The Korea Herald


Mail art collaboration keeps artists in touch

By Korea Herald

Published : April 20, 2016 - 18:38

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Missing paintings, missing painters and delays, it turns out that organizing a mail art project was not as simple as Martyn Thompson anticipated.

The expat artist organized the international project in which each participant worked on a collaborative artwork twice the width and length of a standard sheet of paper for a month before sending it to the next artist.

In part it was an opportunity to rediscover the anticipation of getting things in the mail.

“Christmas and birthdays -- when you got something in the post it used to be quite exciting,” said Thompson, who points out that nowadays mailed packages tend to be something you have ordered, “so you always know what’s coming.”

But mainly it was a way of bringing artists together, and back into physical contact with their work.

“Very often these days I find myself not even touching a piece of artwork before it goes to the framing shop. I will work it out digitally, I will send the file off and I will hang it when it gets to the gallery,” Thompson said.

“I wanted to give artists the chance to rediscover the touch of art.”

Pictures from ANKR’s International Mail Art Exhibition Pictures from ANKR’s International Mail Art Exhibition

While the pictures may have been worked on by the same group of artists -- each had three to six of the 16 artists work on them -- the outcome is quite diverse, from ultra-simple patterns and motifs to complex collages and paintings.

The mail art project started as a fun project among Art Network Korea (ANKR), an artists’ organization run by Thompson. But after reading a story about an artist whose painstaking drawing was lost in international mail, he thought an exhibition of the work could be a way of talking about mail art projects and the risks artists take with postal services.

“One reason a lot of artists don’t want to exhibit internationally is not because of the exposure, it’s because of the risk of losing work in the post. The exhibition highlights quite a few problems that artists actually face in trying to put together an exhibition.”

And some of those problems surfaced during his project -- one picture was lost in the post, two more were sent to an artist who disappeared and cut off all contact and another arrived too late for framing -- though it will still be displayed.

The project was also about opening art up to more people, and getting different artists to work together, Thompson said.

“We’ve had a whole variety of artists, from fully professional artists to people who just draw as a hobby,” he said. “It is noticeable in some pictures that there is some really high-quality work and there are some more like doodles or sketches, but the idea is to make art more accessible to people to show that if you enjoy drawing then you can still draw and get an exhibition.”

ANKR’s International Mail Art Exhibition runs at Gallery I in Insa-dong, Seoul, until Tuesday. A reception will be held Sunday at noon.

By Paul Kerry (