iuoma.org – Interested in Mail-Art?

welcome to the International Union of Mail-Artists. This Blog gives you information and links to all activities undertaken by Ruud Janssen, who started with Mail-Art in 1980 and is still active.

mail-interview with Chuck Welch – USA

Mail-interview with Chuck Welch
(Crackerjack Kid)
USA

welch3
About the interviewed artist:

Chuck Welch has been a leading practitioner of mail art since 1978. His first book : “Networking Currents,” (1986) is a pioneering text about mail art subjects and issues. Last year he edited mail art’s first “ezine” “Netshaker On-Line”. Currently, Welch’s Eternal Network Mail Art Anthology is being published by University of Calgary Press. Copies are available.

RJ :Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?

CW :My first exposure to mail art and subsequent participation is linked to the historic “Omaha Flows System” held at Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska and curated by Fluxus artist Ken Friedman. So my evolvement began in April 1973, but at the time I didn’t know that this major exhibition was the precedent for all mail art shows that followed. My active involvement in mail art occurred in 1978 when I began corresponding under the nom de plume of crackerjack kid. I chose that pseudonym because crackerjack is a well-known American phrase and is also a candied popcorn which contains a surprise in every box. I turned the candy box phrase to suit my own mail art objectives, “to place a surprise in every mailbox.”

In a paragraph I can best describe how I’ve come full circle in my mail art interest. My initial attraction to mail art is difficult to analyze. I must be crazy because I spend about $1,600 each year on postage, enough to buy a new powerMac computer. Who says mail art isn’t expensive? But the mail art form fascinated me not because of the media, but because the message is what bonds us all in a global community. You see, mail art crosses borders between individuals, nations and cultures and makes your mailbox a central grounding space for the merging of art and life. At its best mail art is open, honest, democratic and collaborative. At its worst mail art is selfish, petty, factionalistic and clubish. Historically, mail art has traveled an intermedia course that diminished distances between communication forms as divergent and different as copier machines and telecommunication. As the international post declines will mail art too? I think not! The spirit of mail art is already transforming as the ethereal, eternal network in cyberspace-what I’ve termed in my 1991 telenetlink neologism, “emailart”.

RJ :It seems that at the moment two networks, that have existed beside each other for many years, are gradually being influenced by each other. What can the Internet mean to mail-art and visa-versa?

CW :I developed the idea of Telenetlink in 1991 to explore how the on line internet and mail art communities might interconnect. That process is still evolving primarily through my widespread distribution of contact lists, but if mail art is a house and internet is the street, both forms will link in private homes and public spaces. In North America even the homeless have access to Internet through countless public libraries. The story is quite different in Europe where governments and industries must decentralize to join Internet. This means letting go of control, de regulating authority. Some experts say Europe is four years behind North America in understanding the potential of internet and Japan is almost without a clue. An interesting historical link exists between the internet and mail art and that occurred when pioneering mail artists quit the mailstream in the mid 1970s and created the first on line artists networks. Today, there are thousands more on line artists in North America than there are mail artists. Both communities will become acquainted and merge through Telenetlink. Then we’ll begin to understand what both communities will become to one another.

RJ :For me the internet with the E-mail and speed is still different compared to the mail art network because of the digital form. Digital art is just a fragment of the total art that is produced. Some say that the Internet is just another way of communication besides the traditional mail-,fax-, telex- and phone-networks. What is this potential of the internet in your eyes compared to the other networks I mentioned?

CW:To network or knotwork, that is the question. The message (emailart) and messenger (networker) are the medium, not cyberspace or snail mail. The emailartist is an invisible messenger who breathes the ether of cyberspace. The aesthetic of form in cyberspace is formlessness. Form is fluxed forever: time, speed, and distance are distorted, fragmented, diffused, and shattered. And, as if this induced anxiety isn’t enough, we can expect our notions of a virtual reality will continually change as technology transforms the tools at hand.

When you talk about cyberspace being primarily a digital experience, I would point out that Internet carries sounds, visual images, and motion through software like Macromind Director. Internet then, IS MAIL, IS FAX, IS TELEX, IS SOUND, IS MOTION, IS VISUAL IMAGE all wrapped together through the existing telephonic technology such as fiber optics.

Is this better than what traditional mail art offers? It isn’t a question of what’s better. Perhaps it is a choice, or preference we make based on what we already know. Cyberspace isn’t paradise, but neither is mail art. Both have major pitfalls and both share problems of community, of censorship, of systems regulating, controlling, and centralizing authority. Mail art networkers have grappled with these issues long before cyberspace came along. How can our experiences help shape and form new communication spaces? I think mail artists have much to offer as does cyberspace. Both forms will merge in the streets of networking. This is the inevitable future of mail art, whether mail artists like it or not.

RJ :One of the things you do on the internet is your magazine Netshaker, which I received through the net from you too. Does the concept from a e-zine differ a lot from the zines we know in mail-art? Does the e-zine bring new possiblities (or problems) besides the speed of sending?

CW:If concept includes the objective of building on line communities, encouraging collaboration, debate, presenting projects, etc., then my “Netshaker On Line” is almost identical to the snail mail version of “Netshaker.”. But as a networking tool, “Netshaker On Line has a much greater potential for reaching an enormous international on line audience with speed and with little expense.

In discussing “ezines” I want to clarify that this term is an invention of my own, an abbreviated form of “electronic zine.” Prior to “Netshaker On Line” there were no mail art zines on Internet, only formal “magazines” such as Art Com and Post Modern Culture. Part of the challenge of the Networker Telenetlink has been to lead the way in pointing out possibilities. The definition of mail art “ezines” will evolve as other mail artists experiment with the form. For now, it is important to start the idea of “ezines” moving. Now, I see that Mark Bloch and Guy Bleus have made their zines available over Internet. Vittore Baroni wrote last week that he would be going on line next Fall, so it is possible that his “Arte Postale” will go on line too.

Ezines are primarily text based rather than visual, but this doesn’t mean I can’t replicate visual images as seen in mail art zines. Graphics can be scanned, compressed, and transmitted over internet by GIF, an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format. How can you move a graphic image over the network?

Pictures can be shipped as ASCII text, but the recipient must have software on their own computer to put it in shape. Downloading visual images can be a boring, consuming process if you’ve got a slow modem, say 2,400 bps. rather than 19,000 bps. Plus visual images consume a lot of space on disks and computers. If your personal computer is directly linked to a mainframe, computer speed isn’t an issue. But quite a few artists like me are connected to mainframes with modems, and this is a problem because I can tie up my phone lines for one or two hours downloading a single photograph. These access problems will be solved as fiber optic technology evolves.

I think it would be a mistake to think that the ezine should function in the fashion that hands on mail art zines do. Mail art zines combine sound, vision, and touch with tangible form. Even the smell of fresh off set print has an appealing sensation that is first hand, and not simulated. Remember, I am a papermaker, a craftsperson who likes to work by hand. It’s ludicrous to think of taking a computer monitor to bed like you can a mail art zine.

Mail art zines appeal directly to our senses and there is nothing simulated or compromised in the interaction. So I think it would be foolish to expect the ezine to replicate this experience. But you must remember that mail art zines will not compete with the virtual reality of an electronic zine a magazine that can stimulate the senses with mixed media techniques combining sound, vision, and motion. I can present, for instance, an ezine snapshot to my readers of a group mail art portrait taken at Katz’s Deli in NYC. Readers can click any mail artist in the portrait and hear the actual voice of that person speaking. Or with buttons mixed with text, readers could click a button for a video clip of Carlo Pittore eating salami. The interactive play could be hilariously interactive, even inviting the reader to add on, splice in all kinds of outrageous information. Ezines will be entirely interactive forms available on internet listservs, the World Wide Web or newsgroups.

RJ :Yes, I know it is all technically possible, the things that you mention. But the computer-tools that the mail-artists have at hand normally aren’t up to it. An example is the TAM-Bulletin I tried to upload to the DDS-Unix server. I then found out that it doesn’t accept ‘extended ASCII-signs like : üüüéééééüüüüéé±ëéè (when you read this question, you will see what the computer has done to the signs), so on Internet I even have less possibilities at the moment compared to the BBS-services that I am used to work with. I still get this feeling that with Internet I’m back to basics as far as the E-mail is concerned. Internet surely needs some artists to change it. Maybe you can tell me a bit about the Telenetlink ’95? How is it going so far?

(As I expected the “üüüéééééüüüüéé±ëéè” -part of my e-mail got distorted into other signs during the internet-communication. Because of the EDI-protocols the extended ASCII-signs aren’t understandable for all participating hosts yet.)

CW :It’s a shame that you’re stuck with archaic protocol. Artists aren’t needed to change it, European politicians and businesses will be the ones to open the gates to Internet. As I’m writing this, European deregulation of telecommunication industries is ever nearer with preparation for full deregulation by 1998. French Telecom and Deutsche Telekom are planning an alliance with Sprint, a major U.S. long distance carrier. Italy’s Societa Finanziaria Telefonica per Azioni, otherwise known as STET, began talks with IBM last month (February 1995) in an alliance that could offer global internet connections to Europe. In the alliance with I.B.M. STET would provide specialized skills like transmission and switching. STET is also in the middle of a five billion dollar program to upgrade its lines with fiber glass cable technology needed for interactive television. This forthcoming deregulation in European communications is comparable to U.S. deregulation of the Bell System in the 1980s.

It isn’t true that American mail artists lack necessary computer tools to participate in Internet. Your statement relates more to European mail artists than here, but exceptions definitely include Guy Bleus and Charles François. As far as basic e mail goes, H.R. Fricker, and Clemente Padin have joined the Telenetlink and today Jim Felter from Vancouver, British Columbia sent his first email Telenetlink message to me. Many mail artists are finally coming online partly because the Telenetlink has helped create a cyberspace community that has spread the original emailart lists since early 1991. Just got email today from Judith Hoffberg, Robert Ashworth, and Ramcell, all online mail artists. My current Telenetlink Emailart Directory lists over 200 participants. Albeit controversial, the Telenetlink has challenged the larger snail mail art community with a call for direct interaction rather than more congress talk.

RJ :O.K. , lets talk about your book that just has come out. Tell a bit about the concept of it, and how it differs from your previous book.

CW :Neither “Networking Currents” (1986) or Eternal Network: A Mail Art Anthology (1995) are scholarly histories of mail art, although EN was published by a university press and “Networking Currents” was self published by me. I am known in and outside of the network as a mail artist and not an art historian. Moreover, my purpose for editing EN wasn’t to add to previous historical surveys of mail art.

In “Networking Currents” I discussed mail art subjects and issues with a pioneering focus upon the concept of networking and networkers. I have been told by some academic scholars that “Eternal Network Mail Art Anthology” is much akin to Robert Motherwell’s “Dada Painters & Poets.” That is, the EN anthology is more of an illustrated philosophy of mail art than a history book.

I think it’s unfortunate that few major mail art books have surfaced in recent years. John Held’s “Mail Art Bibliography” is a librarian’s tool to accessing rare mail art sources. Winnes, Wohlrab, Jesch and Huber have recently produced “Mail Art Szene DDR 1975 1990,” a focused book about mail art behind the Berlin Wall. And Peter R. Meyer recently co edited a marvelous catalogue/book “Mailed Art in Uppsala: Choosing Your Partner.” But all of these books including my own edition have been written by active mail art “insiders.” This can be interpreted as a boon or bane depending on one’s viewpoint about what constitutes “authoritative texts.” It is possible that EN will be an important sourcebook that will open doors to others where doors were once locked shut.

RJ :Besides the Telenetlink and your books you also used to make beautiful artistamps and handmade books. Do you still have time for that?

CW:Yes, in fact I collaborated from 1992 94 in person and by mail with Marilyn Rosenberg, David Cole, and Sheril Cunning in the creation of “Spring Garden Mail Art Installation Bookwork”. 32 signatures were made with my handmade paper as a support for painting, drawing, printmaking, collage, and readymade objects. All four of us worked on all aspects of the bookwork , first in a workshop at my home and then for a year through the mail. Our installation will be on display at the University of Nebraska’s Museum of Nebraska Art through September of this year.

Two months ago my handmade paper artworks (artistamps, etchings, and engravings) were displayed at Adirondack Community College in Queensbury, NY. I’ve been invited to exhibit my bookworks at Boise State University in November 1995 and also in Scarborough, New York.

I prefer creating artwork by hand and now that my period of writing about mail art is over for awhile, I intend to focus more on handmade paper artistamps and/or painting and sculpture. My M.F.A. degree work was in studio art at Boston Museum School and my creations were whimsical stamp machines, three dimensional handmade paper stampworks and paper pulp paintings. I don’t have a lot of room now for large work so I expect I’ll scale down to stampworks again. I have a handmade paper mill in my studio and some small presses for making intaglio prints.

RJ :It is funny you mention the fact that you don’t have a lot of room. Maybe this is the result of keeping all the mail-art you get. How is you ‘archive’ organized?

CW:Yes, my archive takes up a lot of space on shelves, in cabinets, in bookcases, and fileboxes. Having an organized archive has saved me hours of time searching for materials, but what hours I’ve saved have been spent organizing the Eternal Network Archive and I’ve been doing such with a Hypercard database for over three years now. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but the price has been a tremendous amount of time and energy.

I have sections of my archive devoted to Mail Art Projects, 3 D objects, Mail Art Catalogues, Zines, Books, audio cassettes, posters, T Shirts, Videos, Artistamps (The International Register of Artistamps), The Networker Databank, and Fluxus related materials. Files from 1978 1991 include numerous materials collected from old correspondences with over 300 mail artists from fifty countries. Those materials sit in eight large fileboxes and in a crammed closet I haven’t reached yet.

From 1991 to present I’ve assembled 145 catalogued folders, each folder representing a week of mail art. All of the items in these stuffed folders are recorded by the day, month, and year each arrived, ie materials arriving on May Day 1995 are tagged 050195. The database reflects this number and the last name of each sender. In an instant I can scan my files and tell you what mail I received on any day of the year, or I can reveal how much interaction I’ve had with other network friends.

Why do I do it? As a child I was a compulsive stamp collector. I loved making books, saving correspondences and drawings. I’ve always been a packrat and I know many other mail artists with the same proclivity. But collecting isn’t my passion! I collect mail art because have an abiding belief that what we and our network mail art friends are doing is important art in the age we live in. That is, to give our works is a radical act. Nobody else in the mainstream does that because if they did it would undermine the entire commodity art system. I don’t create mail art to collect it. My biggest love is giving my work to others and collaborating with other artists.

