Spotlight on Mail Art

Ahead of her new mail art masterclasses next month, we talk to resident artist Katie Smith about her love of the artform.

What exactly is mail art?

Mail art is a movement based on the principle of sending small scale works through the postal service. It began in the 1960s when artists sent postcards inscribed with poems or drawings through the post rather than exhibiting or selling them through conventional commercial channels.

What is it that appeals to you about mail art?

When I was small I had a brilliant book called ‘Free Stuff for Kids’ I spent many happy hours perusing the pages before posting polite hand written requests to various PO boxes in order to get my hands on cool stuff.

As I transited through my teenage years my postal habits became more of a reciprocal affair and I dedicated myself to sending cool stuff as well as receiving it. I created mix tapes with neatly written track lists and photocopied inlays, made mixed media collages (mostly celebrating The Smiths), took and developed photographs and collected badges, postcards and zines. I carefully curated packages containing any combination of these items and dispatched them to the most special of my friends. Sometimes I got stuff back, sometimes I didn’t but the experience of putting together my packages was always joyful.

I attended art school in a pre-digital age and have fondness for slow processes; which I suspect is why I am drawn to mail art. I enjoy the experience of investing time and effort into making something that carries something of me in a way that electronic communication can’t. I’m also interested in working outside of the gallery space and finding new audiences for my work. Mail art is a brilliant way of bringing people together and the line between audience and collaborator is often blurred making it a very accessible art form. I also like that it encourages kindness.

Can you give us an example of a mail art project that you are particularly proud of?

Last year I got a text from Lauren, a young person I’d worked with on a past project to say that she had been admitted to a secure mental health unit. It was a massive shock and I knew that I had to do something. People’s attitudes towards mental illness can be pretty appalling and those suffering are often not afforded the same kindness as someone with a physical illness. As 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year it’s my belief that we should look after each other and no one should ever be made to feel as if they are not worthy of compassion.

I organised a sort of postal flash mob for Lauren. I wanted her to know that she had a place in a world and that she was loved. I contacted lots of creative friends and asked if they could make some exciting post for her; they rose to the challenge and kept my postman very busy for at least a week! I was overwhelmed by people’s generosity and the general feeling that to give was an equal pleasure as to receive. I set up a secret Facebook group which developed into a supportive community of makers all keen to connect with each through a collective act of creative kindness.

What can people expect from your mail art masterclass?

Over the course of a day (or 2 afternoons) participants will explore a range of low tech printing, photography and mixed-media collage techniques. We will work towards creating an intriguing package for a special friend. Expect typewriters, Polaroid cameras, rubber stamping, badge making, play-lists and much, much more.

The masterclasses take place on Sunday 8th October or across 2 weekday afternoons (11th & 18th October) and cost £60 per person. Click here to book.

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