FROM SOUVENIR TO SOCIAL MOVEMENT: POSTSECRET, ART, AND POLITICS
Initiated by American artist Frank Warren, PostSecret is a contemporary art project that has turned into a cross-cultural phenomenon.What was once a localWashington, DC, event is now an exhibition touring in art galleries across North America that has been published in four collections (PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives, My Secret: A PostSecret Book, The Secret Lives of Men and Women: A PostSecret Book, and A Lifetime of Secrets: A PostSecret Book) and published weekly on Blogspot.
Warren’s PostSecret is a collection of postcards inscribed with secrets submitted by anonymous contributors. In this exhibit, ordinary individuals are given the opportunity to be artists who communicate their deepest, darkest secrets to an unknown audience. From the trivial to the profound, secrets become public acts of display.
Using a cultural studies approach, we intend to deconstruct “the popular” that is PostSecret employing Stuart Hall’s notion of the dialectic of cultural struggle. How does PostSecret illustrate his idea of the “double movement” of containment and resistance vis-à-vis hegemonic culture? We argue that PostSecret both resists and reproduces dominant discourses and practices in writing, art, and culture by attempting to reconcile binary divisions within the content that reproduce fragmentation established by form. We explore this notion by examining PostSecret as a communication phenomenon that encompasses issues of authorship and audience, anxieties about high and low culture, and the implications of using a basic communicative medium like the postcard.
We are interested in the prospect for empowerment and social change embedded in an exhibition that encourages victim narratives. However, there are concerns with the limitations inherent in PostSecret’s mainstream commercialization, which constructs it as entertainment. Potential for major social transformation is curtailed by an exhibition that fails to engage with or address the larger sociological problems (homophobia, sexism, racism) that cultivate these secrets in the first place. This is partly due to an exhibition that locates both social problems and solutions in fragmented confessional texts.