Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Making a Billboard in the Backyard

One of the inspirational signs in High Point NC.
I like dilapidated billboards / signs a lot. This infatuation might come from the amount of them strewn about country roads near where I grew up. Most of the time they’re there to advertise some new detergent or hate spewing preacher. One layer is put on top of the next. Whenever no one rents a billboard for years on end, the layers start to meld into one big creation. Whole sections of the billboard will fall off exposing what’s underneath.  Better than whole sections coming off, little bits will flake off giving the billboard a bit more movement, a bit more drama in the unintended artwork.

For a while I tried to document these as much as I could, mostly taking pictures of billboards near where I grew up. They were always nestled in out of the way places or disused highways. Sometimes they were overgrown with weeds, left to be taken over by the surrounding foliage. It was a nice way to see the gross commercialism of highway driving slowly disappear into something more beautiful.
These are the two tests.

I wondered what it would take to get this effect. I started off with two small canvases I purchased at a local thrift store. Each canvas was 29 cents and seemed to be a from a summer camp that dumped all their unwanted and terrible art. To get the desired effect I put different kinds of tape down first. I wanted things to rip and tear and recede at different speeds. If it all came off at once it would ruin things. After covering the small 5 x 7 canvas with tape, I started layering newspaper that I found around my “making room.” I first grabbed a bunch of Japanese newspapers I bought in Japan. I then glued down another layer from a magazine that I let half dry and then pulled off. Since it was almost dry, the image only lifted off in sections. I repeated this process a few more times after. To keep what I’d done in place I glued all of that down and then filled in the larger white gaps (too temperamental to fill in with ripped paper) with tape, rubber stamps, and other bits of color. I finished two of these “test” canvases.
The stack of stuff I found at the thrift store in Winston-Salem NC.
The goal was to make something much larger, something with the imposing feel of a billboard. At the same place I found the small canvases I found a much larger one for the princely sum of 99 cents. It was priced way too low. The surface of the bigger canvas was filled with brightly colored names on the front of the work and on the sides. Like with the smaller canvases I filled the first layer with tape. I then added a layer of newspaper, and then another and then another and then another. I did four sections of colored constructions paper. I added more newspaper. I left the canvas outside for at least a week. When I went to check on it parts of the paper had started to come up in the corners. I then used the canvas as my work bench for spray-painting a bunch of thrift store frames. While I was painting I was mildly conscious of the shapes I was creating. I moved the frames around. I painted the sides of the canvas and I intentionally mixed the colors. I sat it back up against a tree and left it for another few days. At one point I looked out my bathroom window (I did this on purpose) and saw that it had fallen into the dirt, perfect.
Painted and left out in the woods to "cure."
It looks a little “worked” a little too contrived so it’s going to sit a little while longer. I’m going to add more layers of newspaper and paint. When it reaches a nice point of being properly “cooked” I’m going to do a little ripping, a little tearing, just a little damage. If the weather does all the damage I need, then I’ll leave it be. Once I think it’s all finished up I’ll glue it all down and spray it finished. This could take a while.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Misty and Jon Getting Married Add and Returns Project

I feel like I’m stuck in an add and pass hell. As soon as I finish work on some add and passes, scan them, and then post the images, I end up getting more. Instead of making things of my own I end up spending a lot of time just “adding to” and then moving things along This routine is fairly recent to me. For the first few years I was making mail-art I never really added anything. I’d pass without adding. I could never think of what to add to the composition. One day I just put down some stamps or an image and that was it, I was making them.

About two years ago I started making my own sheets. Most of the add and passes that I’ve started have a place attached to them, either a wall in New Orleans, a billboard in Lexington, or a taco joint in Lexington North Carolina. All of the former were based off pictures that I took and then monochromed. There’s some other sillier ones out there, my favorite being four blank squares and another of my face with the words “fix this face.” I use my visage a lot because I can make fun of myself but I don’t want to do that with other people. It comes off as vain when it’s more self-deprecating.

