Signed in New York, USA April 2010, by Ruud Janssen and Larry Miller. Was done at the Stendhal gallery in New York at the exhibition there on Fluxus and Rubberstamps.
Ruud Janssen with Mark Bloch – USA
TAM Mail-Interview Project
Started on: 12-02-1995
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: 25-02-95 (internet)
MB: I first did mail art in 1968 when I did a postage stamp of a kid in my 6th grade class who used to scream a lot. He had some sort of personality disorder and as a 12 year old, I thought this was very amusing so I immortalized him with a stamp. I first used rubber stamps of Popeye, the cartoon character when I was 5 years old or so. My first use of the mail for artistic use as an “adult” was around 1976-1977 when I bought some used rubber stamps from a little shop in Kent Ohio where I was in college. They had belonged to the members of DEVO, I think.
I began to send mail art to people on postcards without knowing what mail art was. I watercolored and drew on the cards, too.I became interested in rubberstamps that way. That led me to The Rubber Stamp Album by 2 women. I think one of them was named Joni Miller but I’m not sure. Maybe one was named Lowry? Anyway, that book had an article about mail art in it. I realized that I was not the only one doing it. I got Ed Higgins’ address out of it and sent him some mail art. That was after I had graduated college and had moved to California. 1978. Also at this time, I came across a little poster for a mail art show stapled to a tree with Bill Gaglione’s address on it. I sent him something. The Poster was put there by the Westside Agent Michael Mollett, a mailartist from LA who later became a friend.
All of this happened around the same time. I also saw the work of Ray Johnson in that Rubber Stamp Album for the first time. It made an impression on me (no pun intended). But I didn’t know I could write to Ray myself. So I didn’t start with him until 1980 or so. Ed Higgins also started me with Ed Golik Golikov, a early member of the New York Correspondence School living in Denver Colorado. I also saw a big rubber stamp art exhibition by Stephen Vincent Benes in Santa Monica California. Come to think of it, I think that is where I heard about the Rubber Stamp Album. Yeah, I went to the show because I was using stamps and I saw a mention in a newspaper, when I visited the gallery I heard about the book and from the book I heard about mail art.
By late 78 I decided to make my activities official. I contacted my friend Kim Kristensen in Ohio, back where I used to live, and asked him if he wanted to be PAN Midwest. He said OK. Michael Heaton, another guy I had been sending art to through the mail after my graduation from college moved to New York and he became PAN East. I lived in Laguna Beach California and became PAN West.
Within a year I was in touch with people all over the world. Shozo Shimamoto and Rysuke Cohen sent some of their first mail art at that time to me. I also received things from Booster Clevellini who was actually Buster Cleveland but at the time I got him and Cavellini mixed up so I couldn’t understand what all the hype was about when Cavellini made his fist US visit in 1980 for Interdada 80.
Anyway, after Cavellini’s visit I became very much involved with mail art. Seeing some of the people in person, including my earliest correspondent EF Higgins, helped me to understand the network. I began to use the name PAN myself and my friends in Ohio and New York continued to be correspondents but by then ceased using the PAN name. POSTAL ART NETWORK was what Pan stood for, but soon it became clear that the bigger postal art network was something I should participate in and using the name PAN for myself was more interesting, just as Higgins used Doo Dah and Gaglione used Dadaland. So that is how I became Pan. A few years later I started to notice similarities between myself and the greek goat god Pan but that is another story.
RJ: How did things develop after you started with mail-art and meeting mail- artists. How did you get involved in the communication with the use of computers?
Reply on: 11-3-95 (internet)
MB: Things developed rapidly. I was very inspired by the Inter-dada 80 festival. I met Cavellini for the first time. Also Buster Cleveland, Ed Higgins, as I said above, as well as Bill Gaglione and other “2nd generation” mail artists. I also had the pleasure of meeting Al Hansen (Hansen died shortly after Mark Bloch wrote this – ed.) , who is a very important art historical figure who has avoided the spotlight due to his extreme views of the art marketplace. Those very views are what attracted me to him in the first place. I knew immediately I was dealing with “the genuine article.” He was in John Cage’s composition class at the New School with Dick Higgins and the other pre-fluxists and was an important contributor to the first happenings. In fact, he was doing them before they were called that. So I sat spellbound as he and Cavellini drew portraits of each other in a Pasadena coffee house. I also joked around with him, asking him for his autograph on a very tiny piece of paper. He wrote “Alan Kaprow” folded it up and handed it back to me. I was amazed that I could interact with a person like Hansen who was a legend to me.
I realized then that the mail art network would allow me to collaborate with people of Hansen’s stature if I wanted to. I was also very impressed with the other mail artists and the spirit of dada that engulfed the various events I attended. I recall Josine Starrells Janko, the daughter of dada Marcel Janko, gave a lecture at the Venice (California) jail. She said the mail artists were not as dada as her father’s generation of dada and she may have been right. But I didn’t care. I was very happy to be dealing with people who KNEW about dada. Up until that point, I had only read about such things and was ridiculed and labeled a trouble maker when I pursued such activity at college, before I had heard of mail art.
Now here were a whole lot of people who had studied dada as I had, who valued it’s anarchistic spirit and were taking actions to promote it in a new context. I was thrilled.
I began to correspond with as many people as I could and tried to meet them if they were local. I was always interested in meeting people in a way that reflected the chaos and fun of mail art so I proposed bizarre ways of getting together with people. I met correspondents Jim Reva and Maia Norman at Laguna Beach with a theme of MEAT (meat equals meet.) I brought along an entourage of friends and kids and a giant cow with an actual cow head locked in a paper maché head. They were waiting for me at the designated time and place (1pm July 6, 1980) dressed as butchers with meat spread about them on the sidewalk. We have been friends ever since. A videotape was made of the event and its aftermath.
I also corresponded with a local guy called the LA Obscurist Club. Somehow we started corresponding about mice and then cat and mouse and finally I proposed a Cat And Mouse game to meet. He wouldn’t do it but we did exchange some pretty wild objects at each others’ doorsteps and through the mail. Eventually we met at a mail art show.
Those were the early days of mail art meetings for me, also with Jerry Dreva; David Zack , who lived in LA then. Eventually I met a lot of the people I corresponded with, using various degrees of fanfare. But I always enjoyed the experience of meeting people in person. Things changed drastically in 1982 when I moved from LA to New York. I saw a poster that said Cavellini was going to be in New York. I called the number and ended up speaking on the phone to Buster Cleveland. He said I could perform at the gig. So I was part of a bill that included many of the people I had been corresponding with. One of them was Carlo Pittore. I will never forget our initial meeting, he was yelling to me from the bottom of a stairwell and his big smile and warm greetings were like a Welcome Home to the network. I experienced comraderie from that point on that did not exist in the LA mail art community. Or at least I did not feel a part of it.
Carlo introduced me to John Evans, John Jacob, Ray Johnson, Steve Random, Jean Brown, Zona (Bernard Banville) and many other mail artists. Foreigners came to visit like Arno Arts, Jürgen Olbrich, HR Fricker, Henryk Gajewsky, Sonja Van Der Burg, Günther Ruch. We had all sorts of parties and events for each of them. I always made a special point of having a one-to-one face-to-face meeting with people at least once. I value those collaborative meetings a great deal. It began to seem obvious at that time that the future of mail art was going to be in those meetings. I began a series of interviews with mail artists myself at that time -around 83- for The Last Mail Art Show. I felt that contact between those of us in the network was very important. I knew then what were later formalized in Tourism and in the onslaught of mail art writings that followed.
As for computers, I knew that was an eventuality, too. In the first edition of PANMAG (Panmag Number 1, there had been two others before it- Panmags 391 and 451. And there was also a Number 2 of 391 making it even more confusing. But anyway…) I made a sticker that said that the next logical step for mail art was computers- “But who ever said mail artists were logical?” I’m not sure of the exact date of that sticker but it was the first time computers were mentioned in mail art, to my knowledge.
Anyway, such things are not important because someone else always did something “first.” But the point is that I was very interested in computers from the start. I should have mentioned that the stickers I made were done with a computer.
In 1977, around the time I started with rubber stamps, I made my first work of computer art. It wasn’t made with a computer at all. It was a canvas with all sorts of information about computers collaged on it, including a portrait of me made by a computer. The type of thing you could have made at a shopping mall at that time for a very high price. I couldn’t resist having one made of my image and cutting it out for collages.
Actually I forgot to mention that I also used that same image to advertise a show I was having at my college. It was called 11-7-77 to 11-11-77. I stenciled those dates onto the computer image and stuck it everywhere on the Kent State University campus. My name did not appear, just numbers. Oh yes, I also used my social security number for my name.
So yes, I was very much interested in computers from before I ever heard of mail art. I took a class in FORTRAN in 1975. I wish I had stuck with it because now I wish I were a programmer.
In the mid eighties I used a graphic computer to create drawings of me as Pan. I also used a different computer to make random lines on a piece of vellum by attaching a pen to a moving computerized table.
In 1990, after a brief experiment with the WELL in California, I started Panscan on the Echo Teleconferencing BBS. Panscan was a link between the Internet and the mail art net. Unfortunately not enough mail artists had computers then so it took a new direction, away from mail art. We did things like create a collaborative poem or tell stories about how we got our taste or discussed the Art Strike and The Word Strike or talk about Dada and Duchamp as well as mail art.
Now (1995) more mail artists have computers so I am hoping I can continue with my original plan of a more concrete link between the two media. Also I should mention that a few mail artists did access Panscan once or twice- Charles François, Guy Bleus, CrackerJack Kid- and many others saw it on their visits to New York- John Held and Xexoxial Endarchy and Mark Pawson.
I think the future for mail art and computers is bright. Especially now that I am in the process of creating a PANSCAN HOME PAGE on the World Wide Web.
