Chus Martinez On Nudism In Crimea

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Crimea has long tradition of nudism and communudism. It was the first place where Russians (repressed first by the Tzars and more recently by Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Putin) were able to gather together to enjoy a nudist lifestyle and social naturism. In the early 20th century, shortly after the German naturist movement emerged, the Ukrainian born Russian language symbolist poet, painter and freemason, Maximilian Voloshin established a nudist colony at his home in Koktebel.

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Max Voloshin was inspired to pursue public nudism by the activities of a German organisation called the Freier Bund. Voloshin begins his essay On Nudism, first printed in Dnevniki pisatelej 1 (March 1914, pages 34-­40), with a sketch of that organisation:

The Freier Bund is the name of a German society whose goal is the physical and moral improvement of humanity through nudity. The society is located in Berlin. It has its own park at Grünwald, where members of both sexes gather for games in the open air. The Society was founded by Dr. Küster, a physician who was able to assert the Society’s right to exist before the most bashful of all police forces, the Prussian police.

Dr. Küster says, “There are two reasons keeping people from nudity: the fear of catching cold and bashfulness. The first reason does not stand up medically to criticism, because our skin is an astonishing regulatory mechanism, thanks to which we, once we are in motion, do not have to attend to any atmospheric changes whatsoever. As for bashfulness, if your sensibilities are annoyed by semi-­nudity, take my nudity cure and you will see how your nerves will be soothed and what a profound sense of physical and moral liberation will remain with you after visiting our park.”

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Voloshin concludes On Nudism with the following:

Compared to the Russians, the French are almost free of a sense of shame about their own bodies. But they are always struck by the Russians’ freedom to bare themselves spiritually. In all spheres of spiritual life they are insurmountably bashful and reserved. (Thus, for example, insanity in a French family is carefully concealed.) The Russians’ openness about themselves attracts the French and disturbs them, as does the innocent shamelessness of children and savages, as does a freedom that is inaccessible to them. The spiritual shamelessness of the Russians can only be explained by the absence of external forms of psychic life. The Russian spirit feels itself only from within, and does not yet know its own epidermis. And in this area all bashfulness is concentrated in the covering of the skin.

We experience an acute sense of confusion and awkwardness when we accidentally see undressed a woman well known by us and respected by everyone. This is natural.

Once in the theatre I happened to meet a woman whom I know well but had never seen dressed. (She was a model.) At first I felt exactly the same feeling of awkwardness and embarrassment.

Going bathing, I undress at home, put on a bathing robe, cross the thirty metres separating my home from the sea, and throw myself into the water. The local inhabitants are profoundly shocked by this behaviour.

Local decency insists that each individual undress in full view of others, on the open beach ten steps from the road.

In my memory remains a model who did not dress during her breaks but sat in the corner of the studio and laid out her needlework. In this pose there was as much beauty and modesty as when she appeared clothed in a long morning dress. The eye refused to recognize her nakedness.

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In 1913, when a Russian Orthodox zealot named Abram Balashov used a knife to stab Ilya Repin’s realist painting Ivan The Terrible Killing His Son, Voloshin was the only native Russian speaking intellectual to defend the man, indicating that it was an aesthetic statement appropriate to the painting, which displayed gore and bad taste. Like Repin’s pictorial realism, Balashov’s political views were reactionary: while stabbing the painting three times Balashov shouted: “Enough blood! Down with blood!” Balashov was incarcerated in a mental hospital and the average Russian intellectual of the time appeared more shocked by his attempt to destroy a famous painting than the repressive nature of the Russian state.

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Max Voloshin’s house in Koktebel attracted the most open-minded people of its time: artists and their models and mistresses. It was a place where male painters would strip off to work in the buff with their nude models on the seashore, shocking the locals with their “impermissible behaviour”.

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Immediately after the October Revolution in Russia, nudism was tolerated by some Bolshevik leaders including Lenin, who claimed he thought “it has a healthy proletarian source”. Although the Bolsheviks merely replaced the formal with the real domination of capital in Russian, to establish their grip on the country they had to pretend to be more radical and further to the left than they actually were, hence their early toleration of communudism. Once Stalinist glaciation set in and the Bolsheviks came to believe they had an iron grip on Russia, the radical pro-nudist Soviet organization “Shame Off!” was disbanded in 1925, and nudism was repressed.

