The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, in partnership with the UGA Graduate School, UGA Arts Council, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Flagpole, has awarded 34 micro-fellowships in its Shelter Projects program. The $500 fellowships support graduate students and community-based artists and practitioners in the creation of shareable reflections on their experience of the current pandemic through the arts and humanities.
Ruth Allen’s Artist Statement: ruth allen draws, paints, writes, collages, photographs and dreams every day. In “Quadrangled,” each quadrant is composed of 20-40 images representing one day between Mar. 13 and July 15, 2020 of my self-isolation which continues (probably even now) through the pandemic. I am fortunate to be living in Athens, GA, to have been here 20 years, to have a network of friends who care for and support me, to live in a place with green grass, old trees and beautiful flowers and a kind and generous community. I am grateful for all this time has brought into my awareness. I wish the same for you.
Flagpole: Your Shelter Project serves as a visual diary chronicling your time in quarantine. How did you choose the subjects to represent each day?
Ruth Allen: Well, I draw, paint, take a photograph and/or write something every day, so when the Shelter Project came up I thought “Oh! I can just choose something that feels like it represents the mood of each day.” And as time passed, it became clear that there were certain stages I, maybe we collectively, were passing into and out of, so I decided to divide my project into four parts, like seasons. First, transition. Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing? What have I done? What will I do? Second, transmogrification: another word for transforming that I love. There is something kind of grounded sounding about saying transmogrify versus transform. Something heavier, I think, and more fitting to my feelings during this time. Like knowing you have protective armor and also the ability to come out of it as needed. A cocoon of sorts. What’s inside you, what’s outside of you? Next, contemplation. In all the stillness, once you pass through boredom, there’s an opportunity to become more curious and aware and appreciative of small things, of what you have, of having enough. And in the end, for me, introspection. As a dear friend used to say to me, diving deeper, faring worse.
Flagpole: I love all of the gifs on your Makerspace page! How did you first get into creating gifs, and what draws you to them as an art form?
RA: A not so secret dream of mine is to do animation! Like a real cartoon, I mean. I still hope to one day, but I am easily distracted, and I think somehow gifs illuminate this simultaneous hyper awareness and distractibility that is my life. So I was fooling around in Photoshop with tutorials and such and stumbled across a way to do frame animation. I took an illustration of someone with a snowglobe for a head in a fluffy coat with giant stars on it and a small white dog jumping all around, experimented with manipulating and distorting it, and when I had a few images I liked, put them together frame by frame and played with it until it made me happy. Then I posted it on Ello, which is a social media platform that grew several years ago out of a distaste for all the ads on other platforms. I was posting there quite frequently and entering digital content challenges, and was somehow fortunate enough that someone from MakersPlace saw my work and asked me to come on board. I can’t say enough good things about them. The other artists as well as the MakersPlace team feel like family to me and are amazing sources of inspiration. They really are all about empowering creators, which I love. It’s a great, supportive community. And that was the first piece I uploaded to my MakersPlace shop. It’s called “This Is A Test, 3359.” There is a rhythm to gifs that I love, like a heartbeat, like music. It’s just cool to make something move. And then I was hooked.
Flagpole: The images in these gifs speed by at an incredibly fast rate—opposite to how days of quarantine can sometimes seem to stretch indefinitely. Has sheltering in place led you to reconsider your own concept of time in any way?
RA: Oh, time and I have always had a very strange relationship! It’s true, the images do speed by, but they are also on an infinite loop, so they go on forever and ever. That’s kind of like life in hindsight, I think. Fleeting, repeating images. Little snapshots of people, places and things you have loved or have meant something to you or have changed you in some way. I think back to what I was doing this time last week and it feels like it happened five minutes ago and also 15 years ago. I exaggerate slightly, but time is such an interesting subject. Is it Einstein who said the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once?
Flagpole: Tell us about the illustrations you recently created for the newly released story about the Buddhist nun!
RA: Around 8-10 years ago, Hyangsoon Yi and I met in one of my yoga + trx classes at UGA and we became friends. She is a Professor of Comparative Literature and developed the UGA Korean program almost 30 years ago. It is one of the largest programs in North American Universities. She also published Buddhist Nuns and Korean Literature, which is the first book-length study of Korean Buddhist nuns in their 15-centuries-long history and was chosen as the Outstanding Scholarly Book of the Year 2009 by the Korean National Academy of Sciences. Because of our friendship, I shared my kid’s book, Pink Cake, with her and she really loved the illustrations. She said they were so different from what people in her country would be used to seeing, and asked me if I would like to illustrate a book she was working on about Bongnyeogwan, the first female Buddhist nun on Jeju Island, South Korea. I was nervous about it, but also very excited and more so after she told me the story. I mean, how cool to get to illustrate the life of this amazing woman, and on top of that there were so many things about her story that also hold great meaning for me in my life. It was a joy to work on, and I was happy to have the extra time to devote to it. For this project, I completed 110 drawings/paintings primarily produced from mid-March to early May. The book has been published in Korea and was presented at Gwaneumsa Temple’s annual commemoration ceremony in July on Jeju Island. Hyangsoon Yi regularly leads the UGA Foundation Fellows to Unmunsa Temple, the world’s largest Buddhist convent and monastic seminary in Korea for their spring study travel. And I still teach yoga at the Ramsey Center—This is my 20th year!
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