I stay on top of nearly all the mail art I get, so I’m never behind on the cataloguing. Last year I catalogued 1,500 pieces of mail art and I mailed out that much too. Sounds like lots, but I know of other mail artists who are more prolific that I. I spend too much money on mail art.

Somewhere along the line I’ll decide to quit doing this librarian’s work. I’m an artist and this is my first love, not bookkeeping. So if it gets to be too much, I’ll stop. I’ll know when that time comes. My publisher tells me that in the creation of “Eternal Network Mail Art Anthology” they amassed a huge collection of ephemera, more than any other publication they’ve ever produced.

From the investigations I’ve made about mail art archives, I’m certain that the Eternal Network Archive is the largest private catalogued mail art collection in the United States. The Networker Databank (in duplicate) collection alone includes over 2,000 networker congress items donated to the University of Iowa’s Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts Archive, plus records mailed to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

Because my space is limited, I’m selective about what I receive. I’m not very interested in picked over, rejected items that would have found their way into someone’s garbage bin. I do save, however, all mail art catalogues, videos, zines and artistamps that are donated to the Eternal Network Archive.

RJ :How do you archive your electronic Mail? Do you just extract the ASCII-part and save this or do you also collect all the ‘bits and bytes’ that come along with it?

CW:The electronic mail is filed (ASCII) on disk in chronological order by day, month, year, similar to the way I archive all my traditional mail art copy.

RJ :You say you do save all mail art catalogues. What kind of catalogues do you like the most?

CW:I like them all, really, but I certainly appreciate those with some effort and originality beyond the usual listing of names and addresses. Guy Bleus creates some of the most eloquent, beautiful mail art documentation in the network. His recent “In Memory of Ray Johnson” is a beautiful, lyrical work. Gianni Broi’s “La Posta in Gioco” (1990) is one of the most beautiful mail art show catalogues ever made, perhaps rivaled by Peter R. Meyer’s “Mailed Art in Uppsala” (1994). Andrej Tisma has a proclivity for creating wonderful mail art show documents too. His “Nature Gives” International Mail Art Exhibition Catalogue is a case in point.

I have about 300 mail art catalogues in the Eternal Network Archive. But there are another 300 mail art project documents too, and I like these as well, if not better than the exhibition catalogues. Some of the projects I’ve grown to love over the years are Pawel Petasz’ works, Edguardo Vigo’s international stamp projects, and more recently Rea Nikonova’s superb “Double” assembling projects. I love Mail Art Assemblings like Pascal Lenoir’s “Mani Art,” Baroni’s “Arte Postale,” M.B. Corbett’s “Tensetendoned,” Dirk Frohlich’s Buchlabor assemblings, Bruno Pomney’s “Lola Fish” also and many others.

RJ :Sometimes an organizer of a mail-art show makes a beautiful catalog and then offers it for sale to the participants. You surely know Lon Spiegelman’s views in the 80-ies, that “Mail art & money don’t mix”. What are your views? How are things in the 90-ies?

CW:The death of Ray Johnson, January 13th, 1995 has proven that mail art and money make a nice honey pot. Ray’s early letters and postcards can go for $300,00 a piece. In the last 3 years as many as five dealers have been selling mail art archival materials. It is mail artists who sell the archives so I think Spiegelman’s ism is hardly a mail art altruism. A myth, perhaps.

Italian painter Paolo Barrile invited mail artists to submit work to his “Earth Age Plastic Age” project and is now asking these participants to help pay for the catalogue book. I think that’s a cheap shot, paying for one’s book on the backs of those who submitted artwork that will be used. That’s not how I produced Eternal Network. All essayists received free copies. Eventually, those who sent artwork will get copies too. And it is very costly, we have given away nearly 20% of the edition!!! Maybe this is why so few publishers take on mail art books.

Barrile wrote to me that, “I haven’t any publisher, any sponsor, bank, collector, gallery behind me. He claimed a thousand reasons, including his high blood pressure, for not being able to afford publishing. My question is simple, why didn’t Barrile just be honest in the beginning and tell mail artists they wouldn’t get a free copy in X-change for their work. Honesty can be respected but Barrile went about it all wrong. He is as bad as the art system that juries artists by slide, charging them to help finance the show, and then rejecting their work. I hate this form of chicanery and it is a big reason why I left the art system years ago!

RJ :During this interview you managed to get you own homepages on the Internet and started the EMMA. In my eyes the homepages are a strange step in mail art. The sender is preparing something, but then the receiver has to reach out and get the homepages himself. The sending of information/graphics/etc. isn’t automatically there in homepages. The homepages look like a cybergallery but with a completely different access-level for all. What is the function of homepages for email-art?

CW:Ruud, I don’t know how many homepages you’ve browsed on the World Wide Web, but I will have to tell you from my experience that the sending of information/graphics etc. IS there on World Wide Web homepages IF the homepage creator provides for such access. Conceptually, EMMA pokes fun at the idea of museums, and since she is an electronic museum there is certainly more to her than looking at a cybergallery.

Home pages are powerful, interactive pages utilizing hypertext tags. Homepages on the World Wide Web require addresses as in traditional snail mail art. The World Wide Web homepage address is known as a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Without a URL there can be no homepage. As in snailmail, the address is the art. Placing a homepage on the Web is also like posting a message except the website can also be an interactive mailbox whereby viewers are given a window to create and transmit email to the website artist. In one sense you could call a website mail art’s new hyper media post office where the community can once again gather to exchange ideas, debate, gossip, greet one another, and co create on visual and textual art projects. Sight and sound are now possible points for real time interaction on internet websites. Websites will be wonderful mail art resource centers for community access in the global village.

I’ve created a cyberspace Artistamp Gallery as one of the rooms in EMMA and there I’ve posted an invitation to participate in “Cyberstamps,” mail art’s first exhibition on the World Wide Web. Artoposto has sent a stamp encoded as a GIF which I’ve decoded and placed in the Artistamp Gallery. Cyberstamps can be created on or offline, so I’m inviting all mail artists to contribute to the exhibition. It’s a great way to have your artwork shown to a huge international online audience. So send your stamps to Cyberstamps, PO Box 370, Etna, NH 03750, or as GIFS via email to Cathryn.L.Welch@dartmouth.edu. Deadline will be November 1, 1995. Oh yes, not having a computer isn’t an excuse for not entering!

Increasingly, you’ll be finding mail artists without computers gaining access to internet through those who do there’s the inherent generosity and goodwill among mail artists that will generate that possibility. The Electronic Museum of Mail Art, the first World Wide Web site entirely devoted to mail art in cyberspace, will be a forum, gallery space, and meeting place for all mail artists. At this early stage, I’ve used my website to help interconnect website artists, unix artists, and commercial internet servers. Current postings in the Emailart Directory alert online artists to the existing cyberspace (internet) community of mail artists (numbering about 200). My mail art website has since March, incited other online mail artists such as GeORge Brett to revamp their websites to include mail art. Mark Bloch just went online May 1, and James Warren Felter, a well known artistamp curator, phoned last week to say he would be placing a homepage on the web next month. Mario Lara, longstanding California mail artist, sent email today notifying me of his new online address. There are scores of North American mail artists linking to the internet every day. I think Telenetlink has been a good motivator for progressive mail artists who have taken up the Telenetlink challenges. It has created a great deal of controversy, especially as related in Gianni Broi’s new edition “Alternative Creativity and Human Values: Free Dogs in the Galaxy.” In that book, Broi comments that “the Telenetlink project by Chuck Welch can be defined as ‘accelerated conversion.'” Mail art in cybespace has broadened the horizons of what it means to be a mail art networker.”

RJ :I’m also very much interested in statistics. Could you tell me how much E-mail, snail-mail & visitors to your homepages you got in June. Which percentage of the mail did you answer or will you finally be able to answer?

(Besides this e-mail Chuck also sent a snail-mail with a sample-list of the e-mail he receives)

CW:Like you, I get a lot of junk emailart. I’d say roughly the same amount of worthless, thoughtless junk I get in the postal mailstream. I just don’t have time to answer anything that doesn’t show creative initiative, curiosity, or genuine person to person warmth and interaction. I love getting correspondence art, but so few send it. So what do I do with stuff I can’t or won’t answer? I put it in the trash can by my desk or the trash can icon on my PC.

How many visit me via email as a result of the Electronic Museum of Mail Art on the World Wide Web? There’s a way to tell at Dartmouth College, but I haven’t had time to check. When I arranged a website at Arleen Schloss’ May 20th exhibition at A’s Gallery (SoHo, NYC), “Hommage to Ray Johnson.” Judith Hoffberg emailed me that she helped many in attendance access my website “Tribute to Ray Johnson.” This emailart exhibition is still posted on the World Wide Web at the Emailart Gallery: http://mmm.dartmouth.edu/pages/user/cjkid/EmailartGallery.

Back to your question. I’d say I get ten emailart messages a day. Many contacts are in response to my website, my mail art edition “Eternal Network,” or to my own queries in cyberspace. In comparison, I get about six or seven pieces of snail mail each day. Today I got eight pieces of snail mail, half from Europe. I gotta tell ya, I can’t continue to pay the current postage rates. Just last week the United States Postal System hiked their overseas airmail rates from 50 cents per half oz. to 60 cents. Rates to Canada changed from 40 cents per half oz. to 46 cents. The cost of a postcard to Canada jumped up 25% from 30 cents a card to 40 cents. This makes my emailart a very competitive second choice to mail art.

Hey, I’ve got a new “Netshaker Online” ready for you. The current issue is about Clemente Padin’s work bringing Telenetlink to South America. Maybe I’ll have that issue to you by tonight. Just read your “Mail Interview With Rod Summers” and found one of your questions rather strange. You stated, “Last year Crackerjack Kid tried to start the TELENETLINK 95 project. I”m not sure if it really started or not. I was surprised by the question because obviously during the months that have elapsed in this interview, you’ve known all about Telenetlink. You have told me and written many times in your publications that you are a participant in the Networker Telenetlink 95. Are you, and if so, how are you helping to bring the Telenetlink concepts to the European mail art community? Also, when are you going to send me a “cyberstamp” GIF for Mail Art’s first online mail art exhibition?

RJ :Well, I will answer you questions by separate mail, but here is my next question for you. I know that some mail-artists sold or traded their mail-art archive to the postal museums. Do you think this is a good thing to do?

CW:I hadn’t heard about mail art archives purchased by postal museums. What parties are you referring to? Without knowing the names or reasons for those mail artists who are selling/trading their personal archives, I can’t make a judgment as to whether such activities are good or bad.

I suppose there isn’t much I can do if you wanted to destroy your own archive. There have been mail artists who have performed such acts. I once had a girlfriend I wrote to while I served in Vietnam. When I came home we dated awhile and months later broke up. Then years later I asked if she would xerox certain of my letters containing poems and drawings. She replied that her ex husband in a fit of jealousy burned every letter I ever mailed. I was outraged and felt that an old sacred bond had been violated by a stranger. Don’t you think that letters and art are gifts of the heart?

I guess there’s always the risk that some mail artists are not above ripping your heart out. Ray Johnson called last year complaining that other mail artists were selling his postcards for up to $300.00 each. He said, “They can’t do that, I want to stop it from happening.” I said, “You have two choices, 1) start placing copyright notices with each work, or 2) stop mailing art” What is left of mail art when it becomes a copyright? Where is the cutting edge at that point?

You have the right to sell my “gifts” if that is your objective, but anyone doing such is going to have trouble maintaining connections in the network. As you know, word gets out fast in the network. Of course, if you drop out of the network, what others think may not matter to you at all. I know a lot of mail artists who feel they have earned the right to sell their archives. Most everything in an archive was acquired through a great amount of personal cost in time, energy and finances. I’m certain, for example, there are some mail artists who are holding their archives like an IRA retirement account.

RJ :What will be the future of your archive?

CW:I have given away The Networker Databank to the University of Iowa’s “Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts Archive” but I will continue to maintain the Eternal Network Archive as long as I’m involved in mail art. At present it is the largest catalogued mail art archive in North America. As such, I hope it will become an important center for study and research to anyone interested in the role of the networker.

RJ :Well, I guess it’s now time to end this interview. Maybe there is something I forgot to ask you?

CW:Hey Ruud, you’ve got so many questions and I’ve got to go change the triplet’s diapers. I s’pose that’s a good enough reason to end the talk. Good luck with all your other interviews in netland and I hope other mail artists will appreciate the hard work you’re doing. I do. See you in the mailstreams (cyberspace & mail artdom).

RJ :Thanks for the interview!

mail-interview with Birger Jesch – DDR

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH BIRGER JESH       27

Started on: 6-3-95

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: 20-3-1995

BJ : In the end of 1979 I began with mail art exchange. I did projects like “TARGET GUN PROJECT” with exhibition in February in Dresden and several other places. “PLEASE STAMP FOR ME” (on going project) with exhibition in 1982 in Dresden together with the “COLLECTIVE COLLAGES”. Further more: “IST ALLES NOCH BEIM ALTEN?”, with exhibition in Dresden (1983), “LIVE WITHOUT FORCE” (Homage to Wilhelm Reich) exhibition Summer 1983 in Dresden, “THE DARKSIDE OF YOUR MOONFACES” with exhibition in 1989 in Saßnitz, and “YOUR FAVORITE PORNOGRAPHY” (Commonpress 100) with exhibition in 1990 in Weimar and Halle.

For the East-German autonomous peace movement I gave mail art of my archive for several exhibitions in church’s (1981-1986). My address has changed (Dresden-Volkmannsdorf-Blankenhain). Abroad tourism to several other mail-artists and I had meetings at DNC 1986 (Praha and East-Berlin) and DNC 1992 (ZOO Antwerpen and Berlin). I was co-author on the book “MAIL ART SZENNE DDR 1975-1990” (Berlin 1994).

RJ : Has your mail-art changed a lot since the breaking down of the wall?

Reply on : 26-5-1995

(Because of language-problems Birger Jesh answers in the German language to my English questions, and I translate the answers into English language).

BJ : Since the vanishing of the DDR (East-Germany) into the structure of the ‘Bundesrepublic Deutschland’ (Germany) also the conditions for mail art have changed. There are economical forces like the raising of the rates of a postcard inside Europe from 10 Pfennig to 80 Pfennig, and outside Europe from 0,25 to 2,00 Mark (not counting the extra for airmail!) That makes it obvious that only well paid teachers from Germany are active in mail art. It is the reason why the once very active DDR – Mail art net almost broke down completely. The ones who remain must be real addicts!

