By Georgie Samuels
When I first read the proposal for People We Love in the summer of 2019 I felt such an immediate connection to the work that I actually cried. I completely understood the seemingly simple premise of looking at a person on a screen, who in turn is reacting to a picture of someone they love; The work was an exploration into the invisible connection between the artwork and the viewer, and the emotional power that can create.
It wasn’t until much later in the process of producing the work that I would come to a deeper understanding of this invisible connection, how it informed the work at different parts of the process and how to create it in a real and meaningful way.
People We Love looks like a very simple installation; five large screens are mounted in units showing high-resolution footage of people reacting to a photograph of someone they love. Easy, right…?
I knew that the impact of the final piece on others would be incredible but we also understood that asking a member of the public to feel comfortable exposing their emotions in front of a camera would not be an easy task.
The more I researched nonverbal communication, the more fascinated I became. I discovered that 70% of human communication is non-verbal. Humans read so much information from each other’s body language that it was not only essential that each subject had to have real reactions, but that the quality of the images on screen had to be extremely high, so every slight movement, every twitch of the face could be seen and understood.
We decided to try a guided meditation style voice over on the volunteer subjects we filmed in August 2020. Placing people in a calm, reflective space with only the recording to guide them invoked powerful, funny, moving and honest reactions some of which, we as facilitators, were surprised by. It was fascinating how much emotion people expressed in different ways. I realised that the voice-over became another example of an invisible connection, this time between the subjects and their pictures – all of which contributed to this piece.
We also came up with the idea of creating a ‘Pepper’s ghost’ which would project each picture over the camera lens, ensuring that the subjects were looking directly into the camera lens whilst still looking at the person they loved. By masking the camera in this way, it was less intimidating for the public to be filmed (while maintaining a Covid-safe environment).
Of course, over the last year, we have all been separated from the people we love more than ever before, which gave the work another layer of meaning. In a world where our faces are literally masked from each other, it was refreshing to be able to look at an unmasked face – albeit on-screen – when the work was displayed in York Minster (for only three days before the November lockdown).
People We Love works on many different levels – from the joy of looking at a stranger’s face up close, the interesting inspiration of Tristram Shandy’s blank page, to the questions it raises about where we find beauty. For me, it’s about the feeling we get from seeing another’s joy or pain through a silent, beautiful, invisible connection.
To learn more about People We Love, you can watch our interview with Kit Monkman from KMA.