Update: this post refers to a callout with a deadline that has now passed, but don’t let that worry you. Mail Art is an ongoing project and I’m sure they’d love to hear from you anytime!
Right, you lot. The world has changed since my last post, but I don’t have time to go into that now because I have to tell you about the perfect project for your coronavirus-imposed social distancing/self-exclusion/isolation, and I have to tell you about it NOW!
Have you heard of Mail Art? It was a movement largely begun in the 1960s by artist Ray Johnson, a pioneer in the pop art movement. While illustrated envelopes have been around since ye olden days, Mail Art turned the postal system into a medium itself. Ray would mail small artworks, or prints of his works, to friends and strangers, sometimes requesting further actions, like sending something on to someone else. In a way, it was a performance of art to an audience of one.
Ray’s hobby took off among his friends, and came to be known as the New York Correspondence School (Johnson often misspelled ‘Correspondence’ as ‘Correspondance’, just for fun). Although Johnson declared the Correspondence School dead in 1973, the movement lived on.
Fast-forward to the present day, and Mail Art is a hugely popular modern movement, with home-grown artists all over the world exchanging beautiful mail. It’s perfect for modern image-based social media platforms like Instagram – click this link to see the kind of wonderful works that are being created. Like this:
I wonder how many of these amazing online artists know that they are upholding an artistic movement with such a long and authentic history? Some undoubtedly are, but I think it’s time to further unite these two worlds. Here’s how we can do it.
In the 1970s, British artist Kevin Gillen came up with an idea for a Mail Art project, initially not realizing it was already a movement. After a 40-year teaching career, he teamed up with his son James to take Mail Art digital, building a community around their Facebook page.
The non-profit Mail Art project exhibits its collection of Mail Art online and occasionally at galleries. And here’s a chance for YOUR art to become part of the permanent collection!
It’s easy. Design an envelope, postcard or package; scan or photograph it and email that to the Gillens; then mail it to a friend and ask them to get involved. Pretty much anything can count… the important thing is that it’s mailed!
Here’s the official callout from Mail Art’s Facebook page. More details on how to enter can be found there.
I admit, I’ve probably left this a bit late for your friend to get involved as described at the Facebook page (long story short: coronavirus). So here’s an idea: alert them to the challenge now, and mail each other when you’re done! It’s kind of cheating, but that’s on me, not you. (And no, you can’t spread COVID-19 in the mail. Admit it, you were wondering.)
The theme for this year’s Mail Art challenge is ‘Ray Johnson’. Remember him from the start of this article? So there’s your self-exclusion homework. Study up on Ray, design your tribute in the form of an envelope, and send it in!
The deadline for this year’s challenge is March 31, so there’s no time to waste! What else have you got on at the moment? If you’re not working in essential services and you’re doing anything other than sitting around at home, STOP IT AT ONCE.
Here’s some further reading to help get you going:
Mail Art’s page on Facebook, if you didn’t click it above. Start here.
What is Mail Art? at stamps.org
Mail Art’s second international exhibition covered by Design Week UK
…and by the BBC
…and by the graphicart-news blog
Wikipedia’s page on Mail Art is surprisingly thorough
An account of Ray Johnson and the New York Correspondence School by artist Edward M. Plunkett from Art Journal, Spring 1977
I look forward to seeing your contribution immortalised at the Mail Art Project!
© Philatelic product images remain the copyright of issuing postal administrations and successor authorities. Depicted artistic works remain the copyright of their creators.