I’ve also taken to using a lot of colored paper, something I haven’t noticed others using a lot. I especially like printing off my add and passes on notebook paper I find lying around work. I’ll go digging around in the trash to find some especially unique.

After writing all of the above, going deep into the add and pass hell, I decided to start another project. Sometime, in the middle of spring, Misty and I decided that we were going to get married on June 16th. We put everything together in about three months, sort of. In actuality most of the work was completed the week before we got married. I was in charge of the invitations. I handmade 75 of them and I tossed in a bunch of blank Misty and Jon Getting Married Add and Returns into every envelope. I also sent them around the world to my mail-art friends. I put two in each invitation and two for every mail-artist that was interested. Some of them were done on white paper, some on random paper I found and repurposed, (the Osaka phonebook was my favorite) but the majority of them were done on paper given to me by my great aunt. It was a pile of stuff she used for scrapbooking.

The submissions rolled in rather quickly. I scanned every single one of them. Some were turned into three dimensional objects so I had to video them and post them online. Although I was getting annoyed with add and passes I had created another project where I was getting a ton of them. As of now, and I’m sure this number is going to go up, I have about 90 different pieces of Jon and Misty art that have been collected in a large binder in my archives. Actually it’s two different binders.
The video above is all of the single submissions we received.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

9 x 9 Update / 36 Participants

One of my weekly routines is to hit up the thrift stores. Sometimes I spice in a little off-brand dollar store shopping to this routine. My favorite off-brand dollar store chain is called Mighty Dollar. There’s a couple around the area but the one in Thomasville is the one I end up going to  most often. I mainly look for weird things to use in mail art. They have a lot of remainder and “fell of the truck” type of stuff. I buy stickers, tape, strange pens, and whatever strikes my fancy. Out of the blue I saw these cheap wood boards. Inside of the frame were nine blocks that fit neatly together. I bought a couple of the boards without thinking what I might use them for.
The instructions for the project.
I stacked the boards off in the corner of my “making things” room. They sat there for a few months before I had the whim to make a collaborative project out of it. My idea was to send a block to each person, have them fill it up, and then they could send it back to me. Initially I was just sending the blocks out to people, which wasn’t particularly affordable, especially not when people in Europe got involved. Like an idiot I sent the block as is to them which cost about 13.00 dollars. I posted about the price online and someone solved the puzzle, “Just send out a piece of paper the size of the blocks.” Genius.

Once I started to get some artwork back, I set up an online group to share the images and to create a little community around the project. A lot of the initial people involved were non-mail art folks so I wanted them to be more involved in the process. Once a board was completed I maneuvered the blocks into a couple patterns I thought were interesting and had the groups voted on which they liked. I hate when I get involved in a project like this and don’t see how it came together or even if it was finished. I wanted the artists to see and get to play a part in the completion of the project.

At this point I’ve finished four boards in the project. It feels like it's a nice place for an update. I’m not stopping at four (I have ten more people to mail a square to) I’m simply filling everyone in on how things are going.
The first four pushed together.
The top left board is board number one. The one directly to the right of that one is board two. Bottom left is board three and the one to the right is board four. Below is a list of everyone that has contributed so far.

