Thursday, January 25, 2018

Fame Makes a Man Take Things Over


I was waiting for the first official work meeting of the semester to start when Jo came up to me and asked, “Has Antoinette gotten in touch with you yet?” I thought it was a student. “No,” I said. “It’s a lady that works at the Dispatch. She asked me if I knew any ‘artists’ and I gave her your name and information. She’s going to be in touch with you.” When the three hour long meeting was over I walked back to my office and checked Facebook. I received a message from someone named Antoinette. I immediately texted her back and a few messages later we had an interview set up for Saturday morning.
It’s weird getting ready for an interview. You’re not really sure what someone is going to ask of you or how it’s going to come across on the page. Not like I have a lot of experience at such things, only one time before have I been quoted in print. The first time I was interviewed was for the Tucker project and everything came out quite nicely, no worries or annoyances. The main difference from the Tucker project interview and this one was the latter was just about my work. I had to talk about myself, which isn’t a big deal, just new. I get paid to talk so that’s not a problem, avoiding sounding like a complete idiot was my main worry.

A little after nine o’clock I went upstairs to prepare for my big date with the media. I basically moved things around for an hour and listened to podcasts. I wasn’t nervous I was just anticipating. Like a pro, Antoinette called exactly on the dot. Calling even five minutes later would have annoyed the shit out of me and deflated any confidence I had in her. She was fun to talk with, she was interesting and even from Lexington originally. We bonded over the word “obfuscate.” The two of us talked for thirty or forty minutes and it went well. It was fun. At the end of the conversation I asked her about our mutual friend on Facebook. The digital world makes for a lot of strange interactions. If we talked for a few more minutes more I’m sure we could come up with a lot of “Lexington people” we had in common.
Part of the story was to feature a few pictures. I was supposed to bring in some samples of my work for a quick couple of photos a few days later. I picked out some cards I need to mail, two collaborative books, and a folder with some ADD and PASSES in them. The photographer Donny is Lexington NC stalwart. I remember him taking pictures of my little league games in the mid-90’s. The guy is a town staple. I’m sure he knows where the bodies are buried, took pictures of them, and has the negatives. It took him a few minutes to get the camera set up and then a few more minutes to position things how he wanted them. He might have been in my office a total of thirty minutes. Thankfully the only person to see me in my “close-up” was Gerald who walked by and gave me a “what the fuck” look. Once Donny left I scooted down the hall to let him know what was going on.

When I hung up with Antoinette on Saturday I didn’t know when or where the article would appear. I didn’t know if it was an online piece or one that would wind up in print? Jo walked into my office early on Tuesday and said, “I’ve read Anoinette’s article and it sounds just like you.” The next day Jo tagged me in her post and then I shared it with my mail-art people, friends, and family.

Artist transforms trash into mail art treasure – Antoinette Kerr

“Most artists would be offended by having their work called “trash”-- but then again, Lexington native Jon Foster isn’t like most.
“I don’t consider myself an artist; I just make stuff,” he insists. Born in the punk rock era, the movie buff grew fascinated with the mail art movement a decade earlier. Foster says he found inspiration in the 2002 independent film “How to Draw a Bunny: A Ray Johnson Portrait,” which is described as a collage-style feature-length documentary about the Detroit-born pop and performance artist Ray Johnson. Johnson is credited as one of the founders of the eccentric mail art network.

Mail art (also known as postal art and correspondence art) is an artistic movement centered on sending small-scale works through the postal service. When asked for a definition, the Davidson County Community College English professor isn’t at a loss for words, but is intentionally non-committal.
“Part of the idea is about the communication and movement of art through the mail. Often trying to skirt any main territorial concept,” Foster explained. “Strange personalities make it even more exciting and interesting. We intentionally obfuscate.”

In the simplest definition, mail art is any art that’s created with the intention of sending it through the mail. Mail art can include postcards, postage stamps, decorated envelopes, friendship books. Foster was drawn to the Do It Yourself and punk aspect of the artistic culture. The term became codified in the late 1960s. He enjoys the idea that some of the “founders” of the network are still active participants.
“You can interact with the OGs,” he enthused.

