Mailart as pleasant feedback

Postcards and letters are some of the nicest forms of feedback I have received so far. A new kind has been Mailart by a man who calls himself Ficus Strangulensis. This shall be the first post on this blog about art, accompanied by thoughts related to the topic more generally.

An important reason for me for creating software has always been to connect and exchange with likeminded and interested people. While my website has almost exclusively focused on computer science related topics (some pages have come and gone), my interests cover a far greater range, both being the creator or the recipient of various kinds of work. But since I didn’t want to share unfinished thoughts or post uncommented links or pictures, without any new or original insight of my own, I have not published much so far.

Mailart by Ficus Strangulensis

I like the mindset of Mailart that adds a more real and personal component to exchange compared to pure virtual communities. It is refreshing.

Media commonly used in mail art include postcards, paper, a collage of found or recycled images and objects, rubber stamps, artist-created stamps (called artistamps), and paint, but can also include music, sound art, poetry, or anything that can be put in an envelope and sent via post. Mail art is considered art once it is dispatched. Mail artists regularly call for thematic or topical mail art for use in (often unjuried) exhibition. [Source: Wikipedia]

Ficus Strangulensis contacted me through this blog, offering me Mailart, and after communicating him my address and appreciation for organic art, he sent me this beautifully made letter.

Front of envelope
Front of envelope


Back of envelope
Back of envelope


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Fike’s grocery lists and The Adoration of St. Poof look like pictures generated by Google’s Deep Dream. It is interesting that this computer vision system often creates finely detailed structures and has some resemblance to fractals. To me it looks not like typical human made art or dreams, but more like surrealist drawings mixed with structure of shells or fossils. If I would have to imagine the appearance of an AI’s internal representation, I would have thought of a much more sketchy blotchy representation, maybe a bit like impressionist/expressionist art, instead of such an information dense and detailed one. It still is more logical and regular than a dream.

The relation of art to dream and internal representation of the world is fascinating and a subject I’d like to explore more. Finding the proper representation seems key to me to create AIs that have a “personality” and capability to reason in human like ways, which is important to be able to communicate intuitively. While art is often structured and relies on learned techniques, not just pure translations of the internal impressions, a major interest to me has always been to be able to capture this as unaltered and true as possible.

Fiku from John Bennett poems cut up and Cyanotype have the organic quality to them I mentioned to Fike. The first has some organic features similar to what results from folding paper that is covered with paint on one side and pulled apart again. A bit akin to a river/lightning suction pattern, but not exactly.

They both have an unpretentious beauty to them and make me remember thoughts/impressions I cannot quite pinpoint, but which are nice to explore wordlessly, but consciously. This is a good example to show that being aware does not mean you have to think in language, especially for the Fiku image, where you cannot clearly assign any object or pattern to it, but it is still meaningful somehow.

I also like the personal touch in the letter envelope with blobs supposedly made out of ink and the stamp like profile picture. Thank you Ficus for your mail, I appreciated it!

A few general thoughts about art

When you see art the question is always if commenting will contribute to it or cause disenchantment/falling out of the flow-like experience, drowning out the varied impression it could have made. A reason could be that it is not easy to find the right words. Or you may notice elements that resonate in you, but are distracting the artist from the thoughts, feelings, or impressions he tries to approach or understand.

Maybe sometimes the best reply to a piece of art is another piece of art, showing what inspiration it caused, what emotions, thoughts — in a direct way. A bit like a collaborative work on a clay sculpture, a direct communicative hands-on exploratory process.

I am not a fan of standard or official interpretations. They can be educating in that they make it easier to understand certain symbols and norms, but to me this comes down to using a sort of language in art, which common modalities, i.e., speech and text, cover already. Instead, art should take advantage of its unique capability to express and explore what is hard to notice when distracted/guided by the logic and rigid structure of language.

Art can be a way to communicate more deeply in some ways that are hard to express or feel otherwise. Computer scientists would mention that virtual communities still are restricted in the kind of modalities — such as speech, gestures, sense of touch, scent, etc. — they can use to connect. While we can try to make virtual realities ever more realistic and impressive (and do so with some success), there always remains a surprising difference to having true experiences. Reality alone does not create depth in (human) exchange, but removing the barriers for direct experience does improve inspiration and intuition for a larger spectrum of the world.

After this “manifest” for free unguided inspiration I was wondering if I shouldn’t just present the pictures uncommented. On the other hand, communication needs to be explicit and precise enough to enable real exchange vs. self-referential loops. Maybe some of this was interesting to someone.

Thanks again for the nice letter Ficus and the opportunity to write about this topic.

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