title: transient traces

year: 2008 – 2009 – 2010 – 2011 – 2012

location: anywhere the mail is delivered, the twitter site unhoused and the blog transient traces

duration: ongoing

presented by: skol, montreal quebec, paved, saskatoon saskatchewan, and le mur saint martin, paris france

at le mur saint martin, paris, france


(messages sur cartes postales adressées aux élus parisiens)

here you can follow the changes over the duration of the intervention on the wall – from a block of postcards at the start, to one postcard with a figure and painted text at the end.

examples of sent postcards:

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at galerie skol, montreal, quebec


photos by: guy l’heureux (the skol exhibition)

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at paved, saskatoon, saskatchewan


photo by: ian campbell (the paved billboard)

the billboard in saskatoon was produced with the generous financial support of paved and with technical assistance from nikki middlemiss, benoit pontbriand and david larivière. transient traces was part of the group exhibition: une étendue apparemment infinie et tentaculaire organized by skol and facilitaed by nikki middlemiss. the exhibition ran from september 10 to october 23, 2010. this same exhibition circulated to paved in saskatoon, saskatchewan in november of 2010. the exhibition at skol and paved featured roughly 450 postcards installed on the wall. these postcards were transcriptions of the original postcards, all of which had previously been sent to their recipients. the accent in the respective exhibitions was on those postcards sent to the region, so for the exhibition at skol the accent was on postcards sent to montréal residents, while at paved the accent was on postcards sent to saskatoon residents. at skol the complete archive documenting every postcard was displayed, while at paved a billboard addressed to stephen harper was produced (with the generous support of paved.)

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postcard history: the où je suis n’est pas qui je suis (where i am is not who i am) postcard image is taken from my dream listener intervention at l’état d’urgence in 2007. the postcard, subsequently produced for l’état d’urgence, 2008, was distributed on site to convey the message that where one sleeps does not define who one is. for transient traces the original postcard is stressed or damaged through folding, ripping and staining.

project: communicate with the “housed” as if they were the “unhoused” –deliberately blur boundaries through a directed miss communication. selected text lifted from the homeless nation web site as a “ready-made” is transcribed in quotation marks on the back of the postcard. the postcard is then sent to an artist, educator, politician or communicator. all the names and addresses of postcard recipients are found via the web. the project deflects communication from the homeless nation networking site whose members represent a certain social/economic status toward individuals of a different social/economic status. transferring text from the homeless nation site to the postcard redirects a text that is intended to be disseminated to a specific community to infiltrate, one-by-one, the target community. the work performs by communicating “as if” the target community is part of the homeless community. the boundary defining the “unhoused” community from the “housed” community is transgressed to render the distinction momentarily suspect. the text selected from the homeless nation website is used as a means of infiltrating one sphere into another. permission is not sought from the original “author,” the project performs the position that information disseminated through social networking sites is in the public domain and open for fair use.

stephencocaine dear-daviddear-harrydear-marinachocolate-dumpsterspikeleejesusnicole

as of september 2010: 2136 postcards mailed/130 blog posts/217 tweets

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l’état d’urgence 2008


photos by: jack locke

about 3000 postcards were given out over the course of l’état d’urgence. i handed postcards to people on sainte catherine street in front of l’état,while volunteers who manned the hospitality booth gave postcards out to people who came asking for information. stephen-harper-2 leona-ag jim-flaherty peter1

while at l’état i would sit in the common area and write postcards to members of parliament (no stamp is required to send a letter to a member of the canadian parliament)…after awhile i would ask the person sitting across from me if they would like to join me. one woman sat and wrote about eleven cards, each card was addressed to a different member of parliament and each card spoke to the specific area the member was responsible for.


three post boxes were situated on the l‘état d’urgence site for people to drop their postcards in (after they had written on them.)



