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Mail Art Not War!


cont. argument on the genesis of mail art

Dawn Amato
cont. argument on the genesis of mail art
January 14, 2004 05:31PM
In Micael Lamb's Thesis:

MAIL ART 1955 to 1995
Democratic art as social sculpture
(found at)

In the section on Ray Johnson, he states:
"Whilst many artists have used the postal system, there are no contenders for the position that Johnson holds as originator of the system of exchange that is mailart."

He goes on to site the village Voice in October, 1955 as the point where the first mention of mail art is made, by John Wilcox, who notes that Ray Johnson is using the postal system to disseminate his art. This seems to predate any other mention, including "some Europeans in an alley in France in the early 1960's". Can anybody else site any other "genesis" reference from a public media or a private (diary, letter) source that pre-dates this Oct. 1955 reference? Otherwise, I would conclude that this assures Ray Johnson's reputaion as the progenitor of mail art. (Merlin, you have the floor.)

Dawn Amato

P.S. I am not interested in if you LIKE Ray Johnson or not. This is not a popularity contest...Just the facts, Sir or Ma'am. Are there any other references, prior to 1955, to be found in the historical record (both public and/or private) that can be interpreted as leading to mail art and it's style and presence in the 2nd half of the 20th century?
Gik Juri
Re: cont. argument on the genesis of mail art
January 15, 2004 10:50AM
Dear Dawn!

It will be very interesting, if anybody will find articles about mail art before 1955 (as I know, Michael made very big work to find this article).

But... About what have to be article? About NYCS -it doesn't exist before 1962! About early Ray Johnson activity before 1955? About experiments with postal service by different artists - then we'll go to Duchamp postcards (from 1918? - I don't remember exact date) and even to Van Gog with his letters to brother. I'm sure, we'll find a lot of interesting art experiments from the fondation of postal service (first half of XIXc?). Interesting postal experiment made Cleopatra in Antic Roma, when sent herself to Caesar... Can we distinct precursors of mail art and mail art itself?

With best wishes,
Dawn Amato
Re: cont. argument on the genesis of mail art
January 15, 2004 06:43PM
Gik has a good point, that what we call mail art has been going on since or before Cleo mailed herself Ceasar...and that gives one ideas for a mail art call, but within the perimeters of the modern mail art movement and by modern , I put the limits to 1950 and beyond because that seems to be when a network was formed whereas any activity in the early part of the century was sporadic with no focus or structure.
So, Rain Rien,yes, I concede, there were incidents within the Dada movement and Marcel Duchamp et. al. and these are precursors but something happened that broke out into the formation of a network and an activity that suddenly encompassed not one or ten or twenty people but hundreds of people and not once or twice but with a regularity that created and sustained what was to and did become a sustaining global movement, of sorts. Why? Is this to difficult to track or is this question foolish? I don't think so. What was the social or political or individual or spiritual or etc. that made the advent of mail art as a network and social phenomenon possible?
Anybody have any ideas on this? And do these same conditions remain today supporting todays mail art or are we, in the today's mail art scene, changing the reasons and whys of its function.

Okay, just some thoughts flitting through my head about this "thang" called mail art. I'll go back to being a ditz, now.

I am sending out individually decorated envelopes for/with a snail call enclosed and if you want to recieve one, e-mail me a snail address at:


I lost my archives and addresses so am starting from scratch, again, using the database list at the yahoo group iuoma and some other sites but if you are not on that list, send me your address, please, pretty please with sugar on top, I promise only to use it for the pure pureen pleasure of mail art.

After I do the send out by snail, I will post the call for anybody who did not recieve an envelope (but I'm hoping to send out a hundred +++
envelopes in the next month or so, stay tuned!)
This call is in Co-Lob with the notorious, the restless, the possibly not so young Rain Rien.

Dawn Amato
Gik Juri
Re: cont. argument on the genesis of mail art
January 16, 2004 09:10AM
Dear Dawn!

You are asking:
What was the social or political or individual or spiritual or etc. that made the advent of mail art as a network and social phenomenon possible?

I think, a lot of reasons:
1. World War II (a lot of artists understand need to work together; the same was with Dada during WW I)
2. Postal service became to work stable in 1950s in the West
3. Activity of Ray Johnson from 1950s and Fluxus from 1960s. Good idea received very good organizers.
4. Rebirth of interest to Dada in 60s in USA and Europe
5. Good mail art norms and rules by Lon Spiegelman, Ruggero Maggi, etc.

And... Mail art changes in time. Mail art of 50s is different from mail art of 60s, and totally different from mail art of 70s or now. So - different reasons were in different time.

Individual reasons you can find asking yourself. Communication is normal property of human.

networks of artists
January 19, 2004 06:33PM
Artists generate ideas and art movements in relation to each other. Art movements are based on artists communicating and developing ideas that resonate and grow within the context of their group, for example, the impressionists explored light, the surrealists explored the unconcious.

Mail artists explore the mail systems as their focus. Many other movements and artists used mail to exchange ideas, but mail and postal delivery to form a network wasn't the main focus of other art movement who did also mail art. Ray Johnson used the mail as a central point of exploring the give and take of the path of art and ideas through systems of people connected through him. I believe Ray Johnson was the first self-defined central node in a system that grew to become the thousands of networked nodes (mail artists), each of them central to their own network experiences. The first correspondents gradually built out their own interconnected nets and here we are.

Now that the rules of mail art have been in practice for decades, new systems of distribution through electronic networks have caused us to question those rules and methods. Perhaps it is a good time to examine what still works, and redefine possible new directions for the eternal network. I believe this examination is already happening on several of our message boards at once as well as in congresses that will address issues of electronic networking this spring and summer.

What is important to continue in the name of mail art?
What should change and evolve?
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