Come and whisper in my ear, give us dirty laundry.
Chai and I went to Frank Warren's PostSecret Exhibit last night in Georgetown. (If you're interested, it closes today, so get your ass down there.) We waited about twenty minutes outside before we could get in. There are a number of different aspects to the exhibit; it's not just the cards taped all along the walls like you might think. Most people waited in a line to read the cards hanging on a clothesline.
The walls were lined with blown-up postcards. Chai and I started with these and then snuck in the line about half-way through.
In the corner, about a hundred cards hung from strings, creating an interesting mesh of people and arms as they tried to hold the cards still and stretched to reach the high ones.
At the end of the exhibit was a wall covered in envelopes and letters written to Frank.
Lastly, and what came as a pleasant surprise to me, was a tape mailbox!
You've never seen a tape mailbox?? Then you're not familiar with Mark Jenkins' work. His tape babies and tape stopsigns and tape fire hydrants, which I found via DC Art News one day, was what made me start looking into street art and its varying incarnations.
So, about the exhibit. Chai and I were pretty overwhelmed with the whole thing. Reading hundreds of cards about rape and suicide and image issues and comedic confessions makes you wonder...what's the point of this project? If you are familiar with Post Secret, you know that its biggest contribution - seen by the emails and letters people write to Frank - is the "I'm not alone" feeling. You've got a terrible secret? So does this guy, so put the razors away.
But there has to be something else, because you certainly can't identify with all the secrets. So what do we get out of it? Is it just voyeristic intrigue? I think that's a huge part of it. We love to hear other people's dirty secrets. Even the space in the gallery emphasizes this feeling, because the clotheslines are double-sided, so as you're reading this card that says, "He's been in jail for 2 years for something I did," your eyes stray upward and land on the guy reading cards two feet in front of you. His eyes stray up and catch yours, and you wonder if that's the guy. Is this your dirty laundry? I need to post on my blog and gossip with my friends. Why don't you write a secret card telling us how you hoped some guy failed the bar exam so I can forward the image to everyone I know? Scandalous.
More than anything else, the exhibit just made me sad. It made me feel sad for humanity that we've created the kind of world were people get raped and commit suicide and do terrible things to their loved ones. I used to go to Take Back the Night in college, and it's the same kind of horrific feeling you get when you see all these people you know stand up and describe their terrible secrets. The mass quantity of tragedy in the world is enough to make you give up on people altogether. On another level, the project made me sad that so many of these people thought they had to keep these things secret. That people keep these things inside because the rest of us will treat it like gossip, instead of treating them like people who feel the same things we do. That, in large part, we can't seem to understand people who've had different experiences than we've had. So they're forced to tell their secrets to a guy named Frank in Maryland with a homemade anonymous postcard.
I was kind of surprised how...deflated I felt when we were done with the exhibit. I started to speed through the cards because standing there and studying them, thinking about them, takes a lot out of you. Chai and I discussed most of this over dinner and felt more or less the same way, though she'll probably write it better than me. I'm glad I went, and I will say that the display itself was well done. You can tell Frank is actually an artist (not just a guy on the other side of a mailbox).
On a completely random side note, I hate going to Georgetown. There is no reason why I should have to pay almost thirty dollars a night in cab-fare to travel back and forth over three miles. Viva la metro!