i made this postcard (12,000 of them!) for “l’état d”urgence” 2008 (november 26 – 30). the image is from my intervention at l’état d’urgence 2007. i am hoping the people who attend l’état will be inspired to think of who they are, and perhaps write a loved one, or write the government to let the people who govern know that where one sleeps does not define who one is. sometimes the places where we find ourselves seem to define us—informing our identity to such a degree that we think of ourselves in terms of our location. however, certain places have negative implications which frame us as incompetent, unworthy, or weak. this is especially true I think, of those places where we are the most vulnerable, such as in a long-term care facility, in a prison, or on the street. we don’t think of ourselves as a person who is presently sick, or a person who is currently incarcerated, or a person who at the present time sleeps on the street– instead who we are becomes conflated with where we are: i am sick, i am guilty, i am homeless. and yet, i believe who we are as a human being is not the same as where we are. who we are is something we can decide for ourselves, we can be compassionate, generous and kind whether we are the c.e.o. of the royal bank or a cashier at mcdonalds. likewise we can be hurtful, dishonest and mean whether we are the prime minister of canada or a panhandler. we are all complex, multi-faceted and mysterious beings. this belief is sometimes hard to hold onto, especially when the eyes of the world judge us negatively, reducing us solely in relation to where we are. it is important to remember who we are.

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title: nous sommes tous de beaux rêveurs

year: 2007

location: montréal, québec

duration: one year

supported by: dare-dare (part of the dream listener project)

dscn0805.jpg dscn0821_1.jpg

so this is a not-so-good photo of a postcard produced by dare-dare centre de diffusion d’art multidisciplinaire de montréal and dream listener. the cards are deposited at various locations around montréal for people to take and hopefully send. I have been using the postcards to write out a dream and mail it to the person who the dream refers to, in this case mr. harper, canada’s prime minister. I suspect he probably did not receive the card, but I liked the reference between the photo and the notion of a sleeping prime minister, because addressing poverty and homelessness do not seem to be part of his agenda.

April 29, 2007

dscn0867.jpg as part of dare-dare’s fund-raising gala my friend jack locke and I did a conceptual performance where we addressed and mailed 306 “nous sommes tous de beaux réveurs” (we are all beautiful dreamers) postcards. one for every member of the canadian parliament. it took us about four and a half hours to write all the names and addresses –which meant we just missed the last metro home. (I only recently became informed that you can send mail to any member of parliament free, no stamp required…kinda cool. and for those of you who follow canadian politics you will have noticed that this little action has had absolutely no effect on our government’s agenda…)

5 Responses to “postcards”

  1. Ursula Snyder said

    Dear Karen,
    I just received your postcard today, dated 18 Feb 09. The reason: I did not open a particular envelope in my mailbox because I thought it just contained a memo I knew about already. As I was cleaning out my files today, I opened the envelope. And there it was. I had no idea who sent it, of course. Moreover, this is my first term at NSCAD. I am instructor for a Foundation year writing course. I am also a yoga teacher, and I run a small yoga studio from my home to serve my community, a village about a half hour outside of Halifax. I have no idea how you found me, but thank you for making me a part of your project and I will go to the Homeless Nation website. I will read more about your work as well.
    With best wishes,
    Ursula Snyder

  2. thank you ursula. it is lovely for me to receive your response! good luck at nscad. i did my undergrad at nscad and was pretty hard on my teachers (at least some of them) so lets hope you don’t get students like me…
    yoga is probably a good antidote to teaching.
    best of luck,

  3. #
    Carol Zemel said
    April 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm e

    Dear Ms Spencer,
    you have circulated a very alarming message to me, and now, I gather after considerable worried inquiry and effort on my part, to other members of the art community. I resent this use of Canada Post and being targeted by you in an misleading manner.
    I urge you to cease this postcard activity. You’ve certainly aleinated me from whatever cause you are trying to report.
    dreamlistener said
    April 15, 2009 at 5:38 pm e

    dear carol zemel,
    i am glad that you were able to put your worry to rest and contact me. this, of course, is why my name and signature appear on the back of the postcard.it is unfortunate that you resent “being targeted” in this manner, however; as an informed member of the artistic community teaching art within a public institution that lists your name coupled with the address of the institution,i had hoped you would suspect something larger was going on….especially as you were not singled out in this regard.it is unfortunate that you responded to the postcard with worry, and for this i offer my apologies.
    karen elaine spencer

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