05 December 2006

PostSecret exhibition in the UK

Seeing the actual postcards in the flesh was strangely different from viewing them on-line.

Unexpectedly they seemed less real. I think it was the 'gallery effect': all togther, neatly arranged into groups of six, carefully framed and brightly-lit against a white background, they had become divorced from their makers, and something personal had been lost in the process.

Previously they were heartfelt, now they were just art.

www.postsecret.com has come to Foyles in London

PostSecret in the UK

The selection is well chosen: 90 cards, some I rcognised from the site, others possibly unseen, they are a representative sample ranging from the poignant "I shredded all my photographs", to the witty "I discourage my friends from dieting - because I want them to be fatter than me" to the banal "I hate brushing my teeth'.

But the nature of secrets, however, is that most of them are sad or guilty. "I may be smiling but I'm not happy" declares one, "I steal from my mother" admits another (well stop!) On his site Frank Warren maintains just one link (where he could have 100s) - it's to a suicide hopeline.
Up close it's more evident than it is on-line just how much effort some correspondents put into their cards: artwork, photography, collage and the signs of a fair-copy - and how little effort goes into others. Some secrets we wear lightly on our shoulders others weigh us down.

PostSecret in the UK

Some the cards bear signs of the rigours of the US Postal Service but Warren leaves them resolutely untouched and unrepaired. Most tantalising is the bar-code strip that the USPS sometimes applies, which aches to be peeled carefully away. One card reads "I put lipstick on my boss's shirt, so that his wife will think he is having an affair. Even though we're not" [sticker]
Not yet? Not going to? Not ?
The project asks: what makes a secret? 'I loved you so much' reads one card written across an overflowing ashtray. We are invited to create a narrative, and duly oblige (a parent with lung cancer, an illness, a long estrangement) It fits the mood: but is this a secret or a story, or an artwork? Who is it a secret from?
At the end visitors are encouraged to write their own secrets, and post them up, and it's in this unmediated corner that the project comes alive. There are scores of cards. A few have been prepared and brought along, but most are spontaneous, and the variety and untidiness of the uncollected cards reveals the unseen influence of the collator, Frank Warren, in forming the more manicured, slightly one-note post-secret garden.
This being England, of course, there's an irreverent note to the secrets confessed: 'I love picking my nose' declares one card (surely NOT a secret to anyone who knows him) 'I was the second gunman on the grassy knoll' declares another 'I am Spartacus' comes the rejoinder.
The format also enables a dialogue that's entirely missing from the site. This ranges from the childish (this is England recall!): ''I don't know how to tell Jane that she smells" is followed by the simpler "So do you" through the more metaphysical 'I HATE that this person didn't finish their card / I think they did' (No Warrenish protocol of leaving each card untouched is observed).
If Warren's thinking of how to develop the site further, this must point the direction
After looking through the exhibition I browsed the book. Altogether I spotted seven of my own secrets, but none of my own cards.
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