On October 7th 2015 we were in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Litsa Spathi took some photos of me, and this one shows quite well how I look these days.
An envelope to the Moma for Jennifer Tobias. After scanning and sending I doscoverd that the postage stamps were missing. The artistamps were on it, but there is place for the original postage too…..
I will see if the envelope goes through or not. Actually an interesting experiment. I included an experimental letter as well for Jennifer. Will see if it reaches her and how she reacts:
There are several of thee envelopes that I have sent out. The individual stamps are made with foam letters, and I use several colors to get the impact. All kind of words are used to describe what we do. Fluxus, Dkult, Mail-Art. IUOMA, and guess what, the MoMa even made an exhibition of all that, not just once, but several times. So that means eventually things do end up in a museum………
And to go back to the basic idea of Mail-Art, it was a way to send art from sender to receiver without having a need for a gallery of museum to show the work. Times they are a changing….
This is a special envelope made for Jude Weimeir in USA. He always sends me the most interesting things, and because he is a composer I thought he might enjoy the circles that form his name and address. Several fonts were used, and protected with plastic and now on its way to San Diego in the USA. Hope it arrives safe and that he enjoys it.
Received in the vacation this lovely Tile from Heleen de Vaan in Netherlands. She made is through the services from PostNL, and wanted me to have it to hand in the TAM Archive or give it a special use. Especially after coming home from vacation the text fits perfectly:
So I will find a good place for the tile. Heleen always writes small notes with her mailings, so here you can read (in Dutch) what she wrote me:
Heleen has several blogs. so visit her main one and see what she has been sending and receiving over the years at: http://heleendevaan.blogspot.nl/
EVOLUTION IN/BY MAIL-ART
(c) 1997 by RUUD JANSSEN.
Originally this text was written February 1994.
Life is a process of changes, at least it is like that for me. When I look back I can see how gradually these changes come about, but also I can see the real turning-points in my life. Only after those things have happened you can realize the full importance of things in your life.
To my surprise, mail-art so far has speeded up this proces of changes, and also my view of mail-art is changing rapidly. Surely also mail-art itself is changing in my eyes, but this is not an objective thing to say.
What I have learned through mail-art could repeat itself for someone else in another period of time. The mail-system itself hasn’t changed that much, although the way of life has……..
Evolution. For me, for the world, for mail-art there is also evolution. In my perception mail-art has changed enormously. Only personal mail now triggers me to respond. The xeroxes and chain-letters, the non-personal invitations to mail-art projects that look so much like that other project from years ago, the open letters with only my name written on top of the letter, and the rest turns out to be another xerox. It doesn’t inspire me anymore. I’m not looking for more contacts in the mail-art world, I’m only looking for time to do the things I would like to do. It fulfills me now more to write one long letter to a dear mail-friend, than to mail out 50 postcards on one day. I’m not interested anymore in keeping in contact with hundreds of people, but I value the personal contacts more then ever. It doesn’t matter if the mail is from a new or old friend, if it is personal I always try to answer promptly.
Evolution. When I started to write this text I had an idea where it should be about, but while writing it, my thoughts have shifted again. As one gets older one thinks more about what is really important in once life. Is it success, being rich? No, I already found out (many years ago) that respect by others is worth more then mo ney. Friends are more important than being succesfull and well-known. Making something you like yourself is more important than making something that is liked by others. Yes, you learn a lot when you live. A pity only that not everybody lives in their life (according to my definition of living).
Evolution. The process of changes. No mail-art anymore from East-Germany. Simply because the country ceased to exist. The mail-artists who lived there are still there, but their drive to communicate has changed. New ways are open, and their mail has changed. Hardly any mail-art from all those new countries (Russia, Ukraine, Sloveni a, Czech Republic, Croatia, Serbia, etc….) because the inflation just makes commu nication almost impossible. Still hardly any mail-art from Africa. Only when the war- zones are on television mail-artists sometimes write about the situation.
Evolution. In former Yugoslavia, part of Europe, the most horrible process is taking place, and everybody is watching it on television. Only one letter from Bosnia in this war-time got out through Serbia into the world. And there is no way we can answer that letter. Also because the mail into Bosnia doesn’t work anymore. Only mail to UN-soldiers arrives, but where which Bosnian lives, we don’t know anymore……
Evolution. I don’t know how to write this letter. I probably print it a few times and will mail it to some of my close friends. Maybe they can help me with this story, and then I can change the text so I understand what I want to say……………..
