This Man Has Been Sending Letters To The Ocean For 12 Years
What better way to remind yourself of your insignificance?
For more than a decade, visual artist John Peña has sent letters to a place that doesn’t have a mailbox: the ocean.
The perpetual project began one wintry month after he and friends had been regularly sending art to one another. Peña sent so many odd objects, he was used to having his post return to him.
But when one letter came back with intriguing markings, Peña thought about how to have even more returned. The solution was simple: Send them somewhere undeliverable. “Growing up in Washington State, my experience of the ocean was shaped by how raw, cold, and unforgiving it is,” he told BuzzFeed. “Being near the ocean always made me very aware of my own fragility and insignificance, which I really liked.”
Geological forces — a prominent influence in Peña’s work — gently and gradually erode mighty forms. And so he started writing to his new pen pal every day.
The idea: His tiny actions, when performed routinely, could cohere into something more monumental. The way Peña explains it, physics oversee everything from rocks to sentient beings. But the core difference between him and a stone is that he has a forebrain that allows him to think critically — and its realization of human smallness makes it uncomfortable.
“On the most basic level, I’m a bipedal mammal moving through the world displacing matter,” he said. “But my ego won’t let me sit with that because then my mortality and insignificance are put into sharp focus.”
The contents of the letters are usually not more than a simple journal entry.
But what he writes in those notes tend to spur what will appear in his Daily Geology drawings, a series where he draws a memorable moment from his day. The value doesn’t reside in the materials, which are otherwise mundane. Rather, it’s the time devoted to the routine that charges the work.
He often worries about being a nuisance and felt especially bad when a postal carrier scrawled “PLEASE STOP IT!” on one of the envelopes. “I wonder, ‘What is point of any of this?’ But then I can’t help but wonder, ‘What’s the point of anything?’”
From an existential and ontological perspective, he said, life is ludicrous — and that’s why he created his own form of biomimicry.
“It helps me relax into the uncertainty of the world and frees me up to make absurd moves like sending a letter to the ocean every day.”