A Light Emerges from the Darkness
COVID-19 has brought everything in the art world to an abrupt halt. Art shows are hanging in suspended animation in shuttered galleries and art spaces. With no openings to attend, no studio visits scheduled and no idea when things will open up again it’s difficult to find ways to engage in meaningful ways outside of our own computer screens. As we all incubate and wonder what the world will be like in a post COVID-19 work, the curatorial collective, Wavelength have taken the first steps into the new world with a remarkable new project. #Pandemicprojections is an impromptu series of public video projections developed in response to current social-distancing efforts in place to stop transmission of COVID-19. This public intervention consists of silent videos projected from one curators’ kitchen window on Main Street in Singac, New Jersey – against a 70’ section of wall on a commercial building across the street.
I have known the members of Wavelength since my grad school days at Montclair State University. Jeanne Brasile is an artist and curator, and Director of the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University and Gianluca Bianchino is an artist, curator, and educator. I’ve had the pleasure of viewing #pandemicprojections from my car since I live right in town. It’s been a welcome elixir for COVID-19 blues.
1. Wavelength has curated a number of shows focused on the converging of art and science. What possessed you to project out your kitchen window onto the side of a nail salon in the middle of a pandemic?
Jeanne was truly missing the social engagement that characterizes the experience of a curator. The necessity to curate compelled her, much like an artist is compelled to create under whichever conditions exist. What does a curator dowithout a gallery? A previous experience with a series of social interventions in public spaces motivated her to project ambient video of a coral reef onto the wall across from her home one evening when she was bored during quarantine. She shared the effect with Gianluca who, impressed with the result, proposed a program of artists’ video projections. Gianluca was inspired by Italy’s balcony performances – real world creative acts resulting from the pandemic – and saw an opportunity for video to play a similar role in addressing the isolating and demoralizing effects of social distancing while not transgressing any laws. For us, the important phenomenological moment occurs when artists know their video is being projected in large scale in a public setting but can’t physically be present, thus they have to fill in the experience. This position also holds true for the audience. As for the curators, while present, they don’t get the gratification of the audience and artists’ presence to validate their experience. There’s something very Allan Kaprow-esque about the whole situation.
2. I’ve noticed a meditative theme in quite a few of the video selections. Tell me about your curatorial vision for the artists videos you have been choosing.
We selected a broad set of hopeful prompts – Nature/Rebirth/Spring/Future – to overcome the onslaught of horrible news being slung at us each day. It’s also spring, and we’re stuck inside, not really able to experience nature’s annual reawakening of life. It’s an optimistic outlook and we wanted the theme to mirror the positive interactions we hoped to catalyze with this social intervention. The original test video Jeanne projected of the coral reef was teeming with bright colors and soothing movements. It was a serene and happy experience and we thought it was much needed in this moment. Many of the videos incorporate the landscape – almost as if personified or a protagonist along with the people shown in the videos. I think the pandemic is heightening people’s relationship with nature and making them realize our tenuous position in the universe, not as apart from or above nature. This theme has been very predominant. Dancing is also another recurring theme. I think spring, warmer weather and the sun make people want to get moving! – so does being locked in your home all day. There’s also a lot of bright geometric shapes and swatches of color – like painting being performed.
3. The Singac section of Little Falls NJ is a quiet area. How have the neighbors responded to #pandemicprojections?
Most of our neighbors are rather non-plussed. The event is not aimed at getting in-the-flesh participation and we’re in a neighborhood where people are more interested in football and fishing. We’ve had incidental visitors that stopped after driving by and seeing the projections, a guy from Elmwood Park that recognized the building we’re projecting onto from our live feed and has begun attending in person, and there are neighborhood dog-walkers and bikers that for the most part ignore us. A friend of one of our neighbors across the street stopped by. He thought the projections were cool and asked Gianluca which phone app he was using to find and project the videos. He wanted to know how to get the app so he could do it too. I think he was disappointed to know the projections were coming from a projector connected to a computer inside a building. Our most palpable connections happen on Facebook and Instagram during our live feeds, which was what we had hoped would occur. We’re doing a performative act in tandem with our audience on social media as we mutually enact the event in the virtual world. It’s very ironic considering we are generally critical of social media and the distance it creates between people, but now it has become a lifeline.
4. How has the project evolved after the first projection? What has surprised you?
The first projection was a test run outside of Jeanne’s window and was meant only to ‘draw’ using ambient videos to pass some time and liven up the neighborhood. The project has generated much more interest than we had anticipated, for one. We’re getting visitors from Korea, Italy, Hungary, Oregon, California, Switzerland and all over the country. The most surprising thing is how much banter there is between visitors and how we have essentially formed this small community, even if for a temporary duration. We’re also surprised and grateful not only for the number of artists participating, but for the artists we have had the opportunity to work with a track record of amazing museum shows, residencies and fellowships, as well as artists with representation by well-known galleries. They’re showing alongside emerging artists, so there’s this secondary layer of democratic principles in action. Not only are we giving the viewers agency to talk about the work from their perspective during our screenings, but we are putting everyone on parity with one another. It’s like a metaphor for these times and the sentiment that “we’re all in this together.” But really, I don’t think we’ll truly know the full scope of what was achieved until some time has past. History is never of ‘the moment.’ It is always constructed in hindsight.
5. Leslie Heller on the LES in NYC recently closed it’s doors permanently because of COVID-19. The art world as we know might not exist when this is over. Do you think #pandemicprojections could be a model for the new art world that might wait for us on the other side?
Wavelength curates on the fringe of the art world, that is our modus operandi, and this project is an outgrowth of that. What we are really interested in is this project’s impact on people now. By generating a conversation within the community, we hope to help make visible a larger body of work that may have otherwise been without a physical space for viewing. How this project will live past the pandemic age is uncertain and out of our control. There’s a record of the interventions on Facebook and Instagram through archived live streams, but who knows what resonance that might have moving into the future. Our real interest lies in the phenomenological moment.
6. What’s next for Wavelength post COVID-19?
No idea. We’re just taking it moment by moment and right now. One thing we are looking forward to is we are going to organize a screening of all the videos on a long loop when we get the ‘all clear’ to hang out again. We’re going to invite everyone to come watch in person and celebrate together. It’s going to be a blast!
7. Where can people watch the videos you’ve highlighted so far?
Thanks for asking!
Wavelength is a curatorial collaborative founded in 2015 by Gianluca Bianchino, an artist/curator, and Jeanne Brasile, a curator/artist. Their projects explore the relationship between art and science via immersive exhibitions, interviews with artists/scientists/curators, artists talks, critical writing and symposia. Wavelength takes part in the growing conversation between art and science, particularly in the realms of physics and astronomy. Wavelength’s curatorial practice considers phenomenological art informed by scientific principles – concerned more with manifestation than representation.