I once discovered a four-page handwritten letter in a second-hand book, detailing the end of a love affair between three women in Hawaii.
It was full of tantalising clues, suggestions of a complex history, and with an unintelligible signature, it’s a story I’ll never complete. Found By Laura takes this intrigue one step further. Drawing from a collection of randomly found notes, lists and letters accumulated over 12 years, this is an exhibition at once deeply personal and full of wild conjecture.
“As soon as I found that first [note], I remember thinking, ‘This is kind of interesting,’” Laura Sullivan recalls. “It hit me at once. I thought, ‘Wow, it’s actually kind of amazing to hold this piece of somebody’s life in my hand. So I put it in my pocket, and I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but from there, that’s when things opened up. Everything shifted. It was shortly after that I found the next one just outside the building next door, this old restaurant receipt with a printed number and [the words], ‘I Love You B.B – Your Angel’. The fact it was just on this random bit of paper, on the side of the road in the middle of the city, there was something interesting there.
“And then I found these two funny, rude ones on Pyrmont Bridge a few weeks later, and when that happened, I looked up at the sky and thought, ‘Wait. Is someone doing this? Have I fallen for something?’ It just kept happening. Then I moved to New York – there were heaps in New York – and then Canada. I never thought I was going to make a collection, but over time it just happened.”
Most of us have surely misplaced some note or letter over time that once held some great significance. Thinking back to some of my own despairing, love-struck teenage prose, I’m rather grateful that history has swallowed them whole, but the prospect of your past self suddenly materialising in the form of a found object is a fascinating one. Sadly, Sullivan has yet to discover the authors to any of her unusual collection.
“No, not yet,” she sighs. “I would just love to meet some of these people. Especially the ones that I’ve – I was about to say I’ve known, but that’s not really right. The ones I’ve had for ten or 12 years – imagine meeting some of those people! ‘You know what, I’ve kept your really weird shopping list for a decade now, and I just really want to know what you were thinking when you wrote ‘can’t do shit without your bowls’ in the middle.’ There’s another great one from around 2005 which is a list of Coke Zero and Vanilla Coke, and they’ve drawn this little star in the top and drawn an arrow pointing at it that says ‘Bob Saget’. It’s so random. I want to meet these people.”
Getting closure on these writings would itself make a fine story – but then, one of the most tantalising aspects of Found By Laura is being able to create your own characters to fill in the blanks.
“I’ve always been interested in people, in writing,” says Sullivan. “And documentaries! So when I started finding these, they were like mini-documentaries, where I read it and instantly started creating who this person is, who they’re writing to or about. It becomes a bit of a fiction, but it’s based in someone’s real life, in a real moment. I love a mystery, putting the clues together. And sharing them, like in the exhibition, you get these different opinions that come up with entirely new stories.”
The Found By Laura exhibition runs Thursday February 16 – Sunday March 5 at Sun Studios, Alexandria.