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Isolation Art Mail Allows You to Work Creatively with Others Through the Post

16 June 20 interview: Rachel Willcocks

In a bid to inspire creative communication through traditional, tangible methods, Tracey Meek is combating loneliness and isolation the old-fashioned way. We caught up with the artist to discuss Isolation Art Mail, her community art intervention project that encourages people to share a collaborative chain letter of unfinished artwork...

Conversations through the digital sphere today feel like we've zoomed fast-forward into the future, but without the high-definition holograms and human-like intelligent machines. There are so many new experiences moving online that are supposed to help us feel less isolated: quizzes, classes, dates, talks, parties, workshops, weddings, graduation ceremonies – you name it, it's probably happened on Zoom over the last few months. But for all the benefits technology has brought into our lives, it’s made it increasingly difficult to turn away from our screens. Step in artist Tracy Meek, who’s taking notes from the past by getting familiar with a good old-fashioned letter, with an arty twist. 

The Isolation Art Mail project was set up by East Midlands artist Tracey Meek. Her work is spontaneous, playful and inspired by the subtle in-betweens in life, seemingly unimportant moments and happenings that translate into a captured memory. The project takes shape in a collaborative chain letter/art trail. It starts with a letter through the post in the form of a piece of unfinished art that participants are invited to contribute to. It's a way of connecting creatively, sharing experience and feeling like we are part of something. 

Firstly, what was your inspiration for such a unique project?
When I came up with the concept, it was more of a response to the idea of isolation rather than the COVID situation alone. I wanted to help, but it made me think of the people who live with loneliness every day. I am a very tactile person, I love a handwritten letter in the post, and it's been a long time since I sent or received one. I guess in a way, it was part of my coping strategy. I talked through my idea with my friend Lauren and we decided to try it out, just me and her, and it was a lot of fun! 

How many people have signed up so far, and where are they from?
62 now, and counting! People have signed up from all over the country, and internationally as well: US, Canada, Australia and South Korea. The majority of people have found me on Instagram through relentless rooftop shouting.

Do you think this has brought people together, and why?
Definitely. When I started, I wanted it to be almost like sharing a moment with a stranger, bringing a voice to an otherwise quiet table. What's nice is that people are really connecting with their fellow art mailers. They're sending little notes of motivation and sometimes silly little gifts like seeds to plant and badges. The feedback has been so nice, it feels really good to know that I am helping in some way. 

This crisis has given us a chance to slow down, not just physically but mentally

What kind of feedback have you been getting from people?
I've had a few lovely messages from people telling me how much it has helped. I had an artist get in touch the other day to tell me that it had helped get her out of a creative rut. And the support has been reciprocated. I had to step back for a week as a very close friend passed away, so of course, I let mailers know what was happening so that they weren't left hanging. I had so many nice emails though, offering condolences. 

Have you faced any challenges, and how have you overcome them?
Working from home has been a bit testing. At times my living room has been an explosion of coloured papers and envelopes. It took me a little while to figure out data protection, as it's impossible to not have addresses in a chain letter. At the moment, it is mostly a self-funded project, so if each chain came back to me to send out again, it would prove very difficult. The first few went out with a kind of disclaimer when signing up, and then I decided to give everyone code names. This has actually been fun in itself and I think it has added to the charm. 

Do you think that sending letters, cards and other forms of communication via post to people is more important now than previously? 
It has always been important, we've just forgotten how important it is to be tactile. We're so digital, even my daughter and I often communicate via text, even when she is just upstairs. This crisis has given us a chance to slow down, not just physically but mentally. I'm hopeful that mindsets will have some kind of permanent change in that respect. I think it works with what we are experiencing now because we have no real sight as to when all this will end, the prospect of something so nice finding its way to you through the post is quite special. 

Where does the project go from here?
Oh, you name it, I have some big ideas up my sleeve! I'm hoping to develop further in schools. I'm also setting up a kind of art 'pen friend' pack, which will be aimed at individuals wanting to connect with their own friendship groups or families. These will be available on my website in the coming weeks. There will be an exhibition when social restrictions are lifted and when the art mail has found its way home. It will be really great to see all the work together, and hopefully a chance to meet those that have been involved!

Tracey Meek website

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