This past April, artists Lenka Clayton and Michael Crowe sent out personal letters to each of the 467 households in the town of Cushendall, Northern Ireland, where they had done a two week residency. The artists kept a blog with scans of the unsolicited letters – each one unique, with its own message, stationary, and sentiment. They intended the letters to be personal, even if they did not have personal relationships with the desired recipients. By creating a mass postal web throughout the village, Clayton and Crowe meant to incite conversation, curiosity, and neighborly sentiment.
A BBC News video (posted below) documents the town’s largely confused and frightened reaction to the letters. Many recipients viewed the letters as nonsensical or a breach of privacy. A local gallery owner even refuted the project’s status as art.
The venture seems now to exemplify the striking dichotomy between artistic intention and public reaction: though the artists intended to foster good will, they instead aroused fear and uncertainty. And though it was not hoped for, Clayton and Crowe, along with followers of the project, are confronted with a very clear picture of the world in which we live. It appears rather explicitly that privacy is valued over unsolicited friendliness, and that, simply, people just want to be left alone.
However, their town’s reaction has not deterred Clayton and Crowe from letter writing. In fact, they hope to pen an epistle to everyone in the world. So, consider that a warning, because you may very well be the next person to find a pleasant or alarming letter (most likely adorned with cute bird stickers) in your mailbox – either way, it’s all in how you perceive it.
You can watch Lenka and Michael talking about the project at It’s Nice That.