that little grove inspired by the Piero Della Francesca.

"It makes me think of Sorley Maclean’s Hallaig, where the birch trees are the young women he remembers. He’s also remembering the clearances, and he’s seeing the trees as if they were Gaelic dryads. That memory is in those supports too, in a very human way – we do see trees sometimes and think. 'That looks like one of us.' We don’t do that with everything in nature.”

The Herald: I remember. - Scotland's Covid Memorial in Pollok Country Park

The photographic book follows a previous publication, a collection of communal memories, all of which started with the phrase ‘I Remember...’, and an audiobook version read by Robert Carlyle. Many of the lines bring a gulp to the throat. Among them were the following:

“I remember Big Eileen, she was a pure tonic.”

“I remember saying we love you through the glass window and knowing this was goodbye as you smiled back.”

“I remember the pride in being a key worker.”

“I remember Andrea.”

“That first book,” says Finlay, “tried to articulate in words what it’s been like to live this. It didn’t try to anticipate what people would write, didn’t tell them what to say, it was an open form, and it created such a vibrant curious, touching records, and is still maybe the only collective record that exists. There’s no public record that has that sense of complex humanity.”

Finlay had been looking for someone to create photograph and had been struck by a series that Logan had taken in abandoned orchards in the Carse of Gowrie.

“When I saw the orchard photos the quality of the light and the way the wood seemed to take almost a human-like form reminded me of the supports. I tried to make the supports relate to the existing landscape, and also the earlier landscape of Pollok.”

He and Logan first encountered each other over Twitter. They share the same interest in landscape and what Finlay calls “place awareness.”

“I kept seeing him posting about the kind of places I would go, were I able to,” he recalls. 

Finlay has had Long Covid and struggles to walk much further than the end of his road.  It's not his only experience of the limitations of disease. Long before the pandemic,  at 21 years old, after a bout of glandular fever, he was wiped out for what became decades by myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

“George’s photos were very gentle," he goes on, "and he had a way of finding the poetry in those quite ordinary places. More often a history that was in ruin, somewhere neolithic or ancient. So it wasn’t about existing complete objects - it was more about objects that had been taken back into the land. And that’s what we both like.”

What he saw in Logan’s tree photographs made Finlay feel he could photograph the artworks, and he observes, “not make them look like sculptures but capture the relationship between a column of oak and a tree.”

Finlay, the son of poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay, grew up surrounded by his father’s poem-sculptures at the garden of Little Sparta in the Pentland Hills and had long been interested by the environment around artworks as much as the objects themselves.

“When I was growing up at Stonypath,” he says, “there was a moment in my teenage years when a couple of photographers came and they managed to make photographs of the trees and garden without the poem-objects ruling. I think there’s something about some of the landscapes that both George and I like, where I think they don’t have an active human power at work.

"I like ruined hill-forts because they’ve lost their purpose, their use, and are no longer expressions of power. In the same way, I tried to make a memorial artwork where the sculptures didn’t dominate."

Logan made five relatively short visits last autumn, returning to the park in different weather, and also to capture the trees before and after they had lost their leaves.

The Herald: I remember - Scotland's Covid Memorial in Pollok Country Park

“I wanted to make the images as interesting in themselves as the sculptures. It’s a discussion. It’s a conversation. A lot of that for me is that you’re sort of an interloper. You’re eavesdropping. Or you’re wondering about what’s happening.”

The photographer is not new to the subjects of death and loss. They have haunted many of his previous projects. In Dark Time, for instance, he visited a tiny mixed woodland of chiefly beach trees where he found peace.

“At that time my father was in a care home. He had a stroke. My mother was also in a care home – so I couldn’t go very far. Most of my work is about death. For my degree decades ago I photographed people with their eyes closed because they were like death masks."

None of the photos from the book feature people who were visiting the park. “That,” says Logan, “was an important factor: not to have people. Because it was about sculptures, it was about the memorial – it wasn’t about things in a park with people enjoying the park. There’s a bench in a couple of pictures and I quite liked that because there was no one sitting on them, where there should be, signifying in a way a loss. Benches themselves are also frequently used as memorials.”

I Remember: a Visual Record of Scotland’s Covid Memorial, also contains an essay by anthropologist Dr Roxani Krystalli who, says Finlay, writes about “how often people are left behind by the attempt of power to say this event is over.”

To write her essay for the book, Dr Roxani Krystalli, also visited the site, approaching it as a guest, rather than an authority who was writing something about it. “I would visit it as anyone else would, wandering through the park, trying to locate it. I tried not to learn too much about it in advance.”

“I spent,” she recalls, “a lot of time looking for it. I thought, I’m meant to be observing and I can’t even find the memorial that I’m meant to observe. But I found it. It’s not very visible. It looks like wood on wood. I really had to look at all the trees and figure out what is memorial and what is park, what pre-existed. That process of having to look very intently was moving. It’s part of the subtlety."

