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Tom Hilgartner (USA), December 2006
Ryosuke Cohen wrote in June, 2006, in a statement entitled "Mail-Art-Networking Art", that "We are overwhelmed by the diversity of how mail art members think and express themselves. We realize that countless "isms" are mixed together in a state of chaos, that is represented in Mail Art. Of course, we don't copyright our works. Interester (sic) in others' works, we add something to them or combine them together, and then send them back or forward them on to a third party. We occasionally find them changed into pieces with quite an unexpected concept."
I agree. Let this statement stand as an example, for moments before I read the words of Cohen, I read an article presented to me by my veterinarian, in response to the unusual appearance of an otherwise healthy kitten born to my cat Hermione. The article discusses an experiment in which geneticist Minoo Rassoulzadagan at the University of nice injected, into the embryos of ordinary gray mice, RNA from the brains and sperm of gray mice in which she had altered a gene so that their feet and tail-tips turned white. Many of the resultant mice had white tails and feet regardless of their DNA. The article states "Suddenly the old rules of genetics are looking out of date. Instead of being just a vehicle for DNA's commands, as scientists have long held, RNA seems to issue its own commands and alter what genes do in the next generation.
Apparently, the RNA, the context in which DNA is presented, influences the resultant animal or plant. The context influences the outcome. Cohen likens mail art to the myriad diverse life forms in "the rain forests of the Amazon of South America." He states that "We [mail artists] are not chained to any fixed "ism" as this frees us from constraint, nor do we care for copyright we prefer to revise and copy others' works in a free and easy style. In such a network there is the possibility of our experiencing much by communication of mail art. This is the very LIFE FORM that we can experience in a variety of ways." The contexts inherent in mail art (within which arena I include both internet mail art and postal mail art) influence the outcomes resultant from the utilization of those diverse artistic communications. The contexts influence the outcomes.
Marshall McLuhen famously coined the phrase "The Medium is the Message". Although he had the context within-and-by-which information is presented when he employed the word medium, it appears to me that he did not go far enough. To my mind, in artistic terms, McLuhen's term "medium" includes the physical materials of which an artwork is made (paint, paper, crayon, cloth, video, etc.) as well s the "isms" of which Cohen spoke (Cubism, Impressionism, and so forth). I see the medium in this sense as analogous to DNA. The artistic "message" is, in traditional thought, expressed by the particular "DNA" of materials and categories of stylistic differentiation. In other words, the "DNA" controls and predicts the outcome, the work of art. However, I see the contexts within which mail art occurs as analogous to RNA. To clarify, I am speaking of the various arenas within which mail art occurs as "RNA"; the contexts within which mail art may be preserved and/or presented are by my definition "DNA".
The ultimate significance of mail art, as I see it, is less a factor of "DNA" and more a factor of "RNA". It is these RNA-analogous contexts which traditional art and artistic venues, by their nature, preclude. And it is these RNA-analogous contexts which make mail art distinct from other art, which make mail art as a process significant. These processes during which mail art is created are to be distinguished from mail art as a product. "Completed" mail art is analogous to DNA, as is all other completed artwork regardless of style, artist, "quality" and the like. That's not bad. It's just the nature of the beast. And it is the completed mail art (that which is DNA-analogous) to which established artistic thought is responding, not the RNA-analogous processes by which that art has been created. By habit, they are looking to the "DNA" for the "message" of mail art, when it is the "RNA" which defines the essence - the essential core-of mail art.