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Following on from the thawing of Stalinist glaciation and tankie repressiveness came the emergence of a Soviet hippie movement in the late-1960s and early-1970s. At this time, echoes of the international sexual revolution began to be felt in both Russian and Crimea (as well as throughout the Ukraine and in other Soviet Republics and eastern bloc satellite states). Soviet hippies hit upon the remote location of Lisya Buhta (Fox Bay in English), near Koktebel in Crimea, for their nude encounters and communudist social experiments. Fox Bay not only had a beautiful beach, it was a suitable location for camping, since there is small forest nearby where firewood can be collected and drinking water is available at the foot of the Echki-Dag mountain.

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Feeling Fox Bay was becoming too popular, some communudists decided to find a wilder place to camp about and get nekkid. They chose Meganom, a headland near Sudak with many small bays and pebble beaches. Since it’s difficult to get to Meganom, and there are no shops or houses, this location was considered a paradise for communudists who wanted to contemplate each other’s bodies and engage in outdoor communal sex in complete tranquillity.

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There’s another communudist beach close to Sevastopol called Fiolent. The water is very clean and is a pale greyish green in colour. While it is easy to get to Fiolent from Sevastopol, the communudist beach itself is hard to access due to landslides. Communudists reach it by jumping across rocks. There’s only a few places flat enough to pitch a tent at Fiolent. The Southern coast of Crimea has fewer nudist beaches than the area around the regional capital of Sevastopol. However there is one communudist hang out in Simeiz, beneath Koshka Mountain. Nudists trek to Simeiz to enjoy the spectacular landscapes and to take photos of each other posing buck naked with huge rocks and thickets of juniper all around them.

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The long tradition of nudism and communudism in Crimea is currently threatened by the invasion of the peninsula by Russian soldiers directed by ultra-reactionary Vladimir Putin. Nudists and communudists from around the world must protest against the threat to their activities posed by Putin’s plans to annex Crimea. Proletarian nudity could become a crime in Crimea if Putin takes control of the peninsula…

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Chus Martinez On Mail Art and the Sexual Revolution

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Mail art is a worldwide cultural movement that began in the early 1960s and involves sending visual art (but also music, sound art, poetry, etc.) through the international postal system. Mail Art is also known as Postal Art or Correspondence Art. The term networking is often used to describe Mail Art activities, based on the principles of barter and equal one-to-one collaboration.

The sexual revolution (also known as a time of “sexual liberation”) was a social movement that challenged traditional codes of behaviour related to sexuality and interpersonal relationships throughout the Western world from the 1960s to the 1980s. Sexual liberation included increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships (primarily marriage). Contraception and the pill, public nudity, the normalization of homosexuality and alternative forms of sexuality, and the legalization of abortion all followed.

After a peak in popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Mail Art phenomenon has gradually migrated to the Internet, whose “social networks” were largely anticipated and predicted by the interactive processes of postal collaborations. Nevertheless, Mail Art is still practiced in the new Millennium by a loose global community involving thousands of mail artists from the most varied backgrounds.

The term “Sexual Revolution” has been used at least since the late 1910s and is often attributed as being influenced by Freud’s writing on sexual liberation and psychosexual issues.

Out of the reasonable assumption that the commercial gallery system is limited and perhaps corrupt, many artists emerging in the 1970s and 1980s around the world decided it would be more feasible to exhibit their work not through galleries and ancillary museums but through the postal system, especially if they lived in areas where galleries and other artists were scarce. For the production of imagery, they drew often upon xerography (photocopying) and the earlier technology of rubber stamps. They would also announce exhibitions in venues previously devoid of art, such as city halls in remote parts of the world, ideally accepting everything submitted and issuing a catalogue with names, usually accompanied by addresses and selected reproductions. While such work had little impact upon commercial galleries (and the “art magazines” dependent upon galleries’ ads), one result was a thriving alternative culture, calling itself “The Eternal Network”, as intensely interested in itself as serious artists have always been.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, newly won sexual freedoms were exploited by big businesses looking to capitalize on a more open society, with the advent of public and hardcore pornography. Historian David Allyn argues that the sexual revolution was a time of “coming-out”: about premarital sex, masturbation, erotic fantasies, pornography use, and sexuality.

