THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH PATRICIA COLLINS – UK
Started on: 28-8-1995
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 11-9-1995
PC : I first became involved in mail art in summer 1993. I had taken out the U.K. listings magazine, “Artist’s Newsletter” and saw the ads in the mail art section. I had not heard of mail art + could find nothing about it. To satisfy my curiosity, I wrote to the magazine and I received a splendid letter from Robin Crozier in Sunderland, U.K. telling a little about his notions of mail art and inviting me to take part in his ongoing Memo/Memory project. Intrigued by his letter, I sent work to all the mail art ads in the magazine and to memo/memory. Some of those first contacts have become regular correspondents. Others are yet to reply – Such is mail art.
RJ : So, your first contact was with a mail artist in England too. How many people have you contacted till now, and what does the response tell you?
Reply on 20-9-1995
PC : I can’t tell you how many people I have contacted because I do not keep such a record. The responses have told me a little of the variety of mail art work + mail artists. I have found great generosity in exchanging work and nearly every post brings me a reminder of human ingenuity + creativity. I have a sense of artists having fun, spending copious time + energy + telling of what concerns them in the mail art network.
RJ : You speak of the variety of mail art works. What is interesting for you in the responses you got from the network, or are all new things interesting to you? (including chain letters, add-on papers, projects, long letters….)
Reply on 5-10-1995
PC : I especially enjoy receiving project documentations; I like to see the different ways that people collate + re-present the body of work that they have collected. I particularly admire work in which the final means of representation reflects the project topic. I also get great pleasure from mail art compilations, I enjoy seeing different interpretations of work.
Then there is the pleasure of finding on my doorstep the familiar writing of favourite correspondents.
RJ : Although you are only recently working with mail art, you already did some mail art projects too didn’t you? Could you tell a bit more about how you started your first projects?
Reply on 16-10-1995
PC : My first project was “Greenhouses”. I had been working as an organic gardener managing a 6 acre garden. In it was a suite of Victorian glasshouses, badly in need of repair. Each summer the garden was open to the public and I had put up an exhibition of artwork in the vinehouse for each open season. I set up the greenhouse mail art project with a view to exhibiting it in the vinehouse gallery in the summer of 1994. The exhibition did draw many visitors to the garden and many gave donations of money to the fund to restore the greenhouses. In accordance with the artists’ wishes, none of the artwork was sold but at the end of the year it was boxed up in panels of window frames from the old greenhouse and presented to the National Art Library where it can be seen today.
RJ : You are also doing other projects aren’t you? Can you tell a bit about those?
Reply on 21-10-95
PC : I have two on-going projects ‘National Geographic’ + ‘Damaged in Transit’. As a child, I loved National Geographic magazine, an American publication with exquisite photographs. It has been a great influence on my life + art. I have an open invitation to any artist to send me a piece of their work which is inspired by the magazine + I will send them a similarly inspired work of my own. I have compiled the photos, collages, poems that I have received into an illustrated lecture which I present with the aid of an ancient epidiascope.
‘Damaged in Transit’ is my newest work. I am sending out messages in plastic bags asking artists to send me back the bag with any words, image or objects about damage. This piece came about when the G.P.O sent me a piece of work from Julian Beere in a plastic bag with a profuse apology for the damage that had been done to the work in the mail. I opened the bag to find Julian’s work in pristine condition! I hope the Damage works will stand as an image for all the wear + tear we each experience in life.
Perhaps I should list here the projects I have organized:
GREENHOUSES : Exhibited Summer 94 Vinehouse Gallery, now at V+A National Art Library.
ARTISTS’ KITES: London Kite Festival June 95. Now part of British Artistic Kite Group Touring Show.
PHARMACY: A collection of cures + remedies re-presented in a limited edition Artist Book. A copy of this book is in the Tate Gallery Library. The cabinet housing the work will be shown in Cardiff in Spring 96.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: Ongoing project creating illustrated epidiascope lecture. First presentation to an invited audience Spring 95.
DAMAGED IN TRANSIT: Ongoing project aiming to create a catalogue of disasters.
