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Postal Tracking – Where the Mail Goes

Sending letters through the post has something very romantic to it, but thats probably only because it has long been overtaken by instant messaging and tweeting. However, the mailing systems are big business and it is not that people send les stuff through the post.

Anything goes, just as Willie Reginald Bray pioneered, as documented in the recently published Princeton publication ‘The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects’, parcel are sent everywhere.

How are these boxes over boxes actually shipped, how does it look and feel inside the sorting wear houses, to were did the van deliver before it stopped at my house? Tracing the journey of a parcel could be fascinating. Where Bray tested what can be sent, pioneers today what to find out how it is been sent.

The London based artist Time Knowles has investigated this in his ongoing series ‘Postal Works‘ and is to showcase his latest postal tracking art work today. Keep posted for the link to the movie that will be released later in the day here!


Image by Tim Knowles / ‘Spy Box‘ A new postal work with the box, buggy and bearings made in perspex, a pen situated in the centre of the buggy traces out it’s movements within the box. 2006 – Perspex, cardboard, pen, ink on paper

Knowles started however with his investigation a lot earlier. Very fascinating are his initial movement tracking projects. In the early days the packet contained a blank paper and a pen on wheels to record the movement of the box as it is being shipped through the postal system.

From these analogue projects Knowles moved on to GPS tracking and then also video and sound recording from inside the box as it is on its way from sender to receiver. Of course there where noumerous problems on the ‘Spy Box’s‘ way. This included a phone call from the FedEx Head of Security, as they detected the live electronic equipment in the box at the airport.

Image by Tim Knowles / ‘Spy Box‘ A digital camera inside a parcel looks out through a small hole and captures images of its journey through the postal system. The Spy Box was sent from my studio to the gallery taking an image every 10 seconds recording a total of 6994 images these were then edited together to create an animated slideshow. E3 to WC1E – 2006 – Card, aluminium, digital camera, timing circuit, wiring & 6 min DVD loop.

For example “the parcel was stopped by FedEx,” Knowles said. “My phone number was on the box, so I ended up being on the phone to FedEx’s head of security for about 45 minutes explaining that it was an artwork, telling him just to open it up and that there was a switch that could turn it off.” Quite understandably FedEx’s security services said ‘There’s no way we’re opening it’ having X-rayed it and found live electrical equipment inside. They put the package into another card-board parcel and send it back to Knowles, leaving him with a lot of pictures of the inside of a box.”

For the latest work Knowles teamed up with Roya Mail. With the recent bombs in FesEx parcels the issu of electronics in the mail was hot and risky. The latest work to be presented today remains therefor in the UK and is a parcel sent from London E3 5QZ, near Victoria Park, to HS9 5XW, Isle of Barra.

Image by Tim Knowles / ‘Pot Box’

On the 902 mile journey the mounted camera took 20’000 pictures and recorded a continuous sound stream. As the Independent journalist Matilda Battersby notes about the work: “One of the lovely things about watching the painstakingly compiled video and audio compilation of the parcel’s journey is the many changing accents and commentary from the workers as it makes its way”.

The work is presented to day between 18h30-20h30 at Contemporary Art Society, 11-15 Emerald Street, London WC1N 3QL. A limited book edition is available with the title ‘Post Box E3 5QZ – HS9 5XW’.

Image by Tim Knowles / ‘Pot Box’

U P D A T E 2011-01-14

The website is online at http://www.e3-hs9.com/ and it shows the the video recorded on the parcels journey together with the audio recordings and a map. The parcel was GPS tracked on its journey.
Head over to the website to check out the details.