Friday, December 7, 2007

Mail Art

Mail art is art which uses the postal system as a medium. The term mail art can refer to an individual message, the medium through which it is sent, and an artistic genre. Mail art is also known as postal art and is sometimes referred to as Correspondence/Mail Art (CMA).
Mail artists typically exchange ephemera in the form of illustrated letters, zines, rubberstamped, decorated, or illustrated envelopes, artist trading cards, postcards, artistamps, faux postage, mail-interviews, naked mail, friendship books, decos, and three-dimensional objects.
An amorphous international mail art network, involving thousands of participants in over fifty countries, evolved between the 1950s and the 1990s It was influenced by other movements, including Dada and Fluxus.
One theme in mail art is that of commerce-free exchange; early mail art was, in part, a snub of gallery art, juried shows, and exclusivity in art. A saying in the mail art movement is "senders receive," meaning that one must not expect mail art to be sent to them unless they are also actively participating in the movement.When the electronic telecommunications network known as the Internet gave rise to e-mail art, conventional mail-art artists came to refer to the international postal service as the 'paper net' or snail-mail net. When a group of these artists are in some way linked through their works they are collectively referred to as a Mail Art Network. The mail art community has been referred to as the Eternal Network since the 1980s (or possibly even earlier), and predates the time when access to the internet became widespread.
The Mail-Art Network concept has roots in the work of earlier groups, including the Fluxus artists and the notion of 'multiples' or artworks manufactured as editions. Most commonly, Mail-Art Network artists have made and exchanged postcards, designed custom-made stamps or 'artistamps', and designed decorated or illustrated envelopes. But even large and unwieldy three-dimensional objects have been known to have been sent by Mail-Art Network artists, for many of whom the message and the medium are synonymous.
Fundamentally, mail art in the context of a Mail Art Network is a form of conceptual art. It is a 'movement' with no membership and no leaders.

The above copied from:

for more information see:


Ruud Janssen - TAM said...

Glad to see this interest in Mail-Art. More sources are available when needed. I did in-depth interviews with mail-artists over the years and published them. Access through

best wisges,


Dr. Flux said...

Mail Art in Latin America - Part 1 by Clemente Padin

a. Definition
"Mail art" or "postal art" are those artistic manifestations transported through the official postal services which, in a certain measure, can change the meaning set by the creator. In terms of the science of information we would say that the innovation of "postal art" is the novelty of the "channel" of transmission which with its own characteristics colors the message sent and changes it with its "noise." Believe what you will, it does not have to do with a new artistic current in a formal sense, so that it does not correspond to any determined "ism." Above all, however, the novelty resides in the attempt to communicate person to person through the mail, which is revolutionary because of the false communication or monologue of the mass media--television, radio, the cinema, etc. Mark Bloch, New York mail artist, says pointedly on a rubber stamp: "the direction is revolutionary." If to this we add the anti-commercial and anti-consumerist character that mail art has had since its beginnings, we shall see that we are in the presence of an artistic phenomenon of disruption.

b. Antecedents

The historical antecedents of this form of artistic communication, as with many manifestations of modern art, must be sought in the experiences of the Futurists and Dadaists, the work of Marcel Duchamp being the most important precedent. They were precisely the motivators of the neo-dadaist movement "Fluxus" (George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, Ben Vautier, Joseph Beuys, Ken Friedman, Ray Johnson, Vostell, etc.), who brought them back at the beginning of the 1960s, and since this date the movement (the Network) has continued to expand all over the world, totaling today thousands and thousands of practitioners in all the countries of the world, including the socialist. In Latin America, the first manifestations of this movement date from 1969 as pursued by Liliana Porter and Luis Camnitzer in Argentina and Clemente Padin in Montevideo (publication of creative post cards destined for mail art). Also, the activity of Pedro Lyra in Brazil is important; in 1970 he published a postal art manifesto. In fact, postal interchanges were being realized from earlier through intense exchanges among Latin American alternative magazines.

An important early landmark was U.S. artist Ray Johnson's creation of The New York Correspondence School of Art in 1962, giving some basic rules and a directory of possible correspondents. The name was thus given ("correspondence art"), and some minimal instructions, which still characterize the system: to respond, resend, or intervene in the message, as well as the growing network of those interested in this system of artistic communication.

