THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH RUDI RUBBEROID 56
Started on 11-11-1995
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 8-12-1995
RR : Sixteen years ago. At the time I owned a store in Bellingham called “The Postcard Palace”, which sold postcards and notecards. I saw some “art rubber stamps” at a trade show and added some of them to the stock of the store. I think Hero Arts was the line I bought. Of course I had to play with them; one day a friend of mine, Bob Urso, came in while I was stamping and mentioned that he was starting a rubber stamp company (“BOBZ) and that stamps could be used for mail art. That was the first I heard of it. He gave me some addresses, including that of F-I-X, which was a bit-of-paper exchange run by Hapunkt Fix. Participating in this got me in touch with the network. Hapunkt seems to have dropped of sight, but I still, after all these years, have an active correspondence with his then-friend Doro Benditz in Berlin.
RJ : When you got in touch with the network, was your name already Rudi Rubberoid? Is seems you are sharing your P.O. Box with a lot of friends….
Reply on 23-1-1996
RR : The name Rudi Rubberoid was designed to be the name of the editor of my first publication, The Rubber Fanzine, which had very little to do with mail art as such. I have had it so long and gotten so used to it that I actually answer to the name when someone phones me. If someone called out “Hey, Rudi!” on the street I would turn around.
As for the people sharing my mailbox, yes, I have a few aliases. It has been suggested that I attend Psuedononymous Anonymous on a frequent basis. The Blaster recently sent me a suitable annotated copy of the most recent issue of the MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) Journal. This is wild exaggeration. There is Edward R. Gonzo, the Slightly Warped journalist. There is also Ace The Postcard Pal, which was an accidental postle wraparound of the name of the shop I owned, The Postcard Palace. He is a collector of Kalakala and exaggeration postcards. Some names were given to me; Wingo Fruitpunch was gifted me by the ineffable Eric Farnsworth, who recently also called me The Center Of The Postal Universe. I don’t think that one will stick. Too unweildly. Any Salyer gifted me with Rasta Bob Gnarly, and carved an eraser stamp to match, with Bob as a skull with wild dreadlocks. Sidney Lurcher comes into play as the excruciatingly bad poet who considers John Bennett to be superior to either Shakespeare or Dante. Felino Zepellini was created for my Italian-American correspondents. Billy Joe Ziploc is a good name for when I’m in the mood for a trashy, butt-kicking letter. Grizelda Guthonk gets hit on a lot by nerds who hit on anything female in the post and won’t write to men. There are a few others, but not many. I have no trouble keeping them apart and my posties think a lot of them as one big, happy family. Of course, they also put mail in my box for any other odd names they can’t place anywhere else. Why do you ask?
RJ : Why I ask? I guess in a way I am curious about peoples concepts in mail art, how they have found a way to deal with all the things that comes on their way in this network. I would like to come back on the publications. You did more than just The Rubber Fanzine, and one of them was quite interesting, Nomo-The-Zine. What was this all about?
Reply on 6-2-1996
RR : I like to think that The Rubber Fanzine was quite interesting too. It is very hard to talk about one and not the other as Nomo-The-Zine was a direct result of problems I had with The Rubber Fanzine.
Like a lot of American mailarters I was actively involved in S-F fandom for a long time, and very much enjoyed the many and varied S-F fanzines. As a matter of fact, my real introduction to fandom was a package of assorted SF zines that I sent away for. So, of course, eventually I wanted to do my very own zine. Since I was by that time also pretty well involved in rubber stamping I decided to make that my emphasis. The first issue was largely my own work, after that I let other people do the art, I stuck to the editing. The zine had a long (four years) and honorable run, I was quite happy with it for a while. It was one of the first, if not the first (actually I think it was the first) zine to deal exclusively with rubber art, rather than rubber stamping in general, as did Rubberstampmadness, etc. Now there are quite a few different zines covering that specialized field.
However, TRF operated on a subscription basis, and that was a hassle. Keeping the subscription lists straight and up-to-date was a lot of work, even with the aid of a computer. I am not very good at this sort of thing. And people subscribing felt they had the right to tell me what I could or could not print, which really frosted my mug. I also had complaints that I discriminated against the dreaded CUTE, which was true, but besides the point. I finally spelled out the fact that I didn’t want cute contributions, which led to all sorts of nasty little letters-to-the-editor. One of my few criteria was that all contributions had to have at least some rubber stamping in them, and eventually I found I was turning down some very cool stuff on that basis, as well as poetry, rants, photo’s etc. So I folded TRF and, after a suitable ‘Moment Of Silence’ (quite a while, actually) started Nomo.
Nomo-The-Zine was a smaller, more mailable format, could not be subscribed to, printed letters, poetry, drawings, eraser-carved art, just about anything. I did continue to print rubber stamp art, but the emphasis more and more turned to mail art and its related icons. I had a lot of good contributors; Blaster Al, Musicmaster, A1 Waste Paper Co., Dr. Crankart, Any Salyer, Larry Angelo, Pag-Hat the Rat-Girl, Michael Pollard, Ruud Janssen, the inimitable Fearless Freep, and too many others to name, as they say. Beginning to sound like an Academy Awards ceremony….