The for DDR mail artists once typical political photo-words / collages as protest are not necessary anymore and are now done by Political parties which publish their views openly. Also there are now suddenly all technical possibilities like the copier and even the computer.

I probably won’t try to keep up with the possibilities of the E-mail network. The principle of the collage in the art since seven decades, will become more stereotype and standard. I wish to maintain in my mail a bit of my “handwriting”. In all mediums and artforms I see plenty of space to work in with the traditional forms.

RJ : You probably are a real mail art addict, because you started a new mail art project called ‘Gazetta’. Could you tell a bit more about it?

Reply on 24-6-1995

BJ : I was already thinking about “Gazetta” for many years. In the DDR, to which people from the western foreign countries couldn’t send their newspapers, it would have been impossible.. I remember that once for such a project (for the German-speaking countries) , in the year 1987 or 1988 I sent to Henning Mittendorf in Frankfurt/M an invitation with the copies for a newspaper project with the request to copy and pass on. He never received this package!

So finally I can realize my project and I am very curious how creative the participants will work on their newspaper. The exhibition during the 96′ Folk-Festival in the picturesque small city Rudolstadt, near the Saale, is also very exiting. First, because the thousands of visitors of the festival suddenly will be confronted with mail art. And also, because since the end of the DDR, the only small ‘Kulturbundgalerie’ in the city had to shut down and there are very little possibilities to exhibit.

The project will also be shown in the well-known Museum “Schwerin” , together with a larger exhibition about mail art (archive-material). The four initiators of the book “Mail Art Scene DDR” , Wohlrab, Eigendorf, Winnes and Jesch, will make the concept for this exhibition. And so we hope, that a deserved retrospective will be shown there.

RJ : Can you give me some more examples of censorship in the old DDR?

Reply on 9-9-1995

(After East-Germany was integrated with West-Germany and became one country, the documents of the Stasi, the State-security of East-Germany, were made available for research to the people it concerned. Birger Jesh therefore can tell about the things he found out).

BJ : I have now copies of the papers from the Ministery of Statesecurity (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit) and kan read which mail art activities were observed in particular. Is is very clear that in the 80-ies the normal artistic exchange wasn’t controlled. L’art pour l’art wasn’t interesting for the censors, when it didn’t attract to much attention openly. It were the themes of the alternative movement in Europe that were the aim of the officials.

Especially with the political themes like “Target-gun-project” and “live without force” (a homage to W. Reich) there were officials folowing the project. Also sympathy with “Solidarnosz” was looked at as a Stalinistic enemyview.

The ex-DDR Galarist and mail artist Jürgen Scheinebraden got for his project “Solidarity for Solidarnosz”, that he did after his move to West-Germany (BRD), also two contributions from the DDR – from Jürgen Gottschalk and me. This I can read from the official papers – also that the documentation consisted of a cassette I know now. The local chief of the SED, Modrow, got a copy about this event.

My first postcard-action was the sending of ca. 150 postcards (Photoprints of destroyed Dresden with a warning against the neutron-bomb). The Stasi recorded on 13-2-1980 precisely 73 postcards. All is documented in writing.

On 7-8-1982 till August 1983 I was on the “Postfahndungsliste”, so in this period every piece of post addressed to me was invested by the State-security office (Stasi).

In October 1982 I was interregated and the Stasi showed me confiscated postal pieces addressed to me. I was asked to give explenations and they told me: “Mail art is forbidden,” and I had to pay a fine of 500 Mark. In the same way they treated the Dresdener mail artist Steffen Giersch, and he became a fine of over 300 Mark. The plan of the Officials was, through different fines, to make the Dresdener mail artists mistrust each other. In the official documents I also found three postcards I sent out but that never got to the addressee. Another thing I found was a postcard I mailed in the year 1983, which I passed on again (after 11 year) to Ryosuke Cohen in Japan.

RJ : You have been active in mail art now for many years. Have you maintained in contact with the same mail artists as you started with? (I especially mean the ones from abroad).

Reply on 11-10-1995

(Besides his answer -in German Language- Birger Jesch also sent me the newsletter about his latest project GAZETTE, where he tells about the number of participants and mentions the first exhibition that will be held in July 1996).

BJ : This is a delicate subject! As you know, I have problems with other languages. At school we didn’t learn English but Russian language in the former East-Germany. Therefore I had the most intense contacts with German-speaking mail artists like: Volker Hamann, Aloy Ohlmann, Henning Mittendorf, Julia Barczyk (D), Martin Krist (A), H.R. Fricker (CH), Arthur Berkoff (Ne) and Gudrun Albasser (F). With these, in certain periods real intens correspondences, there were also personal exchanges which go further than the art-exchange. I regret it very much that I don’t have the energy to take an english language-course, so I can communicate with other interesting people in a more intense way.

After 10 year of work in the Network in 1990 I looked through my archive for the mail artists I came in contact with in the beginning. They were Lon Spiegelman, Pawel Petasz, Hendryk Bzdok, Robert Rehfeld, Robbert Filliou and Damaso Ogaz. With these last three names it becomes clear. The first generation of mail artists is saying goodbye. There are also others who I was in contact with, Mike Bidner, Joseph Beuys, Ulises Carrion, Achim Weigelt (Wermòve), Karsten Matthes, Slavko Matkovic and Michael Scott. The great historical figures G.A. Cavellini and Ray Johnson never answered my mail. Also there was the news of the death of loved ones. Lon Spiegelman mourned a long time for his dear wife Linda. In this year the mothers of José Oliveira and Dawn Redwood died. These messages show the need for trust and human compassion. Now Guillermo Deisler is diagnosed with the illness cancer, and I can’t find the right words to comfort him

That is how life goes. When I look outside the window when I write, I look at the cemitary accross the street. My contacts I usualy intensify with a project. I always invite the current contacts I have for the project and also try to participate in their projects. That gives a constant exchange with Vittore Baroni, Guy Bleus, Pawel Petasz, Ruud Janssen, Keith Bates, Guttorm Nordø, Ryosuke Cohen and G. Galantai. But always I tried to find new names to find new ways of expression for my projects. For the project “GAZETTA” I mailed invitations to 657 addresses, and 190 replies came back. This moderat feedback is maybe also the result of the expanding comminication-possibilities – in the quarterly published magazine &”GLOBAL MAIL” alone there are hundreds of informations about projects.

In the passing of the years the M.A. scene had several national highpoints. In the beginning of the 80-ies there was in the ex-DDR the most strength. From Italy there are from time to time unimportant xeroxes. Belgium has grown. In Denmark the names of the participants have changed and in Holland I miss some participants who were once quite active.

Many friends aren’t active in the mail art network – much energy was being used and one has to be a real addict to maintain active for many years. I have the catalogue “International ….. Fool” (1980) from the group “Le point d’Ironie” (Jaques Juin, Horus, T. Tillier) lying in front of me, and count the names of European participants. From the 89 mail artists only 22 are still active.

RJ : In the last years the use of computers in mail art has grown. What do you think of this development?

Reply on 12-11-95

BJ : First I have to tell you, that between our latest correspondence, in the middle of October, Guillermo Deisler died. The unvoluntairy departing in the network. In the beginning of the 80-ies he wrote me from Plovdiv (Bulgary) “Ich fühle mich hier fremd – ein Indianer im Paprikaland.” (I feel strange here – like an Indian in the land of Paprika’s”

But now to your question. Because of the generation I grew up with, I have difficulties with the world of keys, commands and pixels on a screen. I do however have respect for the possibilities they bring. For instance, today it is not necessary to make the layout of texts by hand when you have the textprocessor. A lot of expensive equipment is needed though to get a good result, and a constant need for energy (electricity).

Should I make fun of the possibilities that the “Techno-Freaks” tell us about? When comes the question how I think of the possibilities to do performances in space with the use of Spaceships? The futurists had their world-war!!

Human beings have – without technical means – a specific set of tools for observation. Different when compared to sharks, ants or even bats. I feel sometimes a bit alienated by the inflation of images and signals the technical means offer us.

A funny example of the expanding possibilities to express oneself is the Computer generated mediative 3D images. And so, also this medium will get its place in art history. But it will get the same place as the sculptor and the photographer.

Ruud, Maybe it is interesting to know how the culture of making assembling zines has developed in the ex-DDR?

RJ : Yes, it would be interesting. Tell me about it…..

Reply on 26-1-1996

BJ : In the former DDR there were no official publishing possibilities for artists and writers because of the state censorship. The printing houses were not alowed to print texts from writers that

(Answers by Birger Jesch came in German language and were translated by Ruud Janssen into the English language).

because of language problems I decided to make the interview completely in German Language.

Address mail-artist:

BIRGER JESCH
Friedhofstr. 15
99444 BLANKENHAIN
GERMANY

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH BIRGER JESCH (DEUTSCH) 27

Start 6-3-95

(The original question was written in english language, and Birger Jesh’s answer was a brochure which contained the english text that is printed after the first question. Because Birger can express himself best in german language I tried at first to translate his answers. This proved to be too difficult, and the result is now that the interview is published first in german language).

RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?

Antwort: 20-3-1995

(Birger’s answer was a short note written on his brochure ‘Gazette’, and stated: “my answer is short like my english” with an arrow to the answer).

BJ : In the end of 1979 I began with mail art exchange. I did projects like “TARGET GUN PROJECT” with exhibition in February in Dresden and several other places. “PLEASE STAMP FOR ME” (on going project) with exhibition in 1982 in Dresden together with the “COLLECTIVE COLLAGES”. Further more: “IST ALLES NOCH BEIM ALTEN?”, with exhibition in Dresden (1983), “LIVE WITHOUT FORCE” (Homage to Wilhelm Reich) exhibition Summer 1983 in Dresden, “THE DARKSIDE OF YOUR MOONFACES” with exhibition in 1989 in Saßnitz, and “YOUR FAVORITE PORNOGRAPHY” (Commonpress 100) with exhibition in 1990 in Weimar and Halle.

For the East-German autonomous peace movement I gave mail art of my archive for several exhibitions in church’s (1981-1986). My address has changed (Dresden-Volkmannsdorf-Blankenhain). Abroad tourism to several other mail-artists and I had meetings at DNC 1986 (Praha and East-Berlin) and DNC 1992 (ZOO Antwerpen and Berlin). I was co-author on the book “MAIL ART SZENNE DDR 1975-1990” (Berlin 1994).

RJ : Ist deine Mailart sehr verändert seit die Mauer weg ist?

Antwort: 26-5-1995

BJ : Seit dem Verschwinden der Ex-DDR im Gefüge der Bundesrepublik Deutschland haben sich auch die Bedingungen für Mail Art geändert. Es zeigen sich ökonomische Zwänge für Mail-Artisten, für die das Briefporto von 10 Pfennig auf 80 Pfennig, für eine Inland-Postkarte stieg. Die Übersee-Postkarte ohne Luftpost-zuschlag erhöhte sich von 0,25 auf 2,00 Mark. So wird jetzt verständlich warum vor allem gutverdienente Lehrer in Deutschland Mail Art betreiben.

Das ist ein Grund, warum das einstige recht aktive DDR Mail Art Netz ziemlich zusammenbrach. Wer jetzt noch übrig bleibt ist suchtgefährdet!

Die für DDR Mail Artisten einst typische politischen Foto-Schrift Montagen sind als Samisdat-Erzeugnisse überflüssig und werden jetzt von Parteien und Politischen Gruppen abgedeckt und publiziert.

Auch stehen jetzt plötzlich alle technische Entwicklungen zur Verfügung, vom Kopiergerät bis zum Computer. Für mich wird es wohl kein Hinterherschwimmen im E-Mail Netz geben. Das Prinzip Collage für die Kunst im 20 Jahrhundert, wird im E-Mail Network immer stereotyper und gleichformiger. Ich versuche in meiner Post noch ein Rest “Handschrift” zu bewahren. In allen Medien/Künsten sehe ich auch innerhalb traditioneller Formen noch eine Menge Räume zum arbeiten.

RJ : Du bist ja vielleicht richtig “süchtig”, weil du angefangen hast mit einem neuen Mail Art project GAZETTA. Kanst du etwas mehr darüber erzählen?

Antwort: 24-6-1995

BJ : Die Idee für “Gazetta” hatte ich schon seit vielen Jahren im Kopf. In der DDR, in die man aus dem westlichenAusland keine Zeitungen senden durfte, war das unmöglich. Ich erinnere mich, einen Entwurf für solch ein Project (für den deutschsprachigen Raum), im Jahre 1987 oder 1988 an Henning Mittendorf nach Frankfurt/M. zum Kopieren geschickt zu haben.

Er hat diesen Brief nie erhalten! Jetzt endlich kann ich das Project realisieren und ich bin sehr gespannt, wie kreativ die Teilnehmer mit ihrer Zeitung umgehen.

Die Ausstellung während des 96 ‘er Folk-Festivals in der malerisch gelegenen Kleinstadt Rudolstadt, an der Saale, empfinde ich als besonderen Reiz. Zum einen, weil tausende Besucher des Festivals plötzlich mit Mail Art konfrontiert werden – und auch, weil seit dem Ende der DDR, die einzige Kleine Kulturbundgalerie der Stadt schließen mußte und ein Defizit an Möglichkeiten für Ausstellungen bestand.

Das Project wird auch noch im renommierten Museum Schwerin gezeigt, in dem eine große Ausstellung über Mail Art (Archivmaterial) stattfindet. Die Aktivisten des Buches “MAIL ART SZENE DDR” Wohlrab, Winnes, Jesch, unterstützen dieser Ausstellung – und so hoffen wir, daß eine mediumgerechte Retrospektive zu sehen sein wird.

RJ : Kannst du noch einige Beispiele geben von Zensur in der ehemahligen DDR?

Antwort 9-9-1995

(After East-Germany was integrated with West-Germany and became one country, the documents of the Stasi, the State-security of East-Germany, were made available for research to the people it concerned. Birger Jesh therefore can tell about the things he found out).

BJ : Beispiele für Zensur? Ich habe mir jetzt einmal die Aktenkopien aus dem Ministerium für Staatssicherheit genommen und kann da nachlesen, welche Mail Art Aktivitäten besonders beobachtet wurden:

Es ist vollkommen klar, daß in den Achtziger Jahren nicht mehr der normale Künstlerische Austausch verfolgt wurde. “L’art pour l’art” hat die Zensoren Kalt gelassen – wenn damit nicht in der Öffentlichkeit überproportional Wind gemacht wurde. Es waren die Themen der alternativen Bewegungen in Europa, die den Behörden nahe gingen. So hatte ich auch genau bei den politischen Themen target-gun-project und live without force (Homage W. Reich) meine Beobachter. Auch wurden Symphatien für Solidarnosz mit stalinistischem Feindbild bedacht.

