You’ve got mail art!

Review of an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Peterborough

Nathaniel Christopher Arthur [Peterborough, Ont.] Volume 38 Issue 20

Receiving good mail is often the highlight of an otherwise dreary day. In this age of mass-communication we are indiscriminately inundated with impersonal communication. Occasionally you’ll find a piece of personal mail amidst these seemingly insurmountable heaps of bills, flyers, or dubious whacks of “spam.” Its rare personalised nature makes it all the more valuable. It’s nice to get a cheque from grandma, a post-card from Italy or a simple letter from home. There is nothing like getting a piece of mail.

Mail has a significant impact on our lives. It is a channel of live energy that creates a physical connection between an individual and the world. Yet is it art? The exhibit Mail Art, on display at the Art Gallery of Peterborough until March 6, shows that it is.

Mail art is art that is sent through the postal system. Rather than being displayed or sold through conventional commercial channels, it is a spontaneous art form that manifests itself in post cards, books, photocopied images, rubber stamp images, artist-made postage stamps, and other non-conventional art forms.

Although there are no set rules about mail art there is a common trend among mail artists to use low-tech tools to create their work. They often look like happy, cluttered collages or mosaics. Some of the pieces on display at the Peterborough Art Gallery were made with crayon and others by a laser printer, and many used markers, stamps and stickers. Mail art may appear to be a bit clumsy or childish at first glance but upon closer inspection you will see unabridged honesty. This art captures a moment in time like a Polaroid photograph.

The mail art network has evolved with the times and has adapted to modern means of communication and production such as offset printers, fax machines, photocopiers and the internet. However, mail artists aren’t just passive observers to change; some people argue that they are instrumental in initiating it. Some mail artists argue that they pioneered certain functions of the internet–such as creating distance-independent communities, communities which have been a feature of the mail art network for decades.

Last year, Toronto artist Julie Voyce held a mail art workshop at the Art Gallery of Peterborough. A lot of mail art was sent to the Art Gallery in response.

The examples of mail art on display at the Art Gallery of Peterborough remind me of diaries, yearbooks, sticker books, and recycled paper. It’s an accessible form of art that does not require a significant investment of time or money.

Japanese mail artist Ryosuke Cohen sent one of his works to the exhibit. It’s a piece of paper that looks like a collage, covered with stamps, address labels, postage marks, and other personalised markings. Every corner of the world is represented on this piece–it looks like an address book generated by a rainbow–it’s a fun, rather disarming exhibit, that caught my eye, drew me in and put me at ease. I really feel like I “got it.”

Everyone who sees mail art will undoubtedly gain a slightly different insight than the next person. For me it represents the recognition and celebration of the whole. The whole person, the whole journey, or the whole story. Mail artists use the entire piece of mail as their palette, gallery, and channel literally and figuratively on all levels. It celebrates mail in its entirety, it’s not just a utilitarian tool to get a message from point “a” to “b.” The vessel is an integral part of the message. It is the art. It’s the tone, the journey, and history. The message is not necessarily the most important or beautiful component.

Mail Art is on display at the Art Gallery of Peterborough, (Ramp 1) until March 6
The Art Gallery is located at 250 Crescent Street in Del Crary Park by Little Lake. For more information call 743-9179 or go to

I am a resident of Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, who has been blogging here for nearly 25 years. I enjoy sharing my thoughts and feelings on my own online platform. From 1998 until 2017, I worked as a journalist, and I have posted most of my articles in the 'News' section of this website.