Return to sender

In the six years I've been working on my Signifier, Signed... project, I've mailed letters to more than 400 celebrities. Of those, around 70 have complied with my weird autograph request -- that they sign my name instead of their own. Another two dozen offered signatures when I met them in person, at book signings or concerts, lectures or art openings. The hard part of this project, as any real autograph collector knows, is finding legitimate addresses for celebs: Actors change agents frequently, post office forwarding orders expire, elderly starlets wanting a little peace (I'm talking about you, Shirley Temple) return unopened letters emblazoned with text indicating as much.

In looking over stacks of returned request letters, I noticed slight variations in the return-to-sender rubber stamps. How'd the pointing finger become the universal symbol for this? Isn't it a tad rude? I may be reading too much into it -- it's just an administrative stamp applied ad tedium by civil servants -- but in certain instances the accusatory finger seems fitting. A letter sent to Woody Allen came back neurotically marked up with triple fingers, deeply indented hashmarks, and (in case I missed the point) an all-caps notice that the forwarding order had EXPIRED. Another intended for Mr. T. came back unopened. His "I pity the foo'!" catchphrase was always delivered down the barrel of an outstretched index finger.

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