In this in-between time as the pandemic wanes in the United States, some people are raring to get back to ordinary life. Others are wary — uncertain about safety; not used to social life.
“This Way,” a series of artist-designed walks and experiences presented by MIT List Visual Arts Center, may ease re-entry.
“How do we navigate after being at home or socially distanced, with so many difficult things going on in the world and very tender moments for everyone?” said Emily A. Garner, the List’s campus and public programs manager, who organized “This Way” with List curator Natalie Bell.
“Artists can be pivotal in bringing us to re-engage with the world around us,” said Bell.
Nine prompts, available in audio and PDF formats, are being posted over the course of the summer to the List website and e-mailed to subscribers. The first, designed by multidisciplinary artist Emilie Gossiaux, who went blind in 2010, helps participants experience the world through senses other than sight. In the second, comedic performer Morgan Bassichis plays the piano and, in an alternately hilarious and probing stream-of-consciousness riff, coaches listeners about conversing with strangers.
Heather Kapplow, the only Boston artist on the roster, spent the last year reframing walks for an audience, posting prompts to a Google group called “Walking in the Time of COVID-19.” “Take a walk where you leave a mark.” “Let your body imagine freedom from all types of oppression.”
“I was especially interested in capturing the experience of two things happening simultaneously that we were dealing with during the peak unsureness of COVID,” the artist said during a stroll through Christian A. Herter Park in Allston. “Everything looked the same as it always does, and yet somehow had turned completely toxic overnight.”
Kapplow, whose “This Way” post goes up in August, has also just published a book, “111 Places in Boston that You Must Not Miss,” co-written with Kim Windyka, which reflects an appetite for seeing familiar places anew.
The conceptual, participatory artist was uniquely prepared for the uncertainty of life in 2020. “My art practice is like, ‘how do I make sense out of things that don’t make sense to me?’ Usually, it involves recruiting the rest of the world to help me,” said Kapplow. “I come up with a problem that I can’t solve myself, and then set up an infrastructure to get everybody who walks by me to help me figure it out.”
One of the artist’s favorite prompts from “Walking in the Time of COVID-19” took a heart-warming approach to social distance.
“Walk with someone and cram the six feet between you with as much invisible love as you can,” Kapplow said. “Super simple. But we all needed that so much.”
“This Way” artists address a range of themes: psycho-geography, working with differently abled audiences, walking art, and instruction-based art.
“It might oscillate between being grounding and being deliberately disorienting,” said Bell. She noted that Chicago artist Maria Gaspar, whose prompt will be posted on June 9, has been considering the March police killing of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latino.
“I think that will be a piece that is coming from potentially a much more heavy and emotional place,” said Bell, “and is really thinking about politics, and reflecting on urban space through sound.”
The program comes at a time when audiences are screen-weary, and the List Center, like many university museums and galleries, is still closed to the public. Garner and Bell saw “This Way” as an opportunity to tick off several boxes — artist-centric programming outside the gallery, potentially device-free, and available to a worldwide audience. The artists jumped at the chance to be involved.
“Artists have had a tough time. They lost shows. They’ve been pushed off,” said Garner. “I think providing artists with the freedom to do something fun that’s open-ended was a big draw. Everyone we asked said yes right away.”
Garner and Bell have opened a “This Way” Instagram (www.instagram.com/thisway_mit) so participants may post their experiences. Kapplow knows how sharing helped people make sense of the last year. “Walking in a Time of COVID-19” became a communal experience as participants shared art and reflections about their walks. The project closed to the public in March, but responses to the final prompt, about orienting toward the sun, continue to come in. The Google group will remain open to subscribers, Kapplow wrote, “until we are all safe and feeling the full light on our faces, the shadows behind us.”
At MIT List Visual Arts Center through Sept. 8. listart.mit.edu/events-programs/summer-series-way