Image Courtesy of Alberto Guedea
The telephone, the jet airplane, and the lack of any 'Great War' had almost rendered the art of personal correspondence obsolete by the mid-1950's. In the 60's and 70's artist groups, such as Fluxus, incorporated correspondence into the mainstream of conceptual art as a break from the gallery and the art market. Re:<o><o>, curated by Alberto Guedea at the Access Artist Run Centre takes the next logical/technological step in correspondence art with the use of e-mail. Billed as "an investigation of art creation using electronic mail as a tool for new artistic explorations," Re:<o><o> does not disappoint. It continues to explore alternate sites for the production and consumption of art and inspires a new generation of correspondence artists to seek out new, alternative venues for art making, while experimenting with new media. An in-progress version was shown earlier at the Comme des Congres Gallery in Calgary.
One of the hundreds of images collected that I felt best merged the artist and the electronic medium was a digital photo submitted by Stephan Hausmeister of England. It depicts the computer screen of the artist with a faint reflection of him taking the picture. It seems to emulate the lack of physicality that one has in the information based site of e-mail.
Images are un-heroically placed on the wall without framing or title cards or typical paraphernalia of the gallery, instead the information of the artist/sender and viewer/receiver are incorporated in the e-mail coding at the top of all electronic mail. This creates a commentary on the casualness of alternative art in contrast to the commercial art world, and breaking from that tradition it also displays the intricacy of electronic correspondence.
Re:<o><o> exemplifies the use of correspondence technology by demonstrating the ability to disseminate artwork faster and to a much larger and more dispersed following with relative ease using electronic mail. This technology is as instrumental to this show as the Xerox machine was to the Fluxus network of mail artists. The increase in speed and reproducibility enables more rapid and cohesive discourse between artists, and sets up networks not dependant on galleries and publishers.
This show is problematic, as most shows of correspondence art are, in that as an alternative space for artistic practice it is meant to break free from the confines of the gallery and enter the 'real world'. By placing it back into the gallery it takes the work out of context and renders it a ghost of what it once was. Within the network of e-mailer artists the viewer is empowered as a collaborator of the art, but in the gallery the viewer becomes a voyeur of a distanced world of art production.
The exhibition, as Guedea intends, provides a window into the fascinating and typically underground world of correspondence art that is for the most part unseen by the outside world, while also providing international communication and coalition around art making. Although this work does lose something when viewed in the gallery space, we- the outsiders of this new medium- all gain by being made aware of new media that is being explored around the world. This exhibit is just a taste of what must really be experienced interactively.