RETURN MAIL 1081 - Denis O’Connor
THE WORLD EXISTS TO BE PUT ON A POSTCARD. This was the title of a show I saw at the British Museum in London last year that traced artist’s postcards from 1960 to the present. This letterbox scale little device covers broad territory. Political postcards, feminist postcards, satirical and altered postcards. Postcard invitations. A Gilbert & George exhibition invitation proclaims that ‘postcards are our shield, our swords, our emblems, our vision, our tombstone and our life-masks’. Mock-heroism measuring 6” x 4”.
2020, the year of our lockdown, is also the 50th year since I purchased the early 20th century brick house that has been my home base since 1970. I have an extensive archive comprising decades worth of handwritten correspondence in the form of letters and postcards from artists, poets, curators and friends. To acknowledge this archive, my exhibition ‘Return Mail’ takes the postcard format and the Waiheke postcode 1081 to explore geography, social and art history. The works include particular individuals who have lived in this locale, such as Janet Frame, but also anonymous residents who will never appear in any histories or honours-lists, who lived true to their own outsider status in memorable ways.
The postcard can often be an artifact that is coded with pilgrimage. I too have followed this directive. An artwork illustrated in a book inspires a journey to stand in front of that work, sometimes on the other side of the world. The slate work entitled ‘Return Mail’ illustrates portable masterpieces seen on my travels and relocates them onto a cartographers map: ‘Tamaki Strait and Approaches including Waiheke Island’.
Postcards can freeze-frame a moment in time - an action. The Belgian artist Francis Alÿs photo-documents his performance art as postcards. I have numerous examples sent by the late New Zealand artist Paul Cullen, who overlaid the Alÿs image with his own travel pilgrimages.
Post Offices are disappearing and sadly, so are handwritten letters and postcards with their potent allure of image, inscribed with personalised text and affixed with a postage stamp. Send a postcard now! - Denis O'Connor
In celebration of 50 years residency on Waiheke. Denis acknowledges his extensive archive of correspondence and observations by referencing the postcard format and the island postcode 1081 to '..explore geography, social and art history..." Art News New Zealand Spring 2020 pg. 48.