The internationalization and concurrent multiplication of participants could be situated towards the first years of the 1970s. This was preceded by the explosion of "urgent strategies" unleashed in the 1960s: conceptualism, process art, ecological art, arte povera, body art, performance, etc. This escalation of isms would have to exhaust itself

soon, but also it left a mark on the "de-objectification" of art, in subtracting it as object-value for conspicuous consumption, at least as an important tendency. A certain confrontation with the commercialization and fossilization of the art work is worth mentioning.

The preceding reflects the "debt" of mail art. It is certain that this broadened the horizons of the participation of producers in the artistic circuit. But at the same time it ascribed a full spectrum of formalisms and epigonisms--post-Dadaisms, post-conceptualisms, etc.--that, moreover, short-circuited one's eagerness to respond to all type of events and convocations. Finally, at mail art's early high-water mark, the proliferation and saturation of events and invitations now brought about a production that distorted the minimal elements of investigation and information, causing artists "to send whatever" everywhere, basically for the desire to appear in the registers and catalogues.

c. Causes

Among the causes that generate mail art and the proliferation of related media such as rubber stamps and apocryphal stamps are counted the impossibility of artists acceding to the structures of mass communication, owing to the extreme monopolization and absence of response that generates genuine dialogue. This situation has caused alternative communication media to proliferate, among which are counted (apart from mail art) videoart, the art of proposals, super-8 movies, the underground press, street actions, performances, etc., making evident the artists' rejection of those forms of communication and expression banalized by a lack of dialogue and creativity, interested only in the manipulation of awareness. Other causes are to be sought in the intrinsic characteristic of the artistic activity of the avant-garde: the unpredictability of aesthetic information, changing the combinatory models of signs already known by others, relocating the same signs in new structures and processes of communication that slow down the entropy itself of fossilized languages or codes, favoring new relations and new knowledge of reality, creating openings that permit new models of behavior and an adequate and active relation with the medium and obvious social participation to bring about better life conditions that make accessible to all the privilege of creating and enjoying art.

d. Description

1) Mail art has to do with a long-distance dialogue between persons who certainly would never come to know each other or to exchange ideas. This break with parochialisms, with narrowness of view, permits one to get to know other circumstances and other problems. It nourishes understanding and solidarity.

2) Correlatively, mail art has to do with a political, ideological dialogue, because of the nature of the system. If it stimulates escapist outpourings, it always signifies a free practice, which favors the possibilities of self-expression, one of the most productive and critical potentials for the dominant system.

3) Mail art originates a process of artistic decentralization, when from each neighborhood or province creative messages can be sent out and be known by many or transmitted toward many places, in contrast to the correct "centers" of art implanted since the second post-war period, where a network of galleries, museums, critics, and "merchants" control a closed apparatus of marketing and "prestige" that lords it over universal art. We would add that mail art is inscribed within the intent of originating "new processes of artistic signification," whose ideological project is summed up as: new objects for new subjects.

Mail art is created through sending postal pieces: 1) reproducing literary and/or visual works without taking into account the modifications that their postal transport can cause them; it has to do with a fixed medium; 2) works of diverse character that take cognizance of the possible modifications produced during the sending--this is the most common and numerous form of mail art; the "noise" is integrated into the work's structure, although not in a fixed manner; and 3) works that permit "channel noise" to be constituted in the work itself, incorporating those aleatory or other processes previously expected by artists, belonging to the medium employed.

Within the first group fit all reproductions of works, be they classical or modern, announcements of exhibitions, invitations, notices, poems, drawings, etc., where the degree of aesthetic information results from the art object sent and not the art medium employed. In the second group we can detect various tendencies or forms according to the emphasis of the mail artist, even when in his works one observes the preoccupation with integrating the characteristics of the medium into the mailings. Thus, for example:

--to add elements of the mail itself: postage stamps and others created by artists which are added to the official ones;
--to add rubber stamps created by artists or even those already known although in irrelevant functions;

--to try to incorporate artistic circuits similar to the known "chains;"

--or circuits of the type "A sends to B, B sends to C, C sends to 'n,' and 'n' returns it to A;"

--to send mailings as pieces of a puzzle that the receiver must put together or elaborate;

--to call for the artistic collaboration of the receiver to complete the mailing;

--to use, in different functions for which they were created, official slips or forms;

--to send in sealed or transparent envelopes unusual elements, such as seeds, hairs, dirt, thread, etc.;

--to use the most varied elements, discarding the current cardboard or envelope, among them acrylic, corrugated stock, thin woods, mirrors, plastic bottles, various instruments, etc.;

--to undo the square form and usual dimensions of the letter and envelope;

--and many other forms.

