Any Mail artists can call for a thematic mail art project. The resulting submissions can be shown in (often un-juried) exhibitions. The organizer of the project makes the submissions available to all participants through either a catalog or through distribution of original Mail Art pieces.
At its core, mail art is about interpersonal communication, exchange and the creation of a virtual community of equal participants. In this way, mail art can be seen as anticipating the networked, de-centralized cyber communities of the Internet.
Due to its de-centralized character, Mail Artifacts are rarely part of public collections. Most Mail Art is in private archives, and, since the majority of artists is still alive, not very easily accessible. Sporadically, pieces come into collections through the estate acquisition of artists who occasionally participated in Mail Art (for example Andy Warhol at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles).
It is obvious even for the outsider that an un-supervised, truly democratic art form must have been seen with suspicion by the centralized government of communist East Germany. On the other hand, national and international mail service in the was a daily necessity. It could be scrutinized (especially for well-known opponents of the regime), but it could not be shut down. Therefore, East-German mail art provides us with rare insides into the multi-faceted opposition movement of the GDR. Given the fact that in the 1980s copying technology typical at the time for West Germany were hard to access (typewriters and mimeograph machines were registered by the state, xerography was unavailable) and only 13% of East Germans had a telephone, these (photographed) collages were one of the few opportunities to express one’s opposition to the state and be seen by a larger audience. As is the case for mail art collections elsewhere, East German collections are almost exclusively private. However, the State Museum of Schwerin, Germany, has acquired the incredible large collection of East German graphic designer and Mail Artist Joseph Huber in 2001 shortly before Huber committed suicide, possibly as late effect of the Stasi oppression. It complements the museum’s world-famous Fluxus collection with the largest number of works by Marcel Duchamp at its center. The Huber collection is neither cataloged nor inventoried. When I inquired before a visit last year how many artifacts or, at least, archival boxes of artifacts the collection contains, the curator could not give me a number. While spending two weeks last August at the museum, I had unrestricted access to all materials. I photographed about 6.000 artifact, which covers approximately one third of the collection. While the curator prepared for an exhibition, I was able to advise her of possible artifacts to include as even she did not know what she had in her depot.
GDR Mail Art in the classroom
Mail Art in the GDR –
A Critical Thinking Exercise
Marcel P. Rotter
University of Mary Washington
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.
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.
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
GDR Mail Artist
• Joseph Huber
• Birger Jesch
• Lutz Wohlrab
• Jürgen Gottschalk
• Johannes Beleites
• Integrated from Kindergarten on (visits to military units,
textbooks, “Manöver” games)
• Shooting as part of PhysED
• In 9th grade: Zivilverteidigungslager (5 weeks incl. shooting)
• In college: 5 weeks military camp (incl. shooting)
• The fear of WWIII after SS-20 and Natodoppelbeschluss
Why (GDR) Mail Art in the U.S.
• Part of German cultural history
• Fine tuning of German language skills (less
words, more play with meaning)
• Development of critical thinking skills
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:
From a check list
Give set of images and/or vocabulary
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
In the world
In our Country
In our state
In our town
In our school
5. Create your mail art piece by making a
collage, or use an Internet meme creator!
UMW - Student Work
• New University Center with dining
• Other campus issues (dorms,
• Health and beauty
• Environmental Issues
• War and Peace
Additional topics for your classroom:
• Religious tolerance
• School-related topics