Cut a 6-foot-long black yarn.
Tie a light to one end.
Swing it over your head.
Swing until dawn.

2021 summer
Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from other people.
                                                                                             - CDC’s website
You have probably seen or heard the sentence above, in one form or another, every day over the past year. You saw it on the door when you entered the Olin library, on the sneeze guard at a surveillance testing site, or on the tree when you hiked on the Beebe Lake trail. Now, when we are at the beginning of the end of the daily routine regulated by face covering, social distancing, and nasal swab, I would like to use a set of three photographs, collectively titled 6 Feet, as a reflection of this unique year.
After omitting the technical details of the project, its creation process can be summarized as the Light Piece at the beginning, where I draw inspiration from Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit. While the social distancing rule was followed by varying degrees, the 6-foot distance very often represents a virtual and intangible boundary. In 6 Feet, I used the photographic technique of light painting to visualize the distance and its impact on the environments around us.
To create the photographs, I cut 12 feet of black cotton yarn, folded it in half, and tied a light to one end. I used a LED glow stick for wotagei (ヲタ芸), which can switch between multiple colors. To minimize the reflection of light on my body, all the clothes I wore were in black. The three on-campus locations I selected are the Baker Atrium, the crossing at Day Hall, and the Arts Quad near Olin Library. All these locations have a high viewpoint where I can position the camera. At each location, I swung the light above my head in full circles for 30 cycles, or roughly 15 seconds. Then, I moved to a new position, changed the color of the light, and repeated until most of the camera’s field of view was covered with circles. Although the lighting conditions at each location differed, all exposures were 5-second-long, and a photo was taken automatically every 10 seconds. In the end, all the photos with a circle were combined in Photoshop using the brightest pixels among all images.
Meyrowitz’s Medium-as-Language metaphor suggests that each medium has a “unique range of expressive potential” and the manipulation of the “grammar” choices alters the resulting message. For photography, the more common grammar choices include a short exposure that captures an instantaneous moment, as well as a subject that is clearly in focus. However, in 6 Feet, each photograph is a composition of numerous long exposures spanning the hour-long creation process, which gives the image a time dimension in addition to the space dimension. Furthermore, the human subject or the light source becomes blurred and unidentifiable through the editing process. The presence of people is instead embodied by the colorful circles that mingle, intersect, and claim their spaces in the image frame.
Since the three images were photographed in public spaces, the creation process also involves a performative aspect, which I drew inspiration from Atsuko Tanaka's Electric Dress. In Electric Dress, the incandescent brightness and immensity obstruct the viewers’ access to the performer’s face. In 6 Feet, the body of the human subject is erased through the darkness of the environment and post-processing. The surface of Electric Dress serves as a transformational boundary between the body and the outside world. In 6 Feet, the orbiting glow stick also symbolizes the boundary, or a safe distance, between one and its surrounding. While the surface in Electric Dress is maintained by the performer enduring the intense heat and brightness of the contraption, in 6 Feet, the circles are maintained by the physical labor of swinging the light. While creating the images, I swung the light more than 3,000 turns above my head. Although the weight of the glow stick felt trivial at first, the momentum of the repeated rotations made my wrist feel tired and I had to switch hands and take rests to finish the project.
Although I created the images after midnight, I was surprised by the number of pedestrians and traffic because of the end of finals and upcoming graduation week. At all three locations, there were people interested in what I was doing. While making the photo at the crossroad, one student asked if he could try to swing the light stick. As a result, one of the magenta circles on the left side of the image was created by him. In addition, different from the other two images, this one includes the light trails left by the passing cars. The wave of lines created by headlights cut across and layer over the circles, signifying how the separate spaces occupied by pedestrians and vehicles intersect at the crossroad.
[1] Ono Yoko. (2015). Grapefruit. The Museum of Modern Art.
[2] Meyrowitz, J. (1999). UNDERSTANDINGS OF MEDIA. ETC: A Review of General Semantics, 56(1), 44-52. Retrieved March 21, 2021, from
[3] Kunimoto, N. (2013). Tanaka Atsuko's "Electric Dress" and the Circuits of Subjectivity. The Art Bulletin, 95(3), 465–483.
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