Words are difficult tools when thoughts are changing. But words are powerful because the words in between the words you write are also there….
This text is changing as people react to parts of it. M. Greenfield from England listed a number of phases which mail-art has gone through, of which I have selected a few of the negative phases to discuss:
Chain-mail: A couple of years ago the mail-art network was flooded with these. According to Greenfield it has now become less. In my eyes it hasn’t. I think it has to do with if you participate in them or not. People who are looking for addresses to send copies to always look on older chain-mail products to pick a name….. But I agree that a couple of years ago it was really flooded.
Visiting-phase: Started in 1986 , and in 1992 the congress-year. Mail-artists are on the move and try to visit each other. If the wish to meet is mutual , there is no problem , but some mail-artists ‘use’ the network to find places to travel to.
Buy this: People started to try to sell things through the mail-art network. I guess this phase will come and go every time again. The old discussion of Lon Spiegelman (USA) , “money and mail-art don’t mix”.
Fake Mail-art shows: People start a mail-art project , and promise lots of things. Finally the organizer makes a show and a wonderful catalogue and offers it for sale to participants. Greenfield hopes this phase dies out quickly. And it will when mail- artists just don’t buy the catalogue and ignore future projects of this person.
Yes , I recognize the changes that M. Greenfield is mentioning. On a larger scale evolution always goes with quick changes forward and backwards, some are good and the ones listed above are bad…..(are they?). Only when you see things is a right time-perspective you can see how things are changing. But maybe I have to change this text again (and I did….!)
Evolution. Mail-art has a certain meaning in my life, and I know it has another meaning to another person. There are a lot of networkers out there , but only the ones you like you stay in contact with.
TAM-PUBLICATIONS Nr. TAM-940017
Reproduction of this text is allowed provided that the text isn’t changed, source is mentioned, and a copy of the magazine/book where the text is included in, is sent to:
TAM / P.O.Box 1055 / 4801 BB Breda / NETHERLANDS.
This is me, giving a lecture in the Hedah in Maastricht, Netherlands. Organized by Rod Summers.
The complete details:
29 April – 24 June 2011
OPENING: 29 April, 21.00h
FINISAGE: 24 June, 21.00h
OPEN: Fri-Sun 13h-17h
MAIL ART, VIDEO ART, PERFORMANCE AND LECTURES
Having just returned from Italy in 1972, the artsits Theo van der Aa and Ger van Dijck established in Maastricht the widely recognized initiative Agora Studio which was one of the leading art initiatives in the Netherlands until the 80s.
With astounding projects from all around the world and self administered art publications, Agora accomplished a central role within an international network of artists working with former avant-garde expressions such as performance, video-art, mail-art and sound-art.
OPENING NIGHT FRIDAY APRIL 29:
Round table discussion with amongst others Guido Goosens, Theo van deer Aa, Ger van Dijck and Rod Summers, broadcasted live on Amsterdam cable television as part of ‘De Hoeskteen Live a cross media workshop’ initiated by the Amsterdam artist Raul Marroquin.
Music by Legal Fiction: Rosalie Wammes, Lucas Kramer, Martijn Riksen and Emmanuel Riksen
FRIDAY MAY 27:
Mailart-project initiated by the Maastricht artist Rod Summers
15.00h Reading by Caroline Dumalin, art critic (English)
15.30h Reading by Anna Banana, mailartist (English)
16.00h Performance by Anna Banana
21.00h Mailart performance by/amongst others
Anna Banana, Rod Summers, broadcasted live on De Hoeksteen Live
SATURDAY MAY 28:
Mailart-project initiated by the Maastricht artist Rod Summers
15.00h Reading by Bart-Jan de Graaf, assistent-curator of Museum het Domein in Sittard (Dutch)
15.30h Reading by Leen Bedaux, art-critic (Dutch)
16.00h But is it art? Performance by Anna Banana
SUNDAY MAY 29:
Mailart-project initiated by the Maastricht artist Rod Summers
15.00h Reading by John Everaers / Ever Arts, artist, studio owner, editor (Dutch)
15.30h Reading by Ruud Janssen, artist, publisher, founder of the IOUMA and the Tam Rubberstamp Archive
16.00h Performance by Niels Lomholt
CLOSING FRIDAY JUNE 24:
21.00h Performance by Joep Vossebeld, Frank van Valderen and Jörg Theissen, broadcasted live on De Hoeksteen Live
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH NORMAN SOLOMON (Mr. Postcards).