RJ: In the time you were doing the Panscan I was experimenting with the digital TAM-Bulletin (as a BBS-service). It seems the time wasn’t right then as you mentioned. Also the costs for data-communication was then a problem. Now, in 1995, the sending of this question to you by E-mail via INTERNET costs me half the price a normal envelope with the question would cost…. But the difference is that I send you the question in digital form. Just ASCII, and no color, no smell, no touch of my hand that you can trace. Is the electronic communication ready for artists?
Reply on: 18-03-1995
MB: You say …. just ASCII, and no color, no smell, no touch of my hand that you can trace. Is the electronic communication ready for artists?
I say- YES YES YES. I think you have given a good case in favor of it with your question. The electronic communication IS ready because there is no color, no smell, no handprints! The Internet needs artists!
Most of the home pages I’ve seen are pretty lame. There is very little inspired work going on. In fact, in ALL spheres of influence on our planet there is very little inspired work going on- not just Internet or World Wide Web but also in the Art Market and in the political arena and in the business arena and YOU NAME IT. The world needs artists!
The business world is perhaps the MOST creative area of human endeavor right now. Isn’t that ironic? They have come up with the most creative solutions in the computer area and even in the problem of what to do about Eastern Europe. The businessmen lead the way (after the mail artists, of course, we were there first, as usual). Sure they fuck stuff up too, but I look at the planet and what it needs and it needs so much and I see a big gap that artists need to fill. So yes, the answer is YES. There IS room for artists on the Net, it is imperative.
You spoke of ASCII. I pride myself on the fact that I use ASCII in my work. I am only now -in 1995- getting a high speed modem. Up until now -for 7 years- I have used a 1200 baud modem. I like that! It is cheap and easy to use- not just for rich people in the USA but for anyone anywhere. A cheap computer and a modem can be pretty inexpensive. The phone bills are another problem but if we are clever we can also overcome that obstacle too.
I prefer ASCII, very low tech computer communications. Why? Because then we have to rely on the written word. That requires a person goes into their INTERNAL network of experiences and feelings and thoughts and COMMUNICATE through the written word. I like that.
I am working on an autobiographical novel. It contains no pictures. But with 184,020 words I have communicated most of what has happened to me and how I feel about it fits in a 1052 kilobyte file. I can put it on a floppy disc and send it to you or just include it in this letter and e mail it to you. You’ll read all about the colors and smells and experiences that are my life in great detail.
I have never believed that being an artist meant being a visual artist. Though I also see opportunities for visual artists in computers.
RJ: One of the things I find difficult with the electronic communication is the archiving-part. My mail from the P.O.Box I can put in boxes, but somehow archiving the text-files and the graphic files is more difficult because it is connected to the changing hardware and software as well. How do you archive your mail-art? (both the snail as the electronic mail)
Reply on: 25-03-95 (Internet)
MB: Well, now you’ve hit on something interesting because my archive is completely unmanageable! The hard mail (snail mail) used to be organized – I think it was completely perfect for 15 minutes in 1985 or so- but now it is EVERYWHERE and completely UNorganized. I actually paid a guy to come in and work on it with me in the mid-eighties and that is when things got good. I set up a system and he implemented it.
Everything was separated by size. There was basically the postcards, the letter size envelopes, the larger envelopes and the big envelopes and then the packages, I believe. Within those categories it was set up according to countries and states (for the US) and then within those categories alphabetical by person’s name. Not their real name but the one they used. That system worked ok for a awhile and I plan to put everything in that order eventually but for 10 years it has just piled up chronologically in cardboard boxes.
Especially the past 6 years I have been on Word Strike and Ex Post Facto, Retroactive Art Strike and so I haven’t answered but 5 or 6 pieces of mail in all that time. So all the mail goes into piles by WHEN it was reviewed. To be answered and sorted later. Of course I will probably never answer most of it. But I would like to. I still receive a lot of mail, believe it or not, and I am thankful for it.
So mostly we are talking about a big file cabinet filled with organized mail art, some boxes filled with organized mail art. There are also 4 big boxes that I call the Last Mail Art Show. They contain pieces I selected in 1984 that I wanted to use for the catalogue to my show of that name (that never got made.)
The rest is just chaos.
Also- I made an agreement to give whatever I don’t want to the Kent State University Special Collections Library in Ohio, where I went to college. They have a very nice collection of all kinds of manuscripts there and I am honored that they want to preserve any mail art I want to give them.
They also have the collection of a New York mail artist named Tom Wirth who died a few years ago. Tom was a member of the New York Correspondence School with Ray Johnson in the 60s. His collection of correspondence ended up in Kent which is wonderful because between his archive and mine, they have a very thorough collection mail art from the early 60s thru to the present.
So I occasionally get it together to send them some boxes of mail art that I have looked through. I go through the boxes and pull out all postcards, which go into a huge box I have. (It used to be a box that a mail box was bought in!) I also pull out the artistamps. They go in a special place. So do the show catalogues and projects. Then I save any personal correspondence with friends or family. And anything I just happen to like. Those items go into the Pantheon and will be categorized as I mentioned above some day. The rest I send off to Kent.
I also have a huge pile of xeroxes over here. I make copies of almost anything hand made that I have ever sent out so it is quite a pile. Maybe 4 or 5 feet tall. I also keep copies of letters I wrote on my computer on disc.
That brings us to the electronic side of things. I have been saving everything electronically since I got my computer in 87 or so. It is all on floppy discs and organized in some general categories but generally, this is also chaos. It needs to be looked at.
I do have some organization. There are files called Letters To People and most of the letters are there. There are lists of everything I ever sent out and to whom all in one folder. (also somewhere are similar lists scribbled down before I ever got the computer). Then there is Echo.
Ever since 1990 when I got on Echo, the BBS I use and where my Panscan is located, I have saved every piece of e mail I ever got. It is in hundreds of files downloaded into my computer. It is a mess. Perhaps a PANdora’s box I will never open. I don’t really care anymore but it may come in handy some day so I save them. Space is cheap on disc. I also have archives of things I’ve written on Echo’s other conferences. Stuff about philosophy, love, being a man, psychology, culture, tv, movies etc. I save those and would like to use them some day to make a book or something.
All of it is semi-organized. None of it is organized to my satisfaction. I wish I had a lot of space and a lot of time and a lot of money
RJ: Well, time. In Computerland everything goes fast. Diskettes grow old and get useless (magnetic information doesn’t lasts that long), the messages on INTERNET get distorted and aren’t always as they originally were planned (The messages as you send them to me are accompanied by lots of strange and wonderful computer-poetry, but I select the ASCII I need for the interview only). The Gigabytes of info I myself have on diskettes will be useless if I don’t make backups every few years and keep all the hardware I need for it. I am a bit pessimistic about archiving all the electronic information and therefore still prefer that paper. Electronic information for me is like electricity. It is useful, and it transforms in many forms. Guy Bleus has started his Electronic Archive. How should such an Electronic Archive look like?
Reply on : 8-4-1995 (Internet)
MB: It should look like this
(This is the complete file as it came in via internet. I only adjusted the layout a bit)
Item 1 (127) Ground Rules For Panscan (YOU MUST READ THIS)
Item 2 ( 67) What is Panscan?
Item 12 ( 50) Ideas for New Projects We Can Do On Panscan To Make Life more exciting.
Item 121 (127) Post-Art Events, Panscan Events, Best Laid Plans, etc. PAN-Cal
Item 308 (178) Panscan: The Eulogy, The Funeral, & The Vigil
Item 345 ( 50) The Golden Age of Panscan: Memory or Myth?
Item 354 ( 49) Panscan Pride: The Few, The Proud, The Bold
Item 355 ( 60) Panscan Improvement Item
Item 336 (227) Panman apology item
Item 339 ( 70) Fall 1992 Postal Art Event
MAIL ART, MAIL, SELF-PUBLISHING
Item 4 (135) Postal Art History
Item 5 (156) HOW TO Item
Item 8 (172) The Art Strike
Item 9 (247) The Meaning of the Word ART Join the Word Strike 1991-1993
Item 18 ( 48) Japanese Mail Artists Network Run Across Europe
Item 27 ( 22) Panscan Express: WISH YOU WERE HERE
Item 40 ( 75) CAVELLINI 1914-2014
Item 41 (132) Self-Publishing and the Sub-Modern tradition
Item 42 ( 41) Pan Pals In Eastern Europe
Item 55 (109) RubberRubberRubber – RubberRubberRubber
Item 95 ( 82) Chain Letters
Item 102 ( 61) Postage Stamps / Artistamps
Item 104 ( 68) (maga)ZINES (pronounced “zeens”)
Item 116 ( 24) Reflux Project
Item 125 ( 6) 1992 Networker Congress
Item 165 ( 2) Virgin Mail Artist
Item 166 ( 1) INCH BY INCH : MAIL ART PROJECT.
Item 167 ( 1) EAST/WEST NET-LINK.
Item 256 (250) The Junk Mail Tally
Item 263 ( 4) YAWN the art strike magazine
Item 269 (432) Elvis Gets a Stamp!
Item 273 (150) FAX ART RESPONSE/March, 1992
Item 321 ( 43) NC92 – Electronic Mail Art Event
Item 322 (127) stuff I heard about Fact Sheet Five
Item 347 ( 39) MORE Things I’ve Hears and Thought about Factsheet Five!
Item 6 (172) Discussion of Postal Art Shows and Projects (See also #13)
Item 13 ( 11) Postal Art Shows and Projects List
Item 15 (823) E Poem II
Item 16 ( 38) Contribute to the Calendar
Item 17 ( 57) Looking Glass
Item 20 (148) Textual Art: found or created
Item 24 (219) ASCII_ART
Item 25 (935) The E Mail Poem- an on-line experiment
Item 34 (120) TALES FROM ECONIA THE INTERACTIVE NOVEL
Item 35 (101) ArtsWire
Item 43 ( 30) VT-100 art
Item 48 ( 78) Deranged Dictator Action Game
Item 51 ( 67) Arithmetic
Item 54 ( 45) Project with Kids
Item 98 (106) Fascinating conversation
Item 99 (199) Say Something *Dangerous*
Item 100 (105) Top 100 Item
Item 129 (465) Currency Event
Item 141 (232) The analogue computer
Item 142 (158) Remote Control Object Maker
Item 143 (124) Virtual Theater!
