Among the courses hardest hit by the move to online learning are art classes, which often require an abundance of special equipment and the ability to utilize a variety of different spaces. Many assignments for these classes have been reimagined in order to accommodate day-to-day life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students enrolled in Borders and Bodies (ARTS 291.01), however, are in luck: Their final project asks them to explore freedom within the constraints of boundaries and bodies by producing a digital work through the collective efforts of others.
Though the assignment was written prior to Kenyon’s suspension of on-campus learning, Daisy Dow ’22 and Ani Parnagian ’23 realized that the pandemic has given the assignment a whole new meaning. Since the most prominent boundaries in people’s lives during the COVID-19 crisis are those present in their homes, Dow and Parnagian have decided to focus their projects on the way people interact with doors and windows, respectively, during the pandemic and are sharing them with the world through their new Instagram accounts. In the process, they each have created a space to make sense of the pandemic while also remaining connected to others.
In search of a way to feel more connected with her friends and peers, the idea to collect videos of people walking through doors for her project, which she is calling “Socially Undistancing,” came to Dow while in quarantine with her parents.
“I don’t really feel like I’m still interacting with my friends in the way that I normally do. I’m only seeing people from [the] neck up—I don’t know if people are wearing pants,” Dow explained. “You see people walk through doors all the time. [But right now] I’m not seeing other people walk through the door, except for the two other people in my house … [My project is about] reminding yourself that while things seem closed off, there’s always a chance that they’re going to open up to something familiar to something new.”
Parnagian had a similar train of thought when she decided windows would be the centerpiece of her project, “The Window Stories.”
“[Windows are] the only way we have connection to the outside world in a physical way,” Parnagian said. “The only other connections are virtual; it’s pretty ironic that the only way I can share these is on Instagram.”
As submissions for their projects arrive, both Dow and Parnagian are beginning to see a variety of results. While Parnagian had anticipated that people would photograph others looking out through their own windows, some people have interpreted her project differently, and have taken photos of others from the outside in.
“[Seeing people inside] adds another fun layer, because you get to see them in [their own] context, rather than just walking or doing something outside,” she said.
Though Dow’s project encompasses the most simple of acts, people have still found creative ways to express themselves in their submissions. One person, for instance, submitted a video of them walking through a door while carrying their dog. Another—Dow’s favorite of the submissions thus far—includes the person walking through the door while wearing a onesie and shooting a NERF gun.
“The more creative people want to be, the more they want to express themselves coming through a door, [the better],” Dow said. She added, “That’s how you should always walk through the door.”
Just as the submissions are getting more creative, both Dow and Parnagian have manipulated their submissions to foster a work of art with a coherent message, though in different ways. Parnagian, for example, asks that her submissions be sent without context, and then captions each photo with a haiku.
“The whole idea of putting together pieces of a life without knowing anything about them allows you to look at everything out of context. Seeing these mundane actions and put[ting] a story behind it was just really interesting to me,” she said.
Dow, on the other hand, has been layering video submissions on top of each other to create one image that encompasses several people walking through a door in hopes of creating a sense of unity.
“The layering is supposed to connect people with someone in a complete[ly] different place who they may or may not know, but, by the simple act of opening a door, they automatically have something in common,” Dow said.
The need for community and genuine human connection is at the center of both “Socially Undistancing” and “The Window Stories.” Though it is not yet clear whether these projects have had their intended effect on others, it has certainly made Dow and Parnagian feel more connected to others as they gather submissions from people all over the world.
“[My project has] given me a nice window into other people’s lives, first into the [lives of] friends who are sending me these [photos] and what they might be seeing, but also into [the lives of] these complete strangers, which has been really fun,” Parnagian said.
Dow echoed this sentiment.
“[‘Socially Undistancing’ is] just a nice reminder that, yeah, we are all socially distanced, and who knows how much longer that’s going to last, but socially, we can still be really connected, even if we’re physically apart,” she said.
You can submit photos and videos to “Socially Undistancing” or “The Window Stories” on their Instagram accounts, @sociallyundistancing and @thewindowstories_, respectively. To submit to other ARTS 291.01 final projects, visit https://bordersandbodies.weebly.com/.