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100 envelopes were sent to 100 fictitious street addresses in the United States, one sent to each of the zip codes beginning with 00 through 99.  All but one of the envelopes were "Returned to Sender" by the U.S. Post Office.

The returned envelopes are mounted on two 36" x 40" acrylic panels enabling both the front and back of the envelopes to be viewed. 
The front shows the address and the "Return to Sender" stamp.  Each back contains a part of a quotation from
Paul Fussell, Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars.
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 38-40.

See below for full text of the quotation, and list of post offices sent to.


A text and object were linked and made complete through the process of travel.  One hundred envelopes were sent out.  Their destinations were determined by selecting 100 post offices, each with a different first two digits in its Zip Code (00... through 99...).  Searching through the Zip Code Directory, we found within each of these numerical groups a town or city that was named after another, more notable location (see list attached).  The envelopes were addressed to a fictitious person (L. Wolfe La Verret; an anagram of fellow traveler) at a fictitious address, and mailed to these real, though unlikely named, towns.  Our names and address were listed for the return of the envelopes in the event (inevitable, in this case) that the envelopes were found undeliverable.  On the back of each envelope was printed one segment of a text on the subject of travel (see attached).  The US Postal Service eventually returned the envelopes.  They were mounted in two-sided frames so that both sides were visible.  As the envelopes returned from their travels around the country, the text on the back grew complete.

The fronts of the envelopes embarked with a standardized appearance and returned wildly varied.  A Post Office-issue postpaid envelope was chosen, with a navy blue star printed on an embossed square in the upper right corner.  All the envelopes were ultimately displayed in a strict grid and the stars made a regular pattern against which were placed the slurry of official rubber stampings and handwritten remarks. When they returned, most of the envelopes had the classic Return to Sender pointing hand stamped above the officially entered reason for the letter's being found undeliverable.  Besides the fictive address and our accurate return address, each envelope bore the name of a third location: the postmark of the place it had been mailed from.  With the collusion of friends and willing strangers, we had the envelopes posted from locations all across the US.

Our most-traveled envelope was a veteran of no less than 10,000 miles.  Like all of the other envelopes it was sent out empty.  Nevertheless, it was a carrier of idea.  Printed on it were six words of no consequence, until they were joined up with the 99 other phrases.  The envelopes were sent out as individual, meaningless units and only gained meaning when they were united, bearing out the idea expressed in the text -- the intrinsic value of travel.

Detail of mounted envelopes, front:


Detail of mounted envelopes, back:

The full text of the quotation reads:

Before tourism there was travel, and before travel there was exploration. Each is roughly assignable to its own age in modern history: exploration belongs to the Renaissance, travel to the bourgeois age, tourism to our proletarian moment. But there are obvious overlaps. What we recognize as tourism in its contemporary form was making inroads on travel as early as the mid-nineteenth century, when Thomas Cook got the bright idea of shipping sightseeing groups to the Continent, and though the Renaissance is over, there are still a few explorers. Tarzan's British father Lord Greystoke was exploring Africa in the twentieth century while tourists were being herded around the Place de l’Opera.

And the terms exploration, travel, and tourism are slippery. In 1855 what we would call exploration is often called travel, as in Francis Galton's The Art of Travel. … Indeed, his book is virtually a survival manual, with instructions on blacksmithing, making your own black powder, descending cliffs with ropes, and defending a camp … . On the other hand, the word travel in modern usage is equally misleading, as in phrases like travel agency and the travel industry, where what the words are disguising is tourist agency and the tourist industry, the idea of a travel industry constituting a palpable contradiction in terms, if we understand what real travel once was.

"Explorers," according to Hugh and Pauline Massingham, “are to the ordinary traveler what the Saint is to the average church congregation.” The athletic, paramilitary activity of exploration ends in knighthoods for Sir Francis Drake and Sir Aurel Stein and Sir Edmund Hillary. No traveler, and certainly no tourist, is ever knighted for his performances, although the strains he may undergo can be as memorable as the explorer's. All three make journeys, but the explorer seeks the undiscovered, the traveler that which has been discovered by the mind working in history, the tourist that which has been discovered by entrepreneurship and prepared for him by the arts of mass publicity. The genuine traveler is, or used to be, in the middle between the two extremes. If the explorer moves toward the risks of the formless and the unknown, the tourist moves toward the security of pure cliché. It is between these two poles that the traveler mediates, retaining all he can of the excitement of the unpredictable attaching to exploration, and fusing that with the pleasure of “knowing where one is” belonging to tourism.