Item 144 ( 65) Palindromes
Item 145 ( 29) Limericks
Item 153 ( 43) Echo Exhibition
Item 155 ( 90) Superzoom… an Echo collaboration
Item 158 (161) Evolution vs. Deterioration: An Experiential Workshop
Item 164 ( 14) Experimental Theatre
Item 268 (487) Intersection of Scientific Ashrams
Item 276 (204) Hyperpanscan Hypercard Hyperstack
Item 288 (371) the name of the item is…….FUCK CONFORMITY !!!!!
Item 291 ( 21) Rapper’s Delite!
Item 317 ( 39) Poems on Paintings
Item 350 ( 54) Midwinter Improvisation
Item 352 ( 19) CA Agrippa – raw material, parodies, commentary
Item 70 ( 1) Explanation of the next 19 items
Item 71 ( 29) Monday
Item 72 ( 19) Tuesday
Item 73 ( 21) Wednesday
Item 74 ( 21) Thursday
Item 75 ( 30) Friday
Item 76 ( 20) Saturday
Item 77 ( 21) Sunday
Item 78 ( 7) January
Item 79 ( 6) February
Item 80 ( 7) March
Item 81 ( 6) April
Item 82 ( 7) May
Item 83 ( 7) June
Item 84 ( 6) July
Item 85 ( 7) August
Item 86 ( 6) September
Item 87 ( 6) October
Item 88 ( 7) November
Item 89 ( 8) December
Item 90 ( 58) Discussion of the last 19 items
Item 38 ( 78) Before Dada, Dada, Surrealism, After Surrealism
Item 123 ( 81) Henry Miller and Anais Nin
Item 146 ( 36) Death and the Single Artist
Item 147 ( 86) Wittgenstein
Item 154 ( 56) Charlotte Moorman
Item 244 (601) Name Dropping
Item 338 (189) Dylan
Item 344 (117) DADA< DUCHAMP< CAGE< FLUXUS
Item 7 (151) Networking Theories
Item 57 (503) Artists and Suffering
Item 106 (220) Democracy
Item 108 ( 53) Technical Proficiency
Item 109 (412) Critique The Critics
Item 114 (361) Post-Modernism
Item 115 (367) Art and Terrorism
Item 117 ( 62) Concerning the Spiritual In Art
Item 122 (213) Gift giving (including letter writing)
Item 126 ( 51) Is the avant garde dead?
Item 127 (217) Design: Graphic, Industrial, Experimental, Annoying
Item 136 (286) What is entertainment
Item 138 ( 86) Computer art, Thinking and Doing
Item 139 (145) Gnawing, Nibbling, Biting, Chewing theFat on Taste
Item 157 (176) Post-post-modernism: Refreshing new thoughts from now people
Item 163 (224) Death The Final Frontier
Item 169 (300) Intellectual Property
Item 248 ( 61) Taboos.
Item 259 (332) Miss OB 1991’s Narrrative Item
Item 289 ( 43) Playworld
Item 323 ( 44) Hypertext/Hypermedia
Item 335 (107) Cheesey vs, Campy
Item 346 ( 85) CYBERcide
Item 349 ( 41) Negativland and U2 and Copyright
Item 353 ( 80) “Masterpieces”– Pro and Con
Item 362 ( 4) Patriotism
Item 10 (158) Computers, On Line Communications, Mail Art, Language
Item 26 ( 76) History and the Big Lie
Item 28 (127) Pseudonyms, Impersonations, Fictional (?) Characters
Item 160 (222) Language Is A Virus From Outer Space
Item 168 (363) Amy B.’s Foucault Item
Item 227 (210) The Museum of Annoying Slogans
Item 231 ( 56) Word
Item 267 (113) Childhood Textuality Voice Literary Supplement
Item 53 ( 77) The Soundscape
Item 212 (150) Sense of Smell
Item 252 ( 10) Sense of Touch
Item 258 (194) Impairments/ DisabilitiesQuestions/Discussion
Item 66 (139) Life’s Little Lessons
Item 91 (187) The Water will Change to Cherry Wine
Item 97 (234) Information Overload
Item 151 (252) Pretty toenails
THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF EVERYDAY LIFE
Item 156 (189) Your philosophy of life
Item 170 (326) Philosophy and Nausea
Item 254 (101) The Sine Wave Theory of Life
Item 255 ( 49) Pet Philosophies
Item 270 (212) Want to have a Philosophy Conference on ECHO?
Item 316 ( 19) thought for the day
Item 327 (247) KARMA
Item 328 (309) Truth or Consequences
Item 334 (134) Mind Body Duality
Item 150 (967) GOD: Defense Mechanism, Helpful Construct, or Just a Close Personal Friend
Item 172 ( 19) Mysticism In Your Lifetime
Item 257 ( 26) The Tao Te Ching — The Way
Item 271 (379) Son Of God
Item 275 (195) I have been thinking about the difference between Christianity and Zen
Item 274 (250) Epiphany
Item 324 (162) Meditation
Item 325 (194) Feng Shui – the art of placement
Item 358 ( 40) Sex and Spirituality
Item 33 (280) The NEA, the intolerant, freedom of speech and you
Item 67 (247) People Without Addresses (The Homeless)
Item 69 (200) CYBERPAN World Brain
Item 93 ( 70) Utopia
Item 94 (110) Dystopia
Item 113 (502) Masturbation in the 21st Century
Item 307 (150) Male feminists. Female sexists. Genderless politics??
Item 310 ( 34) Depiction of Women on Television
Item 311 ( 59) Depiction of Men on TV
Item 341 ( 99) Your political orientation
Item 351 (219) Multiculturalism
Item 360 ( 44) Is homosexuality a culture? – “Subitem” from #351
Item 52 (608) No Mask
Item 96 (258) Famous Some Day
Item 130 (140) ANGER
Item 133 (101) Galleria of the Fractured Fragmentos
Item 149 (247) Loneliness: Taboo
Item 171 ( 48) why am i so serious?
Item 173 (138) Your biggest fear
Item 246 ( 42) Favorite Suffering
Item 249 (177) narcissism — or why i am the most important character in the world
Item 261 ( 59) OBSESSion
Item 264 (434) Success
Item 280 (191) Responsibility
Item 304 (220) Thin Skin Thick Skin
Item 312 (250) Procrastination
Item 313 (255) BOREDOM (yawn)
Item 319 ( 71) Cleanliness, Neatness, Clutter and Filth
Item 3 (976) Introductions
Item 29 (359) I Hate Everything
Item 30 ( 60) I am dancing at the feet of my lord all is bliss all is bliss
Item 31 (986) Childhood Memories
Item 32 (144) My Old Thoughts
Item 37 ( 83) Not Quite and The Job That Got Away
Item 50 (235) Safe and restful sleep sleep sleep
Item 62 (211) Most Memorable Happening In Your Life
Item 101 ( 70) REUNIONS
Item 105 (231) Nicknames and How They Got That Way
Item 118 (295) Did your parents destroy your life?
Item 131 (389) Book(s) I bought today
Item 162 (172) Home
Item 243 (113) What’s your major?
Item 251 (238) Your Area Of Expertise
Item 262 ( 14) a fragmento funeral
Item 277 (221) Nightmare Jobs from Hell
Item 281 (315) I had this amazing dream last night….
Item 282 ( 38) Retirement, savings, and other assorted ugly grown-up things..
Item 283 (331) You and your father
Item 284 (464) You and your mother
Item 285 ( 16) You and Your Mother-in-Law
Item 287 (114) Your ex-wife/husband
Item 292 ( 53) How did your parents meet
Item 306 (110) One Year Sabbatical – What Would YOU Do?
Item 315 (417) What was the best thing you saw today?
Item 343 (171) Transforming Arsinoe
Item 56 (208) House Beautiful?
Item 58 ( 43) The Most Beautiful Thing In Outer Space
Item 59 (193) Most beautiful thing on Planet Earth
Item 60 (149) Most Unpleasant Thing on Planet Earth
Item 61 (196) Most Likely Explanation For the Creation of the Universe
Item 63 ( 78) Greatest Artwork of All Time
Item 64 (169) Most Boring Artist Of All Time
Item 107 (213) The difference between Mark Kostabi and Jenny Holzer
Item 134 ( 65) What Does The Future Hold for Art?
Item 135 (199) PLEASE TELL ME WHAT THE FUTURE WILL BRING
Item 159 (192) Remember 1991?
Item 326 (249) Jeff Koons’ dream
Item 357 ( 55) Should Ugly People Dance?
Item 359 ( 50) My Favorite Work of Art
Item 337 ( 8) Quotes about “art
Item 361 ( 28) Citizen Kane
Item 47 (140) Pan The Nature God
Item 92 (194) Heroes and Heroines and Acts of Heroism
Item 103 ( 13) Myths, Mythology, Legends and Archetypes
Item 124 (135) Temple of Disembodied Tele-Love
Item 207 ( 24) Other Deities and Other Demons
Item 240 ( 65) vampires
Item 340 (124) The Unpretentious Wine Item
Item 348 (106) Goddess of the Month Club
Item 237 ( 20) ECHO Classics
Item 253 (589) The Sociology of Echo
Item 331 ( 39) TOPIC D R I F T
Item 356 ( 61) The History Of Echo in Under 1000 Postings
THE MR. HAPPY YEARS
Item 296 (275) Mr. Happy and Mr. Smith on trial
Item 297 ( 35) SEXUAL FANTASIES ABOUT PANMAN
Item 298 ( 45) YES YOU LIKE THIS!!!!!!!!!!
Item 299 ( 5) SMEGMA
Item 302 (112) Mallarme, Mr. Happy, Four letter words, etc… (a serious disc)
Item 293 ( 78) Hunting!
