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The Eternal Life of Mail Art

The river of Mail Art flows on-- more than half a century after its birth. The Internet expands upon Mail Art but hasn't supplanted it. And though warnings about strange and suspicious snail mail abounded post 9/11, many flamboyant Mail Art missives reach their international destinations. Still, stepping into the Mail Art river now is not the same as doing so in the past. Heraclitus might say "inevitably".

Some Enchanted Envelope

Transformed envelopes are a Mail Art tradition. Over the years I've received many birds of paradise. One arrived recently from Garland, Texas. Courtesy of Ex Posto Facto. Creator of the "fluxus buck". The currency heard round the world. And C.Z. Lovecraft from San Jose, California popped up in a popcorn box.

Ex Posto Facto Feather Envelope & C.Z. Lovecraft Popcorn Box

Heart & Soul

Mail Art can be intimate-- or a crowded party. In the latter case, a mail artist may put out a call on a theme and then provide documentation to all who participate. At best, the documentation itself is art, rather than just a list. This Summer, Claudio Romeo in Italy invited Mail Artists to send photos of themselves. He collaged the results and mailed the party back. Though bills in the mailbox bitched about noise, postal workers were def.

The Works & The Author/Claudio Romeo

The most magical Mail Art meetings are one on one. Individual works are always an honor. Such encounters are sometimes only flings; a trip to the moon on gossamer wings. Other liaisons last longer. I first traded Mail Art with Giovanni Strada of Ravenna, Italy in the 80's. We met again in 2004. StraDADA (as he's sometimes known) frequently plays on musical themes-- always with wit and charm. Recently, Isao Yoshii of Itami, Japan sent a colorful greeting and from Schoko Casana Rosso of Berlin, Germany, came a collection of exquisite prints and paintings.

Giovanni Strada: Chi l'ha visto?
Isao Yoshii: Untitled
Schoko Casana Rosso: Painting & Print

The Third Eye

Some Mail Artists have visions of other worlds. Or insight into hidden forces. Pinky in Genova, Italy is 4 Fun. He advances the cause of the Funtastic United Nations (F.U.N.) and invites postal tourists to visit the Island of REC. As in "recreation". Pinky exhorts others to "expropriate, extrapolate & create." Pinky is a king who will return. A true public servant. As is V2 in Stanwood, Washington, USA. V2 is alerting the public that ET was NOT a white hat from another world-- but a wannabe world conqueror! Thank God V2 knows the score. And will send free stickers upon request. While in Sacramento, California, Captain Biology (aka Mike Dickau) not only commands the forces of regenerative nature, but does stickers and postcards to die for.

Pinky: Only For Heros
V2: Deceptive Alien Entities
Captain Biology: My First Visit to Jack's

Hands of Glory

1) Paula Jesgarz. Gelsenkirchen, Germany. In PEEP 3 I reminisced about the remarkable Mail Art of Paula Jesgarz. I'd lost touch with Paula in the late 80's and had been trying to find her. I feared she was gone. An overly negative assumption. Paula lives! Her art is more spectacular than ever. Lush and energetic, intense and playful. When we exchanged art years ago, Paula sent B&W copies of her collages. Now I'm seeing her work in full color. A revelation. S'wonderful what a hand of glory can do.

Paula Jesgarz, Pink Flamingos

2) Henning Mittendorf. Frankfurt, Germany. An eternally glorious hand with remarkable technique in the block print/carved stamp tradition. Guided by a focused artistic and moral vision, Henning Mittendorf continues to surpass himself. Henning, like many Mail Artists, works in numerous art ways. Spring found him at the Popov Museum of Communication in St. Petersburg, Russia guiding a Decentralized Mail Art Workshop. Henning Mittendorf contributes both words and visuals to the river. Examples follow.

Henning Mittendorf, Untitled
Henning Mittendorf, The Magic of Art

Two Pink Ladies

This Autumn, I contributed pieces to two group exhibitions at real time galleries. One at the Art Museum Satu-Mare in Romania, under the aegis of "d.fleiss & east-west artists" in Stuttgart, Germany. The show featured Mail Artists; its theme was "Globalization". The other was held at the Firlefanz Gallery in Albany, New York and was titled "Shock and Awe: Some American Art". It marked the anniversary of 9/11. The Firlefanz show was not specifically Mail Art related, but my contribution was Mail Art influenced in its collective approach.

Immediately after 9/11, photos taken by non professional photographers started circulating on the Internet. I received one series from Mia Scanga, a neighborhood activist in Jersey City, New Jersey. Right across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan. The photos were taken by an anonymous Morgan Stanley employee. All were powerful but I found one particularly so. It was of the Winter Garden, an atrium within the WTC complex. The Winter Garden was a public space. Like everything WTC, characterized by enormity. Within it, rows of immense palms reached for the sun. Towering over groupings of wire chairs. The Winter Garden was a popular gathering place for WTC employees who brown bagged their lunch. It was also a place for musical events. Though acoustics were lousy-- particularly for small groups of players.

The photo of the Winter Garden showed the space in ruins. With crowds of firemen where people once ate lunch or listened to music. But though damaged, the palms still towered amidst the smoke, rubble and ghosts. For the Firlefanz show my husband and I used digital montage to superimpose a woman's face on the photo. One from a 1950's paint-by-number portrait bought at an upstate New York junk store. The rigid style made the woman's face look frozen. As if she'd seen the mirror crack from side to side. I added collage elements and lettering to the printed copy. Then framed it icon style and broke the glass with a hammer. I see "Frozen" as a collaboration between myself, my husband, a Jersey City neighborhood activist, an anonymous Morgan Stanley employee and an unknown paint-by-number hobbyist. And as one of the many collective ripples still spreading from that blue unclouded September day in 2001.

For the "Globalism" show in Rumania I contributed "Globaloney Gertie". A beach ball gal with a goof ball grin. Wrapped in hell bank notes from China and garnished with cocktail pick flags from the USA.

Frozen: 9/11 Winter Garden

Art Museum Satu-Mare:
Globaloney Gertie

A recent Mail Art show in England asked "Is Mail Art Dead?" I suspect the answer is "no". And that the river of Mail Art will flow on for many more years. Perhaps another show by the same name will be held in 2104. Mail Art continually changes as new people enter and long time practitioners exit. And like myself, many people step in and out.

Not all Mail Art trends are positive. As interest in the subject has grown, stifling sociology tinged tomes are being written. The politically correct voice of the turtle is heard more frequently. There are also trolls in the water looking to snag free art for speculation. And I could do without pass-alongs; a current form of Mail Art that smacks of slam books and chain letters. But overall, the river of Mail Art is still gloriously and remarkably free. Because it doesn't rely on location location location Mail Art isn't a gentrification tout. And if you don't like the scenery or an occasional sailor, it's easy to steer into different channels and meet more simpatico souls. With whom you can explore the lagoons of some secret paradise.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

"F.U.N. (Funtastic United Nations) is an open lovely and independent (dis)organization for a creative deglobalization of cultures. It intends to stimulate a cooperation amongst all kinds of imaginary countries and worlds, coordinating international publications, exhibitions and events."

F.U.N., via Latisana 6, 33032 Bertiolo, Italy

"Mail Art: a big back and forth without bombs"

Stamped on an envelope that passed between Ruggero Maggi in Milano, Italy and Ex Posto Facto in Garland, Texas, USA

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Copyright (c) 2005 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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