In these times of virtual communities, of the generation that is accustomed to the keyboard, writing letters on paper might seem a bit out-of-date. Not much more than a decade ago, at the time when Marcelland International Art Collection was founded, the market for Easter and Christmas cards was booming. Today — and the lack of choice shows this as well — much less people use this postal service. Even less people send telegraphs — (wire — such a great expression), as temporality does not favour this method. The habit of sending postcards is still existent, although it is now mainly done via the internet. Literacy has seen notable changes regarding its carrier surface. However, digital writing skills are not improving at a fast rate. Typically, internet surfers have a rather narrow range of actions considering the facilities of the network, and we cannot even say that typing — which according to some will make handwriting obsolete or subtly put, take its place slowly — would be so widespread.
We put pen to paper for different reasons or intentions and we traditionally think of handwriting in most cases. We like writing letters but we no longer have time to wait a lot for the reply. The demand for instant sending and receiving of messages has made us impatient. The thrill of waiting is gone, the joy when the answer arrives, the passion of reading and re-reading is less intensive. With this, it seems like not only the letter, but its writer has also disappeared. Computer fonts and template letters are impersonal. Even if the sender thinks he is making them personal, he can only do so with the available options of the service. The pictures, symbols, colours and shapes used for decoration can also be parts of letters written by others and even though the graphical possibilities are diverse, surely there are similar solutions. Handwriting, the colour, pattern, embossment of the paper, the image or scribble characteristic of the sender, the trinkets collected from here and there, tinfoil, pressed flowers, ribbons: their time has passed. Or has it really?
But writing letters is a must! There are situations when time is not an issue and the emphasis is on the craftsmanship, the characteristic and unique signs, the artistic solutions, intentions, ideas and how they are realized. Senders will certainly post the prepared envelopes by post and will try to collect as many postal labels as they can. In these cases the message is not the carefully written letter but the envelope itself, prepared with meticulous care. Being pen-friends is nothing else than exchanging messages, but in mail art there is not only one sender and one recipient, it is a multi-player network game.
Many adjectives have been used for mail art, it was both praised and buried and even today we get a mixed image if we browse among mail art-crumbs. Some see it as a marginal branch of art, others consider it a strong expression of this art form and there are those who say it is the fulfilment of artistic ambitions, progressive, experimental and a method of expression which can revive every time, and the network which it creates is the total art heaven itself. However it is defined, whichever value system it is measured in, the most important central characteristic of mail art is the uniqueness of the gesture, the simplicity of its availability. Mail art is based on connections, it generates new ones from the ones we already had, thus creating several points of connection. Of course the strength of contact is not always the same, and the characteristics of the interactions brought about by mail art are diverse as well. In some cases the interactions of the past and the new ones continuously created within the network needs to be added to a collection not only in momentary time slices but in long term events as well (e.g. exhibition, collection, art colonies). The motivation to interact, the maintenance of the products after they come into existence from the interactions is the task of the formation which outgrew certain procedures, is independent and has other functions.
The Spanyolnátha International Mail Art Colony was founded by Spanyolnátha art journal in 2010. The question is not whether there is a need to create such a “formation”, an institution — those who are familiar with and exercise this branch of networking art know very well that during its history it has mustered countless surprises and actions, therefore the world’s first mail art colony fits perfectly into the series of unconventional mail art phenomena. More likely the question is how an initiative which has all the characteristics of a traditional art colony, but also thrives to be up-to-date can meet the sometimes seemingly distant functions in a progressive way. It is an important question how — while taking these characteristics into consideration — an art collection can be formed, and how the problems of exhibiting, researching, processing this collection can be summarized.