(With the sending of the retyped answers I sometimes made typing-errors to which Norman Solomon reacted. Some of the reactions are worth mentioning, and I have done so with the footnotes)
Started on 21-3-1997
Ruud: Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on 8-4-1997
(Together with the invitation I sent a copy of the text of Ray Johnson’s unfinished interview. Norman sent me a photo of Ray Johnson at New York Harbor in 1958, and his answer is a reaction to Ray’s answers as well).
NS : Reply on : 21-11-94 RAY : THE MNO QP (mirror view) kind. What about Mimsy Star. She got pinched in the astor bar. RUUD: Was it a mistake that she got pinched………..
“Have you heard that Mimmsie Starr
Just got pinched in the Astor Bar?”
is by Cole Porter. The song “Well, Did You Evah?” was written, words and music, by CP in 1940 for a musical comedy, “DuBarry Was a Lady.” It was featured in a movie, “High Society” in 1956. WDYE was sung in “High Society” by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The drinking in the study scene. The Astor Bar referred to was the one at the old Hotel Astor, owned by Vincent Astor, on Broadway near Times Square in new York City. this was not the newer hotel, the Waldorf-Atoria on Park Avenue. Vincent Astor, the well-known society playboy was a descendent of John Jacob Astor who founded the family’s fortunes hundreds of years ago trading trinkets to the Indians of Western Canada for furs, mainly beavers, whose pelts the British had learned to diminish for the making of felt for fine hats. The Astor family, later, continued their fortune-making wit holdings in New York real estate and banks.
In the 1950’s , Ray Johnson and Norman Solomon went to a lot of moviex together. They went to the Roxie, the Paramount, the Beekman, the 8th Street Playhouse and other famous theatres of that time. They probably saw “High Society”at the Loew’s State Theatre on Broadway.
Pinched had a double meaning here. It meant having a bit of one’s flesh held between a thumb and a forefinger which then got squeezed together hard. This might elicit a screech or a scream or an “ouch!” Or, maybe, not. Pinched also meant getting nabbed by the police, run in, arrested. If Mimmsie Starr got pinched in the Astor Bar by the police, for instance, she might have got her ass, or a small part of it squeezed (as above), or, she might have been for drunken, boisterous, outrageous behavior, or, more likely, for attempting to solicit an act of prostitution. It was, in any event, all in fun.
I have always depended on strange kindnesses for the nothings that I receive in the mails and I hope I can depend upon you to continue the same.
Ruud: When was the last time you talked to Ray? What did you discuss then?
next answer on 25-4-1997
(With his answer he sent a copy of a photo of Ray Johnson and Willem de Kooning, back in 1959, New York. Also the letter held some small papers with comments like: “Don’t make any corrections, Ruud. The mistakes are all part of the story……” and a photo from Ruth Kligman)
NS : Interview. II (pas de tout)
The last time I talked with Ray was the last time I saw Paris.
The Last Time I Saw Paris was the title of a book by Elliot Paul, an American newspaper person. It was published here during the early stages of WW-II ; there was a nostalgia kick. I read it then. EP wrote extensively about an upstairs Left Bank restaurant on the Rue de la Chat Qui Peche, which I visited in 1944. I had biftek and salad and wine and got so pissed that I threw it all up in the street. There still were cobble-stoned pavings.
I sent all of my Army money home to my poor mother. But, I could sell my PX ration of cigarettes for enough francs to enable me to eat well and to drink terribly. I was living, apperently, beyond my experience.
The Last Time I Saw Paris was used, then, as a title and theme for a song sung mostly by Hildegarde . She and it got famous and well-played together.
The Last Time I Saw Paris was made a movie in 1954. It starred Van Heflin and Elizabeth Taylor. They and it were dreadful. Walter Pidgeon, Eva Gabor (whose mother just died) and Donna Reed were featured in it. MGM had apparently decided that since An American in Paris had been such a great success and big hit in 1951, that they could redo the experience. They were wrong and they could not have been wronger. TLTISP was three minutes longer in running time than AAIP had been, but that didn’t help. Dreadful.
What Ray and I had discussed mostly at that time was that people, especially MGM movie stars, were looking puffy. Puffy, apparently, was coming in.
