THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JENNY DE GROOT

jenny_de_groot

Started on: 31-3-1995

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: 5-4-1995

JdG: The first time I came across mail art was in 1983, when I was
studying photography and design at AKI (Academy for Arts and
Industry). One of my teachers was Bart Boumans, who at the time was
very active in the mail art circuit. He gave me a list of addresses in
Japan: I was doing some ‘research’ on Japanese calligraphy, and I
needed the addresses for information. Among those who replied were
people like Shozo Shimamoto and Ryosuke Cohen and voila: there it all
began….

RJ : What do you remember about the first contacts with mail artists?

Reply on : 12-4-1995

JdG: Do you mean contacts through the mail or in person? Anyway, on
Bart Boumans’ address-list was also Byron Black, who was then living in
Bangkok, Thailand. He wrote to tell me he was not preoccupied with
calligraphy at all so he could not provide me with information on that
subject, but he would like to exchange mail just the same. The first
audio-cassette came from him, and in 1984 he sent me a video tape that
I still show anyone who wants to see it. Until today I never met him in
person, although I would love to.

The first mail artists I DID meet in person was Barry Edgar Pilcher….
who responded to my first-project-ever. In 1987 my daughter Esther and
I went to see him and his family in their beautiful green valley in Wales.
This meeting was an experience I will remember and cherish for the rest
of my life.

RJ : Well, I meant the contacts through mail, but it is interesting that
you start talking about meeting mail-artists in person. How important is
meeting compared to writing to a mail artist?

Reply on : 28-4-1995

JdG: I am not sure if it is really important, but I think it is at least very
exciting to meet a mail artist in person, it always turns out to be a quite
different event than you expected it to be. Before you meet someone in
person you have a certain idea of that man or woman: you only know
him or her through the mail: from letters, photographs, sometimes you
know a voice from audio tapes. After a ‘close encounter of the personal
kind’ you find the image you have of that person is totally different
from ‘the real thing’, and the mail you exchange with that person
usually changes: it might get more personal, or it might even stop (after
I met Pat Fish in april 1993 – or was it 1992 – I never heard from her
again….)

RJ : Again you mention the audio tape. Because we already exchanged
lots of audio-cassettes I know that you like this medium. What is so
special about the audio tape that makes you use it?

Reply on : 2-5-1995

JdG: Audio-tapes can bring an extra dimension into the act of
exchanging mail. To hear someone’s voice on tape is one thing, but it is
also very good to hear all the different sound collages that people
make, sounds from the place they live in, pieces of radio-programs,
poetry, music: Barry Pilcher is a musician, and since we first started to
exchange tapes he has sent me lots of exciting examples of his own work
and the work of musicians he admires.

During the performance I did with Jos‚ Vanden Broucke in 1989 (for
the mail art project ‘transport, transit, junctions’) we used a 30 minute
tape with a collage from our collection of mail artists’ audiotapes we
received over the years: it is still one of my favorites!

And furthermore I think there is a lot more information you can put on
an audiotape than in a written letter…..

RJ : The project ‘transport, transit, junctions’, what was it about?

Reply on : 13-5-1995

JdG: Transport/transit, junctions was a mail art project that I did for
the Palthehuis in Oldenzaal: the works I received (more than 300) were
shown there in december 1989/january 1990. The idea behind it was
that in/near Oldenzaal traffic junctions come together, and at the time
a large transport site was built in the industrial area (of course
everyone was free to make his or her own interpretation on the theme,
but there were still a lot of cars and trucks driving through my
letterbox).

A part of the show were contributions from children, which was
particularly fun: I introduced the project to them during a few lessons
where I (tried to) explain about mail art (showing work and letting them
write to mail-artists). Each one of the four classes (from four different
schools) made works for the show.

I would have loved to send everybody a detailed, full color catalogue,
but the money I got from the municipality of Oldenzaal was not half
enough to cover all the costs, so I had to keep it cheap…. only a xeroxed
booklet with colored cover. Expensive enough though…. But never
mind, you know very well what it’s like, there is never enough money
but you always manage, somehow….

