INTERVIEW WITH KEN FRIEDMAN
This interview was done complete with the use of internet in the period May till December 1995.The appendixes contain some texts connected to the interview.
© TAM-PUBLICATIONS 1996
INTERVIEW WITH KEN FRIEDMAN
RJ: When did you get involved in the mail art network.
KF: In 1966, when I came into contact with Fluxus and with Ray Johnson.
RJ: How did you get in contact with Ray Johnson?
KF: Dick Higgins introduced me to Ray. In 1964 or 1965, Dick published Ray’s book, The Paper Snake. I already knew the book. In August of 1966, I was visiting Dick in New York. Dick had a huge production camera in his basement where he worked every night, listening to Beach Boys records and shooting plates for Something Else Press books. One night, he used the big camera to shoot a portrait of me, the portrait that was published in Jon Hendricks’s Fluxus Codex. Dick suggested I ought to send something to Ray. I chopped a negative of the photo into a jig saw puzzle and mailed it. That was our first contact.
In those days, corresponding with Ray was more personal than after he got his Xerox machine. We exchanged a lot of work over the years. Everything was one to one with Ray in those days. Even after he got the Xerox machine, Ray remained a spider at the center of his web and tried to mediate as many of the interactions between his contacts as possible. Ray had no philosophical relationship to the Eternal Network. He wasn’t interested in social issues or public space. He was interest in a forum for his poetic activity.
Ray’s approach was private, personal, poetic and it was different from those of the Fluxus artists who aspired to broad social discourse. That discourse was a key aspect of the Fluxus approach. It was an implicit network approach, a public and social way of working with art and communication. That was one reason I became active in Fluxus. I got involved in the mail art network through Fluxus and Dick Higgins. Dick introduced me to Ray Johnson and the New York Correspondence School. There was a lot of overlap between the groups but different kinds of activity took place in each.
RJ: Fluxus seems to have earned a place in history. Lots of books have been published, most of them by people who aren’t Fluxus artists. With mail art, it seems to be different. Almost all books, magazines, articles are written by mail artists. Whenever someone who is not a mail artist tries to write about mail art, it comes out as a strange story. On the other hand, what mail artists write is often misunderstood by outsiders. Will it stay like this? If so, why?
KF: The first people to write about Fluxus were the Fluxus artists ourselves, describing our ideas, our work. Several Fluxus people are skilled writers. Some have worked as editors and publis¬hers. Over the years, we defined Fluxus, writing our ideas and our history in our own words. These writings shaped the first wave of Fluxus literature. Intellectual focus and literary skill were two reasons. The third reason was that we felt we had to do it. Thirty years ago, people didn’t know how to respond to the work and it was easiest for critics and historians not to respond at all. If we wanted to put our ideas into play, we had to do it ourselves. We organized our own exhibitions and performances, published our own art and music in scores and multiples, wrote published our theories of art, music, literature and design in essays and books.
We published through several presses, but there were two central Fluxus publishers. One was Fluxus, the publications and multiples organized by editor chairman George Maciunas in New York, producing mostly multiples. Something Else Press was the other, producing books. Fluxus objects ran in editions of a few dozen and Something Else Press books ran in editions ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 copies. These circulated widely enough to affect the cultural life of the United States and Europe. Along with our own presses, we were occasionally given special magazine issues.
The second wave of writers on Fluxus was typified by Fluxus friends and enthusiasts. This included critics such as Thomas Albright or Henry Martin, curators and gallerists such as René Block, Jon Hendricks and Harry Ruhé, archivists like Jean Sellem and Hanns Sohm. Fluxus artists continued to write in an environment where there were more artists in Fluxus than critics or scholars who wanted to write about us. The third wave of writing on Fluxus began in the 1970s when trained scholars began to examine Fluxus in papers and articles. The first doctoral dissertation on Fluxus was in anthropology, written by Marilyn Ekdahl Ravicz at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1974. Art historians first became interested in Fluxus in the 1970s. The first was Peter Frank. By the late 1970s they included Stephen C. Foster, Estera Milman and Jan van der Marck along with scholars in comparative literature such as Georg M Gugelberger Philip Auslander in theater.
In the 1980s and 1990s, available literature on Fluxus began to expand. Growing interest across several disciplines was one reason. Another was the wide availability of publications by Jon Hendricks. The availability source material made an important difference as scholars and writers who became interested in Fluxus had the chance to examine images of work that had often been a rumor more than a fact.
By the 1990s, art historians and critics began to discover Fluxus and intermedia and make the major focus of their work. These included Europeans such as Marianne Bech and Ina Conzen Me¬airs, Americans such as Kathy O’Dell and Kristine Stiles, Asians such as Hong Hee Kim Cheon, and Keiko Ashino. These were the years of the first significant body of writing by trained scholars specializing in Fluxus: Simon Anderson at the Royal College of Art in London, Owen Smith at the University of Washington, Ina Blom at the University of Oslo, David Doris at Hunter College, Hannah Higgins at the University of Chicago and Karen Moss at the University of Southern California.
The growth of Fluxus writing from the artists to independent scholars was characterized by overlaps between Fluxus artists and their friends; between artists and scholars; between artist scholars and scholars who began to make art. That era has come to close. Scholars and critics now come to Fluxus as outsiders. Curators and editors now work on the basis of seconda¬ry material and they can’t always discuss issues and ideas with the artists, composers, designers and architects whose work they present. Even so, there is much source material available. Higgins, Filliou, Williams, Knizak, Flynt, Vautier, Paik and I have all written extensively. Brecht, Beuys, Christiansen, Klintberg and others have written from time to time.
