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July 29, 2013 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Miranda July, We Think Alone

1 July–11 November, Your Inbox

Last Monday, writer and former athlete Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sent me a picture of his family standing with the Obamas. A week before, writer/filmmaker Lena Dunham assured me she loves me, then proceeded to warn about a “NOT NICE” guy I’ve apparently been seeing. As much as I’d like to claim to be the sole recipient of these messages, I am among 50,000 subscribers to Miranda July’s ongoing project We Think Alone. Across 20 weeks, between July and November, subscribers will receive a weekly email featuring correspondence from ten notable figures including, in addition to those already mentioned, actress Kirsten Dunst, writers Sheila Heti and Etgar Keret, designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, photographer Catherine Opie, artist Danh Vo and physicist Lee Smolin. Anyone can sign up to the project, simply by visiting wethinkalone.com.

The piece has been commissioned by Magasin 3 in Stockholm, but it exists only in the inboxes of subscribers. July has chosen not to take a curatorial approach to the emails. Rather, she provided the participants with 20 themes (so far we’ve seen “an email that mentions money”, “an email that gives advice”, and “an email that mentions Obama”) and allowed them to decide how much or little to share. The emails are, at times, terse and prosaic. Dunst’s entry for Obama week reads, “Obama mom”. Occasionally, however, messages illuminate something poignant and humanising about the subjects. Sheila Heti, for example, in the first week confessed to having just $1000 in savings, and questions the viability of making a living as a writer. Etgar Keret’s submissions seem strikingly convivial—he’s warm and funny, and surprisingly forthcoming.

“I feel so easy being sincere with you. Not that I’m such a big liar but with others but with you sincerity doesn’t demand any effort from me. I don’t know if this makes much sense. But that’s what’s nice that also making sense doesn’t seem to be such a must when the two of us hang out together.”

The project’s voyeurism is mediated by the acknowledgement that the participants have control over what we do and don’t see. Being coy, of course, can be as revealing as being uninhibited. This may be why July’s appeal outlasts the initial thrill of peeping in. July often employs other people as her medium; her previous project, It Chooses You, was a series of interviews with strangers the artist discovered in classified listings. She continues to look from the outside in, examining the minutiae of how we conduct ourselves.

We Think Alone is concerned with the relationship between our private and public selves. When we consider the nuances of how we communicate online, email seems to be the most intimate platform. We are at our most vulnerable with loved ones, but we also remain appropriately formal when conducting transactions.  In real-life conversation, we may unwittingly reveal things through mannerism or tone. Written communication affords us scrutiny in our diction. It seems fashionable to assert that we live in an age of oversharing, but it may be more accurate to say how we talk about ourselves has changed. Yes, we are, at times, more flippant and forthcoming, but this has also led to an increased emphasis on privacy, for we are conscious of only ever revealing part of ourselves.

It may be coincidence that the project began a month after Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed widespread digital surveillance by US government agencies, and though the fervour surrounding the leaks seems to have dissipated, the questions regarding what we share, how we share it, and who has access to our information, remain pertinent. We are constantly aware that what we share publicly is curated by ourselves. The project’s hook is in its seemingly transgressive access to private places, but it compels beyond that in illuminating the chasm between how we act when the world is watching, and how we behave in more intimate settings.

 

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