Some mail artists claim that Mail Art began when Cleopatra had herself delivered to Julius Caesar in a rolled-up carpet, others consider early avant-garde experiments with the postal system to be the origin of the movement, but the term Mail Art was coined in the 1960s. The Futurists already had taken an interest in ‘mail art’, but the official birth of the phenomenon dates to the early sixties. Its main promoter was Ray Johnson who, with his New York Correspondance [sic] School, institutionalized the free exchange of postal messages between artist and artist or between artist and audience.

The sexual revolution can be seen as an outgrowth of a process in recent history, though its roots may be traced back as far as the Enlightenment (Marquis de Sade) and the Victorian era (Algernon Charles Swinburne’s scandalous Poems and Ballads of 1866). It was a development in the modern world which saw the significant loss of power by the values of a morality rooted in the Christian tradition and the rise of permissive societies, of attitudes that were accepting of greater sexual freedom and experimentation that spread all over the world and were captured in the concept of “free love”.

Ray Johnson’s Correspondence Art provided Mail Art with a blueprint for the free exchange of art, as opposed to its commercialization. The New York Correspondance School Show organized in 1970 by Johnson and Marcia Tucker at the Whitney Museum in New York is considered the first important public exhibition of the genre and helped set the ground rules for future shows. In his renowned diagram of 1973 showing the development and scope of Fluxus, George Maciunas included Mail Art among the activities pursued by the Fluxus artist Robert Filliou (who coined the term “the Eternal Network” that has become synonymous with Mail Art). Other Fluxus artists have been involved since the early 1960s in the creation of artist’s postage stamps (Robert Watts, Stamp Dispenser, 1963), postcards (Ben Vautier, The Postman’s Choice, 1965: a postcard with a different address on each side) and other works connected to the postal medium. “Indeed, the Mail Art Network counts many Fluxus members among its earliest participants. Although Ray Johnson (1927–1995), considered by many as the founding father of Mail Art, never joined Fluxus, his work is aesthetically close to that of the Fluxus group… Johnson’s work consists primarily of letters, often with the addition of doodles, drawings and rubber stamped messages. The work is lightweight and humorous; rather than being sold as a commodity it is usually mailed to friends and acquaintances. Although much of Johnson’s work is given away, this hasn’t prevented it attaining a market value. The late Andy Warhol is quoted as saying he would pay ten dollars for anything by Johnson.”

The period of Cold War puritanism, some say, led to a cultural rebellion in the form of the “sexual revolution”. Despite this, however, before the 1920s the Victorian era was much more conservative than even the 1930s and 1950s. Attitudes were transformed by mass communication systems such as televison and its increasingly wide dissemination in the 1950s; the vast majority of Westerners had access to television by the 1960s.

In spite of the many links and similarities between historical avant-gardes, alternative art practices (visual poetry, copy art, artist’s books, etc.) and Mail Art, what sets the creative postal network apart from any traditional artistic movement, school or group (including Fluxus) is its complete openness, an absence of hierarchies, and a disregard for the rules of the official “art system” and the commercialism of the art market. Anybody can participate in the postal network and exchange free artworks, and each mail artist is free to decide how and when to answer (or not answer) a piece of incoming mail. Participants are invited to take part in collective projects in which entries are not selected or judged, and while contributors might be asked to submit work on a particular theme, work to a required size, or send work by a deadline, Mail Art generally operates within a spirit of “anything goes”.

This mass communication device, along with other media outlets such as radio and magazines, could broadcast information in a matter of seconds to millions of people, while only a few wealthy people would control what millions could watch, in order to deliver this audience up to advertisers they had to cater to a degree to their tastes and moralistic titillation played a part in this. Thus the counterculture of the 1960s was becoming well known on radio, newspapers, TV and other media outlets by the end of the 1960s.

The Mail Art philosophy of openness and inclusion can be summed up in a few “considerations” of networking etiquette that are usually explicitly stated in the invitations (calls) to postal projects: a Mail Art show has no jury, no entry fee, there is no censorship, and all works are exhibited. The original contributions are not to be returned and remain the property of the organizers, but a catalogue or documentation is sent free to all the participants in exchange for their works. Although these “unwritten” rules are sometimes stretched, they have generally held up for four decades, with only minor dissimilarities and adjustments, like the occasional requests to avoid works of explicit sexual nature, calls for projects with specific participants, or the recent trend to display digital documentation on blogs and websites instead of personally sending printed paper to contributors.

