a series of small gestures

Inspired by the Smart Museum of Art’s exhibition Take Care, the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry invited University of Chicago students to submit proposals for short videos reflecting on the questions of how we care for ourselves and each other.

Through each of the ten weeks of Winter Quarter 2021, a student’s video reflecting on the theme of care will be “released” on the Smart Museum’s Instagram account. Over the course of the quarter, each of these ten “small gestures” of care will be accumulated here with information about the student and a short description of their project.

The Series

Week 10 | March 16, 2021

Elissa Osterland, MFA Student, Department of Visual Arts, Class of 2022

My hands and their repeated actions. Small gestures of care.

Week 9 | March 9, 2021

Katherine Beavis, Undergraduate studying Classical Studies & Art History, Class of 2021

Baking is a series of small gestures. Barring towering souffles and flambe dishes, baking is a ¼ teaspoon here, a quick whisk there, and cookies come together quickly. Dropping them off with friends allows us to share a tangible thing in a way that we haven’t been able to due to the pandemic. Instead of dinner with a big group we have Zoom and cookies. It’s not nothing but it’s not what we would have chosen for our last year here. Either way, we support each other and keep moving forward in the small ways that we can.

Week 8 | March 2, 2021

Kind eyes
Susan Feldt, Pritzker School of Medicine MD Candidate, Class of 2022

Taking care of patients looks different now. But as students who just started clinical work, pandemic healthcare is all we know. Before we enter a patient’s room, we put on our PPE and try to put down the weight of the work and the world. We do this because we are there to take care of them. But any relationship, even a provider-patient relationship, is in its nature reciprocal, a connection between two people. We can’t leave ourselves outside of the room, and through our PPE, they can still see us. Whether conscious or not, sometimes a patient says something that lifts a bit of that weight off. And that makes the next day easier. These are some of those stories.

Week 7 | February 23, 2021

Mar Narratum
Sam Clark, Undergraduate studying Urban & Environmental Studies, Class of 2021

Despite our knowledge and vested interest in this Earth, we are unable to see, let alone care for, the totality of the changing planet without relying on non-human eyes in helping us to visually compose and map the world. With regards to climate change, shifts such as cloud albedo or ocean acidity are perceptible only through their impacts on our machines or on the living beings around us. This piece seeks to address these concerns by excavating a curious thread of an unfinished poetic work by the late Christopher Logue, whose modernist retelling of the Iliad left tantalizingly unwritten his reworking of Homer’s original act of satellite vision—the description of the world on Achilles’ new-forged shield—and use it as a keystone to construct a cosmology of discarded automata and slaughtered “chthonic” beasts, highlighting the world-composing entities which we have failed to properly enfold in our ethics of care.

Week 6 | February 16, 2021

Red ones
Brandon Sward, PhD Student in Sociology

“Red ones” is what my maternal grandmother calls red enchiladas. There’s always a pot of red enchilada sauce on the stove at my grandparents’ house, in various stages of heating up or cooling down, offered to anyone who happens to walk through the door. During lockdown, I’ve been thinking about the comfort of food, not only as literal nourishment, but also spaces like the kitchen and table as sites of conversation, storytelling, and intergenerational contact. In “Red Ones,” my grandmother teaches me how to make the dish. Through this “first-person” perspective, I intend to express the feeling of interacting with my grandmother, the matriarch of my mother’s family. As a queer biracial person, I have a deeply ambivalent relationship with the intersections of caregiving and gender/race, which for me parallels the role of the narrator as simultaneously present and absent: a voice and two hands, but nothing else.

Week 5 | February 9, 2021

The Little Things
Hurston Mazard Wallace, Undergraduate studying Visual Arts, Class of 2021

The days blend together, your actions blend and become ambiguous. The house can trap you in it’s constant comfort, the days can trap you in their constant motion. Just a little bit of joy with your friends can really pull you out of a rut. Reach out however you can, you’ll see.

