COVID Bubbles: Californians Dress for Emergence

Robin Lasser & Adrienne Pao
Billboard locations throughout San Jose

Project overview

Social and familial connections have been strained and frayed by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The creation of two COVID “Pods” are intended to represent the social, familial and solitary bubbles from which the community is beginning to emerge. The Pods, and the community models activating them, represent disproportionately impacted populations in San Jose, primarily Latinx and Asian American Pacific Islander residents, and convey the beginning of safely moving out into the world as COVID-19 protocols are loosened or removed — a spring awakening. The artists worked with local community based organizations engaged in the COVID-19 public awareness campaign to identify the models for the project. Having the installations activated by community members, rather than models, empowers and motivates resilience among impacted populations.

Accents of color and traditional apparel representing Latinx or Vietnamese culture are incorporated into the pieces.  Vietnamese and Latinx students at San Jose State University and local organizations helped create “text bubbles” —  large balloons which floated above or within the installations and  highlighted harm reduction messages to achieve emotional connection with the audiences. The messages are written in Spanish, Vietnamese, and English, and take into consideration cultural variances of expressions that convey aspirations of returning to “normal” that can be realized if harm reduction protocols and practices are followed.

The spirit of the work is intended to provide a sense of magic, to uplift and imagine a hopeful future- achievable by following the examples provided in the harm reduction messaging.

Ten billboards located  throughout San Jose will display photographs of the artwork.

About the Artists

Robin Lasser has served as co-lead artist for community engaged projects nationally and internationally for over twenty years. Her socially engaged artworks include public health issues (Eating Disorders in a Disordered Culture/1990-2002), as well as environmental and social justice projects. Most recently, Migratory Cultures ( highlights San Jose´ Stories, including stories from Vietnam and Mexico. For the past 15 years, Lasser and Pao have created a series of “pop up” pieces of wearable architecture that hold stories pertaining to the communities they are engaging with. These narratives embrace environmental, and social justice issues.

Lasser is a Professor of Art and head of the Photography Department at San Jose´ State University. The students attending her classes represent the demographics of the city at large including Vietnamese and Latin-X. Lasser’s desire to better understand and serve her students continues to be a strong influence on her community engaged art practice.

San Francisco Bay Area born and raised, part Native-Hawaiian photographer, Adrienne Pao, is currently engaged in two culturally and photographically based projects. Hawaiian Family Portraits looks at the influences of Hawaiian fantasy on individual identity in contemporary Hawaiians, her family members. Her provocative collection of Dress Tents, with artist Robin Lasser, brings images of 21 century females into sharp focus. Both projects investigate notions of tourism in real and imaginative landscapes, and involve a combination of performative and staged scenarios. Adrienne received her MFA in Photography from San Jose State University and is currently Director of the School of Photography at the Academy of Art University.

Follow the artists

Artists Website:    @adriennepao

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