artbeat (2006-27)

The Postal Service

With the 8.10 Collaboration, mail is a conduit for art

by Leslie Wylie

Earlier this year, 10 artists from across the country received an empty U.S. Postal Service-issue box on their doorstep. The boxes’ sober red-white-and-blue exteriors were brightened by whimsical magic-marker designs, and they were labeled with the following instructions: “Welcome to the 8.10 Collaboration ! Upon receiving this empty box, you need to fill it and send it to one of the other participants/collaborators. Once you receive your filled box, you need to be able to document your entire art-making process. Enjoy and have fun!”

Henceforth, the artists filled their boxes with various items—wads of string, old t-shirts, random photographs and scribbled notes—and launched them, at the flat box-mailing rate of $8.10, onward to their fated destinations. In turn, each was then greeted with newer, heavier boxes on their doorsteps. The boxes’ contents were to be beheld as muses.

Artist Mriam Byroade likened the excitement of first sorting through her box to receiving a package from her long-distance boyfriend during college. But what to do with these objects, which seemed bound by no rhyme or reason?

“I wanted to do something to become more acquainted with them first,” she reasons in a diary of her own work’s process. She had the idea of filming the objects emerging from the box as a stop-motion animation piece, and was pleased with the results. But the animation was merely a means to an end. While moving the objects around, she “got the vision of a painting-sculpture project,” and found herself particularly intrigued by the most peculiar of the objects enclosed: a jar of little fish. In a picture on the jar, the fish were shown in a boat on the sea at night.

Byroade decided to literally put the fish into that nighttime boat. She found a large canvas, one she’d already painted on but was dissatisfied with the results, and covered it in shades and textures of black, dimly illuminated beneath a full moon. She built the fish a boat, and put them in it.

It was too intense—the murky waters, the messy darkness, the bravery of the fish. It brought up feelings she hadn’t anticipated: confusion, frustration, insecurity. “Yeah,” she concluded, “I really don’t want my happy little fishy boat to be sucked into all that painting emotional drama.” The boat could stay, but the fish had to go: This was one storm she was going to have to sail through alone.

The work kept escalating, inflating with it Bryoade’s awareness of her own personal struggles. She stuck with it, unsure of where it would end. She liked what she had created so far, but how could she know if it was finished? “I’m not sure if this is done yet, I’m not sure if I’m done yet,” she said, wavering at the end of one day’s work.

It’s an easy thing to forget, that we call our own shots, that we’re the ones in control even when we feel like we’ve handed our creative energies over to someone or something else. “I’ve often found the hardest thing to do with art is to know when to stop,” Byroade I wrote. “It was complete so quickly and effortlessly that it felt like I cheated, should I have suffered more?”

Perhaps, she concluded, the absence of resistance meant that she was doing something right. She titled the piece, “my journey.”

That’s a lot to emerge from a box full of seemingly random objects. But it fulfilled the hopes of 8.10 Collaboration curator Amy Joseph when she dreamt up the project. It wasn’t about the objects themselves, per se, but the creative process that emerged from their existence. Kind of like tarot cards, wherein it matters less what card you’re dealt than what that card means within the context of your own life.

The other nine artists whose work is represented in the exhibition each contribute their own personalities to the discourse.

Erin Brauer takes elements—band-aids, chicken wire, ribbon, a stethoscope—from the photograph she received in the mail and re-incorporates them into her own life. Angela Boykins and Aram Westergreen dismantle a Postal Service box and re-conceive it as a kind of crosshatched collage. 

Oftentimes, as in Byroade’s animation experiment, the objects require some prodding before they reveal their new possible identities. Jenny and Phil Ballazar spent a great deal of time “exploring the possibilities,” as they explain it, of their received objects: a wad of blue string, an expanse of cotton, flower pedals, stones and maps. They suspend the objects in a web from the ceiling, and Jenny is photographed lying on a cotton bed in the bathtub, her body obscured by a tangle of string, pedals and rocks. But these aren’t quite right. “Finally, the materials speak,” they write, before unveiling their final interpretation: map-paper hearts clinging to Phil’s chest. The final product is a composite collage of the “possibilities,” their edges seamless and imperceptible.

It’s an aesthetically pleasing end product, but it’s the process itself Amy Joseph is interested in—what we make of the materials we are given, and how. “The 8.10 Collaboration is about creating everyday art,” she explains. “It is our everyday creations that lead to our masterpieces.”

What: 8.10 Collaboration