CHAPTER 3. THE DEMOCRATISATION OF MAILART - MAP.
As I have established, by the 1970s, mailart had grown from Johnson's relatively small network of the 1950s, partly as result of Fluxus publications. It was however, still largely confined to America and Western Europe and participators who were in some way connected with Fine Art, particularly the avant-garde. A major spread, both in terms of the nature of the practitioners and geographically speaking (importantly, including Eastern Europe and Latin America) began in the 1970s. This was partly due to exhibitions and their catalogues broadcasting the concept, and particularly the result of Thomas Albright's Rolling Stone articles. These articles were important for publishing the addresses of a number of networkers, thus enabling those interested to participate, drawing on a far wider public than the Fluxus address sheets had reached.
This chapter firstly looks at mailart exhibitions and examines Mail Art Projects (MAPs) and the part that they play in mailart practice and secondly explores the effect that the countries new to mailart have had on the network.
3.2.The Culture of the 1970s.
Mailart, for its practitioners, offered a focus and creative medium for the 'post-1968' rebelliousness of the 1970s, because it gave opportunities both to debate any issues with a wide range of people and to produce creative work outside the capitalist-materialist dominance of existing establishment art marketing systems. Artists, keen to breakaway from the constraints of the finance and career-building dominated art marketing system, saw in mailart, the open opportunity for experimental freedom unsullied by commerce or critical appraisal. Although artists were questioning the gallery system, for example by making work in the landscape or Robert Morris' 'Peripatetic Artists Guild' refusing sales or fees, but asking for a wage, they were still working within this meritocratic system. Mailartists therefore, by ignoring the gallery system, criticised both the avant-garde and the traditionalists. With the frequent proclamation, by many artists and critics alike, of the demise of painting and the irrelevance of other traditional art media in favour of conceptual ideas that in theory could not be commodified, it was no surprise that the network thrived and grew.
'The Last Whole Earth Catalogue', published in 1971, was a reference work to a network of groups and individuals who could be accessed for whatever talents, skills or experience they had to offer.1 It could be argued that this indicated that there was a vast body of knowledge and skill that could be tapped into without recourse to established commercial or state controlled organisations. Although there are substantial sections on art and on correspondence, there is no mention in it of mailart, but it situates mailart - as an alternative system - firmly in the culture of the time.
As an alternative system, mailart networking has a tremendous amount to offer and employs much of the ideology of the seventies. For those artists who either were already, or were to become internationally celebrated however, the use of mailart remained primarily one of exploring the postal system as a process and part of a career building strategy, rather than that of the very different concept of networking as an important system in itself, leading to a 'Global World.' Marshall McLuhan's much publicised 1967 message, 'The Medium is The Massage,'2 was further encouragement to practitioners of mailart for whom the medium (mail) was indeed the message that the artist was treating the postal system as an intrinsic part of the artwork in itself rather than simply using it to transport work. Writers on the history of mailart have tended to focus on artists with international reputations, thereby giving spurious importance to their writing.3 Gilbert and George for instance, in the late 1960s and early 1970s used postcards, for example 'A Souvenir of Gilbert & George's Hyde Park Walk July 21st 1969'4 but this, like their other postcards, was used neither interactively nor intended to be perceived as mailart. According to Cohen, "Gilbert & George used the mails to document and further explicate their work for both the amusement and edification of their audience."5 Similarly, the use of postcards by On Kawara to document the minutiae of his everyday activity, for example the 'I Got Up At' series, begun in 1968, whilst relating to mailart because of the use of the postal system, is peripheral to mailart as it was only one way communication. By comparison, an example of a work that could be thought to belong more to the history of mailart - than to be purely a conceptual work of Fine Art, as I go on to discuss - was made by Jan Dibbets. In this untitled 1969 work he sent a bulletin to about two hundred people and following their reply, plotted their homes on a map of the world to Amsterdam (Dibbets home). This work could be seen to give mailart credibility and status, because it was made in collaboration with an art gallery and reproduced in Studio International.6 However, attaching such credibility would be entirely to miss the essence of mailart, firstly as exchange - which Dibbets work was not - and secondly as a network of people rather than harnessing help from correspondents to realise his own work. That is to say that mailart is an ongoing activity, not simply the production of one work, even if that work uses the network. Although Chilean artist, Eugenio Dittborn had been a mailartist, his interesting concept of exhibiting the packaging together with his 1984 - 1992 'Airmail Paintings', does not become mailart - through the evidence of the journeys that the works have undergone - because there is no interaction through the mail employed in his work. The interaction takes place with the viewer once the works have arrived through the post and been unwrapped and exhibited by the gallery staff, with no opportunity for the viewer (recipient) to respond directly to the sender. Works for Dittborn's exhibitions are folded and delivered to the gallery by airmail with full documentation of their exhibiting history on the purpose-made envelope - exhibited alongside its contents - implying an importance of the mail journeys which are in fact irrelevant to the finished works. These works do not employ the fundamental aspect of mailart in that there is no interaction or interchange with other mailartists and they therefore remain works that explore the postal system (or more accurately, simply acknowledge the postal system) rather than mailart. The works however are clearly not part of the artmarketing system as yet and presumably for them to become so would be to destroy their integrity.
3.3. Magazine Articles.
As discussed in the introduction to this thesis, the 1972 articles in Rolling Stone7 were the first to be published in a non specialist commercially produced magazine since the Village VOICE in 1955. This magazine was widely available in North America and Britain and so brought the attention of the general public to mailart, as well as to the cognoscenti that the North American publications already referred to had reached. Importantly, Albright's articles were the first to give names and addresses of mailartists and to encourage the reader to participate. Albright writes of mailart, (which he refers to as 'correspondence art') as being 'potentially revolutionary avant-garde cultural "undergrounds".' He cites the Whole Earth Catalogue as being a kind of "correspondence network" and describes the nature of each mailartist's work and network. For Albright, the interest in mailart is situated in the then current interest in networks of information that had been set-up independently form established organisations and he refers to many participants disowning the label 'artist'. This explains the appearance of the article in a non 'art magazine' and indicates an understanding of mailart as a network for the exchange of ideas that could transcend barriers of geography and culture, something, although intangible, beyond the production and exchange of artwork: what he describes as a 'cultural underground.' His apparent enthusiasm for mailart is infectious although he describes the participation as being artistic:
"And since almost anybody can play, we furnish herewith the current addresses of various groups so that you too can be an artist" 8
this is seemingly a contradiction as to how he perceives mailart and continues through the article. Having identified Johnson as being the 'oldest' mailart 'school', in part one, he writes in the second part of the importance of Fluxus, and refers to the art activities of both Johnson and Fluxus, locating the origins of mailart firmly in Fine Art. In spite of two lengthy and enthusiastic articles, he concludes with the dismissive:
" One wonders, if success will spoil correspondence art and, perhaps, if there is anything to be spoiled?" 9
The 'success' that he referred to is with reference to the Whitney 1970 show and references in books (the former probably prompting these articles) but his doubt about its value seems to belie his earlier enthusiasm and to misunderstand mailart, both in terms of where it was heading and where its value lay (see discussion below.)
