A DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE POSTMAN AND HIS ELECTRONIC SHADOW
The position of the mailman as the ultimate man in the (pre-)electronic communication process.
The history of communication is a lie. Because the story is only a story
and therefore incomplete, selective and interpreted. Blatantly absent in
the recollection is the anonymous, that which doesn't have the power to
make itself known, but that equally can make sense and be sublime. The
conversations between past, present and future are always fragmentary and/or
prophetic; a mishmash of truth, semi-truth and fiction, the tension between
reality and illusion.
It is not actual or postmodernistic (rather postexistentialistic) to
move on the historical currents of the social problem of communication.
For the mailman is not a son of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, but he is the inevitable
sun for Mail-Art. The mailman is no artist, but the moon of communication.
The mailman is unkown, yet not without significance within the story of
postal arts, day and night.
The eclectic novel of the new communicative space threatens to strangle
the romantic narrative lines of man in communication. Technology dehumanizes
the games between sender and receiver. But who is going to bother with
the urbanization of cyberspace? Is there enough space for an ethic of the
The mailman is a communicative anachronism. But on the other hand he
makes that same transfer of information visible. He is an essential trace
within communicative reality. The letter carrier is not the owner of the
information. But he is more than a symbol or an icon, moving on the level
of language, in the language play between word and meaning. The mailman
is a referent on the level of reality, a human of flesh and blood. It is
of course nostalgic to presume that the 21st century will cherish the same
totem animals as the 20th. Electronics are the guillotine of the mail (as
a system of information). Postcards, post marks and stamps are the memorabilia
of administrative rituals from a recent past.
"The end of a workers era is the beginning of..." Even Mercury,
the mailman of the Gods, is impotent to complete the previous sentence.
Ten years after 1984 we see an Orwellian hurricane approaching and no one
knows where and when it will hit. Or are all sceptics wrong and is there
an interactive and electronic nirvana lying ahead of us?
The spring of communication is over. The installation's artifacts look
back and take different positions: where is the (symbolic) center of communication?
Which strategies do exist to save the frivolous adultery of democracy in
a so-called "decentralized" cyberspace?
07. The earth loses its cosmic position as a center to the advantage of heliocentrism. Theocentrism is defeated by anthropocentrism and humanism. After God, the (ultimate) man dies, too. One grumbles and talks about eco-facism. Only on the materialistic level egocentrism is alive and kicking. The subject has been buried. Some are waiting for a resurrection.
The epistemological question of present communication is (still) possible,
is socially and historically irrelevant. The vulture of power relations
circles especially around the correlation between the quality and the quantity
of communication. Not the values, but the numbers rule the planet. The
merchandizing of information is a fact.
The distance between people gets increasingly smaller as the speed of
communication increases. In theory this implies that the world will end
in one point that is situated between nowhere and everywhere.
The social function of the mailman (the effective contact with man)
disappears because of the increase of telecommunication. The notion of
"social" gets a new dimension. One can be alone yet be very
social within the myth of cyberspace. The psychology of personal space
needs to be reconsidered urgently. Can this be a matter of pathological
communication? Indisputably there is an increase of alienation regarding
the "really" fellow human being. But what is still real? What
The contradiction between man and machine is getting smaller. The machine
that increases alienation among human beings within the social system, brings
people closer together. The paradox of the cyberspace traveller or netizen.
A tribute to man seems unsuitable. The letter carrier who contributes
to the realization of Mail-Art, who is the carrier of postal art, is invisible.
Man has become but a dilapidated metaphor.
An individual "pro-mailman" position is not an a-political
theme in a time when man is subjected to the machine. De la Mettrie becomes
the spiritual father of McLuhan and Gibson. Where is the information-proletariat
situated in this process of communicative "progress"?
A human approach of the post and communication commits itself on the
level of the labor and labor-intensity. The notion of "unemployment"
threatens to loose its meaning in a new social reality, and thus get a new
dimension. To be unemployed doesn't apply anymore to man only, but to the
lack of electronic communication equipment as well. On the other hand,
the same electronics create a wave of unemployment.
A political subject would be: to recognize the superhighway as a culture
of Power. It is being whispered: Internet is an "anarchist" way,
without hierarchical structure, without leaders. Gossip or truth?
The attention to the role of "man" in the communication system
is reduced to a linguistic or semiologic matter. The ethical consequences
of hunger, of stress, of feelings, of shortages or of friendship in communication
seem to be lost in the wrong millennium. Human activities disappear in
the postal process "apparently" by an increase of electronic communication.
The monitor estheticizes.
Yet one forgets one thing in this interactive story: the sedentary,
electronic human being who is enclosing himself in order to do "home
shopping" by means of his monitor and his keyboard, will have to appeal
to "people" who deliver the parcels home. Hence the post's function
to distribute products will increase. Unless everything gets in the hands
of privatized courier services. A political option with relation to "cocooning".
In the installation the labour of the postal workers is visualized by
a series of 60 mail bags, filled with information; also shown are portraits
of unknown mailmen. The tools (stamps, ink and paper) used by postal employees
are intended to focus on the human being behind the object.
The proper functioning of the postal services is accentuated by the
individual project "indirect correspondence", this means correspondence
via a detour. For instance references to ficticious persons and/or addresses.
On the schemes of the itinerary and also on the very same circulating letters
appear traces on the post, in the snow of time and space. These traces
indicate the respect for pieces of mail and the accuracy with which the
postal system operates.
Opposing this are electronic appliances (such as telex, fax, modem)
that alienate and/or eliminate man and reduce communication mere efficiency.
The long strips of fax paper posted on walls emphasize the shortcomings
of electronic communication. Smells or perfumes for instance can't be transmitted.
In the construction of the Cathedral of Communication the anonymity
of the mailman is an essential fact. His ephemeral contacts with correspondence,
the content of which he will never know. An intuitive retrospective of
the evolution of (electronic) communication shows a system of objects and
traces, in which the letter carrier as a concept accentuates the democratic
aspect of the postal services. An extracting sculpture about postal and
post-postal thinking, feeling and wanting.
The present is always the past to the future.