Most important, the Fluxus writers knew their own history and many have been broadly conversant in general culture, culture theory and art history. This makes a qualitative difference between Fluxus and mail art. Few mail artists know their own history well. They tend to oppose histori¬cal writing and thinking. They are often anti experimental and judgmental about intellectual issues, believing that scholarship, theory and intellectual process are the antithesis of the network spirit. As a result, they don’t know that many of the authors writing on Fluxus have also written on mail art.
Mail art seems to be different for several reasons. Most of the books, magazines and articles these days are written by mail artists. Only a few have a scholarly tone or even a public tone. That tone and a way of communicating so that others can understand gives the basis for others to write on a subject. Only a handful of mail art writers make sense to outside scholars. You can count them on your fingers Chuck Welch, Mike Crane, Judy Hoffberg, Anna Banana, Jon Held, John Jacob.
Even so, it’s a bit of a myth to suggest that there are always mistakes whenever non mail artists write about mail art as compared to writing on art in general. Mail artists do as well as any group of artists. There are a dozen excellent writers whose articles were central to developing the network. Those articles often introduced the idea of mail art to new mail artists.
Mail art people have their own, strongly held opinions. When you combine strong opinions with a lack of historical knowledge, what outsiders write on mail art can seem strange. There’s another reason people don’t write about mail art. It’s easy to be attacked. From time to time, a writer or curator who generally does an excellent job offends part of the network. When the offended parties involve their friends in harsh response, the noise grows to deafening propor¬tions. I recall several highly visible examples and they’ve been a reason for some excellent writers and historians to stop writing on mail art. Mail art is a minor field for art histori¬ans and art journals. You don’t get much credit for working on mail art but you can get a lot of anger. In a situation with few rewards and plenty of ways to find trouble, there’s little reason to write.
Will this stay like this? It will until mail art people learn broad, public language. Mail artists often claim to seek broad public discourse. They claim to be open to issues and ideas. But many behave like small town gossips complaining over the strange doings in the next town. There’s little tolerance for differences of opinion, style or culture. The reasons for that kind of culture aren’t clear. I have some suspicions but no answers. You’d expect a different sensibility on the network, broader, more international, more intercultural. Every times I imagine that things are improving, an unpleasant encounter suggests that the mail art network is what it’s been for two decades now. The mail art network has developed a stable culture with a fairly stable population at any given moment and a certain number of relatively stable ways of interacting. It leads me to wonder about the degree to which the mail art network and the Eternal Network coincide. I can’t see the Eternal Network in the village morals and parochial behavior patterns of the mail art network.
RJ: You say that the mail art network has somehow developed a fairly stable structure. The last years there have been some new aspects to the network. The use of the FAX machines, and the introduction of the Internet for some of the networkers. I remember your reply to Guy Bleus’s FAX project in which you explained why you don’t take part in network Telefax Art Projects. Do you take part in Internet Art projects?
KF: No, I don’t, but not for any particular reason. There haven’t been many well thought out art projects on Internet. Most art mediated by Internet or e mail aren’t exciting. E mail works well for correspondence and literature. Web sites make visual art possible. But most artists using the medium aren’t doing work that interests me. If the work isn’t interesting, I won’t take part just because it’s presented in cyberspace.
RJ: Since the beginning, the term “mail artist” has been used in relation to correspondence. Now everybody is talking about “networkers” and “networking.” Somehow I see that the focus isn’t as much on art as it is on communication. What do you think about this?
KF: My use of terms “mail art” and “correspondence art” is flexible. I don’t use the term “networking” to describe art. The term I use depends on the aspect of the work to be emphasized. I also use the term communications art. My work with mail or correspondence isn’t my main interest. It’s part of a larger inquiry. The idea of a network of people doing mail art, correspondence art or E mail art as “networkers” or “tourists” bothers me. Any group of people communicating with each other constitutes a network. What makes one network different than another? The focus and content of their communication. When a network begins to focus primarily on the fact that it is communicating, it becomes a group of pen pals, a small town social club. The larger networks we can form allow us to step outside the boundaries that were once imposed by time and space. Even though we can transcend the restrictions of local culture, the mail art network has built its own small town culture. This culture is enacted in a fragmented but linked environment. It’s described as the mail art network because it grew up around the mail art scene. The culture celebrates its local heroes. Its members set up their own rules and interact in a restrictive and problematic way. The “networkers network” and the “tourist network” are contrary to what interested me in the broad, open ended phenomenon cultural, intellectual, spiritual that Filliou termed “the Eternal Network.”
I don’t talk about networkers or networking. The network doesn’t interest me as a network. It’s no better and no worse than most social clubs. Networks are interesting for what they can do, what they transmit, what they can achieve.
RJ: What IS the primary focus of your work ? What is the larger inquiry you mention ?
KF: The broad focus of my work is art as a tool for research, creative and rigorous experiments in different domains of culture, meaning and consciousness. Every search has many levels. Some levels are abstract. Some are concrete. I stake out problems that interest me and work them through in different ways. That sounds abstract but the work is quite concrete, a response to specific ideas and situations. The situations and ideas change like conversations or food. There are issues that interest you or foods you like but you don’t want the same conversation or the same meal all the time. That’s what makes what I do quite different from what many artists do. Most art is based on a style or format. People play with the style format. It defines their work as artists and enables their public to recognize them. That way of working is characteristic of artists in most media, including mail art.
