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.


theo said…
It’s interesting. Mailart should have documenting but for me, there is no way I am going to do it properly. I don’t have the time. I document (currently about five years) everything I send out but this is done more to be able to know what I did and who I sent it to. My conscious recall faculties are mostly theoretical. Prior to my starting to record what I sent I did not have a clue. I basically just sent stuff to the people in my received pile and then put their mailart in a replied pile until it got large enough to box up and store wherever there was space. :) What I sent was gone from the memory area in my so-called brain.

Currently, the only thing I document that I receive is Ryosuke’s Brain Cell. That, I will scan and post on FaceBlot along with the contributors list and tag people I know. To the folks who post all the mailart they receive, I take my hat off to. To the folks who record and archive mailart they have been receiving over the decades I can only say, “Wow!” I wish you to get lots of money for your efforts. Whether there is decent money in the academic analysis of mailart I don’t know the answer to. I suspect it is more a matter of love.
mim said…
I document what I send out, each piece is numbered, and I
note to whom it's sent. Just because.
I sometimes remember to take a photo of incoming
mail and post to iuoma or a mail art group,
But not always. In the past, I used to send mail with no return address,
Because I didn't want the recipient to feel that they had
to reciprocate. But then I'd get mail with no sender given and that
didn't feel good. Who to thank? So, in the end, we just do what we do.
I love all my received mail, I'm grateful to all the senders
who share a bit of themselves,
and I'm grateful that my archives have a home.
I don't keep track of incoming, no cataloging, just good memories
and appreciation.
zzzzzzzz said…
@Theo - Thanks so much for sharing. It really is a labor of love, something I truly enjoy doing. If I didn't enjoy the "work" that comes with mail-art I doubt that I would do any of it. It's not a pressure, not an obligation, but something I feel compelled to do and something that I think I do pretty well.

@Mim - I really like the idea of the number, I think that would make things easy to follow and nice to know where it ended up. I may have to think of a way to work this into my own creations in some strange way. Thanks for sharing.
Unknown said…
I number outgoing mail as well, and have since some point in the 1990's. I also number Fluxus Bucks. A nod to the currency issued by various countries.