Item 294 ( 33) PANSCAN CRAPPER!!
Item 295 ( 56) BORDERLINE: crime, love, satan, art, joy
Item 49 ( 21) Pan’s Birthday- The on-Line celebration.
Item 132 ( 67) Help The Panman
Item 137 ( 37) Panmans Mail Bin
Item 265 ( 33) Descriptions of Panman
Item 174 ( 27) Questionairre guaranteed to annoy and delight
Item 188 ( 40) mental image
Item 190 ( 74) Amusement ride?
Item 197 ( 56) Taste in Your mouth
Item 236 ( 27) Favorite hour of the day
Item 238 ( 30) Left or Right?
Item 239 ( 52) Your favorite lipid
Item 245 ( 21) Favorite Bodily Discharge
Item 247 ( 22) Your favorite caucus command
Item 250 ( 42) Icky Food Combos
That was the set up of my Panscan Computer Conference as of February 93 It has grown since then and I’ll tell you rest some other time. Basically I think an Electronic Archive will work best when it is organized and easy to use.
RJ: Dear Mark Bloch: On April 8th I received your last answer to the interview project. I sent the next question in a large envelope to your P.O. Box, but it seems it didn’t arrive, or that you haven’t found the time to answer it (maybe because of your BIG UN-project. Here I send you the question again….
With the electronic communication things can get out of control rapidly. If your message is interesting and lots of people react to it, how do you deal with answering it all? I believe that at the moment you are mostly communicating by computer and hardly answer any snail-mail? (I’ll send this question by snail-mail to see if you still collect your mail at the P.O.Box….)
Reply on: 14-8-1995
MB: Well, Ruud, the answer to your “lots of people” question is in the “it seems it didn’t arrive” introduction! Yeah, you see I often DON’T answer my mail anymore- both the snail mail and the Internet mail. I would like to. And I intend to. But what I have learned in my 5 year Ex Post Facto Art Strike (1990-95) and the Word Strike (1991-1995) is that if you don’t answer your mail IT REALLY ISN’T THE END OF THE WORLD. Sure, I’ve missed opportunities and I’m sure I’ve pissed some people off or just confused them or made them wonder about me… and for that I am sorry… but I’ve taken the time for MYSELF these past few years and gotten some interesting answers to some questions that plague all of us.
Namely, that one quality correspondence is better than 1000 superficial correspondences. I used to try to answer everything and (HERE IS THE ANSWER I THINK YOU WERE LOOKING FOR) that meant sitting down with an idea, making a postcard or 8 1/2 x 11 inch page or PANMAG issue and then mailing it out to hundreds of people all at once. That included rubber stamping them all the same more or less, maybe jotting down a short note or two, addressing them very quickly, buying a bunch of stamps and licking them all at once until my mouth tasted like turpentine and slapping them into a mail box. The responses would then pour in- hundreds of letters out equals thousands of letters in- and then I’d do it again. It got me nowhere.
I met a lot of interesting people and established myself as a mail artist in the network but no one really knew who I was or what I do until I met them in person. THEN I was able to give a fuller picture of myself the way you get when you are in a one-on-one correspondence with someone. You write letters. You ask and answer questions. You talk about your daily life.
Both ways of interacting are valuable but for me the mass mailing got tiresome after 15 years in the network. I felt like the Publishers Clearinghouse which is an American company that sends out millions of junk mailings to everyone with an address. That is not art activity- that is busywork and though it was interesting for a while, it got less interesting over the years.I stopped with the mail in 1990 after mailing out THE LAST WORD, my contribution to the ART STRIKE literature and propaganda and only maintained a few mail relationships. One was with Ray Johnson. I continued to mail him stuff on a daily basis and now that he is dead I am so grateful that I had an opportunity to really devote myself to our friendship in a way that would have been impossible if he was one of a thousand correspondents.
I also kept up my local interactions during this time on Echo a local BBS in New York where my Pascan conference resides.
Now with Listserve on the Internet I am back into corresponding with thousands again. It has it’s place but it is not as rewarding as the slow relationships I’ve built over the past five years with my wife, my new baby Simon, Ray Johnson, and also people like you via the Internet and Fa Ga Ga Ga a mail artist from Ohio whom I have met in person on many occasions face to face in the past five years because he comes to New York often and I go to Ohio from time to time.
But if corresponding with thousands is something that interests a person, it is easy enough: all you have to do is get a table and a rubberstamp and some postage stamps and make a thousand xeroxes of whatever you want and subscribe to Ryosuke Cohen’s Brain Cell or Ashley Parker Owen’s Global Mail. There is no shortage of mindless busywork to do. Some people do this almost as a profession and have become very famous without ever having an original thought! But not Cohen and Owens.They know who they are.
It’s easy and it’s fun and it is a beautiful way to avoid ever having to face yourself. PS there is one other way to do it – the best of both worlds as I have done. Sit quietly doing nothing for 5 years and then take the rest of your life to send each person a long letter. I guess that’s my plan for now.
Here ya go.
RJ: Well, I must say I appreciate these personal answers very much. In a way I am doing the same as you, with these mail-interviews I get to know some mail-artists quite good and on the other hand I neglect the non-personal mail I still get in by the dozens in my P.O. Box. In your last answer you also mentioned the building up of a relation with Ray Johnson. Your e-mail message about his death I would like to include in the printed version of this interview. How was your relationship with Ray?
Reply on 8-2-1996 (Internet)
MB: We had a pretty cool relationship. We’d call each other up on the phone about twice a month. Sometimes less but usually more. He would call and ask for mail artist’s phone numbers or addresses. Or to see if I’d gotten this or that catalogue or letter. I’d call him just to chat or to joke or to ask if he’d seen some book or article about Duchamp.
I think we had a similar idea about mail art. We were both interested in it but we also mocked it a bit. As he told me one day “Mail Art is an industry.” I think it’s true. It got a bit too large for it’s own good at some point in the 80’s. Or maybe just too serious for its own good. But Ray I both like to joke so we would joke about mail art. We also would joke about Marcel Duchamp and his last project, The Etant Donnes, and about all sorts of stuff.
We used to talk a lot about TV. We both enjoyed working with the TV on in the background so we would watching the same shows- not on purpose. But often it would be- “hey did you see so and so?” and of course, both of us had. So we would talk about a show or a film or an actor or a scene or whatever. I remember he enjoyed the Fashion series they had on PBS. We also both sat mesmerized by the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Debacle which was an American political scandal/confirmation hearing for a guy nominated for the Supreme Court. Too hard to explain. But there was a real wonderful cast of characters on that. A guy named Doggett Ray and I both couldn’t believe. And a black woman I enjoyed watching very much. I remember Ray said “Float her down the Nile!” and I made a piece of art about her as a Nefertiti-like statue afterwards.
That is how our conversations went. They were very free-form, very lighthearted and fun. Kind of making puerile jokes about all sorts of intellectual subjects. And finding profound synchronicities in things like stupid made-for-TV movies.
Ray loved to make fun of Arsenio Hall, a stupid talk show host. I think we were both equally repulsed and fascinated by the constant stream of mindless entertainment. I miss talking to him.
I used to write down a lot of the things Ray said in our calls. It started out that I would just jot down something he said- a name he dropped or whatever. Someone I’d never heard of.To look up afterwards. But as time went on I began to write down everything he said. I can write quite fast from over 20 years of journal-writing so I’d make notes and piece them together after I hung up. Now that he’s dead I am so glad I did that. I look through some of the things he said and find whole new worlds to explore. He was always recommending books to read. I am glad now I can go back and read them. Or look up people he mentioned. I’ve met a lot of them since his death quite by accident. I run into people and we talk about Ray and then I go home and look them up in my Ray data base and sure enough, there they are. He mentioned everyone! I like to theorize that he was a bridge between people and now that he’s dead- jumping off a bridge- we are left to make the connections ourselves. At the same time, there are so many things I wish I could ask him now. I asked him just before he died if I could do a video interview with him and he seemed excited by the idea. I’m sorry we never did it.
I think Ray and I understood each other. We communicated in weird non-verbal verbal Taoist talk show code. I enjoyed sending him mail art. He’d send me a lot too. I’d like to gather it all up at some point. I have a lot of it collected here but there are still dozens and dozens of envelopes in my archive that I need to find eventually.
I really think he decided on his death many years ago so I would like to find them all and look for clues. Plus I would just like to have them around because I miss Ray as a friend and a mentor.
He helped me a lot. He introduced me to lots of wonderful people. He used to constantly be filling in little gaps in my knowledge. Huge gaps, really. Ray was the type of person I could call up and ask any question of. He’d gladly respond if he was in the right mood. If he was not in the right mood he’d say “I don’t know” or “Who cares?” or answer with a riddle. But the answers he gave always lead me in the right direction.
Most of our conversations were like long free associating poems that started somewhere and ended nowhere. They’d begin with an excuse to call and then meander all over the place, taking weird turns with every pun and obscure reference. We both liked puns and we both enjoyed TV and pop culture. I should say that he LOVED the TV show Twin Peaks and so did I. He told me once he thought it was the best show ever on TV. If you really want to know what our friendship was like, watch that show. It sort of flopped along like that…
RJ: Well, the show was here on Dutch Television too, but at that time I wasn’t watching that much television. So I will watch out for it when it comes back again, or when I see something on video. I want to thank you for this interview Mark, and I hope we’ll stay in contact.
– END –
E-MAIL MESSAGE ABOUT RAY JOHNSONS DEATH
PINE 3.90 TEKST VAN BERICHT Postvak: INKOMEND Bericht INTERNET
Date: Thu, 2 Feb 1995 16:24:28 -0500
Subject: Ruud Jannsen Ray Johnson say 50 times fast
<> Panman- 02-FEB-95 16:24 – markb@echonyc
Ray Johnson 1927-1995
This time it’s for real
I’m sorry to announce that Ray Johnson, the founder of the New YorkCorrespondance School and a man who playfully announced his own death manytimes, died for real this weekend.