The whole point of research and experimentation is developing useful tools and interesting ways of approaching problems. The issues that interest me change. The question of tools and problem solving has been constant. Some of my experiments shaped tools or approaches to art that others can use. At one point in the 1960s, I was interested in how experimental artists were communi-cating, how they worked with one another, how they interacted. That interest led to a series of projects involving mailing lists and ‘zines. The lists gave birth to projects such as the File magazine lists and to directories such as Art Diary. ‘Zines such as Amazing Facts or the New York Correspondence School Weekly Breeder helped to define a way of publishing mail art that has widely used since then. Next, I began to wonder how to open mail art network to a broad public. That gave rise to three mail art exhibitions at The Oakland Museum, Henry Art Galley in Seattle and the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. Those experiments gave rise to useful paradigms that others were able to adapt and use.
According to Chuck Welch, these three shows became the model for most the mail art exhibitions and projects since the early 1970s. My purpose with mail art wasn’t to do mail art but to engage larger issues. Intermedia and Fluxus projects predominate in the total range of my work. Like everyone, I take part in projects I like. Every situation sparks ideas. I often work in response to an idea from another artist. Sometimes an idea just pops into mind. Every artist has both experiences. The scope of my interests has been evolving for over thirty years. I did many of these things as a child. George Maciunas saw some of those things when I was sixteen and invited me into Fluxus. Thirty years is a long time. That’s 360 months, 1,560 weeks or 10,950 days. You can get a lot done in thirty years if you keep busy. The specifics change. The overall approach and philosophy has been the same.
My philosophy and activities are described in a number of articles and serious interviews. They’ll answer the question better than a quick reply.
RJ: When I sent the first question for this interview, you sent me a bibliography of books and articles where I could find your thoughts on paper. Here, again, you mention your attempt to describe your philosophy and activities at any time. Why is documenting your activities important for you?
KF: Documentation is the place to look for ideas, art works or events from the past. We continually construct and reconstruct our reality through thought and memory. Documents are a tool. This is natural for artists who work with intermedia and or concept art, including mail art, ‘zines, lists, tapes, letters, even interviews. Art media that function at a distance or over time require documents. Even so, while the document offers an entry into dialogue with the work, it’s not the same as the work. The score to an event is the score. It has a valid function as a document and in some cases, it is also a work in its own right. There is also the realized event, and the realization exists in another way. Documents were aspects of art long before the era of concept art and intermedia. Earlier documents include the musical score and libretto for an opera, the text of a play, the blueprint of a building. They’re all documents and they’re all works in their own right for people who can read them and comprehend them through the act of reading. It is nevertheless true that few people can successfully read and comprehend a musical score or the blueprint of a building. For most people, these documents are more important as keys to a realization.
You can say that I began working with documents of art when I saw the books Dick Higgins was publishing, Ray Johnson’s Paper Snake, Dick’s own Postface/Jefferson’s Birthday, the Great Bear Pamphlets, Daniel Spoerri’s Anecdoted Topography of Chance, Robert Filliou’s Ample Food for Stupid Thought. These books were documents and through them, a body of work and a way of thinking came to life for me. The Fluxus multiples and publications worked in much the same way.
I’d ask your question another way. We live in the age of information and intermedia. Can any serious artist work without documentation? Don’t most contemporary artists cross back and forth between ideas, the representation of ideas and the realization of ideas?
RJ: I couldn’t work without documentation. But there may be a danger in documentation if it forms its own truth. Reality things that happen in a specific moment can never be captured by objective documentation because reality is different for everybody who observes it. Everyone recognizes his own truth through the act of observation. Isn’t there a danger in the possibili¬ty that those who create the documents dictate the shape of history? Is documentation that powerful?
KF: This is a danger. It’s a basic problem that we face in all forms of documentation, no matter who makes them and no matter the purpose for which they’re made. It seems to me that there is a strong argument to be made for a variety of clear, understandable sources of document from several views. In the recent past, most documentation on art has been compiled or presented by a handful of journalists, critics and finally by art historians. I suggest that there can be valid approaches to art documentation by scholars from several fields and by artists themsel¬ves.
The better, the broader, the more clear and conscious a body or documents is, the better we can understand what’s happened. I believe that documentation has valid goals and purposes. These purposes can be realized or abused. How we handle documentation, how much and how well, makes the difference.
RJ: How active are you in mail art at this moment. Do you still send “snail mail,” or has the Internet taken over? This question comes out of my personal curiosity. I haven’t had any exchange of mail art with you and I’m not sure if you are still active. I guess that future readers of this interview will be interested, too. I see your name in lots of Internet related materials and I have only received e mail from you, so that’s the reason for my question.
KF: These days, other projects take most of my time. I’m not active in mail art. I exchange with friends like Dick Higgins or Jean Noel Laszlo and I follow the work of important figures like Chuck Welch or Dobrica Kamperelic. Even so, I haven’t been directly active in mail art for a long time. I do something when I’m inspired by an idea or a message. Mail art always took two forms for me. One was exchange when someone sent me an idea or a work. The other was when I had an experiment I wanted to attempt. Not many people send me mail these days, individual pieces meant specifically for me. I don’t respond to printed things or mass produced objects meant for thousands of people. Once in a while, someone does develop an amazing mass produced piece, but the normal mail art going about these days consists of photocopy collages that don’t interest me.
There are no experiments I want to try using the mail these days, either. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I set out a program of projects and experiments using the mails. I look on much of what I do in art as a form of research. You can consider my mail art experiments as a research program. I completed the research a long time ago. Part of what I set out to do was to test the limits, possibilities and paradigms of the post office with projects like the pieces of furniture that I mailed or finding different ways to send objects that stretched the limits of postal regulations.
