Once upon a time, communicating took a great deal of work. Paper was made by hand, writing was done with a handmade pen and handmade ink, and every word was handwritten. Printing presses allowed for multiple copies, but early type was hand carved, hand-set and the pages of text were pulled by hand. Nowadays in our so-called paperless society, children learn to print then go straight to “keyboarding.” Cursive writing is becoming a lost art—will we have to have special classes in creating a signature? Or will those unique scribbles of identity disappear as well?
In the Faulconer Gallery exhibition Kind Favor / Kind Letter (January 28 – March 20, 2011), three artists draw on the craft of papermaking, printing and handwriting to create an installation to remind us that human communication requires a human presence. Walking into the space feels like walking into a giant personal journal. Garlands of pressed leaves, of small notes, and of envelopes drape the walls. Lines of text, much of it from the lost language of short hand, embellish surfaces, as unreadable and beautiful as Arabic calligraphy. The title of the exhibition comes from two neighboring phrases from the Gregg Shorthand Phrase Book of 1902.
With its paper cutouts, its texts, and its sumptuous surfaces, Kind Favor / Kind Letter links our world of Blackberry text messages, Kindle readers, and online greeting cards to a much longer and older tradition where words were objects in themselves and the quality of the paper that carried them mattered to the sender and the receiver. We are now awash in words but we rarely stop to look at them. With this exhibition, the artists (Kate Carr, Tatiana Ginsberg and Lee Emma Running) request a kind favor of the viewer to stop and consider the kind letters that we all share. As Kate Carr writes, “This exhibition is about connection—connections between paper and other materials and our connection to each other’s creative processes over time. The elements of this show (shorthand, handmade paper, letters, and garlands) are explorations of connections, both the literal and implied.”
We leave the exhibition calmed by the need to slow down and look carefully, but with a sense of impoverishment. For all the swirl of words, and indeed of paper, that surrounds us today, little of it is made with care and feeling. I wonder what we have lost in our thought process when the words can tumble out of a keyboard at lightning speed? If we don’t have to choose our words with care because of the effort to write them by hand, or to think about the limited space available on a special piece of paper selected from a limited supply, do we end up saying less?
Without a paper trail, how will future generations ever follow where we tried to go?