Lindsay Gibb wrote…
Mail Art Olympix
Ed Varney Creates a Democratic Arts Event in Vancouver
Throughout his time as a Mail Art participant and enthusiast, BC-based artist Ed Varney has organized over a dozen Mail Art exhibitions. This year, with the 2010 Winter Olympics taking over his home territory, Varney decided to create an art event which paralleled the Olympics but which was completely based on cooperation rather than competition.
“I felt that such an exhibition would have many of the qualities which drove the modern Olympic movement before it became distorted by rampant commercialism,” says Varney. Unlike most gallery shows, Varney believes his is more democratic in that participation is open to all, not just those who “qualified” over others.
“The Mail Art Olympix is founded on the assumption that the audience has the visual discernment to determine what it likes, and the curator is an organizer, not a censor or arbiter of ‘quality’.”
Varney has been exchanging art through the postal system since 1970 when a loose network of artists began to exchange art through the Mail Art Network and used these exchanges to arrange exhibitions of each others work. For the Mail Art Olympix, Varney started recruiting in 2009, sending out invitations to around 300 artists while also posting the call on various websites and arts journals. In his invitations, he asked artists to submit work to any of three Olympix “events.”
The first event was Self Portraits, which is exactly what the title would suggest. The second, Artistamps, asks artists to parody postage stamps in whatever way they saw fit.
“Artists interpreted the Artistamp category liberally and produced not only sheets of artistamps, but designs for potential stamps, collages using stamps, and rubber stamp art as well.”
The third event was Manifestos, which he didn’t expect to be as popular as the first two events. Nevertheless, Varney opted to include this category because he felt it would give him, and the attendees of the exhibit, a better view into the concerns, methods, and the intents of the artists. He was surprised to find that much of the work that was sent in for the Manifestos event was visual rather than written. In the end, Varney received, and is exhibiting, work by 340 different artists representing 41 countries.
At the end of the exhibitions, he will mail a catalogue to each of the show’s participants. Varney hopes that other artists and curators in countries that host the Olympics in the future might create their own Mail Art Olympix.