MAIL INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEY PARKER OWENS (USA)
TAM-960110 (www version june 2015 with some Global Mail covers included)
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEY PARKER OWENS.
Started on: 23-12-1994
RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on: 13-02-95
AP : In 1981, I somehow received a mail art chain letter. I believe the source was through an art professor or one of their assistants. At the time, I was married, living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and attending art school with my husband. The chain letter was really fascinating because it had exotic names and addresses from all over the world. The promise of receiving hundreds of artworks from all over the world was really exciting, and I immediately started fantasizing about winning this art lottery. I made a postcard and sent it to the person at the top of the list who was located in Germany. The postcard was a close up photo of a rock (that I took with a 4 x 5 camera) that looked like the surface of the moon. On top of the rock I had pasted a small cartoon of two people copulating. I crossed off this name, made my copies and handed them out to other people at school. I waited expectantly and never got any reply from anyone.
Later, after getting my masters degree in New Jersey and then moving to Chicago, I decided I really liked the concept of a mail art show (’85). Specifically, I liked the non-judgmental all-inclusiveness of it. I was very successful exhibiting my “art” work in Chicago and elsewhere, but I also began entering every mail art show I could find. The lack of organized info on this underground I found frustrating.
I still did not have a very good idea about mail art until I had my own mail art show (’89). That is when I became really educated on the depth of what mail art can be, and have essentially become hooked ever since.
Together with Ashley’s first answer she sent me the new “Global Mail Info Sheet”, in which there is info concerning Global Mail, how it is constructed and can be obtained. Also Info about Ashley herself and some questions with answers that are asked to her often. Besides that the info-zine also contained several statements about mail-art from others, including mine from August 1993).
RJ : Obviously the ‘lack of organized info’ made you decide to publish the first ‘Global Mail’, the magazine that is now well-known as a source-magazine for all kind of contacts. Some mail-artists feel that the whole network shouldn’t be too organized and centralized. What are your thoughts?
Reply on : 26-02-1995 (internet via Guy Hensel)
AP : The data Global Mail contains is not mail art, and it is not networking. The action on my part in publishing Global Mail is MY personal attempt at networking. I am passing on information passed to me. But Global Mail’s content is nothing more than a collection of data. It’s just a resource. It records network activity but it has no meaning in and of itself, other than as entertainment. However, it is a tool that can be used to crack out the secrets of mail art and networking.
There is no ONE location of mail art and networking. The real activity is what is going on behind the scenes, beyond the scope of the projects and shows. The real meaning, the real secret, is the exchange between two individuals. That positive energy is the secret.
If anything, I think Global Mail is good for those just starting out, who are trying to build their contact base. But alas, that group of people really don’t understand the publication. One of the goals of Global Mail is to educate and suck people in to the net. It is important not to make this a secret club there’s plenty of stamps for everyone.
I would like Global Mail to be free form. It exercises the imagination. It stretches your limits of what you conceive mail art to be… but I really don’t feel that it is the central location of info. Really, more co op and pass on mailings come my way than publications with listings.
RJ : How important is communication for you? What do you think is the most essential thing about magazines?
Reply on : 19-4-95
(Together with her new answer Ashley sent me 10 copies of the new edition of Global Mail to pass along to friends and people who are interested. The magazine has a bit changed concept now and contains more reprints of letters she received, information about special topics, etc. besides the large list of 500 entries from 45 countries)
AP : How important is communication? The ideas of individuals must permeate our thought space, rather than advertising images, political ideas, or media messages. It is especially enlightening to get information and alternative viewpoints from those in other countries.
During the Rodney King verdict/LA riots period in American history, I asked for international mail art, text, and newspaper articles featuring this event. [In case anyone is unfamiliar with this, Rodney King was severely beaten by a group of policeman, and the brutal incident was captured on videotape. Even with the evidence, the policemen were judged “not guilty.” The city of Los Angeles, CA experienced many riots, looting, and arson attacks as a result of this verdict because the people were absolutely outraged].
It was illuminating to view the way other newspapers in the world featured the stories. Even with a language barrier, you could still derive a lot of information by the chosen photos, their placement, size, body language and color of the individuals, etc.
When receiving mail art and text from individuals, you get a personal viewpoint that is often lacking in a news story. You can understand emotions and feelings and the presentation plays a critical role. Actual handwriting, elaborate art, inappropriate comments, misspelled words and incorrectly translated English all carry a meaning to the person receiving the message.
