EL Putnam solicits, exhibits anonymous postcards of love and loss
For her upcoming exhibit at Mobius, Putnam distributed about 200 stamped postcards with the instruction: “Write an anonymous note to someone you have loved and lost” and mail it to Mobius. The only guideline was that the message must end with the sentence “i wish you no ill will.” Until Sept. 8 the postcards will be displayed at Mobius. Putnam will also present a performance component 2-6 p.m., Aug. 28-31 and Sept. 4, 6, 7;
the closing performance is
7-9 p.m., Sept. 8.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for this project?
A. It comes out of a larger trend in my work where I’ve been trying to create connections with others. Doing these co-creative acts, and not working as an isolated artist. I’ve been working with many of these themes abstractly for a while. . . . For this project, I wanted to try something more concrete.
Q. How do you inject your own point of view into a piece that’s built around the work of others?
A. Through a series of performances, I’m going to try to bring these voices together. I like to think of myself as orchestrating this work. I’ve also submitted a number of postcards, as well. My voice will be mingled with other voices. But again, they’re all anonymous.
Q. Why was anonymity important to this project?
A. I really want to think of this as a selfless act, and part of that is anonymity. So it’s not about “This is my story,” but “This is a story.” In the experience of distributing these cards, there have been some mixed responses. Some people have been very trepidatious about participating. . . . I was thinking about, with Facebook and Twitter, people are always telling me secrets online. They’re baring their souls to these audiences and not even thinking about it. Actually sitting down and writing a note, something about that process, is different.
Q. Tell me about the phrase “i wish you no ill will.”
A. When you wish someone no ill will, it’s not just forgiveness of the other person, it’s also forgiveness of yourself for not letting yourself feel that pain anymore.
Q. You distributed some of these to several people you know. Is there any sort of temptation to try to figure out who wrote the cards?
A. Not really, no. . . . I think one thing about this Internet age is that I don’t know anyone’s handwriting. [Laughs.] But really, I don’t want to know. For a while I was actually avoiding even reading them until the beginning of the performance. I wanted to see what would come out. The people I’ve given them to are people that I care about and I respect their feelings. I feel like it’s only going to be a successful project if it is a positive experience.
Q. Do you expect this project to actually influence the writers’ feelings about their breakup?
A. I’ve talked to some people who participated in the project who said even the act of putting the postcard in the mailbox . . . is already an act of letting go. Putting it out there. But I don’t have any expectations of how people are going to respond.
Q. Is the performance component improvised?
A. I may have some ideas going into it, but I really like to be present in the moment and see where it takes me. It is a kind of improvisation, but I tend to use materials that I’m comfortable with, and I’ll know how they’ll respond.
Q. What materials?
A. As I’ve been trying to work with these ideas of connecting with others, I’ve been creating a lot of ropes and strings, and using a lot of thread.
Q. Your past performance work has been messy. Will that play into this at all?
A. There may be glitter involved.
Q. What draws you to glitter?
A. It’s one of those materials, if it gets on you, it sticks with you. You end taking it home, and you’re like, How’d that get there? Oh, it’s from that. I’m interested in how the artist creates traces.
Q. How does that relate to the idea of letting go?
A. Letting go of the negative emotion, but carrying the positive experience.
Interview has been edited and condensed. Andrew Doerfler can be reached at andrew.doerfler@