RJ: You also did a mail art show in Hengelo connected to Containers
didn’t you? What was this all about?

Reply on : 19-5-1995

JdG: ‘Container Con Amor’ was an art manifestation that took place in
the summer of 1988 (seven years ago already! Time flies!). Large sea-
containers were placed on a square in the center of Hengelo, and in/on
and around them several artists showed their work. Some used the
container as exhibition space, others made an artwork of the container
itself. The mail art project I did for the show was also called ‘Container
Con Amore’, and everything I received was shown inside one of the
containers. Because of the unusual way of showing art the show was
VERY successful (many visitors, many articles in the press), and the
mail art-container was crowded with people during the ten days the
‘iron village’ stayed there.

RJ : Did you notice any changes in the mail art network in the last 10
years?

Reply on 10-6-1995

JdG: The past 10 years… I must admit that I have jumped in and out of
the m.a. circuit over the past five years… there were long periods of
time where I didn’t contribute to any project or whatever: from time to
time I even neglected the contacts with people who are especially dear
to me (all this due to various circumstances; job, money, moving (again)
and a hundred other things…. all bad excuses, I presume).

But the first thing that comes to my mind are political changes, which
led to more mail to and from eastern european countries (and sad
enough less or no mail at all from former Yugoslavia). Furthermore I
have noticed that there seems to be more ‘junk’ mail going around…. as
if more and more people take the easy way, send a quick xerox and
that’s it.

And then there are the new media, electronic- and fax mail: myself I
prefer the good old ‘snail mail’ (as you call it), but – as I have access to
a fax machine at the place where I work – I did contribute to a few fax
projects.

RJ : At the moment you are working on a new project. Can you tell a bit
more about the idea behind it.

Reply on 28-6-1995

JdG: The mail art project is part of a larger project called ‘Duivels
Prentenboek’ (Devil’s Picturebook), which was started on April 24th
1995 by four women: Anir Witt, Claudia Heinermann, Josje Eeftinck
Schattenkerk and myself. The central theme is the four women in
playing cards, and each one of us will take an aspect and work on it.

My part is a mail art project (my first since 1989…!): I invited 52 female
artists to portrait themselves as a playing card Queen…. and after a
while, when people – like yourself Ruud – started asking questions about
the what’s and why’s, I decided to invite 52 MALE artists as well….
might be interesting to see how they respond to this. At least they
respond instantaneously: the Male invitations were sent out several
weeks later than the Female invitations, and I already received more
male than female works. Maybe the reason for this is that women are
more careful in what they want to send and take more time to create
something special? I don’t know, really.

52 weeks after we started the cards project (in April 1996) this whole
thing will result in a mutual exhibition. In this stage we are still looking
for a suitable exhibition space: there are one or two places we have in
mind, and we are thinking of a church: might be an interesting place, as
opposed to a profane subject as this.

In September we have an appointment in Amsterdam with Arno
Sinselmeijer, who is a collector of playing cards, and who told us there
is at least one game that he knows of where the Queen has the highest
value: an American game from the 1960’s, called ‘The Queen is High’.
And so you learn every day……

RJ : Is there a difference in the male and female players in the mail-art
network?

Reply on 28-7-1995

JdG: Well, there is definitely a difference in the number of male and
female mailers. There are MUCH more men involved than there are
women. This is a fact, and I don’t really know why that is. It is obvious
that men are over-participated in all aspects of society, whether it is
arts, or politics, or business, or sports, or whatever. But are there any
essential differences? Do YOU think there are any?

One thing that I find rather annoying is the fact that the mail I receive
from male networkers (some, not all!) sometimes tends to be a bit
ambiguous. Like this guy I never heard of who wrote me to say he saw a
photo of my daughter Esther and thought she was very pretty. Yes, I
know she is, so what! These kind of things have nothing to do with why I
decided to be a part of the mail art circuit. This irritates me a lot.

