People have been asking questions about mail art, so I thought I’d write something about it in a little more depth. It’s a subject that could really expand to book form, I think – there are so many topics associated with it going beyond the simple act of sending art through the mail. I’m not qualified to write on any of that, but I do know something about it from a grass-roots level – my own experiences. So I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing with it, and see if that is of any interest or inspires someone to give it a try.
I can’t remember what first caught my attention about sending art through the mail, exactly, although I was pre-disposed to be interested in it. I’ve always loved sending and receiving mail – opening the mail box and seeing my handwritten name on an envelope has always been a treat for me. I don’t know if it’s the mystery of what’s inside, the anticipation of reading some news, the tie between my correspondent and me – maybe all those things, but I do love the mail.
I’ve received quite a lot of mail over the years, being of an age to remember when long-distance phone calls were expensive and reserved for important occasions, and the internet and email did not exist. I have lived a distance from my relatives and friends at different times in my life and always valued the effort they made to keep in touch. I can still see my great-aunt’s large elegant handwriting in the green ink she always used if she didn’t type it on her manual typewriter. I remember that my grandmother’s pens were very prone to running out of ink in the middle of a letter, and she would grab whatever was at hand to finish it, usually a worn-down pencil. My mother wrote to me very faithfully almost every day when I was in college and kept me up on all the neighborhood news.
And of course everything else went through the mail – birthday cards, party invitations, birth announcements, lots of postcards from the exotic and mundane places people we knew visited on vacation, holiday cards…
But, as times changed and people stopped sending mail as they used to do, my post was not as exciting as it had been – obviously bills and ad flyers didn’t have the same attraction. Until a few years ago, I too had fallen out of the habit of sending mail.
Then, I learned about some exhibits held at the Richmond Gallery in Canada. (http://www.richmondartgallery.org/ ) I participated in several – one involving artist trading cards, in which I sent and received ATC’s; one was themed “Economy” in which we exchanged 5” x 5” pieces of art. This contact led me to some other events, and I also did some mail exhibits in my local area.
But I can’t say I had a mail art focus until one day I found an envelope containing a “Brain Cell” from Ryosuke Cohen in my mail box.
I had no idea what it was, why it had been sent to me (I remember I stared quite suspiciously at the envelope, standing in the middle of my front yard) or what to do with it. Opening it, I still didn’t understand. So I went to the internet and looked it up.
The light bulb came on – somehow my name had landed on the list for what I learned was a coveted mail-art item, probably from my Canada mail art experiences, as I recognized some contributors’ names from the list included with the Brain Cell.
And, one site that gave me information was called the International Union of Mail Artists.
I realized that I had stumbled into an entire world I hadn’t known existed – people were making art, all kinds of art! And putting it in the mail and sending it to – well, to strangers, who were then answering with their own creations. And the art they were making was fascinating.
I didn’t have to think twice. I signed up as a member and in no time was receiving and sending art in the mail, from all over the world. And I’ve been doing this now for about a year.
I have also returned to sending more real-world mail to people I know – for instance, my son now lives on his own, five hours away. I decided to send him one piece of mail art a day. So, since last July, he has been able to open his mail box and usually find something – though he tells me sometimes nothing comes, and sometimes four pieces arrive at once. I correspond with friends this way, even if I see them in person as well. I send mail art announcements and cards. I taught classes in making collage mail art and some of my students became correspondents.
Finally, a friend who works for the post office in the main processing center where I live, in a city of 1.5 million+ people, told me that a piece of my mail art on its way to my son passed through his hands. When I heard this, I was astonished, but somehow it just seemed right that my mail was not anonymous and impersonal but made itself known on its journey.
About doing mail art yourself…I’ll tell you some details very quickly here, and you can see what my experience has been. And if you want to know more, just ask!
- · Where to start? For me, the central point for my mail art experience has been IUOMA, and I can’t say enough about the group. You can participate as much or as little as you like, it’s easy to find compatible mail art friends and for others to find you. There are numerous special interest groups and many, many photos of mail art that’s been sent and received. Take a look and you can get a good idea of the mail art experience. There are links to plenty of other mail groups on the site, as well.
- · Where to start?#2 – How about your own friends and family? Local art groups? People in your community that would just like some mail? Or – Google “mail art” and see what comes up – there will be no lack of choice!
- · What do I send? Seems to me that people send whatever the post office will take, and that seems to be just about everything. Usually it takes the form of postcards, variations on traditional mail items such as decorated envelopes, little books, etc. But – these aren’t vanilla postal offerings. People paint, collage, crochet, sew, glue, laminate, and otherwise let their creativity flow. Unusual containers. 3-D creations. Some people have a theme, such as a color or an animal, and everything they send incorporates it. Make whatever you like to make, and someone will be glad to receive it.
- · What will people say about my art? Mail artists are a supportive group, and I know that for me my correspondents have been very affirming and appreciative of my art. It may seem strange but the internet also figures very largely in the mail art world – the IUOMA site is full of conversations and posts that go on day and night. And, plenty of people blog about mail art. In fact, my own work was featured about a week ago at : http://minxuslynxus2.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/minxus-mail-bag-has-the-real-claudia-mcgill-wyncote-pennsylvania-usa-been-zip-locked-in-trashpo-hype/
- · Won’t this all take a lot of time? It’s up to you. You can involve yourself as little or as much as you like. Some people develop a very elaborate mail art world and others like to work with it intermittently or with a restricted number of people.
Well, that’s enough, I think. Do you want to receive some mail art? I like to recycle junk mail, cereal boxes, and furniture catalogs in my work, but there is no telling what you might get. Send me your address and I will put something in the mailbox for you!