I remember walking by the teacher's lounge when I was nine years old and I saw some teachers preparing a birthday cake. The teacher who was apparently in charge of the candles, told me it was a secret birthday surprise for my teacher and that I should not tell anyone. As soon as I got back to classroom, I took the first person I saw behind the crafts table and told him my secret. He said that I was his best friend. Ever since then, I have loved my secrets. I tend to them the way some people tend to a garden. I arrange them and fetishize them. I dream that my secrets are even bigger, so I can make more best friends from people I barely have a connection to. I don't want to get rid of my secrets, even the ones that aren't funny, because to me, they are a connection waiting to happen.
This month at Clifford-Smith Gallery, artist Youngsuk Suh has curated an exhibition titled, “You are my secret”. While the show ostensibly revolves around the notion of secrets, Suh has arranged the show to expose more about relationships based on the subtleties of whispers rather than relationships crudely based in declarations. This exhibition is not some un-relatable confessional the way some people understand the sharing of secrets to be. To Suh and the participants of this exhibition, the cathartic nature of sharing secrets is a secondary power compared to the ability to form a unique bond with another individual who also wants to tend to a secret.
Benjamin Sloat's photograph, “A Line of Communication”, is a snapshot into a clandestine communication and connection between two neighbors. Sloat shoots the scene from the third person and yet when I am viewing the image, Sloat has placed me painfully close to participating with the secret communication, but in the end, I as the viewer remain an outsider. However, the real twist in Sloat's image is not that it evokes a desire to listen in on two other people's conversation, after all, just being in Starbucks make me want to eavesdrop. Sloat's image is extremely complex because it is visually enticing and the soft light falling on the main character makes him look so serene that I don't want to just listen in to their conversation; I want to push the main character out of the way and take the line for myself. Sloat's image points out that I don't just want to know other people's secrets, in fact I don't care about what happens in most people's lives, but I desperately want to participate in the act of sharing secrets for the connection to the other person. In Sloat's image, I can't even see who the other person is or if they are even there, but I know I want to share secrets with them. The image makes me ask myself, do I want to commit an aggressive selfish act to participate in a contemplative act of sharing? I think I do it all the time …
Amy Montali's piece, “Sandy on My Birthday”, reminds me of the times I have made a choice to hold onto a secret for similarly selfish reasons. Montali's piece is accompanied by the text, “I lied, I did mean it.” Montali's piece is a narrative told from the first person. I see through her eyes and hear a voiceover that went through her head. The photograph is shot in a way that makes me feel like I share an intimacy with Sandy and would normally share secrets with her. By withholding a secret from someone whom I normally would share, I gain a new power. A power to hurt. I can hear the voiceover “I lied, I did mean it.” said both in my head in the moment of the lie as well as weeks afterward in the middle of a fight. “Oh and by the way last week when I said I didn't mean it; I lied, I did mean it.” Montali's image reminds me that sharing a secret is not always a wonderful bonding experience, but it is always about the connection to the other person, good or bad.
Each artist in the exhibition, approaches their relationships to secrets differently, but they all share the same sensibility that is delicate and approachable. Lazaro Montano's installation is a visually overwhelming manifestation of emotion. Pamela Larson's video reminds me of that moment when I know I have discovered a secret and have to decide who will get to hear it. Heejung Kim's projection makes me think about the paranoia I have about other people knowing my secrets and therefore depriving me of power.
“You are my secret” at Clifford-Smith is a show that focuses more on relationships than secrets. There is no shock in the secrets told in “You are my secret”, there is only a sweetness and sincerity, like the quiet secret of watching someone you love sleeping. Just like how I had to share the secret of my teacher's birthday party to the first person I saw, the artist in this exhibition are much more focused on building and assessing connections to other people than they are in disclosing the secrets themselves. I'm sure if you go see the show, you will find a connection to one of the artists who relates to secrets the way you do or you will re-think the connections you already have to those around you.
Clifford Smith Gallery
"You are my secret" was on view until June 25th at Clifford Smith Gallery located on the 3rd floor at 450 Harrison Ave., Boston.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Clifford Smith Gallery