But travel is work. Etymologically a traveler is one who suffers travail, a word deriving in its turn from Latin tripalium, a torture instrument consisting of three stakes designed to rack the body. Before the development of tourism, travel was conceived to be like study, and its fruits were considered to be the adornment of the mind and the formation of the judgment. The traveler was a student of what he sought, and he was assisted by aids like the 34 volumes of the Medieval Town Series, now, significantly, out of print.  …  “Let the tourist be cushioned against misadventure,” says Lawrence Durrell; “your true traveler will not feel that he has had his money's worth unless he brings back a few scars.” (A personal note: although I have been both traveler and tourist, it was as a traveler, not a tourist, that I once watched my wallet and passport slither down a Turkish toilet at Bodrum, and it was the arm of a traveler that reached deep, deep into that cloaca to retrieve them.) If exploration promised adventures, travel was travel because it held out high hopes of misadventures.

Click here to see the full text as revealed in the returned envelopes.

Click here to see the front of all of the returned envelopes.

List of Post Offices used:

Panel 1:


Rio Grande, Puerto Rico  00745

Goshen, MA  01032

Wyoming, RI  02898

Washington, NH  03280

Poland, ME  04273

Peru, VT  05152

Lebanon, CT  06249

Neptune, NJ  07753

Runnemeade, NJ  08078

USS Hawaii, APO, NY  09006

Valhalla, NY  10595

Bohemia, NY  11716

Berlin, NY  12022

Mexico, NY  13114

Alabama, NY  14003

Pitcairn, PA  15140

Mars, PA  16046

Scotland, PA  17254

Moscow, PA  18444

Gwynedd, PA  19436

Hollywood, MD  20636

Cordova, MD  21625

Paris, VA  22130

Moon, VA  23119

Vesuvius, VA  24483

Dixie, WV  25059

Cairo, WV  26337

Eden, NC  27288

Bolivia, NC  28422

Denmark, SC  29042

Bethlehem, GA  30620

Dublin, GA  31021

Bagdad, FL  32530

Odessa, FL  33556

USS California, APO, Miami, FL  34023

Havana, AL  35467

Cuba, AL  36907

Antioch, TN  37013

Milan, TN  38358

Mount Olive, MS  39119

London, KY  40741

Sparta, KY  41086

Sweden, KY  42285

Warsaw, OH  43844

Mesopotamia, OH  44439

Russia, OH  45363

Edinburgh, IN  46124

Florence, IN  47020

Pompeii, MI  48874

Frankfort, MI  49635


Panel 2:


Jamaica, IA  50128

Persia, IA  51563

Delhi, IA  52223

Belgium, WI  53004

Brussels, MN  54204

Princeton, MN  55371

Blue Earth, MN  56013

Volga, MN  57071

Crete, ND  58020

Harlem, MT  59526

Verona, IL  60479

Normandy, IL  61347

Orient, IL  62874

Herculaneum, MO  63048

Nevada, MO  64772

Versailles, MO  65084

Ottawa, KS  66067

Stuttgart, KS  67670

Elbe, NE  68835

Wellfleet, NE  69170

Sun, LA  70463

Genoa, AR  71840

Damascus, AR  72039

Newcastle, OK  73065

Panama, OK  74951

Trinidad. TX  75163

Venus, TX  76084

Egypt, TX  77436

Roma, TX  78584

Sudan, TX  79371

Lyons, CO  80540

Granada, CO  81041

Saratoga, WY  82331

Malta, ID  83342

Wales, UT  84667

Patagonia, AZ  85624

Riviera, AZ  86442

Espanola, NM  87532

Hanover, NM  88041

Mercury, NV  89023

Avalon, CA  90704

Ontario, CA  91761

Winchester, CA  92396

Johannesburg, CA  93528

Inverness, CA  94937

Samoa, CA  95564

Etna, CA  96027

Madras, OR  97741

Toledo, WA  98591

Burbank, WA  99323


© 1999-2014  Adrienne Klein