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Noted: The Art of Spam

May 4, 2011

by Alison Feldmann

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I occasionally trawl my junk mail folder in search of poetic gold. Subject lines like “Boobs as big as balloons,” “Don’t pay a penny!” and allusions to enlargement are intermingled with ESL haikus, such as this gem from the Spam Poetry Institute: “A rag mends a concluding bean, a leading apple freezes.” 

It seems that the dark underbelly of the Internet hides in every spam folder. Of the seven trillion spam messages expected to be sent this year, most will never be read. However, artist James Howard considers his overflowing inbox to be his muse, cataloging relentless pop-ups, phony advertisements for magic hair cream and the aforementioned haiku in absurdist Photoshop collages that layer text and images from the web’s back alley. These works are currently on view in the Saatchi Gallery’s “Newspeak: British Art Now” exhibition.

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Photo by James Howard

In a recent interview with ArtInfo, Howard states that “it all begins in my junk email folder, in the place where everything that has a bit of a question mark over its authenticity — pensions, Russian brides — lands. I take images and texts from that junk email folder and from pop-up adverts and I collage them together into artworks.”

He continues, “Spam preys on our insecurities and needs; in the privacy of our own homes everything becomes much more available and dangerous. I think of this piece as a portrait of today and my work is a sort of ongoing social commentary. I work with urgency to get as much of this stuff processed before it’s entirely lost: soon spam filters will be so advanced that we’ll forget what a spam email ever was.”

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Photo by James Howard

As the interviewer states, Howard is one of the few artists today who is inspired by the Internet, yet whose work exists primarily as physical objects. In an interesting turn of events, he acknowledges that some of his creations cannot live online without courting those who wish to buy into the schemes he lampoons:

“There is an online scam where people are persuaded that suitcases of black paper are actually full of $100 bills that have been dyed black. It’s one of these incredible spam email stories that one in a million people believes and ends up spending hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to clean black paper. I made a physical representation of a hundred million U.S. dollars in wads of black paper. It exists as a sculptural installation, but the main part of the project was to document the sculpture and put these photographs online. As soon as they were up, I started getting all sorts of emails from people all over the world asking for the cleaning chemicals.”

james_howard_northwall_8.jpg

Photo by James Howard

See more of Howard’s work at Saatchi, and read the interview in its entirety at ArtInfo.

What does your unsolicited email say about our society?

Artistic Endeavors on the Blog | Art on Etsy | More Noted Posts

76 comments

  • ohbabydotcom

    ohbabydotcom said 6 years ago

    If it looks like spam, smells like spam, taste like spam... more than likely it's ... spam!

  • HibouCards

    HibouCards said 6 years ago

    awesome!

  • ACupOfSparkle

    ACupOfSparkle said 6 years ago

    I got so much spammed so far that I feel like I could tell what is a spam... but; people are so clever about hiding things behind words. It amazes me...

  • JudiPaintedit

    JudiPaintedit said 6 years ago

    Speaking of.... I should clean out mine.

  • ruthiebell

    ruthiebell said 6 years ago

    i've fallen for it!

  • nickandnessies

    nickandnessies said 6 years ago

    That's a cool idea. I guess Spam can be funny if you take the time to read it ;)

  • vKnit

    vKnit said 6 years ago

    lol. i never get spam like this! i see i'm missing out!

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 6 years ago

    Ha!

  • SoliDeoGloriaSDG

    SoliDeoGloriaSDG said 6 years ago

    I find it interesting that the artist creates something out of spam - something that just about everyone hates. How creative ... but also rather strange ...

  • MaiAutumn

    MaiAutumn said 6 years ago

    does spam attract more spam? lol

  • Waterrose

    Waterrose said 6 years ago

    glad mine dumps without me ever having to see it....

  • ikabags

    ikabags said 6 years ago

    Merci ! Cool idea :)

  • Jashme

    Jashme said 6 years ago

    Hilarious.

  • VeraVague

    VeraVague said 6 years ago

    yessss!

