Visual Artist Yassine Khaled walked in a Finnish forest wearing a helmet with an iPad attached to it and had conversations with six people from around the world. The result is a Together Alone -work Monitor Man in The Time of Pandemic.
This is an update of your earlier work Monitor Man. How did you come up with the idea for Monitor Man in the first place?
When I arrived in Helsinki in 2015, I had a cultural shock. At the same time there was the refugee crisis. The communication was cold and people were not friendly. I noticed that people do not communicate much with each other or with strangers. So, I tried to figure out how I could approach this as an artist. It was also difficult to find an exhibition space, so the only way was to do something in the public spaces.
My first idea was to have a box on my head and write a question on it and just walk in public space and try to see Finnish people’s reactions. Very fast I understood it would not work, the only way to create communication was through a technological device. Monitor Man can be seen as a communication platform to invite somebody outside of Europe to discover the Western world and vice versa.
How does the Monitor Man in The Time of Pandemic differ from the previous work?
The focus was before on global digitalization – how technology changed the way of communication and how much we started to use it. This new version of Monitor Man reflects also the social media culture. Nowadays, people are sharing more about their private lives and starting to live with others virtually. In this new version of Monitor Man, I have invited six people around the world, from Belgium, France, Poland, Morocco and The United States to take a walk in a Finnish forest in the middle of nowhere and discuss their lives and how they have experienced the time of pandemic.
Were there any similarities or differences in the conversations with the collaborators from different countries?
One of the main thing is to explore if we have the same thing all together or somebody is experiencing the pandemic differently from others. In Morocco, people cannot go outside from their homes after 6 pm and without face coverings you can’t go out at all. In Finland, most people wearing face coverings seem to be foreigners or older people, and you are free to go out anytime. It’s really different than in New York where I spent two months, from February to March. There people were in panic and the atmosphere was so scary in public spaces, almost like in some Hollywood movies which describe future catastrophes.
In your works you explore power and wealth relations. How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic will affect them?
Millions of people have already lost their jobs. Still, the situation is not clear for many families. Many jobs will disappear. I could say we were living more physically free before and that won’t happen in the same way in near future.
The pandemic time has changed our communication, cultural practices and lifestyles. Maybe we will choose to be closer to nature and near surroundings. Many people in the big cities are trying to go from closed spaces to open spaces. Maybe more people will prefer to live in the suburbs to living in the cities.
In the piece you walk in Finnish forest while speaking to collaborators around the world. What’s the significance of Finnish forest for you?
Most of the collaborators are isolated inside their homes and cannot go to the forest or it’s far away. I wanted to give people the opportunity to see Finnish forest and nature.
Do you have any new plans for Monitor Man after this?
I will continue with Monitor Man as a new project that I’m currently developing. Monitor Man has been a long term project for about five years now. It’s also reflecting my teenage boy dream that one day I’ll be traveling through video games as I have always been very curious about other cultures. When the Internet came and I found a public camera in Times Square in New York in real time, it was like a dream come true for me. Maybe the idea comes from that.
Watch short film Monitor Man in the Time of Pandemic here.
Text: Sara Nguyen Photo: Joana Magalhães