Pandemic Placemaking

In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of LGBT refugees and their allies produced a video about their feelings during quarantine, inspired by a famous music video by Bob Dylan.

The film represented the culmination of our very first online media workshop series and helped us to understand the affective repercussions of the pandemic. It occurred in March/April 2020 at the very beginning of the pandemic. LGBTQ+ refugees, isolated in their homes, expressed fear, isolation, panic, boredom and more.

Partially funded by Ryerson University, the pandemic workshop series consisted of five workshops taught by different artists. In one workshop, instructor and filmmaker Elizabeth Littlejohn showed participants an early Bob Dylan music video (“Subterranean Homesick Blues”) in which Dylan uses pieces of paper with text to accompany his song. Elizabeth asked participants to write their feelings about self- isolating during the pandemic on pieces of paper, and film that on their cell phones.

Below are photos taken by participants that captured their ‘decisive moment’, a term coined by French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson, in which the image is meant to sum up the essence of what is going on at the time. These photos, of indoor objects and barren outdoor spaces capture moments of domestic life, comfort, and isolation

In another workshop, Elizabeth showed them the photos of Henri Cartier-Bresson and instructed them in various camera techniques with the goal of creating a photo with a “decisive moment” a la Bresson.

Another instructor, Jesse Currel, had participants compile or create photos, write a short monologue about their own personal journeys, and create  digital stories.

One of the participants planned to use his digital story at his refugee hearing. Media artist Midi Onodera taught a workshop on the artist’s relationship to the camera, and to artistic practice. Meera Govindasamy taught the group the basics of podcast creation.

These online workshops demonstrated the unintended uses to which community art  can be deployed, whether it’s providing evidence for a refugee hearing, or just providing a sense of community, or solace.