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("...the artist, living two lives, the life that makes no sense and the life of art that makes sense out of the other life, has the choice of going for everything, to fill up the emptiness, or going for nothing." William S. Wilson)

Notes on the chronology of Hungarian correspondence art

The need to study correspondence art first arose in Hungary during the research conducted into the mail art movement (Géza Perneczky) with antecedents and related versions galore. In order to understand this marginal area of art the concept of "mail art" should first be clarified.

In principle "Mail/Correspondence Art" is accessible to all, it is personal, co-operative, interactive, built on communication and aimed at exploration; it is open to chance, operates with playful, simple tools, does not strive for exclusivity, has neither commodity nor institutional value, uses personal production as a means and has a cultural goal. In "mail art" senders distribute their information to the participants in the network who make their own contributions and send it on in a way similar to that of the scientific exchange of ideas.

"Mail art" did emerge even in information-deficient Eastern Europe but was not called such at the time, hence it had many different forms, now all awaiting discovery. Having explored the already researchable Fluxus, conceptual art, Ray Johnson’s correspondence art and its antecedents, a chronology can be established based on the available documents and can be used as a means to find links between remote but concurrent events. ("I don’t think there is an exact date for the establishment of the New York Correspondence School but the activity had started long before it was given a name." Ray Johnson)

Maciunas’ (USA) art history chart shows conceptual art as one of the precursors to Fluxus. For Ray Johnson Fluxus is correspondence art; some of the Hungarian conceptual artists active in the 70s can be regarded as mail artists in a Johnsonian sense. Johnson’s New York Correspondence School has an affinity with Miklós Erdély’s Creativity Circle, and a correspondence can also be seen between the former’s Fan Clubs and the latter’s Indigo Club, etc. International predecessors include Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Dada and John Cage. Lajos Kassák’s international activist correspondence (he exchanged works by post with Kurt Schwitters for example), László Moholy-Nagy’s postcards and his ‘telephone works’ from the 1920s can also be regarded as antecedents of Hungarian mail art. Charles Sirato’s Dimensionist Manifesto (1936), signed by Duchamp, Picabia and Moholy-Nagy, among others, must also be remembered in this context. The essence of this art was summed up as: "Deductive towards the past. Inductive towards the future. Alive in the present. ...Man himself becomes the centre and the subject of the work of art. ..."Robert Filliou’s oft-quoted idea of the "ETERNAL NETWORK", Ray Johnson’s “keeping the ball on the move with a ping-pong paddle” and Miklós Erdély’s "self-assembly” principle are all manifestations of the same other world. CORRESPONDENCE is the "magic spell" found in all of these activities, while the internet is today’s new "magic wand".

When compiling the chronology I found it important to assume a vantage point that offers a view of the entire spectrum of correspondence art. I believe that a range of chronologies will be completed in the future that can be linked with the help of the right documents. It is of the essence that chronologies would record events without evaluating them; hence, the value of an individual document will be determined by the number of interpretations it offers.

(György Galántai, 1998)

Compiled from Artpool’s documentation by György Galántai in 1998. Please refer to the source if you use any part of this text.

(English translation: Krisztina Sarkady, 2016)

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