Contemporary ‘Mail Art’ in the Digital Network

“deviantArt is the world’s largest online social community for artists and art enthusiasts, allowing people to connect through the creation and sharing of art.”

Gangadharan’s “Mail art: networking without technology” introduces the practice of mail art and how it originally existed and how it is now part of the virtual community. I wanted to illustrate an example of a mail art community that now exists in the digital network and how it is an example of how mail art is not a ‘dead media’, but a media that has transformed into other spaces.

The online site “deviantART” allows people from all over the world to display their works of art in an online network where “sendings” and “receivings” occur, similarly to how it occurred in original mail art movements. Artists post their art on their online profile through deviantART, essentially sending it across the network. Other users on the site then receive the art and are able to comment on it through the online forums. This form of mail art differs from the original premise, where there was only one sender, which was Ray Johnson. In the context of deviantART, there are multiple senders and receivers and no one is limited to being one or the other, while everyone has equal authorship in the network.

stockmodified

According to Gangadharan, mail art authorship is collective across a diverse space where geography is irrelevant. The online site deviantART follows this same premise and there are opportunities for artists to ‘build’ on one another’s work. For example, a user may post a ‘stock photo’ and ask other users in the community to modify their photo or add to it (see image on right). Gangadharan illustrates how a “gift economy” exists in mail art, where the final pieces of work are bartered, and this also exists in the community of deviantART. These newly created artistic pieces are put up for what in the deviantART community is called an “art trade”, where one piece of art is traded for another.

deviantART is an example of the “two trends” of the aftermath of FILE that Gangadharan refers to. Firstly, deviantART emerged as a community that was meant to exist separately from the mainstream art community; a place for aspiring artists that were trying to get their work into the world. Secondly, mail art has flourished into a “larger repertoire of networked arts”, which deviantART also illustrates. The works of art on deviantART include but are not limited to digital art, pencil drawings, photography, paintings, and stop-motion videos. Users and the site itself takes pride in the collaborative nature of the network where participation and originality is encouraged, while there is a genuine appreciation for “information, communication, and connection”.

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3 Comments

  1. This is really cool, thanks for sharing! I think ‘deviantART’ also emphasizes one of Latour’s points, that networks are always in flux and ever evolving. Mail art is an example of a counter-network, and by becoming digital, more people are able to interact with the art (material) and the community (human actors).
    Similar to the ways mail art has been revitalized, and no longer considered what Peters referred to as “dead media,” I wonder if the same will happen for the CS604 blog once the semester ends. As media doesn’t just disappear, but is rather repurposed or modified, I could see Dr. Boutros utilizing our blog’s content to create future lecture material, syllabi, or research topics.

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  2. Interesting! This also tangentially reminds me how the internet allows for individuals to collaborate with one another by providing a platform where people can exchange skills and talents. For example, people who want to photoshop aspects of their photo, but either do not have the program or the skills to do what they want. This can (of course) sometimes lead people to getting ‘trolled’ where the skilled photoshoppers will over exaggerate a request, or manipulate the photo in an obviously undesirable way, which leads to usually humorous final results (for example: https://www.buzzfeed.com/hulia/21-hilarious-photoshop-trolls-9r70?utm_term=.vcZEX0rjlx#.jyjmMGzy6Q). If comedy is an art form, this is definitely a form of art!

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  3. I think DeviantArt is a very interesting example. The only contension I see is that a lot of publishers have copyrighted their work (obviously that doesn’t stop people from taking their work) which goes against the ethos of mail art, its collective collaborative nature similar to the open source movement. There is a degree of properity in Deviant which is not say that its collective nature is not there. Some users are there to use the platform merely to circulate, but would like to keep their intellectual property. So I think it’s against such an interesting example since it brings us back to the question of technological affordances.

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