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In the spirit of reciprocity and with the modest hope of generating small surprises and unexpected exchanges, This & That is a grassroots mail art swap among 32 international artists and artists' groups. Participants hail from the UK and the US, as well as cities like Vienna, Prague, Manila and Hong Kong. At the heart of the project are art practices I find to be wonderfully idiosyncratic, conceptually rigorous, humorous, compellingly demonstrative of thingness, and/or quite possibly astounding.

The project is named after the epitome of "cheap and cheerful"—a Manchester curry canteen—to suggest a no-frills, utterly tantalizing experience. My optimistic position is that excellence, even at modest scales, will inevitably trigger outsize connections.

The Grand-Touring, virtual, post-studio possibilities in art practice today may make the mail art swap seem humble and antiquated, but its premise remains vital: artists create networks and shape the art world(s) we would like to participate in. With their experimental approaches to contemporary practice, the artists in This & That are well suited to show that the potential of mail art remains positively expansive.

I’m most interested in artists who navigate the realms where conceptualism meets object-making and thingness; where the nature of art itself—of how a material succeeds or fails to convey an idea—is interrogated.

Theorist Johanna Drucker articulates that contemporary artists are "complicit"—they take for granted the interconnectedness of their objects and subjects with the world. The practices of the artists in This & That extend beyond studio walls (Laurence Payot will temporarily place a sculpture of a ‘living statue’ in European cities, Jenifer K Wofford depicts the Žižkovkov TV Tower in Prague, MM Yu snaps public sleepers in the Philippines, and Pest presents research on alternative art contexts in the UK's Northwest).

These artists are interdisciplinary, evincing scientific interests like fluid mechanics (Antony Hall’s abstract gesture functions as a science experiment), technology (Simon Blackmore creates mechanically drawn light tracings) and ecology (Daniel Staincliffe’s device allows wildlife to trigger photos of themselves, Verity-Jane Keefe re-imagines a model of the civic via a housing estate in East London, and Scott Oliver investigates Oakland's Lake Merritt).

They utilize diverse materials and sources, like light (Chris Bell uses sunlight to draw, Ali Naschke-Messing researches luminosity, Nick Crowe & Ian Rawlinson continue their nocturnal, double self-portraits, and Susan Chen contributes a collaged double image), sound (N. Sean Glover shares an elemental cardboard record player), and found language (Eric Hongisto depicts buzzwords, while Sarah Kabot considers American shop signage).

Their work employs both high and low media, and investigates the success and futility of mark-making (Mary Griffiths creates a carbon-transfer drawing of a watercolor, David Sherry's drawing exudes a discomfiting playfulness, Poklong Anading conjures creation and rejection, Ivy Ma attempts to re-create Sol Lewitt’s procedures, and Anthony Ryan uses rubber stamps to create geometric patterns). This tendency seems related to a skepticism of Modernism (Simon & Tom Bloor connects WWI camouflage and fashion, and Michelle Carollo crafts immersive abstractions from resolutely base materials).

Aware of their own agency, the artists also solicit specific responses (Yuen Fong Ling invites the recipient to initiate a life drawing class, Taro Hattori offers a Hindenberg craft kit, and Scot Kaplan facilitates the legal exchange of a soul for an artwork). Some artists express generosity (Susan O'Malley contributes a sweet screen-printed apron), while others take a more ambivalent position towards viewers (Mike Chavez-Dawson offers a dual compliment and insult, while David Moises re-configures a flamethrower).

Finally, they respond to the structure of the swap itself (Tattfoo Tan will distribute unique rolls of film, Jon Brumit & Sarah Wagner send their greetings from Detroit, while Joshua Churchill captures sounds of transit).

This & That is an outgrowth of my recent experiences at a residency at Chinese Arts Centre (Manchester); Galleon Trade, an art exchange organized by Jenifer K Wofford (USA-Philippines-Mexico); and the Headlands Center for the Arts (Sausalito, California). I aim to proliferate these initiatives' good will and support.

—Christine Wong Yap

Artist Profiles

Poklong Anading (Manila)

Chris Bell (Austrailia/San Francisco)

Simon Blackmore (Manchester)

Simon & Tom Bloor (Birmingham/London)

Jon Brumit & Sarah Wagner (Detroit)

Michelle Carollo (NYC)

Mike Chavez-Dawson (Manchester)

Susan Chen (San Francisco)

Joshua Churchill (San Francisco)

Nick Crowe & Ian Rawlinson (Berlin/Manchester)

N. Sean Glover (Pittsburg, Penn., USA)

Mary Griffiths (Manchester)

Antony Hall (Manchester)

Taro Hattori (Oakland, Calif., USA)

Eric Hongisto (San Francisco)

Sarah Kabot (Ohio, USA)

Scot Kaplan (Ohio, USA)

Verity-Jane Keefe (London)

Yuen Fong Ling (Manchester)

Ivy Ma (Hong Kong)

David Moises (Vienna)

Ali Naschke-Messing (San Francisco)

Scott Oliver (Oakland, Calif., USA)

Susan O’Malley (San Francisco)

Laurence Payot (Liverpool)

Pest (Rebecca Chesney, Robina Llewellyn & Elaine Speight) (Preston, Lancs)

Anthony Ryan (San Francisco)

David Sherry (Glasgow)

Daniel Staincliffe (Manchester)

Tattfoo Tan (NYC)

Jenifer K Wofford (Oakland/Prague)

MM Yu (Manila)