Metro, Arts

i’m yours: Encounters with Art in Our Times Reflects Pandemic-Era Themes

On display at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston (ICA), i’m yours: Encounters with Art in Our Times addresses the new role of art and art museums in people’s lives as they adjust to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The museum, which reopened in March after being closed for months, especially recognizes the importance of art and connection. This exhibit invites visitors to establish connections to art that highlight the themes of home and history, social injustice, material transformation, and identity that emerged this past year, according to the ICA website.

The exhibit takes its name from a painting by Henry Taylor already in their collection, symbolizing the ICA’s belief that without visitors, the museum is incomplete. The pandemic has made the in-person experience of art all the more impactful. 

The ICA curated the exhibit amid the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests this summer to reflect on the lockdown and social unrest, according to the ICA website. The selected works address themes of isolation, home, and history. 

Some of the works directly reflect the pandemic and political movements, while others allude to the various struggles faced during the tumultuous time.

The pieces are divided by theme into various sections within the exhibit: “Home Again,” “Opening Act,” “Unbound,” “What Remains,” “In Material,” “Looking Out,” and “Closing Act.”

“Home Again,” explores the role of a home in someone’s life, as it has been redefined by the COVID-19 pandemic. The function of a home has changed from a place of relaxation and comfort, to serving as an office, school, and a place of confinement and loss, according to a plaque at the museum. 

One of the photographs from this section is “Orly and Ruth” (2020) by Rania Matar from the series Across the Window: Portraits During COVID-19. The work depicts a girl hugging her sister, separated from the photographer by a window, and embodies the themes of home and separation. 

This piece illustrates how family ties and relationships have been sustained within the home during the pandemic. Within the photograph, the reflective surface of the glass window, displaying both the girls inside the house and the world outside, shows how connection remains possible even during a time of isolation. 

Although relationships with the outside world are difficult to maintain during the pandemic, this piece shows how connections within a household grow stronger during confinement and isolation. 

“It is difficult for many families and friends to see each other during the pandemic,” attendee Maria Delgadillo, from Houston, Texas, said. “I love that this photograph is hopeful.” 

In the “In Material” section, “Objectification Process” (1989) by Cady Noland is composed of metal, plastic, and fabric. Noland placed a rolled American flag in a plastic case across an orthopedic walker with attached chains. 

The piece symbolizes restriction of progress and movement, in order to question how politics influences social life, according to a plaque at the exhibit. 

“It is relevant today, even though it was made 30 years ago,” Delgadillo said. “The chains imply that the country is somewhat confined, or maybe to the oppression that many Americans face.” 

The sculpture “Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson)” is hung at the center of the “What Remains” section. The artist, Cornelia Parker, created the piece using the remnants of a burnt residence, according to the ICA website

The sculpture is constructed using the pieces of charred wood from a real case of suspected arson. The pieces are then strung together to form a geometric, hanging sculpture. 

“[‘Hanging Fire’] was my favorite piece,” Delgadillo said. “It’s different from the other pieces because of its unique medium and shape. It actually looks like it’s falling because some pieces are almost on the floor, so everything looks scattered.” 

This piece is intended to represent destruction and resurrection, referencing humanity’s mutability and vulnerability while tackling challenges in life, according to a plaque displayed at the museum. The sculpture is meant to address the intense emotions shared throughout the period of extreme loss. 

“The black shards represent our time now,” museumgoer William Sweet of Brooklyn, N.Y., said. “They show how our lives have been fractured because of COVID-19. Now it’s our job to build ourselves back up.”

The exhibit will be on display at the ICA until May 23. Virtual tours of this exhibit are also available online. Highlighting themes that hit close to home during the pandemic, the emotional relatability of the exhibit resonates with museumgoers. 

“Pain and loss were constant themes [throughout the exhibit]. I feel that many pieces reflect the human lives lost because of COVID,” Sweet said. “Deaths were more than just a statistic. They were shown in a personal and real way.” 

Featured Image by Elinor Ketelhohn / Heights Staff

April 12, 2021