Atlas Battles the United Nations

The One World Postal Art Show

NEW YORK, NY May 20, 1996-- When multi-media artist Mark Bloch created a picture of Atlas holding the world on his shoulders as the symbol for THE ONE WORLD POSTAL ART SHOW, opening at the Lower East Side's "Synagogue Space" on June 6, 1996, he had no idea how appropriate it would be.

Bloch used the mail to pull together work from hundreds of people in dozens of countries, ranging from 2nd graders from economically challenged families on the Lower East Side to internationally known art stars. Even Ray Johnson, the inventor of the mail art genre and a friend of Bloch's who died mysteriously in 1995 will be represented. But the show almost didn't happen at all.

The exhibition is a labor of love- by both it's creator and the artists and non-artists that mailed in their work. Bloch thinks the heartfelt nature of his concept alienated the organization it was originally supposed to celebrate: the United Nations. "I guess there's too much humanity in my idea. The original UN charter is a beautiful document about sharing across international boundaries to tackle problems, but they've become sidetracked by bureaucracy and financial worries. It's a shame. I think this show could've helped their image when they need it most."

Bloch's original dream was to collect art from every country of the world and display it at the UN. The show was to visually enumerate similarities between the altruistic UN charter, which celebrated its 50th birthday last October, and Bloch's favorite method of distributing his work: mail art. But the UN wouldn't even acknowledge his pleas-- leaving him to fend for himself.

When he contacted the UN, he was shocked to find a paralyzing ennui. "Most of the people wouldn't return a phone call, let alone answer a letter. They seem so bogged down in bureaucracy that reaching them on a human level is nearly impossible." Bloch says "They have turned our beautiful globe into a tangled ball of red tape. The only mail I got from them was voice mail. None of them answer their phones and they don't call or write back."

Finally, Bloch got his only personal response: after sending his proposal to Gillian Sorenson, the woman in charge of the UN 50th Anniversary festivities and the wife of a former Kennedy Administration official, a lawyer wrote to tell him he dare not to use the UN name in conjunction with his show. "Forgive me for saying so," Bloch wrote back, "but I think free speech allows me to call for submissions on anything I want."

The legal mumbo jumbo, and disgust with an ungrateful UN prompted Bloch to move the show away from its UN focus while sticking to the values promoted in their 1945 charter. "The original values are for real, but it's unfortunate the UN is not. I lost all faith in political solutions. More than ever, I believe now that artists, not politicians must lead the way into the next millennium."

The utopian themes that he outlined in his invitation: peace keeping, disarmament, human rights, aid to children, aid to refugees, fighting hunger, environmental concerns, intellectual property, and world health remain part of the show. "These are the ideals we must pursue for people to live together. The UN lost sight of them but I haven't and neither have many of the artists on the planet. These ideas work fine without the UN rubber stamp of approval," he said. "But other people's rubber stamps are welcome!"

Bloch was referring to the widespread use of rubber stamps with slogans like "The mailbox is a museum," "The address is the art" (contributed by Bloch) and "For mail artists, every day is Christmas" that mimic and satirize bureaucracy in "mail art," which has traveled the planet via the international postal system throughout this century.

After the UN's chilly reception, Bloch continued to solicit work for his show, with faith that he'd eventually find a place to exhibit. "I was convinced this work needed to be seen more than ever." He asked his wife, Amy Scarola, an artist and second grade teacher at PS 97, to gather work from students on the show's unselfish themes. Over one hundred kids contributed. "Their work is incredible," Bloch says. "A kid with a crayon can say alot more about the spiritual values needed in the world today than a room full of diplomats. Governor Pataki says we can't afford to spend money for art in schools but exposure to it helps kids express their humanity."

One day walking across from Katz's Deli, Bloch, of Jewish as well as Irish heritage, encountered a young man coming out of an old synagogue with a bag full of laundry. Puzzled, he inquired about the building which was built in 1926 and recently been converted into a non-profit center for visual and performing arts. After a brief conversation and an exchange of e-mail, Bloch had a place for his show. "I've always been fascinated by the synagogues of this area." Bloch, a 40 year old Ohio native said, "The intimacy of this one is perfect for a show of this nature."

The final result is an impressive collection of artwork on the theme of global cooperation from countries all over the Americas and Europe but also far-flung locales like India, Japan, Uruguay, Czechoslovakia, Russia, as well as trouble spots like Israel, Cuba, and the former Yugoslavia. All of it arrived by mail.

While artists in every country of the world have been invited to participate, there is also a 32 foot long collaboration that arrived from Hightstown High in New Jersey where "42 languages are spoken at home" according to art teacher Barbara Churilla. Bloch said, "I don't know how they found out about the show, I just put the word out and the envelopes and postcards came flooding in. I'm grateful."

In the e-mail age, it is refreshing to see these hand-made artworks, each one uniquely drawn, painted, folded and glued, then stuffed into an envelope to be touched and yes, rubber stamped, by postmen and mail handlers in foreign lands. The textures and smells of the hand-crafted work, small and lightweight enough to travel in a mail sack increases awareness of what art can be. Its inclusive nature makes it a natural match with the theme of "One World."

But Bloch is no stranger to e-mail either. His invitation stated that "all work will be shown as long as it arrives by mail- or e-mail." Bloch has been active on the Internet since 1990 and watched it transform from that seminal period to what it is today. "Mail art, the UN charter and the Internet share an important quality- all three, at their best, are about sharing and communicating unfettered by geographical differences. That is what I want to celebrate with this show."

Bloch has received work from all over the planet and hoisted it on his back like Atlas. Now he'll show it to the world. "Institutions like the UN aren't going to solve the world's problems. Creative people must lead. We have to teach about world peace on a human scale, creating converts one person at a time."