  • tangente

    tangente said 6 years ago

    Interesting

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 6 years ago

    Great use of spam! I never pay attention, but will make me aware of it.

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 6 years ago

    Strange - I never get spam but my husband gets it all the time, Reminds me of those ads in old comic books - lose weight, increase your bust, get a college degree, become an artist. - I love those!

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat said 6 years ago

    "...soon spam filters will be so advanced that we’ll forget what a spam email ever was.” It can't happen soon enough for me!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

    Crazy stuff I too have a fascination with spam emails, when I was at university we used to have competitions to see who got the best - or craziest! Ha ha...

  • junkyardglitter

    junkyardglitter said 6 years ago

    I feel like I am missing out in some way. The titles are usually so catchy like Free Outback Steakhouse dinner in here. I know its spam but what if? Great article and those pictures are priceless!

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop said 6 years ago

    As artists, we all draw from the world around us and use what is available in those worlds. Strangely enough, you have also managed to be "green" even in cyber-land. This is recycling at its purest. One man's ceiling really IS another man's floor.

  • redhardwick

    redhardwick said 6 years ago

    Very interesting! :)

  • redemptionart

    redemptionart said 6 years ago

    Okay, how come I only receive the ones soliciting viagra or a larger p.... LOL! In Hawaii, spam comes in a blue can and can be added to your bowl of saimin or your omelet....Aloha!

  • ChrissiesRibbons

    ChrissiesRibbons said 6 years ago

    Ha ha, fascinating stuff!!!

  • SpringwoodSoaps

    SpringwoodSoaps said 6 years ago

    Ha Ha good use of junk!

  • blessedvintage

    blessedvintage said 6 years ago

    We are heading there with some of those crazy ads! good spoof!

  • rarebeasts

    rarebeasts said 6 years ago

    Magic beans, now where did I put my magic beans?

  • ThePolkadotMagpie

    ThePolkadotMagpie said 6 years ago

    I love all the sex toys that come in my spam filter/folder...amazing finds! :-0

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies said 6 years ago

    lol!

  • rebourne

    rebourne said 6 years ago

    This is hilarious but incredible work.

  • thevelvetheart

    thevelvetheart said 6 years ago

    That's very creative!

  • theroyal

    theroyal said 6 years ago

    all i can think to say to these images is "what?"

  • archaicdesign

    archaicdesign said 6 years ago

    what a riot!

  • Tanith

    Tanith said 6 years ago

    Interesting

  • lajoliefemme

    lajoliefemme said 6 years ago

    ha ha nice.

  • flabbergastbanana

    flabbergastbanana said 6 years ago

    cool!

  • Iammie

    Iammie said 6 years ago

    Interesting.

  • beaujangles

    beaujangles said 6 years ago

    Spam fritters ...just love them !!! (NOT)

  • moonmystics

    moonmystics said 6 years ago

    What happens in the junk folder should stay in the junk folder.

  • magdamagda

    magdamagda said 6 years ago

    wishing him lots of interesting spam!

  • Marumadrid

    Marumadrid said 6 years ago

    I admit sometimes I love to read spam mail... it's sooo funny when I get pics of beautiful russian girls wanting to marry me, a totally straight-boring woman! XD

  • sarahsquiltsncrafts

    sarahsquiltsncrafts said 6 years ago

    Spam Art...who knew!

  • 6eisha

    6eisha said 6 years ago

    What an amazing concept - spam as an indicator of the id... Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  • capecodjewel

    capecodjewel said 6 years ago

    lol... seems like a never ending source of material... sooo much to work with! I got one yesterday that wanted to be my forklift supplier?!? Maybe I could use one to help me get rid of all the mail order catalogs piled in the corner... now there's a great idea for collage material... hmmmm...

  • ScrappyTudeStudios

    ScrappyTudeStudios said 6 years ago

    I'll never look at spam the same way again...

  • frenchdip

    frenchdip said 6 years ago

    Q: "So what do you do for a living?" A: "Im a spam clicker" I love that answer!!

