Artist Trading Cards are 2.5 by 3.5 inch miniature works of art. They are works of art specifically made to be freely traded --- thus the name, Artist Trading Card (ATC). The concept of ATCs was developed by m. vänçi stirnemann an artist from Zürich, Switzerland.
vänçi initiated the idea of ATCs while he was visiting Calgary in 1988 to participate in the Olympic Arts Festival as part of The New Gallery’s Olympic presentation. While in Calgary, vänçi was surprised by the number of adults who were collecting and trading hockey cards. Being a hockey fan himself...vänçi began to collect and trade; “as a hockey fan i had a lot of fun sitting around a table with fellow artists talking about art, life, and hockey while trading hockey cards,” he said. When vänçi visited Calgary in 1990 as The New Gallery’s artist-in-residence, he wanted to produce a catalogue to document his activities with other artists in Calgary as part of that project. Because the costs of printing the catalogue in hockey card format were prohibitive, the project was shelved until 1996. After having been frustrated for years by the high costs of manufacturing cards, vänçi decided to produce them himself by hand. This led to the first exhibition of 1200 of his own cards in April 1997 at INK.art&text, a bookstore/gallery in Zürich. On May 31, 1997, the first ATC Trading Day took place there as well. vänçi discussed that initial Artist Trading Card Show and Trading Session via email: “the reaction from the audience at the opening of the first atc show (1200 cards i did over a period of 5 months) at INK.art&text was so good that we (artist cat schick [a transplanted Calgarian now living in Zürich] and i) decided to hold a trading session for the closing. most people were very inspired by the show and felt like producing cards themselves to trade with me and others, and, since i told them that i would only trade and not sell cards at the first trading session, a lot of people showed up with their own cards to trade. there was so much fun and creativity around that cat and i decided to hold a trading session every month.”
[NOTE: The above is taken from an article in the August 3, 2000 issue of The Calgary Straight weekly newspaper. The article, entitled: Art That Makes the Trade was written by Melody Jacobson, m. vänçi stirnemann and Chuck Stake and is, given the input from vänçi, the most authoritative source regarding the initiation of ATCs.]
The social aspect of the ATCs was very clear to vänçi from the beginning and has remained a crucial aspect of ATC activity.
ATCs came to Canada in 1997. After I visited vänçi’s exhibition of ATCs at INK.art&text I was also able to participate in a Trading Session while in Zürich and I became very enthused with ATCs and brought the idea back to Calgary. The first ATC Trading Session (TS) in Canada was held in Calgary at The New Gallery on September 27, 1997. About 20 Traders attended the initial TS but the idea caught on quickly and attendance at the regular monthly sessions grew as word spread in the art community, as well as in the community at large. A very important aspect of ATCs is that BOTH artists and non-artists of all ages and abilities participate in the activity.
It is important to point out that artists have used the concept and format of collectible cards, that is the 2.5 by 3.5 inch size, a number of times in the past thirty or forty years for a number of purposes. They have been used by artists to promote their work, for commercial purposes, as catalogues, etc. Particularly in North America, collectible cards are ubiquitous and were part of almost everyone’s childhood, be they Hockey Cards, Barbie Cards or whatever variation --- this is not so true in Europe, but, in the NA context, pretty much everyone is familiar with the format and the concept. To my mind vänçi’s unique contribution was the idea that the cards be made to be traded, and, of equal importance, that the cards could be handmade, they did not have to be manufactured in any way. It was these two simple, but brilliant, ideas that led to the concept of Artist Trading.
Monique Westra, in a review of the ATC Biennial in Calgary’s FastForward weekly newspaper (September 07 - 13, 2000) wrote: "By showcasing the cards of artists from different countries in this remarkable Biennial exhibition, the general public and the wider art community are introduced to the tremendous range of techniques, materials, subjects. The exhibition demonstrates their creativity, diversity, beauty and wit. Surfaces can be any number of things --- board, fabric, watercolour paper, wax, metal, and wood to create card faces that can be decorated by a dazzling variety of methods --- painting, drawing, gluing, spraying, rubber stamping, sewing, computer-generating and folding --- to affix any number of materials ranging from found objects like buttons, nails, and beads to organic matter like fur, hair, twigs, and leaves."
ATCs are easily accessible by the general public, but, at the same time they challenge a number of artistic and cultural paradigms. Westra further states: "Mixing traditions and practices of both the art of high culture and popular fads, the enterprise defies hierarchal categorization and erases the distinctions between high and low art. Through transgression and blurring of boundaries, it is a perfect example of postmodernism at its best. The creative freedom and spontaneity of artist trading cards also recalls the era of Dada."
The key to appreciating/understanding ATCs is to attend and participate in a Trading Session --- it is definitely a rush! Part of the rush is the anticipation of what kinds of cards will be traded at the next Trading Session due to the endless creativity of the participating Traders; there are always new and unique cards and approaches to making cards at each Session. I am always amazed at the range of the creative efforts while looking through someone’s binder and deciding which cards I would like to trade with them on that day. The one-to-one interaction while trading is a key aspect of ATCs. And, as a definite bonus, you acquire an extensive collection of superb miniature works of art. I must have in excess of 8000 cards now. To reiterate:
The most important aspect of the ATC project is the person-to-person interaction and personal meetings which happen during the TS --- it’s about the social situation which is created in the space during a Trading Session.
ATCs are created on 2.5 x 3.5 inch (64 x 89 mm) card stock, the same size as traditional hockey cards. Cards may be 2-D or 3-D; the only stipulation is the size of 2.5 x 3.5 inches. ATCs are miniature, signed, dated works of art which are exchanged by artists and non-artists at regularly held Trading Sessions.
An important aspect of ATC activity for me is that ATCs do not involve the exchange of money --- from the first TS cards were freely exchanged.
Seek out and enjoy an Artist Trading Card Session, or, start one in your location and ENJOY!!!!!
Revised slightly, September, 2005
Revised slightly, September, 2005
Posted to Vanci Stirmemann's facebook page