mandag den 15. august 2016


On 17 February 1979, Mail artists Niels Lomholt, David Zack and Horacio Zabala met in Falling, Denmark. It was uncommon for Mail artists to meet. One of the hallmarks of Mail Art is that it made it possible to work together with people you had never met and were unlikely to meet. When Swiss Mail artist Hans-Rudi Fricker in 1986 tried to institutionalise Mail Art meetings by proposing “Tourism” as the next step after “Mailism”, his collaborator Günther Ruch designed a stamp saying “Tourism in Mail Art Remains Tourism and Not Mail Art”. But the meeting in Falling was a meeting of friends. Lomholt, Zack and Zabala set special store by their postal exchanges.

From 15 September, works by all three artists will be on display at Charlottenborg in Copenhagen as part of the exhibition Keep Art Flat: Mail Art and the Political Seventies. If anything, the event will show how different they were. Lomholt operated under the name of Lomholt Formular Press. His formulae use the trappings of the bureaucratic form – dotted lines, boxes, figures – to invite his correspondents to think differently about the world surrounding them. Zack is best known as the author of the first “manifesto” of Mail Art to appear in a mainstream art magazine, "An Authentik and Historikal Discourse on the Phenomenon of Mail Art" in the January/February 1973 issue of Art in America. Less a manifesto than a rambling account of his own personal experience of mailing art, it is typical of his contribution to the network: long texts full of verbal acrobatics and obscure references to people he knew and situations he had experienced. Zabala emigrated from his native Argentina to Europe in 1976. At the time, Argentina was in the grip of the "Dirty War", waged by the military regime against political dissidents, so it is not entirely surprising that the project that was to keep him occupied until 1981 was called Today, Art is a Prison.

The strength of Mail Art was that it could accommodate people who worked with the bureaucratic form, the hallucinogenic narrative and the “socio-imaginary test” (as Zabala called his project); that it could bring together people from Europe, the US and South America; that it did not require them to agree upon anything. The 1970s may have been dominated by the Cold War, but Mail Art was not about taking sides. It made it possible to express one’s views, certainly - but it did not force people to subscribe to a specific agenda. There are no absolute judgements in Mail Art. It is not about what you do, but how you do it. Criteria are generated on the inside, not imposed from the outside.

Fluxus artist Dick Higgins had a stamp that read “No Anticipation Allowed”. Stamped on an envelope, it translates as “wait and see”. My programme for the coming month is “Anticipation Required”: watch while you wait. I have always been fascinated by Mail Art's inclusiveness and diversity and drawn towards its typewriter-and-newspaper-cutout aesthetics. I have been writing about it since 2008 and have spent the past many months together with Mail artist Niels Lomholt and art historian Lene Aagaard Denhart, preparing Keep Art Flat. In this blog, I will now roll out the red carpet for the exhibition, presenting the reader with related works and thoughts, an artist or a work per entry. In anticipation.

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