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Card Carriers

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Issue: 32 Section: Arts Geography: Canada Topics: visual arts

November 16, 2005

Card Carriers

Artist's Trading Cards (ATCs) are art for everyone

by Max Liboiron

The only rules for ATCs are that they measure the standard card size and that they be exchanged for other cards.
There is a new currency on the market that measures 2 1/2 x 3 1/2" and can be made of anything from ticket stubs to porcelain. This creative currency's value is measured in communication, accessibility, and exchange, and is known as the Artist's Trading Card.

The only rules for ATCs are that they measure the standard card size and that they be exchanged for other cards. There is not money involved, no media restrictions, and sometimes, no Artists. The point of an ATC is that it can be made by anyone and that the exchange of them brings people together; cards are traded by mail, on the internet, or in face-to-face trading sessions organized throughout the world. In fact, if there is an elitism to be found in the practice, it is that some traders consider face-to-face trading to be the "only true" form of ATCs.

Issues of art versus craft, or of artist versus non-artist, or of commercial viability are mixed and defied in trading sessions. If done through the mail, a participant accepts the condition that anyone can make a card anyhow. And when it comes to trading, a similar attitude is adopted. Don Mabie, who is associated with trading sessions at The New Gallery in Calgary, says, "I have never refused to trade with anyone, and, in principle, I would not refuse to trade with anyone. We do get a number of non-artists that regularly attend and make most interesting cards."

The point of an ATC is that it can be made by anyone and that the exchange of them brings people together.
Mabie has collected some 8,000 cards, and keeps them all in binders in plastic sheets to facilitate trading. He stresses the importance of the social exchange of the trade above the material trade. "Traders look forward to attending the sessions to see each other and see what the new cards look like this month, to see what new approaches regarding ATCs have evolved during the past month. I have been trading for some eight years and it never ceases to amaze me regarding the endless creativity."

The movement has similarities to scrap booking, where collage, personal taste, and found materials combine to allow anyone a creative outlet. And like scrap booking, the commercial market has taken notice and slick anthologies and "how to" books as well as commercial starter kits have become available. While these aids do not jeopardize the exchange or loose rules that are the focus of ATC, they do tend to be formulaic in their recommendations for design, and romanticize the cards and the aesthetic.

The "real charm" of ATC is the diversity and freshness that comes from people creating miniature art without commercial or elitist constraints. There are not too many venues where Leonardo could be trading work with an eight year old while discussing the pros and cons of using duct tape versus glue guns in collage. The fun and social emphasis of the cards can make ATC a grassroots public art without the stratifications, elitism, and inaccessibility that more institutionalized forms of art can carry.

For more information or to find a group to trade with check out
Artist's Trading Cards, Artist's Trading Cards Meetup, Canadian Content, and The New Gallery

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