Cindy Loehr’s Love Letter Collection – Rebecca Grady

Cindy Loehr is a former Chicagoan, UIC alum, who now resides in Brooklyn. She began an online project in 2001 called the Love Letter Collection. You can read through the collection on her website: www.collectiveexperience.org or   click here for a direct link to the project.

The Love Letter Collection is an online collection of several smaller collections of anonymous love letters. Submissions are ongoing. A few times a year the submissions are read through and a collection is formed from them. Loehr runs the project, but some of the collections are edited by guests, other artists, writers, and/or educators. The most recent collection, TO THE CHARNEL GROUND – Fall 08 was edited by Stacy Szymaszek, a NY based poet. Other guest editors include: James Peel, Stephanie Barber, Stephen Kotler, Jim White, Rennie Sparks, C. Barliant, and Michelle Grabner. The editors pick out their favorite letters, extract a title for each letter from the text. A title for the collection is also created from the letters. Szymaszek wrote a letter to introduce her collection. Here is an excerpt:

“I had to look up the word “Charnel” (spelled “charnal” by the author of the letter). My quick aural interpretation was carnal, carnage, charred – and in fact “charnel” is a repository for or field of bones of the dead. Unlike dramatic metaphors evoked in the love letter genre, the author of this particular letter actually seems to literally be thanking the object of affection for accompanying her/him to “the charnel ground” but follows with a series of disjunctive images that make this 2-line missive unsettling, poetic. It reminded me of Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”! It’s not stylistically typical of the letters that follow but I think the connection between love and death (our two big fear factors) serves as a good psychological bass line which often rises up to contort the house and derange the senses. ”

The rest of the letter can be found at www.collectiveexperience.org/love/love.html

There are rules to this collection. As there are guidelines for many other collections. Submissions are accepted online. All letters are anonymous. Names are taken out. Here is the list you must read through before sending your love letter to the collection:

“Maximum 500 words. Check your word count before submitting. Longer letters are automatically deleted.
A non-english word or phrase here and there is fine, but if your letter is not in english, please submit an english translation instead. Otherwise we probably cannot understand it and we won’t accept it.
Please paste pre-typed letters into a simple-text editing program before pasting them here. This gets rid of formatting characters that mistranslate on the internet.
Replace names and dates with 5 underlined spaces, or this will be done for you.
Thank you for your submission.”

Loehr spoke about the collection during an interview with Ratsalad. “Romantic love often causes feelings of alienation and frustration. Sharing feelings with a public outside the relationship, and reading about other’s situations, can be cathartic. On the other hand, people who are feeling the sunny side of love often want to give public voice to their feelings. People submit their personal letters from a desire to move personal experience out into public realm,”  – Cindy Loehr. The rest of the interview
can be found here   http://www.ratsaladeluxe.com/ratsaladsite/cindyloehr.htm
A love letter from the collection can be found here http://www.ratsaladeluxe.com/ratsaladsite/cindyloehr2.htm

These love letters are written by many different people. It is impossible to tell if the letters were ever sent to the person they were written for. Or what the response was. Was the letter successful? There are no clues from names or places or handwriting or the type of paper or postmark. We are meant to look at these love letters for just the text. We are supposed to focus on the language of romance. Not on the stories behind them. We will never know what happened afterwards. I love being able to read these letters, it satisfies a voyeuristic urge of mine. But I still find myself wishing for a pile of letters, with messy handwriting, not quite so neat.

Upon doing more in depth research into Cindy Loehr’s practice, I’ve noticed a few coincidences beyond our attraction to collecting text. I seem to be following her education path, ten years after her. She received a BFA from SAIC in 1994, I received mine in 2004. She received her MFA from UIC in 2000, I will hopefully be getting mine in 2010. Maybe there is something in the water.

Cindy Loehr also has an artist file on the Public Collector’s site. Check it out here: http://www.publiccollectors.org/CIndyLoehr.htm

**the heart logo at the top is from Loehr’s Love Letter Collection website.  www.collectiveexperience.org/love/love.html

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One response to “Cindy Loehr’s Love Letter Collection – Rebecca Grady

  1. Rebbecca, If you don’t know it, you might find Douglas Huebler’s “Secrets” book / variable piece to be an interesting participatory project.

    There is an excerpt from the much larger collection here:

    http://wings.buffalo.edu/cas/english/pubs/drc/deluxe/eight/collecting/secrets.html

    If you scroll to the bottom you’ll see the parameters for the piece.

    The responses are anonymous. Many of the secrets people told are really trivial, and perhaps bullshit (“Once I ate 1,000 Brussel’s sprouts)”, but throughout the collection one finds examples that, if they are true, are quite poignant, affecting, or downright disturbing (“I participated in the murder of my mother”).

    The collected responses are presented in an extremely dry and deadpan way like pretty much all of Huebler’s work. In any event, this piece and his work in general would be worth a look, based on your own interest in setting up participatory situations and collecting data (the regret postcards).

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