We also discussed the carers of Franz Kline and Bill de Kooning and the interstitial relationship of those artists with Ruth Kligman, and of hers with Jackson Pollock. I had photographed Ruth after she emerged from the hospital, from the crash results of 1956, and we recalled, looking at my pictures, how the stitches in her face had improved upon nature. She had begun to look like Susan Hayward. Beautiful.
We also discussed Ralph Di Padova. Now Ralph wanted to be a gangster, you know. He had also applied for employment to the CIA and to the FBI. They, neither of them, took him on, but — it was just as well. Gangsterdom was his first love, as a vocation. Ralph had an old-time Packard sedan that he sometimes took us around in. It was rather grand and very gangster. Ralph also had a sweet girl-friend of whom he took great and good care. She’d needed surgical operations for her bone problems and he took care of all that.
I notice, I should mention, some misprints or typical graphic errors in the Interview, I.
“fortune-making wit holdings” of course should have been “with” holdings though it obviously took much wit to make fortunes. All great fortunes are founded on great crimes, of course, but — what aren’t?
“went to a lot of moview” got printed for “went to a lot of moviex.”
See how simple it is?
Ray Johnson and Norman Solomon read a lot. They talked often and together about what they were reading and what it meant to them. Books of the 1950’s that got into their fields of vision were Zen intros by R.H. Blyth and Daisetz T. Suzuki. They read all of the early issues of the Evergreen Review, and discussed the cover designs of Grove Press books by Roy Kuhlman. They read Alice B. Toklas and they read Gertude Stein and they read Isak Dinesen. They read Edmund Wilson’s Memoirs of Hecate County. They read everything and anything by Yukio Mishima. They read the poetry of William Carlos Williams and even more by Wallace Stevens. They read the Story of O.
Djuna Barnes impressed them and something by somebody called Susie von Freulinghausen.
They went to a lot of movies.
In addition to Hollywood fare, they’d watch anything by Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa. They went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and saw a history of World film. This was two shows a week for three years. They liked particularly the early German Expressionism, especially the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which got incorporated into their work and attitudes. They saw everything French from 1925-1931. But, the very best of all, was everything ever made by Carl Dreyer and by Robert Bresson. They both considered The Diary of a Country Priest to have been one of the best movies ever made.
Their favorite painter was Mondrian. De Kooning called Mondrian “merciless” in his approach. Norman and Ray studied Mondrian’s Piers and Water, noting the movements of the little fishes.
They hung out with composers, musicians and dancers. John Cage. Merce Cunningham. James Waring. Katie Litz.Lucia Dlugaszewski. Morty Feldman. Earle Brown. Norman knew a lot of jazz musicians: Charlie Parker; Sonny Rollins; Bud Powell. Ray did not know any. Norman had connections in the world of Negro music. Ray had not, and did not care to. Often their worlds overlapped, but not always.
There was congruence and confluence and con alma. But not always. Although often enough. Ray sought out Butterfly McQueen and seemed somtimes to be talking endlessly about her. Norman could not have cared less.
Did Ray play games or music? Well, maybe not conventionally so. Norman played chess, drums and poker. For a while, there was a kitten at his studio. Once, after Ray had visited, the kitten was nowhere to be found. Finally, by crying, it revealed its whereabouts. It was inside a drum. Ray played jokes.
Ray enjoyed talking about the power plays in prison movies. Such as who’d be carrying the shit-bucket to be emptied in the morning, before, during, and after a relationship. Ray was also fascinated and open to discussing at any time, whipping, whipping and ritual torture.
Ray Johnson’s favorite dish (they had experimented at many of New Yorks’s international restaurants) was fetishini.
But, besides food, movies, clothing, make-up, morés, books, painters, paintings and the price of soap, they’d talk about other people.
They visited a lot of studios together. They saw the work of established artists, the know and the unknown, the promising students whom word had got around about and the up and the coming. And Ray would talk long afterward about studio details, not the art but the furniture, the light, the placements.
Ruud: In the current mail art network, the name Ray Johnson is often mentioned. Since I started in the mail art network in 1980, the history of mail art sometimes is difficult to find. I used the modern research tools from now (like the Internet) to find out who Norman Solomon is. There seem to be a lot of Norman Solomons out there. So of course my next question is, which one are you?
(together with the next question I sent some papers which consist of things written by Norman Solomon. I find them on the internet, but as it turns out this is another Norman Solomon……I also sent him a photo of the opening-screen of my computer, which shows the image of the unfinished last painting by Mondrian)
next answer on 12-05-1997
NS : The one who is not out there.
