Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh has been collecting, sending and obsessing over postcards for his whole life. And now, the man who helped turn bizarre, envelope-pushing music videos into the seed that launched MTV in the 1980s is combining his passions in an effort to help save the U.S. Postal Service.
Mothersbaugh has teamed up with acclaimed multimedia artist Beatie Wolfe for a project they’re calling Postcards for Democracy, in which the pair are encouraging fellow creatively minded pen-and-paperheads to mail them their one-of-a-kind creations to build community and spark joy during the pandemic — and, maybe, give a boost to the beleaguered Post Office, 35 cents at a time.
“We had an interest in what each other were doing as artists, and I was looking for something we could collaborate on and Beatie came up with this idea,” Mothersbaugh, 70, tells Billboard about the origin of the project. The idea was instantly up his alley thanks to a lifelong obsession with all things 4×6. “I draw on postcards every day of my life,” he says. “I’ve been myopic for 70 years, so it’s easy to work on artwork in a small format. And I also just like the idea of keeping ideas and images in an image bank that was small enough I could carry it around.”
The push to save the Post Office comes in the wake of President Trump’s stated efforts to defund and dismantle the USPS, as part of his openly articulated agenda to discourage mail-in voting in the Nov. 3 election. Trump has repeatedly falsely claimed that using the mail to send in ballots could lead to massive vote fraud, as Americans seek safer ways to post their votes in the midst of a deadly, resurgent pandemic.
Plus, the thousands of cards Mothersbaugh and Wolfe have gotten so far are just really cool, interesting, surprising — and, from time-to-time, pretty heart-swelling. “As two people fascinated with this interaction between the physical and digital… and during lockdown writing letters and sending mail… it was something that just really kept me sane and alive,” says Wolfe, an award-winning artist and performer who has spent the past decade exploring the intersection of music and technology. “And just appreciating Mark’s love of that art form and we have this time when we’re so disconnected… a lot of people don’t have computers and there’s this service that is providing vital goods, but also such a joy for so many people.”
When Mothersbaugh and Wolfe heard about the USPS being threatened, the two decided to collaborate on a project that would get others involved by giving them a voice and a creative outlet to keep awareness on key issues. Billboard spoke to them about Postcards For Democracy, and what everyone can do to get involved.
The mail shows up on time every day — or used to — and it was, is, such a vital way of communication for so many people. So much of your art is digital and video-based, but this is such a tactile thing. Was there something about the physical nature of this idea that appealed to you?
Wolfe: Definitely. Everything I do is about trying to figure out a way to reintroduce tangibility, ceremony and storytelling to music in the digital age. So that’s what I’m thinking about all the time, creating these new formats that are tangible and nostalgic and old school, even though they also feel new. Everything right now is just floating around in this intangible sphere, and I think we need those grounding, human experiences to stay with it and keep inspired and connected and human.
Mothersbaugh: Even everything on the internet seems like it’s being manipulated by other forces, and something simple — like a message from a loved one or comrade or a friend, someone that you care about — that you can send that to them and they can get it back to you and there’s no interference on the internet… there’s something great about that.
Wolfe: It also breaks the feedback loop. We’re so used to instant gratification and putting something out and instantly finding out what everyone is thinking. There’s something special about creating something where you’re not sure it will reach that person. You’re focusing on that process, and you don’t know if you will get there or get anything back. It’s in its own time and space.
Mothersbaugh: We don’t know when it ends yet. We’re collecting things and every single day we get a surprise. Another batch of mail in comes in and we try to go through them. People have unique takes on the planet, their unique takes on how the world fits together and why we’re all doing the things we do. We’re finding it fascinating to get through these cards.
There are so many unique efforts that musicians and artists are making this year to encourage people to vote and participate in democracy. And while this isn’t directly that, in a way it is because it’s aimed at saving something that is part of our national life. Do you see it as that kind of project, given the times?
Mothersbaugh: Yeah, it’s flexible. But definitely, in the next matter of weeks, it relates to what we’re doing. But I think it’s bigger than that, and it’s something that we’ll be exploring beyond that. If people feel they can put a postcard in the mail, they ought to be able to get their vote in the mail. We’re not promoting any specific platform, we’re just saying: activate.
How many have you gotten so far?
Mothersbaugh: We haven’t counted yet, but it’s in the thousands.
Are there any that stand out to you, either the message or the imagery, on an emotional or an artistic level?
Mothersbaugh: Yeah, I think we both end up pulling out cards from the stack and showing them to the other person. There are always things that seem more relevant to us, but everything is relevant to each person, it’s about finding it.
Wolfe: There are many, but one in my mind is one where the imagery is pretty simple and it’s not the most artistic necessarily: “Vote: 2020 Mars is not an option.” That’s really, really at the forefront, or should be at the forefront, of our minds. Both Mark and I have laid them out a number of times and just seeing them collectively is really powerful because you’ve got so many different expression and ideas, but also so many echoes between those expressions and ideas. It really feels like this collective voice and that is really, really powerful.
The Post Office was previously not a very political animal, but has become part of our political discussion now. Have you heard from anyone at the USPS about this, or have you gotten a thank you postcard from them for increasing their volume?
Wolfe: We have. The director of mailing services for the USPS has gotten in touch, someone I knew from another project, and she was so excited by this and sharing it internally. We are exploring a greater extension of this that that we’d do with them. Particularly with the fact that it has been politicized, which is crazy, it was so nice to hear that from inside.
What’s the range of participation? Are you getting some from children? People old enough to remember a time when we sent postcards out of necessity to communicate?
Mothersbaugh: It’s impressive, it’s the full gamut.
Wolfe: We definitely have kids getting involved — or if they’re not kids I feel bad — but based on the drawings there are definitely kids getting involved and platforms like GoNoodle getting involved. We have ex-mailmen who are definitely in the 70s, 80s, 90s writing about their experience. It’s really moving because it’s not one thing. At the beginning you definitely see more your demographic, your people, a lot of artists, but it’s really opened up and that’s what’s felt so great. It really is inclusive and that was always our intention.
It’s also such an interesting way to get people to support the Post Office and do something besides doom scroll through their social feeds or Netflix while they’re stuck at home.
Mothersbaugh: It’s kind of like giving them an opportunity to turn their back on the algorithms.
I love that! That should be your tagline!
Wolfe: Me too! I love that!
Check out some more of the postcards and a short film about the project below.Credit: Original article published here.