He drowned during a visit to Sag Harbor, New York. He was pulled from the water at12:35pm Saturday afternoon, January 14, 1995. He was fully clothed- in a typicaloutfit for him- levi’s, a wool sweater, a levi jacket and a wind breaker. He was lastseen around 7pm Friday night after checking into the Barron’s Cove Inn in SagHarbor, near the end of Long Island, NY. Sag Harbor is on the north shore of LongIsland, about a two hour drive from his home in Locust Valley, a journey he appearsto have made in order to do some drawings at the estate of Jackson Pollock andLee Krasner.
The weather was unusually mild for this time of year. Ray was fond of the water. Heoften took walks along the shore at Oyster Bay near his home. He was also prone towalking out on piers and docks. There were several near the area where he wasfound on Saturday. He told me on the phone recently “I’m going to do my exercises,”that he was “working on a washboard stomach” by doing “rowing exercises on thebeach with rocks.” And that he would “walk with rocks” as weights and that he was”feeling very fit.”
Ray turned 67 years old on the 16th of October. He was going strong, remarkably fitfor a man of that age. He ate no meat, didn’t drink, smoke or partake of recreationaldrugs. He worked from morning until night, often with the television on in thebackground. As usual, he was still making up new incarnations of hisCorresponDANCE School, the latest one I had heard of being the “Taoist Pop ArtSchool.” He had taken up photography in recent years and took daily walks wherehe would make photos. I also noticed that only weeks ago he had finally retired therubber stamp with his return address on it that he had used for years in favor of anew one. I had meant to ask him about that.
Born in 1927 in Detroit Michigan, Ray Johnson’s first experiences using the mail asa medium for art have been documented as early as 1943 in a correspondence withhis friend Arthur Secunda. In the late 40’s- early 50’s (?) he attended theexperimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina where he studied withJoseph Albers and Buckminister Fuller among others. He has influenced thousandsof people, from other Black Mountain faculty like John Cage and Willem and ElaineDeKooning to his contemporaries like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, JasperJohns and the Fluxus group (whom) he met when he moved to New York in the 50’s)to an entire generation of younger artists who called him “the granddaddy of mailart.” History may also eventually see Ray Johnson as the first Pop artist. Hisminimalist collages using the images of James Dean and Elvis pre-date AndyWarhol’s and most of his contemporaries by several years. In addition to makingelegant collages, which he called ‘moticos,” Ray hosted many happenings andevents at various locations around Manhattan in the 1960’s. These actions dreweveryone in the art world and started the cross-pollenation of personalities thatbecame his Correspondence School. He would send things to friends and strangersalike, asking them to add to them and send them on to another person, often usinghis unique brand of intuitive word play as his guide. Some of this activity isdocumented in The Paper Snake published by Dick Higgins’ Something Else Press.He has been called “the most famous unknown artist in the world.”
Ray lived on Suffolk Street on the Lower East Side until 1968 when he was mugged-around the same time- if not the same day- that his friend Andy Warhhol was shotby Valerie Solanas. He decided to leave the city and his friends artist RichardLippold and collector Arturo Schwartz reportedly were instrumental in his moving to”the Pink House” on 7th Street in Locust Valley, from which he never moved. Heworked there, almost hermit-like with the exception of of his voracious appetite forphone calls and correspondence, mysteriously and prolifically for over 25 years.
Many people wanted to show his work but he prefered his quiet admiration of thesage Lao Tse. His last major show was at the Nassau County Museum of Art in themid-eighties and a gallery show in the 90’s in Philadelphia of his “A Book AboutModern Art.” A catalogue raissonne’ was in the works. He had recently done one ofhis informal non-performances which he called “nothings” at a gallery in LongIsland. He told me in one of our last phone calls, “Will you come to my show atSandra Gering in January? I’m doing a half a nothing. I can’t decide whether to do itin the first half or the second half.”
Many of us who know each other in the art world and its fringes have that pleasurebecause of Ray Johnson. As the extent of his influence on 20th century art and”letters” continues to be uncovered, we will surely miss Ray Johnson, the man. Inspite of his Taoist fondness of nothing, Ray was really something.
January 15, 1995
Reproduced with the permission of
Further reproduction without written consent of
Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.
Mail-artist: Mark Bloch, PO Box 1500, NY, NY USA 10009
E-mail Mark Bloch – The Panman
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen – TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, HOLLAND
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 : email@example.com
(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” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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 18.104.22.168 (tone) 505
Telephone Switchboard: +47 22.214.171.124
Telephone Private: +47 126.96.36.199
Telefax: +47 188.8.131.52
[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: email@example.com (Ruud Janssen)
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 95 7:59:53 CST
From: Chris Dodge <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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 email@example.com
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
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH DICK HIGGINS (USA)
by Ruud Janssen
RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
DH: Dear Señor Janssen – I got involved in the mail-art network in July 1959 shortly after I met Ray Johnson in June. He sent me a marzipan frog, a wooden fork and three small letters in wood, which I correctly misunderstood. I sent him some wild mushrooms which I had gathered, and they arrived at his place on Dover Street just before they decomposed.
RJ : Was this mail-art in the beginning just fun & games or was there more to it?
(Together with his answer Dich Higgins sent me his large, 46 pages long, Bio/Bibliography and a contribution to my Rubberstamp Archive, a stampsheet with some of his old and new stamps printed on)
DH: Indeed it was fun to communicate with Ray. But it was a new kind of fun. I had never encountered anyone who could somehow jell my fluid experiences of the time when I was doing visual poetry (thus the letters), food and conceptual utility (perhaps I had shown him my “Useful Stanzas” which I wrote about then. But what had he left out? Nature – thus my sending of the wild mushrooms, collecting and studying which was an ongoing interest (I was working on them with John Cage, an important friend of Ray’s as of mine).
As for rubber stamps, in 1960 when Fluxus was a-forming my home was in New York at 423 Broadway on the corner with Canal Street and my studio was at 359 Canal Street a few blocks away. Canal Street was known for its surplus dealers (some are still there) including stationers, and one could buy rubber stamps there for almost nothing – and we did! I had already made some rubber stamps through Henri Berez, a legendary rubber maker on Sixth Avenue, long gone but he was the first I knew who could make photographic rubber stamps – Berez made a magnesium, then a Bakelite and finally the rubber stamp, And I blocked the magnesiums and used them for printing as well. I had stamps of musical notation symbols made and also of my calligraphies, etc. At an auction in 1966 when he moved to Europe I also bought Fluxartist George Brecht’s rubber stamps (mostly of animals) which he used starting ca. 1960; I used those to make a bookwork of my own, From the Earliest Days of Fluxus (I Guess), which I think is in the Silverman Collection. Others of my rubber stamps are in the Archiv Sohm and perhaps Hermann Braun or Erik Andersch have some, I am not sure. I think there was an article on Fluxus rubber stamps in Lightworks – that must be listed in John Held Jr’s Mail Art: an Annotated Bibliography (Mettuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991) and/or in Jon Hendricks’s Fluxus Codex (New York: Abrams, ca. 1992). I also composed some music using rubber stamps, notably Emmett Williams’s Ear/L’orecchio di Emmett Williams (Cavriago: Pari & Dispari, 1978).
That’s about all I can add to the rubber stamp thing at this time. It would be much more efficient for us if I send you my Bio/Bibliography which has facts that need not be endlessly repeated, so I am doing that under separate cover. The curious type face I used on that is one which I designed and named for Fluxmail Artist Ken “Kenster” Friedman, “Kenster.”
RJ : Your Bio/Bibliography is quite impressive. The sentence on the first page: “I find I never feel quite complete unless I’m doing all the arts — visual, musical and literary. I guess that’s why I developed the term ‘intermedia’ , to cover my works that fall conceptually between these” , indicates you are always focussing on all kinds of media to express yourself. Which place has mail-art in this?
29 C and about 85% relative humidity
(Together with his answer Dick Higgins sent me a poster with titel “SOME POETRY INTERMEDIA” explaning metapoetries or how poetry is connected to many other art-forms. Published by Richard C. Higgins, 1976 , New York, USA)
DH : Yes, I am a “polyartist” – Kostelanetz’s term for an artist who works in more than one medium, and some of these media themselves have meaningful gradiations between them. Visual poetry lies between visual art and poetry, sound poetry lies between music and poetry, etc. But between almost any art and non-art media other intermedia are possible. What lies between theater and life, for instance? Between music and philosophy? In poetry I got into this in my “Some Poetry Intermedia” poster essay. If we take any art as a medium and the postal system as a medium, then mail art is the intermedium between these – postal poetry, postal music, mail-art [visual variety], etc.
Some of these are more capable than others of the subversive function which I value in mail art – it bypasses the gallery world and the marketplace, so it becomes somehow immune to censorship. If used aggressively it can make a reactionary politician’s life Hell. And it is not yet played out yet. For instance, while Fax art has no special characteristics (it is like monochromatic regular mail, “snail mail”) what is e-mail art? Can’t it subvert the rich folks’ machines? Ruin their modems? Yet even that is a commonplace, once one has considered it. Little artists can do it. Its power is inherent in its medium. I can tell you stories of how the Poles of Kodsko tortured an East German bureaucrat who has banned a Mail art show in (then) East Berlin. I happened to be visiting there at the time and was involved in this.
But let’s think about more positive areas. Please tell me about the spiritual aspects of mail art. How do you see that?
RJ : Yes, a nice try to end an answer with a question to me. I will send you some ‘thoughts about mail-art’ for you to read, but in this interview I would like to focus on YOUR thoughts and knowledge. I am in no hurry, so I would like to hear that story of how the Poles of Kodsko tortured this East German bureaucrat who banned this mail art show in East Berlin…..