Whilst clearly there has never been one defined and discrete network, Albright implied in his descriptions of the modus operandi of the netwokers that there are defined separate networks with figureheads, which is to create a false impression,10 notwithstanding Johnson's early beginnings when inevitably at one point he was the sole controller as, arguably, is each newcomer for a brief period. Although each networker, partly through accident and partly through design, has his/her own unique network, it is simply a tranche of the fluctuating total number of participants in mailart. For some networkers, this will be governed by finances in that they may correspond more with the countries that are cheaper for them to post to. Inevitably networkers will also be in touch with a larger proportion of mailartists from their own country than with networkers from other countries. In the early 1970s mailart was dominated by North America, and Albright only lists North American addresses. There were mailartists practising in Europe, Japan and South America11 before 1970 but the number was to be greatly increased due to the European exhibitions that publicised mailart to a wider audience than heretofore.
Mailart gained publicity in the early 1970s through exhibitions - of which the first was held in New York in 1970 - at the Whitney Museum of American Art.12 This small exhibition, curated by Johnson's friend Marcia Tucker - a curator at the museum - was organised by Johnson at the request of the museum. The exhibition featured 106 networkers (see Appendix C), who had replied in response to his request to 'Send letters, post cards, drawings and objects to Marcia Tucker, New York Correspondance School Exhibition.' (Plate 22). This flier that Johnson sent out to his NYCS 'members' is typical of his economic design in terms of sans serif typeface (hand written) and simple layout that can be seen especially in Plate 11. It also shows that he did not add 'USA' to the address, suggesting that at least the majority of the participants were from USA if not New York. Johnson simply asked his correspondents to send their work direct to the Whitney and although the word 'exhibition' was included, he did not clarify that the sendings would be exhibited. Whilst the work could be conceived as being mailart by virtue of being sent through the post, being sent directly to the Museum, it lacked any interaction and as such, calls into question the validity of this exhibition as 'correspondance' art. Hilton Kramer, reviewing the show for The New York Times,13 identified the value of mailart as an amusing diversion from the normally dull post, (he had received from Johnson, "a sizable number of these 'communications' (myself) over the years.") But, as an exhibition he felt, "it didn't amount to much", because the work was "too slight - too perishable and inconsequential - to see the light of day." Interestingly and certainly misleadingly, the article is sub-headed, "Ray Johnson's Letters and Cards Go on Exhibition at the Whitney Museum." The implication is that it was Johnson's work that was on exhibition and Kramer makes no mention of any other contributor, neither does Martin Last in his review for The Critical People.14 Kramer highlights the dangers of exhibited mailart being judged with a set of criteria that are not applicable, as I go on to discuss.
Jean-Marc Poinsot's "Mail Art" exhibition - held in 1971 as part of the Seventh Biennale de Paris - was important as the first mailart exhibition outside the USA. Although Poinsot's exhibition represented mailart, it was curated by him (implying a 'jury' approach with selection) and included a large proportion of leading artists (Appendix D lists those represented in the book produced to accompany the show15) who were using the mail in their work at that time. The principle of the jury approach to mailart exhibitions is one that has been rejected by mailart since this date, meaning that the Poinsot show cannot be taken as an example of what mailart shows were to become. Although not demonstrating networking (which arguably is almost impossible in an exhibition, as I discuss below), this show provided the possibility for people to note names and addresses of mailartists and so participate themselves if they so wished. Significantly, Poinsot, named the work exhibited, 'Mail art', a title that has remained to this day and become the most commonly used term, with its attendant variations in spelling and language translation.16 The naming of the activity indicates a shift, in particular from Johnson's orchestrations of his correspondents through the mail (Correspondence art or - more geographically specific - the New York Correspondance School) to include the possibility of using the mail to create a work of art (mail art) and not necessarily requiring a recipient to be active in an exchange. Implications that mailart is art that is about (and explores) the postal system were true in the late 1960s and early 1970s for the many artists interested in conceptual art.17
The touring Fluxus exhibition, 'Fluxshoe' in Britain, curated in 1972 by David Mayor provided another opportunity to awaken a greater number of people to the possibility of participating in mailart.18 This exhibition, although not mailart, alerted its audience to the possibilities of working through the post because it was composed entirely of postal responses to requests for material. The showing of the exhibition in seven locations throughout the country further helped to disseminate the idea of mailart, specifically in England. However, as with the two previously mentioned exhibitions, the work was not part of networking and so not truly mailart.
The number of mailart shows throughout the world increased enormously through the 1970s. Held Jr., documents 1,335 mail art shows between 1970 and 1985, observing that there were probably many more, whilst he has identified a specific number, there may well have been any number of others that he has not traced.19 Until 1972, these exhibitions were of mailart rather than exhibitions of mailart projects. It could be argued that the initial shows were still in the spirit of traditional establishment exhibitions given that they consisted of work assembled in order to demonstrate what mailart was about and even giving prominence to particular artists, as opposed to the final realisation and continuation, through exhibiting, of a networking concept.
3.5.Mail Art Projects.
The regular generation of Mail Art Projects (MAPs) brings the attention of other networkers to the generator's name and so could be perceived as giving him/her a certain status as a very active networker, regardless of whether or not this is considered to be desirable or in the spirit of mailart. Of no little significance is that MAPs provide a focus for networkers' mailart and an incentive and deadline to work towards. An important aspect of MAPs is that they increase the number of contacts that any one networker has, enlarging their own network within the fluctuating overall mailart network of the networks of individuals. This might be seen to imply a simple valuing of quantity of contacts, but this is not the case, not least because the potential number would become unmanageable for any one person. What is important is that mailartists, through their own network, become a part of the network of networks, the network as a whole,20 - rather than working parochially or with a very small number of chosen networkers - and that through this experience, they begin to have a global understanding of humanity.
