The rules of Mail Art

Dear friends,

I would like to ask you about the rules and canons of Mail Art as they developed throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties. Which of the rules and canons are binding? Which ones cannot be neglected?



A Mail Art artist has published an article in which he writes about young people's ignorance of Mail Art laws, disregard for the canons and the rules. He says there should be exhibitions of artefacts received and catalogues of everything you receive in the mail, as well as an in-depth study of the history and ideology of Mail Art. I tried to argue with him in the comments, but he replied: It's not true that in Mail Art everyone is playing their own football! There are laws!



I don't have the financial means to rent exhibition space and don't have enough free time to catalogue everything I receive in the post. I would like to ask what rules and canons remain binding for us.



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  • up

    Luís Filipe Gomes

    About Mail Art

    Art always involves a need for expression and a desire for communication. In this sense, art can exceed the artist's lifetime and his message span thousands of years. However Art may be intended to be for immediate communication. For example through a poster like Toulouse-Lautrec did or through the mail as is the case of this type of practice to which we dedicate ourselves and which we call Mail Art.

    It is possible for an artist to dedicate himself exclusively to Mail Art, but this type of art implies accepting specific constraints that have to do with the weight and size of what can be sent through a normal postal service.

    An artist can focus his expression on the use of the medium he favors, in this case Mail Art, but if he wants to extend his message to many recipients, he must resort to the methods of serial art reproduction and, under his ethics, sign and number the copies. He must make a numbered run.

    Of course, today's electronic means of communication can make all this more ethereal, less durable, as is the case with what David Hockney did during a period when every morning he used to make and send his friends a new drawing by iPhone.

    Art has a value. It is worth it because it is rare and has added a symbolic value. Literally it is possible to make art with garbage, with found objects "objets trouvés" in which some kind of aesthetic value is recognizable, as Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven did with her own clothing and with a piece called "The Fountain", a urinal "Ready Made" that Marcel Duchamp later approved as his and even signed and numbered in a set of identical copies as in a print run.

    These objects are valid because, somehow, outside of their banality in another context, they contain some form of beauty and in them they convey some kind of message. The first news I have of this is of a hand ax carved in stone in which a fossil has been preserved:

    (Handaxe knapped around a fossil shell, West Tofts, Norfolk, England, Ca. 500,000-300,000 /Flint (13.2 x 7.9 x 3.5 cm) University of Cambridge)

    Bearing this in mind, the Mail Art I produce and send does not reflect the desire for the mail I want to receive, but the mail art that I would not be embarrassed to receive.

    There is yet another catch. Adding to the inherent fragility

    to this type of art, similar to that of Arte Povera, there is the danger common to other more perennial artistic expressions, the risk of theft and iconoclasm.

    (automatic translation from Portuguese)

    • up

      Ruud Janssen

      Just some thoughts.

      Exhibition spaces can be everywhere. Also the free available ones. Did some exhibitions over the years but never paid for the space. Be creative too when you exhibit results. All part of the game.

      Catalogues = documenting things.  How you document can be with modern tools too. Books and paper are expensive. More and more things are documented in digital ways. The paper versions aren't easy anymore in these modern times.

      • up

        Ilya Semenenko-Basin

        I said this to one of the participants in this forum the other day and I will repeat it here. I have only been able to organise one exhibition of Mail Art in 2019 at the Moscow Museum, but I was able to negotiate with the Moscow Museum to create an archive collection of mail art there.

        The Moscow Museum was originally a city museum, but it has grown considerably and has become one of the main cultural centres of our city. In Russia, museum legislation is very strict; if an artefact is accepted by a commission of any state museum, it becomes part of the country's museum fund. It is subject to the law of perpetual storage, the loss or damage of this artefact is punishable by criminal law, and a photograph of the artefact must be posted on the museum's internet portal. The Museum of Moscow has accepted my collection, as well as gifts from three other artists, including Richard Bode and Robert Scala.

        What I am writing now has no direct bearing on the topic of this discussion. And yet I wanted to talk about it in connection with the Mail Art exhibitions.