Why you should care
Because we all have secrets to confess, and now they can be transmitted under the pretense of art.
Have you ever walked along a busy street and wondered what passers-by are thinking? In Dublin, one the world’s most melancholic places by reputation, the secrets of the city have a home: a letterbox.
Since May 2008, a small, brightly colored letterbox — not green like the official ones — has been set up on Dame Lane, a dark, narrow street in the city center, not far from Dublin Castle. It’s a gem of guerrilla art, inviting anyone walking by it to post thoughts, impressions and memories.
The letterbox is a means of communication with people I will never meet and it is something mysterious left in a public place to be found.
The curious receptacle is the creation of local artist and designer Sarah Bracken. It’s not her first project; Bracken was also behind other interactive art installations like “Blackboard,” in which a chalkboard was put up in a public toilet, with a different question or theme at the top, inviting people to interact with it.
“The letterbox is a means of communication with people I will never meet and it is something mysterious left in a public place to be found,” explains Bracken.
The artist has been re-labeling the letterbox according to different themes. So far these have included the likes of “Letter to the Past,” “Confess Your Secrets” and “Post an object that represents a memory here.”
In the age of Facebook, and ultra public confessions, it’s a reversion to an earlier sensibility.
Some messages are hasty scribbles on the back of bus tickets. Others are carefully handwritten or even typed. One person posted an audio letter on a cassette tape. Despite their varying formats, they all provide insight into the momentary state of mind of passers-by as well as that Dubliner wit.
Each one gives a unique insight into the person who stopped and stared, who fumbled through their pockets for a scrap of paper and thought about what they’d write. But also about the mood of the city. “I got many messages about not finding a job or struggling for money around 2008,” remembers Bracken.
The answers can be brilliantly clever, ranging from the scatological and romantic to the philosophical and tragic.
“I did a poo in a field on a picnic,” posted someone under “Confess Your Secrets.”
“I’m convinced my therapist is crazier than me … And that makes me feel a whole lot Better,” confesses another.
“I just met someone like me who I’ll never see again. 7.15pm,” wrote a lonely heart.
True to Dublin spirit, references to alcohol are common: “Dear God, I don’t want a hangover. Thank you. Paul.” As well as to religious doubts. “Where have you been all my life?” posted someone under “Letters to God,” together with “Why did you make lemmings only to run them off cliffs?”
For some, posting messages is a way to confront their darkest secrets: Mark’s Secret: “I beat Hannah sometimes and I sorry sum times I lose it.” Hannah’s secret: “I am a really jealous person.”
“I guess people don’t confess things to the priest anymore so they need somewhere to do it,” says Bracken. Not all Dubliners are keen on sharing though. The letterbox has been vandalized repeatedly so Bracken is looking for another, safer location.
She collects the responses to use as inspiration for her other art pieces. Some of the letters have been printed in Baby BEEF, a zine about art, while others have been exhibited. A small archive of remarkable missives is available on her website.
We’ll never know what most Dubliners have put in that box, but seeing it there poses a question to those who look: If you could confess a secret and know that no one would ever find out, what would it be?