DH : (today in 1843 Herman Melville signed abroad the frigate ‘United States,’ this began the journey that led to ‘White-Jacket’)
It must have been about 1988 and I was traveling through Poland, reading and performing with a friend, the critic and scholar Piotr Rypson. Our travels brought us to Kodsko down in the beak of Galicia to where a group of unofficial Polish artist had gathered to discuss what to do since the Mail Art Conference which Robert Rehfeldt had organized in East Berlin had, at the last moment, been canceled by some bureaucrat. It was a final and irrevocable decision the bureacrat had made, finalized by his official rubber stamp besides his signature. This was a great disappointment to these artists who had very little opportunity to meet personally with each other, especially across international borders, and to exchange ideas. However these artists were Poles, from the land of the liberum votum , and they had six hundred years experience at protesting. They made a list of things to do. Having access to some things in America which were problematic in Poland, I was asked to have four exact facsimiles of the bureaucrat’s rubber stamp made up and to send one to each of four addresses I was given, one was an official one in the Department of Agriculture in the DDR and the other three were in Poland. I was also asked to buy some homosexual and some Trotskyite magazines in the USA, to send them one at a time to the bureaucrat and, if possible, to subscribe in his name to these things. I did these things and also I appointed the bureaucrat an honorary member of my Institiute for Creative Misunderstanding and sent an announcement of his appointment to Neues Deutschland, the main communist newspaper of the DDR.
For a few weeks it seemed as if nothing had happened. But then I received a long letter from Robert Rehfeldt in English (usually he wrote me in German) lecturing me on what a terrible thing it was to try to force a person to accept art work which he did not like. And a few weeks after that I received a post card from Rehfeldt auf deutsch saying “Fine – keep it up [mach weiter].”
In this story we can see the usefulness for using the mails on the positive side for keeping spirits up and for keeping contact with those one does not see, on the sometimes-necessary negative side for creating powerful statements which must have caused great problems for this bureaucrat. I have no idea who these people were to whom I sent the rubber stamps, but I can imagine that they were forging the bureaucrat’s signature onto all sorts of capricious papers and causing great consternation within official circles of the DDR. For me this story tells well one of the main uses of Mail Art.
Perhaps it also suggests why Mail Art taken out of context can sometimes be such a bore. It has no particular formal value or novelty, especially when one has (as I have) been doing it for nearly forty years, so that mere documentation seems tendentious and egotistic. Would you want to only read about a great painting of the past? Wouldn’t you rather see it and then, perhaps, read about it? Making good Mail Art is like making a soufflé – the timing is very very critical. Who wants to be told about a decade old soufflé? And documenting the matter is not nearly so interesting as receiving and consuming it at precisely the right moment – with the right people too, I might add. It is an art of the utmost immediacy.
RJ : What was the reason for creating your “Institute for Creative Misunderstanding”?
(Apollinaire born today)
(Besides his answer Dick Higgins also sent his poem “Inventions to make”)
DH : Kära Ruud, For years I was struck by how little one understands of how one’s work will be perceived by others. We can prescribe how others will see it at risk of discouraging them. Duchamp, when anyone would ask “does your piece mean this or that…?” would smile and usually say “yes,” no matter how absurd the question. The impressionists thought they were dealing with light; we see their contribution is one of design along the way towards abstraction. The Jena Romantic poets of Germany saw themselves as applying the philosophies of Kant and Plato to their writings, but we see it as reviving the baroque and providing a healthy restorative emotional depth to their poetry which had often been lacking in the work of the previous generation. The same is true of Percy B. Shelley who knew his Plato well (and translated passages of Plato from Greek into English), but who in poems like “Lift not the painted veil” or “The sensitive plant” moves Plato’s ideas into areas which Plato never intended to create a new entity of art-as-concealment. Harold Bloom, a famous academic critic in the USA, was, in the 1970’s in books like The anxiety of influence, stressing the role of recent art as cannibalizing and deriving from earlier art. I was not satisfied with Bloom’s models and preferred to extend them and misinterpret them myself along hermeneutic lines using a Gadamerian model; this you will find in a linear fashion in my book Horizons (1983) and in the forthcoming “Intermedia: Modernism since postmodernism” (1996). But a linear presentation does not satisfy me either; it does not usually offer grounds for projection into new areas and it focuses too much on the specifics of my own ratiocinations. To broaden my perspective I conceived of a community of artists and thinkers who could take conceptual models and, with good will (my assumption, like Kant’s in his ethics), transform these models – evoking not simply intellectual discourse but humor or lyrical effects which would otherwise not be possible. This is, of course, my Institute of Creative Misunderstanding. Into it I put a number of people with whom I was in touch who seemed to be transforming earlier models into new and necessary paradigms. I tried to organize a meeting of the institute, but could not get funding for it and realized that it might well be unnecessary anyway. I still use that Institute as a conceptual paradigm when necessary.
So I would not discribe the Institute for Creative Misunderstanding as a “fake institute,” as you did, so much as an abstract entity and process of existence which creates a paradigm of community of like-minded people by its very name and mentioning. Are you a member of the Institute, Ruud? Perhaps you are – it is not really up to me to say if you have correctly misunderstood it in your heart of hearts.
RJ : Who is to say if I am a member? But I sure like all those institutes and organisations that there are in the network. You spoke of the intention to organize a meeting. In the years 1986 and 1992 there were lots of organized meetings in the form of congresses. Is it important for (mail-) artists to meet in person?
(Cage born -1912)
DH : (laughing) Who’s to say if you are a member? Why the group secretary, of course – whoever that is. Perhaps I am acting secretary and I say you are a member. Anyway, to be serious, the question of meetings is not answerable, I think, except in specific contexts. The events planned at Kodsko could not have been planned without the people being together; but at other times it would seem unnecessarily pretentious to bring them together – frustrating even, since most mail artists are poor and they would have to spend money to be present. At times this would be justified, but if it were simply a matter of pride or of establishing a place in some pecking order, well that would not be good.
Think of a camp fire. Shadowy figures are in conversation, laughing and talking; what they say makes sense mostly among themselves. A stranger wanders in and listens. The stranger understands almost nothing – to him what is said is all but meaningless – and the part which he understands seems trivial to him. The stranger has two options: he can stay and learn why what is being said is necessary, or he can go away and suggest that all such campfires are silly and should be ignored or banned. Mail art is like that. I go to shows, and the work is arranged not by conversation but according to a curators’s skills of the past, as if these were drawings by Goya. But they aren’t. Their meaning is more private, often contained in the facts and conditions of their existence more than in the art traditions to which they seem to belong. The show therefore doesn’t work. Few do. But a show arranged chronologically of the exchanges among some specific circle mail artists – that would have a greater chance for an outsider to learn the language and love the medium. Wouldn’t you like to see a show of the complete exchanges between, say, San Francisco’s Anna Banana*1 and Irene Dogmatic (if there ever was such an exchange) than the 65th International Scramble of Mail Artists presented by the Commune di Bric-á-Bracchio (Big catalog with lots and lots of names, but all works become the property of the Archivo di Bric-á-Bracchio).
*1 of course Anna has since moved to her native Vancouver, and I haven’t heard of Irene Dogmatic in many a year)
Chance encounters among mail artists, meetings among small groups – oh yes, those are quite wonderful. But I don’t usually see the point in large gatherings of mail artists. Actually, there haven’t been many of them – thank goodness. Berlin would have been an exception, methinks.
As e’er- Dick (laughing) (Dicks signiture was placed here as a smiling face)
RJ : What is the first ‘chance encounter’ (as you call them) that comes up in your mind when I ask for a memory about such an event?
DH : By “chance encounters” I mean those meetings which could not have been anticipated or which take place on the spur of the moment. In on Wednesday I arrange to meet you the following Tuesday at 7:30 and if I am unable to sleep Monday night because of faxes from Europe arriving all night long Monday night and the cat is ill on Tuesday so that I must waste half the day at the veterinarian’s office, you and I will have a very different kind of meeting from the situation of my meeting you in the post office and the two of us going to spend a few hours together talking things over, or if I say: “Look: I cooked too much food, please come over and help me eat it.”
We have all had such meeting, no? Those meetings are the most productive, I think. Few mail artists (or any artists) can really control their own time, their own scedule. Only the rich can do that, if anyone can. We are mostly poor and must depend on the schedules of others. But there are days when this is not true – days when it works perfectly to see someone. Ray Johnson was a master of this – he would call, “I am with (whoever), we’re down the street from you. Can we come see you?” If yes – great. If not, one never felt locked into the situation.
That is how I never met Yves Klein. One night, perhaps in 1961, at 11:15 Ray phoned me from down the street and said that Yves Klein was with him and would like to meet me. I said I’d like to meet him too but I was in bed and it was a week-day. I had to go to work the next day. We agreed that I should meet Yves Klein the next time he came to new York. It didn’t happen; Klein died instead.
It is also how I met Alison Knowles, – Ray Johnson and Dorothy Podber and myself had dinner in Chinatown in New York and then they took me to Alison’s loft nearby. I had met her briefly before that, but this time we got to talk a little. That was thirty-six years ago, and Alison and I are still together.
And so it goes –
RJ : Yes, and also the forms of communication are proceeding. To my surprise I noticed on your ‘letterhead’ that you have an e-mail address too. Are you now exploring the possibilities of the internet as well?
(Dick Higgins handwritten answer came from Milano, Italy, where he is preparing a retrospective show of his work.)
DH : Yes, “exploring” is the only possible word, since the internet is constantly changing. You can “know” yesterday’s internet, but today’s always contains new variables.
In the world of computers, most of the “information” is irrelevant, even to those who put it there. Few of us bother to download clever graphics since advertising has made us numb to those. I only download graphics if the text which I see really seems to need them. I need them no more than I need to watch show-offy gymnastic displays, divers or pianists who play Franz Liszt while blindfolded and balancing champagne glasses on their head. What I like on the “net” are three things:
1) Making contact with people whose contributions to the internet shows interest similar to my own. Far from being alienating, as others have said of the web and internet, I find this element a very positive and community-building factor. For instance, I enjoyed meeting on the internet a guy whom I’d met three years ago, a visual poet named Kenny Goldsmith, and had not seen since. Now he does “Kenny’s page ” – <http://wfmu.org so/~kennyg/index.html> – where he creates links to anything in the new arts which excites him. It was like looking into someone else’s library – a revelation, and one which I could use. It led me to meet him again in person, a real delight.
