Wayne State University

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The Humanities Center’s mini-grants on Creative Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020

Since March 2020, the WSU community has dealt with the impact of Covid-19 and the pandemic. Coming into the summer months, the Humanities Center decided to create a Mini-Grant competition for the WSU community.

The competition was co-sponsored by the following colleges: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, The Honors College, The College of Fine Performing and Communication Arts, The School of Social Work, The Law School, and The College of Education.

The Center invited submissions of a wide range of projects that portrayed the pandemic’s impact and responses from disproportionately affected people and vulnerable groups, including racial and ethnic minorities; the elderly; essential workers; and socioeconomically disadvantaged members of our community.

Submitted projects included film, photography, drawings, paintings, diaries, poetry, plays, performances, musical compositions, short essays, short stories, and observations of the natural world. The competition attracted 24 proposals from which the 11 projects below were selected for funding. This competition captured the essence of our communities emotional, physical, and mental reflections of our current situation during this trying time.

Topic: Humanities Center Creative Responses to Covid-19 Pandemic (Video)

Date: Feb 27, 2021 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)


K. Natasha Foreman, Music

Title:"Corona Butoh"

Abstract: In Tokyo, against the backdrop of destruction from World War II, dancer Hijikata Tatsumi birthed butoh, performing disease, the aging body, and death. COVID-19 has the planet in a unified focus on disease and death, and we are relying on overloaded delivery workers to keep us alive; our lives have been defined by disease, death, and deliveries. My butoh project is to film a musical collage and solo dancer adorned in deconstructed amazon boxes. This work is in witness to the fear that essential/frontline workers have faced and yet continue to soldier through, and in recognition of Hijikata Tatsumi’s embracing of disease as legitimate foundation for performance (referencing Hijiakata's 1972 work Hosotan [Smallpox]).

Yan Zhang, Art & Art History

Title:"Freedom of Speech in Specimen Bottles"

Abstract: Freedom of Speech in Specimen Bottles is an installation designed to commemorate the acts of protest against the censorship of the Chinese Government at the beginning of the COVID_19 Outbreak. This installation archived 20 versions of the same article in 20 specimen bottles. The article is an interview with Dr. Ai Fen, the first person to report the first Covid-19 case in Wuhan which revealed the accurate timeframe of the first reported Covid-19 patient and the fact that the government intentionally concealed person-to-person transmission for the sake of social stability. It was published on the internet by People, the official Chinese magazine, and quickly deleted due to the government's powerful censorship and strong public opinion control. Netizens (citizens of the internet) created 52 different versions to avoid the post being detected, to protest against the censorship, and to spread the truth. Unfortunately, only 20 versions have been collected in this installation. The rest of the versions have already been removed from the internet and Dr. Ai Fen has mysteriously vanished. The texts and images in the specimen bottles have faithfully recorded Chinese netizens’ anticensorship efforts and eagerness for their freedom of speech. This installation is my effort to make sure that the internet never forgets the first whistleblower and records the truth of history. It also examines the current situation of freedom of speech in China.

Megan Jones, English

Title:"Raising Voices: Building Global (Comm)unity in Covid-19"

Abstract: City of Asylum/Detroit, in partnership with Wayne State University, will develop a creative writing workshop that will gather writers from around the world to write, revise, and share personal narrative around their experiences of COVID-19. The project will consist of curriculum development and participant recruitment, culminating in print and digital publication of the participants’ writing, along with a live performance. The workshop will highlight the historically persistent inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, while generating intersectional solidarity among participants. In this way, the pandemic would be not only a purveyor of fear and loss, but a vessel to build a more equitable and connected future.

Elise Martin, Art & Art History

Title:"Fragile Forms of Comfort"

Abstract: The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has caused me to pay close attention to all the ways in which we carefully craft a sense of comfort in our daily lives, and it has become painfully clear just how fragile those constructs really are. As a maker of art objects, I have become very invested in the autonomy of the things I am creating; In my studio practice, I often consider the power of inanimate objects to influence human behavior and I try to create sculptural works that tip-toe the line between passive object and active participant. As the world experiences a sort of communal growing pain, some people are adapting better than others, and I wanted to explore how access to certain objects contributes to our personal sense of comfort. To begin to unpack these lofty ideas, I created a task for myself in the studio, in which I hand-build replicas of personal comfort objects out of fragile ceramic, shatter them quite haphazardly and then restructure and artfully mend the broken pieces, introducing new materials throughout the process. My hope is that through this experience I will discover what it feels like to carefully craft a rigid sense of comfort, watch it break in an instant and then reimagine it into newly fortified forms.

Isaac Pickell, English

Title:"Uncommissioned Elegies"

Abstract: "Uncommissioned Elegies" is a special folio & debut issue of the first national literary journal to call Wayne State University home. The Woodward Review focuses on contemporary creative writing alongside creatively-minded literary reviews and criticism, and this special folio is no different: creative contributors will be invited to share poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and autotheory written in and of the Covid-19 pandemic, while both TWR editors and critical contributors will reflect on the literature of this plague year.

