absolution letters

remember how we wrote love on her arms

I do not often perform in public, and I have never asked other artists or an audience to perform in an installation, but this time the most central goal is to establish a sympathetic tie to an audience of visitors and strangers during Nuit Blanche, on a subject intimately tied to grief, self-blame, and mental health awareness. While literary form, as in the stream of consciousness confessional poem style might create the sincerity of the writers’ struggle to self-sustain, the anonymity of character that comes from the unsigned, unaddressed letters allows anyone to become the writer, the reader, the viewer at once—an ethos for emotional identification, and the moment in which the open expression of loss becomes appropriate, acknowledgeable, and universal.


What the letters become are intimate narrative voices: memories that motivate, mediate, and act on the consciousness of self and audience. Even for their personal, intimate gestures, the voices are points of emotional identification. The sequence letters and expressions means to move the audience willingly through their own confessions of fear, pity, anger, empathy, and understanding, as if they are the writers and speakers performing a self-absolving ritual.

In conversation it came up the night before Nuit Blanche that the time-stamps that control the appearance of the digital letters should have a final, distinct temporal boundary: that at sunrise at 7:16am on October 2 the digital copies disappear from the site directed to by the QR codes. This is also an element of delivery, a controlled gesture, and the end action in a process of absolution—from reception to understanding to empathy, to dissipation of guilt and stigma. In addition perhaps it was an unconscious prediction that the installation at Trinity Square would (somewhat unexpectedly) culminate in the letters vanishing, as if into lightness and air, taken away by audience and participants before my return to the physical installation at sunrise.

I am not pretending that we never loved, vibrantly, violently, like sisters or lovers or children with crossed stars and the mother who left us the sound of wild sirens fading in her place, and diamonds she was looking for, and that empty ugly chair that I long since took into my room so that I might read her love preserved in books. And when they tore down the hospital on the lake we could never chase the way her black hair and quiet death trailed down the boardwalk, towards the story of the way you loved me long after like all the harsh novels I took down from your white shelf, all of them frayed and penciled imagined poems folded, damp and trying to know you again. This is the way we loved, vibrantly, violently and this is the way she loved us both.

But I am living still.

Between sunset and sunrise, audience statistics for the digital content spike. The physical letters disappear.

Just after sunrise, the installation is the audience. Its physical form, as letters suspended by clear wire at Trinity Square, no longer exists. What is unexpected is that the artists and audience, in my absence, have changed the elements of their participation. What remains are five envelopes on the ground around the central light, each empty of its contents.

Absolution Letters moves from bounded space and text to voice, gesture, expression and multiple media within a twelve-hour time frame. From this delivery there is ultimately immediacy and concreteness, and an influence on audience acceptance, actions towards the types of open and self-sustaining practices that can surround the idea and act of absolution.

Coming to terms with loss, self-blame, grief, and guilt is a call for an empathetic ritual.


Nicole Levaque, Ava Dideban, James Rouleau (photography), Szara Joy, Joy San, Barbara Patterson, Anthony Zagar, Sebastian Chong, Phyllis Tressider, Miriam Harrison, and Paul Ungar.

In honour, love, and memory of Lise.

I’m sorry for trying to die, sorry for trying to live, sorry that I never came home that night, sorry for running, sorry for never learning to call wolf, sorry we fell apart, sorry we fell together, sorry that we can only remember the good things, sorry that we can never find it in ourselves to forget the bad things, sorry that I fought with our old and sad father, sorry that I never became her mother, sorry that I never learned to say I’m sorry that my poems always came to your bedside table. I’m sorry for reminding you that coming here was never in your plans.


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