The love letter is a romantic symbol that has almost become extinct in the midst of our modern, fast-paced way of life. The ways in which we proclaim love have degenerated as a result of the social skills that modern technology has bestowed on us. Australian psychologist and street artist Alexandra Ehrenberg is here to change the way we express love by bringing back romance through love letters and street art with Lines of Love. Alexandra spoke to Sensa Nostra about the project.
I have always loved writing letters. I think it is such a beautiful and thoughtful act. The idea for Lines of Love came about when I was in a previous relationship and was looking for ways to express my love. Everything I came across was cloaked in cynicism and irony, with statements like “I love the shit out of you,” and the like. While this humour has its place, I wanted to make a statement in response to the modern-day manner in which we address and express love. The traditional romantic gestures I’d hear about seemed so materialistic, which isn’t really what romance is. I think romance is doing or saying something thoughtful that will only have full meaning for the intended person; being surprised by someone’s kindness and knowing that they are thinking of you. I wanted to gather letters from a time when writing was an art form, and paste them up around Sydney in a bid to restore real romance.
The idea came about because of my love for street art. I love its spontaneity and ability to bring art into the everyday. Sydney is a great place for street art and there are some really talented artists living here, which helps me to stay inspired. I wanted to make street art myself but never felt good enough at any medium to pursue it. It was my housemate who urged me to just go for it. One day she asked why I didn’t do something in street art since I was always talking about it. I didn’t have an answer, and it seemed to make a lot of sense. Then I had the idea for Lines of Love, which lends itself to poster art.
The first time around, the letters were printed and posted without permission, which gave me cause to worry when a local newspaper wrote an article about Lines of Love with all of my contact details! Thankfully, no one really cared. For the upcoming Art & About Sydney festival, I have to seek written permission from all the building owners where I want to display a love letter. It’s turned me into a bit of a wall pervert. I’ll walk along the street and see a really good-looking wall that I just have to use. I decided to keep to quite open-minded areas where I felt there would be an audience that would appreciate them.
All of the letters are authentic love letters from the World Wars. The letters come from countries all around the world, and it was important to me to represent letters from all sides of the war. The project isn’t about war. It’s about humans who love in the midst of it. The fact that the letters are from wartime makes them so genuine, and heavy with real emotion. Being separated from your loved ones by a war with no end in sight reveals true feelings. I have never read such beautiful things. I ended up crying after reading through letters for hours, trying to decide which ones to use.
Each love letter is unique and scribed by a different author. I didn’t want to lose the romanticism or individuality of a handwritten letter by using a computer to type them or by writing them all myself. The idea that there would be a different personality behind each letter was important for the project. The process basically involves finding letters and authentic stationery from the era. Some of the letters have to be translated into English first, and are then transcribed. Finally they are scanned and formatted by my brother Michael, and printed out on A1 size paper, ready to be pasted up.
With Lines of Love, I wanted to remind people that everything we say and do changes the lives of the people around us. I had this image in my head of someone on their way to work in a bad mood and seeing one of the love letters and having their perspective change. We don’t give enough credit to these sorts of small moments and how they can make all the difference to someone’s day, or life. I was sick of all the cynicism. If we create negative things and are constantly criticizing, then we live in that mindset. If we surround ourselves with positive things, then we pass that on to people.
The project is probably a reaction to my job as a psychologist more than anything. Street art, more than any other creative field, appeals to my devious side. It balances me out. Working in psychology, the world can seem pretty bleak at times. I hear about horrible acts of abuse and neglect, and often can’t stop thinking about the ways people can hurt each other. I needed to remind myself of the good in the world. I wanted to be able to share something new and meaningful with people that might bring some happiness into their lives. I know the effect that love can have on someone’s life and well-being. It is not something that we typically share on a daily basis with the people we pass in the street. A lot of the time we don’t even share it with the people we love! It becomes a hassle, or we become resigned and lazy. How can you not want to tell or show the person you love that you love them? That is one of the messages I hope to share with people: bring back the romance!
The project has been really well-received, much more than I had expected. It’s made me so happy to see people connect with the concept. Next, I’ll be re-pasting love letters for the Art & About Sydney festival, this time with permission and in new locations. I’m also working on taking the project around the world, as love makes the world go round. Everyone can connect to this project and take something different from it. Soon, I’ll be branching out to Berlin and South America. The language of the letters will need to change for each new location, so this is the next step in the process. I don’t want to restrict the project to just one city—it was always part of something bigger. I just want to keep spreading these letters of love.