In a city full of strangers, artist Brandon Doman creates intimate connections between New Yorkers passing by.
The Strangers Project is an ongoing participatory art project Doman began in 2009 in his hometown of Ann Arbor, shortly after finishing college. What started as a small experiment, wherein Doman collected stories from passersby outside a local coffee shop, became Doman’s full-time occupation. In addition to one-man pop-ups in places like Washington Square Park, where he simultaneously displays and collects stories from strangers, Doman travels nationwide to bring large- and small-scale versions of the project to different parts of the United States.
His latest installation, the Strangers Project: What’s Your Story? – the first large-scale one since the pandemic started – is centered on fostering connection and celebration over the holidays, and will be on display from Friday, November 27th through January 2nd at City Point in Downtown Brooklyn.
The stories of strangers, 500 of which are featured in the new installation, are those of “the people we share space with every day,” Dolan told Bklyner. The stories, he hopes, might help us all feel a bit more connected to one another, and can also be seen on Instagram.
The stories range from straightforward narratives to words of advice from senders to their future selves, to drawings accompanied by captions. Some are tragic; many are triumphant, or simply matter-of-fact.
What they all show, however, is that most experiences are universal. “We’re all human, and we’re all experiencing our challenges and our pain, our joy, and our achievements,” Doman said.
Some of the most rewarding experiences the artist said he’s had are when people who hesitate to write end up submitting something beautiful, which resonates deeply with other people. “They’ll say ‘oh, I’m not that interesting’ or ‘nobody wants to hear my story,’ or ‘my story’s not like these ones up on the wall.’”
Yet, the project has little to do with talent: “It’s not about performing. It’s not about being a writer. It’s just about being honest and sharing something,” Doman said.
Since the pandemic started, the project has taken on a slightly different tone.
“For the first time, many people are orbiting the same sort of topic – around the pandemic,” he explained. “Not everybody, and it’s still coming from a lot of unique angles, but this is the first time that many people that are sharing are kind of orbiting the same general theme.”
Many people had an emotional reaction to seeing Doman return to Washington Square Park in late August, he said. “Just so many people saying they wished they could hug me for being back out there, whether people who were finding the project for the first time or people that had been following along for years. And so it’s really been these warm reminders of them needing these spaces to connect and reflect and share.”
The City Point installation will be similar to the ones Doman did pre-pandemic. The main exception is that he himself won’t be present for the duration of the show to meet visitors and answer questions. That’s something Doman’s had to sacrifice for pandemic times.
Happily, however, one of the more important aspects of the project will remain the same; people will still be able to submit their own stories on-site, which Doman will add to his collection of over 60,000 stories to be used in future installations, and on Instagram. Stories can be submitted at the neighboring McNally Jackson bookstore in exchange for a 10% store discount on the day of submission.
The Strangers Project: What’s Your Story? will be on display from November 27th through January 2nd at City Point, 445 Albee Square West, 336 Flatbush Ave. There will be two display walls, one each inside the Prince Street and Flatbush Avenue entrances.