Artist Explains ‘What Do You Want to Accomplish Before You Die?’ Wall
Article via: Mashable.com
In the midst of New Orleans still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, Candy Chang channelled her frustration and pain into building a wall. Unlike most walls, this one wasn’t meant to keep people apart, but to bring them closer than ever.
Chang, an artist and designer known for thought-provoking, interactive installations, has been preoccupied with the idea of death since she lost a loved one who had been like a mother to her for 15 years. In 2011, Chang repurposed a wall of a dilapidated house to ask the simple question: What do you want to accomplish before you die?
With the aid of some fellow artists and volunteers, she coated the wall with chalkboard paint. They neatly stenciled the words “Before I die I want to _______” in eight rows of 10, then bolted cups of chalk to the wall.
This was an open invitation for strangers to write whatever they wanted, and the results were stunning.
Her neighbors scrawled thousands of witty, heart-wrenching and joyous responses on the side of that house during the first Before I Die wall’s three-month lifespan.
Since then, others have constructed Before I Die walls in more than 40 countries on six continents, many with Chang’s personal aid. The movement ignited her Internet fame, resulting in the Nov. 5 release of her book, Before I Die.
Mashable had the chance to ask the artist a few questions about her art and the new book.
Mashable: It took quite a bit of working through red tape to get your first Before I Diewall set up in New Orleans. What motivated you to fight through those initial kinks?
Candy Chang: I wanted to know how easy or hard it was to do something on this crumbling house in my neighborhood above board. It was harder than I thought, but I know my request was unusual. I’m forever grateful to the property owner and neighbors and civic leaders who were so open-minded and gave me the green light.
What is it about this project that makes it so universal?
We’re all trying to make sense of our lives and there’s great comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
It’s easy to get caught up in the little things and forget what really matters to you.
The wall is a big accessible tool to restore perspective and understand your neighbors in new and enlightening ways.
You write a lot about the beauty of what people write on the wall. How did you feel the first time you saw a “wise-ass” comment next to all the touching and moving ones?
The mashup of the crude and the contemplative was entertaining sometimes — I wasn’t surprised. The wall is open to everyone, including drunks and cynics and adolescent boys. I was surprised by how thoughtful and poetic it was as a whole. A few thoughtful responses often led to many more.
Many of the organizers who initiated walls in their hometowns were motivated by the death of a loved one, as were you. Can you tell us a little about how you see the relationship between death, pain and creativity in the context of this project?
I went through a dark period of grief and depression and making the wall was a form of self-help. The sadness eventually made me stronger, and my neighbors’ responses helped me more than they will probably ever know.
I’m more comfortable with my fears and confusions now. I learned that it’s not our experiences that define us but what we make of our experiences that defines us as we grow and change.
One student in Lexington, Mass. compared the Before I Die wall to an analog Facebook wall. How do you feel about that comparison?
I feel it. We have more and more tools to reach out across the world, but it’s still hard to reach out to your entire neighborhood.
We don’t bump into every neighbor so a lot of wisdom never gets passed on, but we do share the same public spaces. There are a lot of ways the local bulletin board can expand.
How did the Internet and social media affect this project?
The project would not have grown so quickly without the Internet. The second wall was in Kazakhstan because students in Almaty saw photos online. People are bouncing ideas off each other at a much greater scale.
Many people took the Before I Die idea and ran with it. Which wall or Before I Die remix took you most by surprise when you found out about it?
A month after I made the first Before I Die wall, I found out some artists in Beirut created a local remix called “Lebanon would be better if…” It was the first remix and so neat to see a project in New Orleans influence a new project in Beirut within a few weeks.
How far did you originally expect this project to go?
I never planned to make the project beyond New Orleans! When I posted some photos online, my inbox blew up with messages from people around the world who wanted to make a wall with their community. I’ve been playing catch up ever since and trying to provide as much support as I can for their passionate efforts.
How have you changed because of this project?
Everyone’s walls are a constant source of inspiration and therapy for me. I think about death all of the time now and it’s the quickest way to filter the noise and make decisions obvious. I’ve become more introspective, more philosophical and more aware of my well being.
But I’m also a distracted, forgetful person with a short attention span! I need constant reminders of the actions that will really nourish me.
Images: Candy Chang