What is the essential thing about magazines? [by this I’m taking you to mean “zines” – to me there is a big difference between the two]. With zines, an opportunity is given to individuals to imprecisely and perhaps inaccurately present their thoughts, even if they are not completely formed or “wrong.” In a zine, you can read a rant, or perhaps a point of view that is not “politically correct”. These words are presented unsanitized and unprofessionally. A greater truth, and a greater freedom come from publishing all voices, especially when including those who would not normally be given a chance to share their viewpoints in a public forum.
RJ : Your new Global Mail looks wonderful. GM is not commercial at all. How do you manage to keep the zine alive?
Reply on : 1-5-1995 (internet)
AP : Your question comes at a very interesting time. There are three aspects to how I keep it going:
1. Financial Up to this point in time, Global Mail has mostly been funded by my reliance on credit cards. I went bankrupt on Good Friday this year (95), so I’m not too sure how I am going to be able to continue with the same high ideals. I have recently allowed myself the possibility of running advertisements on the back page. The distinction is that the ads will be for projects only, not products. I don’t know if this is going to work because everyone has access to free project listings, and if you are not making money off of a product, it is hard to justify spending money on an ad. I also have the current rate prohibitively high because I do not want to take many advertisements. This may seem like discrimination of a sort not everyone has money to publicize their projects in this way.
2. Emotional Persistence and Drive I have highs and lows, just as you would expect. When I am close to a deadline, it is very stressful but I also feel very responsible about getting everything accomplished to the best of my ability and on schedule. I get really manic up to the point of dropping it at the printer. After that point, I start a slow sink into exhaustion that leads to depression. It takes a long time to get feedback on the issue and so for a while it seems as though nobody liked it when really they just have not seen it yet.
I really appreciate comments from individuals. I especially like it when I introduce people to the net through Global Mail and they feel like their life has been altered.
I have always loved the variety of listings. Each issue has at least 500 listings, but there are only 4 5 that I consider hum dingers. By this I mean that they are shocking, or very funny, or cross some kind of boundary for me. I realize everybody’s hum dingers are different, I’m just talking about the sensation of newness and what that feels like. Each issue of Global Mail has been different in some way. It is probably not apparent to the casual reader, but for me there has been the experience of certain patterns, growth, and trends. A couple I can think of is the big surge of dream listings around a year and a half ago, and the current interest in co op zine publishing and distro. As far as growth or success for Global Mail as a vision, I’ve noticed a steadily increasing interest from groups that are traditionally not included. Getting listings from Latino and African American networks, as well as political listings from obscure countries means that others are starting to see Global Mail as really open to everyone. That is my biggest accomplishment, and the little successes in these areas is what really keeps me going.
3. Technical Nuts and Bolts As I have continued with Global Mail, I have steadily acquired more computer savvy to help me process the information in a logical and efficient manner. It may seem counter network to be organized and geeky about the computer, but there is no way for me to process all the info without this high tech help.
RJ : Because of the huge address-list that Global Mail includes you must get a lot of mail. Any statistics you know about that? Are you able to answer all the snail-mail and E-mail you get, or do you have to select?
Reply on : 14-5-1995 (Internet)
AP : I get roughly 100 pieces of mail a week, give or take 30 either way. This includes email. I find the mail tends to drop off in the summer and picks up again in the fall.
I certainly do not answer all my mail. Most are simple requests for a sample copy of Global Mail. These are the easiest to process, and I do manage to answer with a copy within a week. I get a lot of zines in trade, and I only acknowledge them with the next copy of Global Mail, unless it is something out of the ordinary, or a big improvement or change from the last version I saw. The people who write for specific items, or have specific questions take the longest time to answer. I refer to this as a pile of “lingering mail,” and it may take up to three months to answer some of it. I only have maybe ten or twenty regular correspondents.
Occasionally I do a big mailing of printed matter, hand made postcards, tubes of art, or boxes. I used to enter almost all mail art shows, and this is something I would like to get back in the habit of doing.
I’ve been doing much better about answering mail in the last year. I actually have a system in place that keeps the pile low and keeps me from getting bewildered by it. Strangely, those who send snail mail probably will get their questions answered before those asking through email, just because my system for email is not very efficient. Email builds up in the computer until I combine all my logs, print them out (about once every 6 weeks), and then answer. Whew! What a lag time. I also lost about 3 weeks of email once when my motherboard crashed. Such is life in the electronic age.
RJ : Do you like this electronic age?
Reply on 28-7-1995 (diskette)
AP: Yes, I feel very fortunate and blessed to have grown up in this part of history. I find it ironic that the first little box, the TV (which appeared miraculously in my mothers generation, and is what I grew up with), would be replaced by another box, the personal computer. I feel saved by this transformation of the box I watch every day. Instead of being a passive observer in front of the TV, and feeling alienated from the existence I am programmed to lead, I have created a real world, real networks, and real friendships. I am enthralled by the possibilities for a real development of global community. It’s so different than the image presented on TV for our consumption. It actually is a free exchange of ideas.
