Making Connections in an Isolated World
Like many people in the US and around the world, I spent the majority of 2020 cooped up at home in quarantine, with very limited in-person human contact. My bubble was just me and my husband, and I had only brief outdoors and distanced interactions with a handful of friends. I’m not complaining: social hibernation was a small price to pay given the immensity of the COVID-19 tragedy. Also, I was lucky to be a Tele-Stories artist facilitator for a few months in the Fall, which allowed me to make multiple new and meaningful connections, even in the middle of a pandemic.
In the Tele-Stories program a group of artists recruited by TimeSlips is paired with isolated older adults through partnering institutions. Each artist conducts weekly creative conversations on the phone with ten participants and these interactions create art pieces, which are shared with the “callers” and with the community in the end of the project. As a Tele-Stories artist I made a zine or booklet where every page was created in collaboration with one of the people I worked with. The most striking aspect of the piece, in my opinion, is the diversity of themes, which reflects the very particular style of each participant. You can see it for yourself here. (Link: https://www.flipsnack.com/siqueirazine/matryoshka.html)
Tele-Stories uses the technique of “Beautiful Questions”. These are open-ended prompts that help spark the imagination. All of my first interactions with the participants started with the same beautiful question: “If you could be anywhere, where would you like to be?” In retrospect it seems almost in poor taste to ask this when we were all in lockdown, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I was obviously longing to be somewhere other than stuck at home and my unconscious mind was doing a poor job of hiding it. But what matters is that I got completely different answers from them, and had completely different conversations. By the time the zine was done there was only a hint of the initial responses (look for a reference to Door County), and when the project was over, I had unique dynamics and relationships with each of my callers.
The pieces shared by my fellow artist facilitators also could not have been more diverse. One person made a cookbook with recipes real and imaginary. Someone illustrated a scene from a story told by a participant, animating the drawing process and using actual audio from the conversation. There was a short choreography and a complete fiction book combining elements from various conversations. The work was solid and reflected the depth of the connection we established with our “callers”. We had the opportunity to share it on a webinar open to the community. It was a deep and momentous celebration, and a beacon of a hope, to me, in rather despondent times.
This Spring, I’ve had the honor to watch the Tele-Stories experience unfold from a different angle. This time around I am coordinating a group of four artist facilitators from Central and Northeastern Wisconsin. Once again, what stands out to me is the diversity of perspectives and the intensity of the bond the artists have been able to establish with the participants in a short period of time. Like our group in Milwaukee, each of these individuals were given the same mission: conduct a series of weekly phone calls with designated older adults and create art pieces based on these conversations. And also like in the previous iteration of the project, the final pieces are extremely powerful and varied in terms of media, theme and execution.
Please join us for our webinar celebration June 25th, 2021, from 2:30- 4:00 pm CST. Register here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_sZifmxJyR8S5atcLMA63Kg
This project was made possible by a grant provided by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in partnership with Aroha Philanthropies, with support through the Wisconsin Arts Board.
Cris Siqueira is a multimedia artist originally from Brazil who has called Milwaukee home for over 15 years. She has Masters degrees in Film and History from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and is a 2014 Mary L. Nohl fellow. Cris is also co-owner of Lion’s Tooth, an indie bookstore in the Bay View neighborhood. She was a Tele-Stories Artist last year in the Milwaukee project and is now the project lead for the current round in the Central and Northeastern regions of Wisconsin.