Like most local creatives, Kristin Bauer has made a significant pandemic pivot in recent weeks, finding ways to make art amid the new reality of social distancing and shuttered art spaces. She’s been installing text-based works on storefront windows, shifting the urban landscape with words that bring a renewed sense of community to a time marked by isolation.
She started with an installation at Practical Art, one of many small businesses in the creative sector that’s taken a significant hit since temporarily closing in mid-March due to public health concerns. “Kristin reached out to me about finding ways to connect people and express how we’re all feeling and how we’re all in this together,” owner Lisa Olson says.
Facing the entrance to Practical Art, people see three lines of large white text written in capital letters. “In this way we are ever connected,” it reads. Bauer ran the wording by Olson before she made it. “It gave me goosebumps,” recalls Olson, who says Bauer’s newest work is a “wonderful example of the creative ways artists are working to connect people.”
She’s been making text-based pieces for many years, showing them in galleries, museums, and public spaces ranging from buildings to bathroom mirrors. Before the COVID-19 crisis, Bauer was part of a group exhibit at a Los Angeles gallery, and she was getting ready to make text-based art with students in local schools. “I had a pretty good start to 2020,” she says. “Now we all have to find new ways of working.”
Bauer works in a Tempe studio she shares with her husband and fellow artist Emmett Potter, where her larger body of work includes text-based acrylic sculptures. For this project, she’s using Scotch 3M vinyl, a relatively inexpensive material that’s easy to install and keeps the cost down for people who are commissioning the work.
So far, Bauer has created work for two additional spaces owned by local creatives — a boutique called Desert Crafted and the Hazel & Violet letterpress shop on Grand Avenue. “We’re all missing the ways we used to connect physically,” Bauer says. “I wanted to create a sense of community conversations.”
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Hazel & Violet owner Nancy Hill decided to commission a piece after seeing pictures of Bauer’s newest works on social media. Years before, Bauer created a text installation for that same space inside Bragg’s Pie Factory — a floor installation at the doorway that read “You had me at hello.” Now, a large window reads as follows: “So then the space between us is what keeps us together.”
For Hill, it’s a way to activate the space without people gathering for exhibits. Typically, the Five15 Arts collective shows work there, but it’s paused those due to the public health concerns. “I love the fact that from the inside the piece looks like type that’s been set,” Hill says. But there’s another plus, according to Hill. “It’s nice to be able to do something remotely positive.”
Recently, Bauer connected with Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, where she’ll be installing work in coming days. Both venues have glass fronts, and face each other across a shared pathway — which means the pieces will exist in conversation with each other. Bauer describes it as a “hybrid of poetics and conceptual art and community.”
Bauer hopes to continue the project, even as she recognizes the uncertainties at play. “I feel like we’re moving through this time as artists when we’re working through darkness,” she says. “I’m just doing whatever is the next right thing with this, trying to remain as open and accessible as possible.”