MAPs in the early 1970s are important because it is through the dissemination of fliers, documentation and public presentations, that the network was greatly increased in both the number and geographical spread of participants. It is Friedman's opinion that it was he who in 1972 conceived the idea of projects that could lead to exhibitions.21 Having been given a one-man show, Friedman decided to devote the exhibition to the work of others and spent a year in which he invited people to send work to the Oakland Museum gallery, using his Mailing Lists to contact people.22 This would seem little different to Johnson's 1970 'New York Correspondance School Exhibition', particularly with the work being sent directly to the gallery. In Spring 1973 however Friedman held a mailart show in Omaha, for which the invitation to participate was announced in the media rather than just contacting everyone on the Lists.23 This show is important because it established the norms for all mailart projects, i.e. that the received work would be un-juried and that all received works would be exhibited. As I go on to discuss, this concept is central to the mailart belief in not judging work received, but treating it all as equal and exhibiting it all with intended equal prominence. However Friedman clearly misjudged the expected number of replies - which exceeded 20,000 items - and due to space restrictions he initially exhibited only one third of the work, until pressure of complaints resulted in his exhibiting the rest in whatever way he could, including in cardboard boxes on the floor.
Whilst the usual definition of a MAP includes the culmination of a project in an exhibition, there are other forms of MAPs involving networkers in sending material towards a common end or theme. Publication of a mailart journal can be seen as a MAP in that it is produced through the accumulation of material, solicited through the network, as previously discussed. Other forms of MAP include ongoing projects of one form or another that are open to all networkers and are disseminated through the network. Two contrasting MAPs indicate different approaches to ongoing MAPs. Japanese networker, Ryosuke Cohen has, since June 1985, chosen to limit most of his networking output to the production of his "Brain Cell." Producing and distributing a phenomenal 312 editions to date, Cohen rarely reveals anything about himself, devoting his energy to printing and mailing 150 copies of rubberstamp images sent to him by about 60 networkers during a period of 8 to 10 days.24 The composite image, printed in full colour at A3 landscape or portrait format includes stickers, or seals where a networker has sent 150 copies. Most sheets have a range of mailart imagery, subject matter and style (Plate 23). The production of these sheets by Cohen is an example of the unhierarchical presentation of networkers images, with an apparently random placing of the images on the paper and all images receiving the same treatment. These sheets are examples of the feeling of freedom that mailartists have, to reproduce the work of networkers in any way that they should choose, in that Cohen produces his sheets in full colour by the use of a Goccho printer.25 Cohen adheres to the standard practice of listing and sending the names and addresses of the participants on a typed A4 sheet.
"Brain Cell" begs a number of questions, not least about the funding of the postage of 150 letters world-wide every 8 to 10 days, however, the fact is that Cohen is able to do this. What is not clear is the motivation for the restraint Cohen uses in not printing his own work (or at least not distributing it through the network) and the satisfaction that he apparently gains from the repetitive process. Initially Cohen signed and numbered each print as though it were an edition of his own work, although he dropped this practice after a few years, accentuating his lack of personal creative input. This may well have coincided with his handing the task of printing to his students. Although Brain Cell is fascinating to look at given its range of images and random use of bright colour, subsequent copies are unlikely to carry the same level of interest, given the identical technique and format, leaving the only potential interest a minimal and again potentially obsessive one. This begs further questions as to why Cohen chooses not to develop his networking relationships. "Brain Cell", with its lack of individual creative input on the part of Cohen and repetition over a long period of time, is in the Minimal / Conceptual tradition of his compatriot On Kawara with his 'self documentation' project and particularly the long running "Date Painting" series. (On Kawara's use of mailed postcards for self historification involved no response from the correspondent at all, placing these works outside mailart as networking.) The obsessiveness in Cohen's work may only be an exaggeration of the inherent practice of many networkers. This obsessiveness has the considerable attendant comfort that is derived from any positive obsession, but more importantly the self restraint is an example of how the importance of mailart is in participation within the network rather than egotism. Whilst Cohen has chosen to reproduce the work of other networkers instead of his own, the printed sheets are instantly recognisable as being his and therefore could be argued to be egotistical, however the sheets are important as work for and of the network. Cohen made clear his feelings about the importance of what he is doing in a rare statement that he distributed in 1985, which is worth quoting at length:
"It isn't everything that exchange (sic) a work from one to another in mail art network. It is the most important to join much more people of other countries. Sending to B from A, to C from B, to D or E from C, E sends back to A or D sends back to B or C. This is the way how to spread the network. Once people believe that art is the product of the privileged classes called artists, so they put up the framed pictures or priced them unreasonably as sales contracts. In there (sic) reasons they think art is material. I think art is information ...There is no need for us to stress our own originality. It is change of 180 degrees from the past. Mail art network is the most wonderful movement that can solve the various problems of present art and artists;- authority, exchange of information, too notional art, mistaken holiness and so on. ..."Well, I'll title my work 'Brain Cell', because the structure of a brain through a mierscope (sic) looks like the diagram of mail art network. Thousands of neurones clung and piled up together are just like mail art network, I think."26
From this it is clear that Cohen sees his role as being that of communicating information to as wide a network as possible and equally for that information to come from as wide a network as possible. He particularly stressed that for him originality is not important. Undoubtedly, Cohen has done as much as any, and probably more than any other, mailartist to spread the names and addresses of networkers through the network.
Esta es la marca
English networker, Robin Crozier, by contrast, participates in many projects and yet also consistently maintains the mailing of his 'Malaise / History / memory'; 'MEMO(RANDOM) / MEMO(RY)' (Plate 24). This project consists of a standard A4 sheet requesting the participant to respond to their memory of a given date on that sheet and to return the sheet to Crozier in return for which they receive the memory reply of another networker. The project differs considerably from Cohen's in that, visually, each memory varies enormously in content, style and technique, although on the same proforma. Both projects introduce networkers to each other but whereas Cohen's deals in a large number of virtually anonymous names (especially as they are not placed alongside the relevant images), 'MEMO' is specific to an individual. The replies vary considerably in appearance and content. Typically mailartists choose whether to reply literally, that is to say attempting to record an honest memory, or to ignore the request and simply make an unrelated visual and / or verbal statement, thereby denying any importance of the title at all. The first 'Memory' is for December 4th 1981 but the bulk of them date from 1983.27 Crozier keeps a meticulous record of the contents of each return in two notebooks. One copy is housed in the Getty Foundation, and the other is kept by Crozier, the original being sent to another, carefully selected networker.28 Crozier thereby makes one to one introductions recalling the orchestrations of Ray Johnson,29 attempting to match people with similar interests on the basis of his knowledge of them from past correspondence. Also like much of Johnson's work, Crozier prefers the informal hand written form to type, thereby signalling the personal nature of the work, rather than the intention to put the replies on public display. Documentation and formalisation of the process is important to Crozier, an aspect of mailart that for some networkers becomes an element of ritual providing a much needed stability in what, for some, is an otherwise turbulent life. The 'Memo' date requested of the networker is not chosen at random but is taken from the postmark of the despatchee's letter:
"If the postmark is obscure or absent I usually pick the day on which I am sending the request out."30
The formalisation of his response is taken further, and invariably, Crozier sends his 'Memos' back in the envelope sent to him, recycling and thereby removing the need for him to spend any money on envelopes for his mailart, unless the initial contact is by postcard. It is significant that the 'memo books' are now held by the Getty Foundation in their History and Culture archive as 'a human document'.31 Mailart might be expected to be kept, if at all, in an Art Museum such as MOMA. The placing of 'MEMO' under History and Culture emphasises where the interest in the work lies, that is in the record of the memories rather than the way in which they have been represented. This suggests that the importance of mailart is sociological rather than art historical, the stress being on the word 'human' rather than art. This is to say that the visual appearance of any one 'MEMO' is subordinate to the content, the interest is in what respondents choose to recall, and this record stands outside an art historical context. Whilst Johnson's mailart had grown out of his Fine Art practice as was the postal related work of Fluxus, mailart began to develop into something that was primarily moving away from an art context and towards a sociological framework.
