The project was conceived in 2017 during early planning for the 10 year anniversary of PICTURE BERLIN, then two years away. I wanted to run a Mail Art project because participation would not be related to geography: invited artists could contribute, regardless of where they lived and worked, and this reflected the global spread of the PICTURE BERLIN alumni. Whatever event(s) ultimately took place in Berlin in 2019, artists in this project could feel very much a part of it even if they were not able to travel to Berlin themselves.
As the anniversary project evolved over the next two years, its scope was reduced significantly in response to funding constraints. Alas, the Großkreisentfernung Mail Art project was not one of the final six curator-led projects that made up INTERIORS TO BEING. Instead, it became a project run in parallel with INTERIORS rather than as part of it. Artists' enthusiasm for the project remained undiminished and the exhibition proceeded as planned in July 2019 in Berlin.
The project was principally an exercise in logistics and trust. Upon receipt of an artwork in the mail, each artist had only five days to make their response and post it to the next artist in sequence. This rapid tempo was dictated by a combination of available time (14 months), number of participating artists (46) and a non-negotiable exhibition date of July 2019. We anticipated mail delays (and there were many), lost items (there were two, but one was recovered) and changed personal circumstances among the artists that might affect their participation in the project (there were several but most were overcome).
I relied heavily on e-mail to keep the project on track and to keep all artists apprised of progress, looming parcel delivery and other important milestones. Ultimately, the project would succeed or fail based on the goodwill of the artists, their adherence to the time frame and their flexibility when things did not go entirely to plan.
For example, a painting vanished without a trace en route from The Netherlands to Portugal, despite a formal postal search. It was delivered, unexpectedly, nine months later! We anticipated that the main postal delays would occur where parcels had to travel long distances, but this was not the case. The longest delivery delay occurred between Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York City: the parcel took three weeks to travel 1.5 km! We watched helplessly as the postal service online tracking site showed the package bouncing between regional distribution centres before finally being delivered. Any other annoyances were minor in comparison.
The works were exhibited at project space tête, a venue well-known to many of the artists and a natural location to celebrate the collaboration of so many PICTURE BERLIN alumni and supporters. I chose to exhibit the packaging material too because it was instrumental in ensuring the safe transport of the works. Moreover, many were elaborately decorated with colourful stamps, themselves cultural artefacts of their home country. Alas, stamps might disappear entirely with the advent of the efficient but sterile barcode.
The works are intended to be viewed in sequence from the first artist, April Gertler in Berlin, to the last, Adrian Schiesser, also in Berlin and also the same apartment as April (they are married). This fact was not lost on a viewer at the Vernissage who thought the whole exhibition was a love letter written by April to Adrian, mediated by 44 artists of their acquaintance, scattered across the globe.
Themes emerge and recur throughout the exhibition (hint: look for thread); we encounter uncanny coincidences (Ines Lechleitner was privately contemplating travel to Japan, only to find that Ella Ziegler, two steps later in the sequence, had made Japan a feature of her typewritten textile work); and motifs in the main work are reflected in the packaging (Uli Aigner adorned her packaging with the flags of the nations she depicted in her work of coloured pencil on paper).
Some aspects of process are hidden from the viewer: Jacqui Orly sent work comprising frozen ice, and Ng Hui Hsien responded to what was delivered; Gernot Wieland's performative work initially looked like blank paper and required intervention from Carla Åhlander to render the invisible visible.
The project travelled a total Great Circle Distance of 66,678 km and took over a year to return to Berlin. The works were exhibited for only 12 days and thereafter were returned to their creators, donated or exchanged with other artists, or discarded. The collection was only ever ephemeral, but the artists' experience of such collaboration, I hope, was not. The whole was much greater than the sum of its parts.
Dr Marcus Brownlow
[curator at grosskreisentfernung.art]