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In her Introduction to Harriet Russell's brilliant book Envelopes (Alison and Busby, London; 2008), Lynne Truss writes:

‘I can’t remember the last time I sent a letter to myself. Generally the act of auto-mailing is committed only a) if you are entirely friendless, but pathetically want to pretend otherwise; b) in quite complicated legal circumstances, when a sealed, registered self-sent envelope can be used as proof of dating; or c) by mistake, when drunk.’

I suggest there is another reason, d) as part of a Mail Art project.

On 1 September 2010 I started such a Mail Art project called ‘An Envelope a day/Une Envelope par Jour’ that lasted a calendar year. Every day for a year I mailed myself a different, brightly coloured 16.5 square centimetre Envelope. On the front of each Envelope were different themes, images and configurations of stamps, pictures, posters, paintings and other collage material. Each Envelope was a unique example of what I call ‘Envelope Art’.

The project had four main objectives.

First, it kept me busy on a daily basis, and that was no bad thing -- especially as the long, dark winter nights drew in. It also provided a little excitement every day as I waited for the postperson to deliver my mail. It also caused some anxieties, as I worried when there was a delay in the delivery of an Envelope – has it got lost? What’s happened to it? Where has it ended up? Etc.

Second, it allowed me to explore the artistic and design potential of the Envelope. One Envelope is, well, just an Envelope, but in their tens, hundreds, and eventually all 365 of them, they become -- when suitably arranged -- a work of Conceptual (Envelope and/or Stamp and/or Mail) Art.

There are usually 4 separate elements to an Envelope – the stamp(s), the postmark, the address and, of course, the Envelope itself.

  1. The opportunities to change the stamp(s) on an Envelope are few. If first class post is, say €0.60, then stamps to that value (or more) must be attached. But the stamps can be, for example, 12 times €0.05, 6 times €0.10, or even 60 times €0.01. (The possibilities are limited as stamps of all denominations are not issued, thus ruling out €0.60 postage being made up of, say, €0.37 + €0. 14 + €0.09 stamps). I explored various combinations of stamps, but mostly used the ‘basic’ first class French mail stamp on all the Envelopes.)
  2. There are no opportunities to change the postmark – or at least I didn’t discover any. Once an Envelope was posted it was at the mercy of the postal authorities, and they could stamp it as they liked (or Sometimes didn’t stamp it at all).
  3. But then, there are possibilities – albeit limited ones – to modify the address by changing, for example, the name of the recipient or adding an institutional title. But the house number, street name, postal code and town name need to be on the Envelope. (I have examples of 18th century Envelopes sent in the UK in the days before postage stamps were introduced [1840] addressed to ‘Mr William Smith, Writer, Kelso’. That’s all, and they were safely delivered). I tried to link the name of the recipient (who, of course, was always me) with the theme of the Envelope.
  4. Lastly there is the Envelope itself. Working with a uniform format (16.5 square centimetres) I assembled different themes, images and configurations of stamps, pictures, posters, paintings and other collage material. So each Envelope was a one-off example of ‘Envelope Art’.

Third, this project brought me into contact with other Stamp, Envelope and Mail Artists in the International Union of Mail Artists. Yes, there really is such a thing: see iuoma-network.ning.com

And lastly, I was genuinely interested to see what the French (and other) postal authorities would accept on an Envelope -- why should an Envelope only contain a name, an address and a stamp (or two, or more), when there is a lot of space that could be (artistically) used? (I only used the front of the Envelopes). Remarkably, and whatever artistic and postal license I took with the Envelopes, all of them were safely delivered to me. So, my thanks to La Poste of France, the UK’s Royal Mail and the Dutch PTT for your patience and tolerance.

There were no “Return to Sender”s, but Elvis was, and is, of course, relevant:

I gave a letter to the postman,
He put it his sack.
Bright and early next morning,
He brought my letter back.

She wrote upon it:
Return to sender, address unknown.
No such number, no such zone.

I made up, and strictly followed, some ‘Rules’ for my Envelope project:

  • I would make an Envelope every day, and not produce them in batches
  • I would mail an Envelope every day
  • Once an Envelope had been received I would not add other things or make any changes to it
  • But I was allowed to make minor repairs to an Envelope if it had been damaged in the post.

Laid end-to-end the Envelopes would have formed a chain almost 65 meters long – but in my Exhibition they were arranged in chronological order on 20 panels, and formed a brightly-coloured Mail Art mosaic.

It became clear to me that the Envelopes took on a special meaning when I gave visitors to the Exhibition a personal explanation of the concept of ‘An Envelope a Day’, the content of and the story behind individual Envelopes, as well as the relationships between them.

Here are the 'Envelopes a Day' I sent to myself as part of this year long project. All 365 Envelopes were exhibited at the Médiathèque in Sigean, France, from 9 August to 3 September, 2011. The Envelopes were also exhibited at the Médiathèque in Castries from 8 to 30 June, 2012, and at a Library in Copenhagen in May and June 2018.

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