Although the usual understanding of a MAP is one that requests networkers to send work, there are mailartists who maintain a consistent theme in all their communication, which in turn provokes a certain kind of response, prompting this to be considered to be a MAP. One of the most all consuming MAPs of this kind was that of the Italian art collector, grocery chain owner and networker, Guglielmo Achille Cavellini (1914-1990) who from 1971 until his death, worked on his 'Self Historification' project. This project reached further than his networking activities with performances, books and exhibitions, although always on the same theme. Self Historification was addressed earlier by another Italian, Piero Manzoni who in the early 1960s made the hero-worshipping of stars, whether artists or not, into a series of critical satirical works, based on his own body.32 Cavellini took the idea further by producing his 'fantasy' autobiography which he extended to cover the last two thousand years. Proof of his existence throughout that time was documented by him in the (fantasy) correspondence that he had with artists and writers from that period of time. These sycophantic letters were produced on canvas and published in book form as was his series of famous crucifixion paintings reproduced by him with his face replacing that of Christ. Cavellini also had a suit and hat made which was covered with his hand-written autobiography. The basis for much of his work was his self portraits which appeared in paintings, collages and stamps which were frequently used in his mailart, central to which was his sticker, 'Cavellini 1914-2014' (Plate 25). This sticker, predicting his first centenary, was originally produced for his Venice manifestation.33 Using the colours of the Italian flag, and the shape and size of boxed cheese, it could be argued that it recalls his profession. This level of commitment, both in terms of time and finance, is unusual in mailart, not least because few networkers have had access to the funds that were available to Cavellini. Other networkers have been moved to create their own works on the theme of Cavellini's Historification, suggesting sycophancy and promoting the idea of there being some mailartists who are more important than others, an idea that ostensibly mailart is against. However, the charitable approach is to consider that with such hype as Belgian networker Guy Bleus' proposal that Cavellini should stand as 'first president of the United States of Europe' as a clear indication of Bleus' 'European Cavellini Festival 1984' being in the satirical spirit of Cavellini's own Self Historification Project.34 It is also in the nature of mailartists to enjoy joining-in a game, a sense of belonging to the theme of the moment.
It is undeniable that Cavellini used the network for his own ends, for self publicity, but the ludicrousness of his methods, with letters, for example to Homer, thanking him for dedicating "The Odessy of Cavellini" to him can only be taken as a critical comment on fame.35 Cavellini's intention was to reach as many people as possible and so remain working within the network rather than to use it as a spring board for a mainstream career in art. Although he devoted his mailart activities to the creation of his autobiography at the same time he participated very fully in reciprocal mailart and so remained very much a networker.
Apart from Assembling Zines, there have been other examples of MAPs that require participants to send a fixed number of identical images. Darla, (Darla Bayer of USA.) realised the MAP 'Valentine' in 1989, asking contributors to send 150 postcards on the theme. This number being her estimate of the number of expected participants, each of whom received a copy of each of the other 150 participants' valentines. In 'Valentine', Darla organised an exchange on a given theme. Tangibly she gained no more than any other participant but incurred considerable expense in sending out 150 sets of 150 postcards round the world, a wonderful Valentine gift for each participant, which also includes the standard practice of including the names and addresses of all participants.
Some institutions generate MAPs, and although adhering to the conventions, it could be argued that they are not mailart, in that they are not generated by mailartists, nor is there any interchange - save that of the sending of the documentation - before, during or after the MAP.36 At times mailartists work in collaboration with institutions, in order to acquire funding for the postage, exhibition space and production of catalogues.37 MAPs are also sometimes generated by teachers for their pupils for educational purposes, in these cases, the teachers are invariably networkers themselves, although the same questions must arise, as with institutions, as to whether it is strictly speaking mailart. Similarly, teachers have prompted or perhaps instructed their pupils to participate in MAPs, giving the generator quite a surprise, especially when faced with the participation of an entire class, with an entreaty from the teacher to send something to each individual pupil in return, (as well as the documentation).38 In the case of institutions, such as a Post Office Museum, generating a MAP, address lists are usually obtained from mailartists living in the same town and fliers are mailed direct to each and every networker on the lists. Institutions generating MAPs highlights the problems and tensions between mailart as a networking strategy and the creation of mailart exhibitions, as discussed below.
MAPs are the most prominent collaborative method used by mailartists - at least from the point of view of the general public - as the formalised face of mailart that is presented to those unfamiliar with the practice. Although mailart is an anarchic network, there are some universally understood and accepted conventions. Primarily these are with regard to MAPs and their exhibition, as developed from Friedman's Omaha show, standard practice dictating; 'No judges, no rejects, no fees, no returns. All entries displayed, documentation to all.' Convention dictates that as a minimum, documentation will consist of a list of the names and addresses of all participants, therefore increasing the contacts that networkers have. It is also understood that nothing will be for sale and therefore no financial value will be placed on the body of work or individual works. This convention firmly places mailart outside the existing art marketing and career building structure, by removing the potential for criticism of individual contributors or even the decisions of selectors.
Standard practice for announcing a new MAP through the network is to produce a flier of some description, though normally this is photocopied in black and at A6 size or smaller. This size, because it is lightweight allows the generator to send several copies in each of his/her mailart sendings and will inevitably request the receiver to pass the spares on. Some of the fliers also ask the receiver to make photocopies and pass these on: this request may or may not be responded to by the recipient. The text depends on the nature of the MAP but will clearly indicate the name and address to which the work should be sent and deadline date if the MAP is time sensitive. In some instances, there are regular deadline dates, particularly for example with Journals. Most fliers include the text of the 'standard practice' and many include some kind of visual as well as the title of the MAP in order to provoke certain responses. Restrictions are often made in terms of size and/or media, usually dictated by practical considerations with regard to exhibiting and/or dissemination, and these are usually adhered to. It is expected that networkers will respect specific requests with regard to the number of copies that must be sent where the MAP is for example, an Assembling Zine.