The other series of experiments was an attempt to find ways to define mail art as a system, an opportu¬nity, a network. I described some of these experiments and projects earlier in our interview. Internet is a terrific communications tool, not an interesting artistic tool. The technology is still too crude to make good use of Internet for art. Or, to put it another way, the technology that is sophisticated enough to use for art is time consuming and expensive. I’ve like simple, inexpen¬sive tools. That’s one of the things I loved about mail art. With Netscape and Eudora, Internet is a simple, inexpensive communication tool. That’s what I use it for. Pioneers like Joe De Marco see Internet and the World Wide Web as good art tool, but even the best projects to date have actually been communication projects, communicating art. I don’t know what’s next.
If you see my name in connection with Internet, it’s because I give wide permission to circula¬te my work. It’s likely to be related to my work on the faculty of the Norwegian School of Management. Internet has become an important tool for my work as a scholar and as director of the Nordic Center for Innovation. The reason you and i communicate by e mail is that we both have it. For those of us lucky enough to have e mail, there’s no better or faster way to send words back and forth.
RJ: I have noticed that most people don’t archive their e mail as properly as they do with the printed matters they receive. I myself save all e mail on diskette, and I even print out the important parts on paper because I like to re read things on paper rather then on the monitor of my computer. How do you deal with the e mail you get and send?
KF: E mail is easier to archive than snail mail. Paper builds up … books, letters, files. There’s never enough time to file and organize. E mail is easy. It shows up on my screen. My computer is well organi¬zed and filed because it’s easy to handle everything sitting at the keyboard. There’s no need to find a file or shelf space or to move around the room sorting and seeking. If I want to save e mail, which I often do, I copy and paste it into a word processor file. Sometimes there’s a reason to make a paper copy. When I do, it gets lost with all the other paper. The electronic copy is easy to find. It’s right on the computer where I left it.
RJ: How much do you know about computers?
KF: Very little, really. I use a Macintosh because it works the way I do. Computers are a power¬ful, sophisticated tool. Now are they becoming smart enough to be useful to most people for most jobs. The breakthrough came with the Mac.
I started using Mac in 1988 when the Mac got smart enough to handle big jobs, including serious design work. A client wanted me to create a design program his staff could use for internal¬ly gene¬rated publications. I went to his office to help him draw up the design. He showed me how easy it was to use Aldus PageMaker and Microsoft Word to do it myself. It took about two or three hours of coaching and then I was working productively. There are people who are excited about what they call computer literacy. Not me. I want the tool to be smart enough to do what I need it to do with minimum special skills on my part. I’ve done some research and publishing on the ways that the new information will affect society and culture, but I’ve focused specifi¬cally on the human and behavioral effects of information, not on information technology or information proces¬sing. Would you like to read the chapter that I’ve written for a new book on the subject just published by Scandinavian University Press? The title is: Information Science: From the Development of the Discipline to Social Interaction. My chapter focused on social interaction. It won’t tell you too much about my ideas about computers. I don’t have that many ideas about computers. It will tell you what I think about what computers mean for the rest of us.
RJ: Since I work with computers it would be interesting for me to read, but probably not for all readers of this interview. At the moment, with Internet, it is also possible to publish your texts in a digital form. Is this something you would like to do?
KF: Absolutely. Internet and computers make it possible to transact enormous amounts of valuable informati¬on on a useful and selective basis without paying to overproduce. Unlike books, you don’t need a minimum number of orders to break even. That means individual thinkers with proper technical support can publish as easily as best selling authors. Nam June Paik predicted the information superhighway years ago. He even created the name! Fluxus, mail art and Internet go back to the beginning, before the beginning. Narrowcasting and narrowcast publishing on the net are new version of Nam June’s Utopian Laser Television. Before long, computers with small cameras and optical fiber cable will be so common that we’ll be able to set up our own televi¬sion cable broadcasts, the true realization Utopian Laser Television.
Thanks to Nam June, I’ve been publishing on line for since last year. When Nam June organized the New York Seoul Fluxus Festival, he arranged a web site where our work was available on line. In typical mail art fashion, I’ll brag about being first to say that Nam June’s show was the first on line art exhibition. I presented some scores. Now, Joe De Marco is develo¬ping a major on line web site for Fluxus. There are scores, art works, and there will later be documents, texts, historical material. Joe has been in touch with historians like Owen Smith and he’s getting in touch with major collections and archives. He hopes to put up a Fluxus archive and museum on the site. There will also be pages for work by individual artists. The Fluxus Home page is < http://www.cinenet.net:80/~marco/fluxus/ > We already have The Fluxus Performance Workbook on line. Interested people can visit the site to browse, copy and download scores by Ay O, Genpei Akasegawa, Eric Andersen, Robert Bozzi, George Brecht, Albert M Fine, Ken Friedman, Lee Heflin, Hi Red Center, Dick Higgins, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Joe Jones, Bengtaf Klintberg, Milan Knizak, Alison Knowles, Takehisa Kosugi, George Maciunas, Richard Maxfield, Larry Miller, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Tomas Schmit, Mieko Shiomi, Ben Vautier, Robert Watts and Emmett Williams. The workbook was planned in 1987 or so. I edited it. It was published by Guttorm Nord, a Norwegian artist who has been active in mail art. It took almost four years to raise the money and publish the workbook. It took about four days between the time Joe De Marco contacted me and the time it was ready to use on the net. You can also find Dick Higgins’s Cowboy Plays on the Fluxus Home Page and there’s lots more to come.
