Art display on freedom of speech at Washington and Lee

Published: Sep. 27, 2018 at 7:43 PM EDT
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It’s not often that you hear a typewriter anymore, especially if you’re in an art gallery.

But it’s clear the typewriters wrapped in rusty rebar in Washington and Lee's Stanair Gallery aren’t behind the sound.

“I made this work back in 1999 in Berlin Germany as a tribute to the writers whose books had been burned in the Nazi book burnings,” says artist Sheryl Oring.

400 or so typewriters, caged in a dozen racks.

“I’m visually taking away the tool of the writer, the typewriter," Oring explains. "So the writer no longer has access. So it’s a visual representation of the idea of censorship.”

But outside the gallery, one typewriter was at work. Oring sat at a desk, typing.

“So I thought: let me go around with a typewriter and pose this question about what they’d like to say to the president,” she says.

A participatory artwork, called “I Wish to Say,” where she types a postcard to the president for whoever comes by. Today, it's mostly art students.

“Well, I do get a range," Oring says. "And it depends on where I am.”

And they can say whatever they want.

She says, “A lot of times, people are quire emotional. It doesn’t surprise me anymore, it’s happened so often, that someone will sit down to share a message with me and they’ll be in tears.”

She stamps and hands the postcard over to the sender to mail, or not.

“I think probably most of them do," she says. "There might be a few people who want to keep it, but they can always take a photograph and then send it off, so I do think a lot of them probably send it.”

No word yet from the White House.

The typewriters are in the gallery through Sunday.