“What happens when a work of art is found where it’s not supposed to be, like in a mailbox?” This is just one of the questions raised by the mysterious packages that have been popping up in people’s mailboxes all over Italy. From a handful of artists seeking to combat the depression of lockdown, Missive Selvatiche (or “Wild Missives”) is now in its third edition, incorporating the work of over 150 artists in 1,500 packages, always delivered to complete strangers.
The project was born as an act of “artistic resistance” in November 2020 in the province of Prato, near Florence. Founders Pamela Maddaleno and Alessia Castellano were facing yet another nationwide lockdown and feeling frustrated by the fact that art was sidelined at a time when they felt it was most needed. “For us, to declare art an unessential activity is an error on the part of the politicians,” explained co-founder Maddaleno, a photographer. “Art is as essential as the supermarket. We are made of a body, but also a spirit, and you can’t feed that spirit with TV shows.”
A dozen artists contributed to the first edition, carefully wrapping three original pieces of art in brown paper parcels along with their manifesto. Pieces of music, sketches, photos, poems, illustrations—they called these missives “wild” in reference to the fact that the artists involved were free to create as they liked. With no backers or funding, this is a project entirely deriving from the artists themselves, who hope their art “gifts” will inspire conversation and reflection, reminding people that, even if they cannot gather for an exhibition or a theatrical performance, art can still bring them together.
“The fact that these missives arrive to complete strangers has always been essential to the project,” Maddaleno said. It’s very possible that not everyone who receives the packages will want them, but that’s true of any art. She told the story of a woman who found two unopened missives thrown in the dumpster, fished them out, researched the project, and then delivered them herself into the mailboxes of strangers, immediately getting into the spirit of the project. Then there was the school teacher who heard about them from a student in her class, who had received one of their parcels. She contacted the team, who agreed to do a special edition for the rest of the students in the class; they’d never considered “art” something you find outside of a textbook or a museum.
The second edition in March saw the addition of artist Margherita Nuti to the team and now they’ve grown yet again, helped by a Florentine collective led by Michelle Davis and Giulia Iaquinta. There’s even an effort to create more missives in France, deliver some to libraries, and even create a Chinese version for residents of Prato.
The future of Missive Selvatiche? “We’ll see what happens in the world,” says Pamela. “This project has always been closely tied to this moment in history, a response to the lockdowns and Covid restrictions. We’ll have to see what the next decreto brings.”
Whether or not Missive Selvatiche continues, these artistic gifts are inspiring others to get involved, to create and to share, showing us that, even when distanced, art keeps us together.