Mail art is art that uses the postal system as a medium. Mail artists typically exchange ephemera in the form of illustrated letters, rubberstamped, decorated or illustrated envelopes, artist trading cards, postcards, artistamps, faux postage, mail-interviews, friendship books, decos, and three-dimensional objects. As an art form, it has been used for comic and satirical affect and for commercial advertising to the promotion of social causes such as fair trade, and the abolition of slavery.
Mail art became very popular in the C19th, particularly in the USA. Examples exist of pictorial propaganda envelopes with patriotic motifs produced by both sides during the American Civil War. It then saw a re-surgence in popularity in the 1950s and an international network of artists exchanging a myriad of objects developed and thrived right up to the digital revolution of the 1990s. In the second decade of the third millennium artists are starting to look to it again as a genre, in reaction against the explosion of electronic mail exchange.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, last week, artist Emily Candela led a workshop on this as part of the Museum’s Inclusion programme and it produced some really lovely work (as you can see). Everyone who heard about this fairly unknown trend got very interested in and inspired by it. In the workshop, we all created envelopes from tracing paper, with hidden treasures inside: bits of old postcards, beads, ribbons, poems. And the reaction of the addressees to receiving them has been fantastic. So we wanted to pass the idea on. Much more exciting to receive than an email on your computer or a bill through your letterbox.