Home Alone Together: We are told that home is where the heart is, but also that, while we can travel the world in search of what we need, we must return home in order to find it. Home has been described as the centre and circumference, the start and finish, of most of our lives. That may be particularly so at this time, in both its constraining and revelatory senses. Home can be a place of abuse which it is imperative to leave but may also be a shelter from storms and the place where our most important work is done.
Lockdown focuses our sight, thought and activity on the domestic in a way that is not normally the case
My home is now both film studio and church altar as my dining room becomes the setting for services and the congregation are invited into family space. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has presided at the Eucharist from his kitchen! Perhaps home does interpret heaven, as Charles Henry Parkhurst claimed.
Home Alone Together is an exhibition of twenty-five artists from around the world – aged twenty to ninety – that explores how quarantine is quickly redefining and reconfiguring how people experience home.
The shared, bounded environment in which people now live can be a space of refuge – representing safety from a nebulous, deadly threat, but can also be a pressure cooker. The exhibition recognises that we are all caught up in a strange experiment of uncertain duration, and even those fortunate enough to escape direct loss and trauma are being forced to reckon with new realities – economic, emotional, spiritual – from the (dis)comfort of their own home. In this unsettled moment, the exhibition’s curators – S. Billie Mandle and Aaron Rosen – suggest that artists can help draw our experience into focus.
Some, such as Hannah Smith Allen, have begun specific projects. Smith Allen says she began the sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, ritual of photographing her windows in order to give herself purpose and to refocus her energy on light and colour rather than the nightly news. By contrast, the images shared by Aude Hérail Jäger seek to show the duality of an and /or look for meaning in her immediate environment. Since the pandemic started, she says she has run on adrenaline, her mind unable to integrate the depth of this global trauma leaving her feeling “other.” Within these feelings, she generates moments of stillness with running and yoga practice.
The husband-and-wife artist duo known as Gol Kamra (Urdu for “round room”) view their home in Lahore, where they are currently quarantined, as ‘a place dense with words and thoughts left hanging in mid-air or piling, calcified, on top of yesterday’s remains.’ Their creative relationship is an incubator and regenerative mental space within which they experiment and create. For others the experience of being quarantined with others, particularly young children, impacts on the time and space required for artistic creation.
Some like Joyce Yu-Jean Lee and Alyssa Coffin are simply responding to the light, colours and objects in the homes where they are quarantined. Lee’s Manhattan quarantine photographs ‘expand viewers’ attentions to contemplate stillness and the optics of light.’ Coffin is gratefully confined to a beautiful Victorian home where there is ‘no shortage of interesting objects, color coordination, and Southern sunshine.’
The exhibition has been organised by Image, a literary and arts journal that aims to deepen the wisdom, compassion, and cultural engagement of religious communities by enabling them to draw more fully on the virtues of art and the imagination. James K.A. Smith, Image’s Editor, has noted: ‘When you’re cooped up in your living room for days on end, you start to notice things you hadn’t noted before… In the enforced pause of quarantine, sequestered in the same space, the things that were background get foregrounded. You attend to your environment anew.’
While ‘notions of home, of homecoming, of a sense of shelter are replete with paradox,’ the project provides, as Louise Fago-Ruskin – another participating artist – has noted, much-needed connections at this unique moment combined with the opportunity to ‘share an interior walk towards sanctuary.’ Smith Allen has described how the ritual of photographing her windows has reminded her of ‘the power of photography to uncover extraordinary meaning in seemingly ordinary objects, gestures, or routines.’ This reminder has been ‘a small gift in an otherwise bleak landscape.’
S. Billie Mandle has form in finding such gifts and locating what Gaston Bachelard has called “intimate immensity.” For 10 years she photographed Catholic confessionals throughout the United States. Photographing from the perspective of the penitent in ornate city basilicas and airy rural chapels, in their small dark rooms she found traces of people, communities, prayers and dogmas.
With her co-curator, Aaron Rosen, they hope the exhibition will reveal that while what we see has become limited, how we see need not. When the pandemic subsides and we re-enter the world, perhaps our way of seeing will have changed along with us. Maybe, they suggest, we will be more prepared to encounter transcendence, even – perhaps especially – in the mundane. To do so, will be to share the interior walk toward sanctuary undertaken by these artists, uncovering with them small gifts in the otherwise bleak landscape of lockdown.
Top Photo: Week 2: Bathroom, “Haircut,” Leni Dothan, April 18, 2020 Words © Artlyst 2020
Read More By Home Alone Together Reviewer Revd Jonathan Evens
Home Alone Together, Image Journal, May – July 2020 – Visit