Anthrax it Aint

years ago, i wrote a small review for a show happening at a local gallery.

Anthrax it Ain’t (c. 2007)
Lets face it: $1.98 will send 8 ounces of just about anything through the US Postal Service. In The Post Card, Jacques Derrida put it this way: “Whether you put one word or one hundred in a letter, a word of one hundred letters or one hundred words of seven letters, the price is the same, this is incomprehensible, but this principle has the capacity to account for everything.” A good mail art show exploits the depth of Derrida’s principle by testing the limits of the USPS and challenging the rarified notion of what can be hung on the gallery wall. This is the story of three accountings happening here in Phoenix: an accounting of emerging gallerists; an historical accounting of mail art as a genre; a humanitarian accounting of American deaths in Iraq; an accounting of one postal worker’s paranoia.
The Trunk Space opened its Mail Art Show on the first Friday of August. JRC and Stephanie Carrico, the former coffee compatriots at The Paper Heart, and owners of the gallery, displayed all 53 submissions they received from places as distant as Italy. Each piece of art in the show was on sale for five bucks with all proceeds going to benefit Arts Link. The exhibit included works by several local artists including Lisa Takata, Dain Gore and the Bledsoe duo: Richard and Michelle. The most intriguing submission to the show came from A. Polk: a scrap book, wrapped around its width with a wide band of vellum and bound closed by fine, strong twine. This fastening, a practical measure to secure the book during its postal passage, became a part of the object. It coaxes the observer to peek between the book pages but defies being undone. The substance of the scrap book was changed when Polk bound it; to snip the brown twine, to slice through that foggy outer slip would be to change it, and that would be a shame.
Like all Mail Art shows, this one was a populist endeavor: if you could go to the post office you could submit work to the show and it would be displayed. The inclusiveness of The Trunk Space show conforms with one of the conventions for mail art exhibition set forward by the New York Correspondance (sic) School. While an exhaustive historical accounting of this aesthetic could probably be traced back to the inception of postal exchange, it was Ray Johnson who formalized the practice by establishing the school in the late 1960’s. NYCS participants deployed their methodology as a medium: if an object passed through the postal system it was considered mail art. Johnson further complicated this practice with the nascent collages he sent through the mail to other artists. These correspondences with instructions to “Add to and Return to…” passed through the mail boxes of Robert Rauchenberg, Jasper Johns and Chuck Close, among many others. Letters that have been preserved are terrific examples of collaboration and a pop sensibility that was sanctioned by the postal systems of several countries.
Johnson committed suicide in 1995, but his “Add to and Return to” instruction has found another life in practices that couple snail mail correspondence with web-based networking. Baghdad Diaries (baghdaddiaries.com) is one Phoenix-based project that thrives on this dual circulatory system. Steve Salik, under the nom de plume “A Concerned Citizen,” was inspired by his participation in 20things.org and 1000journals.com to begin his latest project. Subscribers to Baghdad Diaries sign up to receive, by book rate U.S. postal mail, a handmade journal. Each diary is dedicated to individual American soldiers who died in the Iraq war. This is no small task given the difficulty of discerning an accurate and timely list of the deceased military personnel. Issued in sets of ten, each set with a different cover design, these journals start out blank and each subscriber adds to the book and sends it to the next recipient on the list. Visitors to the site who choose not to subscribe can peruse scans of journal pagess, read Salik’s comments about the project or track the progress of each journal as it travels around the globe.
Salik asks registrants to participate in an “interactive dialog about the war in Iraq, the ‘War on Terror’ and the way that these events are impacting our daily lives at a personal level”. I have recorded the story of my participation in the Trunk Space Mail Art Show in Diary #7.
“It was flat piece of wood with bark around its edge, on one side was a picture of a clown wearing a monocle, on the other I wrote: The Trunk Space, 1506 NW Grand Ave, Phoenix AZ 85007. I handed my parcel to the postal officer and asked him to hand cancel it and send it via first class mail. He looked at me like I was out of my mind. ‘I can’t accept that’ he said, ‘Ever since the anthrax scare we don’t hand cancel anything and we aren’t allowed to send objects without envelopes.’ He wouldn’t touch it. As I studied his face I thought about asking him: ‘Wouldn’t it make more sense to put a tainted log slice in an envelope?’ In the end, I decided it made no sense to try to rationalize his reaction to my request. We are fighting a War On Terror after all.”

