By Mark Pawson, 28 November 2002

The Fluxus room in the History/Memory/ Society galleries at Tate Modern has been superseded by Correspondences, a display of postal art ephemera and publications from 1966-1985. This worldwide mail art network has existed for over 30 years; an informal, openaccess network of artists exchanging work via the postal system.

The playful process of sending and receiving work is just as important as the items sent: visitors to Omaha Flow Systems, an exhibition in 1973, were encouraged to actively take part in this process by swapping work in the exhibition with their own contributions. A similarly interactive element is perhaps too much to ask of the Tate Modern. Correspondences includes examples from the whole range of postal art activity. The small scale, intimate works displayed in 75 perspex-fronted mailboxes invite viewers to pause and examine them closely. There are mailed objects (socks, beer cans), artists’ stamps, ‘add-to-and-pass-on’ collages, photocopy works, rubberstamp art, postcards and magazines, from Japan, Europe (East & West), Latin America and the US.

Exhibits range from the serious and conceptual to the playful and exuberant; Ben Vautier’s Postman’s Choice postcard is shown alongside a Spray Your Boots Silver instruction sheet by Monte Cazazza. Artists included range from complete unknowns to luminaries like Ray Johnson and Yoko Ono, with the welcome inclusion of British artists Robin Crozier, Pauline Smith and Brian Lane. The mail art network has inevitably suffered a heavy bruising with the advent of the internet, but it’s still active. Email can never quite replace the excitement of an unexpected letter arriving from thousands of miles away.

Mark Pawson is an artist and writer and semi-retired mail artist