“Sorry, I couldn’t really understand your question. I don’t remember knowing anyone named Ray Johnson”
Using the modern research tools, like the Internet, is like asking if Mae Marsh liked grapefruit.
I thought that you’d be asking questions of greater interest, like what was the price of soap?
Or did that grapefruit, from Mae Marsh, elicit les frissons?
Do you think that it was Djuna Barnes that went to a lot of movies?
What did she see there?
She lived near the Loew’s Sheridan Theatre and the Eight Street Playhouse.
She lived across the street from New York City’s Women’s Prison, at the site of the old Jefferson Square Courthouse.
When, how and where did you first meet Ray Johnson, and what was he wearing?
Media Beat. Not courtesy of Turn Left. Check, but Turn Left Cheek.
The Victory Boogie-Woogie does not appear on your screen. Nor does it appear on anyone’s. What you think that you may be seeing is actually a copy of a copy. The Broadway Boogie-Woogie doesn’t either. You are looking at pictures of pictures of pictures.
And no one “out there” has ever seen PM’s “Times Square”.
05.02.97 , III. Pas des trois. It’s all in the spirit of inquiry.
(to) RJ-II : I noticed that you rearranged the numerals in my letter-headings to you. Is this some personal affliction?
“It’s all in the spirit of inquiry.” What does that exactly mean?
One reads or hears, for instance, so many questions regarding the nature of identity. “Who am I?” “Who is he?” and so forth. Are these in the quest for satisfaction of a scientific curiousity? Or are they a part of the ego-bound eternity of pre-recognition?
Mark Rothko (1905-70) was named by his parents, Marcus Rothkovich.
In the summer of 1954, one day, Mark Rothko and I were standing in the sunshine and on the grass, waiting for lunch. We were discussing the higher things. A pretty girl came up to us and spoke to him. “Mr. Rothko. I’ve heard so much about you! What are your paintings like?”
“My dear,” he answered, “I have devoted my life to beautiful women and I paint the same.”
The Groucho Marx of modern art.
Ray Johnson was always asking me, “Who are you, Norman Solomon?”
“Will the real mark Rothko please stand up?”
It is certainly something, the quest for identities.
When I am asked “Who are you?”
I can only think “Yes. Who am I?”
Ray Johnson and Norman Solomon were in complete and total agreement: that all so-called “identities” were synthetic.
“It’s Only Make-Believe.” “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”
There was a teacher in India, Ramana Maharshi, who postulated that, among other things, he was not his hair, was not his fingernails, and so on down the list of physical attributes. He then presented another self-portrait, the list of the mental qualities, each time denying that the one in particular focus was him. “So. What am I?”, he questioned. “I am not this; I am not that. What then?”
Ruud, I ask you, are we our names?
Here I should follow with the tale of the king and the corpse.
But, it’s getting late. There is a book, however. The King and the Corpse. It was written by Heinrich Zimmer. You could look it up.
Ruud: Yes, I can look it up and so can the readers of the published interview. I still wonder who you are, Norman, not that I am expecting a simple answer, but I tried to look in the books I have here where to place you. In the recently published Dossiers-issue from Black Mountain College I read a small note you wrote on your memories on Ray Johnson, so now I know that you went to the Black Mountain College as well. Looking back at that time now, what did you learn there?
next answer on 9-6-1997
NS : How to write, probably. We used to write notes in lipstick on paper napkins to be passed to each other under the dining tables. It was a great thrill to feel someone else’s fingers putting their notes between one’s legs there. When we got up from dining, we’d watch each other’s legs there looking for lipstick’s traces.
Ruud: Is writing still exciting for you?
next answer received on 24-6-1997
NS : Yes, writing is exciting for me. To write is to breathe. I don’t know what you mean by “still.” Writing is a practice. Writing gets better for me every day, each day that I write. Writing never stops. If writing stops, I stop.
The great Truman Capote said that “There’s writing and there’s typewriting.” Do you know what he means?
A flip slogan of recent years, often seen here as graffiti or on bumper stickers and such, said “Question Authority!” This was a statement which I questioned in itself, because: What was meant by “authority”? Hierarchisch Übermenschen, in this case, as ‘others’. I thought that it was a slogan by, of and for, victims. Like: “Step on me, please.”
I think that the ultimate authority in anyone’s life is one’s self. Therefore, starting at the top, in life and in art there is only one question and that is to question one’s self.