One suggested trigger for the modern revolution was the development of the birth control pill in 1960, which gave women access to easy and reliable contraception. Another likely factor was vast improvements in obstetrics, which greatly reduced the number of women who die in childbirth and thus increased the life expectancy of women.

Mail Art has been exhibited in alternative spaces such as private apartments, municipal buildings, and shop windows, as well as in galleries and important museums worldwide. Mail Art shows, periodicals and projects represent the “public” side of postal networking, a practice that has at its core the direct and private interaction between the individual participants. For many mail artists, the process of exchanging ideas and the sense of belonging to a global community that is able to maintain a peaceful collaboration beyond differences of language, religion and ideology, is valued above the aesthetic merits of the artworks that are swapped or created together. It is what differentiates the Mail Art network from the world of commercial picture postcards and of simply “mailed art”.

Other data suggests the “revolution” was more directly influenced by the financial independence gained by many women who entered the workforce during and after World War II, making the revolution more about individual equality rather than biological independence. Many people, however, feel that one specific cause cannot be selected for this large phenomenon. Nonetheless, French feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir was particularly adamant that economic equality greatly contributes to improved gender equality.

Typically, a mail artist has hundreds of correspondents from many different countries, but also tends to build a smaller core circle of favourite contacts. Mail art is widely practiced in Europe, North and South America, Russia, Australia and Japan, with smaller numbers of participants also in Africa, China and other countries. As a result of its unique openness, it is a global grassroots activity, carried out by all kinds of amateurs and novices, and professional artists (often as a side activity), of different ages and backgrounds. The work received is either collected, and in recent years Mail Art Archives have attracted the interest of museums and collectors, or it is ‘worked into’ and recycled back to the sender or to another networker. “The purpose of mail art, an activity shared by many artists throughout the world, is to establish an aesthetical communication between artists and common people in every corner of the globe, to divulge their work outside the structures of the art market and outside the traditional venues and institutions: a free communication in which words and signs, texts and colours act like instruments for a direct and immediate interaction.”

The Industrial Revolution during the nineteenth century and the growth of science and technology, medicine and health care, resulted in better contraceptives being manufactured. Advances in the manufacture and production of rubber made possible the design and production of condoms that could be used by hundreds of millions of men and women to prevent pregnancy at little cost.

With its inclination to break down the barriers between art and everyday life, and trying to bring to the surface everybody’s creative side, Mail Art has much in common with the utopian and libertarian philosophies of the Hippie counterculture. The magazines self-produced by many mail artists can be seen as a logical continuation of the “free press” of the 1960s. In the 1970s, the practice of Mail Art grew exponentially, providing a cheap and flexible channel of expression for cultural outsiders and demonstrating a particular vitality where state censorship prevented a free circulation of alternative ideas, as in certain countries behind the Iron Curtain or in South America.

Advances in chemistry, pharmacology, and biology, and human physiology led to the discovery and perfection of the first oral contraceptives also known as “the Pill”. Purchasing an aphrodisiac and various sex toys became “normal”. Sado-masochism (“S and M”) gained popularity, and “no-fault” unilateral divorce became legal and easier to obtain in many countries during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

The growth of a sizeable Mail Art community, with friendships born out of personal correspondence and, increasingly, mutual visits, led in the 1980s to the organization of several Festivals, Meetings and Conventions where networkers could meet, socialize, perform, exhibit and plan further collaborations. Among these events were the InterDada Festivals organized in California in the early 1980s and the Decentralized Mail Art Congress of 1986, a project comprising events that took place “any time two or more mail artists met in the course of the year”. Even if “Tourism” was proposed satirically as a new movement, Mail Art in its purest form could also function without the personal meeting between networkers that some felt diluted the appeal and the aura of mystery of this “art at a distance”. “The best part about mail art is that you don’t have to be there in person to be in on the action.”

All these developments took place alongside and combined with an increase in world literacy and decline in religious observance. Old values such as the biblical notion of “be fruitful and multiply” were cast aside as people felt increasingly alienated from the past and adopted the lifestyles of modernizing westernized cultures.

Ray Johnson suggested, with an ingenious pun, that “mail art has no history, only a present”, and with characteristic playfulness, mail artists have created their own mythologies. Parody art movements like Neoism and Plagiarism have challenged notions of originality, as have the multiple names Chus Martinez and Karen Eliot, proposed for serial use by anyone. Semi-fictional organizations have been set up and virtual lands invented, imaginary countries for which artists stamps are issued. Furthermore, rigorous attempts have been made to document and define the history of a complex and underestimated phenomenon that has spanned five decades. Various essays, graduate theses, guides and anthologies of Mail Art writings have appeared in print and on the Internet, often written by veteran networkers.

