Mask Over the Mask is a mail art project coming from Brescia, Italy, hometown of avant-garde, “neo dada” artist Guglielmo Achille Cavellini (GAC). Organized by Italian mail artist Pier Roberto Bassi, the project called for artists to print out a silhouette mask based on GAC’s face, then add a surgical mask in response to the COVID crisis, along with any other additions the artist chose. The mailing component of the project ended August 31, and received 501 works from 343 artists in 34 countries. I’m among these artists, having contributed 13 works (documented here), and I may boast that’s more than anyone else mailed in.
Needless to say, I went nuts over this mail art concept. My first pieces followed the prescribed format pretty closely, but then I found the above image of a pretty model on the beach in a magazine I was cutting up for the Gonch project. I realized the GAC face would fit perfectly in her arms. This is still my favorite piece among all those I created for this show: the model cradles Cavellini’s head so lovingly, and the goofy grin of the mask shows just how much he enjoys the attention! After that, I began seeing images everywhere that could accommodate the GAC mask. I found a giant photograph from the infamous 1960s Altamonte concert in an old issue of The Washington Post; pictures of a kangaroo and an emu in a book on Australian animals; and my own “Pere Ubu for President!” poster. I was goaded on by the opportunity to witness the latest arrivals to the show on the blog Bassi created. Each work was wonderful, and the mass of pieces, each bearing the absurd and profound GAC visage, seemed more and more wonderful as the numbers grew. As of this moment, the site has received 15,945 views, but half of those are probably mine as I revisited the site to obsessively review all the works.
And then I started to learn something about Cavellini. By chance, another mail artist, Adam Roussopoulos in Minnesota, found a copy of “Cavellini in California and Budapest” in a book sale. On the cover were two 1970s mail artists, Picasso Gaglione (editor of Stamp Zine) and Buster Cleveland, each wearing outfits covered in a Cavellini sticker. I managed to procure a copy of that book on the Internet, and a couple others. It turns out Cavellini was a rather radical artist who pioneered “self-historicization,” which involved performances where he wore white suits inscribed with his “life story” while writing his “life story” on naked women! He was also deeply involved in mail art, and was rather controversial in Italy for his supposed egotism. To me the guy seemed like a Johannes Baader style Dadaist–willing to go further out than anyone else to ridicule the status quo of the gallery system and its commercial deathgrip on the arts.
I had already felt that the “Mask Over the Mask” concept was arguably the best I’d ever seen for a mail art show. Founding it on a common element for all the works really unified it and allowed for the highlighting of individual artistic visions. It had something profound to say about individual responses to COVID and the isolation the pandemic imposed. And then there was the GAC connection, in which each work seemed to further extend the self-mythology propagated by Cavellini himself.
Here’s another of my favorite pieces for the show:
This one is possibly the weirdest:
In this one, I swear the guy struggling uphill with his Sissyphus-like burden is none other than David Tennant, of Doctor Who fame!
The artworks are scheduled for public exhibition in October in Brescia. Or you can view them all on the blogspot page!