Although it’s challenging to find a completely selfless deed, “Mysterious Letters” is as close as you can get to a selfless act, overlooking the joy you get of doing what you do. How do you imagine your recipients reacting to your letters?
Thank you, alas it isn’t wholly selfless as we do love doing it! It’s a huge amount of fun swapping freshinked letters over to each other and laughing away at our new levels of idiocy/ artistry. After the first Mysterious Letters we wrote a secret play imagining all of the recipients responses in dramatically hammy and tiny, near invisible ways. We know for a fact that one person ripped up and binned their letter, but then when they found out it was art, retrieved it and painstakingly stuck it back together. Another person we sent a compass to turned out to be a real life “explorer.” Other people have suspected us of being sort of comic book mastermind villains, or super-bored stalkers.
What would you say is the most challenging part of the project?
After about 50 letters (with 700 left to write) it can be tricky thinking of things to come up with. They’re all written very quickly and the last thing we want to do is be boring. But that’s an enjoyable problem really, the main challenge is fin- ding the money for hundreds of stamps. Kickstarter has helped us with that hugely, and some wonderful galleries and museums have helped in that respect too. Also obtaining all of the names and addresses we need to post the letters can be tough as old boots. In some parts of the world people are very guarded about that info, in others it’s extremely easy. The key thing is just to make it happen no matter what, plough on through concrete, steel, titanium.
Considering the light speed of social media and pop culture, could we say this project is a way for you to still stay connected to the past?
Yes, this is a tactile, slow paced alternative. It’s the difference between schnuggling a real life warm large eyelashed elephant and e-hugging a robo-elephant in a freezer.
Can you let us in on your writing process of the letters? We find it almost impossible not to chuckle while reading the letters you have sent out….
Thank you! We have a huge amount of techniques (or “cheats”) to shuffle our brain cells and get “in da zone.” Both of us are big fans of lists, so we list topics we know nothing about and then imagine ourselves as leading experts, we retell events that happened to us both multiple times (“double diary”) which is like squeezing a fully squeezed orange for 4 more glasses of oj. We lie, we dribble, we become appalling celebrities in incorrect historical periods, we see through the eyes of dogs sliding down waterslides, we blindfold each other through Dollywood, we just try to keep it playful, frothy and light.
We know it’s hard, but which letter has been your favorite so far?
(M) Very difficult! We can probably only remember about 2% of all of the thousands of letters. I think my favorite is one in which someone’s family home was compared to a mud hut. I’d love to have seen the owner’s face when that madness was read. (L) I dont have a favorite but here is one that I like a lot: “Dear Marie, This letter & envelope are the only two things in the world to have been touc- hed by all three of us. Love, Lenka & Michael.”Lenka and Michael… These two names may not ring a bell with any of you yet. However, in the near future (hopefully) you’ll be receiving a letter in the mail that will make you “LOL” signed by these two. In the long process of creating a unique hand-written letter to everyone in the world, these two might just be our favorite mysterious duo.
Writing a hand-written/hand-typed letter to every hou- sehold in the world… How did you come up with this considerate, humane project?
We were flicking through each others sketchbooks one day and happened to see that both of us had written down the same semi-idea to “write to everyone.” That surprising co- incidence was like both of us turning the key simultaneously to activate the (friendly) bomb. Initially the thought was more along the lines of what single message would we want to communicate if we could say something to everyone alive. But after a bit of gardening, we morphed it into “Mysterious Letters”.
Since 2009, how has the response been?
We probably hear less than 1% of our recipients’ response, but, that being said, it’s been quite electric. We’ve had multiple police and news investigations, copycat art groups, newspaper articles, radio shows, death threats, worldwide expressions of delight and mystification (online). Mostly it’s been hugely positive, far more than we ever imagined. When we first did it, we were sitting with all the letters surrounding us (stuck up on the walls before sending) and we wondered, “Is anyone going to notice us doing this? Is this just mad?” Obviously the rise of email and the decline of handwritten letters has made this project catch fire. We also really like the not-knowing of what happened. We know that a letter went through a letter box in every house in a town one day, carried by a post(wo)man kindly finishing our project for us. Once the letters enter a private home the story of what happened belongs to the recipient. We hear rumors of people reading them to each other, tearing them carefully into small pieces, taking them to the pub, framing them, etc. but hope that these remain unconfirmed rumors.
