If someone asked you to finish the statement “I AM MORE THAN_______“, what would you write? What is the identity or cliche that you feel limits you? How are you MORE than that?
That is the question that artist/designer Pamela Hovland invited the community of Westport, Connecticut to answer as part of a collaborative art exhibition that will open at the Westport Arts Center on January 29. For More Than Words/As We Are, she designed and distributed postcards with the statement, “I AM MORE THAN _______“. More than 500 participants contributed their declarations, often after considerable thought as to how they believe they are perceived.
The community’s contributions reveal and expand personal identities. More importantly, they spark insight, compassion, and a reevaluation of how we perceive and label ourselves and each other.
The words are as varied as the people who participated. They include students, community leaders, business professionals, artists, immigrants, religious figures, cultural influencers, elected officials…
Said Hovland: I hope this exhibition serves as a reminder that the labels we place on each other will never adequately capture the complexity of our humanity.”
Hovland took the idea a step further by distributing an additional statement for participants to consider: “I AM ALSO_______”.
They lend even greater nuance to the complex question of identity.
It seemed people were eager to share the words that are often used to label them or that they use to label themselves.
The installation is a collection of hundreds of the cards, dozens of portraits, and three tabloids, one of which documents a list of the negative labels the two presidential candidates used to describe the other and their supporters, (reading them shows just how potently divisive words can be)…
In addition there is a list of running words that begins outside the building and continues into the gallery space, and a contemplative room of video and music commissioned to honor Tyler Clementi, the young Rutgers student who, as a victim of cyberbullying, took his life by jumping off the GW Bridge.
Hovland’s question proves a powerful antidote to the rampant use of labels we’ve experienced of late, and the limited and diminishing view those labels empower.
When Improvised Life assistant Mira Keras asked What are you more than, Sally? I found myself momentarily stymied, as I considered my “identity” and what the bigger view might be. It sparked a great, illuminating process.
Here’s Hovland’s More Than Words Postcard to print or share (click here). See what happens when you try to FILL IN THE BLANK.
The exhibition will be at the Westport Arts Center from January 27—March 11, 2017 (click the invitation to print).
I am very proud that Pamela Hovland was the designer that helped birth Improvised Life into its early identity, and a contributor of many great ideas on Improvised Life.