Week 4 | February 2, 2021

Untitled (an in progress edit)
Abigail Taubman, MFA Student, Department of Visual Arts, Class of 2022

I moved to Chicago during the pandemic to attend UChicago's MFA program. I don't know anyone here and have felt largely disconnected from the city, the school, and all of their resources. This disconnection led me down a familiar path—to heavily research where I was in order to understand it. This research and archival pondering became a chaotic act of personal care. To understand my own narrative I had to understand how it was fitting into larger histories external to my own—how did my history, my own positionality intersect with those of Chicago? It is important for me as an artist to think about and work through these types of questions at all times, but particularly now during the pandemic when feeling unmoored, at odds with my environment, grief stricken, and confused.

Week 3 | January 26, 2021

The Rituals We Celebrate as First Generation Kids
Laura Chen, Undergraduate studying Creative Writing, Class of 2021

I have become appreciative of Buddhism, my grandparents’ religion, but not a religion I grew up with. I’ve gotten used to meditating for at least ten minutes every day and I’ve seen a massive improvement in my mental and emotional wellbeing. Another part of my culture is Chinese New Year with the ceremonial burning of fake money in honor of dead loved ones. My grandparents perform this ritual every year and, given the circumstances of 2020, I’ve learned to appreciate the care that goes into this tradition. It is one I hope to keep in my future family. My video touches on the ways that traditions passed down by immigrant families teach us how to live more meaningfully. I want to show how the very cultures we grow up in can be the most important sources of care in our lives, especially in sustaining feelings of gratitude and happiness.

Week 2 | January 19, 2021

Sleeping Men
Lily Scherlis, PhD Student in English Language and Literature

In the summer of 2020, Lily Scherlis mailed chromakey green screens to performers, asking them to drape the fabric over their bed. She filmed them sleeping from afar through their webcams, using the green screen as a blanket. The resulting images are edited screen captures from live Zoom calls.

Week 1 | January 12, 2021

Cold Blooded Care
Tirtzah Harris, Undergraduate studying English, Class of 2021

Can my turtle love me back? It’s difficult to say—reptiles are not generally known for their love of cuddling or friendly pack behavior. Through sixteen years of ownership, I had built up a bond of trust—something in the mind of my watery friend that associated my face with a rain of dried shrimp. The process was slow and deliberate, as most turtle matters are. And yet, in the matter of two short months, I’ve broken that trust completely. He’s needed daily medicine to cure an infection, and while I am pleased to say he is getting better, he’s started hiding away from me.


a series of small gestures is an initiative of the Smart Museum of Art’s Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry. Student proposals were reviewed by a panel of jurors comprising the following Smart Museum staff: Nicole Bond, Lead Museum Educator who has created and led educational programs for a variety of audiences with many exhibitions at the Smart Museum, including Take CareJennifer Carty, Associate Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, who co-curated the exhibition Take CareBerit Ness, Assistant Curator of Academic Initiatives, who co-curated the exhibition Take CareErik Peterson, Manager of Family Programs & Student Engagement, who works with University of Chicago students through many co-curricular programs including the Smart Museum’s Student Advisory Committee; Aaron Wilder, Academic Engagement Coordinator, who works with University of Chicago students through the various internship programs at the Smart Museum as well as through academic programs sponsored by the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry, such as a series of small gestures.

In addition to the jurors above, this project is heavily indebted to critical contributions made by: Aneesah Ettress, Curatorial & Academic Engagement Intern; Issa Lampe, Deputy Director for Academic & Curatorial Affairs and Director of the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry; C.J. Lind, Associate Director of Communications; and Yue “Cherry” Ying, Academic Engagement Undergraduate Research Associate.

Image: Amanda Williams, Color(ed) Theory Series, each 2014–2016, printed 2017, Color photographs. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Purchase, The Paul and Miriam Kirkley Fund for Acquisitions and Ann E. Ziegler, 2018.9.1–7. Installation view in Take Care. Photo by Michael Tropea.