CRUSOE’S DOG: A tin full of work about the dog kept by Robinson Crusoe on his island. First shown at Field Study Show Chiltern Street, London W1 July 95. To be shown in Devon Winter 95/96
What draws me to doing this work is not only the variety of response I get from mail artists but my own sense of enjoyment in the task of curating.
Answering this question has given me the idea of making an overview of the projects I am involved in + I can feel a buzz of excitement as the ideas flood in. So I must stop writing + get to work.
RJ : It seems like most projects start with a spontaneous thought that comes up in your mind. Is this also how you make your art or do you sometimes plan things quite well in advance?
Reply on 28-10-95
PC : I do value spontaneity in life + art. I loathe routine + ritual, but I’m not sure that it is the best description of how my work comes about. I have a number of longstanding themes and concern + constantly seek ways of representing these. Out of the many ideas that arise, I do act in a quite immediate + intuitive way on those that feel right.
Three years ago I was seriously ill and that experience has intensified my sense of immediacy + intuition.
RJ : Most envelopes I get from you are recycled ones. Why do you like to recycle these envelopes so much? Are there also things you like to keep?
Reply on 8-11-1995
PC : Yes, I recycle as much as I can. I think this relates back to working as a gardener + the cycles of growth and decay, compost and harvest. I also learned from my mother a pre-green thrift + economy + like her, I hate waste.
I have made several pieces of work that relate to these values of “make do + mend” that are nearly lost today. But I do save even hoard work in boxes + files. I also collect far too many things that might one day be useful for new pieces. Found objects + documents are a particular love. In using these in my new works I am again involved in re-cycling, re-presenting.
I also take a practical joker’s delight in sending envelopes that are not what they seem, bill envelopes to the bank for example.
(Patricia Collins’s answer came in a recycled envelope, and the text of her answer was written on a xerox and illustrated with clippings from mail she received from others).
RJ : Did you ever meet another mail artist in person?
Reply on 21-11-1995
PC : Yes.
RJ : When was this and what was it like?
reply on 30-11-1995
PC : I invited a mail artist to my weekly ‘open studio’. We survived well enough to work on a group-show, well enough to meet regularly but we still maintain a lively mail art exchange.
RJ : You talk about a ‘lively mail art exchange’. I know that some mail artists, who are active in mail art for a longer time, are facing the problem that they aren’t able to even answer all the mail they get in. This is mostly the result of doing some projects and works that draw attention, and then others start to write to you too. Have you reached this point yet?
Reply on 7-12-1995
PC : I’m interested in the idea of such a well charted career in mail art. I still answer everything + never find it too much.
RJ : Well, then you must be lucky. I am only able to answer 50% or less of the mail that I get in, and to be honest, it is NO “well charted career in mail art”, as you call it. But lets go to another aspects. Why do you think that some people stay active in mail art for such a long time?
Reply on 22-12-1995
PC : I’m sure they have good reasons. I wonder how people stop, as having one’s name on a list or two seems to generate a lot of mail. This mail can keep coming for years. Do retired mail artists still secretly hope to receive their missing documentation?
RJ : How important is documentation for you?
Reply on 14-1-1996
(Besides Patricia’s answer I also received several other pieces of mail from her. Some were 3D objects that were part of her installations, and also there was a catalog, handmade, with several color-photo’s of Patricia’s work & projects)
PC : I love receiving good documentation. I feel that my contribution to a MA project is a personal interpretation of the project’s theme. I like to see the interpretations of other participants in documentations. It gives me great pleasure to see the many ways in which a theme can be interpreted. I also appreciate thoughtful presentations of MA projects + documentations that reflect the theme. I have particularly enjoyed David Dellafioa’s tape-slide presentation of his Kenneth Anger project, Michael Leigh’s “postage” tape and the Body documentation by Sal Wood. This was simple but effective using bubble wrap, plaster + a hospital name bracelet.
I do get tired of poor quality photocopies + address lists.
RJ : While doing this interview, and also before we started with this interview, I received several 3D objects that you used in your installations, or that are connected to your projects. My favorite piece I received from you is the handcarved letterset made out of pencils with eraser-ends (now in TAM Rubberstamp Archive). Do you also receive a lot of 3D pieces in return from the network?
