France - The Install
F R A N C E
"So how was Paris?"
EL OH EL I cannot answer you in one sentence. I probably can't answer you in a paragraph...
I can show you photos and tell stories and maybe that will start to explain a little bit of all that happened, but I doubt I'll ever be able to get perfectly into words exactly how this trip was for me.
We went to Paris with the goal of screening the seven films created for Project The Great Divorce and inviting locals to come watch the films and debate the topics presented in the films.
When inviting people, handing them a flyer is nice, but not always the most effective means of street outreach, so we aimed to create ways to engage the public and invite them in a more personal way, instead of simply handing off a paper and hoping for the best.
This was accomplished through playing music on the streets on a few days, and an art installation on the other days.
At our team meetings in Seattle, we chatted a bunch about what would be the best way to engage the people of Paris, minding the fact that language could effect what we were doing. The idea of doing music kept being brought up. For some, this seemed like a no-brainer. For people like me, I felt like I had nothing to offer in a street musician setting. I can't play an instrument! How could I be of ANY use for that?
It became a problem in my mind. I did not want to go to Paris to promote these films we worked so hard on, and not be able to offer anything of "value" to the team efforts. I pictured myself standing around awkwardly.
At one meeting during an awkward moment of silence, the idea was tossed out about doing some form of engaging art installation using photos, questions and conversation. That idea became the first unifying thing that everyone could agree on, and, in some form and fashion, could picture themselves doing.
As the idea was mine, I was asked to plan out and pursue this project.
Your girl Scout, did NOT want to do this.
See, my life is rather busy right now, and even before knowing this project would be given to me to plan, I knew that starting the day we returned from France, I would be hitting the ground running with other deadlines, events, and an art contest. I did not want to take on more things and I did not want to fail or not do something well due to having too much going on. My goal was to say no when asked to plan out this project.
But I said "Yes"
The week following my "Yes" was filled with dread, failed ideas, stress and panic. Ruben and Olivia kindly offered to let me brainstorm and then pass off the brunt of the work to Olivia who would project manage and get the thing running.
My creative brain is a mess. A mess I can understand and navigate, but ask me to explain what's inside to you and I cannot. I have no words to tell you what I am picturing. I can draw graphs and examples, write out pages of possible outcomes and STILL not be able to tell you what is happening inside. I also get extremely frustrated and despair way to easily if one doesn't react well to what I am (badly) explaining.
God bless Olivia. She was able to picture what I was describing before I could! It wasn't until I saw everything coming together in Paris that I knew this might work. But, Olivia could see the vision before I even knew what I was trying to say.
Creatives need people like Olivia in their lives. She was encouraging and comforting during the whole process, and never gave up or let me give up.
While the idea of passing off the project once developed to someone else to put it into motion was a brilliant idea, it never truly happened. Days before leaving, I was in a panic, pulling together images from the internet to hopefully better explain what we were trying to accomplish.
I am thankful for those who could see when I could not. I am blessed to have people who encourage me and won't give up on me. I am beyond thankful for the trust that was given to me when we flew to Paris with no prototype ever made, no way for me to fully explain what was in my head, and only a few photos trying to explain what I designed.
Most of all, I am thankful for the team of 11 people who would be pulling this off with me without knowing exactly what I was trying to do. They trusted me enough to navigate language barriers in hardware stores to get wood cut, translated engaging questions from English to French, walked a mile carrying posts taller than most of us - all without knowing if this project would truly work.
My friends, it worked.
And did it ever! The response to the project was better than I ever would have imagined.
The second the first post was put in place, we had drawn a small crowd that only grew with time. The more people who came by to see and interact with what we were doing, the more people stopped to watch, who then wanted to participate themselves... it kept growing in numbers!
The work we all put into making this public response installation was a deeply unifying thing for our team. Originally, I had expected the project to run using maybe 5-6 people at a time, however, the scope of this project was larger than I imagined and ended up using all 12 of us at all times.
We had greeters/engagers, three photographers, musicians, tapers, translators, flyers being passed out and people who's job was to talk to others about what was going on and why we were out there.
The installation featured four 6 ft posts. Each post had a question at the top of it with four possible answers. Each question related to something about the individual's preferences. We asked participants to pick a string and loop the string along answering the questions til they reached the end. The last post featured an "arm" when the string would hang down. We then gave the people one last question "describe yourself in one word" and asked them to write the word down largely on a piece of paper and we would photograph them three times: one digital and two Polaroid photos. One Polaroid was to be attached to their string answers and one was for them to keep as a memory.
The questions were:
- What is your age?
- How many languages do you speak?
- What mode of transportation do you take?
- What is the most important to you? (For this question, we took the French national motto)
- Freedom (liberté)
- Equality (eqalité)
- Brotherhood/Community (frternité)
It was very interesting to see what people chose as their answer for the motto question. The 20-something and younger generation all chose equality and the 30-something and older crowd chose freedom.
Another favorite aspect of mine was seeing what word people wrote down to describe themselves. Some choose to be silly, some got very serious. We had answers in French and English!
Some of the photos are below. You can see all photos from the install here.
In total, we snapped more than 100 polaroid photos.
I am glad that this took so much out of me; the conceptualizing, the work, the brain power, the physical labor... all of it made this project so much more rewarding when it was all complete and in action.