Trashy Collages in Government Buildings

Whenever something pops up related to mail-art or bigger pieces or commissions or whatever, I almost always say yes. In the past this has come in the form of artwork for records, mail-art collaborations, and random meetings to “discuss things.” Some of those things fall through and others happen, but I don’t know what’s going to happen if I don’t say yes in the first place. My assumption is that I need the practice and why the fuck not? Saying no isn’t productive. Saying no means something isn’t being made. Saying no means that I’m not crossing paths with new people. Since I don’t get asked to do these sorts of things that often, I can easily say “yes” to all of them. That’s my goal…say “yes.”
A few weeks ago an email went out to faculty and staff and students about an on-campus art show. At first I was dismissive, not interested in the least, I couldn’t imagine who would care about anything that I have created. It didn’t feel like my scene. And then that voice started to creep into my head that voice whispering “say yes.” “Fuck it” I thought and sent the curator, the one art teacher we have on campus (someone I haven’t met), a message saying that I was interested.

Although I’ve sent to mail-art shows all around the world from nice galleries in The Netherlands to barns in the Ukraine, I hadn’t shown any of my bigger pieces. Since mail-art is quite democratic there isn’t much to getting something on a wall half-way around the world. Not that there was a selection process at my community colleges campus either, I simply sent my blog link and that was it. 

In the end I chose to show two different collages. One was a very derivative dada-inspired black and white collage I did last summer. It’s just letters scattered around the board. There’s no image and not much to “figure out.” Since I’m an English teacher it made sense to show this one…it made me laugh anyway. It felt like a joke I’d be expected to make that I doubt anyone will actually get. The other was a small collage of Otis Redding that I did at the start of the year before. I had recently put the 8 x 10 into a painted yellow frame that I bought at a thrift store a few weeks back. I chose this one because it contained a famous figure with even his name off to the side. People like what they know, what they can identify with, not something that is intentionally meaningless. I’d like to put underneath the collage “This is a trashy collage of Otis Redding.” It was a safe choice.
The instructions said to write a brief bio of ourselves, which I forgot to do. The curator reminded me of this omission. We were also asked to fill out a card with our names, when the work was created, and a price if we wanted to sell the thing. The last part gave me pause. At this point I have sold exactly two things outright. Some folks have given me donations but I’ve only asked a price for two things. I sold a small collage for 20.00 dollars once and recently I sold a quickly thrown together collage of Ian MacKaye (I ended up making four of these) printed on checks for 7.00 dollars. The 7 dollars was in homage to their notoriously low ticket prices. The Ian-thing was done as a joke so it was surprising that people were actually interested. Two of the four I decided to trade things for, one was an amazing print from Allan B. in NYC and the other for one inch buttons from John R. The last one I have no idea how much money they’re giving me, enough to cover the postage, I hope.

Anyway, I’m getting off track. I decided to put 50.00 on the Otis collage and 110.00 on the bigger Dada item. I don’t know why I chose these numbers? They seemed big enough to actually make me look serious I guess, but low enough for someone really interested to buy one and me feel like I made some actual money. In no way do I expect either of these to sale. I have little to no expectations about the show, like none at all. If the right person started talking to me about either one of them I would have given it to them.
Strangely enough, as I was writing this, a mail-artist in Germany, someone I truly admire, sent me an email. The email was asking me if I wanted to collaborate with her for a show in Stuttgart Germany. The piece she’s working on is about Trump. The only reason she’s getting in touch with me about this is because of my ongoing Trump add and return event. So yeah, it seems that saying “yes” and one thing leading to another can sometimes be true. I have to keep saying “yes.”

Part of the expectation with showing our work was that we show up for a short period of time. The art instructor had an assignment for her class connected to the show. I showed up right at elven o’clock and there were a few students milling about. The whole room was filled with items. In all I think I heard that 18 people had submitted items. It all looked quite great set up in that room. The art instructor did a great job. At first I floated around the room looking at what everyone had submitted. In addition to the figurative drawings and paintings, there were some hand carved bowls and spoons, jewelry, and a small display about “nail art.” I’ve always wanted to do something with this last phrase. While most of the items weren’t things that struck my fancy, it was nice to see everything gathered. I didn’t expect to see anyone at all.
The only discussion I had about my two items came from a couple students starting to go around the room. I described how I created the big collage and they seemed politely interested. One question that I heard over and over was “How long did it take for you to create this?” I’m not sure if the question came from the instructor or it was simply something on the minds of the students?

For a little while I talked with a couple of the other instructors about their work. I honestly had nothing to say. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a conversation like this before. I wasn’t sure how to address what my favorite color to use (probably yellow) is or how I fit these things together. Literally, I have never had this conversation in person before. Sure, I think about this sort of thing all the time but I’ve never actually said these things out loud. Since I’ve never had an art class either in technique or history, I’ve never even been around this discussion before. No one that I talk to in my normal day to day seems to have that much of an interested in art, either in the wider scale or anything I make. Instead of talking too much like I do most of the time in these sorts of settings, I stayed mostly quiet. I did say how I picked spots to place the tape but that was about it.
After about forty-five minutes I was getting hungry and decided to leave. A few people were streaming in as I left. If I have anything to say about my work in this larger context is that none of it looked like mine. I was positive that some pretentious ass would have submitted their terrible abstract paintings but the only pretentious ass with abstract work was me.


mim said…
Good for you for entering pieces in the show!
I've been an artist and and art teacher
and I rarely exhibit, other than, like you,
sending mail art to exhibits around the world.
I just exhibite my altered Mona Lisa postcards.
They were my fun pieces intended to be mailed
But never sent. My husband framed them for me.
We put them in the exhibit and I was
like oh shit people will think these are so silly.
Guess what, 14 of the 31 sold, & of those 6 went
to a big corporation!! So we never know.
And when someone asks how long it took to make
A piece, the answer is "a lifetime" to quote a famous artist
Who at the moment I can't remember.
Good you exhibited at your college!
zzzzzzzz said…
Thanks Mim for saying hello.

To be honest, I don't know how to show the things that I make. They're avenues in my town but I don't know how to break into them. It feels rather incestuous even if it really isn't. Maybe I'll make more of an effort to foster a community in my backyard instead of out there in the world.

Funny thing, I ended up selling both of those pieces over the internet on a whim. I didn't make any money on them (really) but they went to homes where people actually wanted them.