It’s also a reason why I stopped sending out selfportraits that show
more than my hands or my feet…. or myself fully dressed. Somehow my
selfportraits get misunderstood and I receive all kinds of junk in return.
Not from those I made it for, but from people who saw a photo
somewhere in a catalogue or whatever, and thought they needed to
contact me. These things have made me very careful with what I send.

Is this an answer to your question???

RJ : Yes of course it is. After doing lots of years mail-art I think
everybody starts to get ‘junk-mail’ because there are always newcomers
who are reaching out for new contacts. Do you still answer all the mail
you get?

Reply on 9-9-1995

JdG: No, I don’t. I hardly answer any mail that is not personal: a xerox,
or a request (‘send your work!’) when there is no personal note
whatsoever, and I answer none of the junkmail I receive. I answer ALL
letters/cassettes/objects/collages I receive…… o.k. it might take some
time, but eventually I DO answer! Ofcourse, most of the mail I
exchange is with people I have been in touch with for a long time and
who have become good friends: we keep in touch, even when it is only
once or twice a year…. that happens, you know!

RJ : Do you still have time for photography?

Reply on 23-9-1995

JdG: I really wish I had more time to do whatever…!! I still have to put
up my darkroom again…. meanwhile I use a friend’s darkroom whenever
I have to print, but these days, with little Anne who needs all my
attention, it is hard to find a minute or two…. Don’t get me wrong,
being busy with this little lady is wonderful and very rewarding: I am
not complaining! But I always keep thinking that SOME day (when
Anne goes to school maybe?) I will have more time to go on with
photography.

Just yesterday I finished a work for a group-exhibition which starts next
October: it is a small installation called ‘personal history’ and it
consists of ten small bottles filled with pieces of the industrial
landscape photo’s I used to make. It looks quite good, and also a bit
sad, like ending another chapter….

It’s good to be part of the mail art networks: there is always time
between things to answer mail or make a collage or send a cassette
letter. Or answer your questions in this interview…

RJ : Yes, and I am glad you take the time to answer all those questions
I ask you. I remember that when I visited you, you had this organized
archive at the Boekeloseweg, with the boxes for the audio-cassettes, the
collections of individual exchanges with mail artists, etc. How does your
archive look nowadays?

Reply on 29-09-95

JdG: Well, I don’t have the place at Boekeloseweg anymore and I
moved everything to this place, and now the ‘archive’ is here and there
and everywhere, some of it stowed away in closets, some of it on
shelves, some of it in boxes.

After all the times I moved from one place to another it’s hard not to
loose track of all the mail art stuff: it is all there somewhere, but even
when I DO try to keep it all as clear as possible: when I am looking for
something specific it takes quite some time to find it…. but in the end I
find it!

The contributions from the projects I did have their own place, and so
do the audio and video cassettes, the publications about mail art as well
as the mail from the people I correspond with regularly.

I think, over all, my ‘archive’ is quite organized in it’s own way. I’d
rather use another word, ‘archive’ sounds a bit like century-old layers of
dust and colorless men in faded-brown-suits-with-elbows-shining-
through, It is more a collection of mail, of art, and everything between
it.

RJ : The newest thing in communication is the use of computers and the
internet. I myself am exploring in a critical way this “e-mail” (see also
the enclosed concept article I wrote). What are your views when it
comes to the use of computers?

Reply on 10-10-1995

(All the answers I got from Jenny de Groot so far were made on the
computer she uses at her workplace. Besides these answers she normally
also includes a small note for our personal correspondence).

JdG: First of all… speaking of computers…. this is the first answer I
write with a pen, because the place where I work moved to Almelo last
week, so I can’t use the printer right now……

Back to your question: When you mean using computers merely to
exchange images and/or texts with other computers I must say that it is
not the way I want to be working. I want to be able to open an envelope
to see what was sent to me, instead of starting up a computer. Also I
find it important to reach as many people as possible, including those
who do not have access to computers….

