Saturday, February 7, 2015

Kiss, a Mail Art Exhibition

Kiss, an archival mail art exhibition by Honoria Starbuck opened Feb 1 and runs though Feb 18 at the Joan Flasch Artists Book Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) . This colorful archival show of posted objects from 1989-91 in the form of a mail art exhibition heralds a look back at the changing worlds of social media, media technologies and social activism for artists in this transmodern period. Kiss, last shown in 1991, is an exhibition supporting Fluxfest Chicago 2015, an annual performance art and Fluxus festival, upcoming in late February in various locations around Chicago, curated by Keith Buchholz.

At first glance Kiss's red ribbons and love motifs in four vitrines signals February's most romantic calendar date, Valentine's Day, using small format mixed media. A deeper reading reveals the connections to mail art and mail art exhibition as forms of social media practice among artists. The show displays an array of media technologies, techniques and formats, among them: painting, printmaking, copier art, early computer graphics and typography, rubber stamps, collage, zines, photography, visual poetry, drawing, stickers, small format booklets and artistamps. As such, Kiss is a multimedia tour de force true to the changing technological landscape of the late 80s and early 90s. 

At a time when a postcard cost fifteen cents to mail within the United States, the hand-spun mail art call for Kiss yielded an international array of work for the Texas show from five continents: Asia, North and South America, Europe and Australia. As a global social media network, mail art is justifiably the precursor to all internet specific and network art. Kiss delivers this message through its myriad technologies and network nodes, a condensed hive of media networked social activity. The red ribbon wound through the exhibition symbolizes the threads between the networks' dialogic end points.

The poignant theme for Kiss is no less engaging. A universal human theme, Kiss, references AIDS awareness and LGBT activism. The red ribbon is also symbolic as a reminder of World AIDS Day. A kiss in public at a time when the act could be conflated with spreading AIDS was inherently political. Also present are the very personal and social elements of romance in the letter, and the raunchier elements of media art in references to pornography. Jon Nalley writes a detailed and personal memoir of AIDS activism in the United States in the period of the original Kiss for the show. His recollections serve as a reminder of ecological fragility of the socio-political climate.

"That period seems a world away . . . a kiss remains not merely a kiss - and kissing beyond certain boundaries is a revolutionary act."

Kiss contains many images of the suggestive lipstick trace. The erotic and the transgressive natures of the works lend fantastic credence to the legend that Cleopatra herself was the very first mail art payload, wrapped in a Persian rug. Mail art stalwarts from the pre-internet generation on the international scene known to me are well represented and are referenced in works by Honoria Starbuck, Ruggero Maggi, Ray Johnson, Bern Porter, John Held Jr., Picasso Gaglione, Guy Bleus, Jonathan Stangroom, Anna Boschi, Reed Altemus, Antonio Gomez, John Tostado, Paolo Bruscky, and Bruno Capatti. The publicly accessible art exhibit is on display at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago through February 18, 2015.

A list of all artists included in this exhibition is available. Kiss is on display through February 18, 2015. The remainder of the Fluxfest Chicago 2015 schedule includes events and activities at the Chicago Cultural Center, the alternative art space 6018 North, and Berghoff's.