Twelve years ago, artists Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher created Learning to Love You More, an online, participant-driven project that generated contributions from more than 10,000 people worldwide by its finish in 2009. The idea was that July and Fletcher would post creative assignments to the website, and anyone who wanted could complete any or all of the assignments, as many times as they liked. Participants, both artists and not, photographed or otherwise recorded their submissions, which are still posted publicly online. Both the website and the accompanying book, published by Prestel, generate the same sense of wonder that will be familiar to fans of July’s films and writing.
Assignments, which July and Fletcher added over the course of the seven-year project, had precise instructions and were geared towards getting participants to unplug from solitary existence, connect back into society at large, and interact in new ways with their immediate surroundings. Some required making an impact on a public space, like #15: “Hang a windchime [sic] on a tree in a parking lot. Make or buy a windchime. Hang the windchime on a tree branch in a median strip at a largish shopping center parking lot. Leave the windchime there.”
Other assignments required participants to interact with others in a profound way, such as #59: “Interview someone who has experienced war,” or #31: “Spend time with a dying person,” the instructions for which are intense and memorable: “This can be someone who is close to you or a complete stranger. There are huge numbers of dying people who nobody visits, so it is not hard to visit with a stranger.”
Most could be done privately: #18: “Recreate a poster you had as a teenager;” #11: “Photograph a scar and write about it; #58: “Record the sound that is keeping you awake;” #51: “Describe what to do with your body when you die;” and #41: “Document your bald spot.” Number 53, “Give advice to yourself in the past,” which participants often directed at their teenage self, is revelatory, heart-breaking, crushing, and uplifting, all at once; there’s a good chance it will make you cry very, very quickly.
July and Fletcher also pulled from previous assignments to create new ones. For example, #12: “Get a temporary tattoo of one of Morgan Rozacky’s neighbors. We really love Morgan Rozacky’s project, completed for assignment 2: ‘Make a neighborhood field recording.’ We don’t know who she is or anything about her, but we like to think about her neighbors and their songs.”
About the aftermath of the project, July says: “I’m not sure how much this relates to LTLYM but I’m surprised by the plethora of ‘art assignment’ books out there right now or forthcoming (I learn about them because I’m often asked to contribute). There’s even a PBS web series called ‘The Art Assignment.’ It’s a zeitgeist that didn’t exist when we were making LTLYM and I suppose it speaks to the desire to DO something, offline, which has become harder and harder. Now the idea of an assignment, a command, comes in to its own—we won’t step away from the computer unless someone tells us what else there is to do. Just as my mom gave me ‘activity books’ to lure me away from the TV, we adults need books of art assignments to inspire us away from endless fascinating Tumblrs.”
Although LTLYM ended five years ago, others are carrying on the torch. Opening this Saturday at the Contemporary Art Center in Mito, Ibaraki, Japan, July’s work is in a group exhibition which will include an open call to contribute once again to LYTYM with Assignment #55: Photograph a significant outfit. Submissions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learning to Love You More is part of the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
First photograph in post is: Assignment 23: Recreate this snapshot. Rebecca, Tulsa, Oklahoma