Queer Correspondence

A mail-art initiative

June - December 2020

David Lindert, 'Door', 2020
In the context of on-going uncertainty –a condition familiar to minority communities, though now made even more palpable to themselves and others by the arrival of Covid-19–, alternative forms of artistic production, distribution and reception are being developed. Cell Project Space presents Queer Correspondence: a mail-art initiative that seeks to nurture the indeterminate spaces of possibility that are put forward by subcultural lives.
 
Consisting of monthly commissions, between June and December 2020, artists and writers have been invited to begin correspondences that will establish connections between queer families: those who are already “in a queer time and place” (following the title of Jack Halberstam’s seminal book). By exchanging with peers, friends, loved ones and close community members –as well as with themselves, nature and absent addressees–, through writing, poetry, photographs, and other 2D forms, these responses will hope to invoke the intimate and invisible gaps of this moment. 
 
In making their exchanges public, Queer Correspondence enacts a gesture of solidarity, one particular to queer communities. Letters, which today are shared in various forms via the internet, have historically served as a means for making connections when physical proximity was not possible; not just by geographical distance, but also by social and political imposition. At a time when manifold restrictions have ultimately changed the way we are able to be with one another, now and in the foreseeable future, the use of mail-art as an offline form of artistic and discursive production seeks to underscore, as much as to bridge, the distances between us; connecting us, while also disconnecting us. 
 
As each project is sent out, Queer Correspondence will make literal and symbolic physical journeys, moving across borders, transiting private and public spaces and inviting its recipients on a multiplicity of past, present and future temporalities of possibility. 
 
At Cell Project Space supporting artists continues to be at the forefront of our activity. All Queer Correspondence commissions have been conceived with artists and writers that were already invited to participate in our 2020/2021 programme and whose projects have been postponed due to the impact of Covid-19. Artists and some of their chosen pen-pals include: ⁠
 
June: Inspired by the methods of living history, artist Alex Margo Arden and artist and writer Caspar Heinemann will produce a multi-sensory experience invoking themes of trickery and trapping.
 
July: Artists Beatriz Cortez and Kang Seung Lee will continue an on-going conversation on “becoming atmosphere” as a metaphor for becoming undefined, malleable and porous. Engaging with histories of art production in times of the AIDS epidemic, war and migration, the artists will consider the current pandemic and its socio-political constructions as reminders "that we are breathing each other”.
 
August: Writer Ezra Green and choreographer Martin Hansen will attempt to share a nakedness by shedding the fabrication that they know what they mean when they say the words “the world” and “the future”.  
 
September: Offered as a form healing, artist rafa esparza will write a letter/poem to men who feel they have to perform in toxic and violent ways in order to make themselves feel validated. 
 
October: In addition to producing a new video work, artist, writer and filmmaker Gelare Khoshgozaran will design a stamping system for all Queer Correspondence commissions in collaboration with Nooshin Rostami. 
 
November: Artist David Lindert will establish correspondence with himself, producing poems, diary entries and a series of photographs that will speak of self-decay, addiction and the upside downs of his romantic relationship in the times of “the virus”. 
 
December: Artist Atiéna will explore correspondences with absent recipients; individuals and communities who are hidden or no longer there, who cannot or should not reciprocate.
 
For any programme and press enquiries, please contact Eliel Jones, Associate Curator, eliel@cellprojects.org
 
Made possible with the generous support of an Emergency Grant from Arts Council England.
 
 

Subscribe to Queer Correspondence

 
Queer Correspondence was launched with a free monthly distribution of 500 copies, with most editions being posted within the UK to sign-up subscribers and to households in the immediate locality of Cell Project Space, in the borough of Tower Hamlets, London. Hundreds of editions are also being distributed to sign-up subscribers from the EU and worldwide. All subscriptions have been prioritised on a first-come-first-served basis.
 
After releasing an additional 150 editions for each project, all of which have now been taken up, we have reached the total of 650 editions per commission. There are sadly no subscriptions left for Queer Correspondence. We are encouraging all QC subscribers to let us know that they have received their mail-art projects. We are also inviting them to share their delivery with others who may not have been able to subscribe by submitting images of the projects at their various destinations. 
 
If you are a QC subscriber and would like to share your delivery with others, you can tag us on your images, tweet them to us us, post them and/or send them via email at info@cellprojects.org.⁠ We will be sharing these images via our social media channels, and also on our website. 

