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Cheaters and Liars Leave Sins Behind at the Bureau of Apology

By Janet Upadhye | September 17, 2012 6:59am

DUMBO —A therapeutic interactive art display wil allow users to reflect on their levels of happiness at the DUMBO Arts Festival

Artist Brent Birnbaum's exhibit consists of a mock government building, an actress, notecards and an interactive experience between the artist and the viewer.

“The goal is to create art that not only moves people, but actually changes them,” said Birnbaum. “People leave this exhibit having looked inward and hopefully feeling lighter.”

Birnbaum built and decorated a portable bureau office and hired an actress to represent an employee. The two of them meet with participants one-on-one to ask personal questions. Answers are written on small notecards and dropped into a locked box where they will remain indefinitely, giving users the feeling of leaving their worries behind.

The first installment of Bureau of Apology 2.0, displayed at thelab in Midtown, focused on lying, stealing and cheating. Birnbaum was surprised at the seriousness and intensity of the answers given by the nearly 100 participants. In particular, those who had cheated wrote honest accounts of their experiences and guilt.

Answers pertaining to stealing tended to be lighter, and at times, comedic.

One woman wrote, “I habitually steal make-up from the convenience store. Always Maybelline mascara, $8.99.”

Another, when asked how often he lies, wrote, “Once a week on my timesheet.”

At the DUMBO Arts Festival, Birnbaum is doing a repeat of the bureau, but with a new topic: happiness. Participants will be asked to reflect on the amount of happiness they have in their lives and what they need to let go of in order to be happier.

“My art reflects my life,” said Birnbaum.

“During the first installment I was dealing with cheating on a past girlfriend. Now I am looking at my own happiness and what I can do to live life to the fullest.”

Birnbaum is just one of 500 artists featured at DUMBO Arts Festival taking place on the streets, buildings, loading docks, bridges and parks of DUMBO Sept. 28-30. For a full schedule check visit the DUMBO Arts Festival page.