Equal parts political, creative, playful and practical, Mark Mothersbaugh and Beatie Wolfe’s Postcards for Democracy calls for tangible public interest and action in saving the USPS—an essential civic institution and fundamental element of the United States. Whether one sees it as sabotage or a misguided lack of funding, the demise of the postal service will lead to a catastrophic election, as millions around the country rely on mail-in ballots. For the project, Mothersbaugh (DEVO co-founder, musician, singer-songwriter, producer and artist) and Wolfe (musician, singer-songwriter and artist) challenge participants to create and send handmade postcards to a specified address in LA. The act provides funds for the USPS and the final collection of postcards will be transformed into a work of art. The duo describes the joyful, connective and inclusive initiative as “a demonstration at a time that could jeopardize the democracy of the country.”
We spoke with both artists about the project and the importance of sending and receiving a mail.
This project manages to be playful, political, artistic and practical at once—can you tell us a little about how the two of you created it?
Beatie Wolfe: My work is about exploring how to reimagine tangible formats for the digital age and I’m constantly questioning where can we innovate and what can we reclaim. So Mark and I found a kinship in our appreciation of both the familiar and futuristic. During lockdown, one thing (outside of writing music) that kept me sane was creating and posting mail art and letters. Mail is definitely one of those endangered experiences that I believe is core to our humanity for a number of reasons. So I loved the idea of us creating an exhibition, a kind of mailbox menagerie, out of people’s letters in lockdown. And this suddenly became much more timely, and took on an additional dimension, in light of recent events. This project seemed to tick all the boxes of both what inspires Mark and I artistically and what felt needed in the world right now.
Mark Mothersbaugh: I became involved in mail art in the late ’60s, and the idea that a teenage nobody from Akron, Ohio could send a piece of art to someone like Jasper Johns, Robert Indiana, Irene Dogmatic, the image bank, art farm, etc, and you might get something back (all of these artists sent me something after I sent them artwork) was an amazing experience. I felt like I was somebody when I held up a card from Jasper Johns that had arrived in my mailbox. Beatie is an energetic positive artist that I only became friends with after the passing of a dear friend we shared. We had been loosely talking about collaborating on something, and when she suggested this idea, it rang true to a post artist, former stamp-collector, super-nerd who does not want the post office to get destroyed by the government. I draw/paint/print/etc on card-stock every day, so this seemed like it was a good fit.
Have you received a lot of postcards already? Tell us about some standouts.
MM: Yes, my favorites so far all have potatoes and/or Ronald McDonald on them.
BW: I love standing back and seeing them all together, as a whole. The collective aspect of it is very powerful.
There’s nothing quite like a handwritten note. How does it feel to be receiving them every day?
MM: Is it the ’50s again?! I almost expect to look out the front window and see a white picket fence and a boy on a bike riding by tossing grit newspaper on the porch… Yes, it is nice to get handmade mail… I’m lucky enough to have a couple friends who have been sending me postcard art for decades now.
BW: I think mail is a wonderful thing. It incorporates three things that I believe are key to allow any experience to go in deep and imprint. These are ceremony, tangibility and storytelling. The digital world has largely dislodged these three things from music, art and a lot of experiences that keep us alive inside. So I love how a handmade note immediately puts you into a different space and jars the linear timeframe.
Obviously the main goal is to support the USPS, but what do you have planned for the final artwork/exhibition?
Beatie: We have an idea of a way to present this which would become a whole other work of art in itself, so I am very excited to watch this evolve.
You are not just a nobody in Ohio or California or Georgia; you have a voice, and it matters, no matter who you are
What do you hope participants achieve from taking part in this project?
MM: No matter what their political preferences, I hope we encourage people that might not have made the effort, to vote in this election [you can register via the Postcards for Democracy site]. You are not just a nobody in Ohio or California or Georgia; you have a voice, and it matters, no matter who you are.
BW: That everyone feels inspired by being involved, feels physically connected in this time of great uncertainty and isolation, and that we add a little good to the world right now, as humanity and this planet have really been having a hard time of it.