Filmmaker and artist Miranda July is blasting emails copied from the outboxes of some well-known names on intimate topics to anyone who signs up.
The project is called We Think Alone, and includes messages sent from a range of notable people (who agreed to participate in advance, of course). Those names include the NBA's all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul Jabar, fashion-designing siblings Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, and a Canadian-American theoretical physicist.
July asked 10 notables to provide personal emails on a series of 20 intimate topics. In the first round, the first topic was money. Lena Dunham, creator and star of the HBO series Girls, sent out a reply to an email from her assistant about a $24,000 couch.
"Decided it's just too expensive," the message said.
July says she has 70,000 subscribers in just her first week of operating. Some may be signing up to follow the celebrities, she says, but that was a way to attract a wider audience to the project.
"Maybe you're coming in for the celebrity aspect, which is kind of negligible anyway," she says. "But once you're there, your experience is going to be very different than reading Paris Hilton or whatever."
July joins NPR's Linda Wertheimer to talk about the project.
On money as an intimate topic in email
"You have Etgar Keret, the Israeli writer, wondering if he's asking for too much money, and then you have two authors, Sheila Heti and Helen DeWitt, both quite prominent authors, discussing actually how to make a living, which I think was kind of shattering, but maybe a little comforting to a lot of writers out there, to see that Sheila Heti, who had a hit this year, was working as a temp not too long ago."
On the modern meaning of privacy
"Privacy might not exist at all in the ways that we were thinking of. It kind of forces you to maybe become proactive in a territory where we've traditionally just been passive: Unless you share something, it's private. In a way you have to start to sculpt your privacy, and that sculpting becomes a reflection of what kind of person you are, and you see that in this project. Some people manage to get through 20 emails without really sharing anything, and there's an art to that as well."
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
To another kind of artist now. We generally hope our email is private but NBA giant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, filmmaker Lena Dunham and Israeli author Etgar Keret have made their sent messages public in a new work of art called "We Think Alone" by Miranda July. July is an artist, author and filmmaker who's won awards at the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals. Now, she is finding art in the electronic outbox. July asked 10 notable individuals to provide personal emails on a series of intimate topics that will then be sent out in a weekly message to anyone who signs up. The first assigned topic was money. In the past week, 70,000 people signed up to peek into this correspondence.
MIRANDA JULY: Part of what I love about email is that we both use it passionately and emotionally and also for our most mundane, clerical uses. And this project really moves between those poles. Over the 20 weeks, a lot of emotion will transpire.
WERTHEIMER: You know, this is a very interesting time to roll out this project - just after the Edward Snowden leaks. And I think privacy is on people's minds.
JULY: Yeah. I mean, people who've lived their adult lives and their childhoods on Facebook have a completely different sense of privacy. And, yeah, certainly realizing that privacy might not exist at all in the ways we were thinking of. It kind of forces you to maybe become proactive in a territory where we've traditionally just been passive. I mean, unless you share something that's private. In a way you have to start to sculpt your privacy, and that sculpting becomes a reflection of what kind of person you are. And you see that in this project. Some people manage to get through 20 emails without really sharing anything. There's an art to that as well.
WERTHEIMER: You know, I would not have thought of money of quite such an intimate thing.
JULY: Yeah, well, I think especially the juxtaposition also. I mean, you know, you have Etgar, the Israeli writer, wondering if he's asking for too much money; and then you have two authors, Sheila Heti and Helen DeWitt - both quite prominent authors - discussing actually how to make a living, which I think was kind of shattering and maybe a little comforting to a lot of writers out there, to see that Sheila Heady, who, you know, had a hit this year, was working as a temp not too long ago.
WERTHEIMER: Is this sort of a different take basically on gossip? I mean, the same sort of impulse that has us flipping through People or Us or something to just get a different look at a famous person?
JULY: I'm not sure it's that simple that you can even call this group of people celebrities. Some of them maybe are interesting to tabloids, but I'm not sure they care about the theoretical physicist or the author. But I decided to use some celebrity, notable people in this case, because I didn't want to only invite in people who were already interested in a email art project from a museum in Sweden. So, maybe you're coming in for the celebrity aspect, which is kind of negligible anyways. But once you're there, your experience is going to be very different than reading Perez Hilton or whatever. It's 10 human beings thinking alone.
WERTHEIMER: Miranda July is a filmmaker, an artist and a writer. She joined us from NPR West. If you're interested in her project, her website is WeThinkAlone.com. Thanks very much.
JULY: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.