What Scott Snibbe can teach us about personal space in the Age of Coronavirus

We think of personal space as something that belongs entirely to ourselves. However, Scott Snibbe’s dynamic art installation ‘Boundary Functions’ (1998) shows us that personal space exists only in relation to others and changes without our control.

To illustrate this point, Snibbe marked out an area of a floor and projected lines onto it when people entered the space. The more people who entered the space, the more lines, the less space everyone had to themselves.

The installation was inspired by Voronoi diagrams. In mathematics, a Voronoi diagram is a partition of a plane into regions close to each of a given set of objects. More simply, they create dynamic geometric patterns. The more people who enter the frame, the more complex the patterns on the floor.

Thinking of personal space as something that belongs entirely to ourselves has become increasingly more relevant in the Age of Coronavirus. As we find ourselves in a third lockdown, and our contact with the outside world mediated through screens, our sense of anxiety has intensified. Now a bus journey to work or a trip to the shops has become something to dread rather than a routine everyday activity: Why isn’t he wearing a mask? Did she wash her hands before touching that? Will that person walking towards me do the polite thing and cross the road?

Never has our sense of personal space been so intensely negotiated and so passionately fought for. We could all learn a lot from watching Snibbe’s installation, though it probably needs updating to ensure participants are two meters apart…

Scott Snibbe’s website

I came across Snibbe’s work while researching a lockdown story and developing a digital storytelling module for Nottingham Trent University. For this, I’ve created a Twitter and Instagram account to discuss and share innovations in digital storytelling. Please drop by and say hello. 

Dante 2.0 Tiers for Fears

To celebrate the 700 year anniversary of Dante’s death, the Uffizi is holding a virtual exhibition called To Rebehold the Stars. This is the latest digital innovation as a result of Covid. The arts have been an absolute lifeline during lockdown, and a curt reminder to the government there’s more to life than STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths).

According to the Carnegie Trust, around three in ten people in the UK engaged with public library services during lockdown. Research from Nielsen Books (May, 2020) revealed that people in the UK almost doubled the amount of time they spend reading books since lockdown began. Whereas live theatre from the National Theatre on a Thursday evening made culture accessible. Tickets at the NT sell out quickly and are often very expensive (before you’ve factored in travelling costs), so this was revolutionary. They have now set up a subscription model so audiences can continue to watch from home.

In a series of blogs for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, I explored what we can learn from literature to help us cope with our current situation. George Orwell nailed it for me. He wrote that moments of extreme crisis create ‘emotional unity’ and an opportunity to reboot social values. I hope that the extreme crisis created by lockdown will create a better appreciation for the arts and culture which have been systematically removed from the education system under our current gatekeepers.

The arts provide opportunities to use our imagination and imagination is the only thing that’s going to keep us company during the latest (but probably not the last) lockdown. It’s with these sentiments in mind I’ve wasted the last couple of hours cobbling together an adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. What would Dante 2.0 make of these times? Would his circles of hell be replaced with tiers? As we all know when it comes to wearing a mask and being responsible in public, if only everybody else was as responsible as us…

Further reading