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Mail Art Olympix

Ed Varney creates a democratic arts event in Vancouver

By Lindsay Gibb

Throughout his time as a mail art participant and enthusiast, BC-based artist Ed Varney has organized dozens of mail art exhibitions. This year, with the 2010 Winter Olympics taking over his home, Varney decided to create an art event which paralleled the Olympics, but which was completely based on cooperation rather than competition.

“I felt that such an exhibition would have many of the qualities which drove the modern Olympic movement before it became distorted by rampant commercialism,” says Varney. Unlike most gallery events, Varney believes his is more democratic in that participation is open to all, not just to those who “qualified” over others. “The Mail Art Olympix is founded on the assumption that the audience has the visual discernment to determine what it likes, and the curator is an organizer, not a censor or arbiter of ‘quality.'”

Varney has been exchanging art through the postal system since the early 1970s when a loose network of artists began to exchange art through what came to be known as the Mail Art Network and use these exchanges to arrange exhibitions of each other’s work.

For the Mail Art Olympix, Varney started recruiting in early 2009, sending out invitations to around 250artists while also posting the call through various websites and arts journals. In his invitation he asked artists to submit work to any of the three Olympix “events.” The first event is Self Portraits, which is exactly what the title would suggest. The second, Artistamps, asks artists to parody postage stamps in whatever way they see fit. “Artists interpreted the Artistamp category liberally and produced not only sheets of artistamps, but designs for potential stamps, collages that used stamps, and rubber stamp art as well,” says Varney. The third event is Manifestoes, which he didn’t expect to be as popular as the first two events. Nevertheless, Varney opted for this category because he felt it would give him, and the attendees of the exhibit, a better view into the concerns, methods and intent of the artists. He was surprised to find that most of the work that was sent in for the manifestoes event was visual rather than written. In the end Varney received, and is exhibiting, work from over 350artists from 41countries.

At the end of the exhibitions he will mail a catalogue of the work to each of the show’s participants. Varney hopes that other artists and curators in countries that hold the Olympics in the future will pick up his creation and create their own Mail Art Olympix.

The exhibit has already shown at the Comox Valley Art Gallery and the Penticton Art Gallery, but will start a new run at the Havana Gallery in Vancouver on February 21.

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