Ruthann Godollei, “The Wish Machine”



Ruthann Godollei
St. Paul, Minnesota

The Wish Machine
Altered wringer washing device, aluminum wings, letterpress printed paper scrolls populated by community wishes of Edmonton, AB, Canada.
296″ x 85″ x 44″ (dimensions variable)

Artist Statement

The Wish Machine is a display of collective desires, an aspirational art project people could enjoy in gallery windows during the pandemic. It’s a site-responsive, text-based interactive installation with a giveaway component. It contains a laser engraved wringer washer, screen-printed aluminum wings, and letterpress printed scrolls featuring requests from librarians, cashiers, teachers, bus drivers, artists, custodians, and children. Each wisher got one printed copy of their wish to keep and one was shared with the public in the Wish Machine.

This installation became a chronicle, a daybook of the times in which it was made. Reading the wishes of others as the site grew, the words grew wings and flew as they met up and gathered momentum and volume. So many exhibits were cancelled during the pandemic, I wanted to provide an alternative to virtual doom-scrolling and make a tangible, real-world experience, accessible to everyone passing by 24/7. The giveaway struck me as a means to make community based art more equitable, rather than extractive.

Twin Cities wishes were collected via Minnesota Center for Books Arts and displayed in the window gallery for safe pandemic viewing, growing the installation over the course of the exhibit. Many desires for social change were submitted along with hopes of a personal, political or community nature. Another Wish Machine iteration interacted with communities in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Public wishes were collected (e.g. from Al Rashid Mosque Youth Group) via SNAP, the Society of Northern Alberta Printmakers, and displayed in their window gallery for safe pandemic viewing.

Community members each received a free printed copy of their wish at a safe drop site. Canadian wishes differed slightly from those of Minnesotans, but often had parallels. For example, many people expressed the desire for the RCMP to be held accountable for its treatment of First Nations people, while the need for justice for Black American’s killed at the hands of US police was fore fronted by the uprising in the wake of George Floyd’s brutal murder. I printed the texts using antique wooden type on my 1860s Washington cast iron overhead hand press and a midcentury Showcard sign press. The process harkened back to my early career as a job sign printer in Minneapolis. The US and Canadian postal services were essential in delivering the installation materials to Canada and the distribution of wishes.

Quite a few wishes came to be realized, while many still have yet to be. The Wish Machine expresses collective dreams- in light of frustrated ambitions, we can envision what needs to change, our hopes and desires and what, if we put our minds and hands to it, we might achieve. Sometimes naming what we want is the first step to making it happen.