I began writing daily, diary-style letters to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien while completing my undergraduate studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1999. The project was well suited to a student budget: postage to the House of Commons is free within Canada. Since January 1, 2001, I have continued this letter-writing project via email. The project began as a sort of character study, an attempt to determine how well I knew the PM. I have been aware of him for most of my adult life, have seen countless photographs, heard enough sound bites to know his voice as well as that of a close friend or family member. But who is he really? How well do any of us really know our elected officials, T.V. stars, or sports heroes?
Our perception of these celebrities is shaped by newspapers, magazines, radio and television - all highly negotiated and heavily edited mediums. I decided that I wanted to reverse that process of knowledge distribution. Combining the structure of the daily diary with the pattern of the daily news story, I made my activities - and those of my community - the subject of informative texts addressed to the Prime Minister. Why would he not follow our lives with the fascination that we all follow his? But sadly, in response to over two thousand letters, I have received only a handful of replies - all form letters signed by PMO correspondence officers.
The official silence that greets this project has never come as a great surprise. It highlights the divide between public and private life, between the glamour of celebrity and the often mundane pleasantries of citizenship in Canada. My initial interest in divulging personal activities and thoughts to the "powers that be" stemmed from a concern with the tightening control on freedom through increased surveillance and the proliferation of reality-type entertainment. For me, this project has a lot to do with the politics of making art in a culture that is increasingly unafraid of (not to mention entertained by) a flaunted abandonment of both personal responsiblities and public space.