THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH PETER KÜSTERMANN.
60 – unfinished
Started on: 30-12-1995
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 7-1-1996
(On this monday, just before 6 o’clock, I got a phonecall from Peter Küstermann. He said he liked the idea very much and that he wanted to use many different communication forms in the interview. His first answer he then gave, and I recorded this interview of which you here find the text-print):
PK : In 1982 I was still a normal person. Then I met Don Jarvis, we were reading poetry together. In the interval, this tall slim man in a grey suit shoved a small booklet over to me, wispering “Wanna read that?” Curiously me, sure I wanted, that changed my life.
The booklet contained congratulations, texts and pictures from all over the world for Robert Quercus’s 90th birthday. Maybe you know that that is the latin species name for an oaktree; I had to ask. And I learned that Robert stood in front of Don’s Counsil flat.
It had not made me suspicious that Don Jarvis had a colour toner photocopier in his counsil flat (which means cheap housing from the city for poor people) already in 1982. And my fate was sealed when I bought the documentary booklet about Robert’s birthday from Don, for an outrages sum. He explained its high price with those just seven words that have haunted my mail artist’s poor soul ever since: “I must make up for the postage.
Of course I squeezed out of Don all the details about this wonderful wordwide non-commercial network of artists who had congratulated him on Robert’s Quercus 90th birthday. In the 13 years since, I have launched a series of mail art actions myself and made just as many documentations.
In 1992 I was travelling with Angela as Netmail Postmen carrying mail art around the world. And then we found a sign ‘Quercus Robur’ on a big oaktree at the other end of the world in Melbourn’s Botanical Gardens, and mailed Don a photo with congratulations. After some weeks, back into London again, we celebrated the 100th birthday exactly 10 years later after our first encounter, together with my mail art godfather Don, who meanwhile has become my godMOTHER, because he paints, writes, and performs as Dawn Redwood now, and who has just been our dear guest for the opening of his one-(wo)man-show in our networking gallery in the Cultural centre of Mail Art Mekka Minden. Isn’t that an appropriate bio-logical pseudoname for the daughter of “Robert Quercus”
RJ : Lots of mail artists travel, but for you it has become a real way of life it seems. I remember getting mail from you from the most strange outher corners of the world, where you have been travelling to with angela. What has been the most impressive travel, and why do you travel that much?
Reply on 29-4-1996
PK : Our most impressive travel was our worldwide one-year FREE PERSONAL DELUXE NETMAIL DELIVERY Project in 1992, in which we carried 4000 hand-registered pieces of mail art over 100,000 kilometers and across more than 50 broders between 350 networkers and 173 Decentralized Networking Congresses, using over 150 trains, 160 buses, 100 taxis, even a mountain rail, a canou, and a sled – and all that in our postal uniforms. It was a pleasure that you joined the project as participant yourself!
As for our motives, let me please quote from our book “Networking Discussions”, published by Byron Black in Jakarta/Indonesia in 1993:
“We carried + sorted mail art on trains, campgrounds, airports, between Siberian ice and Chinese rice – an anachronism in the age of personal computers, faxe, and communication satellites. Imagine carrying art letters, a beer bottle and even an umbrella and a kangaroo bone by hand around the world in a postman’s uniform, in a super-marathon. Exploiting yourself, supported by the gentle hands of your artists friends. Such cul-tour-ing was exactly what we did from the first to the last second in 1992.
On the whole, this project was an extreme PHYSICAL experience, which was only possible in mutual support and constructive criticism between the two of us:
* carrying all those bags and backpacks full of mail and a few personal belongings, with depots in hong Kong, Minden and Moscow.
* getting used to different climates quickly: within 2 weeks from -45°C in Siberia to + 45°C in the central Australian desert.
* experiencing the microclimates of every participant’s and host’s personal environment, not only on a physical level, but also very intensely on an emotional level, and of course also mentally; behind EVERY single postcard we found a WHOLE creative personality: attractive, adventurous, inviting = worth our undivided attention.
* sleeping in trains, youth hostels, woods, airports, tents or being the welcome guests of our hospitable networking friends, most of whom even restricted their smoking habits for us and geared their kitchen to us vegetarians.
* lots of energy went of course into the mere organizing of such quick hit-and-run travelling. We would have liked to stay longer with quite a few networkers, and are carrying home a series of appointments and invitations to visit each other, also for bigger mutual projects, in the future.
* writing permanently our instant documentary diary with photos and text, which at the same time serves as exhibition material, and will go as free documentation in several hundred copies to all the participants.
An important motive: meeting REAL people in flesh & blood to get an authentic view of the world, not by mass media. Another one: experiencing many new feelings and thoughts beyond sometimes limited verbal communication. Never before has the world been so open for MORE than mail; our fathers were at war with each other, foreigners got stigmatized as scapegoats, the world ruled by national prejudice. We CAN behave differently today, understanding freedom not only as a chance, but as an obligation. Peace is not only the absence of war, but a space to be filled. Networking as a chance for personality in shallow, standardized mass societies which manipulate and exploit our working power – as a chance to give your own art and work a historic dimension, creating one’s own personal international net of friends.
This mind-extending experience included not only the collection and delivery of “mail as art” and “art by mail”, but also so many emotions, surprises, personal goodies and background stories from the participants of our project in the ‘Global Village’.
Networking, as an extended dimension of mail art, becomes a very physical experience, once you expose yourself to the other srtists’ projects: transporting handwritten art messages across oceans on your shaved head, delivering Net Mail sitting in a congress bathtub, or being the postal part of a sculpture made out of naked persons.
When our fathers, and also our grandfathers, traveled in uniform to other countries, that meant disaster. Who knows if our children will have to stay home because immense traveling costs, due to the exhaustion of our national resources, will make such a journey a privilege of the rich? So; for us the chance of longtime travel on a shoestring is also an obligation, to promote and intensify the network idea as a peace-creating force against mass society, racism, and commercialized art markets in a capitalist world.
On our global archipelago schedule we find many more active networkers than the usual participant in his own sub-network usually assume: popular names with their own well-deserved history as well as quite some exotic sometimes peripheral mail artists. How shall we keep the network open if not by integrating more of them regularly? Their unprecedented ideas mean progress and development, if the network does not want to petrify alive.”
RJ : Besides the traveling you also like to hand-stamp artistamps together with other mail artists when you meet them. When did you start with that and what is the idea behind it?
(after sending this question I received a postcard from Egypt from Peter Küstermann and Angela. Seems like they are on the road again…..)
(on March 5th I received mail from Peter again after a long break. He writes: “Hi ruud – here’s a T.A.M. article for your archive collection. Also I would like to continue our interview. What exactly was your last question? About rubber stamps?” With letter he sent a magazine with in it an article about T.A.M. – Think about Mutation – for my collecttion of TAM-findings. I sent him the last page of the interview again)
(Peter & Angela Netmail)