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Tag "mail"

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.

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The good old post service has had a difficult stand with the raise of the digital message. The romantic love letter as well as the intense debating correspondence has largely shifted into the virtual realm of messages on a computer screen. The main content of mail remaining is legal documents that need to be in physical form or parcels. Things still need to be moved.

What the mail service provides, beyond delivering post, is a web of connection. In fact a very dense and very flexible network with numerous elements, links and nodes. These ranges from a post office, to a distribution and sorting centre to the postman in the street delivering.

Based on a detailed system of code every functional unit in the city i accessible through this web an can connect to any other unit. Quite and important and versatile institution this is. In todays cities we relay on a number of such infrastructure systems constructing and serving the urban landscape, such as power networks and streets. However the mail and address system is probably the most flexible one.

Mail correspondence has a long tradition and is looking through historical works, for example in art or science, the letters between different figures in volved act a an important medium of exchange and stimulation.

In a recent visualisation ‘Visualizing the Republic of Letters‘ developed at Stanford University by Daniel Chang, Yuankai Ge, Shiwei Song, Nicole Coleman, Jon Christensen, and Jeffrey Heer the past correspondance of 55’000 letters by 6400 people over about 200 years has be mapped and animated. The visualisation is based on the e-enlightment project, an electronic database for letters and lives. “Electronic Enlightenment reconstructs the extraordinary web of correspondence that marked the birth of the modern world.”

In a recent Princeton Architectural Press publication the topic of the mail and especially the parcel i explored from a very different perspective. The book ‘The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects‘ by John Tingey traces the story of Willie Reginald Bray. It is not just about the person but about the special experiments he staged practically exploring the possibilities of the mail service. Basically he just posted everything and anyone, including himself.

The postal service became very popular with the radical changes in 1840 in prices and structure. The mail needed to be pre payed by the sender (was previously payed by the receiver) and a simplified pricing structure, one penny for a letter in the UK.

Bray however wanted to explore the boundaries of this ‘shipping things’ on both ends, the side of the object and what could possibly be sent, as well as the coding system, the addresses and the labeling.

Image taken from fingersports / A picture postcard utilised the image as an element of the address. ‘To a resident nearest to these rocks’.

These are very interesting parameter of the service. Bray for example developed a series of postcards with coded addresses that required the postman to deceiver the intended receiver. This could be in the form of a rhyme, writing using wax or using symbols. During the high days of the pictue card area he also utilised these pictures as the address, only with the accompanied instruction “to the resident nearest”. The actual address was aso of interest to Bray and he experimente with sending letters and postcards to train drivers for example, as a moving destination.

The object posted in the second categorie ranged from onions to dogs and as mentioned himself. It was in February 1900 that he tested the Mail service and again in November 1903 that he posted himself as a ‘Person Cyclist’ back home. Bray claimed this to be the first time a person has ever been posted.

The book pulls together this rather curious story about a man’s efforts to test out the service that links together across the entire country. And this collection possibly highlights the exact difference between the generally linking infrastructure and this postal linking network. It works in both directions and is in this sense a truly interactive service that can be, as Bray demonstrates customised to a large extend.

Tingey, J., 2010. Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects, the, Princeton Architectural Press.

Also thanks to James from spatialanalysis for the letter link.

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