Postal Modernism

Critics of Phoenix's downtown art scene love to bitch about how its plethora of painters, mixed-media masters and other creative types have forgone imagination and simply mailed it in.

As much as scenesters would hate to admit it, it looks like those pugnacious pundits are correct, at least when it comes to the Trunk Space's second annual Mail Art show, which opens Friday, July 15.

Over the past few weeks, Trunk Space owners Stephanie Carrico and JRC have assembled a sizable collection of dutifully decorated objects, package postcards, drawings, paintings, and other art parcels, all sent to them via the United States Postal Service, which they'll use to deck the walls of their Grand Avenue gallery.

"That's what we love about this show -- we're getting stuff in the mail for an entire month," says Carrico. "It's totally organic, since the people sending in all this work decide what the show's gonna be like. It's a surprise to everybody, even us."

The concept of distributing artwork through the mail or using postal ephemera as potential canvases is nothing new. Folks like the Italian futurists of turn-of-the-century Europe, dadaist Marcel Duchamp, the Crackerjack Kid, and the "father of mail art," Ray Johnson, have been hijacking Mr. McFeely's speedy deliveries for more than a hundred years, collaborating and connecting with those who appreciate envelopes or letters covered with illustrations, rubber-stamped collages, specialty postage stamps, and other artistic embellishments.

After requesting submissions across the Internet, Carrico and JRC were greeted by a daily deluge of decked-out dispatches from as far away as Toronto, Canada, and Osaka, Japan. Ryosuke Cohen, founder of the Brain Cell mail-art project, contributed an elaborate screen-printed and rubber-stamped collage of celebrities such as Bela Lugosi, while NYC's "The Sticker Dude" submitted an array of creepy clip art of a pig's head arranged on paper in the shape of the Big Dipper, and Sacramento's Mike Dickau included some of his custom-made "artistamps." Locals like Amy Carpenter, Dain Gore, and Lisa Takata also have entries in the show.

The show also includes "chain mail collaborations," where artists will complete a small portion of a piece before forwarding it on to the next brush-head to add their scribblings, not to mention a plentitude of postcards featuring photographs of the curious "roadside attractions" dotting the Americana landscape (such as Carhenge or the ginormous dinosaurs of Cabazon, California).

But the couple's hoping all the kookiness will translate into cash, as proceeds from the sale of all these oddities go into a fund to help benefit the local scene. Just don't ask their mailman for his review, since JRC admits their letter carrier was "getting really ticked off" because of all the "strange stuff" they received for last year's show (like bongo drums, a hand-painted coconut, and a pair of sandals).

"He was at wit's end by the time the show went up, because we don't have a normal-sized mailbox and there was nowhere for him to put [everything]," says JRC. "Whenever he comes here now, he's always welcome to a cold soda or coffee."

After all, we wouldn't want him going postal.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.