The most use I make of Internet involves scholarly research and communication. I recently completed a survey using Internet. It took me a few weeks to compile the empirical data at a cost of a few hundred kroner. Before Internet, the same survey would have taken months of work and cost at least twenty times as much. Getting decent results, stimulating people to answer the questions and engaging their interest still requires training and skill. Writing is still writing. But the Internet is a great tool. If you have organization, research and writing skills, every step of the physical process is more simple and the costs go down. Just a few minutes before you sent me the last question, I released the on line pre print of a study titled Books in the Age of On Line Information: Will We Read Fewer or More Books? Statistical Summary and Prelimina¬ry Conclusions. The Norwegian School of Management will publish the working paper next month. People can get it on e mail request and decide if they want the working paper by snail mail. Everything just moves faster and more effectively. (A few weeks after this questions and answer took place, the study was published as a special report by the American Association of Higher Education. The study was also discussed in the “Cyberscape” column of the International Herald Tribune on Monday, December 4, 1995.)
RJ: Speed is a relative thing. I’m not referring to Einstein’s theory. I’ve noticed that if one can do things more quickly with computers, one starts to do more work in the same time, makes new tasks for oneself in the free time that is given through the use of the computer. Communi¬cation used to be a slow process. All technological advances speed up the communication process. This results in more communica¬tion, but only for those who have access to the techno¬logy. Isn’t this scary?
KF: There are two issues embedded in your question. The first issue is that we do more work in the same time. That’s not scary to me. The second is that we face the challenge of a world of unequal access to information. That frightens me for many reasons. If you want me to go into it, I will, but to do so, I’ve got to consider political economics and closely reasoned argument. It’s up to you if you think the readers of a mail art dialogue will find that interesting. Let’s consider the first issue, the speed of work. I’m happy for the gains in speed. I love to work. The computer enables me to be more productive as a researcher and writer. The information superhighway enables me to travel farther, to gather information faster and more effectively. My one problem with the infobahn is that it’s poorly organized. The structure is frequently confusing and uninformative. We’ll see things improve vastly in the next three or four years.
Poor structure is annoying to me. New ways of solving problems, new ways of accessing and organizing information, new structures that emerge from the flow of information should, in theory, permit us to address and use the power of questions more effectively. The ability to work with more kinds of information across broad ranges of time and space and the opportunity to seek information from more sources make it possible for users to work in different ways than were previously possible. Some of these ways are more effective, some are less. Those who have had to work with remote libraries and closed stack systems find the new information technology a tremendous opportunity. In some ways, it is not much different than the libraries they have been using except that it places access control in their hands. In some ways, it is superior: it puts a vast amount of information and the contents of many documents directly on their desk with far less waiting time than was required when ordering through a library.
Those who have had the opportunity to work in major, open stack libraries may find the new informa¬tion technology something of a lateral move. An effective information user with field¬ specific expertise and solid general reference skills can navigate a multi million volume library and make use of the materials far more effectively than is yet possible through the new technology. The difference is simple. A good, large scale library permits effective browsing and grazing as well as hunting. The physical medium of the book and the way libraries organize books near one another allows rapid access to the domain of what one does not know that one does not know. This allows one to ask general, open ended questions in a wide variety of ways. While the information superhighway is loaded with documents and ways of finding material that can be surprising and serendipitous, finding useful connections to expert sources can also be surprisingly hard. The infobahn isn’t indexed very well. Developing effective indexing and abstracting systems has always been a key problem for information. This is also true for the medium of physical books and documents in paper technology libraries. The difference is that physical artifacts present themselves organized in some way that rapidly begins to make sense to the user. As a result, the intelligent information user soon structures a conceptual library access pattern. This pattern is an information overlay and navigation chart that becomes an operating system for a multi million volume paper analog information network. Few information users can master the conceptual content of the Internet. It is possible to master the structure and understand the basic content of a physical library. It simply takes examination, practice and footwork. The Internet is too big, and undergoes too much rapid change to make that kind of mastery possible. Good indexes and abstracts together with good links and pointers will be the only way most people can master the concep¬tual content of the Internet. There’s a big diffe¬rence between being afraid and being annoyed. As these problems are solved, I will welcome the improvements. If I want to work more, it’s fine. If I just want to do more in the same time, it’s fine. I may want to do less and use the time in other ways. We have choices. I’ve been thinking about these questions for a week now, the week since I released my preprint report. It’s been an exciting, productive week. I was able to do more work and better work in less time at lower cost. Within three or four days of my preprint getting out, I’ve had requests for copies from nearly two hundred scholars and researchers in over twenty nations around the world, including people I didn’t meet or contact through the original study. Major internatio¬nal magazines and newspapers have contacted me asking for copies. The American Association for Higher Education asked to publish the preprint on their Web Site. I’m finally beginning to understand why the physical scientists who have used Internet have been so much more producti¬ve and resourceful than social scientists or humanists. It’s impossible to describe the profound difference in productivity this technolo¬gy permits. It allows teams, it allows for sharing, it allows people who ought to be thinking and working together despite great distances to do so. It’s one thing to read about something in a magazine and think, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” It’s a another to do it. When you work this way, you understand why this technology is a major development in our ability to serve each other. Information technology is the first signifi¬cant technology that enables us to increase our standard of living while reducing our material resources consumption. That, for better or worse, brings us to your second question. Do you really want my thoughts?
