Artist project to combat isolation turns loneliness on its ear during pandemic

The Hibernation Project was conceived as a weekly warm hug in an otherwise cold and snowy city.

Calgary artists turn Hibernation Project into a digital work to combat COVID-19 loneliness

Artists Wayne Garrett, left, and Caitlind Brown sit on the set of the Hibernation Station a made-up public access television show. (Submitted by Caitlind Brown and Wayne Garrett )

The Hibernation Project was conceived as a weekly warm hug in an otherwise cold and snowy city.

The 12-week project started in 2019. Artists Caitlind Brown and Wayne Garrett would welcome other artists into their Ramsay rental home and backyard.

"We were just trying to think about ways that we could sort of share our internal space or domestic space to make room for other artists to make work too," Brown said. "Every week, there's been a theme that the artists respond to."

In Room 6, the last room on the main floor of the Hiber National Gallery, Wayne Garrett's work was an interactive performance called “Photoshop Phantasy.” (Submitted by Wayne Garrett)

It's almost like a potluck of sorts but instead of just food and drink, Brown and Garrett's guests brought sculptures, prepared poems, songs and other preformative pieces. 

"And it kind of became more like a workshop space or a space for imperfect work," Brown said. "It's very imperfect, but it's also deeply charming and authentic … it's been a really lovely way of dealing with the winter for myself. I get so lonely in the wintertime."

This year's Hibernation Project was in full swing when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit. So, Brown and Garrett had a decision to make: pull the plug, or plug in and find a way to continue the creative collective.

Caitlind Brown checks out the Hiber National Gallery. A virtual art gallery with different rooms, each containing their own installations. (Submitted by Caitlind Brown)

"What occurred to us is that really, at this moment in time, it's more important than ever, to make sure that we're making space as a community for togetherness," Brown said. "And so we've, we've created this transposition from real space into non-physical space."

So they went digital. First, with an online dinner party and then with a public-access-style television program called the Hibernation Station. 

"The artists that were involved were creating typically live work," Brown said. "There was a couple of pre-recorded animations and there was a pre-recorded sound work that was a meditation piece. But most of the work was live."

'The song just completely falls apart'

Garret said one of his favourite segments was a live bake-along to make a birthday cake. At the very end, after the icing, it was time to sing.

"Because of all the digital delay … the song just completely falls apart," he said. "It's a really chaotic version of Happy Birthday, like it was kind of delightfully almost haunting."

The following week's instalment was a virtual gallery with rooms for those logging on to visit. 

And finally, this year's project ends with an exploration of what's not possible in real life and what is only possible in-person — like trying to set the internet on fire.

"We just wanted to keep the momentum of the project going but, of course, respect the new reality that, you know, we should all be isolating and social distancing," Garrett said. "It's been fascinating to kind of explore digital space as a medium for connections and you know, see what some of the potential is there."

About the Author

Helen Pike


Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist focusing on urban issues and municipal affairs. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.


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