Der Ex-DDR Galerist und Mailartist Jürgen Schweinebraden bekam zu seinem Project “Solidarität für Solidarnosc”, daß er nach seiner Umsiedlung in der BRD, ausschrieb – auch 2 Beitrage aus der DDR – von Jürgen Gottschalk und mir. Das Kann ich in der Akte nachlesen – auch daß als Dokumentation eine Kasette erschien – weiß ich jetzt. Der Bezirkschef der SED, Modrow bekam von diesem Vorgang 1981 eine Abschrift.

Meine erste Postkartenaktion war das Versenden von ca. 150 Postkarten (Fotoabzüge des zerstörten Dresdens mit einer Warnung vor der Neutronenbombe). Die Stasi registrierte am 13.2 1980 genau 73 Karten. Es ist alles notiert.

Am 7.8.92 bis August 1983 war ich in der Postfahndungsliste eingetragen. In diesem Zeitraum wurde also jegliche Post der Staatssicherheit zur Kontrolle vorgelegt.

Im Oktober 1982 wurde ich vernommen und beschlagnahmte Postsendungen vorgelegt. Ich sollte eine Erklärung zu den Motiven geben und mir wurde gesagt “Mail Art sei verboten”. Ich mußte eine Strafe über 500,- Mark bezahlen. Der genauso behandelte Dresdener Mail Artisten Steffen Giesch bekam eine Strafe über 300,- Mark.

Der Plan der perfiden Behörde war, durch unterschiedliches Strafmaß, Mißtrauen in die Dresdener Mail Art Szene zu bringen. In den Akten fand ich auch drei Karten, die von mir abgeschickt wurden und nie ankamen. Auch ein Fotokarte aus dem Jahr 1983, die ich voriges Jahr (11 Jahr später) nocheinmal an Ryosuke Cohen abschickte.

RJ : Du bist schon sehr lange aktiv mit Mail Art. Bist du jetzt noch im Kontakt mit den gleichen Mailartisten wie am Anfang (Ich meine vor allem die ausländischen Kontakte).

Antwort 11-10-1995

(Besides his answer -in German Language- Birger Jesch also sent me the newsletter about his latest project GAZETTE, where he tells about the number of participants and mentions the first exhibition that will be held in July 1996).

BJ : Du legst den Finger auf die Wunde! Wie Du weißt, habe ich Probleme mit anderen Sprachen. In der Schule haben wir damals Kein Englisch sondern Russisch gelernt. Darum hatte ich meine intensivsten Kontakte nur mit deutschsprechenden Mailartisten: Volker Hamann, Aloy Ohlmann, Henning Mittendorf, Julia Barczyk (D), Martin Krist (A), H.R. Fricker (CH), Arthur Berkoff (NL) und Gudrun Albasser (F). Bei diesen, in bestimmten Zeiträumen, recht intensiven Korrespondenzen waren auch immer persönliche Dinge enthalten – weit über den Kunstaustausch hinaus. Ich bedauere sehr, nicht die Energie für einen Englisch Kursus zu haben, um auch mit anderen interesanten Leuten intensiver zu kommunizieren.

Nach 10 Jahre Arbeit im Netzwerk hatte ich 1990 im Archiv nachgeschaut mit wem ich zuerst in Kontakt Kam. Es waren Lon Spiegelman, Pawel Petasz, Hendryk Bzdok, Robert Rehfeld, Robert Filliou und Damaso Ogaz. Bei den letzten drei Namen wird eine Tendenz bewußt! Die erste Generation Networker verabschiedet sich. Es sind auch noch andere nicht mehr da, mit denen ich Kontakt hatte: Mike Bidner, Joseph Beuys, Ulises Carion, Achim Weigelt (Wermöve), Karsten Matthes, Slavko Matkovic und Michael Scott. Die größten historischen Gestallten G.A. Cavellini und Ray Johnson antworteten mir nie. Auch sind Nachrichten gekommen vom Tod geliebter Menschen. Lon Spiegelman trauerte lang um seine geliebte Frau Linda. In diesem Jahr starben die Mütter von Jose Oliviera und Dawn Redwood. Diese Mitteilungen zeigen ein Bedürfnis nach Vertrauen und menschlicher Solidarität. Jetzt ist Guillermo Deisler Krebskrank – und ich finde nicht die richtige Worte zur Ermutigung.

So ist der Gang des Lebens. Wenn ich beim Schreiben aus dem Fenster sehe, blicke ich über den gegenüberliegenden Friedhof.

Meine Kontakte erneuere ich eigentlich durch Projekte. Ich habe immer die beständigen Partner wieder eingeladen und verscuche auch an deren Projekten teilzunehmen. So gibt er einen Kontinuierlichen Austausch mit Vittore Baroni, Guy Bleus, Pawel Petasz, Ruud Janssen, Keith Bates, Guttorm Nordø, Ryosuke Cohen und G. Galantai.

Aber immer habe ich auch versucht, neue Namen aufzuspüren um mit neuen Ausdrucksformen meine Projekte zu bereicheren. Für “Gazetta” schrieb ich 657 Adressen an – 190 Antworten Kamen. Dieses mäßige Feedback ist vielleicht auch zum Teil auf die erweiterten Kommunikationsmöglichkeiten zurücksuführen – allein im quartal erscheinen in GLOBAL MAIL hunderte informationen zu Projekten.

Im laufe der Jahre hatte die M.A. Szene unterschiedliche nationale Schwerpunkte. So war in der Ex-DDR Anfang der Achziger Jahre die meiste Kraft. Aus Italiën Kommen zur Seit viele belanglosen Kopien. Belgiën ist stark geworden. In Dänmark haben sich die Namen geändert und in Holland fehlen auch einige Leute, die einmal viel Wind machten.

Es sind viele Freunde nich mehr aktiv im Mail Art Netwerk – viel Energie würde verbraucht und man muß schon süchtig sein um mehrere Jahre durchzuhalten.

Ich habe den Katalog “Internat……Fool” (1980) der Gruppe Le Point d’Ironie (Jaques Juin, Horus, T. Tillier) vor mir liegen und zähle die namen der europäischen Teilnehmer. Von den 89 Mail Artisten sind noch 22 aktiv.

RJ : In den letzten Jahren hat den Gebrauch von Computer zugenommen. Was denkst Du von diese Entwicklung?

Antwort 12-11-95

BJ : Zu Beginn die Nachricht, daß zwichen unseren Briefe, Mitte Oktober, Guillermo Deisler verstorben ist. Der unfreiwillige Nomade im Netzwerk.

Anfang der Achtziger schrieb er mir aus Plovdiv (Bulgarien): “Ich fühle mich hier fremd – ein Indianer im Paprikaland”.

Nun zu Deiner Frage. Generations bedingt habe ich Schwierigkeiten mit der Welt der tasten, Befehle und Lichtpunkte. Ich habe aber Respect vor den Möglichkeiten. So gäbe es heute Z.B. Keine Sinn, statt dem Schriftprogramm Abreibebuchstaben zur Herstellung eines Textes zu verwenden…. Es ist allerdings eine Menge teuer Technik notwendig um überzeugende Ergebnisse ze erzielen. Zusätzlich permanente Energiezufuhr.

Soll ich den Größenwahn der Technik-Freaks parodiezen? Wann Kommt die Frage – wie ich die neue Möglichkeiten einschätze, im Kosmos mit Raumschiffen Performance aufzuführen? Die Futuristen hatten ihren Weltkrieg!!

Menschen habe ohne Technische Hilfmittel einen spezifischen Wakrnehmungsbereich – einen anderen als Haie, Ameisen oder Fledermäuse. Ich fühle mich meiner Gattung entfremdet durch eine Inflation der Bilder und Signale.

Ein angenehmes Beispiel der Ausdruckserweiterung durch Arbeit mit dem Computer sehe ich in den mediativen 3-D Bildern. Und so wird auch dieses Medium seinen festen Platz in der Kunstgeschichte bekommen. Aber eben gleichberechtigt heben Steinmetz und Fotograf.

Ruud, ich mache den Vorschlag zu einer neuen Frage: Mochtest Du wissen wie sich in der Ex-DDR die Kultur der Assembling Magazines entwickelt hat?

RJ : Ja, das wäre interesant…….

Antwort : 26-1-1996

(Die antwort von Birger Jesch bestand aus einer Text der er bereitz geschrieben hatte fur eine Dokumatation einer Katalog).

BJ : In der ehemaligen DDR gab es für Künstler und Autoren jenseits der staatlichen Zensur keine Publikationsmöglichkeiten. Der Verlage durften keine Texte von Autoren drucken, die eine Ästhetik del “spätbürgerlichen Dekadenz” vertraten, sowie autonome Ausdrucksformen suchten.

Ein Ergebnis dieser Reglementierung war Ende der Siebziger Jahre die Produktion von Text/Graphik Mappen und Künstlerbüchern. In gleicher künstlericher Technik wie die Graphiker wurden auch die gedichte und kurzen Texte gekratzt, geschnitten und gezeichnet und dann als Hochdruck, Tiefdruck, Siebdruck oder Lithographie vervielfältigt. Bis zu einer Auflage von 99 Exemplare brauchte man keine Druckgenehmigung.

Seit Beginn der Achtziger probierte sich die jüngere Künstler-generation zunehmend auch in multimedialen Formen aus. Anläßlich von Ausstellungseröffnungen, Jazzkonzerten, Atelierfesten und selbst in Kirchen wurden kollektive Arbeiten vorgestellt. Performance mit Dichterlesung, Improvisierter Musik, Tanz, Action-Painting, 8mmFilm.

Aus diesen Gruppen heraus entstanden die ersten autonomen Publikationen der DDR. In Dresden edetierte 1981 der Dichter und Gitarrist der “Musikbrigade”, Lothar Fiedler das erste Assembled Magazine “Und”.

Gleich den nachfolgenden Magazine anderer Herausgeber versammelte jedes Heft Text und Bildbeiträge verschiedener Autoren auf A-4 Format. Alle Möglichkeiten der Reproduktion wurden benutzt. Texte wurden oft nur mit Durchschlagpapier oder fotographishen Abzügen vervielfältigt. Ab Mitte der Achziger gab er einzelne illegale Kopiermöglichkeiten mit Xerox. Die Magazine wurden handgebunden und die Umschläge zu jeder neuen Ausgabe graphisch neu gestaltet.

Bis zum Verbot von “Und” im Januar 1984 , kamen 15 Nummern in einer Auflage von 15 Stück heraus. Ingesamt wurden nur zwei Magazine von der Geheumpolizie verboten. Eine Vielzahl von ähnlichen Produktionen wurde nur beobachtet und in ihrer Ventilfunktion systemstützend eingeschätzt. Einige Mitherausgeber wurden nach der Öffnung der Geheimdienstakten selbst als Spitzel entlarvt.

Das gewachsene Selbstbewußtsein des künstlerischen Untergrunds ermöglichte im Juni 1986 in der Ostberliner Samariterkirche eine Ausstellung der autonomen Publikationen. Die Magazine hießen: Anschlag , Ariadnefabrik, Bizarre Städte, Caligo , Clochart , Entwerter-Oder , Galeere , Glasnot , Herzattacke , Koma Kino , Liane, Messitsch , Mikado , 1Mose2,25 , Öffnungszeit , Reizwolf , Schaden , Sno’boy , Spinne , Und , U.s.w. , Verwendung , Zweite Person.

Als einzige frühe Zeitschrift überlebte “Entwerter/Oder” das Ende der DDR. Die gefallenen Grenzen ermöglichen seitdem auch die Mitarbeit internationalen Autoren.

RJ : In diesem moment hat die Ausstellung im Museum Schwerin angefangen. Wie ist es geworden?

antwort am 1-2-1997

(Zusammen mit das Antwort schickte Birger mir 5 Bilder vor die Austellung in das Staatliche Museum in Schwerin)

BJ: Es ist eine interessante Retrospektive geworden – museal aufbereitet aber aufgelockert von der wilden Hänger des Worker Paradis Projects durch Kees Francke.

Er ist übrigens ein Rückfalltäter nach jahren der Verweigerung. Die Projecktleiterin Kornelia Röder, welche ein Jahr die Ausstellung und den zweisprachigen Katalog vorbereitete, erzählte mir daß nie zuvor zoviel intensive Arbeit für eine Ausstellung nötig war. Für uns archivierende Mail Artisten ist das bakannt. Auch hat sich wiedereinmal bestätigt daß jede Ex-Undergrund Kultur für Macht und Geldinteressen korumpierbar ist. Zunehmend betrachten Mail Artisten welchen zu Sammlern wurden, ihr Archiv als Kapital.

Eine kleine Episode der Vorbereitungengsphase soll nicht unerwähnt bleiben: Für das Interview mit ehemaligen DDR Aktivisten trafen wir uns in Berlin bei Lutz Wohlrab. Dort wurde uns offenbart, daß Schwerin das Projekt nunmehr unter den Titel “Kunst Medium Post” stellen wollte, was bei uns zu heftigen Gegenargumenten führte. Beim späteren Biertrinken in einer Kneipe wurde spontan ein Brief in dem wir unsere weitere Mitarbeit von verwenden des Terminus MAIL ART im Ausstellungstitel abhängig machten. Wochen später bekamen wir eine beleidigte und beleidigente Antwort der Direktorin, welcher wiederum Gegenreaktionen provozierte. Letztlich hat sich gezeigt das Ausstellungsmacher un Mail Artisten ihre verletzten Eitelkeiten für den Erfolg der Ausstellung opferten. Trotzdem wäre es für mich unmöglich gewesen mit dem angedachten Ausstellungstitel zu leben.

Zur Finisage fand ein Kongress statt, z dem auch osteuropäische Klassiker wie Balint Szombaty und Piotr Rypson eingeladen waren. Für Interessanten werde ich noch den Dokumentationsteil des Kataloges ergänzen und ausdrucken, vielleicht wird diese abgeschlossene Zeit der Mail Art in Osteuropa irgendwann richtig vollständig.

Im Herbst 1997 wird in berlin im Deutschen Historischen Museum eine Ausstellung “Boheme und Diktatur in der DDR 1970-1990” gezeigt. Dort sol auch Mail Art als Beispiel Dresdens vor allem unter politischen Aspekten dargestellt werder.