Krystalli’s work is “about grief and how people make worlds in the aftermath of loss”. Having previously worked in peace-building with survivors of violence, she is now a lecturer at the University of St Andrews and involved in a project on “the politics of love and care in the wake of loss”.

It looks at, among other issues, she says, “care practices in the wake of the pandemic and how people think about incidences of mass grief and other kinds of losses”.

“I think,” she says, “there are sometimes generation-shaping events and this pandemic will be one of ours – the same way that 9/11 was a generation-shaping event.”

Krystalli observes how even the creation of memorials can sometimes be part of a desire to cut short and move on, to not acknowledge the way that a trauma is still part of people’s lives. Though that is clearly not there in I remember, the urge has been there around Covid, to get back to what we call normal and behave as if it is all over.

The Herald: I remember. - Scotland's Covid Memorial in Pollok Country Park

She expresses concern about memorialising things as if they are done. “In what I used to do in the field of peacebuilding, there would be a point where you would decide ‘those are the war dead and the war is over and we’re done counting and here is the memorial for them’ – whereas I think the lingering effect of Covid, not just in the sense of new infections, but those who missed preventative tests or care, we’ll be dealing with the effects of illnesses not diagnosed in time.

"There is the lingering grief, the lingering Covid in people’s bodies – I think all of that is continuing to unfold so we will have to memorialise in a way that doesn’t put a full stop at the end. That’s very hard to do, to allow for an ellipsis that says this is ongoing."

Krystalli was among those deeply affected by loss during the pandemic. Her mother died, though not of Covid, in her homeland of Greece. She was, “one of those people who died without ritual, without me being able to travel to be with her.”

Finlay, Logan and Krystalli all have very different experiences of Covid. Finlay caught the virus three times and suffers still from Long Covid. Logan, who lives in rural Perthshire has never had it. Then there is Krystalli, who not only lost a loved one, but also is immunocompromised and still lives in a continued state of vigilance.

The first day of reflection, initiated by the charity Marie Curie, took place in 2021, on the anniversary of the start of lockdown. It has now shifted to the first Sunday of March in line with a recommendation by the UK Commission on Covid Commemoration.

“How do you pick a memorial day?” says Dr Krystalli. “The start of lockdown is not the start of the pandemic, it’s not patient zero. All of that speaks to how difficult it is to commemorate when there’s no firm beginning, there’s no firm ending and yet everything in between is completely real.”

“There was no ending moment. I sometimes think people thought it would be like when World War Two ended with parades and the troops came home. But it was more a weird feeling of looking around and thinking, ‘I guess we’re doing this.’ And of course the end came for different people at different times and for some people, myself included, it hasn't really come at all.”

READ MORE: "Robert Carlyle broke down." Alec Finlay on Covid Memorial

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One of her concerns is that in our rush for return, there has been a failure of imagination and a lack of acknowledgment that there is no going back. “I think the most peaceful ways to live with what has been happening require a complete reimagination as to who we are to each other – as opposed to any idea that we will go ‘back’ to how things were before.”

“I don’t think pre pandemic is available to us anymore – that doesn’t mean that people aren’t acting as though it is. But I think if we allow ourselves to be changed by how connected we are to each other, for better or for worse, I think generative things can come from all this pain. I think that requires suspending denial, suspending a linear view of time.”

This day of reflection comes in the midst of the UK Government's Covid-19 inquiry – and media coverage that has, so far, seemed to dwell more on political point-scoring and the question of WhatsApp deletions.

Both inquiry and memorial are part, however, of a process of healing, observes Krystalli. “In my peace and justice work, people talk about pillars of reparation. It’s acknowledging there isn’t any one way to remedy and repair harms that happen during war and so one of those pillars is commemoration – and that’s some of what the memorial is doing – and another is accountability and truth telling and so I think of the inquiry and the memorial as similar but I think they do different work towards these processes of truth-telling and memory-making.”

She notes however, “there’s very little public appetite for the kind of truth-telling that’s unfolding at the inquiry."

Finlay echoes this. “I’m very connected to the Covid bereaved families group and seeing them at the Covid inquiry, you realise they weren’t looking for the gossip about WhatsApp. They were looking to say how it felt not to be with their loved one.”

The day of reflection is another opportunity to remember, to share, support and listen, but also to acknowledge all those affected, including those still suffering from the disease.  

As someone who has Long Covid, he feels a deep connection to them. “There’s a particular thing when you’re in touch with people who lost their life and never got better, who were abandoned. There is a particular thing with that grief which just was never allowed to be resolved. And now you have people saying it’s over, but for many it’s not.”

This Sunday, a minute’s silence will be held at 12 noon as part of the day of reflection. Members of the public are invited to gather at the Riverside Grove site of the memorial close to Pollok House for 11.45am where Finlay will read I remember passages following the silence.