Now that I have experienced this electrical connection, I feel I am electricity itself, hurling through the universe.
RJ : Because you are active with snail-mail as well as electronic mail, the archiving of all the information you get must be a problem too. How do you deal with that?
Reply on 19-9-1995
AP: I don’t, sorry to say. I know that is going to drive everyone berserk. I’ve received numerous lectures on the topic, and all I can say is that it is not an activity I’m willing to take on. The e-mail I receive gets processed and stored for approximately two months. I do save email numbers when I have the energy, which I compile into an email directory. I also record all project notices in Global Mail. Other than transferring and recording the useful info, I have no interest in electronic data.
Tangible mail (as opposed to electronic data), gets dumped as well. You have to remember that the bulk of my mail consists of requests for Global Mail, notices for mail art projects, zines, and some mail art. All addresses get recorded into my mailing list, and notices get put into the Global Mail database and then dumped. I love keeping electronic records, and do feel that this is an important information base. Zines get recycled to other people, with the overflow going to John Held Jr. , the Chicagoland Great Lakes Underground Archive at DePaul University Library. Mail art gets saved or recycled. I try to reuse all decorated envelopes, and also use any stickers or miscellaneous small artworks in the mail I send out.
There is a collection of mail art I am hoarding (not archiving). I honestly don’t know what to do with it. I am waiting for the right person to come and take it off of my hands. I recently gave away all my chain letters to one person, and also gave away a lot of my artistamp collection to a couple of interested individuals. I have a good collection of political mail art I would like to save for posterity, but I manage to fit it in a few small boxes. I am open to anyone going through and taking any of what I presently have. I don’t think it’s right to hang onto things. I believe everything should be passed on after use. “I RECYCLE MAIL ART.”
(Because Ashley is going to move to San Francisco, she asked me to postpone the sending of the next question and to wait till she will contact me in January next year. She writes that she will then publish a BIG notice in the new issue of GLOBAL MAIL. So I have waited for her next mail to come….)
RJ : After your move from Chicago to San Francisco, the first questions that come up in my mind are: “Is it a big difference to live in another city?” and “Do you plan to issue a new copy of Global Mail?”. But I also know that moving and starting with a new part of ones life takes a lot of energy. I will wait for the answer to these questions till you are ready to answer them.
(On November 10th I received from Ashley’s new address her booklet “A TRAVEL DIARY” with on the cover “clean restrooms this exit”. In this booklets she describes her journey from Chicago to San Francisco together with her brother and cats. The text is written very direct and tells a lot about herself. The booklet documents the period 2 to 6 October, and was published on her birthday, the 19th of October).
Reply on 11-1-1996
(Together with Ashley’s answer I also got 10 copies of her new edition of Global Mail. The magazine looks better every time, and contains lots of info’ too. I am just one of the distributors of this magazine called “The hole to the underground”).
AP: Will there be a new issue of Global Mail? Yes! I managed to move and put together a new Global Mail. It’s a wee bit late due to the fact that I ran out of funds to mail it, but given the circumstances, I’m really happy I managed to pull it off. There will continue to be new issues as long as I can afford to produce them. At the point I can no longer afford production, it will probably continue as a web page, which is very inexpensive to maintain.
Has moving to another city changed things? Yes! The most important change has been the weather. I have a nice place in the sunny mission district. It’s barely been cold here yet. At night it goes down to 48F and during the day it gets up to 65F. It’s quite a big difference from Chicago. I’m used to rushing about to get out of the severe weather. I no longer have to rush, and can stroll through life. Its very enjoyable and life is pleasant here. Anything I need is within walking distance, and there are about five open markets within a block of my home.
I’ve experienced an earthquake, lots of fog, been up and down the coast, across bridges, in between mountains, stood at the edge of a cliff, been to islands, and experienced walking up a big hill. In general, I’m trying to make each day an adventure as best I can. Oh, I also have a new job in Berkeley, at a computer software firm.
I’ve begun many new social relationships with long time correspondents, which has been a very fun process. I’ve been meeting correspondents at the rate of two a week. Obviously I can’t keep up that kind of pace (nor would I want to!), but it has been exhilarating.
It’s amazing what a new city can do for the soul.
RJ : Well, Ashley, its time to end this interview. I thank you for your time and the chance to interview you in this important period of your life.
Ashley Parker Owens,
E-Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org (old)
People who want to get the current issue of Global mail can get it by sending $ 3,00. For a sample back-issue send 2 IRC’s or (inside the USA) a $ .55 stamp.
If you have a WEB-access, look at Issue #13 at