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Art & Soul: Documenting Turbulent Times With Mail Art

Mail Art
Jamie Vander Broek

This week, "Art and Soul" is about the visual arts.  Lisa Barry is joined by state and local arts leader Omari Rush and Jamie Vander Broek from the University of Michigan Book Arts Studio at the U-M Library.  The University Library is partnering with the Ann Arbor District Library to capture the feelings of these difficult times using "Mail Art."

Credit Jamie Vander Broek
Jamie Vander Broek

COVID-19 has created crisis and instability across the world.  At the same time, a protest movement sparked by the recent killings of Black Americans by the police is seeking to end systemic racism and oppression.  During this volatile time, with most of us stuck in place, the mail offers us metaphorical transport out of our immediate physical spaces. 

The University of Michigan Library’s Book Arts Studio and the Ann Arbor District Libraryare sponsoring a project to capture the feelings, emotions, and experiences of the Ann Arbor and U-M community during these challenging times.  This creative outlet for the community will serve as a physical artifact of the time we are living through and recognizes that, while many of our interactions have moved to the virtual realm, there is also increased interest in making things by hand.   

Everyone in the Ann Arbor community, including U-M students, staff, and faculty are invited to participate by creating a postcard that you would send to your future self.  Include visual expressions of your world as you are experiencing it, your emotions, your feelings, and how you are coping.  What is one thing you want to remember from this time, or one thing you want to forget?  What do you hope for in the future when “normal” resumes?  What are you looking forward to?  What feels just out of reach?  What have you gained through this experience?  What has been a surprise to you?  These are just a few things to think about as you work on your piece.

Your piece must measure 4x6, a standard postcard size.  Be conscious of weight, the materials you use, and how you will mail your piece.  Consider: Can it be sent like a regular postcard, or is it made of delicate materials that require the protection of an envelope?  Beyond this, you are free to use any medium you choose, while being conscious of the limitations and parameters.  While we are placing a strong emphasis on visual works, feel free to incorporate some text into your artwork as appropriate.
You may include your return address, or mail your work anonymously.  Send postcards no later than September 30 to:
Ann Arbor District Library
343 S. Fifth Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
A physical exhibit of received artwork will be held when it is physically safe to do so.  This will be a chance to celebrate and share our work in person.
Before that, the work will be shared in a digital exhibit available online to everyone, and preserved as a digital artifact.
Finally, all of the postcards will be gathered and compiled into a book that will become part of the Artists’ Books Collection
If you have any questions about this project, please reach out to mailart@aadl.org.
The Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus defines mail art as "works produced by artists, often in postcard format, specifically intended to be mailed to other artists or be displayed in an exhibition." 
While there has always been a hint of the creative in the intimate letters we share with our friends via post, the formal contours of “mail art” developed in the 1960s through the work of artist Ray Johnson and others, who exchanged art with one another through the mail in what became known as The New York School of Correspondence
Drawing on influences from Dadaism, Futurism, and other early modernisms, mail art is meant to exist outside the formal, often classist institutions which rule the artworld, like the gallery.  It offers anyone the opportunity to share artistic work and engage in a creative dialogue.


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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
Omari Rush has a continually expanding role of service as both an artistic administrator and community leader, in part through his work as curator of public programs at the Ann Arbor Art Center.
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