There is a hugely popular bog called PostSecret that is an ongoing public art project in which people submit secrets written on one side of a postcard. A lot of the posts are funny, and most of them are visually interesting; until they aren't. There are posts about abortions, rape, infidelity, and addiction, there are the kinds of awful things you cannot make up in the first place and then cannot get rid of after you see them. Sometimes it is hard to tell if the post is from a true confessor in need of anonymous catharsis, or a thrill seeker pushing their fantasy onto a voyeuristic audience. Every time I go to this blog I come away feeling a little dirty and depressed.
I understand the compulsion towards confession, especially anonymous confession. I think we all need the weight of our secrets, the actions of our past selves or the actions of others that we have suffered or witnessed, to be lifted, even momentarily. But it is difficult to face the enormity of our collective hidden lives. The part of me that wants for people to be healthy and well reels from just how unhappy, dysfunctional, and cruel we really are. I'm not sure that it makes me feel better to know that people feel badly about it.
Candy Chang, a New Orleans-based public artist has taken a similar but more positive and inspiring approach to confession as public art in several of her installations. In Confessions, she prompted people to write confessions on posted slips of paper in a contemplative space inspired by Shinto shrines. Her acknowledgement of the influence of both Shinto and Catholic concepts of confession in her work are what distinguishes it from PostSecret. Confessions has none of the sensationalism, no feeling of desperation or attention grabbing that you find on Post Secret. The result is far more profound and simple, and the tone of the confessions decidedly more positive. It turns out that in a contemplative space people confess love in addition to loss.
Secrets are like anything else, to keep them carries a price and a weight. There are lots of ways to unburden yourself and there are lots of people with secrets. Consider letting go of one of yours.
Before I Die: