It all started with a simple envelope mailed to Creative Loafing. Well, not that simple--pretty confusing, actually. The mysterious "$10 Art Mystery," as it was dubbed, initiated a campaign of mailed envelopes containing a handwritten note, a strange code, a fragment of a story, and (perhaps most confusingly) cash--a $10 bill, to be exact. And who doesn't love a good mystery? (Especially since the story fragment mailed to CL's Arts Editor was plucked straight from an essay written by yours truly. That piqued my interest, to say the least.)
So, curious Atlantans put on their thinking caps and set out to crack the code, not really knowing what the code was or if it was even supposed to be cracked. Envelopes popped up in the mailboxes of the Georgia Voice, the Wren's Nest, the King of Pops, and Youngblood Gallery. They were found around town, hung from a tree in a Cabbagetown park, in the men's bathroom at Flat Iron, between the pages of a D.H. Lawrence book at A Capella -- all with the story fragment from mostly local writers (plus Leonard Cohen), a handwritten note, and a $10 bill. We suppose you could say it's like Catlanta or Evereman for the literary set, but a little more mysterious.
Envelopes continued popping up, a wiki was developed to collect the clues, and the CL writers went on a wild adventure through Midtown, chasing clues and hunches, finally ending in... a dead body? a treasure chest? Nope, just a game of cornhole at the Loew's Hotel. That's when the mysterious person behind the "Narrative Urge" project came forward (kinda) in the form of a Facebook profile. Our curiosity at an all-time high, we were eager to send him/her some questions about the project. Check it out below, and if you have clues or ideas, head to the Wiki and spill. Even if the mystery is never solved or the code is never cracked, we're happy to see literature and writing repped in Atlanta's growing public art scene.
SCOUT: Without giving anything major away about the project, can you give me an idea of your goal?
NARRATIVE URGE: The goals are many, but the project is designed to allow for some degree of change, evolution. At the basic level, I want to excite finders of envelopes, bring them unexpected joy (“Cash! I can buy something”) and wonder (“Who did this? Why?”). I want to provide a surprising encounter with a polite stranger who asks them to play a game, solve a puzzle. Also, by giving away money and art together, I want to magnify, compound and reverse the argument about whether art should be free – negate the argument, really, if only for a moment in the life of an envelope finder. Another goal, maybe too ambitious, has to do with interlacing the stories of many people in a single narrative.
SCOUT: So much of Atlanta's public/temporary art projects are more involved with visual arts, like Catlanta and Evereman. Why did you choose this route for something more literary?
NARRATIVE URGE: It was important to put literary work into the streets: hanging off traffic signposts, tree limbs, park benches. Writing of the kind we’re talking about tends to get sequestered in bookstores, libraries, and websites, to be retrieved by those who look for it specifically. Envelopes, on the other hand, are found by anyone paying close heed to his or her surroundings. I want to encourage this – the paying heed and the finding – and possibly draw people into the project who would not otherwise bother with such a world.
SCOUT: Was this project inspired by anyone or another project in particular?
NARRATIVE URGE: As far as I know, no one has combined these elements in this way before.
SCOUT: While we're all out there scrambling around, looking for UFOs or Margaret Mitchell's ghost or who knows what, you're sitting back watching it all unfold. Is it fun to play art-God in this sense?
NARRATIVE URGE: No matter how much the project's goals may "change" and "evolve," if participants feel anything other than pleasure and fascination and related tingly sensations, then I’ve failed. You know, maybe there’s a real God, playing art-God with us.
SCOUT: How do you plan to "finish" the project? Is there a next stage?
NARRATIVE URGE: The next stage is the trickiest one, I guess. At one point I had a vision that all the envelope finders would locate each other, connect their fragments and become lifelong friends, some of them marrying and producing abundant children, who would relate the lore of 10 Stories High down through the generations. But many envelopes likely were plucked by the sadly bedraggled and misshapen souls who push wire carts through our city’s deepening dusk. They need the money, and art-God bless them. With the envelope finders and other interested parties aboard, my hoped-for next stage is (as Narrative Urge explains in the Notes on Facebook) that they will describe how their “story” has been changed by the project, in however small a way … by taking part in the project, or simply by knowing about it. I hope they will do this in an email to me, and allow me to use their words in the next stage.
SCOUT: If it's not too terribly rude of me to ask ... how are you funding this project? Surely it starts adding up, sending out $10 envelopes all around town...?
NARRATIVE URGE: I’m paying for the project from my own holdings, which are not vast. It adds up pretty much as you’ve figured, and 10 Stories High so far has been satisfying beyond any measure that can be calculated in dollars.
SCOUT: What did you think of CL Atlanta's recent adventure in search of answers?
NARRATIVE URGE: Wyatt Williams’ report of his downtown trek with Debbie Michaud ends with the two of them still bewildered, their imagined solutions to the riddle having not panned out at all, sipping cocktails in a fancy hotel and “laughing at the day.” It’s the sweetest scene. As I said on the CL blog, this goes to the heart of 10 Stories High. There’s an Oliver Goldsmith quote I’m tempted to reel off here, but I might seem even more pretentious than I already do.
SCOUT: How do you choose which story fragments to use, which writers to use, which recipients, which hiding places?
NARRATIVE URGE: The story fragments must be from Atlanta writers, except for the Leonard Cohen lines (envelope #10), which I used because they fit the other criterion: they go well with story I’m shaping around the fragments. There are a few lines (envelope #35, mailed to John Lemley at WABE) from “Gone with the Wind,” a story that some people believed significant to the project; otherwise, all writers are local. Obviously the “drops,” as I call them, can be found by anyone. Drop locations, other than bookstores – which seem appropriate – are chosen somewhat randomly: inside restaurant menus (the Graveyard, the Majestic, Manuel’s Tavern); Midway Restaurant (under an eraser near the dartboard); Videodrome (near the Frida Kahlo movie starring Salma Hayek); Junkman’s Daughter (inside Tara McPherson’s book, “Lost Constellations”); in the information box outside that yoga studio on Estoria in Cabbagetown. Relatively few envelopes have been mailed. Those have gone to people involved in the arts – the director of the High Museum, for example – but not entirely that sector. Others were addressed to the King of Pops, and another to Grant Henry, at Sister’s Louisa’s.
SCOUT: Are there any letter recipients who haven't spoken up or come forward that you're waiting to hear from?
NARRATIVE URGE: Many, but this seems built into any project based on stories. It’s life, right? Think of all the stories that might be told by people who “haven’t spoken up or come forward.” Think of all the people we’re “waiting to hear from.” Consider how their stories could be interwoven, and you’ve got the ambition of 10 Stories High.
SCOUT: Can you give us a clue? Any clue?
NARRATIVE URGE: That rings of a quip-like question to round out the interview. So many clues already! I’ll just say thank you again to everyone for enjoying the project.
And thank you, mystery person. We are happy to play.