Tied to a bench at the Université Lumière Lyon 2, a Sumi Ink Club’s Night Journal lay half-open with a pen holding its place. Adorned with a die-cut to reveal a pink silhouette of a bench, the notebook transformed this busy university bus stop in Lyon, France into a passerbyer’s creative thinking tank. A paper place to capture the musings of strangers, as beautiful and frivolous as they may be.
Bench Diary is an experimental project started by architect Dessa Lohrey, and was born out of the inkling to find out “what people are thinking about when I pass them on the sidewalk or on a bench.” Participants who share the same curiosity choose a notebook (no matter the shape, size, or color) and affix it with a pen to benches in their own communities for a day. The thoughtful entries are then shared online, both on the Bench Diary site and Instagram page for the world to see.
From its onset last June, Bench Diary has already garnered about 670 entries across the world, reaching 8 countries and 18 cities. The notebooks are filled up with entries written in English, Spanish, French, German, and Korean. And in addition to Lyon, our recent collaboration with Bench Diary sent Sumi Ink Club’s Day + Night Journals to Calgary, Canada; London, England; Lyon, France; Torreon, Mexico, and Singapore. We had the chance to ask Dessa a few questions about her project and her own creative outlooks.
1. What inspired you to start Bench Diary? What were your goals for this project when you started it? Curiosity. I’m constantly curious about what people are thinking, especially in still and reflective moments. Benches provide moments of reflection, and Bench Diary provides a space to record those moments.
When I started the project, I wanted to see if people would be brave and trusting enough to share their thoughts in a mysterious anonymous diary. Turns out, they were! I also wanted to get to know my neighbors better. Not only on a small scale within my neighborhood, but on a large scale within my city. I wanted to map the personalities of public spaces and neighborhoods through the diary entries collected in those spaces. I also hoped to see universalities emerge in entries from vastly different types of people, and to create connections between the authors of entries and the readers of entries.
2. What are your top three favorite diary entries that have been submitted so far? It’s so hard to choose! All the entries have touched me in some way, but these three are especially memorable.
“My mom is a jerk. She made me put back a turtle that I caught.” –June 16, 2013, Piedmont Park, Atlanta, GA
“Dear Bench Diary,
Today is my first day in London. I’m waiting for a handsome Englishman to arrive off his plane from Copenhagen. I met him in Berlin and now he’s meeting me again in his beautiful home country and showing me around. There’s nothing like a summer romance. Even the pigeons here are doing a courtship dance. I don’t think I ever want to go home. Why can’t we all just be citizens of the world? I’m not even homesick. Every place I’ve been traveling to has become my home. I’ve left little pieces of my heart in many apartments of couch surf hosts and in cozy hostel living rooms and charming little pubs and coffee shops where I spent my days and nights. Home is where the heart is, and I think my heart is everywhere. I think this moment is the first time I’ve sat in the sun in two weeks! It is so blissful! And everyone told me London is always raining! Thanks for the sunny day! XOXO – Anna U.S.A.” –June 24, 2014, Horse Guards Parade, London, UK
“To whom it may concern:
It’s easy to feel small in a big town. Especially if you’re a 17 year-old kid living on the streets. It’s hard to show love and peace when it’s so chaotic everywhere except this bench. I love this bench. When I sit here and I pull out a book and start to read, I can feel reality fading in the background.
Tonight I’m not going to jump off a bridge.
My name is Fetch, thanks for the book.” – July 18, 2014, Pooh Corner Little Free Library, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
3. You’ve made Bench Diaries universal. Since it is anonymous, do people tend to share anything similar across all Bench Diaries? Yes! Some universal themes that I’ve noticed across all Bench Diary entries are declarations of love, wisdom collected through life experiences, complaints about jobs, recounts of the events of the day, autobiographies, expressions of gratitude, observations about a place, messages to the universe and random silly thoughts. The entries collected so far have been overwhelmingly positive in tone. Even with all the negativity in the world, people mostly choose to share positivity in the diaries.
4. What city(s) do you see the most entries? We’ve had the most entries from Atlanta, Boston, Calgary, and London.
5. As a designer yourself, where do you find creative inspiration? I find inspiration in the energy of a city, in photography, in comedy, in films, in the work of my creative heroes, and in my friends.
6. What’s your favorite Plumb notebook so far? The Day + Night Journals are pretty great! They have worked well as Bench Diaries because they catch your eye on a bench and provide the perfect space to share thoughts. Their black and white aesthetic has meshed beautifully with Bench Diary’s graphics. I haven’t seen them in person, but I’ve also had my eye on the Collection of Paper Options notebooks!
7. What’s next for Bench Diary? What cities do you dream of reaching? The next step is always to collect more entries and connect with more people around the world! With more entries comes more learning about people and the places and spaces they inhabit. I’d love to see Bench Diaries everywhere. If I had to name a few dream cities, I would say Paris (I lived there for a year!), Berlin, Tokyo, Melbourne, Copenhagen, and Barcelona.
Follow Bench Diary on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (there are city-specific Twitter handles as well—Boston, London, Singapore, and Toronto). If you’re interested in bringing Bench Diary to your community, sign up to participate.