Now, this is where the craft of writing transcends the mechanics of typing: It’s all in the wrist. It’s all in the wrist of the mind. It’s the ability to question one’s self while in the midst of the process of writing. It is, this writing thing, the ability to edit. And, edit one must. One must edit one’s own production, in form and in content, and not be dependent on the doing of it for one by other persons.
As the delegation of authority increases, authority of self diminishes and self-authority becomes increasingly diluted. At the finality of examination, there is the question: “Who’s writing this stuff, anyway?”
In my case, my write is me. Any questions? Why do you ask?
Ruud: I ask questions because I want to learn. I have been doing so ever since I learned to talk. I have learned already that people can be divided into two groups (…..only two groups…? just one of the ways one can make groups, if one wants to generalize….). Group one: the ones that want to keep learning, and — group two — the ones that are just repeating themselves AFTER a learning-process.
But you tricked me, you started to ask me questions. Why do you ask questions?
(On 3-7-1997 I received a postcard from Norman Solomon with on it the rubberstamp “Who Killed Ray Johnson?”. Norman wrote that he had a small back injury and that his answer to my last question is delayed. He also wrote; Don’t give up! I’m not finished yet. Maybe next week. Until then.)
next answer on 9-7-1997
NS : You ask why I question and I ask what I question and what is a question.
Is a question an event?
Is a question a tool? An instrument? A piano?
Is a question a possibility? A chance? A change? A portent? A portion?
A start? An ending? A way out? A way in? A persuasion? An evasion? A vision?
Is a question any point on the brink of the abyss?
Is a question a thought? An investment? An answer to itself?
A portal to the universe? A stone in the road? A cry? A laugh?
A hole in space? A seek before a find?
Is a question an act of love? A green dance of fire?
A burn? A yearn? A turn?
Is a question one side of a triangle?
A ray of darkness in the light?
When is a question not a question?
What is a question not? And when?
Ruud: A question is something that comes up in me, a need to learn, a way to explore why I do what I do (or do not). I guess I am curious by nature, and I like to know more of the world I live in.
You Live in Berkeley now. You Lived a long time in New York. Why did you move?
reply on 28-7-1997
(With Normon Solomon’s answer he sent a copy of a photo of Ray Johnson in NY – NY – 1960)
NS : 1. New York was a movie I had seen and now it was time to go to the lobby in order to have some delicious treats.
2. New York was a school, The New York School, from which I had graduated and now it was time to go out into the world in order to seek my fortune.
3. In October 1966 I went to Sweden to paint stage sets for Ingmar Bergman’s opera company. That did not happen. I then went to London and made some paintings which were used as a set decoration for John Cage’s talk at the St. James Theatre. I sat with Yoko Ono. Her young daughter, Kyoko, was making a lot of noise. Yoko was on the macrobiotic diet and we talked about the price of brown rice. Later, she invited me to the opening of her small show at the Indica gallery where I read the November ARTFORUM magazine. ARTFORUM had started in San Francisco and then relocated to Los Angeles. The ARTFORUM San Francisco premises were advertised for rent. I bought airplane tickets for California and flew there to have some delicious treats and to seek my fortune.
Ruud: So, when you got to San Francisco, did you find your fortune there?
(After my vacation in Germany I found several pieces of mail from Norman Solomon. One of them was a box, a metal tea-box with on it the word FORTUNE. The tea-box contained also a large collection of ‘fortune-cookies’)
(In another envelope he writes: “Ruud, let’s make the game more interesting. Let’s raise it to a higher level. And he sends me “a long list of the kind of questions I should be asking him”. This was his reaction to my remark that I might ask in the future some more questions about Ray. John Cage, and other things………. The list is interesting, 4 pages long, and I am tempted to ask him all of these questions…….)
(On September 19th I received another sending of Norman , a copy of 700 small texts which look like fortune-tellings which are printed in some kind of book).
next answer on 19-9-1997
NS : Yes, I found my fortunes, many. Here are 700 of them. Please enjoy the pleasure of the printing. The 700 aphorisms: they are all answers. One thing that you could do with them would be to publish them as a project.
(1) Provide the most appropriate questions to these answers.
(2) Provide the least appropriate question to these answers.
They are sure to make someone happy.
They might even contribute towards enlightment.
