If you were into taking your government-sanctioned exercise outings to the park during lockdown, you’ll most likely have come across a URL chalked on the pavements and paths: lockdownlovestories.com.
Philippa Found’s participatory art project asks for anonymous submissions that collectively tell the story of how we have loved (and haven’t) during the pandemic. “It’s a portrait of this moment”, Found says, “which ties together writing, art, documentation, time capsules and telling stories, particularly women’s stories; all of my interests, really. I also just adore love stories. I’m a hopeless romantic.”
Since building the Lockdown Love Stories website a year ago, Found has received more than 950 anonymous submissions. When it all began, she was faced with the challenge of reaching people at a time when our familiar ways of connecting were severed. “Without people knowing about the project, there is no project”, Found explains, “it relies on people’s stories.” Inspired by her then three-year-old drawing on the pavement with chalks, she began chalking the website URL across Camden, communicating with people in the one place they were allowed to go: their local parks. “It’s the most direct way to reach people at a time like that. It’s ephemeral, it’s going to disappear, but it’s a trace that shows someone else is out there, that there’s a space where everyone’s welcome. So come and find it.”
The process of chalking became a way for Found to stay connected to her community, “it reminded me how much I love spontaneous interactions”, she says. As an artist or writer she generally spends much of her time alone, “it’s just you and your thoughts, your computer, or whatever.” But when she was out chalking, people would stop and talk to her, creating a feeling of togetherness during a time that, for many of us, was characterised by isolation. “It’s sort of been the flipside of everyone else’s lockdown experience in that I’ve actually met so many people.”
It reveals a lot about our collective state right now that her project has become so popular from such humble, organic local promotion. “But everyone loves love, don’t they?” she suggests. “And at a time when we were starved of being able to go out and have these experiences, we became really hungry for them.”
From the beginning, she was keen to make the project anonymous in pursuit of the truths we normally hide. “It’s those hidden things that can make us feel isolated when we think we’re the only ones who’ve experienced them.” The isolation that lockdown brought with it only exacerbated these feelings for many of us, so Found wanted to do something to connect people, to offer up a remedy for this specific kind of loneliness. “I think by reading other people’s really intimate confessions, when they’re so relatable, creates a sense of connection. People have found a lot of reassurance in that, and hope in the happy stories as well.” There’s also an element of dismantling shame in Found’s project, “anything people thought was just them, finding out that other people feel and do exactly the same things is a source of comfort. There’s something quite reassuring in knowing that our stories and behaviours aren’t that unique after all.”