In many cases the reason for creating an art colony is a central or communal initiation which can even include patronage. Some of them are seasonal, thematic; the intellectual workshops with time-honoured traditions could be rightly agreed to be described as schools. There are many art colonies, communities which come together for certain projects and there are so-called resident-programs, which have a well defined and constructed professional program regarding both their time and theme. We can say that creating an art colony is not a big deal. It becomes a big deal when you start to wonder whether the colony is viable in the long run. The feedback of temporary colonies is varied, but for a permanently operational colony having several longer and quieter periods rather than a shorter but louder one might be more characteristic. The art colony of Spanyolnátha awaits artists all year round as a traditional creative workshop, but it also intends to stir things up with its well placed projects. Naturally, the artists working here are versed in mail art, but the art colony considers the popularization of mail art an important role, therefore it organizes camps and series of activity programs for children as well. However, the belief that art forms are traversable, the priority of total art concepts also results in the fact that the mail art colony does not only deal with mail art. It inspires, and it does not necessarily and in all cases influence the artist to create a certain object. Among its important tasks is the processing and exhibiting of the Marcelland International Art Collection founded by Tibor Vass in 1998. A significant portion of the collection is mail art pieces. Taking the chronology mail art into consideration these works are not considered recent, as mail art itself has not been around for centuries. If we add that the art mail project (Kő kövön, Miskolci Galéria, 1997) which can be considered the antecedent for Marcelland brought earlier to life by Tibor Vass and Tibor Urbán, we can see that in mail art a period of a single year can also mark an era. (Macelland-projects that followed: Marcelland itself, a mail art gazebo at the Herman Ottó Memorial Park at Bükk National Park (1998), POSThumus, at the exhibition about Magyar Posta, at the Ministry of Transportation and Water Management in Budapest; the exhibitions organized together with the Postal Directory of Miskolc: Ajánlott irodalom (1999) és Nyílt lapok (2000); at the latter Vass succeeded in having Magyar Posta deliver an official package with a live human being inside it which has never been done before anywhere in the world. The former mentioned material established such a collection, which could even by itself provide an extensive picture of the mail art trends of the ‘90s.
Commemorating the first anniversary of its foundation, the Spanyolnátha International Mail Art Colony started the project called Útnyerő/Levelek Pávainak. For the 125th anniversary of the birth of Ferenc Pávai-Vajna, the geogolist who discovered several important Hungarian mineral and thermal waters, the art colony asked the participants of the announced project to salute Ferenc Pávai-Vajna in their works if they have ever drank mineral water or bathed in thermal water in Hungary or anywhere else in the world and felt their beneficial effects. We also have to thank him for the healing waters of Berekfürdő, Hajdúszoboszló, Szeged, Karcag, Debrecen, Szolnok among others. One of the unique characteristics of the project was that the artists had to use an incorrect mailing address when sending their works so the postal matter was returned with a “cannot be delivered as adressed” label to the sender, in this case the International Mail Art Colony in Hernádkak. Therefore one goal of the project was to make the works “travel” multiple times. The project only accepted works especially made for this occasion and they had to be sent by post.
The art colony professionally sponsored the national exhibition announced in the topic of “sheep” at the 6th Sárrét Íze Festival. The art colony joined the project with a competition titled Ezek mennek, meg a bárányfelhők. They asked for works in connection with sheep for the exhibition. These could, for example, be the lamb of God, the lamb with the golden fleece, black sheep, the lost lamb, the lamb that was found or the sacrificial lamb.
The art colony was one of the announcers of the 5th International Spanyolnátha Mail Art Biennial in 2014, which was advertised as R_emarque (1914—2014), World War 1, so this was the second time it became an organizer of the exhibitions created by the journal. The main points regarding mail art biennales are continuity and actuality in relation to the year they are held in. The first art exhibition, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, titled R_evolution (1956—2006) collected mail art pieces sent from all over the world in 2006. The following biennales were organized: commemorating the renaissance in 2008 one with the title R_enaissance (1458—2008) then, in 2010, R_econtstruction (1910—2010) was held, again in the spirit of reformation and in 2012, paying homage to the century-old genre of collage, R_ecollage (1912—2012) was the name of the biennial.
Associate organizers of the exhibitions were: the Hungarian Electrographic Art Society, the World Economy and International Relations department of the University of Debrecen; biennales were opened at the Ifjúsági és Szabadidő Ház of Miskolc, the University of Debrecen, the Önök Kerték Spanyolnátha Garden Festival in Hernádkak; the up-coming biennale will be opened at Herman Ottó Múzeum — Miskolci Galéria.
The essence of mail art is that anyone can send and receive mail items. The aim is to make new connections by creating and gifting works of art. The gesture is the main motive, but it is not at all that simple, as mail art has its own artists and fans as well. Mail art is an art of gesture, a series of references — in many cases the artistic phenomenon comes to life without the product necessarily becoming a work of art. Or it might be that it is the cohesion resulting from the gesture that results in the individual pieces, which would by themselves not be considered artistic objects / tools / opportunities, creating a total work of art. In this definition mail art is a worldwide performance, a network which rewrites itself again and again, is ever changing and is expanding with the addition of newer voices.