Collecting, Tracy Mackenna


Verzamelen / Collecting: The Mail Art Project

Library of the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands and online

From 20 Feb 2011


Making sense of a confusing world: On the daily process of gathering in anticipation of understanding and coherence.


Running through all the work Edwin and I make is an ongoing pursuit of the development of different forms and alternative models of artist-led curatorial practice that situate at their core visual thinking, display, and engagement with collections.


Collecting and presenting a wide range of material that draws from art history, popular culture and our own art practice enables us to challenge established museum practices and develop alternative models for display. Our collections include postcards, newspaper clippings, photographs, objects and accompanying databanks that order visual material, based on personal taxonomies. Collecting gives form to the urge to organise objects and images, establishes signifiers for our understanding of the world and introduces meaning, order, boundaries, coherence, and reason into what is disparate and confused, without contours and is dependant and threatening. This approach to collecting, possessing, saving and growing subject matters is a methodological approach that fuels the exploration of the subjects of many of our projects.


In Life, Death and Beauty: Where Darwin Meets Courbet a series of still-image slides shows a personal collection of art historical and contemporary reproductions and objects on the theme of life, death and beauty;

In Life, Death and Beauty: YOU MAKE ME details of reproductions of historical and contemporary artworks are framed to explore desire, conflict, love and loss;

In Truth, Error, Opinion images from our archives and library create an associative response to a double-page spread in a book from Martha Rosler’s library;

In Shotgun Wedding material of varied cultural standing, from our own collections and museum collections was reproduced through video to address issues around the Union of 1707 between Scotland and England.


After making Life, Death and Beauty: YOU MAKE ME we reproduced the reproductions in the series of photographic prints as a series of 24 postcards. This was done in anticipation of their inclusion as loose objects in the pages of the book that I have started to make in response to the issues in Life, Death and Beauty: YOU MAKE ME.


While this book is in the making we have activated the postcards’ distribution by contributing some of them to an existing collection, through our participation in the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum’s project Verzamelen / Collecting: The Mail Art Project.


Curators Diana Franssen and Miranda Vissers have taken the third part of the exhibition cycle Play Van Abbe, about collecting, as the catalyst for the parallel exhibition in the Library that will become an addition to the Van Abbemuseum’s archive that includes a collection of mail art works and artists’ books. Citing the Fluxus movement of the 1960’s as mail art’s starting point, they consider how in an era of social (digital) media communications artists continue to communicate via mail art, employing rules of engagement that transfer ownership of the artwork to the receiver, who is in turn expected to reciprocate. The economic principle invoked is that the artworks become part of what are on the whole public cultural institutions, but not the property of individuals.



Life, Death and Beauty: Where Darwin Meets Courbet

Life, Death and Beauty: YOU MAKE ME

Truth, Error, Opinion

Shotgun Wedding

Verzamelen / Collecting: The Mail Art Project

Play Van Abbe

The Archive as a Productive Space of Conflict

Markus Miessen, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Armin Linke