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What is Mail Art?

 

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The Mail Art genre can be traced to the early 20th century with the mail actions of the Dadaists, Futurists and the Fluxus movement. These early actions were not indicative of an entire artistic movement, but were instead secluded events, which caught the attention of artists with similar concerns and sensibilities. The Mail Art movement began in the in the late 50's and early 60's (before the Internet, cell phones and email) when telephones and goverrnment postal services were the primary means of communication. Artists found they could inexpensively, reliably, and rapidly communicate with other artists around the world through the mail. The development of the organized Mail Art movement was specifically due to the actions of the Nouveau Realisme movement of the French in which Yves Klein participated with his "mail scandals", the establishment of Ray Johnson's New York Correspondence School, and finally, the Fluxus movement, which questioned the possibility of mail as a medium.

The media of Mail Art is as varied as the artists in the "Eternal Network." Many works use collage, found objects, recycled images & objects, drawings, paintings, individual or sheets of "artistamps" (unofficial postal stamps produced by artists), rubber stamps, stickers, metal, confetti, foil, photographs, as well as a wide variety of printing technologies (fax machines, photocopies, various computer printing techniques, digital media, etc.). Objects may be simple (doodles on a postcard) or elaborate (putting stamps on and mailing an industrial size tomato can filled with origami mail art). 

The media of Mail Art is as varied as the artists in the "Eternal Network." Many works use collage, found objects, recycled images & objects, drawings, paintings, individual or sheets of "artistamps" (unofficial postal stamps produced by artists), rubber stamps, stickers, metal, confetti, foil, photographs, as well as a wide variety of printing technologies (fax machines, photocopies, various computer printing techniques, digital media, etc.). Objects may be simple (doodles on a postcard) or elaborate (putting stamps on and mailing an industrial size tomato can filled with origami mail art). 

Since Mail Art is distributed through a network of personal contacts it avoids the presures of the art market and other official art distribution and approval systems (such as museums and galleries). Mail art tends toward the self-referential and filled with commentary on a wide variety of topics, from human rights, politics, revolutionary movements, the art world, the concepts of government and official documents, even reality itself. Mail Art transcends gender, race, religion, politics, age, class, social status, etc., etc., because anyone and everyone is welcome to participate. 

Mail Art could be understood as the art of communication. Although aesthetics are important, the personal, one-on-one nature of the genre may help explain why the longevity and variety of the movement.

 

Last updated:
October 02, 2013