It feels like fascism is closing in. I have to pay my student loans. I’m ready to fall in love again. My mother is becoming more accepting of others. I’ve found myself.

These are some of the handwritten apprehensions and expectations that have been left in the Rubin Museum of Art’s lobby in New York City since February. The project, called A Monument for the Anxious and Hopeful, invites visitors to complete the statement “I’m anxious because . . .” or “I’m hopeful because . . .” on a notecard that is then pinned to a wall. The idea of the exhibition, created by artist Candy Chang and writer James A. Reeves, is to transform the foyer into a space “where we can reflect upon our emotional relationship with the future,” according to Chang.

“By definition, anxiety and hope are determined by a moment that has yet to arrive. How many of the people we pass by each day are excited about their future? How many are fearful? And why?” Chang asked. “We’re living through a very unsettled moment of uncertainty, isolation, and tribalism, and we wanted to create an installation that can help us address our uneasiness, reconnect with core values, and contemplate the prevailing mood of 2018.”

Neither of the collaborators grew up with religion or spirituality, which Chang said made them “feel unmoored and unequipped” to deal with tragedy later in life. Chang’s 2011 participatory art project, Before I Die, was a direct response to the grief and depression she had experienced following the death of someone she loved. In an effort to bring death into the open, she turned the side of an abandoned home in New Orleans into a chalkboard and invited visitors to fill in the blank: “Before I die I want to . . .” The installation has since inspired thousands of similar walls in nearly 80 countries around the world.

Visitors to the Rubin Museum of Art participate in the installation.
Visitors to the Rubin Museum of Art participate in the installation. | Courtesy Filip Wolak / Rubin Museum of Art

Reeves now has a daily meditation practice, and Chang says she has been helped by Himalayan art—in particular the wrathful Buddhist deities it depicts—to look at the world from a new perspective.

“I learned that in Buddhism many ‘wrathful deities’ are actually good guys who get fierce to remove obstacles or protect,” Chang said. “I like that idea of wrathful manifestations of wisdom.”

With A Monument for the Anxious and Hopeful, Chang and Reeves hope that by openly acknowledging desires and fears, and reading similar sentiments from others, visitors will feel that they’re less isolated and part of a larger community.

Another important aspect of the project is its anonymity, Reeves said, adding that the unsigned notes may convey a “more honest snapshot of our collective mental weather” than the self-portraits that many of us create for social media.

Child coloring
Photograph by Nina Buesing

Chang and Reeves are curious to see which side—hope or anxiety—has generated more responses by the end of the exhibition in November 2018; a few weeks after the opening, there was a fairly even split.

“We’re particularly interested in areas where hope and anxiety overlap,” Reeves said. “We’ve seen responses that are very optimistic about technology while others are quite anxious about its impact. Or despair about our political climate juxtaposed with hope because citizens seem more engaged than before. We’d like to highlight these moments throughout the year and find ways to put people in conversation with one another.”

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