When was the last time you received a hand-addressed piece of mail? At the end of the month online magazine Art Practical launches its Mail Art Subscription series, an experiment in expanding the dialogue about art into a tangible form of correspondence. Six artists are slated to cull through the Art Practical archives and select articles from which to draw inspiration for editioned art works. These, in turn, will be sent to subscribers once a month, accompanied by a print version of the source article, and a postcard addressed to Art Practical — allowing the recipient to respond to their noteworthy mail.

As the United States Postal Service threatens to cut Saturday services, removes collection boxes deemed “low volume,” and suffers huge losses due to the ease of email and online bill-paying, more and more structures have recently emerged that focus on receiving unique items via your local mail carrier. Just in San Francisco, we have THE THING Quarterly, The Present Group, and the Rumpus’ subscription-based letter-writing program, in which well-known authors craft weekly epistles.

For Patricia Maloney, Art Practical’s director, the Mail Art Subscription follows naturally in the footsteps of previous themed issues. For issue 2.15, “Performance: The Body Politic,” Art Practical hosted an afternoon of performance and discussion at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. For their fiftieth issue, “Printed Matter,” the editors again wished to bring the writing into the world in a tangible way, beyond simply printing it all out. Inspired by a display of mail art in a Pacific Standard Time exhibition and a letter she received from artist Alicia Escott, Maloney, together with the Art Practical editors, hatched the Mail Art Subscription plan.

The publication finds a fitting analog in the genre of mail art, a form that began in the early 1960s as a way to create and (widely) distribute work outside of a traditional gallery structure. Mail art embodies a particular history of free dispersal, just as Art Practical makes all of its contents freely available online. And while each recipient’s package will contain an editioned, rather than original work, the Art Practical editors will hand-address each envelope, guaranteeing a level of intimacy absent from your Gmail in-box.

The artists slated to create work for the project include a number of local figures, as well as those who routinely use text in their art. They are: Anthony Discenza, Alicia Escott, Colter Jacobsen, Anthony Marcellini, Martha Rosler, and a yet-to-be announced sixth. To maintain the material element of the project, each edition will exist solely for the recipients — images will not be reproduced online.

On a practical level, funds earned from selling the subscriptions will cover the cost of producing the series and help to provide some honoraria for Art Practical writers, who, for the past two years, have contributed content on a volunteer basis. While the postcard in each package is addressed to Art Practical, and may be printed (with permission) as letters to the editor, all responses will ultimately go on to the artists.

In this way, art begets writing, writing begets art, and art begets writing once more. Create a particularly incisive postcard and you may receive a response from Rosler herself, furthering the cycle into an even more personal discussion. Subscriptions are still available, but will close at the end of March. Think again, when was the last time your mailbox contained anything more special than a two-for-one offer?

Art Practical’s Mail Art Subscription will begin at the end of March and continue for six months. Visit Art Practical for more information on how to subscribe.


Sarah Hotchkiss

Sarah Hotchkiss is KQED Arts’ Visual Arts Editor, an artist and half of Stairwell’s. Follow her at @sahotchkiss.

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