The third group is less populous but more careful to achieve works of a high degree of unpredictability and, therefore, generating better aesthetic information owing to the medium employed, such as, for example:

--letters in which the work is incorporated with official stamps stuck onto the back or inside;
--mailings with wrong addresses and return announcements (or directed to famous dead artists or to oneself with the same or a different address);

--mailings with two addresses perfectly stamped leaving the transport decision to one or the other up to the postal service itself;

--traveller-letters which detail the places that the mailing wants to "meet" and its return to the initial point;

--mailings in which the artist intentionally provokes the effects of "noise;"

--mailings sealed with copy-paper in which are evident the effects of the manipulations of the postal service, rubber stamps, etc.;

--and other more sophisticated forms.

As a consequence, mail art's means of material production recover artesanal practices combined with modern technological ingenuity, but under the control of the producers. That is, on acquitting oneself in terms foreign to the market and to official subsidy, these manifestations make use of economical materials and multiple reproduction: office offset, photocopy machine, instant photography, video and audio recording, mimeography, serigraphy and etching, collage and rubber stamps, etc. This has to do with the fact that many people, including social groups, can make things with the resources in their reach, which leads to an economic and formal democratization of production.
e. Anthology of Texts and Works

After the 1970s, exhibitions, magazines, and declarations regarding mail art have occurred rapidly in Latin America. We believe that the best way to demonstrate the richness and dynamisms of this movement is to let the principal protagonists speak for themselves. The following statement comes from the First Exhibition of Mail Art realized in Latin America (in October, 1974, Gallery U, Montevideo, Uruguay):

Frequently art comes from the cultural entropy that official art generates and these superannuated artistic forms that sustain the order of systems by virtue of reaffirming already known things or "those already given in art," changing the function of the media of communication that are changing the information that they transmit, taking advantage of the properties of the "channel" for the transmission of their own messages: this is the case with post cards that have been converted from a commercial object. . .into a principal means of artistic broadcast thanks to the rapidity and amplitude of their communication to whatever point, to the ease of their fabrication, storage, and consumption, and above all to their unpublished expressive possibilities, whether using them as a simple support for verbal, iconic, communication, etc., or as artistic objects in themselves, creating their own language.
In the exhibited letters it is possible to trace all the artistic currents of the moment: from those that use the visual-verbal expression of concretism and visual poetry, to those that register events and signs of a language of action; from those that register the neo-dadist explosions of Fluxus art to the most rationalized of constructivism and computer art; from those that utilize the vehicle--the card--as a work in itself to the most orthodox realizations of conceptualism; from those that are preoccupied with awakening processes of agreement with the repertory of the spectator to those that give testimony of the access of the human body to the category of activating source of aesthetic processes (Body-art); from those that call for the participation of the spectator by means of proposals and projects to those that recover those aspects of daily life disregarded by habit and alienation; from those that are mere register of the artistic activity of the avant-garde to those that parasite commercial post cards altering the original information; from those that spread attitudes of pop art, minimal art, arte povera, junk-art, etc. to those that use all the tendencies of formal innovations in the social, seeking to relocate signs and texts in "discourses not given in art."

The following excerpt of the article "Mail Art, New Form of Expression," by the artists Horacio Zabala and Edgardo-Antonio Vigo, appeared in the Argentinean magazine Argentinean Poets, no. 370(September-October, 1975):

Men communicate among themselves exchanging messages, utilizing distinct signals with different meanings. Man, on saying "his word," says it for other men. It is not our intent to enter into this ample and complex theme but to analyze how two systems of communication interact with delimited functions and in distinct spheres. The sending of a letter through the mail implies the development of a message, and it is an act of communication between two people. The postal system intervenes, making this possible over distance: it connects a transmitter with a receiver. The artist realizes his work in the same way that man "says his word." In art we find also a transmitter and a receiver, necessary in all acts of communication. Just as the artist, on expressing himself does so seeking multiple channels, the artist channels his creativity through multiple forms. Both organize a language and continue their creation in search of new codes. An example of this is offered by the visual artist who works in the area of research, who uses the media of communication "conventionally not artistic," altering their function. And proof of this is the synthesis that this new form of expression has arrived at, MAIL ART. Here there exists a confluence of two communication systems: the artist uses the mail to spread his message, to arrive at the recipient of his work.
It is necessary to make a distinction to clarify the concept. When a sculpture is sent by mail, the creator is limited to utilizing a fixed means of transport to move an already created work. When the sculpture was being created, this transfer was not taken into account. On the contrary, in the new art language we are analyzing, the fact that the work must travel a set distance is part of its structure, is the work itself. The work has been created to be sent through the mail (dimensions, cost of postage, weight, character of the message, etc.).

