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Friday January 21st

Q&A with UNC-Greensboro art professor Sheryl Oring

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The latest installation in UNC-CH’s Sloane Art Library features “Collective Memory,” a compendium book of artworks by UNC-Greensboro art professor Sheryl Oring. Oring will give a lecture at the library on Wednesday. The book is comprised of New Yorkers’ memories that Oring collected through a public performance on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. To produce the works, New York-area residents were asked the question, “What would you like the world to remember about 9/11?”

Oring spoke with staff writer Elizabeth Tew about the importance of her work and the impact she hopes it will have on others.

Daily Tar Heel: What drew you to Sept. 11 as a subject for this project?

Sheryl Oring: I was actually approached by the people that run Bryant Park in New York City to come up with a project that referenced 9/11. Once they approached me it was a very compelling opportunity to try to think of something that would engage people about what they want to remember about that day.

DTH: Why do you utilize the typewriter frequently in your works?

SO: I have a little obsession with typewriters. I think they are very beautiful. They engage all of the senses whether touch, type, sound or smell, like the ink of the typewriter. In a way, the whole thing began with me wanting to make work with typewriters.

DTH: Why have typists type out the responses on typewriters? Why not just have those who came out type it themselves?

SO: What I found with the typists is that they were very active and engaged listeners. It’s a methodology that I’ve used in different projects. The presence of the typist makes a difference in the type of responses a person gives. It’s like if you go to Facebook or other websites, people feel very free to say anything and aren’t thinking about who is listening. It is part of human nature that when there is a person there you think a little bit more.

DTH: How many people came out?

SO: A total of 434 people participated in the performance. I think they participated because it was a significant anniversary, for one thing. You start to reflect at that time. There was something very moving about that time in New York that people really did need to come together again. The memories were still very fresh, and it brought people out into a public space and common area.

DTH: Is there a notecard within the collection that stands out to you?

SO: Yes, there is one. It goes: “My daughter took her first steps that night after I walked over the 59th Street bridge. My husband said, ‘I have a surprise for you.‘” It mixes the emotional and historical events all into one plane.

DTH: Was there anything that surprised you about what you learned from the people who came out that day to share their memories?

SO: It was quite an emotional experience for one of the typists as well. She wrote a blog post about how she didn’t expect it to be that personal or emotional. Obviously, it was going to be an emotional event, and I think it was that and more. It was the most moving public performance.

DTH: Why is it important to have the collection as a representation of the events that unfolded that day?

SO: One of the purposes is to serve other catalysts to get people to talk about these events. One thing that was very evident at the time of this performance was families that would come with their kids. It became a way for people to start to talk about this with children. I think it will reach people who weren’t born at that time and allow them entry into thinking about these events.

arts@dailytarheel.com

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