A world without art would be a gloomy and dreary place and while art lovers can visit some museums or take a virtual stroll through exhibitions, the COVID-19 pandemic has distanced many not just from their social circles but also from art.
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield curated a traveling series of five different boxes packed with artwork called the Aldrich Care Box which allows people to bring museum caliber artwork into their homes temporarily. Patrons can borrow an Aldrich Care Box from the museum and enjoy the artwork in their home for a week before returning it.
The program was co-created by the museum’s director of education, Namulen Bayarsaihan and senior curator Amy Smith-Stewart.
“The Aldrich Care Box is a unique project which blurs the lines of exhibition, public program and the very idea of a typical museum art viewing experience. One question we kept asking ourselves this past year was how to find opportunities to offer connection with art and artists that felt fresh while standing out among the cacophony of digital offerings,” Bayarsaihan said.
“What’s special about this project is that we get to provide a tangible opportunity for someone to spend time with artwork in the comfort of their own home and without the layer of anxiety involved with being in public spaces currently. But even beyond this, it’s an effort to remove barriers of access to contemporary art and mirrors the urgency for generosity and connection to take place during a global pandemic.”
Smith-Stewart explained that the art in the boxes are related to themes of care, loss, intimacy, and healing, and that the museum selected five artists to create “works that represented not only a diverse approach to the theme, but also incorporated a wide range of materials and methods—from sound and social practice to landscape and raw materiality. Some of these contributions are interactive, engaging different senses and some will tangibly evolve over the course of the project’s duration.”
Ilana Harris-Babou, Clarity Haynes, Athena LaTocha, Curtis Talwst Santiago and James Allister Sprang created art specifically for the Aldrich Care Boxes.
Upon receiving an Aldrich Care Box, participants will find a pair of white gloves and a sheet of paper providing information about each piece in the box, similar to what one would read on the small cards affixed next to artwork displayed in a gallery. From there participants are welcome to engage with the art and place the pieces around their home.
“We wanted to create a sense of intimacy and connectivity, resulting in objects that are portable, scaled to the hand and hyper sensorial,” Smith-Stewart said. “Our inspiration was the pandemic, both its isolation and its challenges. We wanted this project to provide solace and agency. It is about both being alone and bringing together.”
Bayarsaihan added that by having the boxes travel outside the museum’s walls it forges a sense of connection as it “involves an extension of trust between artist, the institution and anyone who chooses to interact with a box, which is a beautiful bridge.”
Once a participant’s week-long lending period is up, they must return the box to the museum. From there the boxes will be put aside to “rest” for at least three days before being placed back into the program’s circulation. The Aldrich Care Box program is free and will run until Dec. 31.
Harris-Babou said she was honored when Smith-Stewart asked her to participate in the Aldrich Care Box program. For her contribution to the project Harris-Babou created a series of “Wellness Kits.”
“Each kit includes a set of small casts of objects purchased in wellness/beauty stores. Crystals, makeup, face rollers, etc.,” she said. “I thought these objects would make sense in the context of ‘care.’ I hope they can bring joy and comfort to someone's day.”
The Aldrich Care Boxes also feature an interactive element as the pieces Haynes’ contributed to the program ask the box participants to answer prompts in the collaged books she created.
“I was thinking about the pandemic and how we’re all going through so much — from the loss of routines to the loss of loved ones, to illness, to financial hardship. I thought it would be cathartic to have a book that people could contribute to in an expressive way. I created five books, each with a special collaged cover, with prompts inside. I ask questions such as: What do you miss? Who do you miss? What brings you comfort?” she said. “I encourage participants to respond however they wish ... through painting, drawing, collage and/or writing. I’m excited that each book will become a unique object that is a collaboration between strangers. During this time of physical separation, that idea feels intimate and nourishing.”
Both Harris-Babou and Haynes said they hope the boxes foster a sense of connection between the art and the program’s participants. “I hope they can form a more intimate relationship with art and see how it fits into their everyday life,” Harris-Babou said.
Haynes added that she hopes having the art in their homes will let people know that “art is for everyone” and that it creates a visceral connection for them.
“To perceive works in context with their own living spaces, observing the connections between the artworks and their own significant and everyday objects. To think about how the things we use and live with acquire meaning and emotional weight as part of our daily lives. How they often stand in for our loved ones, our relationships. And I hope viewers will feel connected to the other people who check out the boxes. That it will remind us all that we’re all going through this strange time together,” Haynes said. “In the case of my books, I hope people will let themselves be artists even if they don’t identify that way, and just have fun contributing. I provide a pen with each book, but nothing’s off limits. Even if it’s just your kid’s crayons that are available, use them, explore color, tell stories.”
Smith-Stewart added that she’s excited to see how the boxes will evolve over the course of the year and how they create connections between the artist and the participants.
“Once the project comes to an end, the ‘patina’ of its handling (whether it be visible or immaterial) will forever forge a permanent connective link between artist, object and participant,” she said.
For more information about the Aldrich Care Boxes, visit aldrichart.org.