ART AS GIFT
(IT’S A NET, NET, NET, NET WORLD)
Mail art is a happy entanglement of contradictions, an „eternal” and ethereal game of hidden, guessable, imaginary, amusing, poetical, provocative, banal, revolutionary correspondences. Independently from the materials circulating in the postal network, characteristic and specific to each different period of the long evolutionary course of mail art – with a gradual but constant tendency of the net to expand and diversify – the most disruptive and distinctive feature of this form of expression remains its open to all character and above all the fact of being created to be given out as a gift. This is a simple but substantial change in attitude, that may remind us (not accidentally, given the contiguity in space and time in the development of the two disciplines) of a certain kind of avantgarde street theatre of the sixties, like the work of the Bread and Puppet Theater or of the Living Theater: total happenings that did put into practice the art=life equation with a great simplicity of languages and immediacy of communicativeness, but without excluding because of this a touching profundity of contents. Just like the Living tried in its utopian way to put in action a theatre beyond theatre able to embrace the audience in a collective rite, in a similar fashion mail art placed itself from the beginning in a art beyond art perspective, breaking all sorts of taboos concerning the preciousness and sacredness of the work of art as masterpiece (in the mail art practice the materials are often recycled, dismembered, passed from hand to hand like cadavres exquis), beyond the myth of the artist as a demiurge of genius isolated on his/her pedestal.
I wrote of art given out as a „gift” rather than exchanged, because behind the daily barter of materials it is distinctly perceptible in mail art circles a common inclination towards a disinterested offering, a desire to astonish akin to the potlatch of the American Indians, a will to make game of the pretentiousness of official art and to operate in the opposite direction to the dominating market system, to recover a more playful and purely spiritual expressive dimension. The Fluxus adventure outlined a formidable and rigorous Intermedia programme about the possibilities for art to break into everyday life, carried out by an international alliance of full-time or at least part-time artists. Mail art, as a direct and inevitable consequence of some theoretical assumptions of the Fluxus group, is a heterogeneous and discontinuous aggregation of creative interferences carried out mostly by non-artists in their spare-time. It can therefore afford the luxury of being (in every sense) gratuitous.
Vittore Baroni - excerpt from the Bassano 2000 / Sentieri Interrotti catalogue