2) I cannot afford to buy the books I once could. But often I can download and print out things to read before going to bed. For an author, what a way to get one’s work and ideas around! Why wait two years for your book to appear, for your article to come out in some magazine which nobody can afford? Put it on the net and it is potentially part of the dialogue in your area of interest. Further, it tells me not only what people are interested in, but what is going on – a John Cage conference , which interested me, was fully described on the net for instance – and it gives me access to everything from dictionaries, indexes and lists of words, people and events.
I suppose a saboteur could list false information, and of course commercial interests can tell me about their stuff, but this only sharpers my skeptical abilities – I can avoid their garbage with no more effect than on a commercial television set. I suspect the internet is a blow to the effectiveness of normal advertising.
3) As someone whose favorite art, books and literature are seldom commercially viable, I am happy to see how the internet actually favors the smaller organizations and media. If I access a big publisher’s pages with ten thousend titles, I stop and quit almost at once – it takes too long. But a small publisher’s page is often worth a glance.
Further, the phenomenon of links gives an element of three – dimenisionality to the internet. A book sounds interesting. I click on it and I see a few pages of it. This is like browsing in a wonderful book store. A good example is the pages for Avec, a small avant-garde magazine and book publisher in California. I found it through a link on the Grist pages – <http://www.phantom.com/~grist>. It’s designed by the editor of Witz , a new arts newsletter (address: firstname.lastname@example.org). Perfect. Another good one is Joe de Marco’s pages <http://www.cinenet.net/~marco> – full of fluxus things and theater. All this suggests new forms of distribution, which has always been a problem for small publishers. If you can safely transmit credit information to an address on the internet, then, if you live in a small village as I do, it is as if you lived in a large city with an incredible book store near you.
Because of links, I do not see how big corporations can commercialize all this. My computer is black and white, I have no money to invest in their corporations, and their rubbish is easily avoided. Thanks to the internet, the damber kind of popular culture will probably begin to lose its strangle-hold on people’s attention. Of course it will take time and other developments too, but the internet rips off the conservatives’ three-piece suits, remakes them and gives them to us in a better form.
RJ : It seems like publishing is very important for you. In mail art a lot has been written about the book “The Paper Snake” by Ray Johnson, which you published with Something Else Press. What was the story behind this specific book?
DH: There is no doubt in my mind that Ray Johnson was one of the most valuable artists I’ve ever known. He was a master of the “tricky little Paul Klee ish collage,” as he modestly dismissed them; most of his work of the late 1950’s was collages in 8 1/2 x 11 format roughly corresponding to the European A3. That was a time when Abstract Expressionism (“Tachisme”) ruled the roost in America, and art was supposed to swagger, lack humor, be big and important looking. Johnson had rejected this long before, had, in the 1950’s, made hundreds or thousand of postcard size collages using popular imagery, had also made big collages and then cut them up, sewn them together into chains, had buried the critic Suzi Gablik in a small mountain of them (alas, only temporarily), had printed various ingenious little booklets and sent them off into the world, and, since there was no appropriate gallery for his work, had now taken to sending his collages out along with assemblages in parcel post form. For example, a few days after I had startled Ray by throwing my alarm clock out the window, he sent me a box containing a marzipan frog, a broken clock and a pair of chopsticks, calling shortly thereafter to suggest that we go to Chinatown for dinner.
But Ray could write too. He was always interested in theater and performance, had picked up many ideas from the days when he and his friend Richard Lippold lived downtown in New York City on Monroe Street on the floor below John Cage (all of them friends also from Black Mountain College), and he wrote and sent out innumerable playlets, poems, prose constructions, etc.
I saw Ray around town for several months before I met him, which was at a 1959 concert where I asked him if he were Jasper Johns. “No,” he said, “I’m Ray Johnson,” we got to talking and soon to walking and not long afterwards to visiting. Years later, when I met Jasper Johns, in order to complete the symmetry, I asked him if he were Ray Johnson. I expected him to say, “You know I’m not why do you ask?” Instead he said, acidly: “No.” And he walked away.
Something Else Press was founded on the spur of the moment. First I did my book “Jefferson’s Birthday/Postface” (1964). But before the thing was even printed, I decided the next book should be a cross section of the things Ray had sent me over the previous six years. So, having little room at my own place, I packed them all into two suitcases, visited my mother and spread everything out on her dining table. I sorted the book into piles performance pieces, poems, collages, things to be typeset, thing to be reproduced in Ray’s writing taking care to include at least some of each category. I knew the book would be hard to sell, so I didn’t want to make it a Big Important Book; I chose the format of a children’s book, set the texts in a smallish size of Cloister Bold (an old fashioned Venetian face), decided on using two colors to simulate four (which I could not have afforded), and then laid out the pages in a way which I felt would invite the reader to experience Ray’s pieces as I did on receiving them. Ray, who had at first been displeased by the project, perhaps feeling it would lock him into a format too much, become very enthusiastic as the project developed. Where at first he had refused to title the book, later he called it “The Paper Snake” after a collage and print he had made. He also wanted the price to be “$3.47,” for reasons I have never known (prices of that sort were always $3.48 or $3.98). And when, one winter day in 1966, the book was being bound by a New York City binder, I took Ray over to the bindery to see it being cased in (when the covers are attached to the book). By then he was delighted and wrote me one of the few formal letters ever received from him thanking me for doing it.
As for its reception, the book was a puzzler to even the most sophisticated readers at the time. Even someone who was a regular correspondent of Ray’s, Stanton Kreider, wrote me an outraged letter saying what a silly book it was. Such people usually felt that Ray’s mailings were and should remain ephemera. There were almost no reviews, but one did appear in Art Voices, one of the most scorching reviews I have ever seen, complaining the book was precious and completely trivial, a pleasure to an in group. These letters and reviews are now in the Archiv Sohm in Stuttgart, where you can persue them for yourself if you like.
RJ : It is good that you keep mentioning the places where things can be found, if I do or don’t persue, now somebody else might do it too. There are a lot of archives in the world. Besides the ‘official’ archives there are also the privat collections that most (mail-) artists have built up. Are there still things that you collect?
DH : I feel overwhelmed by THINGS at my home. My letters are one of the main things I have done in this life, and I try to keep copies of each letter I send; but there is no space to save them. For years now my files have been going away – to the Archiv Sohm, for about 1972 to 1989 to the Jean Brown Archive, and from then till now the Getty Center in Santa Monica, California.
I don’t think it makes sense for a private individual to have a closed archive if such a person is going to present a face to the world. I have read that Yoko Ono founded Fluxus, and I have seen that quoted as a fact many times. One critic or student picks up errors from the one before. I don’t know where that “fact” came from. Yoko is a good. modest person; she was a friend of ours and she had done pieces which are very much part of the older Fluxusrepertoire. But she was not present on that November day of 1961 when Maciunas proposed to a group of us that we do a magazine to be called “Fluxus” and that we do performances of the pieces in the magazine; nor was she in Wiesbaden in September 1962 when we did those performances and the press began calling us “Die Fluxus Leute” – the Fluxus people. So while she, for instance, was surely one of the original Fluxus people, she did not found Fluxus. Well, if I am going to assert this, it is important that the documents of the time be available somewhere besides in my own files. Too, my writings are complex and full of allusions; this is not to create mysteries but to enrich the fabric and draw on reality. It can be useful therefore that my files be open to anyone who needs them, and this would be impossible if the files were here in my church.
Then there are other collections: from 1977 to 1991 I collected things related to Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), – apart from a passage in Plato’s Phaedrus, Bruno’s “De imaginum, signorum et idearum Compositione” (1593) has the earliest discussion I know of intermedia – but when Charlie Doria’s translation of this work came out (which I edited and annotated) I sold off all the Bruno materials I had. From 1968 to 1990 (about) I collected patterns poetry-old visual poetry from before 1900 – but that too has gone away, most of it anyway. I have collected almost all of the books written, designed by or associated with Merle Armitage (1893-1975), a great modernist book designer, and my biography of him, “Merle Armitage and the Modern Book”, is due out with David Godine next year. I will then sell that collection too. Perhaps it was a good experience acquiring these things, but that part is over now. Other collections have been given away. I collected a tremendous amount of sound poetry and information on it, meaning to do a book on the subject. But there was never money to do the book right. Perhaps that collection also should depart. There is too much art work by myself here in the church in which I live and work – it gets damaged because it cannot be stored properly. I would like to move to a smaller place, since I do not need and cannot afford this big one, and if that happens more things also go away.
There are some phonograph records, tapes abd CD’s too – too many to keep track of, some going back to my teen years when I used to spend the money I earned by baby-sitting on records of John Cage, Henry Cowell, Göesta Nystroem, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, Anton Webern and such-like. I suppose the only books which are also tools and (for me) reference work-books on design or artistic crafts (orchestration, for instance), Fluxbooks and Fluxcatalogs (I need to check my facts), books and magazines in which I am included (so I can tell where such-and-such a piece first was printed). As for objects, I care about my mother’s dishes and one table, but that is about all – the rest can go.
No, I am a temporary collector – as Gertrude Stein said of her visitors, she liked to see them come, but she also liked to see them go. I will acquire things when they are needed, but I need to unload them too. I have no right to own art, even by friends, because I cannot take care of it properly. It too must go. This church is dark with things, things, things – and maybe somebody else, somebody younger that I, might like to have them.
RJ : Why do you live in a church?