RJ : Das Post Museum in Berlin hat zur zeit auch eine Ausstellung mit Mail Art. Leider bekam ich die einladung der eröffnung erst die tag vor anfang in meine Briefkasten so das ich nicht dabei sein köntte. Hast du die Ausstellung gesehen? Ist es gut das die europäische Post Museums diese projekte machen?

Address mail-artist:

BIRGER JESCH
Friedhofstr. 15
99444 BLANKENHAIN
GERMANY

mail-interview with Bern Porter – USA

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH BERN PORTER 53

(unfinished)

BernPorterNoOneKnewWhoHeWasYETicreatedMAILARTyetipic
Started on: 29-8-1995

RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?

Reply on 12-9-1995

BP : I invented mail art, November 11. 1913

RJ : Why November 11th 1913? What happened on that day that you decided to start to send out mail art?

Reply on 19-10-1995

BP : Sitting together on the floor of his 8×8 foot apartment east side New York I asked Ray: “What are you doing?” He answered: “Being myself.”

(the next question to Bern Porter I wrote with pencil on a two-color blue silk-screen printing of Ray Johnson)

RJ : Ray answered “Being myself”. So, who was Ray? I would like to know.

Reply on 20-3-1996

BP : I asked Ray: “What are you doing?” He answered: “Being myself, average weight, average height, non drinking, non smoking, daily on the uproad to survival.”

I maintain at a library here “The Bern Porter Collection of Contemporary Letters” and wish to have the complete set of everything you have ever done. Advise cost delivered to me U.S.A. B.P U.S. Dollars in bankcheck form.

RJ : “Everything I ever have done?” That is difficult. Because all the mail art I sent out isn’t mine anymore. All I produce is sent out into the network and I only have spare issues of magazines and copies of some pieces of mail. Everything I received and kept so far, that is something I have. Are all the letters you get (like e.g. this one) going to be part of “The Bern Porter Collection of Contemporary Letters”, or is is just a “part of your life” that forms this collection? Just currious, what is in the collection?

Address mail-artist:

BERN PORTER
22 Salmond Road,
BELFAST , ME 04915
USA.

mail-interview with Ayah Okwabi – Ghana

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH AYAH OKWABI  – 54

Ayah_int

Started on 15-10-1995

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 2-11-1995

AO : Dear Ruud, thanks for the invitation to participate in your mail-interview project. I got involved in mail art in 1979 when Volker Hamann introduced me to his Anthropological Art Project. Anthro-Art was Volker’s idea of linking Anthropology to Art. Later I suggested a meeting of mail artists involved in the AnthroArt network to work on a community-based workcamp project in a village in Ghana. The project was to take place under the auspices of the Volun¬tary Workcamps Association of Ghana (VOLU) which has been organizing international workcamps in the rural areas of Ghana since 1956.

Volker tried to get as many mail artists as possible to visit Ghana but finally he was the only artist who arrived in the Summer of 1985 for the project. Ayah Okwabi (AO) and Volker Hamann (VH) met in Accra on 21 July 1985.

The shows in Ghana (the first mail art and correspondence art shows in Black Africa) connected people in different networks such as MAIL ART, THE FOURTH WORLD and as well as different institutions (Ghana Institute of Journalism, Mfantsiman Secondary School, Ghana United Nations Students and Youth Association) plus Volunteers from Europe, U.S.A. and Ghana in a workcamp to construct a school classroom block at Saltpond in the Central region of Ghana.

Some of the contributions for the show were concepts of projects to be realised in Ghana. Although they were among the most attractive contributions, they were inappropriate because of their intellectual nature or needed technical equipment which was unavailable to us (sometimes we had neither electricity nor water) or they were politically inappropriate.
The contributions were presented in different sections – Apartheid, Tokokoe Project (where the exhibition was to take place initially but was changed later), peace and politics, mail art publications, mail art, networking addresses and announced shows.

The headmistress of Mfantsiman Secondary School, Mrs. Asiedu, formally declared the exhibition dubbed “Ghana Show” opened. She stressed the role of mail art in promoting international understanding among peoples of the world. This is particularly important in Ghana where mass media is inadequate and mail is often the only available medium for international correspondence.

At the Ghana United Nations Students and Youth Association convention, the show took on a political meaning because issues of apartheid in South Africa and independence for Nambia, which was by then a colony, were being discussed at the meeting.

Finally VH gave a performance at the Ghana Institute of Journalism in Accra, about new media in relation to journalism. We also visited St Georges Castle in Elmina which was the former centre for the export of Slaves to America.

RJ : How difficult is it to be a mail artist in Ghana?

Reply on 18-11-1995

AO : I have difficulties getting people interested in mail art because of the rising costs of international mail and the fact that there are no financial benefits to be derived by participants from Africa.
Of course the economic situation is tough and one has no alternative but to engage activities that would yield concrete economic benefits. Besides, most post offices that work are concentrated in the urban centres which implies that people who live in the rural areas or villages where postal services are either very slow or non-existent don’t have the possibility to engage in the network. People in my country Ghana find mail art exciting when they understand it. However, it has not been easy to communicate in writing to explain how the network operates in the mass media such as magazines and newspapers. Recently, an article I wrote about ‘the Eternal Network’ published by Chuck Welch for a weekly newspaper was finally rejected because the editor found it ‘difficult to appreciate.’

I started a personal magazine called ‘GongGong’ in which I publis¬hed some mail art articles and announcements but financial difficulties compelled me to stop after just two editions. Indeed, the tradition of self-publishing which has contributed to the growth of mail art in Europe and USA is non-existent in Africa.

RJ : Is mail art and networking just a luxury or does it bring something essential?

Reply on 8-12-1995

AO : Mail art brings something interesting for one to do and observe. It opens up possibilities to know and meet artists through networking. When I started mail art with Volker Hamann, I didn’t imagine that I would meet him in person but, six years after we started communicating in 1979, we met in Accra in July/August 1985.

On my return visit to Germany, in 1990, I also met Henning Mittendorf. I think the mail art network is able to promote mutual interacti¬on among people over long distances from diverse cultures which is quite unique. Mail art networking provides a channel for ones creative potential to be realised.

Practising mail art enables one to communicate at a distance with friends who would otherwise be out of touch. Sometimes, mail shatters the isolation I feel here in Accra where I can find few people to share ideas with about the network. Of course, mail art can be described as a luxury because the body does not need it like water or food or air to survive. However, it stimulates the spiritual aspects of the personality and a feeling that we have a community of friends we can always rely on not on the basis of our physical appearance or money but because we share common ideas and interests.
Individuals will come and go but the network lives forever! This means we may lose contact with individual artists but we can always make fresh contacts and make new friends provided we continue staying in touch with the network.

Mail art is a supererogatory activity. Its not absolutely required of the person but is done for the sake of greater artistic perfection.
RJ : Besides the “common ideas and interests”, as you say, most mail artists have also their specific ideas about what they want to use the network for, a goal they want to realize. What’s yours?

Reply on 2-1-1996

AO : For me, the network is like a mirror in which I can get people to focus on the current issues and challenges facing the world in general and Africa in particular. Some of the themes of my projects in the past, such as “Africa Arise/Food for the hungry” provide concrete examples. “Africa Arise” focused on the issue of apart-heid in South Africa and how it can be eradicated. “Food for the hungry” addressed the food problem which is still a problem in some African countries either because of poor weather conditions, civil war or ineffective government policies.

“Population” has also been a theme of one of my projects because the issue of a rapidly growing population and how to provide for the needs of more people is a burning issue that faces many African States today. My latest project with the theme “End Racism/Ethnic hatred” is a problem that has global dimensions. What can we do as mail artists to change the thinking of racists?

I feel a personal resposibility to promote awareness of the chal¬lenges, or social problems that people face. Once the necessary awareness has been created, we can begin to think of possible solutions.

In addition, the network serves as a channel for exchanging visits with fellow mail artists scattered around the globe. After making contact via surface mail or other media, my ultimate aim is to meet in person with artists in my sub-network and get to know them better. I am aware as an African artist of the expense of travelling by air to Europe or U.S.A. or South America but it is one dream that I cherish very much. I hope that I would be able to meet in person with you in the near future.

RJ : Well, that is something the future will tell. I’m sure it will be interes¬ting to meet for both of us, but for now the questions and answers have to travel by mail. A new thing in networking and communication is the use of e-mail. Although in the USA and Europe already lots of people use the internet, this communication-form isn’t that common or even available in Africa. Because some networkers now start to focus more and more on this new ‘gadget’ this might mean more isolation for Africa. What do you think?

(With my next question I also sent Ayah some articles about my experiences and thoughts in connection to telecommunication and internet).

Reply on 19-1-1996

AO : Basically, computers are beyond the means of the average person in my country, Ghana. Besides, even when one has a computer it costs 100 dollars a month to have access to internet which means that it is only companies who make a good profit can afford this facility. Given that mail art and money do not mix, it would be im¬possible for me to get on the internet.

The increasing isolation of Africa as a result of the emergence of the information superhighway has been the topic of some confe¬rences held by infomation experts here in Africa. The so-called information revolution is only being experienced in isolated pockets in Ghana.

Regarding telecommunication, I hardly use the telephone for mail art. The only time I received a call from abroad was when Chuck Welch called me from the United States in relation to the mail art Anthology known as “The Eternal Network.”

I get the feeling from the number of calls you have on e-mail that I must be missing a lot of the action going on in the internet, I send and receive only surface mail for now. Sometimes the quality of surface mail I received is unsatisfactory. Some mail artists simply send you a black and white Xerox with a line of greeting which sounds rather shallow. Meanwhile, I wonder how you are able to finance your huge financial bill using the internet and sending out 100 or 150 pieces of mail a month?

RJ : Ah, a question for me? Actually the e-mail isn’t that costly here in Holland if you know the ways. I teach informatics, and the e-mail address I have is a free one. I don’t have to pay for anything else than the phonecosts, and therefore I can easlily send out 10 large e-mails for the same costs as a simple air-mail letter to the United States or so. As for financing 100 to 150 pieces of mail each month, I do have a paid job besides all my art activities, live relati¬vely small (and therefore cheap) and don’t have a family to feed. I hope this answers your question a bit. I guess that the money one can spend on the mail one sends out, depends also on the country one lives in. With the minimal month-salary here in Holland one can send out about 1500 letters abroad (if one didn’t need money to live and eat that is…..). So actually I don’t spend that much on mail most of the time. How is the situation in Ghana? How are the postal costs in regard to the average month-salary, and do the living-costs allow people to even spend money on mail (art). I gu¬ess here lies a good reason why there are so little mail artists in Africa. Am I right?

Reply on 16-2-1996

AO : Regarding the postage expenses the situation here is quite different. Most people spend more than 50% of their income on basic needs such as food and then rent and bringing up their family takes up the rest. On the average salary of 100,000 cedis one can send about 330 letters to Europe from here in a month. Given that there are hardly any mail artists in Africa who are really actively engaged, most of my correspondence is with Europeans, Americans or Latin Americans. Letters to the Americas are more expen¬sive.

It is true that because of difficult economic circumstances, most people here cannot afford to send mail (art) just for the fun of it. People send mail for concrete benefits and consider mail art fanci¬ful and not worth spending time on. I have no family yet and stay with my parents so I can manage to send mail art but not as much as I would like to.

RJ : I have noticed that especially in rich countries, the mail artists tend to send out sometimes quite strange things. The quality of the mail seems to get less, and the quantity gets larger. It results in chain-letters, add-to xeroxes, or just large quantities of xeroxes. This kind of mail art you probably also received. What do you think of them?

Reply on 12-3-1996

AO : Chain-letters, add-to xeroxes or just large quantities of xeroxes are simply boring and unimpressive. They reveal absolutely nothing about the interests or motivations of the senders. Most of the con¬tributions I have received for my “End Racism/Ethnic Hatred Show,” are of this type. Just imagine having the obligation to prepare a catalogue about an exhibition to be organized for this pro¬ject and sending it in exchange to people who simply cut some pages from a magazine or send an irrelevant black and white xerox as a contribution to a show! Mail art coming from industrialised, rich countries needs to be of a high standard and a good example to encourage more people in Ghana and Africa in general to parti¬cipate in the network.

RJ : Of course the mail artists living in a rich country don’t have to be rich. But I understand the difference all to well. The xerox here in Holland is something very cheap, it costs only 10 cents (10% of the postage costs of a letter air-mail inside Europe). Also you can get free postcards at many places with some kind of advertising on it, so something like that here is even free. I guess the reason some mail artists send such things to certain mail art shows is just that “they want to be included” and hope for a nice catalog. They don’t always realize that by sending poor quality, the organizer of the mail art show isn’t that much encouraged to make a good docu¬mentation, and this is some kind of vicious circle that makes the documentations of the last years I am in mail art quite poor (with some wonderful exceptions of course of mail artists who have found good sponsors). How important is the documentation of a mail art project in your eyes?

Reply on 30-3-1996

AO : Documentation has to be done in a detailed way to make it interesting. To do so one must have received good quality mail art. It is easy to send a ready made black and white xerox or postcard to a show. However, when one gets a reasoned response one is inspi¬red or motivated to give back documentation that senders are happy to receive.

A catalogue with texts, articles, photos and listings takes time and money to prepare. Stuff that is ready at hand and quick to send is hardly the right material. Documentation promotes fresh contacts and networking among artists in the mail art (network). This ena¬bles us to prepare organised information on mail art to show pe¬ople who know nothing about mail art.

The question is how do you finance it? For me even after producti¬on of the documentation, the fact that most mail artists are in EUROPE or AMERICA means additional mailing expenses. One way out is robbing Peter to pay Paul or make the money elsewhere and use it to finance networking.

RJ : Yes, most mail artists live in Europe of America. As a person living in Europe I see the difference in mail art between the mail I receive from outside Europe compared to the mail I get from inside Euro¬pe. Do you notice any difference too or is it just my perception?

Reply on 15-4-1996

AO : There is a great deal of difference between mail art from Africa in relation to what comes from Europe or America regarding technology. Snail mail, the handmade and handwriting is typical for mail art from Africa. E-mail, Fax or computers are available here, but these are mostly owned by institutions and individuals who do not understand mail art. It is easy for me to gain access to a friends computer if I use it to publish books which I sell and pay back something for using the computer, but he would consider it a waste of time and electricity if I use the computer to prepare documentation for a mail art project which brings no money to his pocket. Often I get no response when I try to contact mail art addresses in Africa which are very few indeed!

