Flower of my Secret (2005)

A repository for dreams, memories, rumours, secrets and stories embedded in a wall of drawers

Flower of My Secret was created for the new interactive gallery at the Public in West Bromwich. Although the project was completed and installed, the gallery never fully opened and the final installation as built was not documented.

The Public in West Bromwich, UK

The idea behind the project is to create a repository for the dreams, memories, rumours, secrets and stories that local residents choose to share. Drawers, various sizes at various heights, contain virtual on-screen flowerbeds, populated with flowers of different shapes, sizes and colours. Each flower is created from the sounds of a story left behind by a visitor. People can listen to stories left behind by others, or contribute their own to the flowerbed of their choice. Each flower created is unique, based on the visitor's 'Data Body' (generated by the backend system powering the entire gallery) – algorithmic conversion of everything from the sound and shape of their voice to the way they spell their name.

Flower of My Secret flowerbed view
Flower of My Secret drawer setup

You see before you a collection of drawers, various sizes, various heights. You get closer, tentatively open a drawer – inside is a colourful screen showing an illustrated flowerbed. A voice implores you “tell me a secret!”… You lean in towards the drawer and whisper… Your secret tickles the virtual flowers like shared pollen - as it is added to the flowerbed, a new bud starts growing and some of the other flowers release the secrets they enclose - you hear the secrets of other visitors, secrets from strangers, secrets about things you had never even thought about. As they trail off, you close the drawer. You hear whispering noises from another drawer nearby but as soon as you open it they stop and again a voice implores you to “tell me a secret!”… You notice that the flowers in this drawer are quite different from the first drawer – the very shape and size of the virtual flowers has been determined by the voices of previous secrets.

Flower of My Secret flowerbed evolving over time as new stories are added

Each drawer has its own collection of secrets and its own flower designs (derived from parameters measured in the voices of the visitors). The drawers begin to show “personalities” as secrets of a particular kind encourage further secrets of a particular kind. You might “touch” particular flowers directly on the screen to activate them, or the flowers might collectively offer secrets.

The emphasis here is on participation, collaboration and interaction - people sharing their experiences, even though they don’t know exactly who they are sharing with. This is one stage in the process of the exhibition experience where you interact with the Data Bodies of other visitors. You enter into a symbiotic relationship with the virtual flowerbeds - they need your secret in order to grow; you will only hear other people’s secrets if you leave one of your own. This process may either be solely voice-activated or, by touching the screen directly, you may choose a particular flower to interact with. In this way, the installation is easy to experience whatever the physical ability - participants give meaning to the drawers by making them come to life.

Flower of My Secret flower creation
Flower of My Secret flower creation

Your Data body now includes the secret you left behind in the flowerbed; it also includes some of the secrets you encountered – your Data body begins to take on a social nature and has memory. The project refers in many ways to the transactions of knowledge-based online communities, where sharing of information is the basis of the system. The purpose here is to encourage visitors, especially strangers, to interact both physically (by becoming private in close proximity as each leaves behind a secret) and virtually (through their Data Bodies). This can be done by people from different cultures and different age groups. It will promote an awareness of other people’s intimacies; it will also highlight the ways that technology can both encourage and interrupt such sharing.

Flower of My Secret flowers
Flower of My Secret flower creation
Flower of My Secret flower creation