What Would You Do To Set Them Free? was an interactive art book that I created during an extremely challenging time in my life. The breakup of my marriage caused an emotional turmoil that put into question my role as a person and artist. Creating this work was a cathartic experience because it helped me to reconnect with my passion for books and rediscover the healing power of art making. What Would You Do To Set Them Free? was included in a group exhibition called Whatcom Reads! Art Challenge. This annual art show was built upon artists and members of the public reading selected books and making artworks based on them. The nonprofit Allied Arts of Whatcom County, Whatcom County Library System and other partners have been organizing this event in Bellingham every year since 2009.

Participating in the Whatcom Reads! Art Challenge encouraged me to explore a different way to interact with books. The making of What Would You Do To Set Them Free? was an elaborate process based on different factors: the subject of the novel, my Italian cultural background and love for Dante Alighieri’s poetry, and my experiences of specific geographical locations. This process can be broken down into the following actions:

 

  1. I read the novel A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It was selected as the 2016 book for the Whatcom Reads! Art Challenge art exhibition that was held at the Allied Arts art gallery in Bellingham, WA.

  2. Travelled to different locations around Washington State and wrote a letter to the author at each site. In these letters I weaved three different narratives: verses from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno - Canto XIII, comments about the novel and personal experiences. This process mimicked the structure of the plot.

  3. Sent these letters to Ruth Ozeki and received her replies on the same sheet of each one.

  4. Folded these letters into origami animals.

  5. Exhibited them inside an old freestanding birdcage that had a mirror on the bottom so the viewers could see their image reflected on it.

  6. Designed and printed a PDF fie with all the letters that I wrote to the author. I attached it to the birdcage so, in this way, the viewers had the chance to read them if they wished.

  7. Invited the viewers to reply to the question What Would You Do To Set Them Free? on sheets of paper attached to a clipboard that I secured to the birdcage stand with a small chain. In this way they were able to share their ideas and thoughts publicly and become part of the work itself.

Reading A Tale For The Time Being before looking at my art book helped viewers to connect with the piece in a more meaningful way. What Would You Do To Set Them Free? contained references to certain aspects of the novel that would be harder to understand if they were not familiar with it (E.g. the main character’s father was unemployed and suffered from depression. One day he decided to fold origami insects out of the pages of an encyclopedia.) However, viewers could still experience my work whether they had read the book or not because its elements generated a sense of wonder. For instance, the text between the folds of the origami animals was directly related to the readable letters provided inside a folder that was hanging from the cage. Also, when leaning over the cage they could see their face reflected in the mirror and mingle with the origami animals. This suggested that, like them, we all could get trapped inside a cage. Sometimes this “cage” has been built around us beyond our control and other times our own mind creates it. Finally, the work induced an active participation by giving the viewers the option to share their thoughts on how they could set them free. 

 

This interactive art book as a whole does not exist anymore. The origami letters and the viewers’ answers are now locked up inside a box in Italy, and the birdcage may be decorating somebody’s living room in Skagit County. For the time being, this work is only viewable as a video.