Performance artist helps strangers write letters to loved ones during lockdown on the streets of New York

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Brandon Woolf goes old-school and types up letters on a typewriter to chase away the Covid blues. (Photo: Instagram/brandonwoolfperformance)
Brandon Woolf goes old-school and types up letters on a typewriter to chase away the Covid blues. (Photo: Instagram/brandonwoolfperformance)

It’s been a year that’s separated us from our loved ones, with most of us resorting to texts and Zoom calls to connect with our nearest and dearest as the pandemic bit deep. But there’s nothing quite like a thoughtful handwritten letter to say “I love you”, and New York-based artist Brandon Woolf knows this and wants to help.  

On the pavement of 78 Prospect Park West in Brooklyn next to a solitary mailbox, 37-year-old Brandon – who’s a performance artist and a professor in the English department at New York University – carves out time between his Zoom lectures to craft personal letters.

“Free Letters for Friends Feeling Blue,” reads the sign at his little writing station, complete with small wooden chair; 1940s-vintage typewriter; paper; stamps; envelopes; and, of course, hand-sanitiser.  

From 7 October to 2 November, Brandon tirelessly showed up at the mailbox to help lift the moods of those who could be feeling down during the pandemic by writing consolation letters. He calls it “post-dramatic theatre”.

“Together, if you’d like, we can take a moment to type a note of consolation, a blue-edged missive to a friend you think could use it,” he wrote on his social media, alerting people to show up and be on the lookout for him.

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Selections from The CONSOLE: Week #3...

A post shared by Brandon Woolf (@brandonwoolfperformance) on

He calls it the Console – short for consolation – a thoughtful performance-based gesture that feels entirely right in a time filled with so much uncertainty, and for some pain.

“It’s timed to coincide with the heightened anxiety,” he tells The New York Times.

In this digital age, many of us have fallen out of the habit of putting pen to paper and sending an old-fashioned note by mail to reach out to their loved ones, but it is undeniably a gesture that has more meaning than a mere “how are you?” WhatsApp.

“The mailboxes are quite lonely, like the rest of us in quarantine,” Brandon says.

Over the month Brandon wrote approximately 50 letters, occasionally with a queue of people lined up waiting patiently for their turn. There were even musicians pitching to bring more life to his heart-warming initiative.

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