Mail Art and Specious Spaces projects with Dan Howard-Birt

Fotminne: A network of paths, walking veins, memory vessels – finer and finer out into the headland

Kerstin Ekman

Dan Howard-Birt asked us to devise two possible projects: one a mail art scheme, and the other an exhibition in a surprising, inventive ‘specious space’. He showed various examples to explain what he meant: John Berger and John Christie’s I Send You This Cadmium Red as an example of mail art, and Marcel Duchamp’s Bôite en Valise, Mrs Rick’s Cupboard, and Prelude to a Luna Library curated by Finlay Taylor and Susan Johanknecht as specious spaces.

John Berger and John Christie, I Send You This Cadmium Red
Marcel Duchamp, La Boîte-en-Valise [Box in a Suitcase]
Lunar Gardening-1.jpg
Alexis Taylor, Susan Johanknecht and Katherine Maynell, Tim O’Riley, Clare Humphries, Finlay Taylor, Ellie Wyatt, Mary BlaggPrelude to a Luna Library, courtesy Kingsgate Studios

I decided to try both projects. For my mail art scheme I was true to my practice as a walking artist and elected to be my own postal worker delivering my work on foot. I wrote a poem, Undergoing, and collaborated with the concert soprano Annie McKay to set it to music. Each day for five days I walked three hand-written lines of the poem to her studio. She composed the music for the trio of lines and walked them back to me, without knowing the content of the whole poem.

Clockwise from bottom left: the first delivery, the walk to Annie MacKay’s studio, detail from the poem, Annie’s studio door, and the sheet music delivered back to me.

Our collaboration is going to culminate in a live performance in the summer of 2021, with the poems sung by her and accompanied by projections of my videos. For the moment, my own reading of Undergoing accompanies my video of the same name.

I was conscious, when devising a specious space, that all the examples we discussed in the seminar were very urban. I chose to invent a rural space with a captive audience of cows and occasional walkers. The cows live in the field at the end of my garden and we look at each other very suspiciously for most of the year. It felt like an interesting metaphor to provide them with an exhibition and watch the look on their possibly-baffled faces. I’ve been trying to explain less and to allow my images to speak more, so this is the perfect experiment – words genuinely are pointless. For my ‘show’ I’m using my shadows painted on taffeta. The painting references something I assume the cows might semi-recognise, but the captured shadows also inhabit the slightly uncanny territory of the almost-but-not-quite-familiar – Freud’s unheimlich.

My neigbours
Shadowline, ink on taffeta, 1,300 x 150 cm
Shadowline, ink on taffeta, 1,300 x 150 cm