When the lockdown began in mid-late March in New York City, artist Christina Massey felt it was too soon for her to address the pandemic in her own artwork. While desperately trying to process the disorienting news shifting by the hour, she was noticing an uptick in posts calling for people to save the Postal Service by buying stamps. The idea for the USPS Art Project came to her with immediate clarity. An artist starts making an artwork and mails it to a partner to complete and vice versa.
Christina Massey’s idea is built on two established “Avant Garde” approaches: Exquisite corpse and Mail art. The Exquisite corpse style drawing approach, where each artist independently completes a section of an artwork, can be traced back to Surrealists like Andre Breton and followed by multiple similar collaborations up to the present. Mail art started a bit later, in the mid-1950s, when NY artist Ray Johnson posted small artworks giving rise to the New York Correspondence School, and progressed in the 1960s when artists sent postcards inscribed with poems or drawings through the post instead of exhibiting through conventional venues; and it has been going on ever since. Some consider it as the predecessor of Net Art, that is, art utilizing a computer in some from, including exhibiting online. Massey’s USPS Art Project fuses all these elements into an elegant free flowing and utterly democratic process in which content, material, size, and stylistic approach are completely open, while utilizing social media sharing platforms for participating artists to share their art collaborations.
Since starting the project, Massey has learned quite a bit more about both the mailing process and the art making aspects of her USPS project. For instance, in terms of practicality, you can create labels right at home, so long as you have a printer, and you can even schedule free pick-ups. Massey also observes that while the pleas to buy stamps are much encouraged, an artwork sent by mail is closer to $7.50 spent on each direction. In terms of the collaborative process, from her own experience, she concludes that starting and finishing a collaboration are two very different experiences. When you start, you want to take into account the process and aesthetic style of your partner, “for example, in my collaboration with Jaynie Crimmins and Seren Morey, who both often work on panels, I also started on panel, something I don’t typically do; Whereas in my collaboration with Nancy Baker, I sent a bunch of loose pieces,” she says. On the other hand, completing a piece from someone else can be a little intimidating, “you may have a feeling and pressure to not screw it up so to speak, but it gets your brain going in invigorating ways,” she observes.
There are now so many artists involved that she has lost count. The project goes from Hawaii to New York partnerships. It runs the gamut from ceramic artists who have started working together, a jewelry designer who decided to send several plain wood bracelets to a friend to work on as their collaboration, and goes on to artist books, zines, fiber artists, sculptures and two dimensional works. “Some artists have stepped it up and are sending their pieces back and forth several times and I know of at least one larger group of artists that will have 7 different artists working together on one piece, it’s amazing,” she says. In a recent online post Patricia Espinosa reflects on her collaboration with Juliette Belmont, saying that Julliette’s portrait evoked for her the increased suffering from domestic violence during the quarantine, “many of us are counting the days to go out and about our lives, but many are counting the days to feel safer in their own homes.”
Currently Massey is working with a gallery to figure out a brick-and-mortar exhibition of the completed collaborations this summer. Details are still being sorted out, so in the meantime, she is telling artists to keep their 2nd piece for their own collections or do whatever they choose. Massey wanted artists to feel inspired to create again if they had been feeling stuck, unmotivated, or unsure, and to feel more connected to their artists friends who are quite likely feeling the same. Many artists told her that this project was the first thing they had worked on since the pandemic started and that it has brought them out of that funk so many of us were in. “That has been the most amazing compliment to hear, and I encourage everyone who wants to get involved, please do! Let’s make some truly unique and original artworks and make a difference in doing so,” she says. If enough artists get involved, collectively this project has the potential to make a real difference. In this tumultuous election year, the post office is particularly vital.
Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org