Heidi Abrassart – Sirault Belgium – Board 3
Artista Daily – Taylor MI – Board 1
Richard Baudet – Marseille France – Board 4
Allan Bealy – Brooklyn NY – Board 3
Catherine M. Bennett – Columbus OH – Board 4
Breanna Boulton – Uniontown OH – Board 2
Jennifer + Josh Boyle – Lexington NC – Board 1
Kevin G. Brandtner – Vienna Austria – Board 4
Joao Casetela Cravo – Portugal – Board 3
Brooke Cooks – Seattle WA – Board 1
Angie Cope – Port Washington WI – Board 1
Creative Thing – Cypress CA – Board 3
Toni Hanner – Eugene OR – Board 2
Jan Hodgman – Anacortes WA – Board 1
Laura Hortal – Winston Salem NC – Board 1
Amy Irwen – Rosemount MN – Board 2
Tiina Kainulainen – Helsinki Finland – Board 3
Audrey Knox-Averett – Omaha NE – Board 2
Susanna Lakner – Stuttgart Germany – Board 2
Patricia Landon – Del Ray Beach FL – Board 1
Phillip Lerche – Columbus OH – Board 4
Mars Tokyo – Baltimore MD – Board 3
Kathy McIntire – Little River SC – Board 1
William Mellott – Tainan Taiwan – Board 4
Tina Morris – Whitby UK – Board 4
Sabine Munchow – Bremen Germany – Board 2
Katerina Nikoultsou – Thessaloniki Greece – Board 2
Michael Orr – Clarkston GA – Board 3
Jeremy Paddock – Tallahassee FL – Board 2
Joey Patrickt – Oakland CA – Board 4
Duke Petree – Oklahoma City OK – Board 2
Camilla Post – The Netherlands – Board 1
Carmela Rizzuto – Sunnyvale CA – Board 3
David Stafford – Santa Fe NM – Board 4
Strangroom – Somerville MA – Board 3
Tamara Wyndham – NY NY – Board 4

Friday, July 14, 2017

Clerical Work Part 2 With Quotes and Pictures

My first blog post about mail-art clerical work was meant more as a rant. I wrote it out of mild frustration with how my time was being spent. Somewhere along the way the focus of many of my mail-art related activates become documentation. Rarely do I get comments about my blogs when I put them out into the world but my initial post garnered some attention. It seems that many folks are a little bothered by the imbalance of creating mail-art versus documenting mail-art.

Amy Irwen wrote about this issue by adding, “sometimes I spend a complete day just taking photos and posting...but I also feel that need.” I think Amy is right, it’s that “feeling of the need” that causes this anxiety. If I didn’t feel like I needed to keep things organized then I wouldn’t worry about it, I’d just make and then move on.

DeVillo Sloan wrote, “Do you consider scanning clerical? Because for me it's the equivalent to a heavy part-time job.” Considering the quality and quantity of Sloan’s words on mail-art, I can understand his frustration. Maybe not frustration…that’s the wrong word, but commitment. Maybe mail-art documentation is something we feel committed so we feel the need to constantly post, write, scan, and document all that’s going on around it?

I think Tiina in Finland addressed something that I didn’t initially think about when she wrote, “there is absolutely no hard feelings if you do not send back as much as I send to you.” Which, considering the volume and frequency of our correspondence I don’t worry too much about an imbalance of quantity. Mailing to folks I’ve sent to for years and years does not come with any anxiety. They’ll get to it when they get to it. I’ll get to it when I get to it. I learned this lesson at the very start of my mail-art tenure when Richard C. sent card after card only to stop for months after the initial flurry. When a new person, someone I’ve never sent to before, doesn’t get back something from me in a timely fashion, I worry.

Much of the discussion focused on the documentation process, exactly what each person did with the work and how they responded to a high volume of mail. Here’s my process.

This is my mailbox / museum. When we bought the current house last year we had a much smaller box that we replaced. The old box couldn’t have handled the volume of items that go through it every week. Although this is the standard Lowe’s hardware box that almost every house in the neighborhood has, I think its quiet handsome. Currently a spider has taken up residency right above the box making a nice obstacle for the postal carrier and me every day. I’ve tried to evict him but he just won’t go.

Once I collect the mail-art and then throwaway all of the junk mail, the mail-art goes into this basket. It’s a staging area. As soon as I get the mail I open it up and examine the work and then put it back in the basket. Sometimes the mail sits in this basket for as many as two weeks before moving upstairs, it really depends on the volume and how much time I have to work on projects. If the package is too big it sits on top of the basket.

After sitting in the waiting room it moves upstairs to be sorted.

I started off sorting the work by making how many pieces I received. This goes into a large tally for each year. I also collect information about how many pieces I send in a year, even though it’s not that accurate of a tally. Sometimes I send a lot of copies of one card so I only mark one “sent” item for that bunch. After marking how many I received, to each person’s name. If they do not have an entry I write one in for them. I put a mark by each piece of mail that I receive from each artist as well as the amount I’ve sent out. I try and keep a one to one ratio but some mail-artists are too prolific and I start to fall behind. If they fall behind what I’ve sent them, then I’ll wait on them to catch up. Sometimes people completely disappear so our correspondence goes away. Since I mark every in and out piece I can somewhat tell when people are active and inactive and respond accordingly.

The scanner is directly to the left of me at my “making” desk. Here is where I feel like I have to start editing myself. I do not scan every piece of mail-art I receive. I cannot do this. I do not have the time. I scan pieces that I find interesting, strange, or from mail-artists I haven’t received things from before. I always scan finished add and returns / add and passes that I started. The same thing goes for other projects I have initiated like the Trump project, the Misty and Jon Getting Married Project, and each block of my 9 x 9 project. If they’re willing to help me create one of these things then I feel I owe it to them to scan and post the image.

PS – Not pictured in this where I post the images. Sometimes I post them to specific groups like the Trump group or in the 9 x 9 group, but I’ll also post them to IUOMA Facebook page as well as other mail-art centered pages. Periodically I’ll go back and forth with other mail-artists about the image on whatever particular platform I initially posted on. This is also how I get out the word about my projects.

This is a new step. Recently I’ve realized that the amount of plastic bins containing all of my mail-art is getting out of hand. In seven or eight years of making mail-art consistently, I’ve filled up about ten of those bins. I cannot keep going at that pace of putting everything in a bin after I have sorted it. Now, if I only get one thing in an envelope like an add and pass or a submission to a particular project, I will put the envelope in this plastic container. Individual cards go right into the plastic bins. At some point I’m going to make something out of all of the bits of paper, maybe add and pass books? I hope that doing this might cut down on some of the pieces that end up in the archives.

The last step on this somewhat long journey is in the plastic bins. Well, they end up here if they aren’t a part of an ongoing project. The Trump cards all went into their own photo album. The add and passes end up in notebooks. All of Richard C’s white cards end up in their own album but every other piece of artwork ends up here. One day, I’m sure very far down the road, I’ll come up with a better system. And that’s the whole process.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Mail-Art Clerical Work

I’ve noticed something about my usual mail-art routine. The amount of my mail-art clerical work is insane. Often I feel like I spend as much time documenting things than I do actually creating, which is a problem. The creating is way more rewarding. When I first started making mail-art I probably made 80 percent of the time and did about 20 percent clerical work. Let me back up, when I mean clerical work I mean basic documentation, scanning, and organizing of my many projects. Now that number is closer to 50/50.

The shift in this has come from being involved in more and more projects and corresponding with more people. At this exact point, I have about three projects going. I have the 9 x 9 blocks, the Trump project (slowly going away), and the marriage Add and Passes. While it doesn’t seem like those would take up a lot of time, they kind of do. Not only did I design the layout for the images, but I printed them, advertised that the projects existed over and over to willing participants, packaged the images, mailed them, but I scanned all of them and then posted the images when they came back to me. If people are willing to participate I feel inclined to show their work to others, just part of the deal.

If they’re going to send me something I feel like I have to send them something back and make sure I don’t cheat them. This means that I take diligent notes on how much each mail-artist has sent me and how many I’ve sent them in return. Mostly I have a one in and one out relationship with most of my correspondence, although they’re a couple I need to do a little catching up with. Folks outside of the US (because of price) tend to see longer lag times. Thinking about all of this means I take time away from creating to the simple process of documenting, filing, and scanning. Although it came be time consuming, I think it’s worth it to share as much as I can and try and find as many new correspondents as I can,

Made By Richard Canard, For Alex Cheek, Found By Jon Foster

The SPOT sign in question.  I got to about ten thrift stores every week. In a good week I might hit as many as twenty. I’ve done thi...