I wish I was Ray Johnson but I can’t be because he’s Dead is a book based on the art practice and experience of collage and mail artist Emily P Dunne. Dunne has been working with collage and mail art since 2012 when she established a group titled “The Queens CorrespondAnce School.” Deliberately misspelled, the group apes the New York Correspondence school of Ray Johnson. The proposed book will consist of collages created collaboratively in the mail between Dunne and participating artists, which include friends, artists and creators Dunne admires (Including punk musician Richard Hell).
Six years into Dunne’s mail art practice, she began receiving mysterious envelopes delivered to her apartment, addressed to Ray Johnson. These first of these items was a company selling burial insurance, and the letters continued on a morbid pathway. Given the mysterious circumstances of Johnson’s own suicide, these hauntings were especially poignant. After amassing dozens of these mailers, they suddenly and mysteriously stopped arriving.
In an attempt to contact Ray Johnson again, Dunne began attempting mail fraud. Filling out hundreds of (expired) business reply mail cards with her apartment address and the name Ray Johnson in an attempt to assume his name again (at least as far as the post office is concerned.)
However, most (if not all) of the materials were undeliverable and returned to the sender. The cards becoming a pastiche of the original call covered with stamps, stickers, or written some form of rejection. The attempts to become Ray ultimately denied. “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
The book will recount this experience and facsimiles of collages created with the network, the original envelopes sent to Johnson, the attempts to contact Johnson again, and the returned mail, ultimately a collage collaboratively created by Dunne and the post office.