Queer Correspondence #4

rafa esparza

September 2020

Los Angeles-based artist rafa esparza’s Queer Correspondence commission is the first in a series of four projects featuring artists corresponding without a collaborative pen-pal. Comprising exchanges between themselves, the subjects of their dreams, as well as absent addressees, the artists producing forthcoming QC editions further explore the potential of mail-art correspondence to make connections when manifold restrictions continue to change the way that we are able to be with one another. 
 
esparza’s commission extends from the artist’s use of Nike Cortez shoes as materials for various sculptural assemblages. For his series of sculptures Love Birds (2011–ongoing), esparza pulls apart and restitches together editions of the famous Nike trainer to give form to pigeons, hawks and fighting cocks, amongst other feathery beings. Named after Hernán Cortés, the coloniser that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and founded Mexico City under Spanish rule in the early 16th century, the Nike Cortez was the first track shoe by the world-renown brand, and often pinpointed as the reason for its commercial success. 
 
The shoe was ironically also the preferred footwear of brown gang-affiliated youth in Los Angeles circa mid 1990s. esparza’s sculptures combine recognisable elements of the trainer with materials such as bandanas, chicken wire, socks and plumage, dissecting and transforming the trainer into colourful and restorative birds. Many of them carry symbolic value in the cultures of pre-historic Mexico and Central America, as well as into the present-day diaspora where young generations, descendants of these cultures, currently exist. 
 
Doubling up as a print and an origami sculpture, esparza’s Queer Correspondence commission invites the recipient into a similar process of making as healing. However, as much as the artist continues a conversation on “disrupting the genealogies of colonial history”, esparza also calls here for a moment of personal –as well as collective– reparation from the pain of violence inflicted by the equally colonising project of toxic masculinity. 
 
same shoe (Huitzilin – the healer) (2020), a 40cm x 40cm square print, features at its edges a digitally-collaged outline of a blue Nike Cortez shoe, containing at its centre a text that diagonally crosses the surface of the paper. The text is both a letter and a poem to a stranger who gay-bashed esparza on the streets of his native LA, an experience that the artist recounts alongside writing about an intimate moment with a lover, both of whom wear the same Nike Cortez shoe. By following the outlines of the shoe and the careful instructions provided by the artist in a video that can be accessed on Cell’s website (the details for which you can find on the accompanying postcard), the recipients of this project can choose to transform this print into an origami sculpture of a hummingbird; a sacred animal of healing which, once constructed, houses and guards close to its paper heart the words of esparza’s personal history.
 
According to Mayan mythology, Huitzilin, the Nahuatl name for hummingbird, is a creature that was made by the Gods after they had already created every living being and assigned them with their purpose on earth. After realising that they had no one to transport their wishes and thoughts from one place to another, they created the hummingbird to “lead from here to there the thoughts of humans”. esparza pulls from the figure of Huitzilin as a messenger, but equally as a redeemer, as the Aztecs also believed that warriors were reborn as hummingbirds. 
 
When domestic abuse cases worldwide are estimated to have gone up by 20% during the Covid-19 pandemic; transgender and gender non-conforming people continue to be abused and murdered; and where in countries such as Poland the LGBT+ community at large is increasingly facing danger by their very presence in public space, esparza’s Huitzilin comes as much as a healer as a call to action.
 
By placing love as being intrinsically bound to the process of healing and being healed, the artist reminds us of the power of compassion and forgiveness as radical tools that might aid the fight against the stronghold of patriarchal oppression and male violence. “The letter is [addressed] to men who feel they have to perform in toxic and violent ways in order to make themselves feel validated” wrote esparza to me in email. “I feel like now is a good time to share this story so that maybe some people don't feel alone in their pain and that they can know that healing is possible, for both victims of hate violence and for those harnessing the hate.”
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Eliel Jones
Associate Curator, Cell Project Space
 
Queer Correspondence is a mail-art initiative at Cell Project Space, initially running between June - December 2020. Consisting of monthly commissions, artists and writers have been invited to begin correspondences by mail that will establish connections between queer families: those who are already “in a queer time and place” (following the title of Jack Halberstam’s seminal book). By exchanging with peers, friends, loved ones and close community members—as well as with themselves, nature and absent addressees—, through writing, poetry, photographs and other 2D forms, these responses will hope to invoke the intimate and invisible gaps of this moment.
 
rafa esparza is a multidisciplinary artist who was born, raised, and currently lives in Los Angeles. esparza has had solo exhibitions at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA (2019); ArtPace, San Antonio, TX (2018); Ballroom Marfa, TX (2017); Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, CA (2015); and Bowtie Project, Los Angeles (2015). esparza has also shown work at art institutions including: Performance Space New York and the Ellipse, Washington, D.C. (2019); Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2018); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2018); the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2017); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2016); and Clockshop, Bowtie Project, Los Angeles (2014).
 
In 2021, rafa esparza and Los Angeles-based artist Beatriz Cortez will be presenting collaborative work as part of In the House of my Love, a group exhibition at Cell Project Space originally due to have opened in June 2020, and postponed due to Covid-19. 
 
For any programme and press enquiries, please contact Eliel Jones, Associate Curator, eliel@cellprojects.org
 
Made possible with the generous support of an Emergency Grant from Arts Council England.