Journals will be placed in public areas around Michiana or distributed through an acquaintance network. Journals are incredibly personal tools for self-exploration and expression. While most people hold their diaries close, others choose to share their thoughts with the world through social media or blogs. Blogs and other online forums can give people a sense of anonymity. This allows people to say things they wouldn’t generally say in person or to confess things without it being tied back to them. (Theoretically.) These short statements can often be crude.
Anonymous scribbles in bar bathrooms follow similar trends, but in other contexts these expressions become more liberating and introspective. For instance, Candy Chang’s Confessions project reveals not so many criminal offenses, but those of emotional turmoil and regret. When people have longer to contemplate what to write, do they follow the same trends? Given more words to express themselves and time to do so, do they gravitate toward the same subjects?
The journals will be a place for participants to record their thoughts. Responses will be unscripted and will remain anonymous unless the participant chooses to self-identify within their writings. Instructions will make clear revealing their identity is completely voluntary with suggestions of details to avoid, like job locations or school names. A short list of prompts is included for those participants that are intimidated by an empty page or don’t know where to begin. Writing prompts will focus on community and social topics. Outside of the prompt suggesting a subject, answers will be unprompted.
Pre-stamped and addressed envelopes, instructions, and voluntary writing prompts will be placed in packets to protect them from the weather and will be left in places where they are likely to be discovered and picked up. Places such as college campuses, bar smoking corners, bus stops, or water fountains make the journals more likely to be spotted. Announcements made through social media and various regional art groups are intended to help with awareness and participation in the project.
Participants may write as little or as much as they like while they have the journal. Journals may be passed along to extra participants or completed by groups instead of individuals. Return of the journals is requested within 2 weeks, allowing 2-3 days for mailing.
Once the journals have been returned, the responses will be recorded through photography and displayed on a publically accessible website. Physical journals will be put on display at various locations around Michiana in a manner to encourage interaction with the journals and entries. Readers will be highly encouraged to pick up and read the submitted journals. Touching and holding the journals in a multisensory experience. The feel of the paper and the indentations from the pens, the sight of the handwriting, the smell of the paper. This tactile input is designed to create an emotional bond with the reader.
The goal of this project is for the end reader to gain insight into the human condition, inherent in all people, of the neighbor or the stranger from the other side of the city.
Image courtesy of candychang.com/work/confessions Installation in Las Vegas
Screen shot of secret-confessions.com – one of the less vulgar examples online submissions.
Image of installation for Kelly Clawson’s free handcrafted journal project in Philadelphia 2013
Photo courtesy of tyler.temple.edu/student-work/free-journal-project
Clawson’s project involved handing out free handmade journals in specific locations around Philadelphia. There were no strings attached to picking up a journal.
Research and Process
There are many styles of journals. Which would lend themselves to this project the best? I decided to look for journals meeting the following criteria:
Thin, plain cover, lined pages, preferably less than $2 a piece, one that would take the least amount of time to prepare.
For this projects I chose a5 sized notebooks with lined pages and a craft brown cover. I was able to order a small batch through Amazon for just under $2 each. These journals were suitably plain on the interior, and uniform on the exterior to allow the focus to be on the content. While containing more pages than required the lines on the interior pages were intended to keep participants from freezing at a truly blank page.
As discussed in the caption for Kelly Clawson’s Free Handcrafted Journal Project, it was important to decide where to leave the journals. I considered what locations were more likely to have a high rate of found object interaction and which locations would have people more willing to participate in community or conceptual projects. College campuses, libraries, art centers, art stores, etc would be more suited for true random interaction. Considering the short duration of the test phase of this project a few of the journals were left in public spaces and most were passed through acquaintances to participants.
After the journals were filled out there would have to be a system in place to get them back to me. Drop off locations were dismissed as likely to break anonymity. Mailing the journals back would be convenient for both participants and myself with some preparation. Pre addressed and postage paid envelopes were included with the journals.
Displaying the journals in cases would indicate the importance of the material and add novelty, but would prevent interaction. Multi-sensory input from interacting with the journals creates connections with the observer and the participant. Ultimately the approachability of the journal display outweighed emphasizing their existence. Journals will be placed on a coffee/end table in small seating arrangements.
Multiple journal sized were considered.
A5 or 5×7 journals were selected as being easy to write in yet still able to be sent through the mail affordably. Ideally, the notebooks would be handmade to eliminate the excess pages, making the journals less intimidating. Being handmade would make the lines much more time consuming to include in the journal design. Image courtesy of Danielle Wilborn.
Museum style display cases would indicate the importance of the material, but would prohibit interaction between the audience and the journals.
Image courtesy of zonedisplaycases.com
Multiple display methods were considered and dismissed for time, cost, or they did not support the purpose of the project. Images below from Pinterest – original sources linked here https://pin.it/imjxrfcx6sq2w4. The images below are all ways the presentation of the books could be enhanced if the project is expanded.
To give the journals a bit more personality and make them potentially more appealing to participants I decided to title them in all different styles of writing. By the 10th journal the word had lost all meaning. The inside covers of the journal were hand labeled with the journal number (2/10 etc), and lines for date placed, location placed, and date returned. Expanded this project would place the journals at various locations around the Michiana region. For time and example purposes most of the journals were distributed through the artists’ network.
Instructions and a short project description were hand written in a practice journal then scanned and copied for the journal packets. Each packet contained a journal, the description/ instruction sheet, a small list of writing prompts, a pre-addressed and postage paid envelope, and my business card. The writing prompt aspect was added when potential participants repeatedly indicated they would not know what to write about.
Two journals were left in public places. One at Aldi’s off of Grape Rd, and one at the Eagles Conservation Club. The remaining eight journals were handed to acquaintances for them to participate or to pass the journals along to a more anonymous participant. Participants were also requested through the local artists group on Facebook, The Artists of Michiana… Unleashed!.
The rest of this portion of the project was mostly spent waiting for responses. A few initial participants did contact me requesting to turn the journals back in as they no longer wanted to participate. These journals were re-distributed when possible.
ReflectionThis project was a good small test run for a larger project to attempt in the future. As of 12/10/2017 no journals have been returned completed. Three participants have indicated their journals are on the way through the mail, but will not get to me in time for inclusion in this report. The status of the two journals left in public places remains unknown. As of 12/1/2017 they were not in the locations they were left.
Another attempt at this project would require some changes. Ideally the journals would be handmade for several reasons. Being handmade would add another level of human craft and interaction to the project. It would also allow for a smaller number of pages to be included, making the journal a more appropriate size for the project and eliminating wasted pages.
More time would be given for participants to work on their journal. Roughly one week is not adequate time for people to contemplate their responses and return the journal.
The packets themselves need polished and placed in clear water resistant bags without branding. Including more project material, such as full description and statement are under consideration. However, including that information could interfere with the spontaneous aspect of the answers. A business card with the website on which the photos can be found would be included as well.
Documentation of the journals will still occur as they are returned. Follow through on pilot projects is important to gain support for a full scale attempt.