Secrets can take many forms. They can be shocking or silly or soulful. They can connect us to our deepest humanity or with people we'll never meet.
- Frank Warren
Sometimes it feels good just to write something down. Things you can't say out loud. Even if no one ever sees it. There's power in the writing – release - a coming out to yourself. How much more powerful then, when you can send these secrets someplace else? Let them pass, anonymously, through many strangers' hands, from postbox to sorting office, until finally arriving at their destination: another stranger's house. This stranger then posts them online – here they form a community of secrets, and so you are no longer alone, writer nor reader.
Frank Warren's fascination with postcards begun as a child when his mother sent him off to camp with three postcards to send home. Forgetting about them until near the end, he beat them back, and standing at the mail box a couple of days later staring at his own scribbled musings, wondered: was he the same person reading them as he was when he wrote them? It felt like magic. Years later, in 2004, he headed out onto the streets of Washington DC with 3,000 self addressed blank postcards and started soliciting secrets. 16 years and over a million postcards later, PostSecret is still going strong.
Written across photographs, drawings, empty coffee cups - even an uncooked potato - confidences range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Love, sex, humour, pathos, the profound: spend a day – or a week – scrolling the archive, or simply check in every Sunday to catch the most recent. This trove reads like the best novel. 'Secrets can remind us of the countless human dramas, of frailty and heroism, playing out silently in the lives of people all around us even now.'
STORIES WE TELL
When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.
- Margaret Atwood, from Alias Grace.
So begins Stories We Tell, a docu-drama written and directed by Sarah Polley exploring the life of her mother who died when she was eleven. Recounting how she was teased by her brothers and sisters throughout her childhood for not bearing any resemblance to their father, Sarah sets out to uncover the truth.
Weaving together photographs, archival footage and recreations, the story is underpinned by words written and voiced by Michael Polley, the father Sarah grew up with. We watch Sarah and Michael recording this, Sarah asking Michael to re-do a line now and then, the camera lingering on Sarah as she listens. On first watch, I wasn't even aware that most of the seeming home videos were actually retellings - this blurring of the lines a brilliant function of the film. For while this is biography, it is also an exploration of the way we tell stories, of the fragility of memory and emotions, and how they shape what we see and remember. Sarah sets out to interview those who were closely connected to her mother – her husband, children, friends, colleagues, lovers – and they become the 'storytellers' (so referenced in the credits). She chooses not to be interviewed herself but is in evidence everywhere – her editing of the film even directly discussed midway through. One person of course that is notably absent is Diane Polley, the woman who centres it all. Sarah writes in an email to her father, 'Have I totally lost my mind trying to reconstruct the past from other people's words? Trying to form her? Is this the tsunami she unleashed when she went and all of us still flailing in her wake, trying to put her together from the wreckage and her slipping away from us over and over again, just as we begin to see her face.' We don't get to find out what really happened, what Diane thought, who she was. As one of Sarah's sisters comments: All those things are illusory.
MUSHROOMS AT SOMERSET HOUSE
There's a picture in one of my children's books that we often pore over: a magical depiction of life teeming just above and below the surface of the ground, deep in a forest. Some things are buried, others peek out, little secrets just waiting to be discovered.
For anyone as equally enamoured by the hidden stuff of nature, Somerset House presents Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi, a free exhibition 'celebrating the remarkable mushroom, and all the progressive, poetic and psychedelic wonder it evokes.'
Showcasing work by such artists, designers and musicians as Cy Twombly, Beatrix Potter and John Cage, as well as emerging contemporary artists, the exhibition runs in conjunction with a compelling programme of events that span design, sustainability, health and beauty. A unique opportunity to take a look at fungi's history, legacy and future, open from 30 January until 26 April 2020.