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GDR Mail Art in the classroom


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Presentation at ACTFL2015

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GDR Mail Art in the classroom

  1. 1. Mail Art in the GDR – A Critical Thinking Exercise Marcel P. Rotter University of Mary Washington
  2. 2. Mail Art – The Inter-Net of the 1960-80? • Sending small scale (mostly two-dimensional) art works through the mail service • Grew out of the Fluxus movement of the 1950s and 60s • Ray Johnson: New York Correspondence School 1962 • Later global movement, peaked in the 1980s, still present today • lost its popularity due to  increasingly restrictive standardization of mail services worldwide  advent of the Internet • Certain forms of Mail Art continue to exist electronically such as Internet memes. • Commonly two-dimensional (paper, fabric, plastic sheets, slides) • Can also include three-dimensional small-scale art pieces, music, sound art. • Most popular art forms: collages of found or recycled images and objects, rubber stamps, and paint • Collages can be sent as originals openly on postcards or in envelopes, or they can be copied (photographed, photo-copied), which facilitates the wide distribution of the artifact.
  3. 3. Democratic, networked character • Circumvents official art distribution and approval systems (art market, museums, and galleries) • Network as the primary way of sharing their work • Community embraces outsider or alternative status • Any Mail artists can call for a thematic mail art project • submissions can be shown in (often un-juried) exhibitions • Organizer of the project makes the submissions available to all participants (catalog or distribution of original Mail Art pieces) • Mail Art is about interpersonal communication, exchange, creation of a virtual community of equal participants • ☛ Mail Art can be seen as anticipating the networked, de-centralized cyber communities of the Internet.
  4. 4. Mail Art in the GDR • Un-supervised, truly democratic art form was suspicious to the centralized government of East Germany • National and international mail service in the GDR was a daily necessity. It could be scrutinized (especially for well-known opponents of the regime), but it could not be shut down. • East-German mail art gives us rare insides into the multi-faceted opposition movement of the GDR • 1980s copying technology in West Germany not in East Germany  typewriters and mimeograph machines were registered by the state,  xerography was unavailable  only 16% of East Germans had a telephone • these (photographed) collages one of few opportunities to express one’s opposition to the state publicly
  5. 5. GDR Mail Artist • Joseph Huber • Birger Jesch • Lutz Wohlrab • Jürgen Gottschalk • Johannes Beleites
  6. 6. Examples of GDR Mail Art
  7. 7. Pollution • Water and air pollution • Atomic power plants (only two: Greifswald, Dresden) and Uranium mining – especially after Three Mile Island accident 1979 and Tschwernobyl 1986
  8. 8. Johannes Beleites “Trabant”
  9. 9. Johannes Beleites “Rauch”
  10. 10. Paramilitary Training • Integrated from Kindergarten on (visits to military units, textbooks, “Manöver” games) • Shooting as part of PhysED • In 9th grade: Zivilverteidigungslager (5 weeks incl. shooting) since 1979 • In college: 5 weeks military camp (incl. shooting) • The fear of WWIII after SS-20 and Natodoppelbeschluss
  11. 11. Johannes Beleites “Schießscheibe” Birger Jesch “Schießscheiben -Projekt”
  12. 12. Einkommen und Ausgaben in Ost und West DDR BRD Einkommen- Industrie 1292.00 3657.00 Einkommen- Gewerbe 1134.00 2893.00 Prices Brot 0.52 3.17 Fleisch(Rind) 9.80 17.19 Butter 9.60 8.60 Kaffee (Bohnen) 70.00 17.86 Strumpfhose 14.00 5.23 Waschmaschine 2300.00 981.00 Farbfernseher 4900.00 1538.00 Straßenbahnfahrt 0.20 2.07 Brief 0.20 0.80 Miete(2-3 Zimmer, Küche, Bad Zentralheizung, Neubau) 75.00 411.00
  13. 13. Joseph Huber
  14. 14. Organization of Retail in the GDR HO (Handelsorganisation) 40% Konsum 37% Private Shops (Bakeries, Butchers, Pubs, Coffee Shops) 23% Delikat (Groceries) Exquisit (Clothing) Intershop (Valuta Shop) $ £ ¥ DM
  15. 15. Joseph Huber
  16. 16. Comforts in East and West
  17. 17. Mail Art Today
  18. 18. Forrest is a community, not commodity
  19. 19. People who will not sustain…
  20. 20. Why (GDR) Mail Art in the U.S. Classroom? • Part of German cultural history • Fine tuning of German language skills (less words, more play with meaning) • Development of critical thinking skills • Motivation
  21. 21. How to get your students working? • Show examples of GDR Mail Art • Guide students to understanding of context of the 1980s  In Europe (NATO-Doppelbeschluss, Club of Rome paper, …)  In both East and West Germany (Friedensbewegung, Umweltbewegung / Die Grünen)  In the East in particular (Glasnosts, Perestroika, Mauer, military training in schools) • Assign Mail Art projects:  Free choice?  From a check list  Give set of images and/or vocabulary
  22. 22. A guided approach 1. What are problems around you? Identify, at least, three! 👉 👉 👉 2. What is your position vis-à-vis one of these problems? (pointing out a contradiction, offering a solution, …) 3. What words and images would fit to describe the problem and your position? (Find, at least, five!) 4. What rhetorical devices would be appropriate (Alliteration, Chiasm, Rhyme, …) to express your position? In the world In our Country In our state In our town In our school In our class 5. Create your mail art piece by making a collage, or use an Internet meme creator!
  23. 23. UMW - Student Work Topics: • New University Center with dining facilities • Other campus issues (dorms, buildings) • Health and beauty • Environmental Issues • War and Peace Additional topics for your classroom: • Bullying • Religious tolerance • School-related topics
  24. 24. New University Center Dining Facilities
  25. 25. Other Campus-specific Issues Cockroaches in dorm Presidency
  26. 26. Health & Beauty
  27. 27. Environment
  28. 28. Es gibt keinen PLANet B
  29. 29. War and Peace
  30. 30. Frieden nicht Krieg; Warum haben wir das Wort "Frieden", wenn wir es nicht verwenden.
  31. 31. Other Topics Childhood Fun Electioniering “Adulting” Racism International Politics Same-Sex Marriage Inmate numbers