In answer to the resounding question of our post-pandemic world, "where do we put all the pain and isolation lingering inside ourselves?" BECOMING has its roots first and foremost in human connection. It’s a beautiful story about asking someone to be your friend, the power of collaboration, and making art that invites others to participate so everyone can become better humans and let go of shame and guilt.
Julia and Mallory had a few common friends and met briefly at an outdoor art reception during the pandemic. After following each other on social media, the two realized that Julia's visual art and Mallory's writing often touched on similar themes. They met for drinks in late April, talked for three hours, and knew they should dream up a project for ArtWeek in late June. They continued to meet and bounce ideas off each other and wandered spaces until the perfect tree canopies were found - ones that could encapsulate the transformative environment they wanted to create. They experimented with materials in suburbia and drew stares and whispers from neighbors, but they were undeterred. Julia and Mallory knew they could create something better and more powerful together than they could alone, and they realized this project was borne out of their own need to deal with shame and grief. 2020 and 2021 compounded those feelings for many of us and it is this notion that drives the project — that if two people who just found each other both need this space, then others must need it as well. Stay tuned to see how the story continues to unfold!
From creators Mallory Abreu and Julia Franklin
As part of 2021's ArtWeek DSM, a city-wide arts festival in Des Moines, IA showcasing galleries and artist events, Des Moines writer and musician Mallory Abreu and artist Julia Franklin designed an interactive outdoor experience at Greenwood Park's Rose Garden and West Des Moines Public Library. They invited the public to write about the things left unsaid—to others or themselves — simultaneously contributing to a living art piece that illustrates how everyone's shame, grief, and anxiety can be transformed into something beautiful.
During this experience, participants were welcome to write on-site and hang their own letters, or leave them in a dropbox for anonymity. Those unable to attend the event or living in other states and countries were invited to mail letters in before-hand, adding to our rich collection of letters spanning coast to coast, detailing stories of resilience, grief, bravery, and love.
Set beneath an enclosure of trees, the artists constructed a life-size cocoon that participants could enter. As contributors hung handwritten letters from the structure, each ephemeral piece helped to "crystalize" the cocoon as more notes were added. As the sun set, twinkling lights illuminated the letters and drawings. Everyone had a part in creating their own metamorphosis, entering the space and helping to build an enclosure of tranquility and restoration from our grief and shame. These intimate letters were collected and given their own metamorphosis in BECOMING's 2022 installation, which continues to serve as a portable monument to our collective healing.
Photo credits: Jami Milne and Alan Jacobs)
Since BECOMING's first year as a pop-up installation, artists Mallory Abreu and Julia Franklin wanted to create an experience that was accessible and portable, yet had longevity. BECOMING pt. 2 launched in June of 2022 to coincide with ArtWeek DSM for another year, and BECOMING took to the road, setting up at Drake neighborhood's University Library Cafe, as well as downtown art hub Mainframe Studios.
Wanting to honor last year's letters and transform them into new forms filled with a lightness of being, Abreu and Franklin embarked on the task of hand-folding each letter in BECOMING's collection into a unique origami lantern. Not only did the process give the artists dedicated time with each letter, these lanterns are puffed up by the maker breathing life into them — literally and metaphorically transforming them into something new.
These lanterns were hand-strung over wire fairy lights to create curtains that the public could walk through, reading sections of letters framed in unique folds. As participants move through the trailer, past the lantern curtains and iridescent fabrics, they arrive at a wall of jars — each one a prompt for letter writing. Filled with collected and foraged items such as soil and sand, a sewing kit, coins in water (a play on a wishing well), a Russian nesting doll, and even a piece of toast (our play on "Cheers!"), each tableau invites the participant to choose their own adventure. Pick a jar, write a letter, and choose the ending for your words: to plant them, burn them, repair them, wash them away. To feel the lightness of letting go, if only for a moment.
Photo credit: DeeDee Miller Photography