East Village Journal; From a Clutter of Post-It Notes, Confusion Art

By SUSAN SAULNY

Published: February 10, 2002

 

The sign went up in a storefront window on East Fifth Street just west of Second Avenue months ago. It asked a special favor, and judging by how many words were capitalized and underlined, its message seemed most urgent.

''Neighbors!'' it read, ''I need to collect your used Post-Its. Notes, doodles, all sizes, all colors.'' The handwritten request was illustrated with a snaking arrow that pointed in the direction of a mail slot near the bottom of a blue door.

On countless late nights, Corine Borgnet, an artist, could be seen through a window on the other side of that door, feverishly studying and sorting the hundreds of old notes that, despite the improbable odds, her neighbors in the East Village had stuffed through her slot.

''Take the L to Bedford,'' one read. ''Tom, your shrink called,'' said another. The notes came in every conceivable handwriting and with every conceivable message. Some were covered only in stick figures, several of a cat named Charlotte.

Two and a half months and about 6,000 Post-It notes later, a work of art was born: Ms. Borgnet used the random communiqués to form a latter-day ''Tower of Babel'' (or babble, rather) built upon a theme of confusion and information overload. The work, included in an exhibit titled ''Messages,'' has a price tag of $11,000 and is on display until March 8 at Buell Hall at Columbia University.

''I am working with confusion because it's a personal theme to me,'' said Ms. Borgnet, 39. She was setting up her installation on the day before its opening with a cool hand, not at all frazzled by what would be her first solo show. And she was well-put-together for a day spent just messing around a studio. Her neon green shirt nicely complemented her shocking chartreuse eyeglass frames. Still, she insisted: ''I'm a very confused artist. That's why I wanted to work on confusion.''

Ms. Borgnet said that putting all the notes together visually created a ''remarkable matrix of confusion,'' which led her to the idea of the tower. She built a plastic foam base and posted the notes around it.

But this ''Tower of Babel'' is unlike the one in the Bible; it was not meant to reach heaven, just 14 feet in the air. As told in Genesis, the ancient Babylonians wanted to build a tower to reach God. But God was dismayed by their arrogance and ''confounded their tongues'' so that they spoke different languages and could not understand one another.

''The inspiration was the whole cacophony of voices,'' said George Robinson, the founder and director of NUTUREart, a nonprofit art services organization. He is also the show's curator.

Mr. Robinson and Ms. Borgnet said they envisioned ''Messages'' as a project to be shown at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's World Views, on the 92nd floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. It had not been accepted -- the proposal was dated Sept. 5, just one week before the terrorist attacks.

''I worked with the trade center theme of a grand tower and all the parallels with the myth of Babel, the coming together of so many different languages and people,'' said Ms. Borgnet, who was born on a small fishing island off the coast of France. ''My tower has really become the opposite of the biblical story. It's inclusive and it's fostered communication. People on my street who had never talked to me before wanted to know what was going on with all these notes.''

Ms. Borgnet, who studied fine art at L'École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, also collected Post-Its at Columbia, and on the streets. (''You know, the kind that fell off a door and says, 'Be back in 5 minutes.' '') On Fifth Street, she became known as the Post-It woman.

Her interest in the little papers goes back to her first job experiences in New York, a decade ago. She wanted to be an artist but ended up a secretary with nothing to draw on but the Post-It notes at her desk. One of her works also on display at Columbia is a 600-note collection of miniature portraits called ''The Babblers.''

Ms. Borgnet invites those who visit the gallery to bring a used note and stick it on the tower. She then rustles the unstuck part of the notes like feathers, explaining, ''I want it to be very, very fluffy.'' She added, ''fluffy and crazy.''

Photo: Corine Borgnet, creator of the tower of Post-It notes behind her, before the opening of ''Messages'' at Columbia's Buell Hall. She collected about 6,000 of the sticky slips of paper. (Edward Keating/The New York Times)

Correction: February 20, 2002, Wednesday The East Village Journal article on Feb. 10, about Corine Borgnet, who makes art from used Post-it notes, misspelled the name of a nonprofit organization founded and directed by George Robinson, curator of an exhibition her work at Columbia University. It is Nurtureart, not Nutureart.


SUSAN SAULNY