Another contribution that helped bring about this modern revolution of sexual freedom were the writings of Herbert Marcuse and Wilhelm Reich, who took the philosophy of Karl Marx and similar philosophers, and added to them a more strident demand for sexual freedom.

By the 1990s, Mail Art’s peak in terms of global postal activities had been reached, and many mail artists, aware of increasing postal charges, were beginning the gradual migration of collective art projects towards the web and new, cheaper forms of digital communication. The Internet facilitated faster dissemination of Mail Art calls (invitations) and precipitated the involvement of a large number of newcomers. Mail Art blogs and websites became ever more frequently used to display contributions and online documentation, even if many mail artists still preferred the surprise of a catalogue found in their mailbox. The thrill of ripping open an envelope to find out what is hidden inside remains stronger as an experience than the click of a mouse.

When speaking of sexual revolution, historians make a distinction between the first and the second sexual revolution. In the first sexual revolution (1870–1910), Victorian morality lost its supposedly universal appeal (although it was actually the ideology of a bourgeoisie who never really adhered to it). However, this did not lead to the rise of a “permissive society”. Exemplary for this period is the rise and differentiation in forms of regulating sexuality.

“Correspondence art is an elusive art form, far more variegated by its very nature than, say, painting. Where a painting always involves paint and a support surface, correspondence art can appear as any one of dozens of media transmitted through the mail. While the vast majority of correspondence art or mail art activities take place in the mail, today’s new forms of electronic communication blur the edges of that forum. In the 1960s, when correspondence art first began to blossom, most artists found the postal service to be the most readily available – and least expensive – medium of exchange. Today’s micro-computers with modern facilities offer anyone computing and communicating power that two decades ago were available only to the largest institutions and corporations, and only a few decades previously weren’t available to anyone at any price.”

Sigmund Freud believed human behaviour was motivated by unconscious drives, primarily by the libido or “Sexual Energy”. Freud proposed to study how these unconscious drives were repressed and found expression through other cultural outlets. He called this pseudo-science “psychoanalysis”.

The ethos of Mail Art is one of inclusion, both in terms of participants (‘anyone who can afford the postage’) and in the scope of art forms beneath its big umbrella. Although there are materials and techniques which are commonly used and frequently favoured by mail artists for their availability, convenience and ability to produce copies, Mail Art’s potential to surprise and delight is in part due to the unregulated wealth of media and styles employed by myriad mail artists.

While Freud’s ideas were initially ignored as embarrassing, his work provoked a serious challenge to Victorian prudishness by providing the groundwork for the ideas of sex drive and infant sexuality. Freud’s theory of psychosexual development proposed a model for the development of sexual orientations and desires; children emerged from the Oedipus complex, a sexual desire towards their parent of the opposite sex.

Unsurprisingly, Mail Art has adopted graphic forms associated with the postal system. The rubber stamp officially used for franking mail, hardly an established or esteemed art medium but already utilised by Dada and Fluxus artists, has been embraced by mail artists who, in addition to reusing readymade rubber stamps, have them professionally made to their own designs, and also carve into erasers with linocut tools to create handmade ones. These unofficial rubber stamps, whether disseminating mail artists’ messages or simply announcing the identity of the sender, help to transform humble postcards into artworks and make envelopes an important part of the Mail Art experience.

According to Freud’s theory, in the earliest stage of a child’s psychosexual development, the oral stage, the mother’s breast became the formative source of all later erotic sensation. This pseudo-science eventually came to underpin the intellectual and cultural ideology of the new age of sexual frankness. Nonetheless, it should go without saying most of what Freud wrote has subsequently been discredited. Anarchist Freud scholars Otto Gross and Wilhelm Reich (who famously coined the phrase “Sexual Revolution”) developed a cod sociology of sex in the 1910s to 1930s.

Mail Art has also appropriated the postage stamp as a format for individual expression. Inspired by the example of Cinderella stamps and Fluxus faux-stamps, the artist stamp has spawned a vibrant sub-network of artists dedicated to creating and exchanging their own stamps and stamp sheets. Artist stamps and rubber stamps, have become important staples of mail artworks, particularly in the enhancement of postcards and envelopes.

