Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cascadian Landscapes

To honor the beauty of the Cascadian bioregion, Cascadia Artpost has created the first three artistamps in a new series called "Cascadian Landscapes."

The first artistamp shows a view of Mount Rainier, the highest volcanic peak of the Cascade mountain range at 14,410 feet above sea level. This image is an original drawing based on a photograph posted on the current U.S. National Park Service website.

The second artistamp features a view of Budd Inlet and the Port of Olympia, Washington, with an abandoned railroad causeway in the foreground. This view is looking northeastward from Olympia's Fourth Avenue Bridge. The image is a drawing based on an original photo taken in 2013.

Olympia's Capitol Lake provides the image on the third artistamp. The image was created from a posterized photo taken at sunset and looking southward toward the state capitol building and the mouth of the Deschutes River, which flows into Capitol Lake, which in turn flows into Budd Inlet.


Michael Bidner, Artistamp Creator (1944-1989)

Fifteen years ago, when the notion of a Cascadia Artpost was still an idea germinating in the head of its creator, the face-on black image on an orange postoid simply labeled "Artistamp" with an underlined Greek gamma caught my eye as I discovered what Chuck Welch aka The Crackerjack Kid called The Eternal Network. Creating and exchanging faux postage stamps and mail art soon became an important activity in my life. By that time, a decade had passed since the sad passing of Michael Bidner, the originator of the term "artistamp." But Bidner remained one of those personages, like the late Ray Johnson, that I made note of as I learned more and more about the origins of artistamps and what Michael Crane termed "correspondence art."

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Bidner's birth. Cascadia Artpost honors the memory of Michael Bidner with the issue of fifteen artistamps that reproduce designs from a sheet of sixteen that Bidner titled his "Mail Art Masterpiece." Bidner created the sheet to publicize his 1984 Artistampex, the first international exposition focused on artistamps and curated by Bidner. Artistampex was also significant for the opportunity it presented for mail artists to meet face to face. Long time networkers Harley and The Crackerjack Kid have shared with us some of their memories about this event and their relationships with Bidner.

Bidner had begun to compile a worldwide catalog of artistamps at the time of his death. His collection of 10,000 artistamps was bequeathed to the art research center Artpool in Budapest, Hungary.

Mail art correspondent Reg Côté has kindly sent Cascadia Artpost an original cover sent out by Bidner to publicize Artistampex, also illustrated with the Cascadia Artpost commemoratives.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fluxus Identity


A series of self-photos taken in June 2014 are the basis for a sheet of 28 artistamps simply titled "FluXus Identity," exploring different ways of seeing and being seen.

Artist Self-Portrait

We met our dear mail art friend buZ blurr for the first time in person at the Ex Postal Facto (XPF) exposition held in San Francisco in February 2014. From photographs taken of several of the participants, buZ later produced a set of unique images on artistamps of various artists who were present at XPF, and sent us a copy of the set. We took buZ's image of yours truly, resized and cropped it, and released it as a Cascadia Artpost artistamp. Thank you, buZ, for creating this and the other likenesses, reminding us of the fond memories and fun we all had at XPF.


A few years ago while still living in the Ballard neighborhood of the city of Seattle, Washington, we would take five-mile walks in the morning three or four times a week. Our walking path was a big oval, northward through a residential neighborhood called Loyal Heights, westward down several flights of stairs and walkways to a public beachfront park at Shilshole along Elliot Bay, then southward along the urban Burke-Gilman trail, across a railroad spur track and over a railroad bridge back to our residence. While walking the first segment through Loyal Heights, I passed a house where one of the residents staged small action figures in changing scenes along the top of a retaining wall.

I became fascinated in the miniature dramas I saw and decided to order some miniature people of my own, which I called "peeps." These small figures were HO- and O-gauge scales intended for model railroad layouts. I would add several of my peeps to the settings on the retaining wall. Sometimes they would stay in the same place for days, but sometimes I would walk by to find my peeps in different positions, and other times my peeps simply disappeared.

I began to set one or more peeps in different locations along the urban trail portion of my walking route, where I found low retaining walls along the trail. Later I documented the location of my peeps with photos. Quickly I discovered that my peeps would have longer lifespan if I placed them in less obvious locations along the busy trail, otherwise they would be gone after a day or two.

After moving to Olympia, I wondered whether any of my peeps had survived in the urban jungle. One year later, on a trip to Seattle, I decided to make a diversion and drive to the trail to see if any of the peeps were still in place. Of the four locations I checked, I found one peep still sitting on his tiny bench at the spot where I had originally placed him. I decided to bring him back to Olympia with me.

So now the peeps are the subject of a series of artistamps. I selected the best photos and highlighted the settings of the peeps by using a graphic technique called a vignette to crop their photos.

I am considering some new future projects that will feature peeps. Photographing peeps in urban settings is not a new idea - for example, see the various books published by the street artist Slinkatchu. The peeps exert an emotional force on me that is not surprising.  "The feeling of being ignored and overlooked, of feeling small, is a universal one," says Slinkachu. "It is as easy for us to fall through cracks in the pavement in a big city as it is for the little people." Stay tuned for more peep adventures that become reports to the Eternal Network.

Commodity Civilization II

As a followup to the American Values artistamps created last year, we created a second collage out of newspaper advertisements and magazine clippings with the title "Commodity Civilization II." So much of American life is a preoccupation with acquiring material goods, and of course advertising images and messages are omnipresent in all media as constant accompaniment. The American cultural historian Jackson Lears has coined the term "commodity civilization" to described what has been called the American Way of Life. Can we imagine another future where human relationships rather than commodity acquisition might be valued more highly?

Spurned by the Panopticon

The Eternal Network extends even to prison. However, mail restrictions forbid certain items used in mail art correspondence that we outside the world of panopticons take for granted. We discovered that rubber stamps are one of those forbidden categories. When Cascadia Artpost attempted several times to mail several unmounted rubber stamps to correspondent Colin Scholl, the envelope came back to us with a sticker and hand-written message. We decided to create a postcard with a photo of the returned envelope that we titled "Spurned by the Panopticon." On the front of the postcard is a "Fluxus Prison" artistamp designed by Colin that was printed on perforated stock by Cascadia Artpost. Perhaps someday you will find mail franked with one of these artistamps or another inscribed "CS MAIL" delivered direct from the panopticon.