Pushing the Envelope

Mail Art and 'The Eternal Network'

Diana Garcia
Diana Garcia (Photo By Ada Calhoun)

Diana Garcia

"Mail art is about exchanging ideas with anyone, and finding other people on the margins," says fourth-grade teacher/Girl Robots drummer Diana Garcia. "For me, it was a lot about being a misfit and finding other people who were misfits to exchange ideas with." Garcia defines mail art as "any kind of artistic expression that could be sent to someone else through the mail."

The "envelope collage" is Garcia's forte, but Garcia is probably best known for her zine Bad News Bingo. The first issue (circa more than 15 years ago) was, in Garcia's words, "really punk rock, just about being really bored and punk and stupid and young."

Hailing from San Antonio, Garcia came to Austin in 1980 to go to UT. For a while, she performed with PeACh, the Performance Art Church. Then one day she was hanging out at Waterloo Records checking out industrial music and stumbled upon Daniel Plunkett's ND Magazine, the No. 1 Texas source for mail artists.

After reading the magazine, Garcia started writing to Dallas mail art guru John Held Jr., and her list of correspondents blossomed from there. Garcia says she has learned a lot from Held and Plunkett about mail art, specifically how much it is, really, a joke, and subversive in a way because it's going through the U.S. Postal Service. Garcia remembers one laminated dollar bill with stamps being delivered despite the rules against sending money through the mail. She likes puns, like the letter she got that was a fan ("fan mail").

More symbolically, Garcia likes to work with junk mail and trash. When she gets a credit card solicitation, she will cut it up, turn it into mail art, and send it back out into the world. This keeps her, she says, from being merely a passive recipient of advertising. She considers herself a folk artist because she makes things out of trash, for example, glittery little dioramas from sardine cans and bottle cap robots. Garcia has never studied art formally (she majored in English literature, minored in French literature), and she likes mail art because there is no criticism, no theory. Her big dream is to make a junk sculpture-shrine in her back yard.

Garcia's current mail art show, running through March 25 at the Bouldin Creek Coffee House on South First Street, is based on gardens. The Secret Garden is one of her favorite children's books, and she reads it to the kids in her class every year. "The little girl, the main character, is not loved," she says, "and then she learns to love herself and how to tend the garden." Garcia based an issue of Bad News Bingo on the theme of gardens. Everyone, says Garcia, just needs to relax and walk around in a garden. That sentiment seems to have struck a chord in the mail art community. Garcia's call for entries was answered with a small tidal wave of decorated postcards and envelopes about gardens. -- Ada Calhoun

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