Meet the Artist: 10 Questions with Rora Blue
Artist Rora Blue explores the connections between what we communicate (and what we don't), color, and the processing of emotions. She is best known for the Unsent Project, After the Beep, and Handle With Care. We asked her 10 questions to get to know more about her work.
1. Tell us about the Unsent Project and After the Beep.
The Unsent Project is a collection of over 40,000 unsent text messages to first loves. The messages are submitted anonymously from people all over the world. The content of the submissions are wide ranging, encompassing just about every emotion. I started the Unsent Project in 2015 to figure out what color people see love in. To investigate this, submissions are displayed on the color the submitter associates with their first love.
After the Beep is a collection of submitted voicemails. They are the voicemails that people can’t bring themselves to delete off their phones. Similar to The Unsent Project, After the Beep also explores the connection between color and emotion. I do this by asking the submitter what color color comes to mind when they listen to their voicemail.
2. What inspired you to start the projects?
The Unsent Project came out of a place of processing my own experience with my first love. I wanted to connect with other people and learn about their experiences. I honestly had no idea that it was a concept that would resonate with so many people. It felt wonderful to be able to give other people a place where they could express themselves anonymously.
After the Beep was inspired by a 10-minute voicemail one of my friends left this guy she was in love with. I started thinking about how voicemails are something that almost every person keeps on their phone. I started wondering about what those voicemails might say and what the reasons were that people keep them on their phones.
3. Where do you source the text and voicemails for the projects? How do you edit through them?
People anonymously submit to the Unsent Project on theunsentproject.com. I receive between 50-100 submissions to the project every day. Every single submission lives permanently in the Unsent Project Archive. I read through the archive and pick out submissions to use for social media and collages. I try to stay unbiased during this process, and select submissions with a wide variety of content. My only criteria while reading is that if a submission makes me stop and read it twice, it gets pulled for use elsewhere.
After the Beep submissions get emailed directly to me. All of the voicemails live on my personal website rorablue.com. There, I have them organized by color. I find the process of listening to voicemails to be very emotional at times. There are a lot of nuances in audio that don’t necessarily translate through text. I find that I have to limit how many I can listen to at a time, because they can be quite emotional.
4. Could you explain the associations with feelings and color?
Different colors have always evoked distinct emotions for me, so I became interested in how other people experience color in relation to feeling. Do we as humans have a collective emotional experience of different colors? I can look at all of the texts that have been submitted in a certain color and see if the messages have a similar emotional tone. So far I can see that they do.
5. For your Handle With Care project, you explored sexist commentary. How did you choose the mediums and materials you used to communicate the comments?
I like working with unconventional materials, like alphabet soup. One of the reasons I enjoy this is I feel that it makes the art more approachable to an everyday viewer. For Handle With Care, I was intrigued by the idea of engaging in the activities I was addressing in the series. For example, I hand-embroidered “Why are you upset? Is it that time of the month again?” on to a pair of red underwear. I thought there was something dynamic about using sewing, an activity that has been traditionally considered women’s work, as the medium to convey this concept.
6. How has social media influenced your work?
I have had a unique relationship with social media. My career as an artist took off when I was 19, after starting the Unsent Project as a text post on Tumblr. I woke up one morning to 20,000 submissions in my inbox. I was a little bit thrown into it all, while still trying to find my voice not only as an artist but as a human. I would say that for the first year or two my work was deeply intertwined with social media. Now, I view social media as a wonderful tool for connection but my work is less dependent on it. I have learned that there are certain physical and tangible aspects to my work that don’t always translate through a screen.
7. How has your audience reacted to your work? Although everything is anonymous, there are very personal aspects to it.
This answer will vary based on which series we are talking about, but across the board I can say that my work starts a conversation. People usually have a strong emotional reaction to the Unsent Project. I have seen that reaction range from laughter to tears to excitement. A lot of the submissions are deeply personal, and I think that is why the project gets a strong response. It is not common for people to be completely vulnerable, especially with total strangers. I do think that the anonymity is key here. I doubt people would be so willing to share such intimate parts of themselves if the project was not anonymous.
8. Do you consider your art empowering?
For me personally, my art is definitely empowering. I feel the most empowered when I am able to turn a feeling into something tangible and beautiful, which is exactly what art does for me. Some people have also said that they feel empowered by my art. This is usually in the context of them being able to share something that they have been holding inside for years. My goal with external experience of my work is to make other people feel something. I don’t try to dictate what that feeling is, I just want them to feel. If that feeling ends up being empowerment then that is just wonderful!
9. Do you have a preference for how your work is seen? i.e. in multiples, on social media or framed in an exhibit? What are the considerations for each?
Each have a time and place. What is interesting is how different the reaction is depending on what format the Unsent Project is shown in. I think there is something special about the idea of someone reading Unsent Project submissions on their phone late at night. In some ways, I think people are able to have a more intimate experience with the Unsent Project when they are alone reading the messages. I find showing my work in a gallery or museum context to be equally powerful in a different way. I print out submissions and make large scale collages that are arranged by color. In this context, you can experience hundreds of submissions at once. There is something here that can be experienced that won’t translate through a screen.
I particularly enjoy physical work because I am able to see how people react to the submissions. I don’t get to see that when people are viewing my art online.
10. Are you currently adding to your projects? Will they be ongoing?
After the Beep and the Unsent Project are both ongoing projects. They are both complex bodies of work that will take me years and years to fully process. Right now I am working on a subscription for the Unsent Project that includes monthly stickers and a handwritten letter. I am excited about this because it is allowing people to become a part of the Unsent Project and letting me to connect with them on a more personal level. You can contribute at rorablue.com and theunsentproject.com!