Performance typist

Sheryl Oring is an artist and art professor from North Carolina who uses the old-school tools of journalism—a camera, a typewriter, a pen—in performance art pieces that deal with public opinion and discourse. She’ll set up her current piece, “I Wish To Say,” which she’s done around 80 times in different cities, in City Plaza from 4-7 p.m. July 20 and 22. She’ll also appear in a Nevada Humanities Salon at 6 p.m., July 21 at Sundance Books.

What can people expect when they encounter your project in Reno?

I’ll be there all dressed up as a 1960s secretary with my manual typewriter. There is a banner behind me that says, “Send a postcard to the president.” People can step up and say whatever they want to the president. [I type it up, and] the original gets sent to the White House. I keep a copy for my archives.

How did this come about?

It started in 2004, during the second George Bush campaign. I used to be a newspaper reporter, and this was a little like a person-on-the-street interview that people often do [see Streetalk, page 5]. It also came from playing dress-up. My grandmother was a secretary at University of Maryland. She always got very dressed up to go to work. There’s a phenomenon in a number of third-world countries—people will go to a letter writer. It’s something that still happens.

Have you gotten any replies from the postcards that have been sent to the White House?

The person who dictates the postcard is the one who puts it into a mailbox.

What kind of reactions have people had?

The most important thing that’s happened, and it’s happened a few times, a person came by after they participated in Chicago. He just said, “This made me a better citizen.”

Did he elaborate?

It was that act of stopping and thinking about what it was that they would like to change. I’ve had people get emotional and cry. I think it’s also the intense listening. … It sometimes activates people and gets them thinking what their priorities are. What keeps it going are these personal interactions and the feedback I’ve been getting. People need an outlet to express themselves in something other than an online way. This is a different method. People are responding to it in a different way, more than when it started in 2004, which was pre-Facebook.

What do people ask you to type?

There’s a lot of criticism of the use of Twitter as a means of governing the country. That’s a common thing. There are people talking about education, people talking about health care. It’ll be interesting to see what people have to say in Reno.

Is there anything people should do to prepare?

Sometimes people give it some thought beforehand.