Ruud: What makes you happy?
next answer on 14-10-1997
(Before Norman sent me his written answer, he sent me a postcard with a collage on it about cartoon-figures asking questions, and his text-collage: “is it possible that 3-4 pages of questions is for laughs and is not questions but a statement?)
NS : The sunrises in the mornings and sunny days and cloudy days and rainy days. The moon at night and starry skies and stormy nights at sea.
A good movie, if there is such a thing.
Reading anything about Ray Johnson.
Walking through the downtown area without getting hit by traffic.
My prick. Shiny, gleaming, glistening and inside her hot and juicy cunt, the pulsations of which enable me to experience a sense of participation with the undulation of the Universe and a sharing of the great Cosmic Joke.
Knowing that the means is an end in itself.
Knowing that the world is perfect and that there’s a place for everything in it and that everything’s in its right place.
Ruud: Do you laugh a lot lately?
Next answer on 27-10-1997
NS : Yes. yes, I do. In fact, I am laughing now.
LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH LAUGH
Ruud: Do you also laugh when you get your mail in the morning? Is this a special moment of the day for you?
next answer on 14-11-1997
NS : 1. Why, should I?
2. Why should I?
3. Why, should it be?
4. Why should it be?
(Below the answer there were three columns of texts in Japanese language, three identical texts. Also Norman Solomon sent with this answer the footnote on the Indica gallery, which I typed into the interview. It also included a newspaper article about “Yoko Ono’s Art defaced after -touch- quote” which hit the news last week. He also sent me Yoko Ono’s address. It triggered me to invite her for an interview as well).
[illustration with the three identical texts]
Ruud: Well, I just wondered if you think of yourself as a mail artist? You played along in Ray Johnson’s games through the mail…… So, I just wondered. Do you?
next answer on 26-11-1997
NS : Well, you know. Life is but a dream, yes?
Ruud: What did you dream today?
next answer on 8-1-1998 (and a copy on 31-1-1998)
(A prompt reply is its own reward. Normal mailed the copy because I was so late to answer the original. He thought it might have got lost in the mails – NS)
NS : It was a dream within a dream.
I met Ray Johnson in the F.W. Woolworth’s variety store at 37th Street and 5th Avenue in New York City where I had gone to purchase some factory-made ephemera. This was during the noon hour of March 17th , 1951. Ray had been on his way to the matinee premiere of Puccini’s Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera House and had stopped at the Woolworth’s for lunch.
The following year, 1952, Ray and I were both living on Monroe Street in New York’s lower East Side, although in separate buildings.
Each of us soon moved to other places, Ray to Dover Street and myself to Greene Street, but by the late 1950’s we were both at 176 Suffolk Street, occupying different apartments.
Our similarity of interests had brought us close together quite quickly and we studied and practiced what we loved. What we particularly loved, what we particularly threw ourselves into in the attempt to be proximate to and confluent with, were Chinese poetry, such as Li Po’s , the Japanese poetry, Haiku, and the Chinese and Japanese philosophies and religions: Confucianism , Taoism, Zen Buddhism.
We read everything that we could find of these, attended classes of D.T. Suzuki’s at Columbia University, and learned, also, what to eat and how to order in New York’s Chinese and Japanese restaurants.
We were eating Asia up!
We read that Chuang Tzu dreamed that he was a butterfly and that when he woke up he was Chuang Tzu.
“Last night I dreamed that I was a butterfly,” he said. “Was I then Chuang Tzu dreaming that he was a butterfly or am I today a butterfly dreaming that he is Chuang Tzu?”
Ruud: When you would go to a restaurant , Chinese or Japanese , what would you order now?
next answer on 2-3-1998.
NS : In Chinese restaurants: dim sum with Jasmine tea.
In Japanese restaurants: sushi, any style; miso soup; hot or cold sake, for a light and simple meal; green tea.
A complex Japanese meal would be known as ksi-seki ryõri. Not every place can make this special presentation and they differ from this place to that. I won’t attempt to descibe kai-seki, but it is something which would be a shame to have missed experimenting in one’s lifetime, given the opportunity.
(the next question was sent 7 weeks later, on April 22nd 1998, because I took a small break in all the interviews I am doing).
Ruud: My best experience with Japanese food was in Kopenhagen (Danmark) , where I and a friend (Made Balbat , a mail artist from Estonia) ate a 7 course meal in a Japanese restaurant where we were the only not-Japanese visitors and we could sit on the only table they had, provided we took of our shoes and followed the rules in this restaurant. I always enjoy to experience other cultures and ways of living, but only by taking part of it , not feeling too much as a tourist. What the name was of the dish we ate in that restaurant I don’t know. We ordered a traditional dish that the Japanese waitress recommended. This was about 4 years ago.
