Students in the Department of Art & Art History’s Mixed-Media: Painting/Print Media class collaborated this semester with students from the University of Alberta's Department of Art & Design in a mail art exchange project.
The final product, Correct Postage #2, is a limited edition printed book, designed by alumnus Hamilton Ward, that documents a postcard exchange between the two undergraduate studio art classes.
Inspired by the 1960s art movement Fluxus, professor Erik Waterkotte directed his students to study Event Scores, a form of artwork that proposes a challenge, written in just a few lines, to be completed creatively. That became the model for the mail art exchange, in which students from each university created prompts for creative activities to be completed on postcards. Responding to a prompt, each student chose from a variety of drawing, printing, and/or mixed-media techniques to decorate the front of the postcard, which was then mailed to the composer of the prompt. A total of 84 cards were completed.
Waterkotte led a similar mail art exchange with his Print Media I students last spring, after the coronavirus forced the University to move classes online. That project resulted in Correct Postage #1, which was completed internally among the UNC Charlotte students. Waterkotte attended the University of Alberta for graduate school and decided to connect his students with those at his alma mater this fall for the second installment of the project. Mail art is an excellent way to communicate and to share art during the period of social distancing, he says.
“While many institutions have moved to ‘virtual’ displays of artwork online, we who still crave the tangible are relying on other platforms. Thus, the Correct Postage mail art exchange has been devised to connect artists across time, space, and international borders, via the exchange of hand-made objects through the postal system.”
In an unanticipated coincidence while the students were completing their projects, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) found itself at the center of political controversy around the November 2020 election, with an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots, concern about the capacity of the USPS to handle the influx, and unsubstantiated claims of voting fraud. That controversy gave an additional relevance and even urgency to the Correct Postage project.
Waterkotte noted that the USPS states that part of its mission is “to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people.” He and his counterpart at the University of Alberta, April Dean, wrote in the book’s introduction that they hoped that the mail arts exchange would “celebrate and encourage the US and Canadian postal systems.”
“Considering the geographical expansiveness of both the U.S. and Canada, these postal systems must have been vital to the effective growth and development of our two countries….These times illustrate how crucial these historic public services continue to be.”
Copies of Correct Postage #1 and Correct Postage #2 will be included in the Special Collections of the J. Murrey Atkins Library at UNC Charlotte. See the work in our Virtual Gallery.