Approximately 14 Years of Collaborations with Reid Wood
essay by Karl Young

Reid Wood, who at times went under the mail art name State of Being, apparently began electronic collaborations in 1993. We started by using fax machines to exchange installments. Using fax machines was a bit heretical to some mail artists at the time, but we didn't see it as anything but a new way of working, with new possibilities to explore. Initially, we exchanged three faxes each on Tuesday nights within a period of an hour or two. We worked quickly and spontaneously and were pleased that the tech encouraged this.

After we had spent several years at fax exchanges, we shifted over to sending jpeg images via the internet. At times we slowed down, and even went dormant for periods of months. Perhaps the lack of working in the real-time of fax machines contributed to this. Whether that's the case or not, the differing speeds at which we have exchanged images has brought interesting characteristics into our projects. In recent years, digital cameras have made the biggest technological contribution, but whatever the gadgets, the basic ideas of mail art, including the challenges and rewards, have been more important than the toys we've used.

We present here sequences and parts of sequences which we have done over the years. We hope that these suggest some of the possibilities of mail art in the environment of the internet. Although we smirk a bit about the young people who imagine that collaborations or networking are in some way new, we'd like to think that the paths of mail art contributed to greater interactivity at the present time.

Several other people joined us for brief periods, most importantly John Ezra Fowler and Lois Ward. We have, however, stuck with the project much longer than we would have expected to, and are glad we did.

For the 1998 Mexico City Post Arte Bienniale, Harry Polkinhorn and I acted as North American editors. This gave us the opportunity to bring in a good deal of mail art as well as work in other modes. About half of the collaboration Reid and I did for the year appeared at the Bienniale, and that also appears on-line at the following link:

Click here to go the portion shown at the Bienniale.

A series Reid and I did in 1999 may be the most unusual of those presented here. We had, however, done something similar in the fax phase. After one year of faxes, I made a composite copy of all the faxes for the year by continually passing the same sheet of paper through a photocopier, picking up each image. When finished, this sheet was so heavy with toner that it crackled. During our next project, we slowly added images that introduced more blank, white space into the image so that by the end it was nearly white.

In 1999, we started out with hard-edged minimalism. I had the paintings of Stuart Davis in mind, and we've referred to the series by his name since. However, our goal was to add more to each image until we created something that resembled abstract expressionism or action painting, but still remained legible for anyone who was willing to look at it closely enough. We also had the minimalist music of Steve Reich in mind during this project, and the pace of change should reflect that musical genre, as the series should pay homage to an important era in painting in the United States, suggesting the interrelations of its formal extremes. However much this series deals with art history, it is mail art, and the related disciplines of tick tack toe, hop scotch, and a full compliment of puns keep it from getting too serious.

Click here to go to the 1999 series at Dan Waber's site.

2001 was a year in which we proceeded slowly, sometimes going for several weeks without exchanging anything, and then doing so at our leisure instead of according to but seemed to a schedule. THE project seemed to benefit from the slow deliberations. This set was presented on-line at another site which has since folded. We were able to establish dates for exchanges in that grouping, but can no longer do so since the transfer of our files to disks changes the date stamps. We indicate several important approximate dates, however: September 11 and the end of the year. As often the case, we didn't stick strictly to a one year plan, and continued the series into 2002 since we still had a few ideas to work out before we moved on to another project.

Click here to see the complete series.

2004 saw some of our most active work. We resumed doing multiple exchanges each week in real time, as we had done in the fax days. We also had digital cameras to work with and the year saw prolific jpegs move through our internet service providers. Since there are so many, we just present a few samples here.

Click here to see samples from this group.

Starting tentatively in 2005 and going forward in 2006, we began working in strings, crosses, and other combinations outside the 5 x 5 boxes we had been using for years. In some instances, we added new images to the right to ask the reader to scroll to the right. In others, we added new images to the left, pushing the old ones off the screen. In several instances, each of us has sent the other paired images to work with. Our most recent exchanges have been largely phtogographs, with little text and little reworking of images from our cameras. These images may download slowly for people with dial-up connections.

Click here to go to several string sequences from 2006

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