Letters from the Faceless and Nameless

Sarah, Davis and I have finally assembled our major work at gallery 5 after 4-5 hours of solid work! Please excuse me if there are a tonne of spelling mistakes in this, its really late and im rather sleepy!

To recap what we are doing: 

” Our project now is to essentially exhibit a collection of ‘Unsent letters’ that have been submitted to us from anonymous writers over the internet. The letters  tell unique personal stories about love, heartbreak, friendship/relations, rivalry, tragedy, trial, confessions or even really random accounts – ANYTHING that people wish to get off their chest by telling the world, yet at the same time remaining Anonymous.” ()
Why did we do this? Our group was fascinated with the notion of presenting the private details/intimate thoughts of an Individual into a public setting – such as a art gallery.  Many artists have explored similar concepts, in particular Astra Howard who is an artist renowned for her performances of public actions in urban public spaces. One of her works, ‘CITYtalking’ (2006), involved  the use of a ‘conversation booth’ in which Astra and a willing participant had a private conversation inside. However Astra ,sitting opposite  the participant, typed out what the participant was saying into a laptop device, which in turn transmitted the conversation to LED screens positioned on the outside of the booth allowing passing pedestrians to read what was said.

CITYtalking, (2006) Astra Howard - Photography by Greg Sims

Amy Spiers, one of our guest lecturers from week 11 of CAOS201, was also a key inspiration for ‘Letters from the Faceless and Nameless’. Amy  Spiers is a melbourne based artist who’s own works are socially engaging and are fantastic examples of participatory art. Her project Sob Stories (http://sobstoriesproject.wordpress.com/) inspired my group to exhibit the ‘work’ of others as a collection, where the collection ends up functioning not only as an art exhibit but also as a social interaction.
In Amy Spiers Sob Stories (2010), Amy had residents submit their own unique handkerchiefs with written stories and recollections of a time they cried in public. The conglomeration of authored handkerchief works were collected by Amy and publicly displayed  for the townsfolk to read.
Our Project deals with the same principles, except we are dealing with a medium of anonymous letters that were sent to us via various social networks across the internet. The whole idea plays on the notion of exhibiting the private life in the public space and enticing the observer through our natural voyuerist tendencies.

Amy Spiers, Sob Stories, 2010

Exhibition Design

We decided to exhibit our accumulation of anonymous letters as a wall piece.  After reading all the letters  we noticed that each letter could be placed into any one of 8 categories:

  1. Letters to a family member
  2. Letters to the deceased
  3. Letters to Friends
  4. Letters that desribed one sided/unreturned love
  5. Letters that detailed relationship break ups
  6. Letters that were addressed to a spouse/partner
  7. Letters to the self
  8. Work related letters

Seeing as the use of the internet (a world wide network of connected computers and nodes) was used as the  ‘blanket of anonymity’ between the artists (us) and the contributors, we decided to use this theme to exhibit our work by arranging our letters into a categorized Network map.  Each letter belongs to a category (as listed above) which exists as its own specific network AND each specific network connects to a central connecting point. As a result, every letter is essentially connected to one another.
The specific networks are colour coded by string colour to make it more obvious.

Our finished project


A conceptual map of the world wide web network. This 'map' inspired our finished product.

The Experiment:

Our major project was experimental through the sense that we got other people to produce the content for our artwork (the letters). Typically people think of an artist as a ‘creator’, someone who designs and develops an idea and translates it onto a canvas, sculpture, photograph, song, video, installation… the list goes on. However in this major project, the only creative work that I (the self proclaimed artist) did was initially come up with the idea and design how the submitted work would be exhibited. In a sense, everyone else that participated was the artist and yet I felt as if I was just a curator representing their works on behalf of them. Now dont get me wrong, we did not steal other peoples work! This work  just functioned entirely from the interaction and participation of society rather then one self proclaimed artist.

The problem with experimentation is that experiments dont always work…obviously. I was really worried that nobody would submit a letter or that we wouldn’t get a significant amount to fill out a wall.  I was also worried that the letters would just end up telling the same classic story about a angsty teenage girl in love with a cute guy from high school but is too shy to tell him. Well, we got a heap of those but to my surprise we also received a great deal of unique stories concerning matters other then high school crushes. We did get lucky, as the project did have this slight element of risk about it. However it has restored my faith in the generosity and willingness of the public to go out of their way for the sake of being a part of art.

In retrospect I think this major work was quite successful. We had a bit of an edgy start due to lack of communication and off timing between all group members, but in the end we each pulled our own weight and got the job done.

Josh Charles.

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