TIA 2005: Art from Ephemera (Mail Art and the Internet)
Text and Image Arts
School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Fall 2007 - Spring 2009

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

blog discussion experiment no. 1 - fall 08 edition

For next week, I've asked you to read John Held Jr.'s essay "The Mail Art Exhibition: Personal Worlds to Cultural Strategies" from the book At a Distance: Precursors to Art and Activism on the Internet. He writes about various "Mail Art Considerations" that were outlined by a couple of California Mail Artists in particular as a result of "the proliferation of Mail Art shows." These "considerations" included: no fee, no jury, no returns, and so on. As we discussed briefly in class yesterday, what's interesting (and perhaps problematic at times) about Mail Art are precisely these conventions that developed around a genre of cultural production that itself developed along the fringes of the more mainstream art world. When we produce our mass-printed editions of Artist Trading Cards later in the semester, we'll be breaking one of the cardinal rules of ATCs: that they be hand-made and unique. How do you reconcile the unconventional spirit of Mail Art with the various "rules" that have accumulated over the decades?



ROXY said...

Hey everyone. I just thought i would post a link to this really great NPR article about this artist who uses grocery lists to do performance art pieces.
The most recent story about her is here:

Here is the original: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93022254

TOTALLY worth checking out!!

Omer said...

I don't see mail art as anarchism but rather as activism.
(I use the term "anarchism" to refer to a common use of this term as the political belief that society should have no laws, therefore leading to chaos, although it's much more complicated).

I think the ATCs' rule about the "authenticity" of the card is not quite the same as the "considerations" of the mail art movement.

The considerations are about setting a social and ideological platform to support the main ideas or purposes of mail art- mostly community, networking and accessibility outside of the mainstream art world.

However, the ATCs' rule is, as I wrote, about "authenticity" and about defining the essence of the artwork itself.

The way I see it, this idea is very far from the mail art movement's ideals (also- mail artists use printers, fax machines and photocopies [all connected to 'duplications'] as part of their work).

RBG said...

Roxy, thanks for posting the link - I heard the NPR story myself and thought about a project I showed last semester. I like that she takes it one step further, though, and interprets the grocery lists by creating a character.

And Omer, you clarify the distinction between Mail Art and ATC "conventions" very well - I hadn't really thought about it that way!

coldsoup753 said...

I think that the development of the 'considerations' are like the development of laws or rules in any group. Over time some members will want to protect what they see as the integral spirit of the movement and they do this by creating guidelines or 'considerations'. However, while this might preserve what the spirit of mail art was at one time it is also possible, and in my opinion constructive, for people to move beyond the conventions and form a different 'school' of mail art. People can choose the rules of the game that they wish to play, so the original spirit of mail art is still intact.
I also think Omar's point is interesting. I agree that the ATC rules are to protect the integrity of the object. However, these objects do involve other forms of printing and duplication, so in some ways the integrity is already suspect. I think is does stand in contrast to the anarchic spirit of mail art. Why should others get to define the degrees of integrity in what one makes?

ROXY said...

I enjoyed the article about the Mail Art movement as I had never really read about this particular group. I was actually quite surprised at how much my expectations of what the group would be differed from the work they actually did. I expected the Mail Art movement to be less focused on exhibitions, networks, and democratic ideals and more focused on artists using the postal system to collaborate and comment on modes of communication and movement ext. I guess what fascinates me about the mail is the idea that something that travels through the mail has a route and a history and passes through so many places and hands. There is something really beautiful about that, and I would imagine artists who use the mail as their medium would capitalize on the concepts that are present in this back-and-forth as opposed defining mail art “not as objects going through the mail, but artists establishing direct contact with other artist, sharing ideas and experiences, all over the world” (101). While I understand that mail art was intended to be the antithesis of the valuable art object, and thus subversive, I think to limit the definition of a movement to such a degree is inhibiting in some ways. This is ironic as they were intent of including everything.

Although the article didn’t go into the details of various artists’ mail art projects, I get the impression that communications art of today is similar in that it is often much focused on building networks (a much easier task in the internet age). Internet art seems to be much more focused on the back-and-forth of exchange, as opposed to sending pieces to a gallery for display. Perhaps this is due to the ability to exhibit a project online, thus making it accessible to “virtually” (haha) everyone at all times. This forum makes contributing and participating in such projects easy and fast, but also gets rid of the path of the object from one place to another. In some ways the internet has provided the ideal space for the original intentions of the mail art movement, yet in other ways the “rules” have entirely disappeared leaving an “anything goes” mentality in its wake.

MarynLeigh said...

The concept i enjoyed most through this reading is that, "Mail art is not objects going through the mail, but artists establishing direct Contact with other artists, sharing ideas and experiences, all over the world" Especially those of us who grew up in an age where we are more accustomed to the internet and its uses, rather than the postal service, looking at the internet as an artists' means of communication, expression, and networking; an extention of mail art rather than a separate entity. Also, the "considerations" of no fee, jury, or return of work, make the medium very accessible and esy to infiltrate, enabeling people from all over the world to participate in this medium of communication. I agree that the "considerations" are a bit like laws, and some do not wish to follow to the letter, however, in regards to the reaction to Cohen curating and editing the mail art show to her own disgression deliberately went against mail art conventions, and the reaction she received was not unexpected. Extrapolating these "considerations" onto the medium of the internet may prove difficult at times, but it seems that the mail art "considerations" act as a cohesive glue, keeping this medium together and alive to flourish.