The publication of Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa brought the sexual revolution to the public scene, as her thoughts concerning sexual freedom pervaded academia. Published in 1928, Mead’s ethnography focused on the psychosexual development of adolescent children on the island of Samoa. She recorded that their adolescence was not in fact a time of “storm and stress” as Erikson’s stages of development suggest, but that the sexual freedom experienced by the adolescents actually permitted them an easy transition from childhood to adulthood. Her findings were later criticized by anthropologist Derek Freeman who later investigated her claims of promiscuity and conducted his own ethnography of Samoan society. Mead called for a change in suppression of sexuality in America and her work directly resulted in the advancement of the sexual revolution in the 1930s.

Some mail artists lavish more attention on the envelopes than the contents within. Painted envelopes are one-of-a-kind artworks with the handwritten address becoming part of the work. Stitching, embossing and an array of drawing materials can all be found on postcards, envelopes and on the contents inside, where genuinely personalized stationery adds real character to the letters and notes that often accompany mail art works.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Alfred C. Kinsey published two surveys of modern sexual behaviour. In 1948 Alfred C. Kinsey and his co-workers, responding to a request by female students at Indiana University for more information on human sexual behaviour, published the book Sexual behaviour in the Human Male. They followed this five years later with Sexual behaviour in the Human Female. These books began a revolution in social awareness of, and public attention given to, human sexuality. It is said that at the time, bourgeois morality severely restricted open discussion of sexuality as a human characteristic, and specific sexual practices, especially sexual behaviours that did not lead to procreation. Kinsey’s books contained studies about controversial topics such as the frequency of homosexuality, and the sexuality of minors aged two weeks to thirteen years. Scientists working for Kinsey reported data that led to the conclusion that people are capable of sexual stimulation from birth. These books laid the groundwork for Masters and Johnson’s life work: a study called Human Sexual Response. This 1966 publication documented the nature and scope of the sexual practices of young Americans.

In addition to appropriating the postage stamp model, mail artists have assimilated other design formats for unique and printed artworks. Artists’ books, decobooks and friendship books, banknotes, stickers, tickets, artist trading cards (ATCs), badges, food packaging, diagrams and maps have all inspired individual and collaborative work.

In the United States in the years 1959 through 1966, bans on three books with explicit erotic content were challenged and overturned. This also occurred in the United Kingdom starting with the 1959 Obscene Publications Act and reaching a peak with the Lady Chatterley’s Lover court case. Prior to this time, a patchwork of regulations (as well as local customs and vigilante actions) governed what could and could not be published. For example, the United States Customs Service banned James Joyce’s Ulysses by refusing to allow it to be imported into the United States. The Roman Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum carried great weight among Catholics and amounted to an effective and instant boycott of any book appearing on it. Boston’s Watch and Ward Society, a largely Protestant creation inspired by Anthony Comstock, made “banned in Boston” a national by-word. In 1959 Grove Press published an unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence. The U.S. Post Office confiscated copies sent through the mail. Lawyer Charles Rembar sued the New York City Postmaster, and won in New York and then on federal appeal.

Printing is ideally suited to mail artists who distribute their work widely. Many forms of printmaking, in addition to rubber stamping, are used to create multiples, and copy art (xerography, photocopy) is a common practice, with both mono and colour copying being extensively used within the network. Black & white copies of artwork have sometimes been regarded as too easy and impersonal, and ubiquitous ‘add & pass’ sheets that are designed to be circulated through the network with each artist adding and copying, chain-letter fashion, have also received some unfavourable criticism. However, Xerography has been invaluable to the many short-run periodicals and zines about Mail Art, and for the printed documentation that has been the traditional project culmination sent to participants. Inkjet and laserprint computer printouts are also used, both to disseminate artwork and for reproducing zines and documentation, and PDF copies of paperless periodicals and unprinted documentation are circulated by email. Photography is widely used as an art form in itself, to provide images for artist stamps and rubber stamps, and within printed and digital magazines and documentation.

