Keep the Networking Spirit Deep!
By Vittore Baroni
The most overtly political action I made as a mail artist was the circulation, in 1980, of the leaflet “Mail Art contro tutti” (“Mail Art against everybody”), a statement co-signed by the Italian networkers Daniele Ciullini, Nicola Frangione and Marco Pachetti in which we declared – much in the style of the ultra-left wing political flyers of the time – that mail art was not simply a new trend or artistic movement but rather an alternative cultural strategy, a process of communication rather than art to be framed and marketed, a cooperation network of artists “against the bureaucracy and the mafia” of the mainstream Art System. The flyer, a sort of anti-manifesto, originated lively reactions among networkers, and I even received a red gauntlet from an irate mail artist who objected to the inflamed “revolutionary” tone of the text, without realizing that this was done a little "tongue-in-cheek".
“Art Renegade” was one of my early rubberstamps, intended to emphasize the role of the mail artist as an outsider and an opponent to the Art System, interested in building a network of social relations and cultural exchanges rather than in producing marketable art items. In this case, the rubberstamp is affixed over a postcard by Graziano Origa, himself a rebellious graphic designer, cartoonist and “Punk Artist” (this was also the name of his magazine, for which in the late Seventies I contributed an interview to Guglielmo Achille Cavellini and other mail art related articles).
Futurgappismo is a neologism composed by the word Futurism plus GAP (Gruppi Armati Proletari, acronym of the militant extreme left wing cells Proletarian Armed Groups), the term was coined for a series of works by the Italian visual poet Sarenco. In 1978 he asked me and my friend Carlo Battisti to edit a book with contributions from various experimental poets and mail artists, who had created performances and postal works based on the concept of art as incendiary political action.
The book Futurgappismo 1 came out in 1979 for the Factotum Art editions and included works by Baroni, Battisti, Sarenco, Ulrichs, Miccini, Damini plus various other networkers. Left wing and right wing terrorism was on the front pages of the newspapers almost every day in Italy in the late Seventies, so some of the mail I had sent out bearing the rubberstamps “Futurgappismo OK” and “Futurgappismo - Cell of Forte dei Marmi” were intercepted by the Postal authorities. I was summoned by the local police, and the situation risked to become quite surreal (a terrorist group rubberstamping their logo on the outside of letters with the sender’s full address!?!), but luckily I found a sympathetic police officer and I was able to untangle myself easily from the accident.
Political Satire: Post Scriptum
My birth town of Forte dei Marmi organizes since the early Seventies a yearly festival and art prize dedicated to Political Satire, still alive today. In 1979 I proposed to organize, as part of this yearly festival, a mail art show on the theme “Political Satire: Post Scriptum”. For this, my first big networking project, I was allowed to use the large spaces of the town Library to exhibit the hundreds of letters, postcards and original works received from around the world. Some of the contributions were very extreme in their political approach and also graphically rather explicit (for example, photos of terrorist actions linked to the Red Brigades, or pornographic drawings involving the Pope). Everything was shown uncensored throughout the summer and, unbelievably, we had no problems at all with the Law or with the audience. The catalogue of the show, that I edited and mailed to all the participants, was also issue n. 23 of the magazine with changing editorship “Commonpress”, started by the active Polish mail artist Pawel Petasz.