ART IS ASTONISHMENT1
He sent me a dried squid with a stamp on
Tips for doing mail art
One day, I received a dried squid which hadn’t even been put in an envelope. My address had been written on it directly and a stamp attached. Shortly before that, I had been sending out corrugated cardboard cut in the shape of an A (in Japanese, eds.). This mail art with the letter A was published on the cover of a magazine, along with some of my writing. This was in the 70s.
The people who had read the article knew that you could send absolutely anything through the post. The result was that they began to send me shoes, telephone receivers, ashtrays, paper cups, Japanese wooden clogs, wooden rackets, metal graters, etc. directly through the post without putting them in an envelope. Several newspapers, magazines, and the television were all interested in this phenomenon. After that, they started to send me turnips and aubergines, carrots, dried fish, apples, bananas, and so on. Once, they sent me some bamboo shoots, but the bamboo had grown during shipping, and so it was no longer possible to read the address of the sender.
And this is how I ended up with the dried squid. The fact that someone might receive something like a dried squid through the post was very funny and the media were always talking about it. As a result, the most unlikely objects found their way to my home.
A boy named Toshiyuki Kitamura sent me a dried octopus and then a sheet of sea-weed on which he had written my address in white marker pen.
Seiko Miyazaki, a ‘one-yen stamp mail artist’ sent me a skipping rope covered in 175 one-yen postage stamps. Then she made a waistcoat out of one-yen stamps covering the cost of delivery and sent me it. This work was published abroad, so her research as a mail-artist moved on to hats and clothes in general. Then, one day when she went to the post office, they told her out of the blue that one-yen stamps were no longer in circulation.
Genki Numata, a bonsai artist who used to go up and down the Tokaido Road (an ancient road leading from Tokyo to Kyoto, eds) dressed up as a bonsai, sent me the dog who travelled with him, affixing two-yen stamps with a picture of a dog onto it. But in reality, you can’t send a live dog through the post, and after discussion with the people at the post office, in the end, the dog was franked and sent by courier.
This story received wide press coverage too.
Takako Oguri decided to post her primary-school-aged daughter, sticking stamps on her. Of course, this was out of the question. But the post office staff were very nice and the discussions with the postal staff were documented in great detail with photos, and I received all the material. The negotiations were also televised.
The largest item out of all the ones sent to me was a go-kart from Yoko Miyamoto. It exceeded the size and weight limits for delivery by mail, allowing a maximum weight of 12 kg. So she broke it down into five parts and sent me them one at a time.
All these types of mail art had been much talked about, so there are many people who think that this is what mail art is, while I call it unwrapping.
Unwrapping is my invention, and it means ‘not wrapped’, so it is not proper English.
But as I continued to use it, all my mail-art friends used this term.
Currently, I have about 30 thousand items of mail art. Actually, there are many different forms of mail art, and Unwrapping amounts to about thirty per cent of it.
For some, this mail art is just a game and has no artistic quality.
People who send this type of mail art are mostly people who had never dreamed of participating in artistic events, but it was fun to send this kind of object. At first, they sent only everyday objects, but then they started adding other ideas.
There was a time when a sandal and a piece of wood would arrive every day. I could not understand what they were, but as time went by, they surprisingly turned out to be parts of a cabinet for storing sandals.
To send objects smaller than the ordinary postcard, you need to affix a little tag.
One day I received a grain of rice with a tag as large as was permitted.
Someone had created a hydrangea flower from cardboard and stuck a stamp with a picture of a hydrangea on the pistil.
The maximum size allowed for a parcel is 150 cm in total height, width, and depth, so someone sent me a 50 cm3 polystyrene die. They put stamps on all the sides, numbered from 1 to 6.
And so on.
1 Art is Astonishment – Published in the Mainichi Newspaper – Tokyo, first issue March 25, 1994, is an illustrated text by Shozo Shimamoto, subdivided into chapters called These are translations of some of the chapters by Naoya Takahara, a Japanese artist who has lived for more than thirty years in Italy and was the official Italian translator of the Gutai texts published in the catalogue of the exhibition Giappone all’avanguardia. Il gruppo Gutai negli anni Cinquanta at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome in 1990, translated into English here by Adrian Bedford. The other chapters are: Chaos 3 Art, exaggeration; 4 Chaos Let women build museums – Transformation of ideas; Chaos 6 The more we produce the better – The things that come from waste; Last Chaos – What began as Gutai – Reportage on the Venice Biennale 1993.