Baghdaddiaries.com
Thetrunkspace.com
Artlinkphoenix.com

open letter to gg

dear goth gardeners:
you rock.

i recently joined your fb group and, as with most social circumstances since 2013, i’m not quite sure how i got here. i check the feed daily and am astounded by the content every time: amazing plants, design ideas, gorg found objects, great advice, humor and FASHION! since joining, i’ve learned there are many such groups and pages, but i’m a loyalist – i stay put despite all my watery, piscean ways. besides, yours is one of my most favorite groups to follow.

thanks to you, i’m starting a thread on my blog for ‘gardening’ under the greater category of the habitorium. writing under this new category will be addressed to you. i’ll share content inspired by all the good wishes i’ve cast for you and your plants, the insights i’ve gained from your generous sharing, and all the notes i’ve scribbled to you. consider this thread a huge overflow of love from this black, black heart of mine.

posts in the works:
  • whats goth got to do with it?
  • i kill cacti in the desert
  • don’t jump with that hedge trimmer!
  • moss and me, ferns and trees
  • jtown gardens seasonally
  • stackhouse park rocks
i wont give any credit to our current leadership, but its got to be more than coincidental how my troubles really started in 2016

every day, when i check the gg feed, i get more rooted to my own garden. its been a tough row to hoe, getting to these roots.

you know how things happen in threes? in the instance of my uprooting, the three things that happened were cubed. the details are astounding and i’m in the habit of sharing them. i’ve made this list special for you, goth gardeners. believe me.

now, i know many lives written in threes cubed can make my story seem paultry. i am acutely aware of the many blessings embedded in my privileges, i count them every day. you, goth gardeners, are one of them. thank you for the chance to exercise these knowings as i plant intentions in the wake of my three ring circus, and seeds in the ground.

Zoom and Bow Ties

I’m in the habit of instigating people to do things and these are almost always joyful instigations. Sometimes it just happens, sometimes not so much. Recently I had an opportunity to instigate a classroom of little people in the name of education.

I was invited by my cousin Mark’s son Greg to crash his first grade classroom on Wednesday. Greg is a substitute teacher who now works from his home in Colorado. His students are in New York, Ohio and Colorado. I am in Pennsylvania. As soon as he asked, I imagined how charming it could be to meet on Zoom, all together, apart, online.

I should note that never have I ever imagined entertaining a room full of first graders before that moment. Eigth graders? Sure. 7th, even 6th grade classrooms were familiar to me. But, it seemed like a good idea, given the pandemic and all. Anything is possible, right?

Greg and I agreed some sort of art project would be great. I became excited about all the possibilities. Then all the possibilities freaked me out. Suffice it to say, Tuesday came around and I had no idea what I would do. When in doubt, I plunder my library. Almost immediately, I hit upon Alice in Wonderland. Fantastic! I thought, and pulled it off my shelf.

I was way off, but I had no idea until I tried to get these little humans to focus on the story. They were lost… or maybe it was just the digital platform. So I started asking them questions: What’s marmalade? How do you curtsy? What is a waist coat? Where is your waist? Oh, it was great fun. I did a lot of laughing. I was really challenged by understanding who was talking when and whether these great kids could hear me. All the seeming chaos resolved in two assignments. First, learn how to curtsy then devise a fancy curtsy. The second assignment was to make a bow tie from things from your garden. NO TAPE! I wondered if I was getting through, with all the flashing green frames and lovely little faces laughing with me… I asked if they understood the assignment to a chorus of “yes” as they sat staring at me. I yelled “Well, what are you waiting for? Get outside!”

This week, I will see how their curtsies are coming along. They are supposed to practice the standard curtsy, and perfect a fancy one. Stay tuned.

E Responses to Survey

Thanks to Linda, depicted here c. 1983, for her instant solution to the problem of getting my hands on all your completed surveys. I really wanted to rely on the USPS, I insisted on it when Arlan (the curator) at IAMB Gallery urged me to go electronic. I wanted the slowness of mail. The good sense of social distancing is the only thing that could inspire a change of heart. Here it is…

PLEASE TAKE A PHOTO OF YOUR COMPLETED
Survey of Bookish Habits
and send it to me at
JONOVELLI<at>GMAIL<dot>COM

As the photos roll in, I will add your contribution to the paper copies I have on hand. Your input will be counted. My hope is that I can secure images of the paper copies held by Arlan, too. Stay tuned and thank you for considering The Survey of Bookish Habits as a diversion during these times of new habits on all fronts!

The Habitorium

The Habitorium is an independent research project of Jo Novelli-Blasko. It is a platform for creative gestures that disrupt habits, slow them down and distill actions from attitudes. The Habitorium surveys participants and generates various data, ephemera, and actions toward efficacious interventions.

I am currently migrating The Habitorium website to this jonovelliblasko.com domain. Its a big project, I am being methodical.

Next up: building out pages documenting projects from 1997 to 2019. Stay tuned.

AD1: New Habits

AD1 is the first in a series of Appalachian Dispatches, sent from a town highly ranked for how quickly it is shrinking, the depth of our impoverishment, and the illness of our population. I mention these conditions to highlight truths, not to fetishize our destitution. In fact, Johnstown has always been known for our disasters (the floods, mills, rust, etc.) so – hold our coffee. Here is the beauty of surviving disasters, we are experts in resilience.

This blog will be a testament to what I see here, all of it. My view is from a hillside trail where I enjoy the tremendous privilege of greeting each day, to breathe in agreement with the forest and my two dogs. We are committed to our continued mission of doing no harm.