As discussed in Chapter 2, there are also journals which carry MAP information: these may be approached directly or the information may be sent by another networker who has received the flier. By using these journals in conjunction with multiple sendings of fliers, a generator of a MAP can expect to reach a large number of networkers, certainly several hundred, spread throughout Europe, North and South America and Japan.
Whilst most MAP exhibitions are mounted in art galleries, others have explored different possibilities. Finding a suitable location for exhibiting MAPs in itself raises questions not only of suitability but also of the problems in finding a gallery prepared to take an exhibition that has no commercial potential at all, save for the possibility of the novelty value of a mailart show as a carrot to get people in to purchase from a companion exhibition. The simplest solution, where possible is to find a gallery that is run by a networker and there have been a few, from time to time, run by networkers, for example Carlo Pittore's Galleria Del'Occhio in New York and Jurgen Olbrich's Kunstraum in Kassel,Germany.39 Both these galleries have shown MAPs and also invited networkers to exhibit individually in the spaces. Galleries run by mailartists may or may not be run specifically as mailart galleries but are likely to be prepared to exhibit MAPs. Non commercial galleries can be used as well co-opting public spaces, the most applicable public space perhaps being a post office. The use of public spaces can raise political questions as they do for the exhibiting of any work that highlights a socio-political engagement. The choice of location and manner of display of the work will affect the way in which the work is viewed with expectations and agendas dictating the reaction of the viewer, relating to the work that is normally seen at that venue. A more unusual solution to the problem of where to exhibit a MAP was found by Indianapolis networker Michael Northam who exhibited his "Mailart in the Streets" in the form of posters displayed all over the city depicting the work sent.40 Johnson's exhibition of his Moticos in the streets of New York, whilst not being mailart, is a precedent for mailartists exhibiting work in the street.
Exhibiting MAPs in art galleries raises questions about using the same structure for showing work that is used by artists whose practice is the fundamental antithesis of the principles of mailart. Mailart appropriates galleries for its own use and by demonstrating the lack of juries, rejections or sales, highlights its own code as well as introducing more people to the possibility of networking. Mailart, being primarily about communication between people through the postal systems cannot be demonstrated by exhibiting a number of pieces on a wall, however coherently. Although it is perfectly possible to exhibit work that was despatched to its recipient as mailart, the transference to the wall - even if the envelope and any other contents, not related to the MAP in question but sent at the same time, are also displayed in double sided frames - there are some fundamental differences between the experience of mailart as a networker and that of the viewer at a MAP exhibition. A piece of mailart does not stand alone as a 'finished product', mailart is interchange and this is not possible to represent in an exhibition, not least because it is not possible to gain the experience of mailart second hand. Coherence in a mailart exhibition can only be expected in the commonality of the theme of the MAP. The 'work' exhibited is usually from a large number of people covering a large geographical area, and a large range of backgrounds and intentions (not all artistic). Whilst an exhibition such as this could have some interest, it can give no impression of mailart.41
Further problems exist in that art galleries or museums inevitably trigger various expectations and attitudes towards the ways of looking at, assessing and appreciating the exhibits. Mailart is not intended to be judged by the same set of criteria as other visual work exhibited in an art gallery. In some ways, the exhibiting of mailart could be said to relate to the display of African tribal shields in an art museum which plays down or even ignores (and therefore denies) that the object has/had function. The temptation in the case of mailart shows is to compare the work with other works (past or present) in the museum, or gallery, rather than understanding that in a sense they are only relics of an interaction of communication. There is a strong argument for not exhibiting mailart at all, but the wish to attempt to share the experience is too much to be resisted by many mailartists. Strategies have occasionally been used to try and overcome all problems.
There is no established principle of methods for exhibiting mailart and the nature of display is frequently dictated by budget. English networker, O. Jason (Jason Skeet) has used the interesting strategy of retaining all the works unopened until the aptly named 'opening' of the show at which he invited the public to open the contributions.42 The involvement of the public turns the 'exhibition' into an 'event' and can be seen as being in the spirit of mailart. Although involving the public in opening the 'work' addresses some of the problems surrounding exhibiting MAPs, the very nature of the falseness of the situation of the public opening the mail, as opposed to Skeet sitting at home opening each contribution as it arrived prevents the participators experiencing the thrill of expectation each morning and the exciting thud on the door mat. It is important to note though that in this project, Skeet announced in his fliers that all contributions would be retained unopened until the preview.43 This would in itself have affected the nature of the contents, but does nothing to alter the fact that the viewer still misses-out on the reciprocal aspect of mailart, although in this instance they could have chosen to note down the addresses of the senders of the envelopes that they opened and to reply to them.
A simpler solution would be to generate a MAP where all contributions must be on postcards (not sent in envelopes) and this strategy is regularly used, but again would ideally need also to stipulate that the work should be single sided, in order to avoid problems of exhibiting. Problems created by exhibiting MAPs may raise questions as to why networkers continue to create them. There are several reasons that have been outlined in this section but it must be understood that not all MAPs are intended to result in an exhibition and many that are, do not result in one for a variety of reasons such as the inability on the part of the generator of the MAP to find a suitable location.
Motivation and beliefs of networkers are of a wide compass and there will be many who see no dichotomy in the debate surrounding exhibiting, even for some who do, compromise is perhaps an inevitable part of life and the pros and cons of exhibiting have to be weighed. The motivation for generating a MAP lies in terms of the thrill of contacting new networkers and receiving a considerable body of work on a subject that is important to the generator. The problems surrounding exhibiting the work can well detract from the pleasure of receiving it, but there is a further thrill to be gained from mounting an exhibition and pleasure to be had from sharing with others the 'good news' of mailart. There can be problems surrounding the reactions of visitors to the exhibition, not least in that it is usually a confusing experience for those who were not previously aware of mailart. It could well be that this is because mailart is intended to be received through the post, not exhibited.
The procedure for MAPs - as I have described - is well established and understood, departure from this code of practice is extremely rare and very much ostracised by the network. A notable variation was the 1989 'International Invitational Artistamp Exhibition' for which James Felter invited certain networkers to send signed and numbered editions for sale.44 This contravened the code of practice in two ways, by selling and also by making the contributors exclusive. Issues surrounding the problems of selectivity, money and mailart are explored below.