I had a very good time with Nomo and I am very proud of some of the issues I put out. It had the distinction of never having printed a contribution from Ray Johnson. (Of course, I never got a contribution from Ray Johnson…) It ran for the same amount of time as TRF and eventually died from lack of interest, partly mine. After I folded it several people wrote to say that they would miss it, but most wrote to say that if I felt it was time to quit then I should quit. Very civilized of them, but not very encouraging. Another large segement of my readers never bothered to comment on Nomo’s demise at all. And so it goes…..
I had gotten deeper and deeper into mail art correspondence / exchange and was contacting more and more people and eventually something had to give; I was running out of time/postage/money. Like the Phoenix, I will rise again from my own ashes, I suspect. Eventually. Or not. I have no idea of what the next zine will look like. Maybe like a ten-pound glazed doughnut. We shall see.
RJ : You say “something had to give”, and I guess that stopping editing Nomo-The-Zine made your P.O.Box less full. Are you at the moment able to deal with all the mail that you get in?
Reply on 24-2-1996
RR : Of course not. I had a momentary lull following the demise of Nomo, and then I felt freer about taking on new correspondents and projects. I even actively sought out new people, fool that I am. Some of my new correspondents have proved to be far more active in the mail than I can deal with and require more time and energy than I planned on. I enjoy them, but am not always able to reply to them appropriately in a reasonable time. Most of them eventually realize this and sooner or later back off to a level I can cope with. Some of them don’t.
A long time ago I determined that the only fair and proper way to deal with mail was to answer it pretty much in the order in which it was received, and mostly, I do. There are exceptions that require immediate answers. Generally though, I do stick to “first received / first answered.” Usually, if all is going well, this amounts to a two or three week lag between the time I get a sending and when I answer it. Usually. Anything out of the ordinary, such as an illness, holidays, vacations, can increase that time period considerably. The smoldering, moldering mail pile weighs heavily on my conscience and I spend extra time reducing the interval when it has gotten too lengthy, the lag has gotten as long as two months, and sometimes as short as a week. (Not very often). I never claimed to be efficient. Or handsome.
I am aware that I could reduce the lag-time by not getting carried away with lengthy, burbling letters, which I sometimes do. If I hand write/print I am not as prone to do that, but sometimes I write my letters on my computer, and then I babble. At length. I also have to deal with the cat, who wants me to feed her krunchies while I type, or she will sit on my lap, the printer, the monitor, the keyboard, whatever…. It isn’t the babbling that I mind, some people even consider my babbling amusing, it’s the amount of time it takes. And wordprocessing on a computer lends itself to revision, amplification, polishing, etc. I can spend a whole evening on a two page letter if I don’t watch myself. The same with the articles. One short article can take me days, and it’s not even all that good.
Another time waster is over-polishing envelopes and other artworks; adding or accreting more and more stuff to envelopes and collages, coloring in rubber stamping and xeroxes, carefully cutting out clippings to collage letters that really don’t need them, etc. All fun things to do, but time consuming and unnecessary.
I am not terrible good about thinning out the ranks of the unwashed; I suppose that at least 25% of my correspondents aren’t all that fascinating and tend to be rather repetitive; I think that over the years I may have “dropped” a half dozen people, no more. I have had at least twice that number “drop” me. Dropping someone implies a judgement about their worthiness, and I don’t much care about making that sort of call. Who’s to say who is “worthy” of being a correspondent of mine? I’m not big on god-like powers. I very much enjoy most of my correspondents/mailers and consider some of them to be very close friends, even though I have never met them. I don’t begrudge them the time I spend on them, I feel I receive just as much in return. Now you’ve made me cry…..
RJ : Dear Rudi, what you call “babbling” you might also call writing, and I must say I have always enjoyed reading the things you write. Some mail artists seem to wear a mask when they send out their mail, and don’t show their real face, their real feelings. You probably know that I don’t answer all the mail I receive, I am just not able to. So I see the main principle of mail art that you respond to the human energy that you get in. So if someone is repetitive or sends something that doesn’t interest me, what should I do with something like that…….? Send them just a thank-you note and get the same repetitive answer, or just spend my energy on another piece of mail I am eager to answer to? I’m not sure if this is a question. What do you think?
Reply on 17-4-1996
RR : 1) dunno. 2) Anti-zygote. 3) What? 4) Gypsy moth larvae. 5) Blaster Al Ackerman. 6) Either way. 7) 34.
Are those the answers you were looking for? Cultivate discipline, Ruud…. That was a terrible excuse for a question. Yes, Besides, I think I covered most of that in my previous answer, didn’t I? Perhaps not. I tend to Have My Way, mailartwise, without flaming anyone or patronizing anyone. Not always easy, but I think worth the effort.