How did your childhood affect this Project? Do any of you remember the feeling of opening a letter from a loved one, or a stranger?
(M) Good question! I never really got much fun post. As a child, I often thought it would be great fun to receive a letter in the post from an alien. Someone from billions of miles away, just telling me what life was like for them, the boring bits, the funny stuff, the minutiae. That letter never arrived. Also every Valentines Day, I used to think about how many thousands of letters were lost in the post each year and how they could all be my lost Valentines. (L) As I child I remember having an incredible book called Free Stuff for Kids. It was full of addresses of companies and organizations that you could write letters to in wonky child-handwriting and ask for things. This was right up my street. I remember writing hundreds (probably 14) of letters. Every few weeks a sample package of biscuits or a poster of wild horses would turn up in the post. This was a very formative experience.
“Once the letters enter a private home the story of what happened belongs to the recipient.”
Could you tell us a little bit about your backgrounds and how you came together?
The first time we met (through Michael’s brother) we inven- ted a game (number nose) and came up with a project im- mediately. It was obvious we worked really well together and shared the same sort of sense of humour and wayward thin- king. Michael’s background is in writing and Lenka’s is in art, which made this project click particularly well. (Btw to learn “number nose” you need to meet us in person in a pub).
Although it’s challenging to find a completely selfless deed, “Mysterious Letters” is as close as you can get to a selfless act, overlooking the joy you get of doing what you do. How do you imagine your recipients reacting to your letters?
Thank you, alas it isn’t wholly selfless as we do love doing it! It’s a huge amount of fun swapping freshinked letters over to each other and laughing away at our new levels of idiocy/ artistry. After the first Mysterious Letters we wrote a secret play imagining all of the recipients responses in dramatically hammy and tiny, near invisible ways. We know for a fact that one person ripped up and binned their letter, but then when they found out it was art, retrieved it and painstakingly stuck it back together. Another person we sent a compass to turned out to be a real life “explorer.” Other people have suspected us of being sort of comic book mastermind villains, or super-bored stalkers.
What would you say is the most challenging part of the project?
After about 50 letters (with 700 left to write) it can be tricky thinking of things to come up with. They’re all written very quickly and the last thing we want to do is be boring. But that’s an enjoyable problem really, the main challenge is fin- ding the money for hundreds of stamps. Kickstarter has helped us with that hugely, and some wonderful galleries and museums have helped in that respect too. Also obtaining all of the names and addresses we need to post the letters can be tough as old boots. In some parts of the world people are very guarded about that info, in others it’s extremely easy. The key thing is just to make it happen no matter what, plough on through concrete, steel, titanium.
Considering the light speed of social media and pop culture, could we say this project is a way for you to still stay connected to the past?
Yes, this is a tactile, slow paced alternative. It’s the difference between schnuggling a real life warm large eyelashed elephant and e-hugging a robo-elephant in a freezer.
Can you let us in on your writing process of the letters? We find it almost impossible not to chuckle while reading the letters you have sent out….
Thank you! We have a huge amount of techniques (or “cheats”) to shuffle our brain cells and get “in da zone.” Both of us are big fans of lists, so we list topics we know nothing about and then imagine ourselves as leading experts, we retell events that happened to us both multiple times (“double diary”) which is like squeezing a fully squeezed orange for 4 more glasses of oj. We lie, we dribble, we become appalling celebrities in incorrect historical periods, we see through the eyes of dogs sliding down waterslides, we blindfold each other through Dollywood, we just try to keep it playful, frothy and light.
We know it’s hard, but which letter has been your favorite so far?
(M) Very difficult! We can probably only remember about 2% of all of the thousands of letters. I think my favorite is one in which someone’s family home was compared to a mud hut. I’d love to have seen the owner’s face when that madness was read. (L) I dont have a favorite but here is one that I like a lot: “Dear Marie, This letter & envelope are the only two things in the world to have been touc- hed by all three of us. Love, Lenka & Michael.”