The Mail Art Phenomenon

    Mail Art is not an artistic style, neither a technique, nor some precisely defined way of creation. The only thing that is common to all Mail Artists of the world (their number goes to 10,000) is that their art is realized through mail, that is to say that their communication goes through PTT (Post Telegraph and Telephone) channels, which is still the best way of linking people in the widest geographic plan. The essence of Mail Art is an EXCHANGE and RELATIONSHIP between artists; COMMUNICATION itself has become the main factor of the art work's poetics, replacing its aesthetical and craft values. At the same time Mail Art gives to all an opportunity to express themselves freely, with no limitation (except to those physical limitations of the Post Office), meaning that mail Art is a very democratic, liberal, and cosmopolitan direction in art. Several vanguard artistic movements in this century are considered to be the sources of today's Mail Art. Marcel Duchamp worked with postcards as early as 1916, and postcards were printed by the Italian Futurists. The members of Nouveau Realisme and Fluxus were mailing unusual objects and publications. Also the Japanese Gutai group, which started international artistic communication through the mail in the 50s has to be mentioned. But the American Ray Johnson is also considered as a pioneer of Mail Art for founding the New York Correspondence School of Art in 1962. But in all these appearances, we don't recognize the phenomenon of the Mail Art Network, which is the main characteristic of today's Mail Art movement. The Network consists of all these thousands of mail artists all over the world with their visual, verbal, and sound messages permanently circulating around the planet Earth. That Network, which is essentially a spiritual product, is a unique spiritual sculpture surrounding the Earth, a collective achievement of Mail Artists.
    I think that this way of artistic behavior is the best answer to the well known problems of man's alienation and of the political, racial and social divisions of the world, which are all surmounted through Mail Art. It has already penetrated to all the continents, being the foundation for a new, planetary culture.
    It was already said that in Mail Art there exists a maximum of freedom regarding the genres, types, or techniques of expression. According to this, Mail Art is familiar to all kinds of motives and styles in visual arts, with the difference that messages are visually and semantically accentuated. They are more obvious and aggressive than in the classical visual arts. That's because the mail artist is working with the aim of getting a reply to his mail, and he is going to get it only if his work is attractive enough to induce someone's reaction (which is not obliged in Mail Art at all). This is easy to understand if one knows that an average Mail Artist receives sometimes ten works daily from all over the world, but physically he can reply to only a few of them in one day. That means that he has to do a selection; to choose only the works with the greatest charge of creative energy in them. That principle brings into the Network the law of natural selection, according to which only the most creative persons stay in the network, and the others are being eliminated by excluding themselves.
    The Mail Art Network is expanding every day, thanks to many international exhibitions, magazines, catalogs, video and audio cassettes that are spread around through the PTT system. Besides, many articles, studies, and books have been written on the Mail Art phenomenon and some well known museums have purchased some Mail Art archives and art works. But Mail Art is still a non-profit activity and that golden principle keeps it strong, pure and honest.
    In their activities mail artists use all existing means of expression in the fields of image, sound, and text. Lately the computer is more and more in use, also telephone, and even satellites. Everybody is doing according to his needs and possibilities. And that makes Networking colorful and attractive.
In regard to the future of Mail Art, of course it is very hard to foresee. But if we take in consideration the latest tendencies, including the personal contacts and meetings of mail artists (tourism, congress), their joint actions and collaborative performances in late 80s, then Mail Art can be seen as one more step in the development of the future mental and spiritual art, based on the coordination of minds.
   Isn't this also announced by the recent invitation to artists to join the Art Strike 1990-1993, that means not to make, exhibit or sell art works? Isn't that a tendency of going towards the essential creativity, based on undisturbed and direct exchange of the spiritual energy, that Mail Art anticipated? So back to life and to spirituality is maybe the answer to the questions of the future of Mail Art.

                                                                                                      Andrej Tisma

December 1989