Using a computer to create a work of art is something else, it is another
way to express yourself, like you do when you make a painting or a
photograph, but it is still very new…. compare it with the early days of
photography: it is a new medium that will be more and more accepted as
a tool in a creative process. It is obvious that you can’t just ignore
computers and computer art anymore, and I think there are very
interesting developments going on that are very much worth our
attention.

RJ : Well, I must say I also still prefer the handwritten letters above the
computerized ones, but computers do have their advantages. I hope
your printer is back at your desk now…… Probably the people who work
there with you also see that you produce so many letters. Did you ever
try to explain to them what mail art is all about. And if so, did you
succeed?

Reply on 3-11-1995

JdG: Yes, I tried. No I didn’t. I think it is too divers: you can’t explain
the phenomenon of mail art in just a few sentences, unless people are
REALLY interested…. And even then the only way to understand is to
dive into the network and see for yourself.

Some of my colleagues think I collect stamps, others think I have a lot
of pen-pals. Let’s leave it at that.

RJ : Did you ever succeed in getting someone so far to “dive into the
network?” I remember you once actually did give some mail art lessons,
didn’t you?

Reply on 22-11-1995

JdG: Yes, I did: this was part of a project called “Art in the classroom”
for which I was invited, and I used the opportunity partly for the
preparations for the Transport/Transit/Junctions show. I did four
classes of mail art for children, at four different schools: they
participated in the Transport project, there was a mail art show inside
their school. I explained about mail art and ofcourse we sent a lot of
mail art as contributions to various projects around the world. It was
fun to do and the kids loved it!

Don’t ask me if any of them ever sent mail art afterwards, because I
wouldn’t know….

Before I forget, I would like to return to your question concerning the
use of computers: at the moment there is a VERY interesting exhibition
in Enschede on the theme “Obsessions – from Wunderkammer to
Cyberspace” : photographic installations, CD ROM’s, videoworks and
other multimedia projects. This really gives a good idea of how the new
media are accepted and used by artists of every background. Go and see
it! (till 26 November).

RJ : That sounds very interesting, but there are only three days left to
go….. And tomorrow I have to work in Breda, on Saturday I go to a
computerfair in Utrecht, and on Sunday there is my mothers birthday
and I would like to visit her then……. It seems you are quite up to date
when it comes to visiting exhibitions of the many different artforms.
Now I think back I remember you often have written me about those
visits. Are these visits important to you?

Reply on 29-11-1995

JdG: I am interested in almost every art form, and it’s always good to
keep up with developments, see what people are doing. Not that I see
everything – I must say I miss many shows, even when I am invited.
Shame on me!

However, the Enschede-based Photo Biennale is something that started
as an idea of one of my teachers at the art academy, in 1984, and since
that first show (with Dutch and American photographers) I never
missed an edition. The exhibition I mentioned is this year’s edition: the
concept has changed from strictly photography to a wider perspective:
(multimedia projects, etc.) I am curious where it will go from here!

One thing is certain: it will never be like “the old days”, when I used to
help with the organization: we spent days and days cleaning glass and
framing photographs….. Today’s complicated installations are built by
the artists themselves: they know how and where they want everything.

Anyway, you’ll have to wait another two years or so, because yesterday
was your last chance to see it…..!

RJ : Well, to give us both some more time to focus on art, maybe it is
time to end this interview….. Unless I have forgotten to ask you
something?

Reply on 4-12-1995

JdG: I don’t know. Have you? Forgotten anything? Let me just mention
the playing card project again: we found a great exhibition place in
Turnhout, Belgium: at the National Museum of the playingcard. I moved
the deadline to April 1996, so people have some more time to send me
something interesting! There will probably be money from here and
there, so we can make a nice looking catalogue (which will be ready
next half of 1996: the show itself will be at the beginning of 1997)

Finally I’d like to say I enjoyed being interviewed by mail, so I could
take my time and think about my answers: this interview took exactly 8
months!! Ok. Ruud, thanks, and see you in the mail!

RJ : Thanks for the interview Jenny!

Address mail-artist: Address interviewer:

Jenny de Groot,
Rudolfstraat 60
7553 WK Hengelo
Holland Holland