One of the most common mail art problem-persons is the “I’m new to mail art, I love it, and I can do more of it in twenty-four hours than you can in a month” person. Comet-like, they flare into existence, shine ever so brightly for a brief while, then as quickly disappear without a trace. I do try to direct these people and point out to them that they will enjoy (mail) life more if they slow down and (um) smell the paper, as it were. I don’t think it pays to get annoyed at this sort, once in a while they pupate into Worthy Correspondents. Once in a while one is great fun even if they don’t last long. Ziiiiiiiiiiiip!!
I can sometimes enjoy this sort a great deal better than the terrible serious newcomer who, within days of arriving on the mail art scene, issues manifestoes, projects of great import, congresses and Significant Publications, all of which are to be responded to instantly with reams of equally significant verbiage. Yawn! I find that if I take an exceptionally long time to answer them they have usually self-destructed on the rock of their own ego by then. A lot of problem mailarters solve themselves with time. Lots of time…
Then there is the “Send me dirty photos / send me a photo of yourself without any clothes on” person. One of my pseudonyms is female, but I find that “she” gets no more of these than my “male” nomen. I usually point out that at my age and general physical condition, a photo of me without any clothes on is not a pretty sight. Hardly stimulating, to say the least. I try to explain that I enjoy raunchy humor, if it’s funny, but I have several reasons for not finding pornography per se all that fascinating, I won’t go into them right now as that is a whole other story, but usually this is effective, though it doesn’t, for some reason, translate too well into Italian…
Then there are the people who insist on being non-verbal; an envelope fulla stuph, a collage postcard, a odd chunk of something with postage and address affixed. All of these are ok with me, but I do like to get a few words from these people too. Perhaps because I am extra-verbose myself. Some of my most cherished correspondents do all these things, and still verbalize well. A matter of balance. I have one totally non-verbal correspondent of some years standing. I would be shocked if he suddenly started “talking” to me. With most of the Non-Verbals I find that continued communication with them, and writing to them when I send, eventually gets a few words back. Sometimes they are non-verbal for a reason; they have nothing to say. Sometimes not. That’s the way the sending crumbles…
There is no cure for dullness. A dull correspondent can be a real pain. Of course, you can be dull back. Save letters that you wrote to Ruud Janssen and decided were too dull for such a brilliant fellow, cut off the greeting and send them to your Dull Correspondent. Done a collage or a piece of artwork that just didn’t pan out? You know where to send it. Have you accumulate clippings, xeroxes, etc., that were too dull to send to anyone? That’s right; send them on to Mr./Ms. Dull. Of course, this gets you a Dull Reputation, but consider the crowd….
If you really get a dull, repetitive person who won’t give up, there are Strategies. If you have sixteen copies of one dull postcard design, send them one by one to the Dull Person over a period of months. Clip out and send a variety of Light Beer and tampon adds. I doubt they will survive that. Hey, be creative, eh?
RJ : Well, lets go on to another subject. Do you keep track of all the mail that you send out and get in?
Reply on 25-5-1996
RR : Yes, I have for years. Not for “Posterity” but to help me remember what I sent to who and who sent me what. Sometimes, once in perhaps a hundred times, there is reason to do this. I keep the information in cheap stenographer’s notebooks, mostly because they don’t take up as much room on my desk as a letter size pad or notebook. I have them going back quite a few years now, I don’t know why I keep them. A year back makes (a little) sense, more than that is Odd. A little keeping one’s toenail clippings in a jar. Some day I will burn all the notebooks. Pretty dull stuff. Illegible to anyone but myself as well. Did I mention how much I dislike archiving?
RJ : No, you didn’t mention archiving in this interview yet, but you did wrote it to me once. For the reader of the interview it might be interesting to hear your views on archiving too. So, why DO you dislike archiving so much?
reply on 7-7-1996
RR : For many years I attempted to be a “serious” artist, and dealt with the whole interrelated complex of galleries / museums / critics / art writers / biographers / archivists, and I am/was not impressed. When I finally gave up due to lack of time, money and talent (being a successful artist is expensive nowadays!) I found mail art to be a refreshing change from the mainstream, mostly due to its lack of expectations. However, after a while I had collected some twenty-seven large boxes of mail from other people and found myself willy-nilly being an archivist. On looking over this collection I found that I could easily pass on 50% of it, trash 40% of it, modify and recycle 10% of it and keep just a few items for my own personal pleasure, nothing for posterity. In my opinion, mail art is to send, to pass on, to recycle, not to store away someplace in hopes that someone you correspond with will become famous and you will become rich selling her/his artifacts. Mail art should be kept active and in flux and enjoyed above all. I could go on, and quite often do, but I think I have made my point. Goodbye!
RJ : Well, Rudi, I want to thank you for your interesting answers in this interview. I know that we will stay in contact. Till again!
WA 98227 – USA