I wish I was Ray Johnson but I can’t be because he’s dead, 2020

I Wish I Was Ray Johnson But I Can’t Be Because He Is Dead is a semi-autobiographical mail art book by Emily Peterson Dunne. Dunne has been working with collage and mail art since 2012, when she established a group titled “The Queens CorrespondAnce School.” Deliberately misspelled, the group apes the New York Correspondence school of Ray Johnson. The proposed book will consist of collages created collaboratively in the mail between Dunne and participating artists, which include friends, artists and creators Dunne admires (Including punk musician Richard Hell).

In 2018, six years into Dunne’s mail art practice, she began receiving mysterious envelopes delivered to her apartment, addressed to Ray Johnson. The first of these letters was a brochure from a company selling burial insurance, and the letters continued in a similarly morbid vein. Given the mysterious circumstances of Johnson’s own suicide, these hauntings were especially poignant. After amassing dozens of these mailers, they suddenly and mysteriously stopped arriving.

In an attempt to contact Ray Johnson again, Dunne began attempting light mail fraud. She assiduously filled out hundreds of (expired) business reply mail cards with her apartment address and the name Ray Johnson in an attempt to assume his name again (at least in the eyes of the USPS).

However, most (if not all) of the materials were undeliverable and were thusly returned to the sender. Dunne created a pastiche of these cards that were now marked with stamps, stickers, inscriptions of rejection from post office employees. Her attempts to become Ray were ultimately denied. “If you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him.”  

The book will recount this experience by way of facsimiles of collages created by Dunne and her mail-art network, the original materials mistakenly sent to Dunne’s apartment intended for Johnson, her attempts to “contact” Johnson again, and the returned mail, ultimately seen as a collage collaboratively created by Dunne and the post office. The book includes an essay by archivist Diana Bowers.