Finding the truth: The Truth Booth stops by Palo Alto

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    Artist Jim Ricks oversees the Truth Booth in front of Palo Alto City Hall last week. Ricks is part of the Cause Collective, a team that creates public art projects like the Truth Booth. Photo: Emily Hwang

    If you want to participate in the Truth Booth now, you’re going to have to go to another country. However, this public video art project, in the form of a large white inflatable booth, came to Palo Alto in front of Palo Alto City Hall last Wednesday and offered the Palo Alto community the opportunity to share its truths.

    Starting with “The truth is…,” participants speak for up to two minutes on anything regarding truth and what it means to them. According to artist Jim Ricks, a team of artists, designers, technicians and ethnographers called the Cause Collective is behind the Truth Booth. Palo Alto is the last stop in the Truth Booth’s US tour and the international project will move on to Australia next, Ricks said.

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    The interior of the truth booth consists of a chair, camera and touchscreen. Participants are asked to look directly into the camera and speak for up to two minutes. Photo: Emily Hwang

    According to Ricks, the idea for this project originated seven years ago from a public art piece at the University of California, San Francisco. The piece at UCSF featured a row of speech bubbles that formed a poem, beginning with  “The truth is I am you” and ending with “The truth is I love you,” in different languages.

    “That [The UCSF project] then grew into a conversation about how difficult it was to translate the word ‘truth’ and then, actually, it really wasn’t a very straightforward word,” Ricks said. “It ended up with the decision that really we should be making an art project that’s asking the public what the truth is instead of telling them what the truth is and that we should take it to different countries and get an idea of what truth means to different people.”

    During the Truth Booth’s stops in Ireland, Afghanistan and the United States, Ricks says he has noticed that the way people respond varies by location.

    “In Ireland, there was definitely a different approach to storytelling and that’s almost a preconception about Ireland and its literary and theatrical tradition,” Ricks said. “In Afghanistan, I think there’s more of a tradition of public speaking. People in Afghanistan just spoke in a different way than Americans do. Americans, I think, interact via media, through TV and social media now. … I think people here talk more in sound bites.”

    True to the heart of the project’s conception, Ricks says the interpretation of the word “truth” is tied to its translation and contextual significance.

    “For example, the actual definition in Afghanistan, it can vary to having religious meaning to also being interchangeable with the word for fact,” Ricks said. “And that’s not necessarily the same idea, it’s a very literal kind of meaning.”

    The project started in Ireland five years ago and could take up to five more years to complete, a longer time period than Ricks and his Cause Collective collaborators anticipated.

    “I think the value in this project is breaking the preconceptions of other people, so ultimately I think we need to tour internationally and show it more in the US,” Ricks said. “It’s a lot bigger than we ever thought. We’re so far into it, we have to do it right.”