DH : I live in this church because, when I moved to this area from Vermont (where I had lived almost fourteen years, off and on, up near the Quebec border) I bought a house, garage and church complex. It had been “defrocked” by the Roman Catholic Church in 1974, its consecration taken away and the cross and bell removed, and it was sold to a couple who wanted it to become an antique shop. However there was no drive by traffic so they found that would not work. But nobody wanted to buy it from them. So I got it at a good price, as they say. My plan was to live in the house a modest parsonage, for my wife Alison Knowles to use the garage (where we set up a photo darkroom to be shared), and for myself to use the church as my own studio. For this it was fine.
But in 1985 when my finances began to collapse with the decline in the US art world, the rise of our Radical Right and neo Christian coalition, and with the Fluxus syndrome among exhibitors and collectors, I had to rent out the house to survive and to move into the church. It is a nice space, well suited to be a studio, but it is dark in the winter and is quite gloomy and expensive to heat. It has no doors so nobody is separated from anything else that is going on. There are virtually no doors to close, so there is no privacy. Sometimes I think I will go mad here. Maybe I have. I would love to move, but like the previous owners I would find it hard to sell and in any case I have no money to move. Next winter I may have to do without heat here most of the time unless things look up. It is a curious environment for an artist.
I often refer to this “Fluxus syndrome.” It is my term for a problem that I face. It goes like this. A gallerist, critic or exhibitor tells me “I like your work. I know you are a Fluxus artist.” Then they see more of my work and they compare it to the work of George Maciunas, whom they take to be the leader of Fluxus instead of its namer and, in his own preferred term, “Chairman” of Fluxus. They note that there are differences and they say to me: “But that work is not Fluxus. Do you have any Fluxus work?” I say yes, and I show work from the early sixties through late seventies. It still does not resemble the work of Maciunas. It isn’t usually even fun and games, which is what the public thinks of as Fluxus. So I am marginalized in Fluxus shows, or I am left out of other collections because “This is not a Fluxus gallery/museum show/collection.” The problem is all but unavoidable, and in vain can one point out that if Fluxus is important, it is because of its focus on intermedia, that Maciunas recognized this repeatedly, that he knew perfectly well that there was room in Fluxus for work which did not resemble his at all. If one says anything like this in public, it is taken to be a disloyalty to George or some kind of in fighting for prestige. I have sometimes been tempted to show my work under a false name in order to escape this syndrome altogether. But even that sounds as if I were ashamed of my Fluxus past, which I am not, even though it is not awfully relevant to my work since the late seventies. Also I still feel affinities to some of my Fluxus colleagues, though the work of others has, in my opinion, become repetitious crap. Many of my Fluxfriends could do with a little more self criticism, in my opinion. Fluxus also has its share of hangers on, people who were utterly marginal to the group and who kept their distance during the years when Fluxus had not acquired its present and perhaps false public image, but who are now all too willing to con their way into the list and to enter their colors for the next tournament.
RJ : This story about “Fluxus syndrome,” is quite interesting when I compare it to mail art. There is the difference that in mail art most artist try to avoid the traditional art-world, and there is even the phrase “mail art and money don’t mix” by Lon Spiegelman, that is used by others too. There are on the other hand also artists who say to organize a mail art show and then start to use entrance-fees and ask for money for catalogues ; try to ‘con’ people in the mail art network. What do you think of “mail art and money don’t mix”? I know it’s not an easy question to answer.
DH : Money and mail art? Money and Fluxus? Mixing? You are right, I can’t answer that one easily. Certainly if somebody got into mail art (or Fluxus) as a means of advancing his or her career- “Gee,” says the dork, “ya gotta get inta as many shows as possible, I was in thirty-two last year and here’s the catalogs to prove it,” -he or she would swiftly learn that is not what the field is for. Rather, its purpose is to combat alienation, and that is only in some respects an economic problem. Mail art has tremendous disruptive potential (and even some constructive social potential), as I described in my story about Polish mail artists and the East German bureaucrat. And it has great community-building power – even my hypothetical dork can say” “Wow, I got friends all over, from Argentina to Tooneesia.” But I must make a confession: I have probably seen forty or fifty actual exhibitions of mail art, and NOT ONE OF THEM was interesting to see. There were good things in each of them of course, but the effect of looking at them was weak. Why? Because they did not reflect the function – they always treated the sendings as final artifacts (sometimes ranked according to the prestige of the artist). But mail art pieces are virtually never final artifacts – they are conveyors of a process of rethinking, community-building and psychological and intellectual extension. Thus it is, I think, a distortion to think, of mail art as a commercial commodity of any kind. Because it is typically modest in scale usually and it is usually technically simple, the finest piece may come from the greenest, newest or the least skilled artist. There is no rank in mail art so long as the artist thinks and sees clearly.
Nevertheless, the issue of money is one which must be faces. Lack of it can ruin your capability for making mail art, for one thing. When the heat is gone and you can’t afford to go to the doctor, it is very hard to focus on making this collage to send away, even though one knows that do so would bring great satisfaction and comfort. Yet the mail art itself is not usually salable, and nobody gets a career in mail art. One is free to be capricious, as I was circa twenty-odd years ago when I spent two months corresponding only with people whose last names began with M. It is not, then, so much that mail art and money do not mix but that mail art simply cannot be used to produce money, at least not directly, – which is not to say that one mail artist cannot help another. Obviously we can and do. I remember when Geoffrey Cook, a San Francisco mail artist, undertook a campaign through the mail art circuit to free Clemente Padín, the Uruguayan mail artist (among other things) who had been jailed by the military junta for subversion. It worked. And many is the mail artist who, wanting to see his or her correspondent, finds some money somewhere to help defray travel costs and such-like.
With Fluxus, the issue is different. Fluxart has in common with mail art its primary function as a conveyor of meaning and impact. But Fluxworks are not usually mail art and do not usually depend on a network of recepients. Some are enormously large. Some take large amounts of time to construct, some are expensive to build and so on. Given this, issues of professionalism arise which are not appropriate to mail art. If I insist on making my Fluxart amateur and to support myself by other means, I may not be able to realize my piece. I am thus forced at a certain point in my evolution to attempt to live form my art, since anything else would be a distraction. I must commercialize the un-commercializable in order to extend it to its maximum potential. What an irony! It is, I fancy (having been in Korea but not Japan), like the expensive tranquillity of a Zen temple in contrast to the maniacal frenzy of Japanes commercial life outside it. Peace becomes so expensive one might imagine it is a luxury, which I hope it is not. So one is compelled to support it.
The difference is, I think, that commercial art supports the world of commodity; Fluxus and other serious art of their sort draws on the world of commerce for its sustenance but its aim lies elsewhere – it points in other directions, not at the prestige of the artist as such (once someone once tried to swap, for a book by Gertrude Stein which he wanted, two cookies which Stein had baked, then about twenty-two years before) and certainly not at his or her ego in any personal sense (John Cage musing at the hill behind his then home, “I don’t think I have done anything remarkable, anything which that rock out there could not do if it were active”). One must take one’s work seriously, must follow its demands and be an obedient servant to them: nobody else will, right? If the demands are great and require that one wear a shirt and tie and go light people’s cigars, then out of storage come the shirt and tie and out comes the cigar-lighter. That is what we must do. But we do not belong to the world of cigars; we are only visitors there. It is a liminal experience, like the shaman visiting the world of evil spirits. We can even be amused by the process. Anyway, that’s my opinion.
RJ : Some mail artists say that the mail art network is more active than before. Others say that mail art is history because almost all the possibilities of the traditional mail have been explored, and that all the things that are happening now in mail art, are reproductions of things that happened before. Is mail art a finished chapter?
(Santayana born today (1863) and Jane Austin too (1775)
DH : Well, I think both sides are right. Mail Art is more active than before if more people are doing it. Of course, for those of us whose interest in exploration I am glad they are doing it even though I see no need to do it AS SUCH myself. Mail Art is [only?] history if all the possibilities have been explored yes, if one’s job is to explore things only formally. Of course I love history without it I never know what not to do. For me this last assumption is therefore right so far as it goes, but it does not go very far. Why should we assume that doing something once means it need not be done again? That is what I call the “virgin attitude,” fine for people who are hung up on sleeping with virgins but a dreadful idea if it is really love that you want. Aren’t you glad that Monet painted more than one haystack or waterlily painting? Don’t you have a food recipe which you would hate to change? A “finished chapter?” That has even more problematic assumptions.
After all, a chapter in a book (including the Book of Life) involves reading, and the best books invite reading more than once. Isn’t reading as creative as writing?
Mail Art is, in my opinion, not a single form. I am not much of a taxonomist someone else can decide how many forms it is, can classify and sort it out. What I know and have said in this interview is that Function precipitates Form. So long as new uses for Mail Art can appear, new forms are likely to arise. Just for instance e mail letters and magazines are relatively new. The ways we can use them have not fully revealed themselves. The politics of this world are as fouled up as ever; perhaps there are mail art methods (including e mail methods) which can be used to help straighten things out or at least point to the problems in a startling or striking way. No, I think mail art may be history it has been with us at least since Rimbaud’s burnt letters but only a Dan Quail (a proverbially obtuse right wing politician here) would say, as he did in 1989, that “History is Over!” And as long as there are people artists living alone here and there, confronted by problems (professional, formal, human or social), Mail Art is likely to have a role to play in helping to alleviate those problems. What we must not do is allow ourselves to take ourselves too seriously tendentiousness is a natural health hazard for the mail artist. The freshness and unpredictability of the medium are part of why, if mail art works at all, it really does. Just as we must always reinvent ourselves, according to whatever situations we find ourselves in, we must always reinvent our arts. And that includes mail art.
RJ : Well, this is a wonderful moment to end this interview. I want to thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts.
This new blog actually should be the central point of all my digital activities. So links to all blogs and websites that I already have and are still alive. beside that also blog-postings to major places and activities that I am involved in. Only one goal and that is to make the information better accesible. The Internet turnes into a chaos without good structures, and I am just trying to make a structure that I can keep up with. The result might be for you that you can find things again and don’t get lost.