In 1965 Tom Lehrer was to celebrate the erotic appeal of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in his cheerfully satirical song “Smut” with the couplet “Who needs a hobby like tennis or philately? / I’ve got a hobby: rereading Lady Chatterley”. Henry Miller’s 1934 novel, Tropic of Cancer, had explicit sexual passages and could not be published in the United States; an edition was printed by the Obelisk Press in Paris and copies were smuggled into the United States. In 1961 Grove Press issued a copy of the work, and dozens of booksellers were sued for selling it. The issue was ultimately settled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1964 decision in Grove Press, Inc. v. Gerstein. In 1965 Putnam published John Cleland’s 1750 novel Fanny Hill. This was the turning point, because Charles Rembar appealed a restraining order against it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. In Memoirs v. Massachusetts, 383 U.S. 413, the court ruled that sex was “a great and mysterious motive force in human life”, and that its expression in literature was protected by the First Amendment. Only books primarily appealing to “prurient interest” could be banned. In a famous phrase, the court said that obscenity is “utterly without redeeming social importance”—meaning that, conversely, any work with redeeming social importance was not obscene, even if it contained isolated passages that could “deprave and corrupt” some readers. This decision was especially significant, because, of the three books mentioned, Fanny Hill has by far the largest measure of content that seems to appeal to prurient interest, and the smallest measures of literary merit and “redeeming social importance”. Whereas an expurgated version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover had actually once been published, no expurgated version of Fanny Hill had ever been. By permitting the publication of Fanny Hill, the U.S. Supreme Court set the bar for any ban so high that Rembar himself called the 1966 decision “the end of obscenity”.

The wealth of materials, techniques and formats available ensures that mail artists routinely mix media. Collage and photomontage are hugely popular, affording much Mail Art the stylistic qualities of Pop Art or Dada. Mail artists often use collage techniques to produce original postcards, envelopes and work that may be transformed using copy art techniques or computer software, then photocopied or printed out in limited editions. Printed matter and ephemera are often circulated among mail artists, and items that might seem mundane in one country become fascinating and extraordinary when relocated. Small assemblages, sculptural forms or found objects of irregular shapes and sizes are parcelled up or sent unwrapped to deliberately tease and test the efficiency of the postal service. Wit and humour permeate a lot of Mail Art.

The court decisions that legalised the publication of Fanny Hill had an even more important effect: freed from fears of legal action, nonfiction works about sex and sexuality started to appear more often. In 1962, Helen Gurley Brown published Sex and the Single Girl: The Unmarried Woman’s Guide to Men, Careers, the Apartment, Diet, Fashion, Money and Men. The title itself would have been unthinkable a decade earlier. (In 1965 she went on to transform Cosmopolitan magazine into a life manual for young career women. In 1969 Joan Garrity, identifying herself only as “J.”, published The Way to Become the Sensuous Woman, with information on exercises to improve the dexterity of one’s tongue and how to have anal sex. The same year saw the appearance of Dr. David Reuben’s book Sex and the Single Girl (But Were Afraid to Ask). Despite the dignity of Reuben’s medical credentials, this book was light-hearted in tone. For many readers, it delivered quite literally on its promise. Despite the book’s one-sided and prejudiced statements about gay men, one middle-aged matron from a small town in Wisconsin was heard to say “Until I read this book, I never actually knew precisely what it was that homosexuals did”.

Lettering, whether handwritten or printed, is integral to Mail Art. Visual poetry is well represented within the movement. The written word is used as a literary art form, as well as for personal letters and notes sent with artwork and recordings of the spoken word, both of poetry and prose, are also a part of the eternal network. Although English has been the de facto language, owing to the movement’s inception in America, an increasing number of mail artists, and mail artist groups on the Internet, now communicate in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian and other first languages.

In 1970 the Boston Women’s Health Collective published Women and Their Bodies (which became far better known a year later under its subsequent title Our Bodies, Ourselves). Not an erotic treatise or sex manual, the book nevertheless included frank descriptions of sexuality, and contained illustrations that could have caused legal problems just a few years earlier. Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex: A Gourmet Guide to Love Making appeared in 1972. In later editions though, Comfort’s libertinism was tamed as a response to AIDS. In 1975 Will McBride’s Zeig Mal! (Show Me!), written with psychologist Helga Fleichhauer-Hardt for children and their parents, appeared in bookstores on both sides of the Atlantic. Appreciated by many parents for its frank depiction of pre-adolescents discovering and exploring their sexuality, it scandalised others and eventually it was pulled from circulation in the United States and some other countries. It was followed up in 1989 by Zeig Mal Mehr! (“Show Me More!”). These books had a number of things in common. They were factual and, in fact, educational. They were available to a mainstream readership. They were stacked high on the tables of discount bookstores, they were book club selections, and their authors were guests on late-night talk shows. People were seen reading them in public. In a respectable petty bourgeois middle-class home, Playboy magazine and Fanny Hill might be present but would usually be kept out of sight. But at least some of these books might well be on the coffee table. Most important, all of these books acknowledged and celebrated the conscious cultivation of erotic pleasure.

