(6 -31 May, 2021)
The enthusiasm for written correspondence and the postal overload during the pandemic have led Quarantined Museum to think about mail art. It was also an opportunity for us to break (somewhat) from our digital habits and explore the intimate format of the epistolary object. The trace of an exchange, a line between two geographical points, a literary object, a holiday souvenir, an extended hand, a diary, a journey through time: correspondence can take the most varied forms.
Mail art is an art movement based on the idea of sending small-scale works by mail. Its origins can be traced to the practice of American artist Ray Johnson who, in the 1950s, sent collages, prints, and postcards of various kinds to members of the art community, creating what is now known as the New York Correspondence School. Popularized internationally in the 1960s by the Fluxus group, mail art possesses a significant Canadian wing in the Morris/Trasov Archive (formerly the Image Bank). This movement on the fringes of the art markets was inspired by European avant-gardes of the early 20th century (Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism) and advocated the values of exchange and collaboration. Appearing as a reaction to the crisis of modern abstract painting, this art form undoubtedly contributed to the rise of conceptual art.
This month on Quarantined Museum, we proposed to reflect on mail art as an art based on exchange. Defined less by its form than by its disseminatory strategy, mail art is still practiced across the world today. As a system for breaking down geographic isolation—long before the existence of the Internet and the concept of the “family bubble”—what can mail art teach us about long-distance human interaction?