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Communications Office student writer Lynn Kim ’21 recently talked with Smallen Creativity Grant recipient Luke Bernard ’21.

Luke Bernard '21 works on his project in the living room at his home.
Luke Bernard ’21 works on his project in the living room at his home.

Within the first five minutes of our conversation, art major Luke Bernard ’21 admitted that he does not consider himself to be good at art. The creative aspect, he clarifies. He approaches art from a technical standpoint — he can’t paint or draw, but give him a topic and a camera, and he’ll be fine, he said.

For his thesis, Bernard is creating four short (less than 10-minute) films that capture the various emotions of four different words — unrest, solitude, isolation, and change. “I selected four words that I think are very relevant right now,” he said. “The idea is to have the words bring up different responses in students by having them free associate.”

Last summer, he wrote a 68-page script for a narrative film he planned to shoot this academic year. “And then I realized, I can’t have actors, I can’t have a crew, I can’t make a full film with the restrictions,” Bernard said. “I could have done it with masks and stuff, but I didn’t want to deal with that on top of making a whole film. So I took my frustration and realized other people were probably feeling a similar way about different things. So I thought, ‘Let me get a survey of what people are feeling and depict it to the best of my ability.’”

Bernard imagined his thesis incorporating a variety of concepts, from interviewing art majors on creating theses during a pandemic (too narrow), a narrative piece on this time (not quite it), and then, one night at 2 a.m. he woke up, jotted an idea down, and went back to bed. When he woke up, he saw the note. He had his idea. He spoke with Art Professor Ella Gant, his advisor, the next day.

The concept began with around 16 words. Through conversations with professors and peers, Bernard narrowed it down to the final four, words similar in theme but distinct enough to spark and sustain conversation.

“It’s about making it make sense as a cohesive piece while also keeping them separate enough,” Bernard said. “Two of the words that are very close are ‘isolation’ and ‘solitude,’ but there is still a distinction there that I think is important.”

Most students regarded solitude as a matter of choice, while isolation is more mandatory. “For isolation, I got ‘quarantine,’ ‘forced solitude,’ ‘box,’ ‘prison,’” Bernard said. “Whereas for solitude, I got more ‘family,’ ‘home,’ ‘room,’ ‘meditation.’ The distinction is subtle, but it’s really interesting.”

I think ‘unrest’ is the word that I identify with the most.

Due to COVID-19 safety measures, Bernard could not go into people’s rooms to do sit-down interviews. Instead, he and his interviewee had to be outside, distanced. So Bernard stood outside of KJ Circle for five or six days, camera and tripod in hand, calling out to passersby to participate. He ended up interviewing 76 students.

“From ‘isolation,’ I heard ‘prison’ then ‘Alcatraz;’ for solitude, ‘polar bear’ because of the Arctic,” Bernard said. “It was interesting, people’s minds wander sometimes. It’s fun to see that. Some answers I expected I didn’t get, but also vice versa.”

The words Bernard chose came from a place of personal investment and curiosity. The France native has had to stay in the United States due to the pandemic, and he has been thinking a lot about unrest, solitude, isolation, and change. “This is part of why I did the project and why I had expectations for it,” he said. “I haven’t seen my family in over a year; I’m in a house alone right now. The isolation, the solitude isn’t that bad, I don’t love it, but I know there’s a reason why we’re doing it.”

With the country in a state of uncertainty and frustration, particularly timely in the wake of police brutality and a contentious presidential election, Bernard felt drawn to one word in particular. “I think ‘unrest’ is the word that I identify with the most,” he said. “Living in the U.S., seeing these protests … I think when I’m all done, it’s going to be the most impactful one, because it’s the one I care about the most.”

In his films, Bernard plans to overlay visuals with the voice recordings of students. He will be doing most of the filmmaking and editing next semester. He is also composing music for the shorts, allowing him to have more control over tone. Bernard is a recipient of a Smallen Creativity Grant, a fund that supports artistic pursuits. He is using the grant for stock footage as well as tools for the films.

The Smallen grant has allowed me to work on a passion project without worrying about expenses or anything.

“One of the most interesting things I’m working on, and this is why I’m an art major not a film major, is the installation,” Bernard said. “Do I want to keep it just as a screen and headphones, do I want it to be an installation type of piece, walk-throughs … the creative aspect that goes beyond just the medium is really interesting to me, and it’s something I’d never had to think about before, so that’s new and fun.”

His installation will be a part of the senior show at the Wellin Museum next semester.

“I want everyone to feel what the word is,” Bernard said. “Let’s say it’s an installation piece, you walk in and ‘solitude’ is playing. I want you to feel like you’re in a solitary space. I want you to feel upset when you see ‘unrest,’ or positive when you see ‘change.’ I’m trying to get out of the viewer the emotion that I’m trying to put into it, if that makes sense.”

Bernard, who is minoring in cinema and media studies and women and gender studies, hopes to continue working with video and art in the future. “My personal life goal is to make commercials and advertisements professionally and make enough money to be able to do my own passion projects, like this one, on the side,” he said. “The Smallen grant has allowed me to work on a passion project without worrying about expenses or anything.”

On campus, Bernard works as a senior digital media tutor as well as a teaching assistant for art concentrators and video courses. He has also worked for the Digital Humanities Initiative the past three years, doing projects and interviews showcasing faculty work and grants.

“I like documentary work overall because it takes the story part off my shoulders,” he said. “I can find a topic I like and want to research, work on, share with the world, and the story aspect is less my own story, it’s more the story of others, which I think is more interesting. It might change as I grow, but currently in my life, the most interesting and rewarding medium in my life.

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