Saturday, October 3, 2009

Letters to a New Generation: Overview and Artist Statement

I am currently working as an artist-in-residence in the Economics Department at Cornell University. Over the course of one week, I will move my studio into a public space and create a painting and interactive installation. The installation, "Letters to a New Generation", asks people to respond to the question, "Given the chance, what would you say to a new generation?" Each response is then folded up and inserted into one of over 500 bland, tan pockets that hang from the wall. Before inserting the letter, however, the pocket is turned in-side-out to reveal the unique, colorful fabric that lines the inside. The idea is that, as we begin to think about future generations, the space will turn from a uniformly depressing shade of tan to full color. It is born of my concern that we are becoming an increasingly selfish society and that, if we do not redirect our power and resources, it will lead to our destruction.


At this current point in U.S. history, Donald Trump is far more famous to the average American than Greg Mortenson, a man who has spent the last 16 years establishing over 90 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan so that young women have access to education. This seems to indicate that pop culture is prioritizing monetary rewards over humanitarian efforts. In this social climate, I wonder if our ability to appreciate beauty has deteriorated in the wake of our desire for traditional wealth. This installation reflects my interest in how the products we market reveal our expectations for a society and how the products we consume affect our experience of living within it. In an extreme case scenario, what would our lives look like if we measured the worth of every act and object exclusively on margins of profit? In another a hypothetical scenario, what would our society look like if we designated the value of our products based exclusively on the degree to which they increased the quality of our lives?
This time-based, collaborative installation is the inverse of a quick fix, an alternative to reality t.v., and the worst example of mass production possible. The work starts with rows of empty, interchangeable pouches made from ordinary fabric; stand-ins for the corporate-owned songs that play over and over again on the radio, the clothing that sits on the clearance racks at Walmart, and the 2.5 million cups of coffee served through a Dunkin Donuts take-out window in the United States every day. Throughout the course of a week, visitors are invited to write letters to a future generation. Each letter is then inserted into a pouch that, when turned inside out, transforms into an individually adorned, colorful vessel. Slowly, the space turns from all beige to fully colorful as the room fills with private offerings of wisdom, humor, advice, and reflection. The pouches, each sewn shut, become time capsules—significantly selfless gifts for a generation of people we will never meet. For a brief window of time, I hope to create a space that allows us to collectively imagine and appreciate something bigger and more important than ourselves.


  1. Heather, I received a note from my sister, Melissa, indicating that you are taking submissions of notes offered as words for future generations. To than end, I am sharing a blog I wrote today about connecting "living in the moment," with a connection to Presence, beauty, and the Divine Other we sometimes call "God."

    Best wishes in this great project!

  2. Hi Heather,

    What an interesting project. I like the idea of a connection to people we will never meet, yet will impact in a way..... Like viewing a star in the night sky makes you feel good, but you will never "know" it.... ie: where it is/what it is.. but it leaves a lasting impression. My friend Ms. McCallum let me know about your installation. A separate email note has been sent to be included if you would like.

    David Savage

  3. Hi Heather,

    This project is at least 3 months in process and I am just learing about it now. What an awesome idea...I had tears reading your Artist's Statement. I am sure we will talk about this in class and I feel very fortunate to have seen your blog! Take care!

    ~Nicki Ditch