Keep Your Distance...Six Feet, Please Virtual Exhibition curated by Sarah Comegno ('21)

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.

Courtyard Cass Tech HS, Detroit, 2008, Andrew Moore, Digital Print

Andrew Moore, American, b.1957

Courtyard Cass Tech HS, Detroit, 2008, Andrew Moore, Digital Print

Andrew Moore’s photographs strongly communicate a sense of place, and in his series capturing places around Detroit, these places are spaces decaying, or in transition. Courtyard Cass Tech HS shows the school abandoned and left behind, frozen in its last moments of use. The classrooms, clearly seen through the large windows, contain school supplies, chalkboards still containing writing, vacant desks, and piles of objects left behind. While devoid of humanity, the image communicates a strong sense of those who used to occupy this space. Those who inhabited the space are not only preserved in the memories of their time, but also in the images captured of the objects left behind. This image feels as if it could have been taken at the end of March 2020 when all students, teachers, and administrators quickly left their classrooms as schools across the nation were abandoned indefinitely. The classroom is such a deeply personal and formative space, in this work, Moore captures each room’s individuality, even without its human individuals. Now, the concept of the classroom space has completely changed, but the memory remains.

© Andrew Moore, Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery.

Man Size, 2011, Richard Mosse, Digital C-Print

Richard Mosse, Irish, b. 1980

Man Size, 2011, Richard Mosse, Digital C-Print

In this work, Moose depicts young soldiers walking through a lush and almost magical looking landscape. Man Size is part of Mosse’s Infra series that examines the way conflict and war toll on beautiful landscapes such as the one we’re viewing here, in the Eastern Congo. Through his use of Kodak Aerochrome film, the chlorophyll and green pigments found in the leaves and trees surrounding the figures appear as bright pink and red hues, creating the mystical and fanciful aspect of the work, contrasting the horrors of war committed on the beautiful landscape. Mosse furthers the juxtaposition between the activity and events of war and the landscape through his use of this film, and highlights the concept of place and one’s surroundings. Through the pandemic and quarantine months, there has been a seemingly large return to nature and the outdoors, as it is deemed safer to interact in this setting given our current situation. Moose’s photo challenges that, when recontextualized to our current moment, and showcases that while the environment is strikingly beautiful, the defeated figures centered in the work have seen the atrocities of war, and do not see this as a peaceful and safe place for rest.

© Richard Mosse. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Hangers, 1979, Sandy Skoglund, Cibachrome Color Print

Sandy Skoglund, American, b. 1946

Hangers, 1979, Sandy Skoglund, Cibachrome Color Print

Much of Sandy Skoglund’s work can be categorized as installation photography, one of her earlier photographs, Hangers, embodies this genre perfectly. Her installations, often filled with vibrant colors and odd found objects, seek to engage and disorient the viewer from their own surroundings. Seen here, the lone figure is entering a space geometrically constructed by bright yellow walls and other objects, as well as repeated arrangements of blue hangers that give the work its dimension. There is an almost uncertain timidness that the figure exudes while observing and beginning to enter this room, it feels uninviting, and full. The photograph makes clear that the space is the subject, and this figure is a secondary feature. The hangers leave no room to be, or breathe. Many rooms we enter today feel this way, as we timidly enter hoping to abide by new protocols, observing lines and ‘X’ marks taped on the floor, signifying traffic patterns and where it is deemed safe to sit. The overwhelming presence of these hangers and their pattern feels similar to the presence of signs and reminders to stay apart, which ironically cover doors and walls of rooms we enter in order to congregate together. The presence of the individual disrupts the patterns in this scene, as we disrupt the regularity and sterility of our environments.

© Sandy Skoglund, 1979

Friends and Enemies Series (Bleeker and Wrisley), 1999-2000, Julie Moos, Type C-Print

Julie Moos, American, b.1966

Friends and Enemies Series (Bleeker and Wrisley), 1999-2000, Julie Moos, Type C-Print

Julie Moos’ work presents the viewer with a pair of high school students; it does not give the viewer any context of where they are, or who they are to each other, except for in the title of the series, ‘Friends and Enemies’. To capture the series, Moos inserted herself into a high school a year after the tragic and infamous Columbine shooting. She then learned the drama and social politics of the school, and photographed the students in pairs; we do not know whether they are friends or enemies, and they didn’t know who would be photographed together until immediately before this image was captured. These images reflect that in times of tragedy, or an incredibly challenging year such as this, these social politics fall to the wayside, and are so small and unimportant. This concept resonates with our campus, in that we all had to buy-in and follow the rules in order to keep ourselves and one another safe, and be able to inhabit the space and place of Reynolda Campus. Today, many high school, colleges, and other academic institutions were not able to gather in person for a fall semester; this image of two women standing somewhat closely without masks on would not be possible. Their distance, however, the negative space between them, calls to mind the six feet distance we must always maintain for the health, safety, and security of our time on campus, and reminds us of the fragility of the situation we aim to preserve.

