Last week I mailed off my first mail art piece which was for a mail art call to be exhibited in May at the Nanaimo Art Gallery on Vancouver Island (BC, Canada).
Mail art is fairly new to me. I had been aware of it somewhat but never really explored it. I started reading more about it and decided that I like the idea of sending a postcard that is made by me and has my own artwork front and back. I also like that it goes through the postal system getting cancel stamps and that it functions as an interesting piece of art for the postman, the sorters, and everyone involved in moving a piece of mail.
In my first project, the Mayworks Mail Art Exhibit, I was often thinking about the postman/woman and about capturing their interest in my postcard. The theme assigned for the exhibit was “labour and / or work.” My composition evolved into an exploration of ideas about women in the arts & crafts. Are they/we experiencing disadvantages when in it comes to making money in the field? No answer is offered, only the germ of a thought.
With mail art, “art” is taken out of the gallery system and out of the jurying process. Everything received is exhibited. And everything received is not returned, it is usually catalogued at the gallery. Sometimes catalogues are published online or in print. I find this aspect of letting go of a piece of art refreshing.
Ray Johnson is credited with initiating the Mail Art movement back in the mid-1950s. Only when he started his project it was a bit different then what I’m participating in. Johnson …
[built] up a network of correspondents who would exchange objects and messages through the postal system. Initially it was Johnson himself sending out small collage-like works to a mailing list, urging people to keep them, to add to them, to change them, to send them to others, to return to sender. In time others joined in this activity, and in the course of the 1960’s and 1970’s the network grew way beyond the immediate reach and touch of Johnson’s own mailing activities. The initial network was named The New York Correspondance School (sic) – a spin or pun on the idea of artistic schools and the concomitant idea of art history as a succession of such schools. But then the quip about the history of Mail Art was itself a pun, of the most serious kind. Like so many other avant-garde artists (who left painting and behind) Johnson was eager to cut through the historicist temporality that informed modern art history and art production, with its logic of continual succession and supersession of artistic tradition. Cutting through this logic meant placing the production and thinking of art within the immanence of an eternal present, an uncontrollable present of events, not unlike the eternally present liveness of television – a technology and a communication medium which was just at that moment appropriated for artistic purposes.
So with this postcard on its way, I am looking to participate in other projects. A great website that posts calls to particpate is Mail Art Projects. Got any websites/projects you’d like to share on the topic? Let me know in the comments.