The Public Diary

by Sara Muthi

In today’s ever increasing digital society the use of pen and paper is becoming less frequent. While this is unfortunate, it does allow us to be more appreciative of the few opportunities we have to sit down and temporarily let our hand take over our mind. Such is the experience of Milena Matejko’s The Public Diary as part of the First Fortnight Festival 2018.

The First Fortnight Festival is Ireland’s leading mental health arts festival, giving us an opportunity at the beginning of every year to reflect and be kind to ourselves, make positive decisions and start the year off on the right foot. The Public Diary gives us ample opportunity to release our inner thoughts or creative energy in a safe communal space, without fear of judgment as all visitors have a communal understanding, and perhaps a subconscious need for such a place of acceptance to exist.

Initially The Public Diary was an interactive installation developed by Matejko in which notebooks were installed in each public toilet as an opportunity for the public to express their thoughts, troubles and experiences through writing and sketches. Such conceptual projects which depend on public response as an outcome can often be hit or miss, however the need for such a project was quickly realised when the notebooks began running out of pages. The ingredient to the project’s success laid in its activation of catharsis; the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

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The First Fortnight Festival picked up this work and facilitated it on a greater scale at the site of their 2017 festival in the Smock Alley Theatre. Here, a collection of entries were built, consisting of intricate drawings to humorous doodles to serious confessions to encouraging words, all of which rang relatable to most who experienced the work. Such a library of public entries could no longer be held onto by Matejko and needed a widespread showcase. Picked up for a second year the First Fortnight Festival 2018 enabled an interactive installation of such entries on a large scale, grand prints highlighting the most bold, personal and impactful entries that wrap the space of the Culture Box while projected images of entries run on a loop. Entries range from “”i love my friend more than my girlfriend”, “occasionally i feel like the loneliest person in the world” and my personal favorite “i bought a pair of jeans for 29 euro just now because i was ashamed to come into the theatre with a tracksuit on”. Such a grand portrayal of peoples intimate thoughts and expression resonates the fact that your own intimate thoughts are not your own, but are shared between countless others around you. There lies in the impact of Matejko’s project.

When the private becomes public one of two things can happen, shame or empowerment. Shame only occurs at a level in which the private was made public without our consent or intention; a regrettable circumstance. No one wants their private diaries to be publicised. Empowerment on the other hand is much different. By articulating your thoughts and expressing your energies in a in a public book you are taking control of your thoughts, both good and bad, in a gesture that solidifies to you and everyone who reads or takes part that they too are not alone. Confidence and strength in your humanity is the goal, an achievement none of us can claim 100% of the time, but as projects like The Public Diary remind us to strive and promote.

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Through facilitating and now exhibiting this creative means of expression as a library of public diaries Matejko aims to build connection, compassion and a sense of relatability to those around you. With hopes of encouraging the public to share further and add to the building library of creative expression The Public Diaries’ work is not done, nor can it end until every mental health stigma perpetuated in our society is exposed as untrue. Matejko creates a safe, comfortable space in which the public can engage with the work on a deeper contemplative level, a project who’s success is a testament to the dire need for more safe opportunism to share can be facilitated and a testament to the important work the First Fortnight Festival is contributing to our society.

The Public Diary project was developed by Milena Matejko, curated by Sara Muthi. Part of the First Fortnight Festival 2018, exhibited at the Culture Box at 12 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, the show runs from 5th January to 20th of January 2018. Photography by Milena Matejko.

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