A new exhibition at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts examines social distancing’s impact on the art community.
Running from Sept. 24 to Jan. 9, the exhibition - a collaborative effort between Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation and Arizona State University’s Cooperation in the Apocalypse research team - includes multiple 3-D pieces that explore how being socially distanced has made us want to congregate more than ever before.
“I think there’s something interesting about disease in general because we’re united by it in this bizarre way,” said Pamela Winfrey, the scientific research curator with Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute and the exhibition’s co-curator. “There’s something about there being nobody who is out of the realm of getting sick that is really interesting and I think it gives us a more global perspective on cooperation.”
Even before homing in on the pandemic’s impact on arts and our social structure, Winfrey was curious about the role that the virus played in society generally.
“We were actually thinking of doing the show on cancer but then COVID-19 hit, so we went with the other C word,” she said with a laugh.
About a month after the declaration of a worldwide pandemic by the WHO, Laura Hales, curator of learning and innovation for Scottsdale Arts became interested in isolation’s effect on other artists.
“This idea started at the same time as the pandemic,” she said. “I am an artist working during the pandemic and I was curious what other artists were doing because this is such a global event.”
From there, she began reaching out to other artists and asked if they were making any art related to being socially distanced.
What she discovered was that some artists were doing so in an abstract way.
Hales described one piece that featured a couple trapped in a house who were agitated with each other and she thought, “This really speaks to me of living in the same place with the same people for months.”
“Artists have the ability to take emotions and experiences and put them into visual experiences,” she said. “I was really curious to see what was happening with the artist community.”
Hales also noticed several other elements within the artwork that added to the relevancy of the exhibition’s focus.
“It’s interesting that the art showed compassion for others but also showed a frustration of not being able to be close to others during this time,” she said. “There’s also elements of self-preservation and humor, which shows humanity through this really difficult time.”
The exhibition mainly features two-dimensional art from 17 artists from Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico — all of which are either educational or interactive.
“The gallery itself is an educational gallery so we plan the exhibitions there around an educational component,” Hales said. “We organize the gallery so that people can contribute their ideas as well as be clear on what our ideas for the exhibition were.”
The exhibition also includes an interactive educational component featuring a Likert scale where people can answer questions by placing poker chips in tubes that correspond to their answers.
There is also a sculpture and a 3D piece in the exhibition, which adds to the variety of artwork within the exhibition.
“One of the things that’s interesting about looking at this group of artists is how varied their response is, which I think is the beauty of the exhibition,” Winfrey said.
Even though there are a plethora of ways that the artwork can be interpreted, Hales hopes that those who pass through the exhibition find a way to relate to the work.
“More than anything, I think everybody can relate to the work that is in this exhibition because everybody has been through this experience,” Hales said. “Even if you don’t relate to the work, then it will probably remind you of someone.”
“I think people are hungry for a way to understand and analyze their own feelings, much less all the people around them, and I think this show goes far to do that,” Winfrey added.
Hales also hopes that the exhibition allows people to think in ways they might not have before.
“We try to have people walk out thinking ‘oh wow! I hadn’t thought of that before' rather than feeling mystified by the things they saw,” she said.
A special grand opening for the free exhibit will be held Sept. 24 during which 25 people at a time will be able to view the exhibit and enjoy wine, sparkling water and light snacks.
Info: scottsdaleartslearning.org. Masks are required at the Scottsdale Civic Center.