Foster was mentored by Thomasville native Richard Craven (also known as Canard in the mail art community).
“He’s one of those guys that came right after Ray -- who is still active. These guys and gals are in their sixties. You can find their addresses and send to them and they will send right back to you. Pretty quickly you can have artifacts in your house of whatever this mail art thing is.”

“We are not thinking about the why. You make it for yourself and now it exists in the world and that’s a measure of success. That’s the ethos I am connected to,” said Foster. “Rather than joining a crappy band, people are sending strange items through the mail connecting punk rock ethos through some sort of artistic network.”
He is inspired by his love of movies, literature and travels to places like Japan, China, and “most of the countries in Europe that were involved in the World Wars.” Foster most often uses tape to rip images from magazines and newspapers and make collages. Some examples of his art are currently on display at Winston-Salem’s a/perture, located at 311 W. Fourth St. The display, aptly titled “TRASHY TAPE COLLAGES BY JON FOSTER,” features a few old and new pieces by Foster. “It’s a little messy, a little rough. I like the idea of trashy -- not necessarily managed or well put together,” Foster offered. “It’s trash, here it is, come look at it. Who cares?”

The UNC Wilmington alum, who holds a B.A. and master’s in English with a concentration in literature, spends his fair share of time analyzing art; however, Foster doesn’t worry about what people think about his offerings on display through Feb. 6.
"Just because it is a building, it doesn’t legitimize what I am doing. I am happy and excited but I don’t need a building to justify what I’ve done. If people will honor me with having me in their space, I say ‘yes’ and I am grateful.” In the spirit of the mail art movement, “It’s legitimate because I made it.”

Some of the numerous pieces come from a network of strangers around the world. Foster enjoys some interesting pass-along pieces that have contributed cutouts, postage, fabric, buttons from people across the world. Last summer, he made one featuring himself and his bride, Misty Kimel, that traveled its way across the globe with people adding articles of clothing to it.

Foster continues mailing things to people around the globe for something that he considers to be more of a conversation than conventional art. His musing, zines of music from his band “Nostrils,” and an eclectic blend of collages can be found on his blog site”
Antionette Kerr is a local new contributor and freelance writer.

I didn’t read the article right away. I saw it on Wednesday afternoon because Jo tagged me in it. I quickly posted the article to my various Facebook pages and continued my thrift store shopping, bought some decent pants at one store. When I got home that night I finally was able to look through the 700 or so word article.
I think the article was well written and informative. I think it encapsulated everything we talked about and fairly. It’s a great article. Like always, or at least like I always do, I have some comments to make about what was written.

-Ah, “punk rock era.” I love that she chose that phrase. This one sticks out to me because all eras (in some strange way) are punk rock eras. When I think of this phrase I immediately go to that dada slogan, “Bevor dada da war, war dada da.” Before dada there was dada…before punk there was punk. That silly punk / dada energy is always around, just lurking, just waiting to inappropriately say hello.
-As soon as I used the acronym “OG’s” I knew she was going to use it. It was so out of context that it needed to be quoted. I’m even happier that she didn’t define it.

-Richard Craven’s alias is spelled Canard, Richard Canard. Antoinette said that she was going to fix the spelling of his handle, and she did. Just a little thing, no big deal.

-After we finished with the interview we went back and forth with the word “obfuscate,” like I wrote above. Glad she put it in there, a tiny inside joke.
-Out of context, the line “It’s legitimate because I made it” sounds like a real dickhead kind of statement. I can see how someone would focus on this one line as some painfully overconfident garbage. The difference is that I’m confident about the process of creation and not about the thing I created. I’m not saying that what I create is legitimate or great or even worth people’s time, it’s the fact that I had an idea and then made it happen that’s the purpose here. If you want to see it happen then you make it happen. Here’s where, and I’m sure I’d get a lot of flak for this, the mail-art bunch and the punk’s line up ideologically.

