KARL YOUNG AND REID WOOD
A YEAR OF E-MAIL ART COLLABORATION BETWEEN REID WOOD AND KARL YOUNG
For nine years now, Reid Wood and I have engaged in year-long collaborations. Several other people, most extensively John Fowler and Lois Ward, have joined in for a while during one project or another. Several of these interacted with other related projects, and all resulted in gallery exhibitions. The first projects extended the mail art practice of passing multi-genre art back and forth, altering it in various ways with each generation. The difference between these exchanges and traditional mail art is that during the first three years, we conducted them by fax, and now have moved on to exchanging copy in jpeg format via e-mail. During the fax project years, we set aside time on each Tuesday night for our exchanges, and in the first year did three exchanges each session. This not only encouraged a great deal of spontaneity, it also lead to rapid transformations. Moving to e-mail, we just did one exchange a week, and didn't need to send our copy at a specified time. The years during which we worked in jpegs involved their share of accidents, changes, and interruptions due to personal circumstances. The e-mail projects usually lasted a year, and involve a few simple and basic guidelines.
For 2001, we initially thought it would be interesting to take cues from Japanese Renku, a form of linked verse composition. In this practice, stanzas of three and two lines alternate, and the participants employ "link and shift" - each new stanza should carry a link to the one it follows, and should also shift significantly away from it so the finished poems includes as much human experience as possible. Some of our previous projects involved minimal variations, building up in slow increments. A problem with two people composing Renku is that whoever starts will always get three lines and whoever follows will always get two. We decided to add a single line after the model, so that the progression would be 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1, etc. What do such numbers mean in work that depends at least as much on graphics as words? That's something we explored during the project. My health presented problems made timing uncertain. Public events in September brought radical shifts and a type of drama into the work. In 2002, we have essentially continued the project rather than beginning on new premises.
It seems interesting to me that a number of younger people engage in similar projects under the rubric of "web art." Reid and I simply see our projects as carrying on mail art with different tools. If there is a significant difference between web art and mail-art-moved-into-cyberspace, checking out those differences might lead to a better understanding of both.
Selections from our 1998 project can be found at the U.S. and Canadian pages for the 6th Mexico City Post Arte Biennial.
- Karl Young