Pass It On-sendings

[Ray "Sugar Dada"] Johnson initiated a practice called
‘on-sending’ which
involved sending an incomplete or unfinished artwork to another artist, critic,
or even a stranger, who, in turn, helped to complete the work by making some
additions and then sending it on to another participant in the network. 
These gift exchanges, begun in 1955, evolved into more elaborate networks of
hundreds of participants, but at first they included a relatively small circle
of participants.  Johnson would often involve famous artists, like Andy
Warhol, as well as influential literary and art critics in these on-sendings. 
In a variation on this process, each participant was asked to send the work back
to Johnson after adding to the image.  Much of Johnson’s mail art and on-sendings
consisted of small, trivial objects not quite profound enough for art critics to
consider them ‘found objects.’ These on-sendings were part of the stuff
previously excluded from art galleries.  Johnson’s gift giving resembled
the lettrists’ earlier use of a type of potlatch (which was the name of one of
their journals), Fluxus Yam Festivals, and the work of intimate bureaucracies in
general.  The gift exchanges soon led Johnson to explore the fan’s logic in
more depth. (31)

Saper, "A Fan’s Paranoid Logic,"
Networked Art


  1. Sounds like sort of a free-form exquisite corpse. A high school friend of mine used to do drawn exquisite corpses by mail with those of us who were somewhat artistically inclined, and I’ve always enjoyed doing the poetry version in which you compose line-by-line round-robin style, with the paper folded so you can only read the line immediately preceding yours. Perhaps, looking at your Sirc quotation, a useful way to interrupt “received notions of form and function”?

  2. Yeah, I think so, Mike. It’s really interesting to read Saper on the heels of Sirc bc so much of what Sirc sets up (material orthodoxy, curatorial tendency in comp, a kind of constraining Modernism on-guard) extends into Saper’s examples and especially his network vocabulary. I’m finding Saper’s work-up of “receivable art/texts” (ext. from Barthes) and intimate bureacracies to be extraordinary (so much so that I’m reading it instead of working on a syllabus for the fall, an RSA proposal, an article-ish piece, other reading and web-dev projects). I’m early into NA, so I’m trying to delay deciding how nicely the examples of parodic intimate bureaucracies match up with interest-clusters manifest in weblogs (or other kinds of network-ciculating activity).

    Thanks for the links, too. Guess I’d have to be more artistically inclined to get an invitation to contribute to an exquisite corpse, eh?

  3. Great stuff!

    Someone once said, ” Great minds communicate ideas. Average minds speak of events while small minds only talk about people.”

    The included links remind me of several books I read years ago. Just went to look for them and couldn’t find them. Hmmmm…? Could it be that the Idea Police have been here….?

  4. I don’t know if you’d have to be “more artistically inclined” — these days, Photoshop skills seem to often trump drawing ability; check out these corpses as one example. Still, the corpses trained artists do are pretty impressive.

    I’d love to see someone get a circle of the poetic version going online. Great fun.

  5. Sure would be. I’m glad you’re sharing these links, too, Mike. I haven’t done any searching on this stuff. The networked collage effect interests me. It resembled a visual wiki, in some ways; the fragment/shard/ort makes the corpose distinctive from a wholly visible, wholly conceived collaborative effort, I guess.

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