The work in the Telephone exhibit includes photography, illustrators, dance pieces, sculptures, paintings, poetry and other art, all based on a single message. Contributed / Nathan Langston

The coronavirus pandemic has increased feelings of isolation for many people, but an art project modeled after the children’s game Telephone is helping to connect artists from across the world, including a dozen from Maine.

“It is about passing a message, not just from person to person, but from artform to artform,” said organizer Nathan Langston, a Seattle-based artist who did a similar exhibit five years ago.

Some 950 artists in 72 countries contributed to the online Telephone exhibit. Work of a dozen Maine artists will be included. Contributed / Nathan Langston

In the kids’ version of the Telephone game, the same message is whispered from one child to several others in a circle. What the message starts as and what it ends up being are often two wildly different things.

Langston’s effort started in May 2020 with a message, which was passed onto an artist. Using the message for inspiration, the artist passed on his or her finished piece to two or three other artists, who used the artwork’s message to create their own pieces. Each of those works was passed on to additional artists. Since the launch, the original message – which Langston said is being kept secret until the exhibit goes live Saturday, April 10, at phonebook.gallery – has been passed 4.7 million miles through 950 artists in 488 cities in 72 countries across the world.

Langston said the exhibit includes dance, animation, sculpture, poetry, prose, photography, illustrations, paintings, music and other artforms.

Falmouth resident Ann Tracy, one of the dozen participating Maine artists, thought the game would be a good way to stay creative during the pandemic.

“It was something an individual artist could get involved with that is part of something much bigger,” Tracy said.

After receiving a photograph from a photographer from Italy, Tracy decided to create an abstract painting. That painting, she said, was part of a four-part series of paintings she is calling the Universe Series, the first of which is being shown in a small family-run gallery in Athens, Greece.

Amy Bellezza, a photographer in Portland, originally was not going to take part in the project after hearing about it from Tracy, but changed her mind because she thought it  would be a “great experience to be involved with something this global, monumental and complex.”

As part of her role in Telephone, Bellezza received an illustration from a woman in Bristol, England, that depicted two piles of abandoned cars in the woods. The illustration inspired her to take a simple photograph looking through the woods into an open meadow on the Timber Point Trail in Biddeford.

Bellezza said through the experience, she has befriended both the illustrator in England and the artist she passed her photograph to, a musician from Austin, Texas.

Taking part, she said, has been like creating “a small piece of a giant jigsaw puzzle.”

“This exhibit has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I am very grateful that I have been included,” she said.

Jessie Laurita-Spanglet, a dance artist and educator in Brunswick, said she was drawn to the Telephone exhibit because she has always been interested in the way artists translate messages.

“As a dance artist, I often take an idea or image or question and translate it into movement,” she said.

The challenge was how to translate into dance the poem she received from a writer in Lahore, Pakistan. Laurita-Spanglet said she spent a few weeks over the summer carrying the poem around with her before finally creating a dance film in a creek by her home.

“I tied my camera to my body and danced with it attached to me in order to get the footage that I needed. It was a fun process,” she said.

Langston said he hadn’t intended to play the game again in 2020 after a 2015 Telephone exhibit that included 315 artists, but he changed his mind when the pandemic hit.

“We knew this was something that could be played while socially distanced and away from each other,” he said. “This was a way to connect with people and interact with other artists.”

Langston said he has been impressed with all the work that has come in.

“What we created over the course of the year, a really difficult year, was miraculous,” Langston said.

The goal was to provide hope, he said.

“What we want most of all is to look back on this incredibly dark time and know we did something that was supernaturally beautiful,” he said.

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