RJ : Is there also a difference from the mail art you receive from Europe compared to mail art from America?

Ayah_project
Reply on 9-5-1996

AO : It is really difficult to make a clear distinction between European and American mail art. Both regions make use of high technology equipment more often. However it would appear that I receive more mail art magazines/publications from the United States than Europe. Also, generally, it is easier for me to decode handwriting from Europe than from the U.S. My favorite correspondents can be found on both continents.

Mail artists are best assessed on the basis of individual quality of their work. The only softcopy material in the form of three recorded cassettes of radio programmes about the history of Indians and the coming of colonialists and settlers to the United States for my “End Racism / Ethnic hatred” project came from San Francisco in Cali¬fornia. This contribution displays a clear understanding of the sub¬ject of racism in one part of the world which has revealed new things about the history of the United States to me.

RJ : The history in connection to mail art is also interesting. The last years a lot has been written on the subject of mail art. Do you think is is important for mail artist to know about their roots?

(Ayah sent in a print of his rubberstamp “Global Better Life”, and it was the first rubber stamp print I received from Ghana. It is the 69th country from where I received contributions to the TAM Rubberstamp Archive. As a thanks I sent Ayah the newest infoletter about the archive and also the newest published interview)

Reply on 30-5-1996

(Between the sending of the previous question and the receiving of Ayah’s answer the city Accra was in the news because of the refugees from Liberia who fled from Liberia on a large boat and were stranded in the harbor of Accra, Ghana).

AO : The publications you sent were quite revealing. The TAM Rubber Stamp Archive is much larger then I thought. I was impressed to hear about Rubber Stamp companies as participants in your project. Can you please send info about some rubber stamp companies?

To your question. Much has been written about mail art. So doing a project that reminds us of our roots brings meaning into the action. I look around me and to my personal experience to get themes for my projects. However, your roots alone should not always be the basis for the themes you chose for projects. There are several topics for mail art projects that may have absolutely nothing to do with where we come from.

Imagination and creativity play quite an important role in the net¬work. This explains the great variety of themes and artistic projects in the network.

RJ : Accra was on the news…. how are things there? The first rubber stamp from Ghana for the Archive came from you (thank you!). How easy or difficult was it for you to get this stamp made and what is “Global Better Life”?

Reply on 28-6-1996

(Together with his new answer Ayah sent me the originals of his END RACISM / ETHNIC HATRED which I will print through TAM-Publications)

AO : The arrival of a Nigerian freighter, Bulk challenge at the Ghanaian port of Takoradi on May 14th with 3,000 Liberian refugees fleeing factional fighting among the war lords underlines the relevance of the theme of my current project, “End Racism / Ethnic Hatred”. Earlier on the refugees had been refused entry by the Cote d’Ivore authorities which illustrates the fact that the idea of political asylum has come under increasing strain in both the developed and developing world. Already 750,000 Liberians have fled their country as a result of the six-year old civil war which has been the result of ethnic hatred among Librerians. Ethnic conflicts should be the concern of all because their consequences are bound to affect outsiders one way or the other.

For example, many soldiers from Ghana and other West African countries have lost their lives in peacekeeping duties in Liberia. Also, the Ghanaian government and people have been making sacrifices to contain several Liberia refugees who have entered the country.

Global Better Life is an organisation whose main objective is to bring about a better life for all before the end of the century. I have registered the organization with the registrar General’s Department as a publishing, advertising and public relations company. In mail art I am using Global Better Life as a pseudonym or name which I can use in the network in addition to my normal identity. I have been fascinated by the use of names in mail art like ANTHROART by Volker Hamann, POSTAL ART NETWORK (PAN) or TAM.

It was not easy to get a rubber stamp because I don’t have the ability or the materials to make one. I designed one which was made for me at about SIX thousand cedis or approximately five United States dollars. That is quite a lot of money in local terms.

RJ : In your catalogue of your project “End Racism/Ethnic Hatred”, I read that you already arranged two exhibitions with the contributions. How were the reactions?

Reply on 27-7-1996

AO : Most visitors to the two exhibitions who were mostly young people found the contributions really fascinating and would like to partici¬pate in the network. One lady wanted to know how she was going to finance video or audio cassettes that she would like to send artists in other parts of the world. People wanted to know how the network operates. I tried to explain but some did not really under¬stand. Indeed, it is not easy to explain mail art to some beginners.

Above all, the atmosphere at the exhibition was businesslike but detached some of the comments were: “does this postcard reflect the theme of the exhibition or is it just an artwork?” or “Oh, thats an appropriate description!” And so on.

(Again Africa is in the news with the Coup that has taken place in Burundi).

RJ : Well, I guess it is time to end this interview now. Maybe I forgot to ask you something?

reply on 23-8-1996

AO : My comment on the recent coup in Burundi, where a Tutsi by name Major Pierre Buyoya, former head of State has taken over from Sylvester Ntinbantunganya, a Hutu, underlines the fact that the competition between the two ethnic groups, comprising Hutu’s and Tutsi’s is going to continue for some time. That is really a pity. Sanctions are now being applied against the new regime to return the country to democracy. Time will tell whether this approach will be succesful.

Well, all good things have an end. I think it has been a great honour and privilege having this conversation with you. Your effort to create a bridge between Africa and the global mail art network is surely commendable. Keep it up. With warm greetings, Ayah.

RJ : I want to thank you too for your time and energy during this interview Ayah. I sure hope that more Europeans and Americans realize that the world is a bit larger than ones own continent, and that we all live on the same planet. My best wishes to you too, and we’ll sure keep in contact!

Address mail-artist:

AYAH OKWABI
Box 6055
ACCRA-NORTH
GHANA (Africa)

mail-interview with arto posto – USA

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH ARTO POSTO

RJ :Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional
question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?

AP:Can’t tell exactly when I started mailing art. It was with an artist friend
who had moved to California, Susan Petelik, and she always added art to her
envelopes, letters, etc., tucked art inside. She inspired me to do the same,
and I started sending back to her in like manner, than to other friends. That
was during the late 1960s. I wasn’t actually aware of the international mail
art movement as such until about eight to ten years ago. (So many of us were
doing mail art without having a name for it. Still are many such people. I
bump into them all the time.) That was when I sent to my first mail art call,
and I haven’t stopped sending since. It’s gotten to be a serious addiction.
Chuck Welch asked me just a little over a year ago about how much mail per
year I send and receive and I had no idea. Had never counted. However,
because of his question, I started numbering outgoing pieces with a
numbering stamp on February 23, 1994. As of today, a little over a year later,
I have sent at least 1716. (I sometimes forget to use that numbering stamp
on outgoing mail art.) I may have first seen mention of mail art in the
Rubber Stamp Album by Joni K. Miller and Lowry Thompson in, first
published in 1978 and still in print here in the U.S.A. It inspired me to get
involved with rubber stamping and to subscribe to Rubberstampmadness,
now a very slick magazine catering more to mainstream rubber stampers than
to mail artist types, I think.

When living in Minneapolis, Minnesota about eight to ten years ago, I took a
workshop at the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts on mail art. It was done
in conjunction with the Walker Art Center, a wonderful contemporary art
museum there. We modified text by – draft, can’t remember famous artists’
name now, type set on an old press – added our modifications and art to it,
then mailed it all over the world to a list of mail artists that Scott Helms
had, asking these artists to modify our modifications and mail them back to
the Walker museum. The returned pieces were bound into a book that is now
in their collection, and the Walker gave each participant a photocopy of the
book, and had a wee party when we got back together to see the results. As a
result of that, we started a rubber stamp/mail art group in Minneapolis, and
it is still going strong, I think. The Bag Lady, whom I introduced to mail art
and invited to that wee party, still lives in Minneapolis and participates in
that group, and is coming to spend a week with me, to make art and play on
the computer, in just a couple of weeks. And so the networking goes. I have
since lived in St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; and now in Atlanta. In
each of these cities I have formed groups that meet periodically to talk mail
art, and have had mail artist visitors and house guests from all over the
world, some of whom I had never met in person before, but knew through the
mails, coming through or to each city. Part of this is due to my active
involvement on Prodigy, then on America Online, two commercial computer
bulletin boards on which there is active talk about and resulting exchanges of
mail art which I initiated. My internet address is artoposto@aol.com. Ask
away if you have additional interview questions.

RJ :Could you tell a bit more about how you got into using the computer for
communication. When did it start and when did you enter the internet?

AP:Ruud, I started using computer bulletin boards at the same time I started
using a Mac regularly, in 1986. I connected to local bulletin boards in
Minneapolis, Minnesota. Didn’t know a soul who owned a Mac. Learned lots
about how to use them through the help of people on those local boards.
Those boards were run by Sysops who did it for the pleasure of it. They
weren’t commercial boards. When Prodigy came out in the U.S., I signed on
and that was were I first started talking with others on-line about mail art,
and the movement. Hmmm. When was that? 1990 or 1991. We started with a
small group of women, mostly women, talking about rubber stamping. I think
there were just about twelve of us. They were already exchanging their
stamped art, many had been for many, many years, but I was the only one, as
I remember, who was involved in the mail art movement internationally, in
sending to mail art calls (as opposed to rubber stamping stores contests).
Within less than two years we had 400 people that we knew of discussing
rubber stamping and mail art and book making and related areas. Lots of
people are “lurkers,” so who knows actually how many of us there were
reading that board. I did an article on the Prodigy stampers for
Rubberstampmaddness (a national publication very popular in the U.S.
among rubber stampers – slick paper, color, thick. It carries mail art calls.) I
also did an “on-line class” on mail art, and a “by mail class” on mail art. It is
hard to explain the difference to those who have never participated in the
network between mainstream rubber stamp exchanges and the more quirky
type of stuff one so often receive in the mail art network. These “classes”
were my attempt to share with the interested people on-line some of the
differences – no jury, no fees, less complex work (generally), what artistamps
were, what documentation was, how one got involved, matching up people
with like interests, how to issue your own mail art calls, what some reference
sources were (Correspondence Art, for instance), where to see mail art
archives, etc., etc. Public posts and learning and sharing techniques and
developing intimate friendships were (are) very common on Prodigy, as they
are on America Online, the service I am currently using. (I have also been on
E-world, CompuServe, and GEnie – all commercial services in the U.S.)
Prodigy used to NOT charge by the minute or the hours. You just paid a
monthly fee, and you could use it all you wanted to. They grew so fast – got
millions of subscribers – then changed their policy to a basic fee for “x”
number of hours, then a per minute charge after that. Many of us jumped
ship when that happened. AOL is more user friendly to Mac users, I think, so
I switched over to AOL a couple of years ago. When AOL got Internet access
(still limited, not total, I think), I started thrashing about a bit in those
waters – never became a surfer. Won’t, either, because I don’t want to spend
my time on bbs. Already have too many contacts, too many delicious things
to do online, too many questions coming to me. Want to play with my Mac
more. Make more mail art. Snail mail more art. (In the past year I sent
almost 1700 pieces of snail mail.) I much prefer the kinds of relationships
that I have developed on Prodigy and AOL to those via the Internet thus far.
Internet messages seem to be sent out with carbon copies to lots of people.
Less intimate friendships have developed. Public threads don’t seem as
interesting to me. Subscribing to things brings in treatises. I love getting
Global Mail Electric, though. It’s super. Still, there is something lovelier, to
me, in the hard copy version. Most people I have met on the Internet have
no experience with commercial bbs and really don’t know much about them
and the very warm friendships that develop. Such fun to watch people’s
public posts and decide “I want to KNOW that person. I like the way she
thinks. I like how she shares information so freely.” Does that happen for you
on the Internet in public posts, too?

Well, I’m off with favorite husband to dinner, so will dash. Hope you don’t
have to pay to receive this long reply to your short question. Fun to contact
you on-line.

Hugs,arto posto (note lower case – I’m not “Arto Posto”; AOL won’t let me
use lower case initial “a” for arto, but all my other mail to you, I think, has
been “arto posto”)

RJ :For me, the E-mail only seem to have a few advantages (like speed of
sending and the fact that you can transfer the texts you get easily), but the
snail-mail is still my favorite. I see your wonderful & colorful envelopes (also
done by computer) and wondered why you like this computer-work so much?

ap :Ruud, I discovered computers after being in a very bad auto accident
that makes handwriting and doing many things by hand painful for me.
Keyboarding and working on the computer is not. I think that is, in part, why
I do so much of my mail art by computer. Another is that I am endlessly
fascinated by the amazing things that can be done with a powerful Macintosh
and PostScript printers. I have always loved the beauty of type and bought an
IBM Selectric typewriter because one could change fonts and do variable
spacing. This was about twenty years ago, though I first used a Selectric when
they first came out, around 1957. Hard to believe it now, but back in the
1970s that TYPEWRITER cost about $1,000. At the time I felt very guilty
about being so self-indulgent as I had no business use for the machine, just a
love of seeing the print come out so elegantly on the page. I was writing
poetry, and it was right after my accident, and I loved the LOOK of what I
was writing so much more as it came from that typewriter. So glad now I did
that. It has led to my giving myself permission to buy a DecMate II dedicated
word processor and daisy wheel printer to write a book, then, upon seeing
what the Mac could do, to buy increasingly powerful Macs. Now you can buy
an entry level Mac for less than $1,000. Amazing, when you think about it –
twenty years later something so much more powerful and versatile at the
same price.

It is owning Macs that gave me the courage to switch from writing to playing
with images. And it is playing with them that led me into the mail art
movement as I wanted to share my computer experiments with others and to
get back stuff others were creating on theirs. It took a long time to connect
with many who were actually using computers, as you are, in mail art, but
meanwhile I have had my mailbox museums fill with art created in so many
different ways and enjoy the variety. I also think that my use of my computer
and printers has led some others with computers to want to make more use
of them in their mail art, particularly women I have met on-line who were
primarily rubber stampers. Many had never thought of using their computers
to do art and are now happily creating artistamps, wee books, etc. using their
computers.

Because my husband bought a color thermal wax printer for his business, and
I teach him how to use all new computer equipment and install all the
software, I was exposed to the wonderful possibilities of color printing and
got one of my own to use in my mail art. And since the thermal wax would
print on only special paper, have since bought a PostScript inkjet so I can
print on textured papers and envelopes. LEARNING has always been one of
the major pleasures in my life, and now that I am physically unable to trot
off to universities to take courses for the joy of it, learning new computer
programs and new ways to use my printers has provided substitute joys. I
have about 300 megs on my hard drive, and almost all of it is software. (I
keep stuff I create on removable disks.) These programs have provided years
of learning experiences. Also, it is great to be able to go back and print out
some piece of mail art I created several years ago when it is apropos to some
call or interest of a new networker I have been exposed to. It also helps me
treat mail art as a process, not a product, a process of learning,
experimenting, trying new things, and sharing them with others.