It is tacitly understood - by mailartists - that not all projects will result in exhibitions, whether planned or not, and so there is no guarantee that work sent to a project will be exhibited. This inevitably includes the exhibiting of work sent in response to a project request that either deliberately ignores the specificity of the request or one that does so from misunderstanding, possibly because of language difficulties.45 The idea of sending work to MAPs because it will guarantee a long and international Curriculum Vitae is no doubt one that enters the minds of some - presumably new - networkers, but it is not only an unreliable method as I have explained but it also can only ever be a record of participation in mailart shows, with no credibility elsewhere. This attitude also suggests that the participator sees mailart as one-to-one communication, waiting patiently for a reply. Whilst one-to-one communication does take place, a great deal, the strength of mailart lies in the network and understanding the concept of sendings, although to specific individuals (at least initially), as being communication through the network. That is to say that a tally is not kept of reciprocal sendings but of reciprocal energy output and return, regardless of who from.
A MAP does not end for the generator with the exhibition but with the dissemination of the documentation of the participants. The visual appearance of the supporting MAP work is related to the inclination and finances of the generator. It is expected, however, that some form of documentation will be distributed eventually, according to the resources of the generator of the project. Exhibitions of MAPs generated by institutions invariably have a far bigger budget, resulting in expensive full colour printing of invitations to official openings, and full colour catalogues with documentation sent to all participants. Whilst the receipt of a well produced, expensive catalogue can be satisfying, the anonymity of an institutional production means that there is no possibility of a continuing interaction. As I have stated, with no possible mailart exchange, institutional MAPs - whatever the quality of the catalogue, and whatever the nature of the institution - must lie outside mailart as a networking activity.
Although there may be a sense of achievement to be gained from organising a MAP exhibition, this has to be offset by the time and expense involved in the production and distribution of the documentation. Whilst most mailartists cannot, or would not wish to, produce documentation of the same quality as some institutions are capable of, they are not morally obliged to do any more than simply send a list of names and addresses of all participants to all participants.46 This in itself can be expensive in terms of stamps, photocopying and envelopes and does deter or prevent some networkers from generating projects. Expense problems can delay distribution of documentation but, even if it is prompt, the participant has usually forgotten about their participation in the specific MAP by the time that the documentation is received. There are two reasons for this, firstly the flier requesting the work initially is often one year in advance of the deadline and secondly, networkers tend to respond to so many MAPs that they do not remember them all, without referring to the meticulous records that so many of them keep - archiving and record keeping are discussed below.
An examination of some of the ways in which MAPs have been documented will give further understanding of what the rewards are for participants and how documentation can be extended to influence other work of both the generator and the network. Thoroughness in documentation was demonstrated in 1993 by English networker, Sal Wood's MAP 'Under My Skin' . Wood's documentation was unusually informative, consisting of a plain brown envelope that was bound with the hospital name tag which carried the name of the recipient, that had been an installation as part of the exhibition (Plate 26). In this way, Wood was able to combine a relic of her installation (the name tags) with the documentation, tying (literally, as the tags were wrapped round the envelopes) the installation with mailart. There are many networkers who maintain parallel artwork, whether income generating or not, as is frequently the case for performance artists or installation artists. In this instance, Wood was able to combine successfully, the two activities, even to the extent of the documentation. The envelope also carried an 'Under My Skin' artistamp and a colour photograph of the exhibits. The contents consisted of what she appositely (given the medical associations) described as a list of 'Donors ' photocopied on to A4 white paper and folded into three vertically. This also included a photocopy of a photograph of the name tag installation; a second colour photograph of the exhibits; another A4 sheet on pink paper describing the exhibition with a third (overall) photograph of the exhibiting six-fold double sided screen which was covered in pink bubble wrap. The reverse of this documentation sheet was a full size photocopy of the bubble wrap and the envelope contained a single cell of the bubble wrap. The thoroughness of this documentation is not usual but it does permit the participants who were not able to visit the exhibition to have a very good idea of what it was like. Largely for geographical and financial reasons, few contributors ever see the exhibitions of the exhibition of the MAPs in which they have participated.
Another English networker, Keith Bates went one stage further with his 1993 MAP, 'The English Suppressionists'. In some ways, the presentation of this documentation drew on the conceptual uses of the postal system that had been explored in the late 1960s. Bates enriched his documentation by dispatching it to coincide with the first day of issue of a stamp with an architypically male English theme, that of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, so that the envelopes were franked 'First Day Cover'. This gave the opportunity also to consider the relationship of the introverted (and therefore arguably English reserved) hobby of stamp collecting. Each participant also received a numbered membership card of the English Suppressionist Group. The project is in the mainstream of Bates work about the condition of the repressed Englishman and would tend to produce replies from those with some understanding of the subject, networkers who would therefore derive considerable pleasure from Bates developing the idea through to the envelope that contained the documentation.
For some networkers it is important that the documentation does more than simply record: for them it is important that it is a creative continuation of the MAP itself. Craig Wilson, an English networker, documenting his 1991 Map, 'Planet Football', sent each participant a football badge; a small black and white football slogan sticker; an A4 photocopied list of contributors on blue paper, and an A6 photocopied booklet, on white paper with an orange cover, reproducing 28 of the works sent, in a simple plain white envelope with a commercial football sticker on the back. The use of a selection of images for reproducing in the documentation is against the spirit of mailart, unless they are seen to be samples to give an idea of the work, given financial constraints forbidding the reproduction of all the images. Many generators of MAPs do reproduce all the contributions, but in this case Wilson was at pains to state that he wanted to reproduce them all but was unable to because some were not suitable for photocopying. With this documentation Wilson was also able to include three fliers for his subsequent MAP, all within the minimum postage rate. In doing this, Wilson signals that the interchange has not finished with the end of the MAP, that networking is an ongoing activity, even if there are MAPs with specific deadlines.
The 1980 MAP, 'Spaceship Earth Approaching The Third Millennium,' borrowing Buckminster Fuller's title in an attempt by its creator, Ed Varney, a Vancouver networker to a conception of the inter relatedness of 'Spaceship Earth', extended the notion of egalitarian exhibitions by recycling the mailart that had been sent to him and despatching it to the contributors, attempting at the same time to send something to each contributor from a different country to their own. Each participant and each visitor also received a sheet of 10 identical monochrome blue, on white paper, Spaceship Earth stamps and a world shaped 'Membership Card' encouraging co-operation. This redistribution of the material, encouraged networkers to think further about the subject of the MAP, beyond just the original sending of work, to see the subject as being more than just a MAP, and to see the potential of mailart to make a significant contribution to 'Spaceship Earth Approaching The Third Millennium,' through networking bringing about a closer understanding between peoples whilst maintaining and promulgating certain ecological considerations.
