CULTURE & ARTS

Artist Makes Apologizing Cool Again With Fluffy Pompoms

Loving these pompoms means never having to not say you're sorry.
Each plush, handmade pom pom carries an anonymous apology, from "I'm sorry I cheated on you" to "I’m sorry I’ve s
Each plush, handmade pom pom carries an anonymous apology, from "I'm sorry I cheated on you" to "I’m sorry I’ve stolen your fries while you weren’t looking every fast food meal for the last three and a half years."

Apologizing isn't very in right now. 

Saying "I'm sorry" can seem like an unnecessary admission of shame. People want to be "unapologetic" about their choices; they want to refuse to say "sorry" for who they are.

Compulsive apologizing has often been attributed to harried, ground-down women, who feel compelled to gasp "sorry!" after a man steps on her foot. A new plug-in for Chrome has even been designed to encourage women to stop apologizing and consider how apologetic language undermines their authority.

Australian textile artist Rachel Burke has a more positive view of apologies, and her new project, "Apomogy," aims to make us see them in a more appreciative light. 

Since September, Burke has been urging people to send her handmade pompoms attached to apologies for the project she calls "Apomogy." Participants can also send in apologies online, which she will write out and attach to one of her own pompoms for the collection. "I’d say around 20 percent of the current apomogy project consists of pompoms made by 'Apomogy' contributors," Burke told The Huffington Post via email.

Apomogy superficially resembles another submission-based concept project: PostSecret. The apologies aren't sent to the true recipients, but to Burke, for anonymous publication. Still, some apologies can't be contained. "I have since seen on social media that people are publicly giving apomogies they have made to people who they feel deserve them," admits Burke, "so it has taken on a life of its own in that respect."

Burke shared what "Apomogy" has taught her about saying sorry, the courage of being apologetic, and, of course, many adorable photos of woolly pompoms:

Would you like to see "Apomogy" spread into general use, or do you think the value is purely conceptual, as an art project?

I think the apomogy project has shown that it has both conceptual value and the potential for wider social resonance. From an artistic perspective, the project is mainly conceptual. I am exploring what it means to apologize, seeking insight into what people are sorry for, and hoping to provoke thought, reflection and discussion. However, it can’t be denied that some participants in this project want to take their apomogies outside of the confines of the art project and actually use them as a catalyst for a verbal, or at least sincere, apology to take place. I think there is real value in people communicating honestly and being true to how they feel, with or without a pompom to help them.

I know you’re a fabric artist, and the pompoms are one form of that, but there’s also a strong feminine association with both soft, cuddly yarn balls and with the submissiveness of apologizing. Do you have any thoughts on the gender associations at play here?

As the pompoms are made of wool, they are inherently soft and colorful, but I don’t think that this makes their connotations strictly feminine. Anyone can make a pompom, just like anyone can make an apology, regardless of their gender. Apologizing is a universal experience and it is almost unavoidable to become vulnerable when making one, irrespective of whether you’re male or female. While it seems that society at times associates the act of apologizing with female submissiveness, weakness or a general lack of backbone, I feel that apologizing actually requires strength and courage.

In one article I read about your project, the writer actually mentioned the current cultural push to get women to apologize less, including a new app that notifies women if they're using words such as "sorry" too much in emails. What do you think about these anti-apology messages toward women?

This new app, and cultural push to stop people (particularly women) from saying sorry, is really interesting to me, but also bothers me at the same time. I can see the sentiment behind Tami Reiss’ app and appreciate her desire to empower women, particularly in the workplace, but I don’t think that these issues are going to be solved by training women to speak in a certain way so that they are not perceived as weak. Instead, I can’t help but wonder if the broader issue is that language used by women is perceived in a certain way, and whether we ought to tackle those biases (conscious and unconscious) rather than have them write in a more "masculine" or socially acceptable way. On some level, I feel that the app shifts the focus from the real issues at hand, but I also applaud the fact that it has us all talking about this issue as a whole.   

In short, I feel that all people should be encouraged to express themselves in a way that comes naturally to them, and not be considered unworthy for doing so ... even if it does mean they might apologize too much in the process.

How has this project affected you as you've worked on it? Have any of the apologies you've received weighed on you emotionally or influenced your thinking about the project?

The apomogies I receive each day never fail to astound me. The diversity in the subject matter is vast, and they have made me laugh and cry in equal measure.  I began this project after making some big apologies of my own last year; however, I’ve since also been the direct recipient of an apomogy which has touched me deeply.  

A few weeks ago I opened the apomogy inbox and found an email from a high school friend who I haven’t seen or spoken to after a falling out almost seven years ago. The apomogy simply read: "I’m sorry we’re not friends anymore," and was accompanied by a detailed letter from my friend outlining her feelings and saying that she had never known how or when to get in touch with me, but that something about this project inspired her to find the words.

I never expected that something like this would happen when I began the project, and it has definitely made me think more about the power of a sincere apology. The process has also made me think about the depth of feeling that may actually sit behind seemingly simple apologies and the weight that making one can take off our shoulders. While some may say that only thoughtful and considerate people would ever make an apomogy, I’ve learned to give greater thought to the fact that we so often do not know what is going on in other people’s lives and the thoughts, feelings and regrets that they may be carrying around with them.

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