Having borrowed the notion of intermedia from Fluxus, mail artists are often active simultaneously in several different fields of expression. Music and sound art have long been celebrated aspects of Mail Art, at first using cassette tape, then on CD and today as sound files sent via the internet. Performance art has also been a prominent facet, particularly since the advent of Mail Art meetings and congresses. Performances recorded on film or video are communicated via DVD and movie files over the internet. Video is also increasingly being employed to document Mail Art shows of all kinds.

The contribution of such books to the sexual revolution cannot be overstated. Earlier books such as What Every Girl Should Know (Margaret Sanger, 1920) and A Marriage Manual (Hannah and Abraham Stone, 1939) had broken the silence in which many people, women in particular, had grown up with. By the 1950s, in the United States, it had become rare for women to go into their wedding nights not knowing what to expect. But the open discussion of sex as pleasure, and descriptions of sexual practices and techniques, was revolutionary. There were practices that many had heard of, but even among adults not everyone knew for sure whether they were realities, or fantasies found only in pornographic books. The Kinsey report revealed that practices such as anal sex and fellatio were, at the very least, surprisingly frequent. These other books asserted, in the words of a 1980 book by Dr. Irene Kassorla, that Nice Girls Do — And Now You Can Too.

Recent years have witnessed a meteoric rise in Mail Art’s online presence. Mail artists’ websites, blogs, and the use of social networking groups for discussion are considered by many to be a natural development, and just as it has become standard to display the documentation of Mail Art projects online rather than to mail printed documentation, so an increasing number of projects include an invitation to submit work digitally by email, either as the preferred channel or as an alternative to sending contributions by post. Mail Art continues to transform itself with the times.

As birth control became more available, men and women gained unprecedented control of their reproductive capabilities. The 1916 invention of thin, disposable latex condoms for men led to widespread affordable condoms by the 1930s; the demise of the Comstock laws in 1936 set the stage for promotion of available effective contraceptives such as the diaphragm and cervical cap; the 1960s introduction of the IUD and oral contraceptives for women gave a sense of freedom from barrier contraception. The opposition of Churches (e.g. Humanae Vitae) led to parallel movements of secularization and exile from religion.

Cultural exchange is a radical act. It can create paradigms for the reverential sharing and preservation of the earth’s water, soil, forests, plants and animals. The ethereal networker aesthetic calls for guiding that dream through action. Cooperation and participation, and the celebration of art as a birthing of life, vision, and spirit are first steps. The artists who meet each other in the Eternal Network have taken these steps. Their shared enterprise is a contribution to our common future.

Beginning in San Francisco in the mid 1960s, a new culture of “free love” emerged, with thousands of young people becoming “hippies” who preached the power of love and the beauty of sex as part of ordinary life. This is part of a counterculture that exists to the present. By the 1970s, it was acceptable for colleges to allow co-ed housing. Free love continued in different forms throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, but its more assertive manifestations ended abruptly (or disappeared from public view) in the mid-1980s when the public first became aware of AIDS, a deadly sexually transmitted disease.

4 Responses to Mail Art and the Sexual Revolution

Michael Roth | September 4, 2012 at 3:42 am My email art keeps ending up in other people’s junk folder. Fortunately, my ongoing pictorial history of the sexual revolution keeps growing and growing!

chusmartinezproject | September 4, 2012 at 5:04 pm Spam is the greatest form of poetry in the world today – and in its most new and improved versions comes replete with visual pornographic images! My strap-on dick grows three inches longer just thinking about this!

Michael Roth | September 5, 2012 at 4:51 am  I’ve seen spam emails selling your strap-ons. The visuals are very impressive. I’ve sent a cheque off to the nice vendor in North Korea and with any luck I will be receiving one in the mail soon.

chusmartinezproject | September 5, 2012 at 10:28 am If you’re very lucky your bank account won’t have been completely emptied!