THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH ROD SUMMERS – VEC.

rod summers

Started on: 18-11-1994

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: 9-12-1994

RS : Dear Ruud, this is the answer to the first question in your mail-interview project:

I began involvement in the mail-art movement in either late 1973 or early 1974, it’s quite difficult to be more precise as I destroyed my mail-art archive as part of a performance in De Appel in Amsterdam in 1977. The performance was documented on video tape.

Why did I destroy my collection? I began mail art activity to collect material for a project I undertook whilst a student at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. The project was called ‘VEC SECRET BUREAUCRACY’ and collected material with the specific aim of eventual performance destruction. Many noted artists participated in the project in full knowledge of what would happen to their work at the end. A little documentation (other than the video) exists including the shredded remains of works destroyed.
I began mail-arting again in 1978 because I wanted to launch the VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE……

(together with his answer Rod Summers sent me lots of other info’s about his activities).

RJ : When I met you through the mail you were doing the last part of your Exchange project (Tching – The end), so I know how the result looks (hears) like. This VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE was more than the exchange of audio wasn’t it? Why did you start it, and why did it end?

(After sending this question to Rod by FAX he tried out my new FAX-software by sending a reaction to my computer. It failed, but the list of erros was a piece of art itself. Rod sent me an E-mail message via Amsterdam to inform me about this, and called it FAXMANIA).

Reply on : 30-12-1994

(Together with his answer Rod Summers sent a diskette with the ASCII-file of the answer and a print-out of the computer-session of the FAX-MANIA at the Digital City in Amsterdam. Also included was a copie of the interview that appeared in the ND magazine).
RS : The VEC EXCHANGE project was launched as a research organ to inform myself what and who else was involved in the Audio Arts movement. But to understand the concept of the project it is firstly necessary to be aware of the fact that I began my personal investigations into recorded sound in 1961, so by the time I decided to launch the exchange project I was well practiced in the techniques of recording, mixing, editing and copying.
In the late seventies the cassette recorder was becoming more generally affordable, and the audio compact cassette was, and still is, standard globally. I had received a few cassettes from mail-artists in the UK (Paul Carter), the USA (Peter Frank) and Brazil (Leonard Frank-Dutch) and had recorded a couple of sound projects with Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione whilst they were on a visit to Maastricht.

In 1978 I travelled over to Warsaw to perform audio on the invitation of Henryk Gajewski and Piotr Rypson. I performed two live works there and the performances were recorded. On my return to Maastricht I assembled the first VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE cassette from works received and my own works including the two made in Poland. A postcard was made and sent out to the mail-art network, the card informed that the cassette was available in exchange for artists sound works recorded on either cassette or open-reel tape. Reaction was rapid and enthusiastic. A total of 16 exchange cassettes were made in the period October 1978 to end 1983 and over 2000 copies were sent out in exchange for audio works.

Full details of the VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE project are to be found in the essential book ‘SOUND BY ARTISTS’ edited by Dan Lander and Micah Lexier and published by Art Metropole in Canada. For the Swedes I am referenced in the book Ljodkunst by Peter R. Meyer in Stockholm. ND magazine Nr. 17 of 1993 has an interview with me in reference to my audio art activities.

Why did it end? Well, only the exchange part of the project ended. I still work in Audio arts and produce and publish audio cassettes. But the truth is the project outran my very meager resources, both cassette decks and the master tape recorder wore out from the excessive use and, as I had/have no income and get no financial or moral support from any government or institution, I was not in a position to replace the dilapidated equipment, that and just too many of the cassettes that were coming in were of very poor quality, most amateurish, home-music.

There was one other factor that led to the demise of the audio exchange project…. In 1983 I bought my first little computer, a ZX81, and started to use that in the production of my mail-art. By the end on ’83 the little hard copy books I was producing on the computers tiny 1 pin printer were being reproduced in books and catalogues of artist books.

I still regularly receive cassettes from around the globe and I’m still sending out cassettes though mostly my own works. My last full production, the cassette ‘Church of the Fragile Treecreeper’, has just been published in the states by ND magazine of Austin Texas. I regularly work on audio works from other artists such as the Icelander Magnus Palsson. In September (’94) I produced a work with the students of the State Art College in Reykjavik Iceland, and at present I am working on a new production for myself which is an extended conceptual song. After that I am going to produce an international literary cassette, and after that a cassette of poetry and natural sound recordings. In this year of ’94 I have managed to replace several equipment items and (should I be able to work out how to finance it) I am considering reopening the exchange project.

On the first weekend in February ’95 I will be doing a performance in Den Bosch and sound will almost certainly be an element of that performance.

RJ : You mention that in 1983 you started using the computer in your work for audio. What else is interesting enough for you to use the computer for?

Reply on : 12-1-1995

RS : Actually I didn’t use the computer in audio mode until I bought the Acorn BBC model B which had the most sophisticated sounding voice synthesizer. That was in 1985 I think. I bought it with money I earned teaching audio art in Oslo.
These days the computer and I have a stable and yet still developing relationship, My Amiga 4000 helps me write, draw, paint, develop new graphic images from drawings paintings or photos. Probably it’s main function is as a tool in the production of my visual poetry which I print out using an ink jet printer and then disseminate through the mail art network. Using this technique of combining computer graphics and text as ‘desk top publishing’ distributed through the network has brought me in contact with fine accomplished poets.

It is interesting to note that the computer has still not made any significant impact on mail art and is still very much an under used tool. This reluctance is almost certainly due to the awful user interface employed by early computers, and if that theory is true the general adoption of the W.I.M.P. interface should result in an increased artistic/poetic use of the computer on a home user level over the next three years.

I’ve used the computer in so many projects already it would need a database to list them all! I also realize there are infinite other possibilities to use this computer creatively, such as robotics, image generation from mathematical formulae, interactive (hah!) projects whatever, but I use the computer to realize my ideas rather than realizing my ideas to employ the computer.
RJ : Last year Crackerjack Kid tried to start the TELENETLINK 95 project. I’m not sure if it really started or not. Only few mail-artists in Europe have an E-mail address. You and me are a few of them. What do you think that this digital communication will bring to the creative people?

Reply on : 10-2-1995

RS : Until the bottle neck traffic jams on the access routes to the digital highway are cleared by increasing the number of nodes and lines to the user, the whole concept of E-network and Email is a joke. It usually takes me four or five days before I achieve access to my node which is in Amsterdam! No not a lot of fun to be had there yet, my vote still goes to fax it’s fun, fine, now I have a fax/modem and free from subscriptions, at least for the time being…

(Ruud, I wrote a much longer and almost clever text but lost it entirely tiredly trying to make a copy, so this will have to suffice. r.s.)

RJ : ……lost it entirely. That is what is typical of the electronic communication-forms, especially E-mail and internet. The things I see on my screen I mostly want to have on paper too. This digital format seems sometimes so unreal to me. Guy Bleus soon will start his electronic Administration Center. Can art really be put into the bits and bytes, or shall it always be the sea of possibilities between the zero and one?

Reply on : 24-2-1995

(Together with the diskette we use for exchanging the ascii-version of our text Rod Summers also included a printed version of the interview so far printed with green ink on white paper. Unfortunately I couldn’t read the ascii-file with my processor (a data-error) so I had to retype Rod’s answer. I told him this by E-mail and sent the next question on disk with a print-out in very-small sized letters and on yellow paper)
RS : Art is subject to continuous evolutionary processes because the human animal and it’s thought development is inseparable from the time in which it exists. [Mail art is an element of contemporary art activity. In the beginning it developed from conceptual art but the activity very quickly outgrew it’s founding principles and became an amorphic exercise in global communication with strong supra-political dithered] Therefore the artist is obliged to consider whatever technology is available in the pursuit of his or her creativity. We live in the birth-pang age of computers, artists must consider how the computer fits into the artistic toolkit. I didn’t throw away my pastel crayons, camera and tape recorders when I became busy with computers and I still buy ink for my fountain-pen and refills for the two different sorts of roller-ball pens and three sizes of propelling pencils I use, I’m very dependant now, fortunately I can’t foresee a world where computers are going to be superceded. After all with this beige box I can both create and communicate and then simultaneously! What we decide to do with the computer and the electronic highway at this moment will determine how the computer develops as a tool for artists of the future. I listen to BBC world service on the radio and have a monitor with CNN on constantly (with the sound turned off), I am an unrepentant information junky.

Hardcopy will always be a desirable outcome of artistic computer usage (see the excellent initiative ‘Prints van Oranje’ by the dynamic Dutch/Belgian artist group of the same name (They have a section on the BBS Art Doc Comm)). When the computer is as established in the average household, as say television is currently, then the concept of sending/selling sets of sequenced graphics for home monitor (dare I say wall-sized art monitors?) display of computer art becomes a feasibility.

E-mail IS already taking a large percentage of traditional postal methods, and there are supposedly four and a half million new users each month. Guy Bleus Eadmin Center is up and running if one considers the third edition of his magazine is already circulating the net.

After only three months on the network the volume of my incoming E-mail is greater than I can read!… When I can get through that is (I get about 30/40 pieces of regular mail a week, mostly letters these days).

We surf the waves of contemporary cultural initiatives and do not let ourselves become swamped with the floods, should I say the inundation, with the incoming tides of opportunity. Aye Aye!

RJ : In 1986 H.R. Fricker started with his tourism. He tried to move the mail-artists from behind their desks and let them travel to meet the other artist. In 1992 (DNC) even on wider scale mail-artists met. Is the Internet making us sit back at home again because we need to react on all the information we get through the net……?

Reply on : 7-3-1995

RS : Good question! Yes it’s back to the cocoon with the only signs of life coming out of the telephone wire. The future watchers would have it that all business will be conducted from the home with perhaps a weekly visit to the office. Well let’s put a positive spin on it. If I were to switch entirely from buying stamps to digipost it would save me money which I could use to travel and visit other artists! Hmm? Somehow I don’t think so. It’s just another tool, it might make things fractionally cheaper. It’s all very well for us to shout of fraternity, but the sheer geographical distances between netcells determines that we stay at home most of the time. Besides that, I’m not sure I want to meet too many mail artists, some of them probably wear grey socks and were born on a Tuesday afternoon or some similar cultural impediment which is embarrassing to a highly sensitive analogue person like me <\ ; >
RJ : Glad to hear you are an analogue person (\ 😉 and you like smileys too (\:-). So, you don’t like to meet too many mail-artists. Tell me a bit about your experiences with meeting mail-artists. Did you meet most in Holland or did you travel to their places to meet them?

(besides the next question I normally also include some kind of letter with some personal information, about my work, how I use my (old) computer for my mail-art and am thinking about buying a new one. Sometimes the answer to the interview-question and the personal letter are mingled together in the answer in the interview)

RS: Busy huh Ruud? Tough the old teaching biz? Trouble with an inadequate computer eh Ruud? Finding it difficult to keep up with it all eh? Started to count the days between now and the pension have you Ruud? You probably have the ‘flu, I know I have.

I’m trying to progress with my new novel but get endless interruptions, so we all have our frustrations. Let’s see now, meeting mail artists, um… I get regular visits by many artists who think that mail art is a stupid waste of artistic energy and financial resources. Just lately, since the new postal prices were introduced and now that I’m getting more invitations to show my real work, their statements are beginning to look like common sense.

The list of visiting mail artists wouldn’t be very long. Several visit regularly so I’ll list the ones that have come here more than once, Anna Banana, Guy Bleus, *An Dudek Durer, *Pawel Petasz, *Henryk Gajewski, Peter Kustermann (net mail), Charles François, *Pete Horobin, ***Helgi Fridjonsson, *Vittore Baroni, Emilio Morandi, *Tom Winter, *Ever Arts… Well that’s those I remember, several of these people (marked*) are mates far beyond mail art and we visit each other when we can. The number of single visits made by artists is more difficult to come after, from the States, like Bloch, Held, Gaglione, Homler, then there are the Galantai’s from Artpool in Budapest, Ruedi Schill in Switzerland and H.R. Fricker from the same land.

Mail artists I have visited or met otherwise… also not a lot, when I eventually do get to America I will visit such monsters as John M. Bennett in Ohio, Geoffrey Cook and the rest of the Californian crew. In Canada Anna Banana. I’d like to visit Alex Z in the Ukraine and Ryosuke in Japan. When I travel it is for the purposes of either bird watching, landscape photography or geology, mail artists tend to be thin on the ground in the remote places my wife Liesbet and I like to visit.

Several mail artists I have met are drones without much artistic expression or energy. Actually that is exactly the same within the art world beyond mail art now I come to think of it. The experimental poetry scene within mail art remains very positive.
Many of the mail art meets I have attended have been downright silly though there have been exceptions. At the last meet I organized, the HEAVEN meeting for DCWWNC, or whatever it was called, my friends, the owners of the tearooms provided fine foods and drinks FREE to everyone, all forty attending here offered hash cake, several took it, many for the first time, four people got so stoned they fell over, one very famous French artist pissed himself. Now, when people wrote their reports about the event WHICH WAS A STATEMENT ON DRUGS TOURISM, not a single one was brave enough to tell the truth about the event. So my opinion upon the validity of mail art as a section of contemporary arts fell dramatically. Everyone APART from Guy Bleus totally missed (or deliberately ignored) the point. But then… Guy Bleus is one of very few who has made mail art into an art.

