Published: Feb 26, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 26, 2013 06:34 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Sometimes a spark is all you need to ignite a community and inspire love.
Six round, white signs posted this month in the 100 block of East Franklin Street have a clear goal: to get a community discussion going.
Multimedia artist Gregory Sale, an assistant art professor at Arizona State University, spent seven months in Orange County collecting bits of text, poetry and word drawings from 120 rarely heard voices – homeless men and women, jail inmates, food-bank clients and students in English as a Second Language classes.
Sale met the participants through local organizations, including the Sacrificial Poets, Talking Sidewalks, Hidden Voices, the Orange County Literacy Council and the Peace Center at the Orange Correctional Center. He also worked with the town’s Division of Public and Cultural Arts.
“I was interested in really spending time on the ground getting to know the region and getting a sense of how love plays out in the community,” he said.
What Sale found was generosity – in a restaurant’s motto that no one will be turned away, at a Carrboro house where hungry teenagers are fed, and in the many community gardens and student activism projects.
The resulting campaign-style buttons and street signs are reminiscent of candy hearts, he said. Sometimes the message is simple. Other times, it is ambiguous.
The idea to “disperse a sea of poetry into a crowd of people,” he said.
Durham-based artist Heather Gordon worked with Sale. It seems like a simple concept, but it was not always an easy process, she said.
Most buttons went through several incarnations to get the spacing and the size of the letters just right, she said.
“It’s baffling how tiny a change made it different,” she said.
In all, it took about four months to design the buttons, she said.
“It was a wonderful experience for me given the caliber of artist Greg is,” Gordon said.
Sale’s “Love for Love” installation is part of a larger exhibit downtown at the Ackland Art Museum – “More Love: Art, Politics, and Sharing since the 1990s.” It brings together 33 emerging and established contemporary artists to reflect on the many expressions of love through beauty, emotion, humor, texts, elaborate craft, sounds and interactive projects.
“We’re all engaged in this notion of love in broader perspectives. Some are direct and some are social and political,” Sale said. “It’s how we engage with each other through actions and the sharing of love.”
Visitors are inundated when they enter the museum with a cacophony of voices speaking about love, then a long, white trough filled with Sale’s buttons. They are encouraged to take one or more to wear in the community, Sale said. Some people just grab a button. Others choose buttons that remind them of their mother or their girlfriend, he said.
The most unexpected thing about the experience was the response of roughly a dozen male inmates at the Peace Center, Sale said. All were at the point in their incarceration when they could leave the center every couple of weeks with a sponsor. Usually, the men go to church or some other place that helps them begin transitioning back into the community, he said.
“A number of men were lobbying the chaplain to figure out a way to come to the museum,” he said. “That really touched me. I just didn’t see that coming. Just that they wanted to, that they felt validated by it.”