RJ: The problem of access to this digital superhighway is obvious. You have to live in a country with the infrastructure for Internet, you need to have access to a computer, you need to have the money for an account subscription and the phone. I enjoy the possibilities of this new tool because I live in a rich country with the infrastructure and economy to make this possible. The government in Holland also sponsors servers that make Internet access and e mail cheap, too. I am interested in your thoughts about unequal access to information. Many mail artists see Internet as a next step for mail artists, the newest way to communicate.
KF: There are two issues to consider. I’ll take the simple one first. Most mail artists don’t understand what Internet is good for. I’m not speaking in a technological sense. I’m speaking in terms of culture and communication. Mail art has hardly ever been about broad communication. It’s based on small town culture writ large. The mail art network is insular, internalized, self centered. There’s little understanding of history and culture, even little knowledge about the history of mail art. The idea of artists who think this way using Internet as a new way to communicate is a joke. The results aren’t interesting.
Mail art has become boring. Mail art mottoes don’t disguise the fact that mail artists are in many ways a social club. They’re like any other club. We don’t ascribe any kind of great value to groups of pen pals or people who visit each other across borders. What would we think if a group of pen pals claimed to be changing history, revolutionizing art and advancing human progress? Tourism? Networker conferences? The Scouts have been doing it for a century.
Mail art will remain a disappointment without a richer foundation in knowledge, culture and communication theory. The effects of the information society and the knowledge economy are revolutionizing the world. Mail artists haven’t recognized the nature of those changes. They’re working out of old paradigms that don’t make sense today. Perhaps mail art and correspondence art were revolutionary in the 1960s. The world was different. In that distant and more primiti¬ve world, mail art was startling and innovative. Mail art had already become self centered and internalized by the 1970s. The world was shaking. The Cold War was still on but change was in the air. Mail artists were still doing the same old thing, sending the same old messages back and forth to each other. I got into big trouble with a series of essays and pamphlets titled Freedom, Excellence and Choice. I became an outcast in the mail art community. I was startled by the nasty letters and hate cards that I got. I had pursued the same agenda from the start. The network was irritated over the same philosophy and ideas that put me at odds with the art world and gave birth to many of the mail art media now in use. By the 1970s, pursuing those ideas in a thoughtful and critical way put me at odds with the mail art network.
Mail art has no major role to play in the world today. There’s no need for mail art on the Internet. The net’s a different kind of medium. It needs play, ideas and exchange. It doesn’t need mail art. People who see the Internet as an arena for mail art are missing the point. Information technology has opened old fields to entirely new approaches. The technology is helping us to transform information into knowledge by making it possible to work and play in new ways. The information society is shifting the boundaries of most professions, transforming job descriptions and reconstructing businesses. It would be amazing art were to be left untouched.
The world has moved farther than mail art has. The old paradigms don’t hold. Mail artists make too much of their supposedly radical nature without a solid grounding in common human issues. Radical artistic efforts that react against vanished paradigms seem quaint, irrelevant.
RJ: And the second answer, the difficult one?
KF: The second question is extraordinarily difficult. The idea that part of the world will have access to information technology while much of it won’t is profoundly disturbing. If the developed world leaves the rest of the world behind, we’ll have to build a huge wall to keep out the billions of people who want what we have. That won’t work. On the other hand, shaping sustainable development for everyone is a huge problem, just huge.
The flow of information through societies, through organizations, through companies can make a profound difference. But things are difficult. We must make things work in an interlocked system of public policies, business policies and private desires that are headed in directions that don’t lead toward the world we need to shape. I am convinced of the importance of these issues and aware of the extraordinary challenges that face us if we are to achieve enough in the next half century for the human race to survive on this planet.
The flow of information and the development of a good life for all are linked. The development of a good life for all with sustainable development is not the altruism of the rich for the poor, but a key to a good future for everyone. This excites me more than mail art. Back in the 1960s, it was possible to believe that art and the postal system could reshape the world.
To some degree, it was possible then. Those challenges excited me when they seemed possible. It was always kind of a dream, but it was a useful dream. Today, other dreams are more productive.
RJ: I think this is a good place to end the interview. Thank you for your time and energy !
Ken Friedman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Leadership and Strategic Design
Norwegian School of Management
Box 4676 Sofienberg
N 0506 Oslo, Norway
Ruud Janssen – TAM
4801 BB Breda
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
(Sent in by Ken Friedman together with his first answer)
There are a number of texts and documents you may wish to read:
Friedman, Ken, ed. Art Folio. Boston: Religious Arts Guild, 1971. [Religious Arts Guild “Circular/Packet: 2.”]
Friedman, Ken. The Aesthetics. Devon, England: Beau Geste Press, 1972.
Friedman, Ken, ed. An International Contact List of the Arts. Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada: Fluxus West and Image Bank, 1972.
Friedman, Ken and Stanley Lunetta, eds. International Sources (Source Magazine, vol. 6, no. 1, issue 11) Sacramento, California: Composer/Performer Editions, 1972. [special issue devoted to Fluxus and intermedia, also the catalogue of the exhibition International Sources]
Friedman, Ken. “Flowing in Omaha.” Art and Artists (London), vol. 8, no. 9 (Issue no 89, Aug 1973): 6 9.
Friedman, Ken. “Where is the Art Going Today?” The San Diego (California) Union, November 11, 1973: E 7.
Friedman, Ken. “On Artists’ Stamps.” Art et Communication Marginale. Herve Fischer, ed. Paris: Editions Balland, 1974.
