“Ray…was encouraging artists all over the world to make and trade mail as an art activity…Some of these letters were finished statements or handmade objects; others were exquisite corpses conducted by mail, objects that traveled and accumulated the mojo of human touch and attention as they were ever modified. 

Ray’s handmade work…had a purposive childishness, but also a readily appreciable design rigor—a controlled looseness, beautiful color, shape and textural sense, a mastery of a private hieroglyphics of bunnies and goo-goo eyes.

He was a major alchemist, employing the power of the small, personal gesture.”

"Please Forward Contents" by Gary Panter at The Paris Review

Mailing it In: Community Organizing and Performance Art Collide with Mail Art Projects

When everything in the mailbox is noise, one tiny piece of signal becomes an art object to treasure. As postal mail grows less and less useful for day-to-day communication, it becomes ever more valuable as an artistic medium and a jumping off point for community-building.

via Donovan Beeson.

Some of the projects listed below are still active. Some aren’t. If you’re inspired by one that’s defunct, why not start your own? Stamps are cheap.

In the Neighborhood Postcard Project, residents share something they love about their neighborhood on a postcard. The cards are delivered to random people in a different neighborhood of the same city. Organizer Hunter Franks and his League of Creative Interventionists hope to break down stereotyping and build community bonds.

Here’s an activation connecting Detroit and Grosse Point residents:

On external-heart-drive, anyone can request a handwritten letter from the anonymous blogger. Past letters range from relationship advice to anecdotes about shrooms

PostCrossing was one of the first communities to connect strangers via postcard swaps, and it’s still booming. Check out this tiny participant:

Speaking of very young participants, the Postcard Happiness Project invites you to send happy postcards to people (often children with serious illnesses) who could really use a cheerful surprise.

In a reversal of the previous paradigm, the EFM Postcard Project, the terminally ill Dr. Elizabeth McClung and her wife spent the last months of Dr. McClung’s life sending beautiful postcards to anyone in the world who requested one. 

On global swap site MailArt.de, recipients request small, mailed works on themes like “the oldest object you have,” “emptiness,” “high art low life,” and “something related to conflict.” 

The Letter Writers’ Alliance (source of the image at the top of this post) has thousands of members pledging to preserve the art of the handwritten letter. Membership includes tools for letter-writing, participation in letter-writing projects, and an invite to a brick-and-mortar Chicago clubhouse.

Reinvention could be a model for your own mail art show: A single curator asks his city for submissions to a six gallery, non-juried, not-for-sale art exhibition, with the only restriction on medium being “whatever you can get through the postal system.” Check the result out: