detail: From Castaway to Plague Years (photo: David Dellafiora)
Stoke Newington Library, October 1993
reproduced by kind permission
I'm indebted to David Dellafiora for venturing into his archive and returning with a more detailed photo study of the Daniel Defoe homage. The photograph features just a small selection of the many items sent to David and Daniel. Among them are some of the bottles I posted; more of them than I remembered at the time of writing 'a field student pays homage' . My imagination was specifically caught up in Daniel Defoe as the author of Robinson Crusoe. I was particularly pleased to see and be reacquainted with the bottle in the lower right hand corner. It shows how I created these offerings as objects for the post, attaching luggage labels around the necks, to which I affixed the stamps. I don't remember if I took the stamped bottles to a post office to post via an office counter or if they were pushed and gently forced into a post box as, I hope, a quirky encounter for the 'postie' on his/her collection rounds. The bottles were posted unwrapped as seen in the photograph. The thought of a bottle in transit, bobbing about on the surface of a huge sack of post made me smile - as it does now, bobbing about in a very different contemporary medium.
What has washed up on the shores of this time? In this bottle there was (or is) a collection of clippings of holiday makers carefully cut from brochures and magazines. What sort of vision this is, of invasion by beach landing/assault or of salvation and rescue is the question and purpose of the art. There is an (obvious?) irony of Robinson Crusoe being joined by a community of tourists hoping to lose themselves on a paradise island for two weeks - and I wonder, having spent a couple of weeks together, if Robinson Crusoe would want to leave with them?
From what I understand of some of the critiques of psychogeography I have read, the aims of some of it's practitioners have included the subversion of capitalism - of which tourism is a huge part. The ethos of the mail art network was and is to create a free and sometimes subversive exchange of artefacts to question and undermine the constraints and exclusions of capitalism (and arts place in it) as well as other ideologies. Those visitors might have been an anathema to the idea of Crusoe as a shipwrecked adventurer - an erroneous idea I have of him for he was a plantation and slave owner and he was en route to bring slaves from Africa when he was shipwrecked.
Much of modern capitalism and colonialism is founded on the Atlantic Slave Trade, and Robinson Crusoe was an agent in that. He seems to be a difficult and contradictory character to have as an archetype for a discipline(?) which sets out to subvert economic exploitation and the banality of the capitalist spectacle. Perhaps the cultural relativist struggles of Robinson are what make him fit for this purpose?
One of the ways I have interpreted the assemblage of envelopes is as a map of social spaces; an irregular grid portraying David's temporary residencies in and by the hands and minds of the mail artists before they cast him back into the sea.