Anna Banana (Canada) asked me to publish this discussion to get you informed and also to get your thoughts.....
I've just had an interesting exchange with Monika Csete about a proposed mail art exhibit. It raises an issue that I think is crucial to the mail-art discussion. Museums issuing an invitation for all to participate, but offering NOTHING in return. Rather than telling you any more about it, I'm copying our exchanges, and suggesting this discussion needs to have some place on the IUOMA web site. Let me know your thoughts, OK?
First the invitation . . . note the lack of mention of any documentation, demand for originals only, to be mailed:
Then my response:
Hello Monika Csete,
Thanks for your kind words about my work, and the email invitation for your mail-art exhibit next summer. You mention that the exhibit will be opened on "the Night of Museums 2012," but this is an unknown tradition to me. What will the actual DATES of the exhibit be?
It could be a great exhibit, but I note two, what I would call, "tragic flaws," in your proposal:
1. The major flaw is that there is NO mention of a catalogue to be sent to all participants. For me, this is the crucial element of any mail-art call that I respond to. Mail art, as you well know, is a process of exchange between two parties, and as far as I'm concerned, that same ETHIC applies to exhibitions. (I rarely send works to invitations that promise only an on line catalogue; for me, mail art is MAILED, in both directions; that's my definition)
2. Your requirement for "original artworks/not photo copies" is, to me, excessive, given that there is no promise of a catalogue or other form of documentation. Why should I labor to produce an original art work, specifically for your exhibit, when there apparently will be nothing returned, including my work?
Sorry to be a "wet blanket," but I have been playing this game too many years to accept less than fair exchange with my mailing partners. Perhaps others newer to the genre will rush work to you to be in an exhibition, but I'm afraid I won't be one of them UNLESS the terms of participation are changed so that there will be some form of catalogue to all participants, and/or that colour photo copies will be accepted.
All best wishes,
Then HER REPLY:
I know that on the "poster" we didn't mention the catalogue, I wish I could arrange money for printing them, or maybe printing a certification or a diploma for taking part in such a big project. (Otherwise our museum is not very wealthy.) It may happen though, because on the certain Mail Art exhibition, I could get the French Institute of Budapest as sponsor for printing out 500 catalogue and sending them to the artists one by one. There's a short article about this exhibition that will be held till the 20th of November: http://fluxlisteurope.blogspot.com/2011/06/mail-art-exhibition-buda...
Here you will see the invitation card and the catalogue itself (they are my designs) that were made for this event: http://planet-susannia.blogspot.com/2011/06/daily-post-torma-cauli-...
I didn't write catalogue to the call, because it really depends on how many sponsors can I find all by myself for this exhibition, but I'll try to do my best, as I did last time!
You mentioned the "photocopies" also. First of all, it won't be my exhibition, it will be the National Stamp Museum's exhibition, I am only the curator who will arrange everything till the opening ceremony, like last time. But I know, that we can not ask original art pieces until we won't mention the catalogue, because the Mail Art is really a " special connection" between two parties.
It is hard. All I can say now is that I will talk to the director and ask her opinion about what can we give for the artists, as "the other party" to honour their works.
Myself, I can offer for everybody to design a digital layout, a catalogue for the exhibition and send it to everyone.
And we'll see what the future brings.
Of course with these conditions we have, I understand you perfectly if you don't want to be a part of this project, I wrote to you because I was really hoping you that you will.
Thank you so much for answering my letter, if you have any idea how a museum can cooperate with mail artists, please write us your ideas.
AND MY REPLY:
Thanks for the information about Nights of the Museums. It's a good idea that I wish would happen here!
I appreciate your dilemma . . . we are ALL having to work very hard in order to get the money to fund our projects . . . the powers that be don't seem to consider the arts as anything essential, so arts funding seems to be the first to be cut when governments are allotting money. You have my sympathies, and I DO KNOW how hard you are working to make all this happen. I appreciate that, but I come back to my position about mail-art being built on voluntary exchanges between two parties, whether they are individual artists, or artists and galleries or other institutions that would like to show our work.
I have to say now, that I have no interest in a certificate or diploma for participation. I want to know who all took part in this event, the countries they are from, etc. which is the role of a catalogue. Mailing costs for either publication are the big expense . . . at least that's my experience in sending out the Banana Rag, which I've just done . . . and for once, since money is tight, I kept track of the costs. Printing cost $159.72, while postage (particularly expensive for the many copies sent to Europe) was $226.75 so you see, mailing is the big cost, whether a small/minimal catalogue or a certificate. And a catalogue doesn't have to be big and fancy, B&W works, maybe a few illustrations, maybe not, but the names (not necessarily addresses . . . people can get those from the IUOMA and other mail-art sites) and countries where your contributors are from are the essential ingredients as I'm sure you know.
The museum where you propose this exhibit needs to understand the ethic of mail-art, and that artists aren't interested in GIVING their original works to a museum without there being a reasonable exchange (documentation/catalogue of the exhibit) for their work. If they aren't prepared to fund that, then they have no business putting out a call for work. If it's all YOUR idea, then you need to take on the tough job of getting a sponsor(s) who will do so.