Since 2004, Sheryl Oring has traveled the country with her trusted typewriter. When she sets up her portable office, she takes dictation from those she meets. A very specific form of dictation … she asks people to dictate a postcard they’d like to send to the President.
Sheryl’s passion for our Constitutional right of free expression — aided by support from the First Amendment Project in Oakland, CA and the Creative Capital Foundation — formed the foundation for her ongoing project, “I Wish to Say.”
Sheryl is also driven by a concern that, while all have the freedom to speak, not enough of us are being heard by those in power. She doesn’t just listen to the stories, concerns and opinions of those she meets on her travels. She writes them up and mails them to the White House.
She’s done this more than 5,000 times.
Silenced by COVID-19. Silent no more.
This spring — on the cusp of the COVID-19 shutdown, Sheryl and her trusty typewriter popped up across the UNC Charlotte Campus asking students, faculty and staff what they’d like to say to the President. And, they were not shy about it.
Unfortunately, social distancing and on-campus restrictions kept the public from reading the postcards Sheryl created while on Campus. But, no longer. The postcards and notes will be on display at the Projective Eye Gallery at the UNC Charlotte Uptown Campus under the name “No Redactions.”. The gallery is expected to reopen for public viewing on October 1.
To whet Charlotteans’ appetites until they can see the exhibition for themselves, Adams Outdoor has assigned 16 billboards around Charlotte to provide a glimpse of Sheryl’s work.
To help prepare us to see the installation ourselves, we were able to catch up with Sheryl for a quick Q&A:
What was the impetus for this exhibition? What was the “eureka” moment for you?
The idea was to give UNC Charlotte students a chance to voice their concerns to the next President. As it happened the timing of the “I Wish to Say’ performances – where I set up with a manual typewriter on campus and invited people to dictate a postcard to the next President – was incredible. I was there typing on March 11 and 12, just before the whole world changed.
The exhibition includes these messages as well as providing an overview of my work.
After I started working remotely in mid-March, I started typing a word a day to capture the mood of what was happening. I did this from March 18-June 22. These words were private, but made public through Instagram. In the gallery, there is a public-private tension that is created by showing these private words along with the public comments to the next President. This project with the words happened very organically. It was not planned. Looking back, I find it interesting that it started with the word “connect” and ended with “suicide.”
The suicide was a reference to the 10-year anniversary of my brother’s suicide. I made it public because I have encountered so many instances of suicide on our university campuses that few people are discussing. I wanted to bring this into the public sphere. It got a lot of responses and I think it’s definitely something we as educators need to be extremely aware of with our students.
I’m also thrilled that I was able to create a series of billboards in Charlotte that feature quotes from the messages students offered back in March. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and this is the first city I’ve done that in. With billboards, we reach a whole new audience and I’m excited about the way the images appear out of nowhere and – hopefully – provoke people to think.
What do you hope people experience or come away with after they interact with “No Redactions”?
I hope they might think of what they might say to the next President. And, hopefully, it might encourage people to vote. Behind that, I hope it might make people think a bit about the tension between public and private in their own lives.
What feedback have you gotten from the public, the students or your peers?
Students seem to be intrigued by the typewriter, it draws them in and then they get engaged. It’s a novelty, and I find they like the way it encourages interaction.
Right now I’m working with a big team of students in Michigan who are performing “I Wish to Say” virtually over zoom. The student typists are very enthusiastic, I think they are enjoying the strangeness of typing on a typewriter over zoom and the way it is bringing people together even remotely.
What was the moment you looked back and said, “Wow. I did something of value here”?
Back in 2018, I had a solo exhibition at Ringling College in Sarasota, Florida, that featured several decades of my work in one big show. Seeing it all there was definitely a wow moment. I’ve collected hundreds of typewriters over the years, some for sculptures I created called “Writer’s Block” and then more working typewriters for “I Wish to Say.” It’s a bit crazy to see them all together.
Visit the Exhibit
Directions: 320 E 9th St, Charlotte, NC 28202
- Monday-Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
- Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
- (Closed November 28 & 29 and December 24-January 2 for holidays.)
Take Note of Sheryl Oring
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