Friedman, Ken and Georg M. Gugelberger. “The Stamp and Stamp Art.” International Rubber Stamp Exhibition. Carl Loeffler, ed. San Francisco: La Mamelle Arts Center, May 1976. [exhibition catalog]
Friedman, Ken. “A Discourse on Community.” Art Contemporary (La Mamelle), vol. 3, no. 1 (Issue no 9, 1977): 12 14, 73.
Friedman, Ken. “Notes on the History of the Alternative Press.” Lightworks, no. 8 9 (Winter 1977): 41 47.
Friedman, Ken. “Correspondence Art in Perspective.” Gray Matter. Eve Laramee, ed. San Diego: San Diego State University Art Gallery (1978): 3 6. [exhibition catalogue]
Friedman, Ken. “Storia dell’Arte Postale.” Mantua Mail 78. Romano Peli and Michaela Versari, eds. Mantova, Italy: Assesorato Cultura Comune di Mantova, 1978. [exhibition catalogue]
Friedman, Ken. “Post Haste: Reflections on Mail Art.” Umbrella, vol. 3, no. 3 (May 1980): 56 58.
Friedman, Ken. “The Retrospective was Cancelled.” Fuse, vol. 4, no. 5 (Jul Aug 1980): 304 306.
Friedman, Ken with Peter Frank. “Fluxus: A Post Definitive History: Art Where Response Is the Heart of the Matter.” High Performance, #27 (1984): 56 61, 83.
Friedman, Ken. “Fluxus and Company.” In Ubi Fluxus, ibi motus. Achille Bonita Oliva, Gino Di Maggio and Gianni Sassi, eds. Venice and Milan: La Biennnale di Venezia and Mazzotta Editore, 1990, 328 332. [book published in conjunction with exhibition]
Friedman, Ken. “Fluxus and Company.” Lund Art Press, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1990: School of Architecture, University of Lund, 289 299.
Friedman, Ken. “Rethinking Fluxus.” (in) Fluxus! Zurbrugg, Nicholas, Francesco Conz and Nicholas Tsoutas, eds. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art, 1990, pp. 10 27.
Friedman, Ken with James Lewes. “Fluxus: Global Community, Human Dimensions.” (in) Fluxus: A Conceptual Country, Estera Milman, guest editor. [Visible Language, vol. 26, nos. 1/2.] Providence: Rhode Island School of Design, 1992, pp. 154 179. [Special issue devoted to Fluxus, also exhibition catalogue]
Friedman, Ken. “Vytautas Landsbergis and Fluxus.” Siksi. 1/92. Helsinki: Nordiskt Konstcentrum, Sveaborg, 33 34.
Friedman, Ken. “Why I Don’t Take Part in Network Telefax Art Projects.” (in) Bleus, Guy. A Networking Fax Project & Performance. Eindhoven, The Netherlands, 1993.
Friedman, Ken. ” Fluxus Idea” (in) The Electronic Superhighway. Travels with Nam June Paik. Paik, Nam June, Kenworth W. Moffett, et. al, eds. New York, Seoul and Fort Lauderdale: Holly Solomon Gallery, Hyundai Gallery and the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, 1995, 87 97.
Friedman, Ken. “The Early Days of Mail Art.” In Eternal Network, Chuck Welch, ed. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995.
Friedman, Ken. “Eternal Network.” Eternal Network, Chuck Welch, ed. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995. [Introduction.]
Crane, Michael and Mary Stofflett, eds. Correspondence Art: Sourcebook for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984.
Albright, Thomas. “Correspondence.” Rolling Stone 107 (April 27, 1972): 28 29.
Albright, Thomas. “A Guerrilla Attack on Traditional Art Ideas.” The San Francisco Chonicle, February 9, 1972: 49.
Albright, Thomas. “Informed Sources.” Art Gallery Magazine (Ivoryton, Connecticut) vol. 15, no. 7 (April 1972): w1, 7.
Albright, Thomas. “New Art School: Correspondence.” Rolling Stone 106 (April 13, 1972): 32.
Poinsot, Jean Marc, ed. Mail Art Communication: A Distance Concept. Paris: Editions CEDIC, 1971.
Welch, Chuck, ed. Eternal Network,. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995.
Cohen, Ronny. “Art and Letters: Please Mr. Postman, Look and See… Is there a work of art in your bag for me?” Art News, vol. 80+, no. 10 (December 1981): 68 73.
Zack, David. “An Authentik and Historical Discourse on the Phenomenon of Mail Art.” Art in America, vol. 66, no. 1 (Jan Feb 1973): cover, 46 53.
Artists’ Stamps and Stamp Images. James W. Felter. Burnaby, British Columbia: Simon Fraser Gallery, Simon Fraser University, 1974. [exhibition catalogue]
WHY I DON’T TAKE PART IN NETWORK TELEFAX ART PROJECTS (by KEN FRIEDMAN).
A Reply for Guy Bleus
This text was sent by FAX as a reaction to a FAX-project held by Guy Bleus, Belgium, at ‘De Fabriek’ in Eindhoven, Netherlands, in which Ken Friedman writes about his views to FAX art.
Guy Bleus’s statement on Telecopy Art is intelligent and interesting. Much of what Guy writes is true. Even so, I don’t take part in telefax exhibitions. I want to explain why.
The telefax is a one-line instrument. When my fax is busy, I can’t send or receive other messages. Most network messages are broadcast messages using narrowcast tools. The mailbox is a paradoxial receiver: it is a narrowcast receiver that can receive a large number of broadcast messages at once. Receiving one item in the mail doesn’t prevent receiving another.
The telefax is a true narrowcast receiver. When you are receiving one item, you cannot receive another. Today’s fax technology is still primitive. The fax cannot receive multiple messages and stack them for later feedout. My fax is a fax, and not a computer. I cannot read messages, choose to print, select among them and dump the rest.
