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Mail media: Alumni document the creation of postal art in ‘Making Mail’

A piece of mail art sent to Laura Dunkin-Hubby by David Solomon. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Polk.

A piece of mail art sent to Laura Dunkin-Hubby by David Solomon.
Credit: Courtesy of Michael Polk.

While many are unaware of the existence of mail art, two Ohio State alumni decided to dedicate the beginning of their post-graduation lives to creating a documentary based on the medium.

Mail art, also known as postal art, refers to “small-scale works that utilize the mail as a distribution system,” according to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s website. The populist movement subverts traditional art dissemination through ornamentation of envelopes and other found objects.

OSU graduates Michael Polk and Seth Radley began production on a documentary of mail art in January 2013. The film, titled “Making Mail,” was released Sunday on their website and via YouTube.

The documentary follows the story of young artists who use mail to share their work around the world.

“With just an envelope and whatever else can fit inside as their medium, these incredibly talented people create original and breathtaking pieces of art,” the project’s Kickstarter webpage said.

As described in the film, mail art can take on many forms — ranging from a decorated soup can to a card full of old magazine cutouts and carefully crafted hand-lettering. It’s a practice that makes mail more thoughtful and personable, director and producer Polk said.

Originally, “Making Mail” was one of Polk’s last class assignments before his December 2012 graduation, he said.

Polk, who now works for OSU’s film studies program, showed his film to a video production class he was in with Radley, the film’s editor and producer.

“From there, I showed interest and started getting involved,” said Radley, who also now works at Ohio State’s e-learning and distance learning office after graduating in May 2013.

Polk said the new film, which expands on the original demo, is merely a conduit to share the art others are making.

“It’s just a matter of artists making beautiful work,” Polk said about the documentary. “I had the ability to (produce the film) because I was surrounded by creative people.”

“The goal of the film is to share this art form that not many people know about,” he added.

Director of photography and assistant editor Alexa Sison had a history with making mail art, and still exchanges mail with one of the film’s interviewees, mail artist Amber Esner.

“Mail art encourages me to keep pushing my work,” Sison said. “It gives me a different connection with people.”

Through Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website for creative projects, the team received nearly four times its $1,000 goal for the film in just two days, Polk said.

However, like many films, “Making Mail” has received some negative feedback.

“We got one thumbs down on the trailer, which made me so happy, actually,” Polk laughed. “It feels so much more real.”

Besides that triviality, the two men got serious scrutiny when they showed a rough copy to their colleagues during the filming process.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

“It wasn’t very good,” Radley said. “But the thing about going to Ohio State is it’s so nice to have so many resources available to you. A lot of the people who helped us were affiliated somehow with Ohio State, and that was a great benefit.”

Polk and Radley stressed the importance of negative feedback for their creative project.

“The spirit of the film was the same, but the execution changed a lot,” Polk said. “And that was all because of people giving honest feedback that had to be negative — which is perfectly fine.”

As for aspiring artists, a collaborative effort is crucial, Radley said.

“Exhaust all avenues to find out how to do what you want to do,” he said. “Meet people whose work you like. Connect with other artists. They’ll help you, you’ll help them, and then you’ll both make each other better.”

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