“OMG, did I really mean to say that?” It’s that inevitable “oh, crap!” moment when something fell out that, really, probably should’ve been kept to oneself.
That sense of what’s socially acceptable is part of the deeper issue embedded within artist Rebecca Krinke’s participatory exhibition “What Needs to Be Said?” at the University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum. It’s a companion element to Melissa Stern’s exhibit “The Talking Cure,” both closing April 30.
“What Needs to Be Said?” invites visitors to share some of their random thoughts on Post-its and then place them for others to see, on a large burned-wood wall piece facing a library-like area.
Visitors who prefer not to post their messages publicly — “public” meaning the people who physically visit the gallery — can drop them in a box labeled “private.” Those notes will be burned in a public ceremony Wednesday night. Krinke promises that no one — not even herself — has read or even seen what’s on them.
“I honor the trust; I don’t read them,” Krinke said. “I think of this sort of in an archetypal way, of being able to write or purge and send them off. In Japan, for example, the prayers are burned and they’re sent to the divine.”
Krinke, an artist-in-residence at the Weisman for the past academic year, created this piece as a companion to the broader exhibition that focuses on questions of public and private sharing, a relevant question in the age of social media and the internet. But in her exhibition, instead of the Facebook status update question of “What’s on your mind?” the question becomes “What needs to be said?” In that way, there’s an implication that certain things shouldn’t be shared, or should be said only within a specific context. The truth of the matter, however, is that self-disclosure is important and, at times, it’s unclear to whom what should be said.
The messages posted to the bulletin board have incited discussion among viewers, who often include school groups or college students.
“The people standing in front of the project might see a comment they don’t like about Trump or Hillary Clinton, and they’re like, ‘Is that hate speech? Should that be taken down?’ ” Krinke said.
As if existing in an analog pre-Facebook time and place, Krinke offers only two ways to share thoughts: Post them publicly to the wall, or put them in a box with other private messages. The latter implies a human trust in the artist. Krinke is also interested in broader questions about privacy.
“’What’s private anymore?” she said. “There are people who post updates about everything in their life. Then some people are very private.”
Nevertheless, people like to talk, and sharing on and offline is pretty normal behavior. The title of the broader umbrella exhibition references talking as therapy. The phrase “The Talking Cure” alludes to Freudian psychoanalysis.
Because of the exhibition’s interactivity, the museum guards — who are students at the university — became involved, especially when writing things down got emotional.
“The guards felt like they didn’t have any control over these moments of [emotional purging] and they felt really helpless,” said Anya Udovik, a student who has been blogging about Krinke’s project under the title “Radical Listening,” a concept that implies dismantling of hierarchies and inclusion of all voices in the process. “It was one of those instances where the guards had to intervene, but they were also onlookers.”
In that way, the thoughts written down take on an air of confession. Hazy questions about “what is public?” and “what is private?” at this point in time seem almost obsolete.
And besides, the truly most private thoughts are the ones that we keep to ourselves, such as passwords that are never written down and thus can never be found.