12 Nov REVIVING MAIL ART
I vividly remember feeling lost at the beginning of the pandemic. Everything began to close down and people flocked to their respective homes – except I had to remain in Kingston. My parents were stuck overseas, and my extended family lived across the country. There were very few people left who I could interact with, and even then, we were not meant to socialize with others. I felt disconnected from all my friends and family. With each passing day, I was lonelier and more anxious than the last.
Three years ago, I lost one of my closest friends. This was arguably the darkest period of my life, and through painting and collage I expressed feelings that I could not find the words to explain. Each time I picked up my paintbrush, I felt an instant release. I am not saying creativity solved all my problems or healed my broken heart – this would be far from the truth. Instead, creativity provided a way to express my thoughts, feelings, and memories.
During quarantine, when I was constantly sitting in my room feeling isolated and anxious, it was natural that I turned towards art again. Instead of creating artwork on my own, I transformed my practice into something that included others.
Mail art is nothing new. Beginning in the 1960s, artists began mailing each other poems, sketches, and small artworks. Well-known artists including Marcel Duchamp and On Kawara even participated in the movement. Many artists placed their artworks directly in the mail, without envelopes to protect them, meaning stamps and other postal symbols became integrated within the piece itself. Other artists chose to use envelopes, which were barely recognizable after being decorated with doodles, poetry, watercolour, and collage.
It is not surprising that the pandemic witnessed a resurgence of mail art. People everywhere were looking for connectivity and comfort. My friend group was no different, and when I proposed participating in the mail art movement, they were all instantly interested. The process was fairly straightforward. We each made a piece of artwork the size of a postcard. We used whatever materials we had available – watercolour paints, collage material, pens and pencils. Unlike traditional mail art, none of us finished our pieces of artwork. We just needed a few marks on the page. I popped my artwork in the mail and sent it off to one of my friends. She made her mark on my artwork and added something of her own, before throwing the postcard in the mail and passing it along to the next person. This chain of events went through all four of my friends. Some of my friends added doodles, while others added elements of collage. By the time each of us received our original postcard back in the mail, they were completely altered and almost unrecognizable.
I found the process of creating artwork together with my friends – although from a distance – incredibly moving. Whenever I received a new postcard in the mail, I had the chance to leave my mark. I found the practice calming, particularly during such an uncertain time. Receiving my original postcard back was magical. Through the additions made by people I love, I felt closer and more connected to friends that I had not seen in months.
Nothing makes me happier and feel more fulfilled than sharing my love of creativity. For about two years now, I have been volunteering with our local Art Hive @Agnes – a space that prides itself upon using the artistic process to promote community-building and wellness. The idea that creativity is innately therapeutic and reduces stress is essential to our program. Not only am I given an opportunity to unwind during the sessions, but I witness the transformation of others through artmaking. The growing field of the therapeutic arts deserves more attention. It offers the opportunity for people to discover their creativity independently, but in an environment that supports wellness.
Creativity has transformed my feelings of isolation and confusion into an outlet for expression, gratitude, and connection. Although there will be hard and lonely times ahead, art reminds me that I am not alone, and that it’s the little things in life that give the greatest pleasure.