MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The Library of Congress announced recently that it will archive every tweet since the beginning of Twitter. And that got us thinking about the life span of digital messages. How many times a day do you get an email or a text, read it and then delete it? No printing, nothing to hold onto, one button and it's gone.
Well, like the Library of Congress, two artists have also begun archiving digital messages, one in New York, the other in London. Both using tools that predate your computer.
Asma Khalid has the story.
ASMA KHALID: There's a section on Craigslist called Missed Connections. It's for lovelorn strangers. They post ads online in the hopes of rekindling a chance encounter.
Unidentified Woman: (Reading) To the sad boy with the pomegranate lips.
Unidentified Man: (Reading) You, stunning redhead. Me, big guy walking fast.
Unidentified Woman: (Reading) Hey, guy that got on at First Avenue dressed in all black with a throat tattoo.
Unidentified Man: (Reading) You kicked my bag before yoga.
KHALID: Sophie Blackall is fascinated by these messages.
Ms. SOPHIE BLACKALL (Children's Book Illustrator): The subject lines of the posts were like titles of paintings. They were just there on a plate for me. But they were unfinished. They were just like the first premise. And everything that might unfold after that was a mystery.
KHALID: To help solve the mystery, Blackall turns the online postings into intricate paintings of Chinese ink and watercolor. The illustrations look like they're torn out of a children's book. They're whimsical and quirky, almost magical and full of hyperbole. Blackall tends to concentrate on one feature in a post and exaggerate it to the extreme.
Unidentified Woman: (Reading) You: tall, brown hair, incredibly voluminous mustache.
Ms. BLACKALL: That one was all about the mustache.
KHALID: Her painting depicts a middle-aged man with an outlandish Victorian style mustache full of curly-Qs that coil up the side.
Ms. BLACKALL: I think the contradiction is what fascinates me. I mean, there would be a way of illustrating these messages that was far more contemporary and pop. And my illustrations are not really like that. They're very detailed and there's a sort of vintage look to them.
KHALID: Across the ocean, Tracey Moberly is doing similar work with different tools.
(Soundbite of text message signal)
Ms. TRACEY MOBERLY (Artist): My first text message came through in 1999. I've saved every single test message I've ever been sent since then.
KHALID: For Moberly, text messages are like a time capsule. She wants to preserve these messages by turning them into Victorian style cross-stitch samplers.
Ms. MOBERLY: Even though theyre personal texts that are sent to you, it is sort of that point in time which I very much see Victorian samplers being like, you know? You can see the political aspects of the time, the social aspects of the time.
KHALID: 19th century samplers were used to teach young girls how to become well-mannered house wives.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. MOBERLY: (Reading) Behold the daughter of innocence, how beautiful is the mildness of her countenance.
KHALID: But Moberly's upcoming cross-stitch exhibit is quite the opposite.
Unidentified Man: (Reading) Sex fills me with germs. Drugs fill me with doubt. Rock and roll fills me with hope. X.
KHALID: It only takes seconds to send a text through the ether. It takes Moberly hundreds of hours to cross stitch a text message, and she likes that contrast. The painstakingly long process makes Moberly feel like she's giving the text message some permanence. For both Blackall and Moberly, delete-able messages serve as high tech inspiration for old-fashioned art.
Asma Khalid, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
BLOCK: And you can see Sophie Blackall and Tracey Moberly's art at our blog NPR.org/AllTech.
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