Give It Up, Turn It Loose

Instagram screen-grab of the sweet gesture that sparked this post.

Most of my “makings” happen upstairs. I make them after Misty goes to sleep or I make them on the weekends. I only have certain hours I can make things. I often feel like I’m stealing time in order to be up there. Often I have to tiptoe around. I leave moving things for the weekends when I can be loud. The best days are the ones where I have things going on all over the house. I’m putting things in envelopes upstairs, having stuff drying on the main floor, and I’m spray-painting outside. Throughout the week these items will filter through the next process of being packaged and then mailed. Sometimes I spend one of my productive days scanning. Sometimes I’m marking all of the pieces of mail I receive and then putting it in binders or in plastic containers. Things are constantly moving around.
At work I take many of these parts and make them into other things. Stuff that I scanned upstairs for hours ends up becoming add and passes. Many of my collages end up as broadsides that I print in a wealth of strange colors and on found thrift store paper. Doing this in my downtime at work allows me to be a little creative throughout the day and it makes me feel like I’m in charge of my life. I’m always stealing an hour here or there. Scanning becomes printing, printing becomes folding, folding becomes addressing, addressing becomes standing in line at the post office, standing in line at the post office means I get mail, getting mail means I have to document…scan…and post.

Only this last part is visible to people, the posting part. I scan every project that people respond to that originates from me and then post the images online. This comes in the form of collaborative books, add and passes, or out of this world art.
90% of what I do is invisible, never seen, hidden behind passwords and mailed off to a random corner of the world and placed into a box. Maybe it’s thrown away? Every once in a while some kind soul shares an image of one of my creations. Sometimes I share scans of things on my various social media platforms. Most of the time (back to that 90% figure) the work is invisible. There’s no storage house filled with unsold collages, they’re all gone! Only this year have I started to scan every single collage I make before sending it out. At least I have a picture of the ghost this way, proof that work was done.

Because there isn’t a clear audience for mail-art and no one is required to do anything with the work, you can feel isolated. I don’t know people that “make things” like I do in my town. I know a lot of musicians. Sometimes the quiet nature of correspondence art is frustrating. A decentralized community with no rules means it’s hard to see yourself as part of something and it can become easy to drift away.  “Here’s another card sent to the quiet void” one might think. Often this is fine, just part of the game, and other times it can be frustrating. If you make stuff you want people to appreciate it in some way. If you make something you’re supremely proud of and it’s never seen again, you can start to feel that nihilistic-annoyance. A simple scan from someone across the world can be all the inspiration I need to keep pushing through.  That feeling is especially nourishing when it comes from an artist that inspires me to create.
Somehow I have been sending mail-art to one of my greatest inspirations for years. It’s John Vanderslice. He’s a musician / studio wizard and not a mail-artist, but an artist of the highest degree nonetheless. I’ve been listening to his music since 2002. I’ve spread the word of his greatness as widely as I possibly can, being a promoting mouthpiece for his work for almost twenty years. I feel personally responsible for many of his fans. This is a fact. When someone makes something great I like to support it as much as I can. I don’t apologize for anything I love and I want to share those things with everyone.

Recently I’ve slightly slid into his personal orbit. I’ve sent him weird collages (of himself…strange, thinking back on it) as well as various pieces of randomness I’ve made. He even participated (through the efforts of my homie Mike B.) in Misty and I’s marriage add and return project. When I see him at shows he seems to know who I am. There’s no motivation behind this, I’m not expecting to be a friend he asks to take care of his plants when he’s out of town. He has Donny for that! I don’t want his secrets or lockets of his hair. He simply inspired me and I want to share some of that inspiration with him. If I can pull him into my correspondence, then that’s great, and that’s all I have an interest in.
After seeing him live in Washington DC a couple months back, we talked for a little bit after the show. We might have talked a little too long considering the long line waiting to say hello. I distinctly asked if it was cool that I continue to send him mail-art. Not only did he say to keep sending things, but he said he like what I sent. When I got home I made up a packet for him including a snapshot of the two of us that I mailed. Inside were a bunch of add and passes, broadsides, and a few weirdo things. I also added a printed picture of the two of us from that night to help jog his memory. A few weeks after I mailed the packet, he posted the image of the of two of us with a short sentence to a couple of his social media accounts. I couldn’t believe that someone I genuinely admired had taken the time to write such a sweet message. It made all of those moments of silent work upstairs worth the time I’d spent on them. All of the cards that had been pushed into a silent void feel like they had a purpose. Keep making the work…keep making the work.

And now I will continue to return likeminded gestures whenever I can.


Anonymous said…
How nice! What a lovely story. He also lives by the feedback he gets from other people, so to have a fan like you must be inspiring form him as well!

In terms of mail art, it should be enough if a recipient responds and sends something of their own back, I guess. But it is extra gratifying when the recipient also posts the received mail somewhere online, especially if there is also some genuine or thoughtful comment.
Dave said…
I've been mailing postcards of my weird photos at random intervals to friends for a while. I'm going to send out a new one checking that they still want to get them and that the address I have is correct too!