In 2012, I was inspired by the Sister City International mission: “To promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation—one individual at a time.” These ideas resonated with me as my practice for the past 30 years has been about the human spirit, its emotional resonance, and the way it manifests in relationships. The following six years I developed and executed a project with collaborators embodying these principles. These years have been ones of transformation, generosity, friendship, and intense research into engaging in radical acts of caring. 122 Conversations: Person to Person, Art Beyond Borders is a creative series that encompassed an artist-led research project, a six-venue exhibition tour, more than a dozen social practice interventions, 20+ workshops, and numerous lectures convened over six years, four continents, and six countries.
In my practice, I have created portraiture in the broadest sense. My work has often captured a human element—a figure, a mark, a word—as well as representing a portrait of place. Regularly I employ painting, drawing, printmaking, experimental film, and performative participatory art. Recently, I have incorporated text, audience engagement, alternative materials, and public interventions as vital elements of my praxis, elements all included in 122 Conversations.
Working with Sister City friends through this project has bolstered my optimism and strengthened my beliefs in our shared humanity. The importance of inclusion and honoring differences are values I embrace. I strive to utilize language, dialog, and art as vehicles to portray these values. These have directed, shaped and guided the project of 122 Conversations.
The 60 interviews conducted and recorded are the core of this project and formed the source material. If unable to have dialog in person, the interactions were achieved via Skype. 122 Conversations reflects the use of the information age to create meaningful human connection in combination with the handwritten mark to shorten distances both literally and figuratively. I documented conversations of human connection aiming to archive experiences and visually chronicle them through art as a universal language. I have learned, heard, and experienced astounding beauty and resilience within the arch of the 60 interviews. Without exception, I fell in love….
Empathy and dialog as process is embodied in 122 Conversations. Together, we united our unique perspectives and visual languages to build contextual communities and acknowledge our shared humanity as citizens on the same planet. This project centers around connection and seeing each other, and as part of that I created the works entitled United Under the Night Sky, seeking a common ground to unite us.
Utilizing imagery consisting of color, the written word and at times the human form, I hope the pieces draw the viewer inward to experience an encounter with the subject and the collective consciousness. We have different religions, languages, geography, values, yet humanity binds us. Overwhelmingly, throughout my 60 interviews, people across six countries hoped for a better world for their children; they hoped their children finished their studies; and there was a unifying hope for peace. We are all vulnerable. We all have compassion. And people want their stories to be shared and understood.
I approached the creation of the paintings with the same rigor, intent, focus, and mindfulness that I employed while conducting the interviews themselves. I felt a sense of obligation as well as creative intentionality. As I revisited my experiences with each participant, I focused on embedding the painting with the essence of the subject’s beauty, resilience, and spirit as well as their connection to the other interviewees through overlapping layers.
Color can be an emotive connector, my use of it is driven both by process and intuition. Some colors are chosen as a result of my response to the re-listening of the interview, others are chosen with consideration of more formal elements of composition and contrasting tone. In this way, each piece acquires its uniqueness reflecting the essence of the conversations.
My grandmother often talked about Martin Buber’s “I Thou” philosophy describing it as a pause between humans where we see each other and all else fades away. Extrapolating from this, the artwork and in particular the tiles offer a neutral place for the exchange of stories, ideas and drawings submitted by participants at each venue.
I hope people who read this catalog will feel the presence of the more than 3,000 humans who volunteered their time and shared their stories to come together in the spirit of community.
122 Conversations: Person to Person, Art Beyond Borders is an artist-led project based on the art of engagement and derived from interconnection and cross-cultural dialogue. This project celebrates humanity, human connection, and the radical and political act of caring. The project is about connecting. The 122 Conversations project is metaphorically a global, visual chorus celebrating our differences and a place for people to participate, joining the chorus.
—Anne Labovitz, 2018