Mapping joy and pain

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A crowd gathers around Rebecca Krinke’s table at Mears Park in St. Paul.

If you’ve lived any place for a long time, there are bound to be ghosts that haunt you, and memories you linger over longingly: the house where you once lived, the scene of your first date, the place where a loved one died.

Artist Rebecca Krinke thinks these emotional attachments we have to specific places, both joyful and painful, are worth noting, and she’s creating a map to do just that. The project is called “Unseen/Seen: The Mapping of Joy and Pain,” and has been travelling around the Twin Cities so that people can add their stories.

Do you have happy memories of your childhood? Then pick up a gold pencil, and decorate the area where you grew up in gold. Not so happy memories? Then choose a dark gray pencil, and make your mark.

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Certain buildings have received dark marks from people who find them to be a source of pain. Those include several U of MN campus buildings, the governor’s mansion, and the state capitol.

Yesterday Krinke set up her “table” (in truth it’s a sculpture of sorts) in Mears Park over the lunch hour, assisted by two U of MN undergrad students. While many folks rushed by on their limited time off, others were easily drawn in by Krinke’s call to participate.

One woman walking with a cane picked up a dark pencil, found a spot on the map, and made a small dot. “There! I’m done,” she said. When Krinke asked her how it felt, the woman responded “Good, they needed that” and walked off.

A man marked the area where he grew up in West St. Paul with both gold and gray. “They tore down our house, but I still have happy memories from there,” he said. After a pause, he added “I feel better now” before walking off.

Krinke says all of her work, in broad terms, has dealt with themes of pain and joy, or recovery. This is the third time she’s used the format of a table for her work.

At Franconia Sculpture Park, I created a table called The Table of Remembering and Forgetting which alluded to repression (of pain/perhaps any emotion), but to me it was like a moment of repression was stilled and made beautiful or became beautiful since it was acknowledged.

In the interior courtyard of Rapson Hall on the U of MN campus, you can find Krinke’s “Table for Contemplation and Action: A Place to Share Beauty and Fear.”

It’s a table where a center copper element contains a single unusual changing element of nature. You are invited to write of fears or hopes on slips of paper and place them into a large glass vessel embedded within the table. When the vessel is full, the writings are burned without reading them.

Krinke sees her “Joy and Pain” project as a way to take the cathartic experience even further, allowing people to stand side by side and share their joy and pain visually, without having to explain themselves.

It can perhaps be inspiring and / or healing to remember joy and perhaps leave some pain on the table. Emotions are bound up in the places we have them – but emotional mapping is rare. I wanted to make a place of mystery in a way – to remind us all of the mystery of actually being alive and having these joy and/or pain experiences.

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Inside the table

While passers-by leave their marks on the surface of Krinke’s table, they might not notice what’s going on beneath the surface. The interior of the table is filled with strange gray and gold sculptures, which Krinke says reflect the shedding, emerging and growing that’s taking place just above.

Krinke says she’s been surprised by how many people have really thought about their marks, and have seemed to get something meaningful out of it.

They often talk and talk about very personal things sometimes , have emotional reactions, showing us bruises and scars…I am surprised that the project seems to be reaching a deep chord, and I don’t know what it is yet. Perhaps we are never asked about our emotional life in any deep way. Perhaps we don’t share much. One person said to me that if she talked about too much joy at work- people got jealous. It seems that perhaps joy is more taboo to talk about than pain. People map more gold- but talk about pain much more often. Or maybe this needing to talk is a fundamental part of pain and joy needs no words? I have a lot to mull over as I create my next works.

If you’re interested in adding your experiences to the map, Krinke will be out with her table in Minneapolis at Juxtaposition Arts on August 26 from 1-3pm and at the Minnesota State Fair on August 27 from 5-9pm and August 28 from 9am-1pm at the Crossroads Building.

Once completed, the table will be included in an exhibition at Virginia Tech called “Mapping Spectral Traces.”

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