This summer Liesbet and I are going to visit my old homeland of Southern England and Wales, we will be staying with Magnus Palsson in London for a few days whilst we check out Kew Gardens, whilst there we also intend to call in on The A.1. Waste Paper Co. and I have already made an appointment with Michael.

OK that was this bit. A bit strongly influenced by post influenza infection probably but never mind. Incidentally Ruud, if you ever want to visit the VEC you are more than welcome, Best Greetings.

RJ : I notice this interview and our personal correspondance/dence are being mingled here, but in a mail-art interview anything is possible. I must admit I am tempted to answer all those things with a long letter, and I will do so, But first the next question. The things that are written down about mail-art (referring to your experiences on DCWWWWWWNC, add or delete a few W’s) don’t always give a good impression of the mail-art. It is really true that everybody has formed his own network that is surrounding him/her. Every personal network is worth documenting, and it is a pity only few of those networks are documented good because of the possibilities of the mail-artist. How important is this documenting for you? Should we document at all or should we leave that to others. Is the documenting determining eventually how people will see mail-art. (Sorry for so much questions at once, but they just come up at the moment)

Reply on : 26-04-1995

RS Koowell, we’ll use Email for correspondancing and this disc medium for exchange of the interview. Your questions this time refer to:

Documentation of archive materials and the ripples on ones own lake. I have always considered mail art a free exchange between consenting artists, a celebration of fraternal communication, an interesting armchair journey. The VEC Audio Exchange Project 1979 1983 was my contribution to the Mail Art Network, logical as I’m an audio artist.

Genuine original international projects have been very few and far between. Individual contacts have been welded. I have often used the international aspect of mail art to realize personal projects, International mail has an intrinsic value which is exotic, mysterious, even dangerous perhaps? These are, as they always have been, fine emotive elements for consideration during the production of artwork. Documentation of mail art is an art by itself.

The creation of a pseudo bureaucracy as an art project when I was a student at the Jan van Eyck Academy was the How? I became involved in mail art. I’ve maintained detailed documentation on three elements of my mail art experience. But first let me tell you the area where there is absolutely NO documentation, postcards and individual items of mail art are placed in chronological ordered boxes, they are not even sorted out into artist order.

I have perfect analogue triple cross referred documentation on the audio cassette archive (808 cassettes in the archive). Artists books, catalogues, posters and publications are on a data base with full and deep search facilities.

A cardex system is the way I maintain addresses and I log what I’ve received and dispatched on the same card, so basically I can see everything I’ve received and what I sent out since 1978.

This documentation is only important to me as it still functions as an element of the original pseudo bureaucracy project. For me, only Guy Bleus has IMPORTANT documentation, everything else is absorbed into the arrogant black hole of my anarchistic attitude.

RJ : Do you archive the electronic things too? Do you keep all the E-mail messages you get, the graphics you made etc.?

Reply on : 6-5-95 (internet) 7-5-95 (disk)

(The diskette was brought to me by John Held Jr. and Bill Gaglione when they visited me on 7 & 8 of May after their performance in Paris and their visits to Guy Bleus & Rod Summers)

RS : Yes to both questions, Email is saved to disc, archived to another disc and sometimes I make a small edition of A5 hard copy books (Lamers Progress) from a session at the emailbox. I keep all the graphics I make on the computer in uncompressed form on, at the time of writing 14:30, 6 May 1995, 60 DD DS floppies. All the images are logged by title and date of production, disc and directory into a fast and efficient database.
A similar database is used to catalogue the 31 floppies of DTP as visual poetry, fax art, scripts etc. My computer is blessed with a 260 megabyte hard drive of which 30 megs are graphics or DTP files. Slowly computers become inter compatible in the facility to read each others graphic output. We just require a little more patience before communication utopia becomes a universal reality.

RJ : Lots of specific dates and numbers in your last question. Are these numbers important to you?

Reply on 13-6-1995

RS : Numbers, dates and lists have a special significance to the follower of poetic reality, like considering the number of bibles hand transcribed before the date Gutenburg got his alphabet block act together and the lists of disappearing species littered pages made of disappearing trees. Numbers give perspective and dimension to historical time and space. We delineate the greater part of our experience with parameters described in numbers, so, yes, I think you can say numbers are important to me though mathematics is not the strongest of my suits. [How’s your English?]

Magpies can count up to five. The Viking age ended on 25th. September 1066. My computer has ten megabytes of memory. The next life is many lifetimes away. I go on holiday on the 19th. June. This was answer number ten.

RJ : Well, these ten questions with the ten answers gave a really nice view about your involvements in , and thoughts about mail art. Thank you for the interview!