What do you wish?
What do you regret?
These questions were posed by conceptual artist Lauren Gillette to more than 60 people of different ages and stages of life, as she photographed them, mugshot-style. I happened upon an exhibit of this project on a recent trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
As I sat on the deck of the Old Ferry Landing restaurant enjoying yet another lobster roll (I could not get enough of them on this trip!) I began chatting with my server about things to see and do in town. He offered to lend me his copy of the local entertainment weekly, so that I could look through the listings of art and music events. A photo exhibit entitled “Wish/Regret” caught my eye. After lunch, I wandered through town, stopping at the information kiosk in the main square, operated by the local Chamber of Commerce. Then, armed with a map and directions, I set off to find The Parlor at Plainspoke.
Plainspoke is a graphic design studio, located in a beautifully restored mid-1800s carriage house. When I found it, I realized that I had walked past it before, not knowing what it was. The owners have turned part of the space into a gallery where they host events and display the work of local artists.
When I entered The Parlor, it was absolutely silent. I was the only person there, so I could take in the exhibit without any distractions. Two photos each of 45 different people – one displaying their wish, one displaying their regret – were mounted around the room. I was struck by how revealing the statements were, and how willing the subjects were to share such intimate thoughts. These people had not taken the questions lightly; they had clearly engaged in some serious self-reflection. It was incredibly moving.
As I worked my way around the room, I began to notice something else. A number of statements, both wishes and regrets, related to travel. One young woman wished to visit every country in the world. Another regretted not having traveled more. One woman regretted not taking more risks in her life. Another wished simply to be present.
There were many other important life issues represented in Wish/Regret, but because I was experiencing this incredible show while traveling solo, these particularly resonated with me. Sometimes the things that I just “stumble across” when I travel turn out to be the most remarkable and memorable parts of a trip. It’s why it is so important to leave time and space to wander, to get lost, to discover.
This exhibit has really stayed with me, and will remain an important part of my memory of my time in Portsmouth. I hope that I learned something from the intensely personal thoughts shared by these brave people. And I hope that you will one day be able to answer the question “What do you regret?” as the artist’s 99 year-old grandmother did: “No regrets. I have had a good life.”