Next question for you, Norman , What did you do on the day you received this mail from me?
On Fridag 15th September I received an e-mail in which I was informed that on August 1st, –exacltly five years after his doctors had given him six months to live – 2000 he died quietly at peace. Mrs. Postcards informed me that Mr. Postcard (Norman Solomon) informed her that he would like the interview –unfinished—to be published posthumously – as it stood.
NORMAN SOLOMON (died August 1st 2000)
1805 Delaware Street
BERKELEY , CA 94703 ,
The Mail-Interview with Ray Johnson went in a special way. He reacted to the first formal invitation like this above. He also wrote on the backside, which added the dimension:
He sent it in one of his typical enveloppes:
I published the textual version of the interview too, which I will include here as well.This time also inserted the many visuals that make the interview so special:
THE UNFINISHED MAIL-INTERVIEW
WITH RAY JOHNSON.
TAM-PUBLICATIONS TILBURG – NETHERLANDS Nr TAM960134
This is the TEXT-VERSION of the two answers Ray give as part of my interview-project. I am still collecting all kind of information about Ray Johnson (before and/or after his suicide on 13-1-1995).
Started on: 4-11-1994
RUUD : Welcome to this mail-interview. A lot of mail-artists have stopped with sending out their mail into the network, but you seem to keep it up even till today. Is it true that mail-art is more then art, that it is a way of living your life?
(please put your answer on paper any length you choose….)
Reply on: 11-11-1994
(Ray’s answer was written on the original invitation to the project. He reacted to one specific word on the invitation, the word ‘LENGTH’, and he decided which length the answer would be…)
RAY : O.K. I choose 14¼ Inch length. Another answer – Dear Lamonte Young, Happy death day. Please send second question.
(The next question was in the length Ray wanted, and to make it more difficult for him, I typed the next question on dark-red paper on which I indicated the length he choose with a golden pen. Ray wrote again his answer on this paper and returned it to me.)
RUUD : With this length of 14¼ Inch the depth of my questions will change (for better or worse, I don’t know….) What kind of color would you like my questions to be? Not to dark a color for this second question I hope
Reply on : 21-11-1994
RAY : THE MNO QP (mirror view) kind. What about Mimsy Star? She got pinched in the astor bar.
RUUD : Was it a mistake that she got pinched. Was she supposed to be punched. Does she like PUNCH at all?
(Because of the long silence I wondered if the third question arrived, and I sent the following letter to Ray to ask him what was happened. As I found out a few days later, he had committed suicide).
Letter on : 21-01-1995 (I hadn’t heard of his suicide on this date yet!)
Dear Ray Johnson,
After my third question for the MAIL-INTERVIEW in November last year no reaction from you. So either you are busy or you have no time for the interview or you don’t like the idea. My attempt was to get some real views about MAIL-ART from you. If it is in ‘WORDS’ or in the form of ‘COLLAGE’, I don’t mind, but the idea will be that of every interview I start one booklet will be made. Some others who I am interviewing too by mail already expressed their interest in what you would say, and I must admit I still am curious about who you are and what is behind the messages that you send out. But then again, it is healthy to be curious. You will decide how the mail-interview goes, and I will document in this case too. Take care R.J.
Best wishes from another R.J.,
* On January 24th 1995 I received two mail-art pieces from the USA in which I read that Ray Johnson has died. Tim Mancusi wrote on his envelope: “Ray Johnson jumped off a bridge last friday the 13th & killed himself. He was 66, what a shame”. Michael B. Corbett (Tensetendoned) wrote: “I regret to inform you of the tragic drowning death of Ray Johnson on Jan. 13th 1995”.
* On January 24th 1995 I wrote my last letter to Ray, informing him that he will live forever, and I asked him about his new address, how high it ever might be…..
* On January 24th 1995 I received through INTERNET the E-mail magazine from Guy Bleus where it was confirmed too that Ray Johnson died.
From a researcher at the Feigen Gallery, years later, they sent me a colour image of Ray’s third answer. It seems he never came to sending it to me, but here is is anyway, years later:
Later I did a mail-interview with Ray’s fried Mr. Postcard (Norman Solomon). He tried to explain a bit the answers Ray gave from the American perspective.