How can one create and strengthen relationships within the world, whether
they are with friends, family or participants/viewers of a project? How can I
talk about that need?
I write a love letter to a friend, a family member, a stranger, viewer of my
work. What does it mean to each of these people? Do I find some quality
in them that they do not themselves see? Does the recipient find it
reassuring to be acknowledged through such a gesture? Or does it
alienate them? Does it minimize our isolation, if even only momentarily?
Do art projects demand love or recognition from their viewers?
I want to love you well.
1 not sent
29 returned opened
1 returned unopened
3 thrown away
1 not returned (the recipient wanted it to
1 not requested ( I didn't want the
recipient to misunderstand)
if the conflicts and the struggles, the
failure and hope against failure, the
reaching out beyond loneliness and
isolation in relationship are not what
make love so meaningful.
if minimizing the contradictions and
difficulties is not to minimize love itself.
how I, as an artist, can connect with you,
the viewer, who I rely on not only for
recognition, but to complete the work by
viewing it, reacting to it, and extending it.
how it effects you and you effect it.
Title: I want to love you well
love letters, relationship, table, 4 chairs,
writing on wall, obligation, vulnerability,
Wall from installation
Viewer at installation
Letters on table
|There are many contradictions inherent in engaging such questions in an art context. By displaying private and
intimate communications in a public setting and inviting scrutiny and comparison by presenting love letters as a
group (potentially robbing them of their uniqueness), one runs the risk of alienating the recipients (and/or viewers),
rather than creating intimacy. The projects I create aim to nurture dialog around these contradictions rather than
Within this framework, further issues arise: How are the elemental bonds between myself and those in my
life affected when something as intimate as a love letter is made public through the art world? How are the
connections changed when the letters are exhibited as one of many, rather than standing alone? How do people
respond to getting a love letter as part of an art project? Does it make the love letter more or less meaningful?
Change the meaning or have no impact? How can a love letter be shared publicly without being depleted of
Is it alienating and isolating rather than comforting? It is instructive to contemplate the motivations behind such an
act. Does exhibiting letters I write to others act as a means of elevating myself? Of manipulating how others might
think of me? Does it have to do with who I want to be or rather how I want to be seen by others? Perhaps the
motivation is an expression of a more profound question of how I am in the world.
I wonder how deeply I can share intimacy and with how many people; whether in trying to communicate that to
viewers they might differently consider love themselves.
This line of questioning ultimately leads us into the terrain of obligation as a tool of social reinforcements. I
feel that debt and obligation are intrinsic to the love letter as gift, and beyond that, debt and obligation are a basic
necessary glue for the bonds between individuals and between populations, between artist, viewer, curator and
collector. This fundamental character of deep human connection prompts one to ask, what are the specific
expectations that one creates with a love letter? Does the love expressed make the recipient feel they must
respond, either in kind (that is, with a letter) or through some other favor when the sender is in need?
Creating an obligation is one mode of building relationships, and by extension community and society.
Obligation has a particular quality, as distinguished from social bonds built through coercion, and in some
underlying ways it encompasses both. The Love Letters highlight different types of interpersonal obligation:
expected (such as with familial or romantic relationships), ‘freely’ chosen (such as with friends and viewers), and
gratitude (such as the bond created as a result of altruistic acts).
Unless the relationship is strictly tit-for-tat, obligations between family members or romantic partners have
complex histories and counter-obligations attached. It is less clear whether a generous gesture is ‘repayment’ or a
Commitment over time is what builds up these layers of complexity. Indeed, mature, close friendships take on this
emotional timbre much more than what I described as ‘freely’ chosen relationships. These relationships (where
exchanges of obligation are assumed and expected) depend upon the willingness to become obligated, to freely,
eagerly go into debt. This is an important, yet frequently overlooked, aspect of love. The Love Letters
acknowledge my debt to the recipients, at the same time that they might impose a new debt or obligation on the
beloved. However, the viewer/reader is left to draw her or his own conclusions about whether a recipient perceived
an obligation, or whether the recipient’s reaction was intended as a type of payment, and ultimately, how such
‘debts’ and ‘payments’ impact the quality of a given relationship.