Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mail Art

While working on our current project of repurposing objects, I decided to work with printing on envelopes and sending them to friends. In exploring this idea I came across a kind of art I had never heard of before "Mail Art." I discovered Mail Art is a form of artwork that uses the postal system as a medium. It can refer to an individual message, a medium through which it is sent, or the artistic genre. Mail artists typically exchange letters, zines, and decorated envelopes. It is said that Mail Art began as a snub of gallery art, juried shows, and the exclusivity of the art world.

There are many different blogs and groups dedicated to Mail Art. One of the largest I found was the International Union of Mail Artists. The group is 18 years old and anyone can join once they write to the group's president, the artist TAM, what they think Mail Art is.

There are now exhibits dedicated to mail art. Which makes me question if the movement is staying true to it's original intentions.

Below I have attached a few images of mail art.

Critique on Harrell Fletcher's practice by Steve Reinke

This blog was pulled from a site if anyone is interested in visiting it for other critiques. I just thought this particular one on Fletcher was relevant to our class since we're working in public space so much. Any thoughts on it?

Oh, and if you don't know Harrell Fletcher's work, it's one of the linked sites here on the blog and you should check him out. 

~~After Harrell Fletcher’s presentation Thursday — and in light of the my post-talk questions and comments, which seemed to many to be, despite my overt praise of the work, to be covertly critical — I’ve been asked what I really think about Fletcher’s work.

Well, I like and enjoy much of it, though I find little to admire. (One work, “Blot Out the Sun,” is one of my favourite videos in recent years, a perversely effective and affecting screen adaptation of Joyce’s “Ulysses.”)

Fletcher’s work is based on various types of social interaction, though the interactions tend to be staged with the control of a politician’s photo-op. It is reminiscent of two things I like very much: an old segment on “Sesame Street” with the theme song “These are the people in your neighbourhood,” and a Christmas-themed commercial for Coke, of which there’ve been several versions over the years, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” I have to admit, as a child the beauty of the commercial’s sentiment made me weep; if it were to have the same effect on me today it would be for very different reasons.

In Fletcher’s work the social is presented as benign, participatory, homogenous, quirkily interesting, sweetly concerned. Kind of like Disneyland, but with organic food and recycling.

Certain types of advertising (and all political photo-ops) carefully select their social subjects even as they are meant to stand in for everyone: good people, everyday people, people like you, hard-working, sincere, just trying to get ahead and do the right thing, hopeful, salt of the earth. It is all very controlled, with only positive participation allowed. Everything else is disavowed.

Ernst Zundel lives in my neighbourhood in Toronto. He’s a very active holocaust denier, his tracts known worldwide. I think it’s fine to have work that foregrounds the nice people in a neighbourhood, but they’re not really a concern to me. I feel a greater need to know about the problematic ones. But in Fletcher’s neighbourhood, holocaust deniers simply do not exist. They’ve been disavowed, repressed. Could Zundel participate in a Fletcher piece? Yes, he would be able to come and give a demonstration of his macrame. That other stuff, the disagreeable stuff, would remain unspoken and unacknowledged. Disavowed, repressed.

This is a horrible thing, antithetical to my view of art and my idea of ethical living.

Hence my initial question to Harrell: “How would collaborate with people who you hate, or find disagreeable or boring?” He could not, of course, admit to the existence of hateful or disagreeable people, though he was able to say a few words about the boring: he would simply not participate with them.

Do you know the compulsory happiness, optimism and enthusiasm of pep rallies and Disneyland? Everything works fine as long as you play along and smile and clap your hands, but if you challenge it with some sort of negativity, the mouse will kill you. Nobody likes a party pooper.

I fear we have entered into an era as charming and insipid as the 1950s is reputed to have been. If this is so, Harrell Fletcher is the artist we deserve: cynically affirmative, allowing no space for difference, dissent, irony or negativity. Deeply conservative, Fletcher adopts the conventions of advertising, political photo-ops and civics for Kindergarteners, deploying an aggressively anti-critical and anti-theoretical stance to keep his bullshit real and untouched by any kind of thinking.~~

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rirkrit Tiravanija in Chicago THIS WEEK

This from Time Out Chicago:
This Wednesday, January 30th at 6pm, "art star Rirkrit Tiravanija discusses his relational work, from the food-based pad thai “happenings” to the self-sustaining artists' community in Thailand" at the Chicago Cultural Center. This presentation is FREE and open to the public.

For those of you not familiar with his work, Tiravanija is well-known in the contemporary art world for exploring the social role of the artist through the sharing of meals, music, reading, etc. Though his work is not directly related to screenprinting, it is highly relevant in considering the sorts of social interactions art can bring about.

In case you miss his talk on the 30th, on February 2 he will be participating in the discussion "Gordon Matta-Clark's Legacy" at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Free admission, 1pm), with artists Mark Dion and Sarah Oppenheimer, landscape designer Walter Hood, and moderator Mary Jane Jacob.

For more information, call 312-443-3711 or visit

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Fine Art of Parking

Some interesting projects related to parking spots and meters I came across recently.

Parking Meter Philanthropy
Comic book store owner Benn Ray set up these faux parking meters around Baltimore to collect money for the homeless, counting down the minutes from hope to despair. Audio info is provided by NPR's Morning Edition. Here's another, similar meter project in Dayton, OH. Much feedback on this blog about the effectiveness (or not) of this idea.

The Gift of Free Parking

Philip Von Zweck's Poster project invites people to give the Gift of Free Parking to strangers, positioning the act with a foldable holiday tree and a situationist quote. Check it:

San Francisco collective Rebar used their quarters to turn metered parking spaces into public PARKS. Their site includes a how-to for creating public parks in your own city, as well as video, audio, and photo footage of their 2006 intervention.

Other parking-related art:
* Mark Jenkins' Parking Meter Lollipops
(check out his other public projects, too)

*Natalie Jeremijenko's elaborate color-coded parking plan
(as yet unrealized).
*Helmut Smits' racially-charged parking for white cars only installation.

Seen any others of note? Post 'em!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Finland's Anti Festivalen

This past September I headed off to Finland to make new work for the ANTI Festival in Kuopio, where I was the only American among a group of artists coming from across Europe, Australia, and Canada to make place-specific projects in and around this small town. My project involved interviewing Finnish teens to ask their advice on issues like dealing with body image and fitting in. The advice was then formatted into bilingual brochures. These were formatted like the ones you might find at a doctor's office or pharmacy, only in this case the experts were not medical professionals or pharmaceutical companies, but the young people of Kuopio. The brochures were then distributed across the city in coffee shops, waiting rooms, and by hand. You can download two of these as PDFs and see images from the project HERE.

ANTI (which means "offering" in Finnish)," is an international contemporary arts festival presenting site-specific works made for public space. Over the past six years ANTI has presented live, sonic, visual and text-based art from today’s most exciting and innovative artists. A truly international festival and Finland’s foremost presenter of Live Art, ANTI is a meeting place for artists and audiences fascinated by how art shapes and responds to the places and spaces of everyday life." Check out this year's events -- and apply for next year's festival -- at