Toni Ross’s installation speaks to tangible loneliness

Where And ‘WHEN’ And Why




Independent/Courtesy Toni Ross

Drive-By Art, an installation project helmed by Warren Neidich, came to the East End May 9 and 10. One of the most poignant pieces spanned the length of Beach Lane in Wainscott — Toni Ross and Sara Salaway’s “WHEN, 2020.”

The installation features a series of folding metal chairs, rooted to the ground exactly six feet apart — a nod to the social distancing created by the coronavirus outbreak. Stenciled on the chairs is a date, beginning with March 15, the first day of the lockdown. As one drives by, somewhere in mid-April, the days disappear, and a series of chairs simply read “April.” As it gets into May, the days dissolve even more, into “Yesterday,” “Today,” and “Tomorrow,” until they end in a jumble of days at the end.

Ross came up with the idea while responsibly visiting with friends, one of her few outings since the PAUSE went into effect.

Independent/Courtesy Toni Ross

“We were sitting in the backyard, all of us, six feet apart, and it just felt so weird,” she said. When asked to participate in the art project, “I was thrilled to get a chance to work with Warren, first of all,” she said. “But it’s also the first installation I’ve done with my daughter, so it brought us together during this really strange time of separation.”

It was Salaway’s idea to anchor the chairs to the ground. “Thank God!” Ross laughed. “With the winds lately, they would have all blown away.”

Although Ross says she didn’t have any underlying symbolism in the install, she acknowledged that many people have contacted her about their own interpretations. “It has affected people in ways I didn’t expect or intend,” she said thoughtfully. “When people drive slowly past all those empty chairs, I guess it strikes a chord of tangible loneliness.”

Sixty-one chairs represent March 15 to May 10, “the last day of the project,” but then an additional stack of chairs “to imply this will continue.”

Independent/Courtesy Toni Ross

“We have all lost track of time. Time has taken on a different meaning. We can’t seem to parse what was yesterday from what was last month,” she said. “It’s bizarre.”

The work has been donated to the Hayground School, of which Ross is a founding member. The work is on sale, either as a whole or in groups of three, with all the funds benefiting the Hayground Tuition Assistance program.

More information is available on Ross’s website, www.studiotoniross.com.

bridget@indyeastend.com