Networking: Art by Post and Fax Spacex Gallery, Exeter

Article excerpt

You, too, can be a way-out artist like Yoko Ono and the agit-propagandists of the Fluxus commune that she inspired in the Sixties. The mail art movement, an offshoot of Fluxus, is still mail-shotting away, worldwide, as this exhibition proves. Just make a picture or small object, or write a slogan, add decorative stickers and rubber stamps and mail it to whoever you like - or don't like. Or join an international syndicate to receive packages containing dozens of the things. It's democratic, non-judgmental, non- sexist, universal, and cocks a snook at the art market.

It is also a sackful of contradictions. Having originated in art-based subversion - American and European Fluxus collaborators used the post to exchange artistically embellished reportage of their outrageous happenings - it is now a vehicle not only for agit-prop and jokes but for philosophical wrangles about the nature of art (yawn) or about whether mail artists who make names for themselves are elitists. I suppose any universal communications system with popular access risks getting overrun by such anarcho-anorak tosh. Look at the Internet.

This exhibition shows that names are in the ascendant. Even the collection of anonymous fax art - office jokes such as "The floggings will continue until morale has improved" - was not gathered at random but submitted by a movement name, Alan Kane. He achieved notoriety when stopped from installing giant fax-joke murals in a Los Angeles advertising agency designed by Frank Gehry. I looked in vain for an exploded postal package of dozens of those scurrilous bits and bobs, signed and unsigned, made from anything from coffee filters to fish hooks, that give hours of fun to syndicate members. Is this not what mail art is about? Small-circulation works, particularly on postcards, are prominent, as if mail art has become a coterie pursuit. The philosophising is in full spate, though, judging by the exceedingly boring correspondence that introduces the exhibition catalogue, between its curator, Andrew Patrizio, the Hayward Gallery's exhibition organiser, and Clive Phillpot, the British Council's visual arts consultant - parochialism v internationalism, that sort of thing. …