The concept for an art project using actual correspondence came from a dream I had a year before the Santa Rosa, California fires in 2016. After the fires, with boxes of letters still intact, I set upon a path to create a multi-media installation using 30 years of correspondence, journal entries and pages from sketchbooks.
I am part of the last generation of letter writers, remarkable when you think about it. People have been writing letters for over 3,750 years. Now they type and send off a text message without much thought or labor. In a certain way I would describe this project as a personal reflection on how electronic media depersonalizes communication. Letter writing was once an art form and for those who love writing, a form of expression. From each unique script to the thought that went into each letter, sometimes written over a few days, a message was conveyed. Someone took the time to communicate with you.
Newspaper clippings, drawings, a dried flower, even the mark of a kiss that touched the writer’s lips could be sent anywhere in the world to be touched by the recipient. The paper could be uneven, drenched with the salt of actual tears. The digital era, while immediate, has lost a touch of the personal, the tactile component that has always been a part of correspondence.
Before I started writing via email in 1992 on average I would send and receive about two to three letters a week, most of which I stored away in boxes. I never thought about what I would do with those boxes and for many years they traveled with me as I moved from place to place. They were my sole possession along with my art books and supplies.
Until, I had a dream, in which I took all the letters and gave them a new life - a life that would represent the passages that we all go through from adolescence to midlife. All the reflections, hopes, insecurities and discoveries. As I embarked on re-reading letters untouched since the day I received and opened them I came across a curious fact. Back in the early 1990’s my best friend and I had referred to an art project in our correspondence that we would someday create together using our letters. How prescient.
While digital art is relatively new and exciting, the technology to view it will rapidly be replaced, rendering the artwork ephemeral unless constantly updated. The marks made by ancient cultures are still here today. Where will our digital marks and photos be in as little as 20 years? I reflect on this with my students. Will they have those markers of passage that I possess in my 50’s? The cherished letters and photos of a life well lived? Will it matter to them?
I am working on two visual representations that follow different aesthetic principles. One is a reconstructed narrative where the letters are in plain view and organized around a central image and the other is a raw archeological meandering akin to an expressionistic collage. This multimedia project will also include paper mache heads made of letters and a soundtrack with voices reading the correspondences. The artwork is made from old sketchbooks, journals, letters, photos and audio recordings. All of these elements will come together in one installation in June of 2020.