  • SewardsCuriosities

    SewardsCuriosities said 6 years ago

    I wonder if the people who create the spam consider themselves a muse?

  • NecessiTees

    NecessiTees said 6 years ago

    Clever idea! Bravo to James Howard. And TeenAngster, you are a genius again for uncovering another way offbeat artist:)

  • emilybidwell Admin

    emilybidwell said 6 years ago

    Wow! I love the magical diamond designs.

  • SupplyYourSoul

    SupplyYourSoul said 6 years ago

    interesting, funny, even a little inspiring! :-)

  • AquaMoose

    AquaMoose said 6 years ago

    I now want to clean out spam from my e-mail :)

  • EllaBands

    EllaBands said 6 years ago

    Haha, that's hilarious. !!

  • VintageNesting

    VintageNesting said 6 years ago

    Love the verbage and the wrap around paragraphs!!! ~ Today read article of mine favorite! ~

  • ArcSquare

    ArcSquare said 6 years ago

    I saw this exhibition at Saatchi last year, it was scary.

  • VintageWoods

    VintageWoods said 6 years ago

    Interesting!

  • bedouin

    bedouin said 6 years ago

    distorted verbatim my eyes the see...love love your artwork and its veracity

  • ConvergedCommodities

    ConvergedCommodities said 6 years ago

    Every spammy cloud has a comical silver lining.

  • TheWeirdGirlWorkshop

    TheWeirdGirlWorkshop said 6 years ago

    This is what I love about the creative community- take something everyone knows and give it new purpose. Thanks for sharing!

  • kathyjohnson3

    kathyjohnson3 said 6 years ago

    Same old adage - if it's too good to be true, it probably is!

  • frogfruit

    frogfruit said 6 years ago

    fascinating, I'm enthralled by these collages too

  • frogfruit

    frogfruit said 6 years ago

    Aack, there's even a pet portrait collage ad! As for the last question I think spam says we are all ailing and looking for the last chance miracle healing product.

  • girliepains

    girliepains said 6 years ago

    Amazing!

  • Biciteria

    Biciteria said 6 years ago

    brilliant! CONGRATULATIONS!!! YOU HAVE WON £500.000, YOU JUST NEED TO FILL IN YOUR DETAILS........ first time i truly enjoyed reading the "spams"! nice work

  • MaineCoastEngraving

    MaineCoastEngraving said 6 years ago

    just another example of how artists can find art in ANYTHING!! great article!

  • verdigreen

    verdigreen said 6 years ago

    LOVE! I usually carelessly "delete all". Who knew I was missing the Answer?

  • EyePopArt

    EyePopArt said 6 years ago

    Cool.

  • lauraprentice

    lauraprentice said 6 years ago

    Wow, so interesting! Reminds me of the work of my friend Anders Johnson who works from google images that have gone viral http://www.andersjohnson.net/words.html

  • lauraprentice

    lauraprentice said 6 years ago

    I'm almost inspired to start reading my spam!

  • TeenAngster Admin

    TeenAngster said 6 years ago

    Spam is real! Just received this gem: "egular things to rife with the infant bathtub thomas sabo ohrringe using the special thomas sabo rings inclusion of infant charms and infant shoe charms."

  • TodoPapel

    TodoPapel said 6 years ago

    The only spam I get is in my sandwich!

  • JemimaAndJude

    JemimaAndJude said 6 years ago

    There's even spam on this thread! Oh the irony :)

  • Steampunkitis

    Steampunkitis said 6 years ago

    Spam sham, there's cure for everything, and a price. It's freedom of the syber world. Spam on !

  • pingpingpingping

    pingpingpingping said 6 years ago

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  • Pashastretch

    Pashastretch said 6 years ago

    retoolsf is fab from beginning to end. The craftsmanship, the design, and the customer service are exceptional. And the creative product descriptions are worthy in themselves. I strongly recommend retoolsf.

  • cindylouwho2

    cindylouwho2 said 6 years ago

    I love the spam comments here almost as much as the black paper story! It seems fitting to leave them :)

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