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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Message in a Bottle - The Art of the Secret Message in Art

Having been born on an island, the stories of messages in bottles thrown from an ancient ship or perhaps a lonely castaway on a desert island has always set my imagination on fire.

As I grew older the concept of secret messages, cyphers and hidden clues in meaningless objects was a constant thrill. 

Art has always been a great medium for this. DaVinci was well known for sticking hidden meaning in much of his work. 

As my work has developed as an artist I've devoted a fair amount of my time in placing hidden messages in my work. A few years ago I developed the OCTAS, which stands for Observe Closely, There Are Secrets. You will see it discretely placed on my website. 

I will occasionally place OCTAS on a piece of art in a discreet place as a message that there is something secret hidden in the work. But I don't always use it. Sometimes its more fun to just wonder if anyone will ever get the message. 

I am also fond of placing my own messages in bottles. These usually take the form of a typed or written note thats been ensconced in a small vial or tube somewhere in the art. One of the fortunate benefits of sculpture is that there are often ways to bury items that are completely hidden from view. Another thing I will sometimes do is to insert a datacard with messages and some of my work on it. 

Will any of these things survive? Will any of them ever be found? Probably not, but its fun to do and fun to imagine some poor person in the future tipping over a sculpture and there amidst the rubble is a message in a bottle. 

I never keep the original message. I delete it immediately after I hide it and make a conscious effort to forget that I even placed it in the art. I've actually been surprised once or twice to find my own message in a piece of art I've deconstructed, totally forgetting it was ever there. 

Another thing I'm fond of is symbols. In fact I have my own secret language that I often embed in a piece of art. Someone will occasionally ask me what something is or what it means and I just shrug and smile. Figure it out yourself! 

So whats the point? Yes its a bit childish. But don't you think that it makes a person take notice just a little closer to your art? Don't we as humans love a secret? Doesn't it make the viewer engage with the art just a little more personally? 

I would like to think it does. A painting of a tree is just a tree unless you create some hidden meaning within it. I recently saw the work of an amazing photographer who was doing some experimental work with photographing trees. They made me look a bit closer, puzzle out the shapes, define what the photo had begun the world as. 

We (every artist) are the creators of hidden meaning all the time. While I may take it to extremes, others are subtle. Like finding shapes in the clouds, our imagination goes just a bit further when we quest for the hidden meaning. 

So think about this the next time you create something. Is there a message? Is there something that catches the imagination and not just the eye? You may be surprised how often you find yourself doing this. 

I'd love to hear other examples of the OCTAS concept. If you have any to share please let me know.

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