Mail Art as Knobs Instead of Nodes.

Dutch artist Jan W. Vugts' contribution to Nielsen's Send a Piece of Your Nature (1985-87).

Dutch artist Jan W. Vugts’ contribution to Nielsen’s Send a Piece of Your Nature (1985-87).

When we talk about networks, we usually imagine a structure of dots with connection lines. However, the images of networks show a peculiar place where dots and blobs are suspended in empty space. The blobs constitute a non-hierarchical and distributed system, where something might travel from node to node. Information travels across thin, straight lines to a focal point. In here, everything can happen. Outside, there seems to be nothing but a vast, empty space.

When we talk about networks, we could talk about lines and knobs instead of nodes. Talking about lines, we can imagine a place where everything and everyone move about and along lines. Our lives and things consists of bundles of lines whether we talk of tissue, veins or textures. For Scottish anthropologist Tim Ingold, the world is made of lines, not dots:  “For the tissue is a texture formed by a myriad of fine threads tightly interlaces, presenting all the appearance, to the casual observer, of a coherent, continuous surface.”[1] We are bundles and knots of lines, and our things are part of these bundles. We are entangles in meshworks, and always in the middle and forever in-between.

Mail art pieces are meshworkings. They are threads, lines, or bundles of lines rather than small entities. Of course, the notion of “meshwork” is not mentioned in the mail art network’s pieces or texts. Nevertheless, the idea and image of meshworks makes sense. At first, the abundances of meshwork motifs such as strings, threads, and other lines in Nielsen’s archive show an affinity or predisposition towards the idea of meshwork and a world of lines. Secondly and most importantly, the mail art pieces act, move, and makes sense in the manner of meshworks. These pieces are lines between artists, albeit rarely in the manner of a telephone wire or another connecting point – seemingly – transporting a message from a to b. The lines are never straight in the mail art network, but bends and breaks. The pieces are going along lines, not from node to node. In this way, mail art pieces are more like the knob, less like the autonomous, self-enclosed art-work. They remain open to the world, unfinished and always in the middle of it.

[1] Tim Ingold: Being Alive, 2011, p. 86.



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