Sunday, 24 April 2011

Alighiero e Boetti's 'Dossier Postale'

During the Arte Povera exhibition at Tate Modern in the summer of 2001 I was leafing through a relevant catalogue and was arrested by a page describing Alighiero e Boetti's Dossier Postale (1970). I read that for this piece Boetti designated 26 recipients (artists, dealers, critics, collectors etc) to each of which he assigned an imaginary itinerary. That he mailed a letter to each at the first point of their itinerary. And that, since these journeys were imaginary, the envelopes containing the letters would be 'returned to sender' - Boetti himself - unopened, who would then place them into larger envelopes and mail them to the next address on their journey.

And so on. Boetti documented the process by means of photocopying: both sides of each envelope were copied before being sealed into larger ones. All this material was subsequently catalogued and filed in 26 different folders, each corresponding to an addressee.

image: Museo MADRE

I was recently reminded of my encounter with Dossier Postale through Derek Beaulieu's description of A Box of Nothing - another instance of mail art. Ten years ago the work of Boetti appealed to me because of its playfulness, its use - and subversion - of bureaucracy, its fascination with order and classification, its exploration of error, its interest in process. (Arte Povera as a whole was a movement that challenged the worship of the art object by using deliberately unorthodox materials; Alighiero Boetti inserted the Italian conjunction e - meaning "and" - into his name to reflect a sense of multiple, unstable identity.)

I remember photocopying the Dossier Postale article and filing the copy in my "cuttings etc" envelope/folder. Despite searching for it on many occasions since, I was never able to find it. But its ghost has accompanied me.

Material from Dossier Postale has been exhibited over the years, and so has that from Boetti's other similarly conceptual works - including a series of embroidered maps of the world produced between 1971 and 1992, and the compilation of a list of "the thousand longest rivers in the world" published as a limited edition book in 1977. Such material - like the finished poem - appears as an end result, the product of a process. One could also regard it as a starting point from where each viewer/reader may work backwards and re-imagine the process for him/herself. And on occasion, the process itself is the poem.

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