Sylvia Taschka, History

Title:"Pandemic Poetry"

Abstract: Sylvia Taschka’s project “Pandemic Poetry” stands in the tradition of writers who have responded to catastrophic events in poetic ways. This work of art allows her to express, in the form of poetry, the observations she has made about the current pandemic as a trained historian. It will consist of a cycle of poems that are loosely based on the ten biblical plagues.

Stanislav Kozadayev, Communication

Title:"19: A Sonic Memorial"

Abstract: This project employs selected sound art techniques to create a “sonic memorial” to the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave, in the form of an audio recording. While conventional composition techniques allow the melodic and harmonic features of the composition to set the overall pathos of the piece, more experimental methods, such as musique concrete, enable the incorporation of the sonic landscape of COVID-19 into the memorial, focusing primarily on the unique sonic signature of respiration – natural and artificial. Likewise, a reading of selected victims’ names was incorporated into the sonic memorial, in order to counter the radical depersonalization resulting from the sheer number of deaths resulting from the pandemic. The names were randomly selected from groups adversely affected by the many inequities exposed by current mortality statistics. Symbolically, the quantitative aspects of the sonic memorial revolve around the numerical designator of the virus, in three ways: First, the composition is exactly 19 minutes in length. Second, the rhythmic components of the piece are structured according to a time signature of 19/16. Finally, the harmonic and melodic components of the memorial are set in 19-tone equal temperament, a tuning system that divides the octave into 19 notes.

Leith Campbell, Music

Title:"Fanfare and Procession: Subtitle: An atonal electronic symphony exploring the notion of personal and community spaces in an age of social distancing"

Abstract: A musical happening in the spirit of Fluxus and John Cage; Fanfare and Procession is a large scale, participatory musical performance. Through a proliferation of audio frequencies and locations, it illuminates, or more appropriately, ‘audiates’ a large public space, reintroducing an audio ‘life’ back into our temporarily unused spaces. Similar to illumination changing how we perceive a space by sight, this ‘audiation’ is an audio flashlight; changing the way we perceive a space by hearing. The performance involves the collaboration of many people of any (or no) musical skill, with simple rules and socially distant by design. Traveling linearly over a set geographic space and starting and finishing in frequency unison (with anything but in between), it is an allegory of our times.

Caitlin Lynch, Music


AJ White, Music

Title:"Song Portraits"

Video: https://youtu.be/1hlGbmcHebg

Abstract: Co-produced by WSU voice professor Caitlin Lynch and music business student AJ White, Song Portraits will creatively capture this moment in time, highlighting the voices of Wayne State University’s students and faculty through poetry and song. Song Portraits will be a song cycle of five brand new poems, written by WSU Creative Writing faculty and students, set to music by WSU composers, including Dr. Norah Duncan, chair of the Department of Music, and Dr. Brandon Waddles, lecturer of Choral Conducting and Music Education. Each song will be a portrait of a WSU voice student. Caitlin Lynch will facilitate zoom meetings with the poet/singer teams where students will share their reality: how the pandemic has impacted their life, music making, and physical and mental health. Subsequently, the creative writers will compose a poem, a poetic portrait. The text will be shared with the composers who will then compose pieces that capture each vocalist’s essence in song, a musical portrait. Each vocalist will learn and record their poem turned song, and the cycle will be ready to share in February 2021. WSU music business professor Jeremy Peters will help release and promote the cycle with Old Main Records. In all, we are providing opportunities for students and faculty to creatively express themselves and their unique experiences, as well as opportunities to build and expand their portfolios and resumes. Perhaps most importantly, we are developing relationships across departments, and sharing the incredible and unique talent that is bursting out of Wayne State University.

Joseph Mattar, Theatre & Dance

Title:"How to move"

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vZmB0PcDYM

Abstract: Untitled This performance project will coalesce approximately 5 months of research on how to persevere. Major themes that will be considered are risk-taking, vulnerability, and narrativization of real and/or fictional events. Movement and sound scores will play an important role in the creative process, as well as thoughtful storytelling. These themes will be explored and researched through dance/physical theatre and displayed in multiple mediums including live streams, screen dance, and culminating in a possible physical performance.

Parvinder Mehta, English

Title:"Pandemonia Poems"(PDF)

Abstract: Through creative writing, I will showcase some lived realities of how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected different communities globally. My focus will be on highlighting the hidden as well as visible anxieties and diverse manifestations of precarity induced by economic, intellectual, and social disparities. Through poetry, I will evoke affective responses to human experiences the pandemic has brought to the forefront. My poems will represent the diverse voices of underprivileged communities through literary adaptations of anxieties and emotions of grief expressed in popular literature in the Covid context as well as (possibly) depict social and racial inequalities through original poems.