Starting a course in the digital realm challenges what it is to get to know a cohort. As I ‘joined’ my first day, and watched the pages of squares flicker up on my screen, I considered my presence amongst my new peers. My physical self now redundant, my background more telling than my backpack. These bizarre interactions have thrown me into a world that at times feels reminiscent of my awkward exchanges with msn in year 7; I stare anxiously at my phone as I wait for the first reply, confirming that my contact outside of the chat was warranted. Devoid of a tangible atmosphere, the digital realm has forced me to make, to some extent, digital friends.
With this in mind I wanted to reach beyond my rectangular borders and see what could happen if a physical connection was made. Finding that these thoughts were shared with my fellow content-free peer, Phoebe Hayes, we began to plot how to connect offline. We decided to send the group letters introducing ourselves, the parts of ourselves that get expressed in the afterthoughts around beverage laden tables. These plans culminated in our own individual letters, and a joint Across RCA workshop.
My tactile tale began with an object designed to be as representative of myself as of my recipient; we were going to share a conversation through paper. I designed a page of instructions to be folded down and followed, that guided a walk to the supermarket. The letter came with a folding guide, pencil and pre-paid return envelope. Receiving the completed letters was like being drip fed enveloped handshakes by the postman. As they were nameless, I would scrutinise every detail like an archaeologist as I tried to work out whatever I could. Below are some observations.
I have labelled the letters A-F, please refer to them as you read the comments below.
Letter A, do you glide when you walk? Your line is steady and does not sway from side to side, I think you know where you are going to place your next step. I very much liked the gift of the googly eyes, which looked up to me as if to say - I can see you! You see flavours as patterns, but understand the need for clarity. You use your pencil with great confidence, observing textures and lines.
Letter B, you drew a line with a beginning and an end, are you good at having an overall picture of things? You draw with confidence, using detail as forms of display. Poppy and vibrant, I’ve never seen tomato soup look so good. You observe details closely, conscious of using varying lines to express different sensations and tones. Through just four detailed drawings you provide depth to your walk, again there seems to be a clear direction.
Letter C, although your walk seems all over the place, I see that you are happy to let the pencil do its own thing. There is a sense of rhythm to the pencils to and fro, do you have long legs? A subtle composition is effortless as you draw your flavours, balancing disparate textures as a whole. Again, with your observation on your return, you combine polarising techniques to portray what you see in a rounded way. Even the broccoli label is artfully placed.
Letter D, fascinating yours looks so different to the rest. Your eye is graphic, your decisions intentional and relaxed. Your walk is diagrammatic, and flavours descriptive, I particularly liked the house on fire, which shows a sense of humour. Your drawings on your walk suggest you like looking at negative space, reflected so nicely with the placement of the stickers.
Letter E, your steps look soft, a gentle walk perhaps. You compare the sea to warmth, when I think of the sea I think of harsh winds and ice-cold slaps of waves, I wonder if you come from a place where the sea is warm, or the memory of the cold sea is still warming. A cluster of illustrations from your walk home, my favourite is the comment about the street light, I too will now think of them as people with bad posture.
Letter F, your walk feels rhythmic, flowing from side to side and back and forth. Your shopping item is profound, you seem reflective and symbolic. On your return journey you use the fold of the paper to neatly place your observations, their identities ambiguous but their presence identifiable. Your package is attached by a strip of orange tape, oh so cooly complementing the blues and greys of the printed type and pencil marks.
I now sit in the studio, during the first week we are allowed to re-enter. It was hard to resist revealing who I thought each letter belonged to, and even harder to learn that I had guessed nearly all of them wrong.
What have I learnt from this experience? Other than the knowledge that I have no future in clairvoyancy, it has reinforced the value I see in the physical. I think this exchange has shown that a handwritten letter can reveal sides of ourselves that are not visible through a screen, presenting annotations in the same way as a particular walk, chew or inhalation does.
If I look back at these letters and consider what more they reveal about the people I have come to know, I am left thinking – how much more is there yet to learn? Whilst it has been fun getting to know my cohort via their rectangular abodes, I am excited to return to a space where their secret mannerisms are exposed.