Monday, April 13, 2009

Ray Johnson, NYCS, Mail Art

In the 1960s, Ray Johnson, a consummate collage artist, pioneered what would soon come to be called mail art. Johnson would cut up pop culture images, as well as his own drawings, and send envelop-sized pieces all over the world, often asking recipients to “add-to and pass-on.” “Some altered, some added, some subtracted, some detracted, some discarded, some hoarded, and others conscientiously forwarded the materials on their appointed rounds. Ray Johnson said he didn't care what was done, that there are no rules….” (William Wilson, 1966)

To further the development of mail art, in 1962 Johnson established a network of several hundred artists—the New York Correspondance School. Johnson's non-hierarchical correspondence art was, on one hand, an institutional critique, and on the other hand, a way of bringing people together. His work has unknowingly influenced thousands of artists throughout the world who are doing mail art, creating “zines,” self-publishing, or involved in cyberspace. Artist Mark Bloch asks, “Did Ray Johnson’s first “add to and send to” in 1962 lead to the Linux “open source” operating system: given away freely, not subject to copyright, with programmers encouraged to add to and improve?” (Mark Bloch, panmodern blogspot).

from Margaret McAdams, "Hitchhikers, Parasites, and Cooties! Transforming Navigational Quests into Art Expeditions," FATE Conference, April 3, 2009.

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