3.8. The Geographical Spread of Mailart.
I have established that MAPs enabled new mailartists to enlarge their number of contacts very rapidly. This was to influence the spread of mailart through Eastern Europe and Latin America as well as the countries that were already involved through Johnson and Fluxus. In the early 1970s, news of the existence of a mailart network began to spread through Eastern Europe. East Europeans were particularly keen to become involved because it allowed them to be in contact with the West in a direct way and through them to become aware of what was happening in the arts beyond the Iron Curtain. Polish artists - Critic Andrzej Kostolowski and conceptual artist Jaroslaw Kozlowski - had in 1971 begun their own network 'NET' which began as a reference to independent, artist run, art spaces in Poland, enabling artists to circumvent the restrictions of the authorities, resulting in what was in effect mailart within Poland. This network grew to include about 200 addresses from 15 countries, tying-in with other networks such as 'International Artist Co-operation' (IAC), West German Klaus Groh's Xeroxed newsletters, which contained addresses, articles and project information. This publication continued until 1978 and was much imitated in a general desire on the part of networkers to disseminate information to more and more existing and potential networkers. This East / West link, was of considerable importance to the optimism of the artists of the Eastern Block countries because it gave them a cultural link with the West. Reciprocally networkers in the West were to gain immeasurably from observing the considerable creativity and ingenuity demonstrated by their fellow networkers that had not then been jaded by the capitalist materialism of the West. For East Europeans, it was difficult, both financially and because of censorship, to send any work abroad that was bigger than a letter, although even a letter was not immune from the ravages of Eastern European censorship.
It was not only content that was dictated by censorship but also media. Pawel Petasz, a Polish mailartist, produced complex text and image books made with lino and potato cuts (Plate 27). These are an ingenious solution to the presumption on the part of the state that printing presses could only be for subversive political activity, and the resultant danger involved in the ownership of a domestic press. Before the collapse of the iron curtain, all printing and photocopying was officially controlled, indeed as Polish networker, Tomasz Schultz found to his cost when his printing press was confiscated by the Special Police, it was in fact illegal to own a printing press in Poland. This oppressive environment created a dilemma for the correspondent in that any communication, whether overt or covert that could be construed by the censors as being unacceptable was liable to be confiscated or even worse could result in trouble for the recipient. Equally, photocopiers were not only rare but only available to the public under state control. In spite of these restrictions, or, because of them, these networkers produced work that was often both stunning and stimulating and a reminder to the Western networkers that although it is relatively easy to produce impressive looking work with high technology, low technology should not be forgotten, for both aesthetic and ecological reasons (Plate 28). Arguably, this was a salutary reminder to western networkers that techniques (such as Potato printing) that they had left behind, perhaps at their primary schools, have an aesthetic quality that perhaps has more power to attract attention than the easily come-by high tech productions with which we had all become so familiar. It also, from a western perspective, questions the ideological justification for using the tools of the 'establishment' in a network that is fundamentally opposed to, and seeking to subvert, that establishment. This way of thinking is diametrically opposed to that of the eastern networker who bemoans the lack of availability of the tools of what they might consider to be 'power.' There is also the possibility that eastern networkers enjoyed the craft of 'mirrored' lino cut lettering, whether this is true or not in any case, Petasz abandoned this technique in favour of computer generated images as soon as he was able.
For both the East European and the Western networker, decisions had to be made about the content of any mailart sending. In both cases, the risk was of the work being censored or confiscated, and in both cases though the risk was to the Eastern networker in terms of being in trouble with the authorities. For both parties, decisions had to be made as to whether to play safe and send bland mail or whether to take the risk of sending work that could be construed as being contentious because it raised issues about the status quo. It was common in countries such as Romania for the secret police to confiscate anything that they didn't understand and this lead to East European networkers finding ways to ensure that the work would be received by sending it on devious routes, taking the risk of asking travellers to smuggle it through the customs or at the very least informing the network that they would always reply to any mailart that they received so that the sender would know that the lack of a reply meant that their sending had not been received or the return had been confiscated.47
Although there are no documented cases of East European mailartists actually being imprisoned for their mailart activities, there were, nevertheless, incidents of networkers having their mailart specifically curtailed as in the case of Hungarian networkers Gyorgy and Julia Galantai, the creators of the Budapest 'Artpool' archive (discussed below), who were prevented from publishing a catalogue for six years. Galantai wrote in December 1989 to Held Jr.:
"..due to political circumstances (the exhibition was banned, I was under police 'control', all my collaborators were frightened) only some copies could be printed with xerox technique."
In the USSR., censorship of the mail meant that there were few networkers before 1989. Rea Nikonova and her husband, Serge Segay, began mailart in 1985 after sending work to an exhibition in Budapest48 to which they had accidentally received invitations. This exhibition published the addresses of all the participants which enabled Nikonova and Segay to begin networking. Nikonova wrote in 1987 of the problems in her country,
"The KGB took great interest in mail art and began opening every one of our international letters. An unsophisticated looking stamp, 'Forwarded Damaged' was placed onto each of our torn and opened letters. Our letters took 3-4 months to arrive, disappeared by the dozens, or were returned without reason, Serge and I knew for some time that we were taking great risks." 49
It might be assumed that mail has ceased to be censored since the removal of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the USSR. This not the case as is evidenced by Nikonova's 1991 letter published in Artists Newsletter in which she describes only receiving half of the mail that is sent to her.50 It is Nikonova's belief that the KGB is opposed to contacts with foreigners as it gives Russians what she refers to as a chance of survival and that therefore, networking is a problem for the KGB.
In 1975, when the situation was not as oppressive in Poland as in the USSR. Petasz began mailart. However, although the receiving of letters from abroad had not been illegal in Poland since the early 1950s, it was still necessary in the 1970s to explain why, if you received more than a small number of letters from abroad. In the late 1970s Petasz' studio was visited several times by the intelligence agents, both when he was there and when he wasn't. During President Jaruzelski's Martial Law (1981-1983) all mail had to remain unsealed and was stamped either 'censored', or 'not censored'. At this time it was also forbidden to recycle envelopes that were to go abroad, on the grounds that it would suggest that Poland had a poor economy.51 Petasz' mail, both outgoing and incoming, was usually tampered with before the suspension of Martial Law, when he took the opportunity to recycle and to seal his mail by sewing it up with a sewing machine. This raises two points, firstly that recycling for East Europeans is a completely different issue to that in the West where it is a politically aware ecological concern for the enlightened. In the East it was and still is a necessity in order to survive and overcome shortages, which frequently extended to stationery. For the East European, what is an everyday appearance and aesthetic has enormous charm for the Westerner. This extends to aesthetic appreciation of cheaply made rough and badly bleached writing paper, the norm in East Europe but unusual and expensively hand produced in the West. It becomes clear that what the East produced out of necessity was admired, enjoyed and sometimes envied (from an aesthetic point of view) by the West and what the West produced, from the point of view of information and technology, the East was hungry for. The fact that East European mailartists were prepared to face the frustrations of mailart not being delivered and to risk possible problems with the authorities, is a testament to how important networking was to them.
