What is Mail Art [The following piece is included as a continuing provocation for the discussion of what e-mail, what a Net mag-zine, what a writing or a publishing collective might be--the form it/they might take in the InterNet context. In what follows please freely substitute e.g., "e-mail" or "Net-zine" for "mail art" or "exhibition", and/or, e.g., "InterNet" for "the mails", "poems" for "art". How strong are the analogies?]

What is Mail Art?

from "Global Mail", a thrice yearly listing of over 470 Mail Art activities in more than 35 countries compiled, maintained and published by Ashley Parker Owens, soapbox@well.sf.ca.us or 72162.1573@compuserve.com.

A COPY OF THE CURRENT ISSUE OF GLOBAL MAIL MAY BE FOUND AT etext.archive.umich.edu/pub/Poetry/Grist.

Mail art is art that goes all over the world through the use of the mails. It is international in scope. The "art" is the ongoing exchange between artists, sort of like a performance work or "happening."

A mail art show usually consists of disposable art that is sent through the postal system for the purposes of an exhibition and publication. The works are unjuried (uncensored) and not returned. The purpose of a mail art show is to present the diversity of human expression informally. Artists and non-artists can all participate. This allows artists to increase their visibility to non- traditional audiences; it expands the public's conception of what art can be; and it allows individuals to express themselves without taking account of their artwork's marketability or "quality."

Mail art has a certain purity and equality to it. It crosses many art world boundaries, because it is non- hierarchical and focuses on the process instead of the final product. Mail art is not bought or sold, reducing the middle man functions of the art world. It is its own currency.

Mail art is cross-cultural. It is inclusive of all colors, ages, languages, sizes, able-bodiedness, and nationalities. There is no chance of rejection, because everything is opened, studied, and read. Time and attention are assured for those whose voices need it.

How do I participate?

*you can send artwork to mail art show organizers so it can be exhibited. You should (eventually) receive in return printed documentation with a list of all participants. You can later use these lists to contact individuals on your own, or to send out invitations if you have your own show.

*you can exchange works with those seeking exchanges.

*you can do "add to and return" exchanges. This is when you start an image and ask someone else to add to it and return it to you. This is done with photocopies and originals.

*you can submit material to compilation magazines. You generally send a specific number of copies to the organizer, which they then collate with other contributions and send back to you as a zine. Compilation magazines usually have specific size requirements.

*you can go the Chain Mail route. This works just like other chain letters, however, no money is involved, and no bad luck happens if you break the chain. It's just good clean fun. When your name gets to the top of the list, you will receive artwork from others. This may not work well for you if you move around a lot. Usually it takes almost a year for your name to get up to the top of the list.

*you could have your own mail art show.

(This is only a partial list of options. Other possibilites include fax, audio, video, and zine submission projects).

How do I do my own mail art show?

1. Participate in every mail art show you can. This provides you with the necessary contacts. It also gives you an idea of the variety of documentation and exhibitions.

2. Think hard on whether you want to do a show, which requires a lot of attention in finding a space, hanging the show, press releases, openings, etc. Maybe a zine format would be better, where you display the work by pasting it into pages and making a little book which you would send out with the list of names and addresses.

3. Once you make the decision to have a show, you need to do the following:

*Give yourself plenty of time. Two years is suggested.

*Think of a theme. This isn't a necessity, but it may make a more interesting show.

*Design invitations and send them out to every mail art address you can find.

*Don't forget to put a due date, and your return address on the invitation.

*Advertise. Go for free advertising whenever possible (ie Global Mail).

*Seek out places to have the exhibition. It does not have to be in a gallery. Look at coffee shops, book stores, art spaces, display windows, etc. Once you have a potential space, examine the walls carefully. Will you be able to run staples through it?

*As the names come in, record them immediately in one notebook. Print clearly!

*If you have a computer, I recommend building a database and recording into it directly.

*Contact the owners of the space to see if you can work out an arrangement.

*After coming up with a space and date, start developing a press release which you will send out one or two months before the opening. You also may want to design some invitations to the show and send them out.

*Hang the exhibition. It is easiest to staple the works to the wall. If you are using a display window, tape works best.

*After the show, figure out what to do with the work. It can be recycled or given away.

*Send out the documentation with list of addresses.

What are the mail art "rules?"

No returns.

Send out free documentation with a list of participants w/addresses.

No rejections.

Send stamps when requesting copies of zines.

No censorship.

No money/No fees.

Apply sufficient postage.

From Grist On-Line #1, October, 1993.