Art by post

Eugenio Dittborn, The 11th History of the Human Face (500 years) (Airmail painting no.91), 1990

For as long as there’s been an art world, art has travelled. In an increasingly international, multi-centre art world that’s truer than ever and artists working at an international level might have exhibitions in several countries at any one time. For some artists though getting their work out isn’t easy. For Eugenio Dittborn the question of how to get the work out has determined the nature of the work itself. Based in Santiago de Chile, for Dittborn the issue is not just about distance but about the problem of making art while living under a repressive regime and in 1984, with Chile governed by the military, he started to make what he calls Airmail Paintings. Collage-based works, these are made of lightweight, foldable materials and are posted to the galleries that exhibit them – often in segments to be assembled on arrival – with the envelopes becoming part of the work.

Nine Survivors, Three Stains (Airmail Painting No. 182), 1986-2011


The work often deals with the history and politics of Chile and the restrictions and boundaries with Chilean society. The work includes found images – including self-portraits made by patients in institutions – and documents. There is a sense in the work of an artist trying to both understand and explain the situation in which he finds himself. The envelopes bear Dittborn’s notes about the work acting as information for both curator and viewer.

To Clothe (Airmail Painting No. 56), 1986-7

I saw three large-scale panels by Eugenio Dittborn recently in The Edge of Landscape at the Towner in Eastborne and was fascinating by the narrative carried within the image and on the packaging (the narrative here in some cases was about the British summer, with the writing on some envelopes partly blurred out by rainwater). Though there was much about these works I suspect passed me by – and Dittborn is certainly someone whose work I plan to investigate further – even with a woefully inadequate understanding of the context in which these works were made, they work both as images and in delivering a message about pain and injustice.

The Printed Footprint (Airmail Painting No. 184), 2011

It is artists like Dittborn, and others who work from within oppressive regimes (such as Ai Weiwei and Cildo Meireles), who make me realise the power of art to reflect the more disturbing aspects of the world around us and demand that we try to do something about it.

The Edge in Landscape is at the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne until 30 September 2012

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