Mysterious Letters

2009 - (ongoing) / collaboration with Michael Crowe

Michael Crowe and I are in the middle of writing a unique hand-written (or hand-typed) letter to every household in the world. So far we have written over 2,700 different letters to the residents of Cushendall, a small Northern Irish seaside town, the inhabitants of Polish Hill, Pittsburgh, everyone on a long street through St. Gallen, Switzerland, a suburb of Cologne, Germany, two streets in Paris France, and many, many people in Tilburg, Netherlands.

Each letter is different, and where possible personally addressed. We sign them "love Michael & Lenka", and write in a chatty, friendly tone about topics of possible mutual interest; the weather, gentleness, Roseanne, etc.

Examples of the 2700 letters written so far

In an attempt to discover these shared interests we often travel to the town, suburb, or small village that we plan to write to and live amongst the future recipients of our letters while we write them. We walk the same streets, eat the same bread brought from the same shops, observe the views from their hills, count the daffodils in their gardens, and so on.

When the letters are written we send them all on the same day. The next day we like to imagine the post(wo)man walking up and down every path to every home with a different envelope for each house, kindly carrying out our project for us. On the day the letters arrive we sometimes post a simple announcement in the newspaper.

Announcement placed in The Times Newspaper on the day of the letters arriving in Cushendall, Northern Ireland, April 2009.

We hope the unsolicited letters might prompt neighbourly discussion that will spread across the town, as people perhaps ask questions of each other: Who sent this? Why?? What does yours say? Did _____ get one? Who are Michael and Lenka? Who cares? How are you anyway?

Perhaps for a day one is a little likelier to talk to a neighbour, or have a different kind of conversation, or perhaps nothing is different at all and the letters are gently folded into normal life. For the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Diana Nelson-Jones interviewed the owner of a Polish Deli who received a letter from us, she said that she immediately tore it up and threw it in the bin. Later when she read in a newspaper that it was an art project she took the pieces out the bin and taped them carefully back together. For us the art-work consists of this and the 2699 other unknown stories of what happened when the letters arrived.

Mysterious Letters won a 2010 Kickstarter Award in the uncategorizable category. It has been featured in press internationally including Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Associated Press, the New Yorker blog, The Smithsonian, Financial Times Deutschland and The Irish Times. Aspects of the project have been shown in galleries and museums including FRAC Paris, Simultanhalle in Cologne, and Kunsthalle St. Gallen in Switzerland.

 Examples of letters to the people of Paris are here, here are many letters sent to Tilburg, the Netherlands. More soon...