The postal system, then, does not exhaust its function in the transfer of the work but incorporates and conditions it. And the artist changes, in turn, the function of this medium of communication. Also there is a modification in the attitude of the receiver: he is no longer the classic collector (a fact that implies a certain degree of egoism) but an accidental depository of the work bound to its maximum circulation. The receiver is a source of information who opens a new circuit of communication that enriches the work, exhibiting it and sending it through the mail to new receivers. . .

Next follows an excerpt from the prologue of the book Way of Art, by Ismael Assumpça;ao which served as a catalogue for the exhibition entitled "Waydadaiade" organized by Odair Magalhaues in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May, 1976.

The elementary act of communication implies the existence of a transmitter who elaborates a message with signs taken from a repertory (code), through a channel through which the message is transported through space and time, and a receiver, who receives the message and deciphers it (decodes it) with the help of signs that he has stored in his own repertory. The transmitter can be an individual, a group, or a diffuse and distant organism. For communication to exist it is necessary that the transmitter-channel-receiver- repertory chain function correctly at all its points. This presupposes, in the first place, that the transmitter and receiver speak the same language that they have in common, at least partially, the same repertory. In this complex chain of thought is found mail art as an artistic vehicle constituted by one or more supports, with which it involves the change of set messages with implications of linguistic and semantic order.
Dada poetry brought together a series of artists from all over the world, who maintained an exchange of messages with the objective of registering manifestations linked to the critical-artistic spirit of our time. It would not be possible to define them, but it is to support them, in this movement of great importance, in which art takes the form of simple envelopes. Framed in the patterns imposed by the "mail" medium as in all its services, these artists become the authentic creators of contemporary art. As far as the content of these messages, as communication, they are artistic messages that lend themselves, above all, to a study of the functional and practical type. The message acts on him who receives it and through the analysis of its contents, valuable information is obtained on its addressees by virtue of a link of affinity that unites the addressees and the contents of these artists. Much more than the supposed exchange, this link of affinity is what gives postal research its aesthetic value. This recent movement of mail art is fruit of the permanent, disordered, aleatory, and exorbitant quantity of messages that arrive at us from the mass media. From this puzzle we retain only transitory and contradictory influences, fragments of knowledge, of ideas that deliver the quality of daily life. It is through these artists, who send messages, that the receiver will fabricate new ideas. These are created through old ideas, fertilized by the events of the world. Next, the ideas are scrambled in the social field by means of the circuits of the vehicles of mass communication and, later, taken up again, in their turn, as material for new creations. Thus is established a true closed cycle, causing changes in function of the constitution itself of the happenings in the world of objects. Meanwhile, what most impresses is the manifestation of the idea as certain realization of a living, serious, and free movement among these geniuses of the global message.

Epilogue: International Solidarity in Mexico
In Mexico this system of artistic communication remains almost unknown. Its best known precursors have been Felipe Ehrenberg and Pedro Friedeberg, but in fact it wasn't until 1979 that the first exhibitions dedicated expressly to mail art took place, first with the "Expocorreográfica" and the "First International Show of Post Cards" of Aarón Flores, followed in November of that year by the exhibition "Mail Art Mexico," organized by Sebastián in the Carrillo Gil Museum.

During the last four decades new practitioners emerged on the domestic scene, such as Manuel Marín and his project Aquí; the groups and magazines Marça;ão, Algo pasa and Colectivo-3, the latter of which has created the collective poem "Revolution," and during the months of September to November of 1984, a marathon of "Utopias Realizable by Mail Art" under the theme "1984 in 1984: What Future Are We Looking For?"

Throughout 1982 some of these groups and individuals were brought together to analyze and put forth actions that would give a more circumscribed meaning, including the political, to mail art. The promoting commission of Solidarte was commissioned--Mail Art/Mexico of International Solidarity--which sent out a declaration and a communiqué to the group of mail artists on the international scene, obtaining a satisfactory response. This collective project represented an important contribution of Mexico to the great network of mail art, in the fight for disarmament, the liberation of peoples, and world peace.

On the occasion of the First Biennial of Havana, the Solidarte group obtained an honorable mention for their project "Political Disappeareds of our America," testifying thus to the potential for international solidarity and artistic communication of which the world circuit of mail art is a vehicle and driving force.

copied from: