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Title:Community at a distance: Ray Johnson's correspondence art network, 1955-75
Author(s):Kienle, Miriam
Director of Research:Weissman, Terri
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Weissman, Terri
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Hamilton, Kevin; Higgins, Hannah; Greenhill, Jennifer
Department / Program:Art & Design
Discipline:Art History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Ray Johnson
New York Correspondance School
network society
mail art
correspondence art
postal art
interpersonal communication
Cold War America
Abstract:During the 1960s, as the US Post Office underwent a radical restructuring, the artist Ray Johnson (1927-1995) initiated a new mode of artistic practice that would come to be called “correspondence art” or “mail art.” Utilizing the postal system as an alternative site for the distribution of art, Johnson sent recipients a letter or object in the post, asked them to add to or subtract from that item, and then mail it onward to another participant or back to Johnson. Through this process, Johnson and his collaborators built a network of correspondence artists that challenged conventional modes of artistic production, distribution, and reception. My dissertation analyzes this form of artistic production as well as the model of community Johnson engendered through its development and utilization. Reading correspondence art through the lenses of postal history, network studies, and theories of gender and sexuality, I argue that the collectively produced assemblages circulated by Johnson and his collaborators revealed a correlation between the purification, automation, and privatization of the US Post during the 1960s and the desire to segregate and censor certain populations (e.g. an increasingly visible gay community) from other segments of the American public. On the other hand, I suggest that Johnson’s project, which depends on an interpersonal network of collaborators (composed of friends and strangers alike), speaks to a decentralized understanding of subjectivity as it emerged in the latter half of the 20th century. It is around this model of subjectivity that Johnson formulated, what I call, a community at a distance.
Issue Date:2015-01-21
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Miriam E. Kienle
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-01-21
Date Deposited:2014-12

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