Presents: Three Months of Mail Art for Hyperallergic HQ

The mail art exhibition, Presents: Three Months of Mail Art for Hyperallergic HQ, includes art in the form of sculpture, installation, video and works on paper. The show’s catalogue is in the form of a ‘zine and can be purchased here.

Co-curated by Kate Wadkins and Hrag Vartanian, Presents will take place at Hyperallergic HQ and includes a range of materials and subject matter all emphasizing the tangible communication from one individual to another.

The exhibition is open for two weeks (noon to 6pm) on the following days:

  • Friday, June 17
  • Saturday, June 18
  • Sunday, June 19
  • Wednesday, June 22
  • Friday, June 24
  • Saturday, June 25
  • Wednesday, Jun 29


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Mail Art Bulletin posts:

Complete artist list:

Abe’s Penny, Gail Anderson, Patrick Anderson-McQuoid, Larry Angelo, Lynn Aquaheart, Bo Bartlett, Amy Bassin, Samantha Beverly, Kyle Blauw, Jonathan Bohm, bread crumb, Peter Brock, Jamie Burmeister, Dave Byrd, Nick Canterucci, Celso, Tiberiu Chelcea, Nathalie Chikhi, Laura Cohen, Vincent Como, Fred Cray, Carla Cryptic, Curly, Daniel DeCulla, Dewi, Han Dogan, Brian DuPont, Jeff Evans, William Evertson, Luc Fierens, Tiffany Ford, Valerie Fuchs, V.L. Fuller, Mira Gerard, Shana Goetsch, Jessica Gowling, Jonny Gray, Jeff Haas, J.D. Hastings, Jennifer Pei Huang, Laura Isaac, JRD, Adamandia Kapsalis, Dimitri Karakostas, Bernard Klevickas, Diedra Krieger, KURV, Dave LaMorte, Luis Vasquez LaRoche, Liz Layton, Rejin Leys, liketelevisionsnow, Cristina Maldonado, Russell Manning, Steve Martinez, Gregory Maxim, T. Mayo, Tim McCool, Timm Mettler, Marina Miletic, Alicia Milne, R.E. Mingst, Leah Needham, Theo Nelson, New Mediator, Michael Orr, Clemente Padin, Stephen Perkins,  Brenda Petays, Brian Piana, Cole Pierce, Peri Lee Pipkin, James Prez, Allison Putnam, Sheree Rensel, Allan Revich, Kate Rhoades, Mary Rork-Watson, Maritza Ruiz-Kim, Frocc. Santiago, James Schickler, Julia Schwartz, Andrew Scott, LaVona Sherarts, Joe Singleton, Louise Sloane, sneezestar, M. Stolte, Harry Swartz-Turfle, Austin Thomas, Seon Thompson, Lynda Jo Thornbrugh, Ann Tracy, Amy-EllenTrefsger, Ben Valentine, Guido Vermeulen, Don Voisine, Joshua Weibley, William Wilson, Michele Witchipoo, Brian Wolf, Audra Wolowiec, Wreck & Salvage, Tamara Wyndham, Joseph Young, Rainer Zamojre and some anonymous artists.

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When Hrag asked me to co-curate a mail art show at Hyperallergic, I enthusiastically accepted. I knew mail art had proliferated over the past number of years through art and correspondence groups, I knew that Ray Johnson had something to do with it, and I knew that I owed some of my own practices to it. But that was about all I knew.

By the time I entered the equation, Hyperallergic had already collected a fairly large amount of work. Hrag described the joy that this project, which he began documenting in Hyperallergic’s “Mail Art Bulletin,” had brought to him. In our first conversation, he argued that although it seems to be the general consensus that analog communication is almost null, these objects brought something to his life that other types of communication, and artwork, couldn’t.

Walter Benjamin coined the term “aura” to describe the presence of an authentic piece of art, as opposed to a reproduction. While Benjamin’s aura concept brings up issues of elitism for me, I also appreciate this idea of presence. Mail art has a presence that extends beyond the typical distant observation that we experience in museums or galleries. While the work retains the quality of an art object, it is immediately personal. Video artist Cristina Maldonado made visible the process of creating and packaging a piece of mail art through her video “Content” (2011), while other artists like Brian Dupont and Maria Ruiz-Kim sent multiple pieces over a few days, highlighting the element of time characteristic in mail art.

Still, many of these artworks retained a cut-and-paste aesthetic dating back to Dadaism, Fluxus, and even punk rock flyers of the 1970s. The clear relationship between zines and this kind of work was further solidified when some of the contributors included zines in their packages. Naturally, Hrag and I decided we’d like to do a zine for the exhibition catalogue.

The most rewarding part of Presents has been the overwhelming creativity exhibited by our contributors. While it was clear that we had some veterans of mail art, including Don Voisine, who incorporates the markings of the travel process into his own painted postcard works, we found many artists who have never considered mail art to push any preconceived notions of the medium. Who knew we would be exhibiting an embroidered outfit, a quilted book, an entire classroom worth of young artists, a tic-tac-toe rubber stamp set, and clay sculptures?

Through Hyperallergic’s relationship to social media, many of our artists bridged the disconnect between analog and digital communication, for instance, we received more than one piece incorporating the use of Google maps. Mail artists included their physical addresses as well as their links to their online selves. The entire project has raised questions about performance, connection, time, and communication. All of the work we’ve received has truly created a dialogue about the future of communication and art-making. I am honored to have been part of the process.

— Kate Wadkins

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Earlier this year, I realized how frustrating it was to check my mailbox when all I could expect were bills and junk mail. There was never anything interesting. I remember expressing my feelings on Twitter and a friend challenged me via tweet that perhaps I wasn’t engaging the medium enough, in other words, you get what you give. Then, an artist I didn’t know offered to send me something by snail mail and I was elated by the gesture. What developed was Hyperallergic’s Mail Art Bulletin.

Since we sent out our first call for mail art on March 23, 2011, we’ve received over 120 works from about 119 artists around the world. Their offerings have been generous, and they have transformed our office with their playful, thoughtful and wondrous creations. The works have also changed my perception of mail art forever. What I saw as a quirky art form dominated by postcards has become a complex and nuanced medium that is as diverse as any other. Our call for submissions attracted a number of artists who consciously worked to push the form’s limits. The works in Presents are as much about the community that has formed around Hyperallergic as it is about the medium.

Before the modern era, there was an axiom, “to post is to publish,” you assumed anything you mailed could be read by someone along the way. But by the 1840s, with the creation of the first sealable paper envelopes, people were given the gift of private communication, and a revolution was born.

It is still debated who created the first intentional mail art work, but there’s general consensus that the early 20th C. was when it happened. Regardless if it was the Futurists, Dadaists or Surrealists, all of whom were testing the limits of art and communication systems, by mid-century the medium was closely associated with the Fluxus movement and Americans like Ray Johnson (and his New York Correspondence School) — both transformed mail art into a full-blown art medium.

What you’ll find here is a global selection (almost exclusively in English) of artists who work today. Their work arrived via one of the only truly public services in the world, the postal service. Even though mail is controlled by national governments, we often forget that fact, since it can feel transnational. Mail is an experience that unites us all.

I want to thank everyone who contributed to Presents, particularly Kyle Chayka, Veken Gueyikian, Katherine Lorimer and Kate Wadkins, but most of all the artists.

— Hrag Vartanian, Editor of Hyperallergic & co-curator of Presents