THE PROJECT 26 COLLABORATIVE MAIL-ART BOOK
From December 2010 through April 2011, a group of artists from countries across the globe collaborated to produce this book. Their backgrounds are diverse, and their contributions represent a stunning range of cultures and intellectual perspectives.
On these pages you will find the work of painters, photographers, visual poets, conceptual artists, and book artists, among others. The thread connecting them is their involvement in the international mail-art network, which contributed to fruitful communications, exchanges of ideas, and ultimately a product that achieves unity and significance.
Cheryl Penn, founder of the South African Mail-Art School, created the concept for the book. I was fortunate indeed to assist with coordination and thus observe the process of an international arts endeavor. Having begun my own foray into mail-art at a time when it seemed to be a slightly eccentric cultural practice emanating from the New York City axis and several European centers, I feel honored to have witnessed artists from around the globe working together in harmony and with commitment – something regarded as nearly impossible in the broader cultural arena.
On these pages, you will find the work of artists who are considered leaders in their fields. Their work stands alongside exciting pieces by emerging artists. In mail-art, credentials and accolades matter little. Of primary importance are community, mutual support, and love of the work.
The International Union of Mail-Artists (IUOMA), founded by Ruud Janssen of the Netherlands, provided the perfect place in cyberspace for Project 26 headquarters. Members had fascinating virtual discussions and posted drafts.
As a graduate student, Cheryl Penn studied the work of U.S. artist Ray Johnson and his New York Correspondence School. Johnson contributed significantly to the establishment of the mail-art movement, thriving more
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than ever today, and which has been a dynamic but largely underground circuit (one of the art world’s best kept secrets) for artists to share work and ideas. Far from simply trading artwork through the mail, the true mail-art experience requires interaction and participation by all involved. Penn’s Project 26 concept very much reflects this spirit.
As a structural foundation, Penn proposed each chapter for Project 26 would be devoted to a letter of the alphabet, an idea rooted in the avant garde that has been explored by writers ranging from Arthur Rimbaud to Ron Silliman. Each participating artist chose a letter, created a chapter based on the letter, and mailed copies of their chapter to the other participating artists.
This mail-art means of production effectively bypasses the challenges (including costs) of conventional publishing to produce highly personalized, limited edition artist books distributed around the world. For these mail-artists, building a community, regardless of its connection or influence upon the ubiquitous mainstream, is the primary shared value.
Further defining the concept for the participants, Penn asked them to envision their individual chapters as part of an encyclopedia of fantastic (and fictional) archaeology. This allowed the artists free reign to create entire worlds and artifacts that never existed and make far-ranging references to history and prehistory.
As you can see, they responded with extraordinary imagination, creativity, thoughtfulness, and humor. The range of genres from which they draw is remarkable: academic archaeology, popular culture, science fiction, fantasy, psychology, literary and art traditions, history, culture theory, technology – and an amazing synthesis of these forms is achieved.
This book contains entire worlds ranging from species that have evolved on other planets to vast technological conspiracies that might impact our
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lives on earth. Nearly all the artists have embraced the archaeological metaphor of excavating to discover truths.
They explore the ruins of ancient cultures and glyphs. They delve into epics, building bridges between the archaic and the contemporary. They dig deeply into the nature of language, image, narrative, and books. Their discoveries are as fascinating and relevant as the work of scientists and a wonderful contribution to our evolving global culture.
In the spirit of mail-art, please fully engage with Project 26. Do not passively view but enter into this remarkable book with all your senses and your imagination. Your reactions, the thoughts and interpretations it inspires in you are a necessary part of the process and makes you a part of a remarkable international community of artists.
- De Villo Sloan
April 25, 2011
Aurora, New York, USA
perfetto! bravo De Villo,