Occidental couple helps launch international arts website Decameron Row

Presented as a virtual row buildings on a digital street, Decameron Row presents one-minute videos by 100 artists.|

Venues are closed, mass gatherings are canceled and virtual events on the Internet are becoming commonplace. But for some leaders in the creative community, the biggest and best may be yet to come.

Perhaps the most ambitious new online arts project to emerge so far during COVID-19 and sheltering in place, the Decameron Row project has its roots deep in history.

Written and set in the 14th century, the humanist Giovanni Boccaccio’s “Decameron,” a collection of novellas, described a group of friends who averted the loneliness of quarantine during the Black Death by sheltering together in an abandoned villa outside of Florence and telling each other stories. There were 10 people each crafting creative tales over 10 days, for a total of 100.

Instead of 100 stories, Decameron Row presents 100 one-minute videos, each in a different window on a digital city street. When a visitor to the website — decameronrow.com — scrolls over any one of the lit-up windows, the name of the contributor appears on the screen. The user clicks on the window, and that person’s video will play.

Sherry Huss of Occidental and her husband, Joe Szuecs (pronounced “Sooch”), served as part of the five-person team that put the project together. The group believes this online performance venue, with its potentially global reach, is just what the world needs now, during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This can be a getaway and an entry point for meeting people, especially during the lockdown,” Huss said.

New videos will continue to launch one simulated building along the virtual street each week throughout the summer until all 100 windows on Decameron Row are illuminated.

Aside from the time limit, which is not strictly enforced, the Decameron Row format offers contributors an open forum.

“We actually haven’t edited anyone. We curated the people. Other than that, we’re letting each video be what it’s going to be. We gave them a venue to show what they could do,” Huss said.

“We’re giving these folks a bigger stage, outside the disciplines they’ve been practicing in,” she added. “We’ve really tried to be diverse. We have people from all around the world.”

The minute-long videos emerge as an odd but appealing blend of personal postcard and performance pieces, with the artists appearing in isolation in their homes. The mood is often introspective.

Seated in his kitchen in Tel Aviv, writer Etgar Keret likens the pandemic to his own lonely battle with asthma as a boy: “It sent me back to childhood.”

Walking a deserted street in Nigeria, author Otosirieze Obi-Young wistfully recalls gatherings with his friends during college days, trying to put into words the “inexpressible feeling” created by the pandemic.

“Imagine my country as a baby, motherless and fatherless,” filmmaker Gabriela Amaral Almeida says to the camera from her home in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “It’s been a nightmare here for the past three months.”

While the mood is sometimes somber, some of the videos celebrate the chance to perform online. Performing in Spanish with English subtitles from Santiago, Chile, and backed by a wall adorned with guitars, musician Nano Stern sings, “I know I can go around the world without setting foot outside my house.”

The mid-July launch of Decameron Row also featured music by Los Angeles-based rock band OK Go, New York songwriter David Poe, violinist Sumire Hirotsuru in Japan, the Nortec Collective in Mexico and singer-guitarist Elvis Perkins in France.

Dance is represented by the Pilobolus company in Connecticut, Big Dance Theater in New York, choreographer Ohad Naharin in Tel Aviv and dancer Mike Tyus in California.

Theater and TV performers include New York actor Aasif Mandvi and California comedian Natalie Palamides. The site also spotlights New York novelist Nicole Krauss and Minnesota poet Douglas Kearney.

Visual artists include Som Sutthirat Supaparinya of Thailand and New York photographer Elinor Carrucci. Filmmakers include Ira Sachs of New York and Palme d’Or-winning Apichatpong Weerasethakul in Thailand.

Huss concentrated on the organization of the project, while her husband, Joe Szuecs, handled the technical side.

The husband-and-wife team has a long history of leadership in the “makers movement,” encouraging independent inventors, designers and tinkerers. Szuecs is president of Chimera Arts in Sebastopol.

Huss is a co-founder, with Dale Dougherty, of San Franciso’s Maker Faire, launched in San Francisco in 2006. She stayed with that organization through 2018, and she is now on the board of directors of 180 Studios in Santa Rosa. She recently joined The Freeman Company team — based in Dallas, Texas — as Innovator-in-Residence and is a founding member of Live Labs Studio, working on exploring the future of live events.

The other organizers of Decameron Row include: Whitni Radar of Sonoma County; Itamar Kubovy, former executive creative producer of the globally acclaimed dance company Pilobolus; Juan Diaz Bohorquez, European director of the World Building Institute since 2008 and writer, editor, artist and scholar Stefanie Sobelle.

“Right now, I’m all about community organizing,” Huss said. “Decameron Row is an all-volunteer effort that feels like an important exercise in community.”

“I believe there’s going to be life after this,” Huss said. “We’re all in isolation, and we’re looking at the future of what ’live’ performance means.”

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

Dan Taylor

Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat

Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.

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