-Although most folks use ADD AND PASSES I do like “pass-along[s]” as an alternative term.
When I got home, just a few hours after the article appeared, tons of people had commented on it. Some of the comments were from folks who’d never acknowledged any of my strange digital footprints before. Five people had shared the thing. In the years and years since I’ve been feebly advertising my work, no one has shared things in mass before. This goes for things I’ve written that are thousands of words long, projects that I was supremely proud of that took me months to complete, or “music” that I thought would make people laugh. Those individual things were met with mild interest, at best. I’d get a few likes and a couple of comments and then nothing…nothing at all. The digital life of the creation would be dead in a couple of hours. A kind stranger writing for a local newspaper writes 700 words about the whole breadth of my work and people are impressed. In no way am I discounting the article, I’m just trying to understand the response.

People are still “liking” the post even though it’s almost a day old. Does the backing of a newspaper and their online counterpart legitimize this stuff? Was it the first few brave souls commenting on the post that got the ball rolling? I don’t spend a lot of time worrying if people are going to like my work, but I spend a lot of time wondering why people like certain things. My thinking about this slippery subject has brought me to a few conclusions. I have some answers, I really do. If I like something I’ve created then others don’t, or at least they don’t express it, and they don’t buy it. I know one more thing, people like stickers of images they understand, they have no interest in abstract pieces that contain no figurative elements….that’s all I know.
Some of the comments were amazing, I feel like I have to share a few of them. Stef G., the person with the largest Jon Foster collection wrote, “I like my mail art just a little on the trashy side...” April R. in Florida wrote, “My collage just doubled in value.” In typical Lexington NC fashion, Karl wrote, “My mom shared this on my page! Cool work man!!” DJ, another former Lexington resident living in San Diego wrote, “The most linguistically advanced article in the paper in quite a while” to which my college roommate Wes responded with, “I can see my dad trying to read this article and having so many questions.” My former student and once Dispatch employee chimed in with, “Currently kicking myself for not writing this while I worked there.”

In the middle of typing all of the above I got an email from the school’s vice-president. She emailed to congratulate me about the article. In a follow up email she wrote that the president of the school, as well as the president’s staff, had read the thing. I responded to her in a slightly joking fashion that I was a little nervous for them to read about my work. I didn’t want my employers to dig too deep. I could imagine having to explain some of these things to the president, why I made them, and the many theories behind their creation. That wouldn’t be fun. In her final email the vice-president wrote, “No worries. It's all good!”

When I got a good look at the image in print I had some thoughts.
The image appeared in the Lexington North Carolina Dispatch on January 11th 2017. The front page, the one that you can see when you buy a paper out of a machine, had the same image in the top left corner but much smaller.  A former student tagged me in the picture with the headline, “My former English teacher is in the paper.” This was followed by some insightful comments from other former students, my favorite being, “That asshole failed me twice.”

My hair does not look good in this picture. I look like an actor from the 1980’s with a toupee on.  My hair looks like it could be from a nice southern lady who just dropped off her two kids at school.  From this picture it looks like the follicles would crunch and break away from the amount of cheap hairspray applied in a pink tiled bathroom.
Was this the best of the bunch?

Were my eyes closed in the other images?
My facial expression is also mildly worrisome. I look like I’m ambivalent about a strange smell in the room…just used to it, not interested in getting rid of it-an odor that I’ve come to know and slightly love even if it’s noticeably horrible. The nostrils sting but not burn.  I’m both ashamed and slightly proud of how the smell has permeated the fabric of my chair, made a home, and become back of my identity. I look forward to returning to the smell every Monday morning.

Strangely my neck doesn’t look too fat.
Glad the Panthers logo is prominent in the background. Displaying your passion for a sports team while presenting stupefying “art-work” kind of cancels things out, lets the good people of Lexington NC have some connection to my work. “Hate the postcards…then look at the Panthers logo and wish they could have gone further in the playoffs. Too bad Clay dropped that touchdown in the end zone.” In no time readers could be whisked away to comfort land.


Antionette Kerr said...

Thanks for the intro into your world! Now, being on the other side of a story. That's interesting!

zzzzzzzz said...

Oh no problem at all, let me know if I can be of any further service. You should write a response to what I wrote, and then I'll write a response to that, and then a response...and then a response, etc.

Dave said...

Congrats on the cool article! Its fun to be recognized.

FinnBadger said...

Great article, Jon (and Antoinette!). Thanks for sharing it.

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