VOTE!! A Mail Art Project by Jonathan Nicklow

Art of the Week

In a special exhibition of a unique medium for visual art, “VOTE!! A Mail Art Project” will be on display at East Nashville’s Red Arrow Gallery on October 17, showcasing some thoroughly contemporary social commentary with a decidedly old school process of solicitation.

The exhibition has been organized by Jason Brown, an advocate of mail art, which sees participants submit their creations via the post office, with pieces created directly on postcards and envelopes. It’s similar to another recent mail art project led by Brown called “My View From Home” which collected pieces from around the world reflecting on the advent of quarantining in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

History’s most well-known mail art program was instituted by mid-century collagist Ray Johnson, known as the New York Correspondence School. Johnson’s program has influenced Brown and now, with the creation of “VOTE!!,” has inspired artists to submit work dedicated to our democratic process. The upcoming election is expected to solicit a record number of mail-in ballots, adding an urgent dimension to this project.

“What does voting mean to you?” asks the VOTE!! website. “The cornerstone of a democracy is the citizen’s right to vote. On November 3, Americans will vote for the next President of the United States. Let’s say this mail art is your ballot — what are you voting for? What would you like to see changed?”

For instance, Colorado-based artist Jonathan Nicklow submitted a watercolored postcard to the project, depicting a skeletal mail carrier that emphasizes this critical chain in our voting process, drawing a parallel between this importance and the ongoing decline or “death” of the U.S. Postal Service, as well as accusations that trusting this institution with our votes will lead to fraud.

The front of Jonathan Nicklow’s submission to “VOTE!! A Mail Art Project”

In addition to selections from Brown’s mail project, this show will feature work from Nashville artist Paul Collins.

“Paul is painting ‘VOTE’ signs to drive voter awareness for each of the 100 days leading up to the election,” explained a statement from Brown. “You may have seen them in a yard near you! As part of [the ‘VOTE!!’] closing reception, there will be a VOTE sign giveaway from Paul. I will also have pre-stamped and addressed postcards for guests to take with them to create a piece for the VOTE!! mail art project.”

The project is ongoing until November 3 and, once it’s complete, Brown will be donating all pieces to the special collections department of Vanderbilt University’s library. You can find all of the pieces on Brown’s website.

The Red Arrow Gallery is located at 919 Gallatin Avenue, Suite #4, in East Nashville.

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