I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Austin Public Library trying to avoid this awful heat. It’s free and air-conditioned and one could spend a solid hour in the vinyl section alone. Up on the 3rd floor, in the art section while boldly judging books by their covers, I came across Envelopes by Harriet Russell. As a person who gets giddy at the sheer thought of stepping into a Staples and whose heart beats a little faster opening a new ink cartridge box, I was sold.
What I was surprised to find was not a book full of nicely designed envelopes and sweet typography, but something else entirely. Russell is a British artist who had the clever idea to challenge the Royal Mail of the United Kingdom to see how far they would really go in order to make sure the mail reaches its final destination. She’s created something that’s one part art project, one part social experiment and one part MENSA test on the lam.
Mirrored addresses, color-blindness tests, poems, riddles, crossword puzzles, hand drawn maps, mathematical equations – Russell uses them all in an effort to detour (or at the very least, entertain) the postal workers efforts. Surprisingly enough, these are some really dedicated (and clever) people. 120 out of the 130 cryptically addressed letters made it back to the artist. That number seems even more astounding after leafing through this book and realizing what quirky works of art they’ve collectively created.