Today’s telefax communication is always narrowcast, and I use my fax as a tool of private communication. I want to keep my fax open for incoming private messages. When I travel, I want the paper supply left available for specific communications intended personally for me, not for the network. I am a businessman as well as an artist. I cannot afford to miss a direct communication from a client because the fax is busy all day – or because a full roll of paper runs out on the third day of a six-day trip.
A friend who directs a gallery was once asked to take part in a fax-show. She agreed. Her fax was busy for four days solid. She ran through several dozen rolls of paper. Her colleagues couldn’t reach her. They phoned her to find out why the fax was broken. She wasted hours on the phone every day explaining the problem rather then spending her time getting messages and acting on them. Her colleagues had to spend hundreds of dollars sending urgent information by courier that could easily have been sent by fax if the fax has been available.
This was an instructive lesson to me. The fax should be a tool, not an intrusion. I decided then that I would not take part in telefax exhibitions or projects until the technology changes enough to make it possible for me to avoid these problems. Right now, this isn’t with my cheerful, old-fashioned telefax.
I use my telefax as a personal tool. I do use my telefax to send and receive information for art projects and exhibitions. In some ways, it is the tool that Guy Bleus suggests. At this time, it is a private tool, and I am not willing to open my fax line to the network.
I only want faxes from people who want to communicate directly with me as an individual. I do not want telefax communications from people who see me as part of a network or an undifferentiated member of the category of artists who own telefax machines.
Privacy is an important right. I welcome letters and telephone calls from network friends. I accept network broadcast mailings. I am willing to receive letters and calls from people I don’t know; they may be people I want to know. I don’t want to use my fax as a tool for mail art. Telefax and mail are very different-processes. I prefer to use them in specific and different ways.
(Ken Friedman, March 1993)
SAMPLE OF AN E-MAIL MESSAGE:
PINE 3.90 TEKST VAN BERICHT Postvak:INKOMEND Bericht 57/59
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 1995 12:36:24 +0200
From: “ken.friedman” <email@example.com>
Well, I couldn’t work without documentation. But isn’t the danger of documentation that it forms its own truth, and that reality (things that happen on a specific moment) can never be captured in an objective documentation because this reality is different for everybody who observes it, and everybody recognizes his own truth by observing. Only the ones that document then would form the ‘history.’ Is documentation that powerful?
This is a danger. It’s the basic problem of all forms of documentation, no matter who makes them and no matter the purpose for which they’re made. It seems to me that there is a strong argument to be made for a variety of clear, understandable sources of document from several views. In the recent past, most documentation on art has been compiled or presented by a handful of journalists, critics and finally by art historians. I suggest that there can be valid approaches to art documentation by scholars from several fields and by artists themselves. The better, the broader, the more clear and conscious a body or documents is, the better we can understand what’s happened. I believe that there documentation has valid goals and purposes, and that these can be fulfilled or abused. How we handle documentation, how much and how well, makes the difference
Ken Friedman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Leadership and Strategic Design
Norwegian School of Management NMH
Box 4676 Sofienberg
N 0506 Oslo, Norway
Telephone Direct: +47 22.214.171.124 (tone) 505
Telephone Switchboard: +47 126.96.36.199
Telephone Private: +47 188.8.131.52
Telefax: +47 184.108.40.206
[EINDE van de tekst van her bericht]
E-MAIL about the E-MAIL projects
STATEMENT: Why I Don’t Take Part in E mail Art Projects
I don’t take part in e mail art projects. I want to explain why. I use my e mail as a tool for research and communication. I subscribe to several listserv lists that have a combined posting of some 200 or so messages a day. In addition, I usually receive another 30 or 40 messages a day to which I must respond, more if a project is under way.
When I travel, I come back to a full mail box. It takes me an average of two hours for every day of travel to get through my mail. I need the communication and I value my time. There’s too much impersonal e mail art communication taking place to interest me.
E mail should be a tool, not an intrusion. I use e mail as a personal tool and a research tool. It is a private tool and I do not want to open my line to the network.
I only want posts from people who want to communicate directly with me as an individual. I do not want e mail communications from people who see me as part of a network or an undifferentiated member of the category of artists who have computers and e mail access machines.
Privacy is an important human right. I welcome letters and telephone calls from network friends. I accept network broadcast snail mailings. I am willing to receive letters and calls from people I don’t know; they may be people I want to know. I don’t want to use my e mail address as a tool for mail art. E mail and snail mail are very different processes and I prefer to use them in specific and different ways.
THE POST THAT I GOT
Subject: Jive Ruud
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Ruud Janssen)
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 95 7:59:53 CST
From: Chris Dodge <email@example.com>
If ah’ only had time
If ah’ only had
If ah’ dun didn’t need da damn bre’d
I wouldn’t do wo’k fo’ oders
I would wo’k all de time
fo’ mah’self and produce sump’n supa’ fine
If ah’ only dun didn’t need bre’d
If ah’ only had 25 hours some day
If ah’ had da damn time
to answa’ all de quesshuns
dat mosey on down down in mah’ mind.
Karen Elliot for DeSirey Dodge Peace Post
Chris Dodge firstname.lastname@example.org
Hennepin County Library phone: 612 541 8572
12601 Ridgedale Drive fax: 612 541 8600
Minnetonka, MN 55305
Ken Friedman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Leadership and Strategic Design
Norwegian School of Management
Box 4676 Sofienberg
N 0506 Oslo, Norway