Planning the Unspoken

My latest project, Extrospect is based off the art installation ‘Writing the Unspoken” by Lee Mingwei. In his installation, you enter a room containing three open booths with each one containing writing materials and a surface. Visitors are encouraged to sit, stand or kneel and write down anything that feels appropriate to them so that it can then be placed onto the booths walls for anyone to then pick up and read.

Lee’s artwork is inspired by Buddhist rituals and language, especially those of the Chan and Zen forms, which are a way of living rather than a form of religion in a western sense. Lee’s describes that his goal is to…

“… give visitors a deep and unexpected experience of certain inner experiences which they share with others, of feelings which are deeply and commonly human. The outer form of those experiences is only a device, albeit a beautiful one, for making this possible. It requires no faith, only the willingness to read, to write, to participate in an unnamed ritual of release.

As I entered this installation at Brisbane’s GOMA, I was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of calm and humbleness. I felt a sense of connectivity with the other observers of the public, we would smile with a sense of reassurance when our eyes met, almost acknowledging that this is a safe place, a place of learning and empathy, a place that connects as all with our deepest feelings.

As I read the plaque that was almost tucked away on the wall, I noted that there was a certain “rule” or guide step to follow with your writing here.

The three booths in the Letter Writing Project invite visitors to reflect and write on three different things — gratitude, insight, and forgiveness. The first will ask the visitor to write about something for which s/he feels grateful. The second will ask the visitor to write about something which has led to an important insight. The third will ask the writer to ask forgiveness from someone the writer has injured, or to offer forgiveness to someone who hurt the writer and still feels guilty about this.

Whether it due to the location of the plaque or the lack of interest of the observers, it seemed to me that a majority of writers disregarded this set of instructions. Rather, a majority of the notes I pulled off the wall seemed to convey a message conveying the thoughts of the writers mind at the time.

Some were quotes, short stories, confessions of love, bitter anger, memes, drawings, insults or compliments, all of which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to me. This experience was a way for people to express and share their deepest and most secret thoughts. A way for a reader to connect, almost intimately, with an anonymous member of the public.

But it was through this anonymity that I felt more connected with people than I have been. It showed me that everyone dwells on the pain of missed opportunity, that we all share the joy of experiencing something new, that the emptiness and guilt you feel over your blunders is a common sensation amongst us all.

How often, when we encounter another person, do we leave things unsaid, often the most important things, the things we will carry inside for years afterwards, things which are insistent and haunting, yet which remain unexpressed until the ears they seek are beyond reach? — Lee Mingwei.

I laughed, cried and was shaken by the letters people shared with me. I scoffed and was confused by peoples tales and quotes. I admired the beauty of peoples lives and felt sorrow for the ones who’ve lost their beauty. I left “Writing the Unspoken” feeling changed on an emotional level. I knew that this was the art piece I wanted to emulate for my game. I wanted others to feel the same sense of understanding and compassion I still feel as I write this.

This art piece is all about sharing our most inherent feelings with one another, something that is often shunned by the public, but are feeling and emotions we all share. Deep down, we all want a release from our pain, we want to share our joy, we all want to be fulfilled and content with our life and the choices we’ve made to get here.

For my project, I aim to capture this need of want and belonging. I want the player to understand and know that it’s okay to feel these emotions and for others to feel the same. Although lee’s artwork has a guideline for what to write, I want people to just write and share anything! I found that when people are just able to freely write without the pressure of being identified their soul and their secret selves are able to find a voice.

I want to recreate this sense of intimacy that the installation creates. I want players to approach the writing and be captured by the response. I want them to feel that there are hundreds of letter, all of which hold a message that connects to them on some level. And that even with all the letters available, they’ll know that there are millions more that never get a chance to find a voice, that even though there are millions of individual and unique people out here in the world, that we all share a common secret voice, one that is capable of connecting us all together if we just let it speak.