By CHASE SCHEINBAUM
Reflection is often a private thing. In a moment of silence – like those offered at the National September 11 Memorial on Sunday – we mark the occasion with what is not heard, and our sentiments are left with us alone.
Rarely do we share these intimate thoughts aloud, let alone speak them to a typist chipping away on a manual typewriter as 300 people did people in Bryant Park this weekend. Their words were clacked into ink, bound for colleges across the country as part of the exhibit “Collective Memory,” by Sheryl Oring.
The public was invited to answer the question, “What would you like the world to remember about 9/11?” Solemnly dressed volunteers dutifully recorded each of their words.
“My lasting impression was that as they read out the names, there was nothing homogeneous about the cultural ancestry of the victims,” dictated David Orland, referring to the reading of the names from the memorial at Ground Zero. “It was an attack on the world, not just the United States,” he said afterward.
Christina Knight, a volunteer who sat across the white tablecloth and collected reflections this weekend said she often typed the words “everybody,” and “everyone,” echoing Orland’s comments about the far-reaching devastation of 9/11.
“The responses emphasized the ‘unity’ of all of us,” she said.
Between each volunteer and speaker stood only a typewriter and a vase holding a single red rose. They were arranged on a long table atop a stone terrace overlooking the park’s lawn, where 2,753 chairs sat in neat rows, empty. One for each life lost in the attacks 10 years prior.
Another fellow who shared his reflections, Stuart Shenkman, wrote, “A big chunk of the collective innocence in the culture of our American society was lost forever.” What he remembers most from 9/11, he told the typist, was “the utter complete sadness of the day.”
Oring is an artist and journalist whose work probes issues of the First Amendment, memory and language. She said she chose the typewriters for this installation because they “add a very human element. You see mistakes.” The dark clothes, antiquated hair and make-up styles worn by the volunteers stemmed from the vintages of the typewriters used and the sullen occasion, she said.
Since 2004, Oring has mailed over 2,000 postcards to the White House from her exhibit, “I Wish to Say,” in which she collected messages for the president from ordinary citizens.
Oring is currently an assistant art professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In her journalism career she’s worked for The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and The San Francisco Chronicle.
The notes written in “Collective Memory” are posted online, and will be toured at college campuses around the country.
Referring to her three-year-old daughter, Oring said, “A lot of my motivation (for this exhibit), was about having a young child, teaching a young child (about 9/11).”