Reply on 30-1-1996
PC : I get some 3D sculptural pieces especially from Jaime Weitzman in America + Anne-Miek Bibbe in Holland and a lot of books. I have just started to create work on a computer with a view to sending e-mail art. Work in this new medium has made me realize how much I like the objectness of books. They have tactile qualities and weight, their pages rustle and hold smells, they can be viewed at different distances on a lap or lectern for example. I enjoy work that appeals to all the senses.
RJ : I must say I agree with you that the computer normally only appeals to a few senses of the human body. But artists are known for using the new mediums in quite specific ways. What do you think is interesting to use a computer for?
Reply on 8-2-1996
PC : I am interested in three different areas of work:
(1) Administrative tasks – C.V’s , letters of application, address database – the daily paperwork of being an artist.
(2) In the creation of work, e.g. the manipulation of images by software such as photoshop.
(3) The distribution of works e.g. via the internet or in the sense of entering work onto a CD ROM which can then be sent out.
In 1995 I made a New Year’s resolution to get myself computer-litererate. My resolve took me through my first category. In 1996 I hope to develop the creation & distribution of my work.
RJ : Any more plans for the future, in connection to mail art?
Reply on 20-2-1996
PC : Doing the above seems a pretty big plan! I have some ongoing projects + I hope that my work as an artist will flourish.
I guess my mail art dream is that one day the GPO will have to send me a special delivery. A separate postman/postwoman with a complete sack of mail. No junk mail, no bills, just mail art.
RJ : Yes, something like that sounds tempting. I always enjoy getting a lot of mail, but the answering of it all sometimes is a problem. Another subject I would like to discuss with you. Whenever I look at lists of participants I notice that there are always more male mail artists than female mail artists. What do you think is the reason for that?
Reply on 8-3-1996
PC : I would like to know the reason. I would have thought that there would be less under-representation of women in mail art than in other art forms. I had thought of mail art as one of the most accessible forms that could be practiced within the constraints that many women experience. For example it can be a domestic practice + does not require a studio, it can be done in moments of free time, it does not depend on the long hours of concentration necessary for some other forms, it can be executed in found materials + for the price of a stamp, it can be a supportive network for isolated artists. But it seems that these factors have not brought more women into mail art than into other practices. I have to assume that the under representation of women in mail art is for the same reason as in other art forms.
However I would say that I do not believe that numbers are always important; quality counts too. I am sure many mail artists would agree that a single good postcard can outweigh a heavy tome of grungy photocopy.
RJ : I sure agree with that! Maybe that is one of the reasons that male mail artists sometimes dominate the lists of participants to a mail art project. Just because they want to participate in all (quantity) rather than send in more interesting stuff to a selected project (quality). Just my thought. Actually that deals with one of the things some art-critics have to mail art, that it lacks quality. When I look at the mail I got in the last years I must say that I sometimes wonder what some xeroxes are all about. Some things aren’t interesting at all anymore, and I then just don’t reply. Do you still reply to all the mail you get in?
Reply on 21-3-1996
PC : I do. I even have a technique ‘the Bates Method’ (after Keith Bates) for dealing with chainletters. I send something to everyone on the chain list – usually just a post card + thereby bring one branch to a halt.
RJ : Well, maybe it is time to bring a halt to this interview. Or is it that I forgot to ask you something?
Reply on 1-4-1996
PC : Perhaps, but do check your e-mail + I would like to see a draft copy of the whole interview to know if this is the final.
RJ : Well, I always send a draft copy to every mail artist I interview, so that is no problem. I just wondered about your comment on e-mail. I check my e-mail almost every day, and if you DID send me something it hasn’t arrived yet. So, now I am not sure if this interview is ended or not. Anyway, I would like to thank you very much for your time & the answers, and I hope you’ll stay in touch.
(Just after sending Patricia the draft-text I received her first e-mail message, which I replied to).
Reply on 10-4-1996
PC : My e-mail address is Pat@E1Studio.demon.co.uk. I’d be happy to hear from any mail artist, but as yet I cannot garantee that I can reply.
RJ : Well, you entered the cyberworld too now, so a good moment to close this interview. Thanks again!
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