ArtBeat: What is art? Just ask GCC’s Art Club

Greenfield Community College art instructor explores the question

  • GCC art instructor Jen Simms looks through some of the hundreds of submissions the Art Club has received for its Mail Art show. For the Recorder/Trish Crapo

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    One artist has sent in several "medicine bundles" that contain various hand-stamped objects, including stacks of fake money, since "mail art shows can get expensive." For the Recorder/Trish Crapo For the Recorder—Trish Crapo

  • Hundreds of submissions, in a wide range of styles and sizes, have already come in response to the GCC Art Club's call for submissions to their Mail Art show, coming up June 14 through July 12 in the college's South Gallery. Deadline for submissions is April 28. For the Recorder/Trish Crapo

Published: 3/16/2016 6:22:56 PM

Greenfield Community College’s mail room has been seeing a lot of activity lately. The Art Club’s call for submissions to their Mail Art project has resulted in hundreds of postcards, rolled up canvases, large envelopes — even sculptural works — making their way through the postal system to end up in GCC art instructor Jen Simms’ box.

Or, boxes, really — since Simms now has two large cardboard boxes chock full of mail art, and a third heaped with old stamps torn from the corners of envelopes that she’s considering piling on a pedestal and displaying as sculpture.

Simms says that stamps are just one example of how the project has prompted the question: “Is this art?”

Which leads, interestingly, to the larger question: “What is art?”

A student dropped the stamps by as a contribution to the project, Simms says, and, in the spirit of the Art Club’s open, non-judgmental philosophy, she’s willing to give them a spot in the show, which will be June 14 through July 12 in GCC’s South Gallery at One College Drive, Greenfield.

The opening on Tuesday, June 14, 3 to 7 p.m. will also feature a showing of the “Tiny Book Show,” curated by Amy Tingle and Maya Stein of The Creativity Caravan. Tingle and Stein have turned a vintage caravan into a bookmobile that displays a collection of tiny books made by artists and writers from around the world. It will be parked in the GCC lot.

Egalitarian Art

Simms says she introduced the idea of a Mail Art project to the Art Club at GCC “as a community-driven idea — something where everyone could participate regardless of their art experience.”

This idea is in keeping with club’s overall philosophy, she says.

Art Club members have been sorting through the mail as it arrives, have contributed their own work, and are designing a ’zine — a small circulation, self-published magazine — to hand out at the opening.

Most of the submissions thus far have been local, including a recent batch from teens involved in the art program at The Art Garden in Buckland, but Simms has received mail art from as far away as France, England, Serbia, Portugal and Spain. A call for submissions on the International Union of Mail Artists website may have been responsible for some of these. And word has gone out over Facebook, ArtSake (the Mass Cultural Council blog) and the Valley Arts Newsletter.

Much of what she’s received has had a “casual, ‘just for fun’ nature,” Simms says. She thinks the knowledge that you’re mailing your work off into the world and won’t get it back inspires a playful attitude that has both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, the artist is encouraged to take risks, and to let go of their work. On the other hand, some of the work might not have as strong a voice or be as meaningful as work created for another purpose.

Some pieces have seemed more serious or autobiographical. One artist found that making mail art helped free him up to create after having been blocked for a long time, and has been sending in multiple pieces every week.

While most of the submissions so far have been postcards, Simms says “mail art” is essentially anything the post office lets you send through the mail. She’s received several small boxes that open to display installations inside. One artist has sent several “medicine bundles” — packages that unroll to include assorted shapes and sizes of personalized, hand-stamped compositions referencing the Fluxus movement of the 1960s, a direct tribute to mail art.

Yet another artist has been sending individual pieces that she intends to be hung together to create a large work. Simms lifts several of these pieces from a cascading pile on the table.

“We’re going to have to puzzle it out,” she says. But she doesn’t sound like she minds.

Deadline for submissions to the GCC Mail Art show is April 28.

For more information and to see examples, search for “Mail Art.” (don’t forget the period!) on Facebook. Submit an anonymous or signed postcard, card in an envelope, or other mail-able art to: GCC Art Department, c/o Jen Simms, One College Drive, Greenfield, MA 01301.


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