Essay

Uninvited distance

The past three months have been a strange time for all of us. All our normal ways of behaving, both big and small, have required reconsideration. As confusing and terrifying as this has been for many of us, it might have been a good time for artists, because with their work artists can transform our current reality and show perspective. Many of us turn to art to get through tough times, be it through music, movies, series, or even creating art ourselves, such as drawings, paintings, texts, songs, etc. For me personally, I have done both during the corona lockdown. When the ‘intelligent lockdown' of the Netherlands started, I thought I was going to have a harder time than I ended up having. My works have thrived because I have been less worried about the process looking perfect. I was working from the comfort of my own mind and home, and didn’t have to think about how I should present what I did and how it would look. This gave me a sense of freedom to experiment more and make my works more personal. On top of this, the time pressure of starting and finishing a new project every week pushed me to explore more things instead of getting stuck in the research phase. With the limits I had in the tools that were available in my home, I came up with more creative solutions. I chose to explore media such as websites and audio that were easily accessible to me.

Solitude

For the first few weeks after school had closed, some of our original assignments continued and some were put on hold. There was lots of uncertainty and confusion about what was happening, how long this would take, and what the new way of working was gonna be. Also our running assignments weren’t tailored to the decentralised way of working yet. So when the first official theme week started, I was excited to make a fresh start in working on new projects. We only had two days of class with the solitude theme, with each day being a separate day program. This led me to see the themes as short experiments, instead of pathways to a final project.

There was a decentralised excursion planned on Monday, where we were asked to go into nature to gather images of and information about a spot we chose. I did not feel comfortable going outside during a pandemic when it was not absolutely necessary, so I chose to instead explore my own outside space, which is my balcony. I documented it with the intention of optically enlarging the small space I was bound to during quarantine. I did this first by taking photos of it with my fisheye lens attachment for my phone, and later by recording the audio of the road I live at. The loud sounds of traffic passing by make my small balcony feel like a part of something bigger. On Tuesday I edited these sounds to play around with the spacial feeling of them. The experiments with image and audio have remained separate experiments thus far.

Escapism

A prominent form of escapism for me and many others is hiding behind a screen. A screen contains a whole world of its own, that is easy to escape to when the situation around you is unpleasant. We even use these worlds to escape our own thoughts, drowning out our mind and refilling it with quick, superficial information that puts us at ease compared to our own hectic minds. To combat my own screen overload, I made the work for this theme analog. My mind was a busy place due to much uncertainty, and I wanted to represent this in an analog way. My starting point for this was an audiofile I made, where short, high-impact drum sounds pan from left to right super quickly. To capture the business of my mind I made a flip book. I found a video by stop motion artist Andy Bailey where he made a flip book in which he only used dots to tell a story (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCPdPc553yE). I was inspired by this format and the simplicity of his way of storytelling. I made a 10 page flip book, in which the formless blobs bounce and land on the rhythm of my drum sound, and are placed according to how far left or right the drum sound it represents is.

Frustration

Many aspects of quarantine and life in general are very frustrating. In one morning I wrote down as many of these frustrations as I could think of. I came up with a list of 44 frustrations. I felt a sense of relief after writing them all down, and getting them out of my system. In visualising these frustrations I emphasised this relief. By addressing the frustrations you feel, they can fade away, if you allow yourself to let them go. My first work for this theme, ‘frustrations.txt’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUIFLJP4U64) represents letting go of frustrating thoughts to return to a state of peace. It shows my desktop while I’m closing separate .txt files with my frustrations written down. As these windows are closed one by one, a video is slowly revealed of my favourite environment to relax.

My second work (www.frustrations.nickylamaker.com) emphasises the feeling of frustration rather than the relief. Sometimes frustrations are very stubborn and hard to let go of, and they can come up without a warning. I represent this on this website by now making the pop ups in frustrations.txt interactive on your own screen. By clicking the text ‘frustrations’ my frustrations will unfold right before your eyes, inside your system. You now have to either close your tabs or close every single pop up by hand, which is a frustration in and of itself. On top of this, as you close them you are confronted by many of my frustrating thoughts. So if you are feeling frustrated, want to feel frustrated for some reason, or want to frustrate someone else; this website is your place to be.

Resistance

The 1,5 meter society is a strange phenomenon. It is not humanlike to keep that distance from each other, it feels unnatural. Physical closeness and touch brings us comfort and makes us feel connected. We need it to fulfil out social needs. It is currently forbidden for us to come close to and touch the people we care about outside of our households. This creates a strange and constant tension in social settings, where it is difficult to fully relax. I constantly have to be aware of having to keep distance, which is opposite to the meaning of social interaction.

The 1,5 meter society means that the space around a person, as a circle with a diameter of 3 meters, is a forbidden space for others to enter. This forbidden space is not fixed. As a person moves, the space is available again for others to take up. This means that if someone else is in a spot where you want to be, you are powerless to get there and have to wait for them to move away to access that space. I wanted to represent this back and forth in a medium that is very prominent for all of us right now, which is our screens. The one place where we do not experience this resistance through distancing is online. So to make social distancing an all-inclusive experience, I created a website called Title (url) where everyone’s mouses have to be 1,5 cm away from each other (fig. 1). When your mouse tries to enter occupied space, it will be rejected. If you want to click a button that someone else is occupying, that’s too bad for you. You are now forbidden from using it.

Zine

My zine is about random, unexpected run-ins I have had with fellow lurkers or community-participants online. I have turned these conversations into audio files. With my own voice I tell my side of the conversation, and an electronic voice reads out the other person’s messages. You can listen to these messages at *not finished yet*.

I first joined Twitter in 2013, to get closer to the artists I was a fan of. I would never really participate in their fandoms, I would just follow lots of fan accounts to get an idea of what was happening inside these communities. Usually I wouldn’t even interact with those accounts; I enjoyed lurking from the outside in, watching the group. However every now and then I would see someone on my timeline I wanted to interact with. I would then respond to their tweets or send them a private message to get in touch with them. Some people would only respond very briefly, but some I have had lengthy conversations with that turned into long term online friendships, some lasting for years. I am still on Twitter to this day, lurking in online communities. Lurking online seems to be relatable to lots of people. Almost everyone who has any online account has had an unexpected conversation with a stranger when lurking online.

Outro

When I look back on the things I made, I see the fun I had when I was not forcing myself to instantly make a perfect end result. Part of me sees my experiments from the first two weeks as aimless, because they had and still have no direct aim or goal. But they make me smile, because I had fun doing them. And maybe these experiments did not imply a finished project directly, but the experience I had from thinking outside the box will come with me into future projects. They inspired other projects in later weeks.

Quarantine of course has not been all roses and sunshine. I too have felt scared, isolated and unsure at times. But I am grateful for the experiences I have had within this way of working. Being stuck with myself has forced me to feel what excites me and what doesn’t, and to take this more seriously. It also has broadened my horizon to see multiple perspectives of one work, by getting feedback from different teachers throughout the week. I have learned a lot, but I do look forward to things getting back to normal. The way things ordinarily are isn’t so bad after all.