I, like you, view e-mail and on-line bulletin board exchanges primarily as a
way to get to know people better, to connect with others in the mail art
movement, and to introduce new people to the idea of this great back and
forth of mailed art.

RJ :What do you tell a newcomer about mail-art to get them interested? Do
you think you can succeed in telling what mail-art is to a non-mailartist?

(Ruud, here’s my response to your last question. Because of my disability, I
can’t go back to see if I have repeated myself endlessly, so will trust you to
edit out anything that is repetitious or totally boring. Have the feeling I may
have covered much of this in answering previous interview questions.)

ap:Ruud, I find it much more difficult to TELL someone what mail art is
than to show it to them. For that reason I got the idea of boxing up dozens of
pieces I had had up on my huge bulletin boards and routing it to those who
had expressed interested in seeing what mail art is all about. Thus far
twenty-seven women requested to be added to the list, and the box of mail
art is currently making its way around the U.S. As each person gets the box,
she posts enthusiastically on the computer bulletin board America Online.
This arouses additional interest, and more people e-mail me to ask that they,
too, get a chance to see the box of mail art. Several years ago I did a similar
thing with ‘zines. Another routed mailing was of documentation. With local
people, I invite them into my home to see the mail art archives. I make the
same offer to those interested in mail art who will be visiting Atlanta on
business or vacation. Because my net is wide, there is such variety in the
work I receive that almost everyone falls in love with the work of a number
of mail artists whose work they see, and they want to start exchanges
immediately. It is great fun to me to see whose work appeals to whom.

Since we have an active group of rubber stampers, paper makers, book
makers, collage enthusiasts, painters, etc., all exchanging sources of supplies,
new techniques, art enthusiasms, etc., on-line, when I post mail art calls,
there are always questions about what a “mail art call” is, and I respond on
the public boards about traditions behind these calls. Some get very excited
about art shows with no juries, no commercial impetus. They want to know
what “documentation” is. They are excited about the prospect of
international exchanges. Some want to initiate exchanges with me and learn
more about mail art that way. The idea of art as “process” tempts some – to
get away from the idea of preciousness and perfection tempts. Others have
never heard of the idea that THINGS can be mailed, things that are not
enclosed in boxes, but mailed naked, like the life preserver I just received
the other day.

Some rubber stamp store owners in other cities have asked to have my mail
art calls to display in their stores. Just the past year both my Empty
Envelope call and the Abuse call shows have been on display. Some want to
issue their own mail art calls and ask about how to go about this and how to
do documentation. I’ve sent two boxes of wee books I have received in mail
art exchanges to Franklin Stein of National Stampagraphic as he learned
about wee books on-line, and wanted to do articles about them in his
publication. The word about mail art exchanges get spread that way, too. I’ve
shared with him names of wee book makers who might be willing to write
such articles for his magazine.

I also tell them about Dada and Fluxus and suggest books they can read to
learn more about mail art. I send reprints of articles on the subject from
various magazines or pass on copies of essays written by mail artists on the
subject. Zines appeal to some, and I either pass on some I have received or
give them names and addresses of sources. Some see mail art in quantity for
the first time by going to a mail art show in their area that they have heard
about on the boards. Some get lured into the movement because they have
read about artistamps on the board or want to see sheets of them, and once
seeing them try a sheet themselves. I offer names and addresses of other
mail artists whose work seems of the type that might particularly interest
someone who has sent her first piece to me and want to get more involved. I
tell them where archives are located if there are such treasure sources in the
cities they live in. I matchmake on-line by telling those new to the board of
others on the board with similar interests. There is a hunger among some to
finally connect with others who will exchange with them, enthuse over what
they do, share ideas. Many are women who have been doing mail art, sending
it to friends and relatives for years, but have never received anything back.
To suddenly find a whole network of people all around the world who love
doing something similar boggles their minds, makes them feel less “odd,”
increases their daily joy as they eagerly go to the mailbox. And, of course,
once we have a whole network on-line of people who ARE mail artists, who
begin participating in the movement, I back off and let THEM explain
documentation, mail art calls, ‘zines, artistamps, mail art shows, how to
connect with others, etc. I’m at this point now with my participation on
America Online, as I was on Prodigy several years ago. My e-mail has gotten
so heavy that I seldom have time to read the public boards anymore or to
post on them. Others have taken over to spread the word to newcomers. The
net widens. And I sit back and increase the DEPTH and intimacy of my
exchanges with the network I have already developed as a result of on-line
participation. Those newer to the movement who are wanting to widen their
participation and share their knowledge and enthusiasm do more of the
posting in the Mail Art, Artistamps, Wee Books folders on America Online. I
stay in touch with those on other services, including the Internet and pass on
to them mail art calls, etc.

I really do think computer bulletin boards can serve as a great impetus to
luring people into the movement, but I, like you, continue to prefer the snail
mail exchanges. A downside for me for this participation has been that my
network is now much too wide to be kept up with. I am always behind in
responding to received mail art. Hundreds see one’s posts on a computer
bulletin board and one’s net can expand so rapidly that it is impossible to
keep up. Too much mail art? I used to think that would be impossible. I’m at
the point now where I feel somewhat overwhelmed. This can lead to burnout,
I think, so I am reevaluating my participation in the movement. I want to
keep mail art as a totally guilt free, joyous aspect of my life. HOW to do this
and yet respond to all the new people who send to me is something I have
not yet worked out. I wonder how others’ participation has evolved over the
years, what changes they have made in the way they are active in the mail art
movement. Perhaps you have interviewed mail artists who have talked with
you about this issue?

RJ :Well, how others have dealt with that, you will have to read in the other
interviews. You seem to be very productive when it comes to Arti-stamps.
How do you design them? Do you always use the computer for your art?

(Besides the E-mail version I sent arto posto also a snail-version together
with Michael Leigh’s interview. Together with my questions I normally send
some other text to, the normal correspondence besides the interview.
Sometimes the interview and the private correspondence mingle, and this
happens here too. So the next answer from arto posto is put down here
completely as it arrived via internet:)

Date: Mon, 1 May 1995 06:48:16 -0400
From: Artoposto@aol.com
To: tam@dds.nl
Subject: Re: next question

ap :Ruud, just accidentally sent reply to your other e-mail address, and am
repeating it to the tam address as I think previous message sent to the other
did not reach you.

I would like to see you include your P.S. to me on the subject of managing
participation on the movement as I think it is honest and open and would be
of interest to others. I’m repeating it below so you can include it if you will.

RJ: P.S. I don’t answer all the mail I receive. For the snail mail I probably
answer 50% or less, and the computer-messages I get, I answer about 30% or
so. I only answer the things that are interesting for me to react. I don’t feel
obliged to answer the mail I get. I know that most ‘older’ mail-artists work
that way. If you want their attention, then you have to send them something
to ‘trigger’ them to react. I discovered that years ago, and since then I
became in contact with some very interesting persons who make wonderful
art. Also I only send my larger art to people like that (an example: I just
received a large oil painting on wood from America, and in return I sent a
large 12-color silkscreen print. But this is not really mail-art, but the
exchange of art. Besides a mail-artists I make the traditional ‘art’ too)

The next question: You seem to be very productive when it comes to
Arti-stamps. How do you design them? Do you always use the computer for
your art?

ap: Yes, for reasons I’ve previously discussed in this interview, now I almost
always use my computer for my work. I no longer paint or sculpt or do fiber
art. Unlike you, I do not make “larger art” or do or exchange art other than
mail art.

I am, indeed, very productive of artistamps having made dozens and dozens
of sheets in the last couple of years. Did three new sheets just this week. Not
sure I understand your question about HOW I design them. Could you tell
me more about what you want to know about that?

P.S. Received your snail mailing and the two interviews. Quite fascinating.
I’ve exchanged with A-1 over the years and love Michael’s and Hazel’s senses
of humor and stuff I received from them though I am less a recycler than he,
and Rudi Rubberoid and Ian Gunn some of the others in this
genre. Participated in A-1’s Thematic Tape Exchange a couple of years ago,
but I’m not really into video or cassette tape exchanges. I prefer hard copy
image exchanges, I guess. ML’s comment that “Archives should contain the
best work” (page A-4) borders on something which seems anti-mail art to me
– isn’t it “jurying”? When I sent a box of my archives to Crackerjack, he wrote
back asking if he could recycle some of the stuff that was less interesting to
him – a similar idea, I think, but I replied that I wanted the archive intact, or
he could send the stuff he didn’t want back to me as I think to get a true feel
for what mail art is all about, one needs to see the whole range, not just what
a particular person particularly likes. And, again, what has appealed to me
about the movement is the non-judgmental aspects of it – the hanging of ALL
work sent, etc. When I document I also try to include all images if I am going
to include any. This would be impossible, of course, if one were to get
hundreds of pieces. That’s why I went to documenting for every ten pieces
received in my most recent calls on abuse. It was a way for me NOT to “jury”
or “present only the ‘best’ in the documentation, but to still be able to afford
to send documentation to all with all people’s work shown in documentation.
Each person will handle her participation in the movement in her own way,
and that is as it should be, in my opinion. I bring up these issues only as
things to think about…not as RIGHTS and WRONGS. I like it that mail art
really does not have hard and fast “rules.” I do, at times, though, feel that
there are subsections of the movement that function as old boy’s networks
where the same people’s work is commented upon, depicted in
documentation, written about in publications, etc. again and again and again.
This seems a bit like repetition of the very reason mail art got started –
wasn’t it protest against museums and galleries and art magazines showing
only insiders work, pre-judging, etc. that led to the idea of mail art
networking in the first place? The basic tenants of the movement also make
me uncomfortable about “government grants” to do shows, travel, etc., as it is
associated with the movement. Personally I like to stick with the “no money
exchanges hands” aspects, the exchange of art outside of connections with
funding agencies, etc. I see this trend towards sponsored travel, sponsored
shows, selecting specific pieces from one’s archives to display, offering ‘zines
for sale, asking others to help with costs, etc. as a veering off from the
essence of the spirit of the mail art movement into another realm. I can
certainly understand that there are practical reasons WHY it occurs. It’s just
not a part of the movement that appeals to me, nor one I personally care to
get involved with.

You have a government sponsored bulletin board, so obviously you feel
differently. I would be interested in your thoughts on this subject. Warm
hugs, arto posto

RJ :It seems your P.S. is as interesting as mine. Although I would like to
answer it would make the interview a discussion and that wasn’t the
intention. If you want my views then you should interview me maybe? In
your P.S. you made mention of your newest project. Could you tell a bit more
about that?

ap :For about the past year I have had ongoing mail art calls on the topics of
spousal/partner abuse and child abuse. To date there have been 108
submissions, mostly from women, but some from men as well, I’m happy to
say. Have received really powerful, touching work! Thus far the show has
been up for two months in northern Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin and
was just shown the other day at a big rubber stamp convention in California.
In September and October of 1995 it will be displayed in Michigan. I’m
hoping the show on this important social issue will travel for a couple of
years. In the past couple of days I have sent follow-up documentation to all
participants, telling them where the show has been and will be mounted. This
is in addition to the small book documentations I do for every ten
participants. I did the follow-up so that those who were wishing to expand
their mail art network would have additional names of people with similar
social concerns, and to let them know where the show would be in case they
might be able to see the whole body of work.

There has been discussion on the electronic bulletin board that I am on
recently in the Mail Art folder about documentation. Some posted that they
had submitted pieces to calls over a year ago, but had never received
promised documentation. (I was amazed to learn that so many others
actually keep track of when they send to shows and when they receive
documentation.) I felt a bit uncomfortable about their unhappiness as I
frequently post calls and some send to their first calls in their lives as a
result of these posts and I can well remember how eagerly I looked forward
to receiving my first few pieces of documentation years ago. I responded to
the posts that STUFF few pieces of documentation years ago. I responded to
the posts that STUFF happens in life, and that perhaps some who intended
to do documentation found themselves unable to do so. I also heard from
some snail mail mail art networkers over the past year that they are getting
disillusioned about sending to mail art shows and not receiving promised
documentation. Since I send to lots of calls and don’t keep track of who
documents and who doesn’t, I have no feel for how often this happens. I do
think it is of interest that several people apparently feel a change is going on
in the network in this area.

Ruud, I feel I’ve talked on and on – more than anyone could possibly care to
read, so if you don’t mind, I would like to quit talking about my mail art
involvement and spend more time DOING IT. Thanks for asking me to
participate in your Interview Project, and if I’ve left something out you really
want to know more about, let me know. Also if some other person does
interview you, hope you will send me a copy of that interview.

RJ:Thank you for the interview!

Address mail-artist:

ARTO POSTO,
199 14th n.e. / Apt. 2505
ATLANTA,
GA 30309-3691
U.S.A.

E-mail : artoposto@aol.com

address interviewer:

Ruud Janssen – TAM
P.O.Box 1055
4801 BB Breda

NETHERLANDS

e-mail : r.janssen@iuoma.org

mail-interview with Anna Boschi – Italy

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH ANNA BOSCHI
(ITALY)

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH ANNA BOSCHI 36

Started on: 15-5-1995

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: 19-8-1995

AB : I have been involved in mail art since 1986, when I exhibited my artistic
works in Milano (Italy) – by Centro Lavoro Arte – where I met Ruggero Maggi
who talked to me about mail art and invited me to participate in a project
“DON’T KILL THE ‘PEACE’ WORD”. I took part in that project with pleasure
and when I visited the show (by the way, it was made just in Bologna) I felt
immediately a strong emotion. I realized to be in front of a wonderful
networking circuit. From that moment I have never left off to make mail art.

RJ : How did things develope after participating in this first project, how did you
get in touch with other networkers?

Reply on 25-9-1995

AB : The mail artist MARCO LORENZONI, living at that time near Bologna, sent
to me a beautiful coloured envelope, duly signed and numbered, containing
one elaborate on which I put my intervention and returned it to him. This was
my first personal contact in mail art. Marco said to me he was moving to
another Region and in fact I never had any news from him since.
Successively I participated in the “WINDOW” project by Maria Rosa Simoni,
and also to the “SELFPORTRAIT” project in Ireland, and other mail art
projects in Italy and abroad.

At the beginning I made mail art in small doses, because I wanted to realize
well its meaning. I wrote to some networkers asking more information about
mail art and at once m.a. notes, magazines, fanzines etc. etc. reached me.

