Want to send a letter but don’t want to pay for it? Jessica Gath wants to help you out with that. In fact, she’ll even type it for you.
Gath, otherwise known as the World Famous Secretary, will type a note, postcard or letter; address it; stamp it; and mail it—all at no cost to you, not even the stamp.
Perched at her Royal Deluxe typewriter, the Boston artist explains why she insists on responding to everybody’s demands. (By the way, if you want the Secretary to type a letter for you, submit a request at her website, theworldfamoussecretary.com)
“I work for the world,” says Gath, who performed at Fishtown’s Rebekah Templeton gallery a few weeks ago. Well, she really only works for the part of the world that wants to send sweet missives—no ransom notes, hate mail or term papers for this Secretary. Once, Gath says, someone asked her to type a fictitious eviction notice. “This isn’t in the spirit of my project,” she recalls. What is the spirit of her project? “If I can make someone smile, that makes me really happy. The more love I’m putting out in the world the better.”
Gath says that at age 6 she was struck by the typing sounds and office atmosphere in the movie 9 to 5 , and even used to play a game called “The World Famous Secretary” with an imaginary boss. When her mom found out the boss’ name was Mr. Hitler, she told Gath it was time to get a new one. At that point, Gath says, she stopped playing the game. Many years later, she actually became a secretary.
“I was an administrative assistant for Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation,” says Gath, who really hadn’t done any performing before this. She says she doesn’t even like to memorize lines. “It was my first job after college—for a nonprofit company I believed in. Then I realized I needed a more creative job.”
Gath doesn’t dress in a Mad Men-era suit for her performances, although the props for her project—the typewriter, the wooden “in” and “out” boxes—are vintage. And like all good secretaries, she uses nothing but the best products—vellum paper (easy to erase mistakes and no messy correction fluid) and Liberty Bell Forever stamps. “I want people to get a beautiful object, but it’s not about the stamp,” she says.
Gath, a 2006 graduate from the Massachusettes College of Art, works full-time making oil portraits at her studio, which is how she funds the Secretary project. One, she says, that would most likely continue even if she did need to raise money for stamps. After all, we could all use a little love.
Gath’s Secretary represents a kinder, gentler side of performance art that focuses on serving the public. Two other recent local examples: Candida Pagan’s 2008 office performance at the Philadelphia Institute for Advanced Study, which registered people to vote; and Beth Heinly’s 2010 psychic reader at Old City’s Bodega gallery, in which she read cards for a long line of people.
Remember that letter you’ve been meaning to write? Now’s your chance.
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PW's Holiday Guide 2014