Courtesy Fredericks & Freiser, NY

Seed Stage No. 58, 2008, Corin Hewitt, Digital Pigment Print

Corin Hewitt, American, b. 1971

Seed Stage No. 6, No. 10, No. 24, No. 30, No. 58, 2008, Corin Hewitt, Digital Pigment Print

Corin Hewitt’s work is largely based in installation and performance art. Originally exhibited at the Whitney, Seed Stage was a room and studio space in which he worked on the piece as a whole, routinely modifying it. Both organic and inorganic materials, like food and compost, were used in the creation of the piece, which contributes to Hewitt’s contemporary engagement with the traditional still life. The prints, all photographs from the exhibition, are part of a series Hewitt has commented on, “I want that question, when one’s looking at the photographs, to be whether or not the photograph is a product of a prepared action for the image, or whether the photograph is a documentation of action that was improvised.” The images capture the space inside this makeshift studio that was constructed specifically for the piece. While Hewitt’s intervention created and then manipulated the installation, producing it to what is captured in the photographs, but his own commentary on how when left alone, details that the objects also have their own process on effecting the space. The images are also devoid of human life, but not of the work of the human hand. This exploration of space and how Hewitt interacted with these objects, leaving a trace, but no actual record of his own direct intervention in the documentation. One feels disoriented and searches for clear dimension and placement in the photos, but is overcome with the objects depicted. The work as a whole continues to grow and change as there are many living parts acting independently from Hewitt’s agency, reflecting the broader theme, and explores how we can interact and modify natural processes. It also begs viewers to ask the question about our trace on our own surroundings, and what will be left of our impact on this time.

© Corin Hewitt

Spanish Bath (Vertical), 2003, James Casebere, Digital Chromogenic Print Mounted to Plexiglass

James Casebere, American, b. 1953

Spanish Bath (Vertical), 2003, James Casebere, Digital Chromogenic Print Mounted to Plexiglass

Casebere’s Spanish Bath depicts an area of a Muslim royal complex in Spain that has now been flooded and abandoned; like most of his practice, this image captures the notion of space and place incredibly well, and leaves the viewer with a sense of unease because of a lack of figures in the work. Casebere further engages with the notion of places and interiors in that the photograph captures a model of the original space, no larger than a table, constructed using basic materials. While the work heavily engages with the study of Muslim influence and engagement with Western cultures, one can see how the themes of spaces and study of architectural structures are most prominently featured, as Casebere has complete control over how he presents these reconstructions. The photographing of such spaces as vacant, and left behind beg the viewer to study and question who may have made use of the space before this time, and how it may be occupied. The large dimensions of the work also distort the notion of the photo capturing a small scale representation, and places the viewer into this area, forcing direct engagement and becoming part of the piece, an almost otherworldly space to step into.

Courtesy: Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

Catch/ Caught (AC & SS), 2002, Collier Schorr, C-Print

Collier Schorr, American, b. 1963

Catch/ Caught (AC & SS), 2002, Collier Schorr, C-Print

One cannot place the figures depicted into a specific space, but can feel their trust and intimacy in their body language. After years of studying the bodies and physicality of wrestlers, Schorr’s Catch/ Caught is a work within her series that encapsulated the notion of connectivity of flesh between individuals and how they take up space. Schorr once commented on the series noting, “I was the only woman in the room, but after a time, the bodies became neutral, more flesh than men. The practice room was a place to observe a kind of physical contact and exertion that actually brought about the appearance of spiritual transcendence.” This close contact and physical exertion in an enclosed space would not only be impossible today, but captures how we have traditionally explored our own physicality in the past. The study of flesh and its functionality and mobility has happened continuously throughout the history of art, but Schorr takes this exploration a step further and observes and identifies its relationship within spaces. The image visualizes the trust and connectivity between the teammates, but also depicts a longing we have to be close to one another, as human beings. The dark and unknowing background lets this image transcend time and place, but cannot be inserted into our current moment, when such closeness is not permitted.

Reproduced with permission of the artist.

linz diary, 2003, Emily Jacir, C-Print

Emily Jacir, American, b.1972

linz diary, 2003, Emily Jacir, C-Print

Emily Jacir’s work is largely influenced by her Palestinian heritage, and the ideas of national borders, and identifying with certain places. Centered around the ideas of lost narratives, stifled voices, and movement through time and space, she uses many different elements of modern media to convey her message. Linz Diary, a series of images captured from a webcam feed, encompasses many elements typical of her work. Jacir gives the image a description, informing the viewer of her positioning, “curled up into a ball hiding” in the foreground of the image, next to the fountain. The rest of the community passes through the square, and she seemingly remains anonymous and unnoticed. Her use of herself physically and visually in the work reinforces the qualities of loneliness and isolation as the world continues that many are feeling during this year. This image, taken from a time in which we would never imagine being prevented from leaving our homes, showcases the natural human behaviors of exploring and congregating in a space like this square. Jacir, alone, contrasts this tendency, and lets the world pass her by as she isolates in plain sight.

© Emily Jacir

Keep Your Distance...Six Feet, Please was curated by Sarah Comegno ('21).