Essay: Omayra Alvarado

“Who said everything is lost I come to offer my heart”

To talk about “122 Conversations” we need to talk about hope, kindness and care; we need to think about what art can do for the world we are living in right now.  In these convoluted times, filled with hate and fear for what seems foreign or strange, where the color of our skin, our gender, our sexual preferences or our nationality still divides us; a world where we ignore the pain of others just because we don’t want to be bothered; where the value of a person has been reduced to its ability to produce and consume—to serve a system that sees us as data to analyze consumerism trends— in a world like this, we need artists that can step out of their comfort zone and take risks within their own practices and question the role of art in our society. Anne Labovitz has done this in such a subtle and dedicated way in this long-term project, giving us the opportunity to remind ourselves that just the simple act of listening to each other can be a powerful tool towards building a better society. 

In materialistic and cold times the act of caring for the other and for oneself is an act of resistance. Labovitz’s 122 Conversations became a way to circumvent and defy a self-centered system; a way to establish an economy that was not related to a monetary exchange of resources, but instead, was based on the desire to hear and to get to know the other— providing an emotional connection, establishing an economy of friendship.

For over five years Anne Labovitz immersed herself in a multidisciplinary exploration that included interviews, exhibitions, public interaction and educational workshops that explored how a political, social and cultural platform can be turned into an act of care. Inspired by the mission of the Sister Cities International, (a program that seeks to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation – one individual, one community at a time) Labovitz conducted sixty interviews in six different countries –that are the focus of this essay–; using a standard series of questions like “What is your name? What is your favorite color? How old are you?” Anne was able to bring people together, give them a place to be heard, give them a break from their realities and allowing them to be part of a global project that intended to show us that no matter where we come from or how different we may seem, there is a common essence in all of us; an essence that goes beyond morals, and instead appeals to a more poetic and honest necessity, our own urgency to live. 

This long-term collaboration embodied Labovitz’s own personal interest in exploring human interactions and the necessity to see the other, to recognize the basic feelings that unite as human beings. Hence this exchange between artist and subject transcended conversation and became gestures of generosity, friendship, reciprocity, and a path for community building and emotional exchange.

In “122 conversations” the artist’s presence and interaction with her interviewees reveals the power of a conscious body, the tensions that are generated by a body that is in control of its emotions and has stepped into a vulnerable state, opening a door for those around it. This door takes the viewer (in this case the interviewee) to a place in their mental and emotional body that will let them feel free to be vulnerable and honest. This state could be understood as a poetic instant, where two apparent opposites meet and connect in such a profound way that their differences are erased. The intention and repetition of this act, has infused this project with such strength that when you listen to these interviews, you can’t help but to be lured into this instant as well. 

There is another aspect of this project that is important to talk about and that is the relationship between personal and political, between the ideas that create a political self and an intimate self and how this two are bound by vulnerability and intimacy and how the connection between this these concepts can strengthen the way we interact with others. Labovitz’s project became a bridge for these two selves to encounter, and as Carol Hanisch stated in her essay My personal is Political “…personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution,” there is a critical necessity to bring the notion of emotions and humanity not only into the political discussion but into the theoretical discourse of art as well. 

Who said every thing is lost… I’ll give you everything, and you’ll give me something,

 Something that relieves me a little more. 

When there is no one near or far,

 I come to offer my heart. 

  1. “Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón / I come to offer my heart” is a song by Argentinian musician Fito Páez published in 1985. 
  2. Gaston Bachellard. “Poetic Instant and Metaphysical Instant,” in Intuition of the Instant, trans. Eileen Rizo-Patron, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2013.
  3. Carol Hanisch. “The Personal Is Political”.  1969