June 26, 2020 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
The novel Cornavirus has inspired some novel ideas. From personal glass greenhouses at an Amsterdam restaurant, stuffed pandas occupying chairs in a Bangkok eatery, to pool noodle hats at a cafe in Germany, people are exercising their collective creativity to maintain social distancing and make it safe to go out again.
When the pandemic hit Elblag, Poland and forced the closure of the city’s contemporary art gallery, Director Adriana Kotynska, an architect, came up with an innovative solution to safely attract visitors to its public outdoor space. She turned the gallery’s overgrown lawn into a green checkerboard, mowing the grass in a pattern to create individual social isolation zones.
The Galeria EL occupies a former gothic Dominican church with a large adjacent courtyard that was the property’s monastic garden. The gallery often uses its spacious lawn to host various cultural outdoor events such as concerts, performances, exhibitions and casual meetings or just as a spot for visitors to relax. Like other places around the globe, this venue was forced to cancel its planned summer activities which included picnics and art workshops.
While weathering the pandemic, the northern Polish city was also experiencing a serious drought. To be waterwise, the gallery stopped mowing the lawn and let it to grow tall. Unmowed grass maintains moisture, prevents soil erosion, lowers the temperature, produces oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide, while also supporting biodiversity. “The high grass helps small creatures – like bees and little rodents – to feed and hide,” observed Kotynska, and “we happily observed lots of wild flowers growing too.”
The concept arose from the team’s desire to accomplish two things: safely hold their events and remain eco-friendly. In designing the patterned turf, Kotynska and her colleagues researched the size of a standard picnic blanket then matched the dimensions of the individual spaces to local guidelines for social distancing in public areas. The space now offers folks a place to hang out separately but together, do yoga, or enjoy lunch al fresco.
The checkerboard pattern appears as a kind of impromptu site specific installation–a perfect fit for a gallery known for exhibiting abstract geometric art. “It was so simple that I was almost sure that the solution had already existed somewhere else,” said Kotynska. Maybe not, because since lawn’s debut, people from Poland and beyond have been commenting about the unique social distancing solution. I agree.
Photos courtesy of Ada Kotynska and Lukasz Kotynski.