Keep Your Distance...
Six Feet, Please
Our contemporary moment has completely changed the way we interact with one another, and in turn, the traditional notions of space and place, both indoors and outdoors. Even our presence in museums, a traditionally prescribed ‘ritual’ as written by Carol Duncan, and others, is now shifted. There is no place in our society that was immune to the effects of the ongoing pandemic, and the adjustments that are now required of indoor spaces. Even in the liminal atmosphere of the museum, we are constantly reminded of the changed world outside. In a time of complete uncertainty, some of the only constants in our new world era are the six foot distances we must keep, the masks we must wear, and the anxiety that accompanies the fear of close contact.
The works included in this exhibition capture directly or indirectly the ways we have historically interacted with our surroundings, other individuals, or the ways the artists themselves have chosen to interact with particular spaces. Many can now be recontextualized to relate to the strict guidelines we must adhere to when interacting in spaces, or the lack of spaces in which to interact. As we’ve studied, art is often recontextualized to the time in which it is viewed, whether the artist intended this or not. Ironically, this exhibition will never have a physical space to inhabit; all visitors will have to view the selection of works presented virtually. Its titular phrases come from the plethora of signs around campus and in public spaces, and ‘six feet please,’ specifically, was a polite request by an older woman to a friend and I while waiting in line for a coffee, when, for a moment, we got a bit too close.
The photographs address a myriad of critical issues in addition to capturing distinct or unplaceable spaces. Now, many of the photographs featured would not be able to be captured or replicated in their initial process as there are increasingly strict guidelines of how to inhabit space as this worldwide pandemic progresses. There is a present overwhelming sense of group nostalgia for the time that has come before this, a theme seen strongly in this grouping of works as well.
I have chosen photography as a medium to highlight in this exhibition because of its ever present nature in our contemporary society. It captures larger themes, movements, ideas, and feelings in only fleeting moments, as we continuously see in the reproduction of photographic material in the mass media. Photography, as a medium, is now accessible to all people; it is seemingly ubiquitous, and commands change and disseminates information through its instrumentation as a medium. Photographic material of this moment has already begun to solidify and catalogue this year in perpetuity, it reveals to us the ways in which our interactions with space have changed, but the inherent power of congregation, and groups coming together to unite around a common goal. Congregation, a similar theme of human unity and understanding, is now not possible in ways it historically has been; many of the works exemplify feelings of alienation, loneliness, but also this togetherness we all strive for, and miss in this era of distancing. Photography, while directly capturing what is seen in a view finder, inherently warps our world in its transmission of three dimensional objects, people, spaces, places, etc into two dimensional representations. The medium specific nature of this translation also allows artists to manipulate the imagery and depict space and place as they see fit, not always how it may appear in the physical world.
The pieces I have chosen from the Wake Forest University Collections echo the notion of interacting with each other, how the body takes up space, and places as a whole, whether they be internal or external, or even in our own bodies. From Collier Schorr’s personal and intimate commentary on bodies and space, Julie Moos’ uncertain and unplaceable relationships, Emily Jacir’s public exploration of bodies and activity in space, to James Casebere’s haunting and empty faux settings, the pieces range widely but capture the presence of people, and what it means to have a space or place.