Although it is widely held that most Eastern European networkers did not begin mailart until the 1970s at the earliest, Valery Oisteanu asserts,52 the extreme case, that his own 'escape' in the late 1960s from Bucharest, Rumania to Rome was entirely due to the efforts of mailartists after years of planning. He also states that mailart to the East in the 1960s was used to smuggle fake passports, page by page, false official stamps and illegal visa stamps. Whilst this may be true, there is no documented evidence of it, but if it is true, it adds to the document of the liberating power of the network and the caring of mailartists.
Mailart also spread rapidly to Latin America in the early 1970s,53 with Uruguayan Clemente Padin organising the first Latin American mailart show in 1974.54 The attraction of mailart for Latin Americans was quite different to that of the East Europeans, for many it was the opportunity to use it as a form of protest against oppressive regimes. Latin America has shared, with Eastern Europe, problems in obtaining art materials and problems of censorship. Free expression is still not advisable today in a number of Latin American countries and networkers have suffered much worse consequences as result of their mailart activities than have East Europeans. A number have been imprisoned and or exiled from several Latin American countries for their mailart work, because Latin American mailartists have not been reticent in openly criticising their regimes and have seen networking as an important means both of dissent and of broadcasting their situation. Latin American mailartists faced problems of whether to play safe or to use the network as a means of protest and solidarity with fellow networkers abroad and face the consequences. Many took the risk and faced dire consequences.
In Brazil, networker Paolo Bruscky was imprisoned for three days, just hours after the opening of his second mailart exhibition.55 The exhibition was closed and one month later the work was returned in various states of disrepair. Guillermo Deisler was exiled from Chile, moving to Bulgaria and then Germany where he continued to practice mailart, publishing collections of networkers' concrete poetry until his death in 1995. Another Chilean, Eduardo Andres Diaz Espinoza was imprisoned without trial on suspicion of 'Contravening public security of the state 1967-1978.' Despite being subsequently released, without being charged, he was stripped of Chilean citizenship, forbidden to vote, work in Chile or publish or express political opinions on Chile. Not only Latin American mailartists but also members of their families have been punished for their activities. and although Espinoza's son was living 3000 kilometres from his father, his civil rights were also suspended. Worse was to happen to Abel Luis Vigo, the son of Argentinean mailartist Edgardo-Antonio Vigo, who was kidnapped on 30th July 1976 and has not been seen since. In Salvador, mailartist Jesus Romeo Galdamez Escobar was persecuted and then incarcerated but fortunately escaped to Mexico.
The most celebrated oppression of Latin American mailartists, because of the involvement of the mailart network was through the non-compliance with the restrictions of the state, through the use of mailart, resulting in Uraguyan networkers Clemete Padin and Jorge Caraballo disappearing in August 1977. After one year, news came of the two networkers that they had been imprisoned and Caraballo was released on bail. Both were accused of 'attacking the morale and reputation of the army.' Padin had satirised the military, denouncing the dictatorial regime for its brutal suppression of human rights, and was charged under military code.56An anti-American work by Padin was exhibited at the trial as evidence and he received two years imprisonment and torture for his pains. Of particular significance for mailart is the fact that, news of Padin and Caraballo's imprisonment having reached the network (although not until February 1978), a USA. networker, Geoffrey Cook, organised the network to make appeals to the Uruguayan Government, parent governments and embassies, which resulted in parole for Caraballo and release of Padin in November 1979, specifically as result of pressure from the USA. and French governments on the Uruguayan military. Parole forbade creative actions or self expression, however, since 1983 Padin has resumed working in a very political way again, through mailart and performances, always seeking to draw attention to injustices. It would seem to be less dangerous for Padin to hide his work in envelopes, but he favours the more open medium of the postcard, using collage and photocopying, he has addressed Nicaragua, USA. and war in general seemingly fearless of the possible consequences, or perhaps more accurately, wishing to draw attention to the situations by deliberately sending them unwrapped (in the form of postcards) through the mail. This action, it could be argued is fully exploiting the potential audience of mailart in that he is not just addressing the recipient but all those who handle his work along the way, in particular the authorities. It may be that having won his release from prison through the international network, he is now relatively immune to oppression. Again, mailart has created the situation. Padin has also generated political MAPs for other countries, for example in 1992, 'Stop US Blockade to Cuba' drawing the attention of networkers to the situation in an oppressed country.57
The importance of mailart as a political tool in Latin America is demonstrated by Antonio Larda who in 1987 marched in a parade with a sandwich board on the anniversary of the establishment of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, making known his concerns for the Peruvian people. This action whilst on the face of it clearly not mailart, was taken in a project supported by the Uruguayan Mail Art Association. For Padin, political comment is essential but he states that through mailart in Latin American countries there have been,"hundreds and hundreds of situations of oppression and arbitrariness."58
Mailart had developed from the 1950s network of correspondents, enjoying playing games through the post, orchestrated by Ray Johnson; the 1960s explorations of the elements of the postal system, such as stamps and franking by Fluxus; to the almost world wide network that it had become in the 1970s with particular importance with regard to the inclusion of East Europeans and Latin American participants and an established tradition of organising international MAPs. This situation, rich in creative and sociological potential, was in many respects and to many networkers, a zenith that needed a new impetus in order to maintain interest in mailart for all but newcomers. Further, some networkers were concerned that the exponential increase in mailart was lowering what they perceived to be quality of mailart. Also, the considerable rise in the number of mailart shows and the commitment on the part of networkers to documentation, both of the material that they had received and in terms of writing about the network, prompted the prediction that the degree of documentation would result in mailart becoming part of the establishment. This suggestion was made at a time of optimism of a change of society to one that would be less materialistic and more interested in creativity with, understandably, no prediction of the extreme conservatism that was to follow. In any event, the prediction was not to become reality but did produce serious debate within the network that was to mark the subsequent phase of mailart.
1 T. Belanger, editor, The Last Whole Earth Catalogue, Harmondsworth, 1971.