RJ : At a certain point you probably thought of doing your own mail art project.
How did you realize your first project?

Reply on 23-10-1995

AB : In 1990 there was the centenary of the GIORGIO MORANDI’s birthday, the
famous artist of Bologna (Italy), sensible interpreter of humble things, as just
the bottles. I wanted to pay hommage to him with the “BOTTLE PROJECT” ,
a mail art project. I received 100 wonderful works (30 real bottles and 70 bi-
dimensional works) from 19 Nations and I organized the exhibition in
Bologna – by KAOS ex MABUSE space. I was very happy for the success of
my first project.

In the catalogue I expressed the connection between mail art and the
bottles: …. MAIL ART as container of different emotion’s states, expressive
potentiality free from markets and system conditions, wish to make and
transmit art, but especially container of sensitive human relations
overcoming any geographical/cultural/ideological frontier…..

…… BOTTLE as container of thoughts, ideas, messages (in fact, in the past,
it was thrown in the sea to send appeals or call for help), but mainly
container of human history, as time symbol……

RJ : Doing a first mail art project is mostly a difficult task. What did you learn from
this first project?

Reply on 1-12-1995

AB : Before I got involved in the mail art network, I attended only the “official”
circuit but, notwithstanding my great passion for the artistic work, I often felt
uneasy, probably caused from the unreasonable competition that originates
false friends, from the personal interests, from the criticism’ conditioning and
discrimination etc. After my first mail art project I immediately realized to be
in human contact and especially freedom. Yes, I learnt this: MAIL ART IS A
FREE ARTIST! And this is not a small thing!

RJ : How large is the network you are in contact with nowadays?

Reply on 24-1-1996

AB : Nowadays I am in contact with a great number of mail artists all over the
world and, like you, I have to select. I am very sorry for it, but it is not
possible for me to write to everybody. So I prefer to stay in touch with the
networkers with whom already exist a “mail art feeling”, a mutual exchange,
a frequent mail and work, friendship etc. etc.

However, often, beginning artists write me asking about mail art and in this
case I send them a little documentation with projects, addresses and other
news, and naturally my contacts augment. Usually, when I organize a mail
art project, I receive works from 25-30 nations (thanks networker friends!!).

RJ : Which mail art project are you working on at the moment?

Reply on 4-3-1996

AB : At the moment, besides several participations to various mail art projects, I
am working on two of my projects: Centenary of the Radio’s invention
(GUGLIELMO MARCONI) and PREHISTORY IN FORLI, the last one
together with Lia Garavini of Forlì.

Concerning the MARCONI project. now I am taking care of organizing the
show soon. I received 180 works from 25 Nations and I hope to exhibit them
inside a private “Marconiano” Museum of wonderful old radios. phonographs
and other communication sets.This museum is denomined “THOUSAND
VOICES…. THOUSAND SOUNDS…..” However I am not yet sure to realize
this initiative. In a different way, I shall care for another space.

Regarding instead the PREHISTORY project, the show will be on next
september, just during the XIII Congress of the International Union of
Prehistoric Sciences in Forli’ (8-14th September 1996). Even if there is to do
so much, I am always glad to organize mail art exhibitions, because I think it
is good to make known this international artistic circuit, as fraternity
message, without frontiers and discrimination. Also during the III-rd edition of
the “MAILARTINCONTRIAMOCI a CASTEL S.PIETRO TERME (8-9-10th
September 1995)”, besides many performances and installations made by
the participant networkers, I prepared a mail art show with fragments of the
“Bottle Project” – “1962-1992 – 30 years of M.A. in hommage to RAY
JOHNSON” and “FELLINI” projects, with one installation of envelopes from
all over the world in the centre of the room. It was so much visited and many
young artists asked me how to be involved in this circuit. And thus the mail
art goes….

RJ : How do you explain the mail art network to those new young artists that want
to participate?

Reply on 12-4-1996

AB : I don’t make particular effort, because the exhibition tells by itself. The artists
who feel (as you say: TO FEEL MAIL ART) something different from the
“official” artistic circuit, want to know better this network and ask me
informations about the possibility to come into communication. So, I give
them explanations about mail art projects, with some addresses, notes,
articles, etc., etc.

Many young artists think the mail art is like a chain of postcards and
enveloped, without knowing the real meaning of this circuit, besides the
various ways to interpret mail art.

Personally, I don’t like chain-letters because I find them “very cold”, without
soul, only made to receive an avalanche of works, and I prefer to participate
to mail art projects and write directly to the networkers, privileging the human
contact, the personal acquaintance, the friendship etc. , etc.

RJ : In 1992 there were the Decentralized Networker Congresses (DNC), where
mail artists were encouraged to organize meetings. Were you active in this
too?

Answer on 18-6-1996

AB : Yes, I was active in that period. In April 1992 I organized the show about my
mail art project: “30 YEARS of M.A. in homage to RAY JOHNSON”, in
Bologna (Italy) at “PRIMA PAGINA space”. Baudhuin Simon from Belgium
came to Italy to visit it and during the exhibition we also met Fabio Sassi and
Rosa Biagi of Bologna, and we had one little congress.

At the inauguration were present many other mail artists too (Alberto Rizzi,
Fulgor C. Silvi, Marco Pasian, Giovanni Strada, Nielsen Gavina, etc.)

Successively, Baudhuin Simon (on August 1992) returned to Italy and
together we went to VILLORBA (TV), where Ruggero Maggi and M. Pia
Fanna Roncoroni had organized one big Congress (4 days), very interesting,
with installations, performances and video – meetings, etc. I stayed there 2
days because then I started to SPOLETO (PG) where I redid the show in
homage to RAY JOHNSON, in public space. On October 1992 I took part in
the meeting at the ARTESTUDIO SUMITHRA by Rosetta Berardi in
Ravenna, a whole day with collective works, performances, poetry, etc. Very
beautiful meeting, with friendship and human contacts! I finished the year
(on december 1992) with another show in Milano (Italy) by Avida Dollars
Gallery – always dedicated to Ray Johnson.

RJ : Why do you focus so much on Ray Johnson?

Reply on 24-7-1996

AB : At the beginning I strongly admired this artist who gave life to an artistic
universal networking circuit, beyond every cool, conditioning and restrictive
rule of the “official art”. And in the 1992 DECENTRALIZED CONGRESS
YEAR, I considered dutiful to pay hommage to his (HE)ART, so I dedicated
to him one big mail art project. (Sincerely, today I am very glad to have
celebrated Ray Johnson when he lived!)

Successively, reading about him, I was more and more interested to
understand this artist, so ironic in his art and in the same time so lonely and
private in his life. I’d have wanted to know him personally for better realizing
the extraordinary sensibility of a man able to refuse the personal success (a
thing so rare in the artist!), in behalf of an artistic collective expression,
without celebration, money and honours.

RAY is an interesting and mysterious rebus, like his death. Why 13? Day 13
– Hours 13 – Room 13 !

A great man, with a great art, with a great idea debouching in the
international mail art circuit, but I think also with a great human solitude.
WHY? I often ask myself. Yes, it’s true, I focus on Ray.

RJ : Another great mail artist that is dead for some time is the Italian Cavellini.
What do you think was his role in the mail art network?

reply on 14-10-96

(together with Anna’s answer she sent me two beautiful catalogs of mail art projects she has worked on)

AB : I like very much Cavellini. He was (is) a great artist, but I find hir role in the
network much different in respect to Ray Johnson’s. First of all, I think Ray
gave life to the mail art circuit without being aware of this, through his
choice, nearly oriental, to send small signs, little ironical messages, discreet
provocations, pointing on the commonplace and myth’s absurdity, while
Cavellini utilized mail art to autocelebrate himself, affirming the artist’s
freedom.

He came from the collectionism, had money and could easily travel round
the world to meet other artists, playing funnily with his performances,
affirming “I am the sole, I am a free genius!” Therefore, I admit to know
superficially Cavellini. I read his book “A GENIUS LIFE” where is descibed
also the funny meeting between him and Ray. Wonderful! However Cavellini
is loved very much from the artists, and I like his work strongly, too, but my
“feeling” is with Ray.

When I payed hommage to Ray Johnson with the mail art project “1962-1992
– 30 YEARS OF MAIL ART”, the american Lon Spiegelman sent me one
poetry dedicated to Cavellini, writing me : “….Anna, don’t forget to hommage
Cavellini!”. In Italy, as you surely know, there is the networker Fausto Paci
called “AMBASCIATORE CAVELLINIANO”; he knew Cavellini personally,
admired strongly this big artist, and now he goes on with Cavellini’s artistic
thought!.

RJ : You have been active now in mail art for ten years and must have received
lots of stuff. Do you keep all the things that you receive? How does your
‘archive’ look like?

answer on 5-1-1997

AB : My mail art “archive” is in the studio where I paint and I try to keep it in good
order, to consult it with facility at any moment, but receiving so much stuff,
this is not always possible for me! The mail is contained in “gatheres” (in
alphabetical order for italian networkers – for abroad in alphabetical order of
the Nations).

Moreover, when there is more correspondence with one mail artist, I make a
particular “gather” for him. Then I keep the artistamps, the original
postcards, the artistic envelopes in separate books.

Concerning instead my mail art projects, a good deal of mail art works is still
framed, so as they have been exhibited. Yes, I keep all the things I receive,
and now I have also much mail in big boxes to set in order.

Some time ago, a mail artist made the project about circulation (not
preservation) in mail art, a provocation against the private little museums. In
general, I can agree with this concept, but the major part of the works is
dedicated personally, therefore to send them away it seems a “break-
gesture” – without appreciation – so contrary to the mail art soul! In any case,
I participated to that project, doing my proposal, that is to send to some
networkers during the year one portfolio containing mail art works of different
artists, as gift. In this way, I think the sense of the personal ties of friendship
remains.

Together with my participation-proposal, I sent my first portfolio, as
Christmas-gift, being December 1995. I didn’t receive an answer, but the
worst is I haven’t had more news from that mail artist! It is impossible to
enter in the head of the people! I didn’t think certainly to hurt him. I though to
suggest a good idea!

RJ : Most mail artists write mainly about all those good things that are happening
in the mail art network. Are there also negative sides to working within the
mail art network?

next answer on 8-4-1997

AB : All beautiful, all beautiful, all beautiful!………. I have strong doubts when I
hear this! Although I love very much mail art and the network, I must
however admit the negative sides concerning the mal artists ‘contradictions’!

Some of them preach the “false purity” in mail art, but really they don’t
practice what they preach! They shout to the scandale when they receive the
catalogue printed and sponsorized, because they say to be out of the mail
art soul, while then they send round the world a big quantity of the xerox
regarding their mail art activity! This is opportunism because they use mail
art to make publicity to themselves, not for community! Instead, the printed
catalogue referring to one mail art project regards all participants!

So, I think they have the straw tail. In my opinion, this is a big fault of the
network: mail art is free art , well , no money in mail art , very well ,
alternative art , well too, but why, if possible naturally, don’t improve the
documentation? Pay attention to the hypocrisy, she is always in wait.

RJ : Well, I fully agree with you on that. I don’t mind at all if someone has a
sponsor who pays for a wonderful catalogue, but I also do appreciate the
small catalogues people make by themselves without any sponsor. These
unwritten rules, like “mail art & money don’t mix” sometimes are mis-
interpreted by mail artists. Maybe we should make the new rule “there are no
rules in mail art”. What do you think Anna?

next answer on 24-6-1997

AB : Yes, wonderful! “No rules in MAIL ART”! I can completely agree with this. I
find it right, because – on the contrary – where is the ‘freedom’ of mail art?
Our mouth is always full of this phrase: “MAIL ART is FREE ART”, but when,
how, where? If the mail artist is always prompt to criticize and misinterprete.

Therefore I think it is important to make the new rule “there are no rules in
mail art” and every networker will decide his/her choice! With his/her
consciencious.

Concerning the sponsor in mail art , to pay a big catalogue, I accept with
pleasure this opportunity, but – like you – I appreciate very much the small
catalogues “hand-made” in xerox, that I receive always with great pleasure. I
appreciate also a simple list of names, and , in particular, I love every thing
sent to me by mail. And just for this “my feeling” regarding the circuit, I find
these limits very ‘stupid’.

Other thing: When I participate to one mail art project, I send my work with
pleasure, without thinking of a catalogue. If this reaches me successfully, I
am glad to receive it and it is always a surprise for me; on the contrary it is
not a problem for me! The important thing is the contact that was there!

RJ : Two new things you started to work on during this interview is the mail-art
magazine “WILD RABBIT NEWS” which you do together with Graziella
Caroni, and I also noticed the new stamp “MAILARTMEETING ARCHIVES”.
What is the story behind those two? Why start another zine, why create
another archive?

next answer on 27-9-1997

AB : The story is very simple. Unfortunately, two important mail-art bulletins
stopped: NET INFORMER of Andrea Ovcinnicoff (Genova) and
TRANSFUSION of Alessandro Ceccotto (Adria). One day, after a long talk
about this situation with Graziella Caroni, we decided with enthusiasm to
give life to the WILD RABBIT NEWS, thinking it could be useful for the mail
art cirsuit. In fact, after the first number, we received demonstration of
interest, request to insert projects and particularly we receive various rabbits
from many networkers and we put them in every number.

Concerning MAIL ART MEETING ARCHIVES, this was already existing, but I
wanted to mention it, and referring to the MAIL ART IN CONTRIAMOCI
meeting, I have chosen MAILARTMEETING Archives. What do you think of
it? I feel it is right for mail art?Therefore the story is very simple, but I ask
you: Why another?

RJ : With the question “Why another” I also was referring to your motivation to
keep on doing this mail art and collecting material. Hasn’t repetition of doing
things started in, or is mail art still a surprise to you every new day again?

(With her answer Anna Boschi sent a photo of a recent meeting of mail-artists in Italy, the
“mailartincontramoci” on 30/31 August 1997 in Castel S. Pietro , and the newest issue of Wild Rabbit News)

AB : Yes, mail art is still a surprise to me every new day again! When the mail
arrives, I am happy and I feel in artistic conversation (through the “RED
WIRE” joining every soul) with friends all over the world. It is wonderful!

For this reason, I like to do every thing about communication and mail art. I
would strongly like to be in the possibility to answer always to old and new
networkers, but my days must be of 48 hours!

I am a painter since many years (structures, recycled and assembled
materials, etc.) and I love my work, but in mail art I find freedom, fraternity,
exchanges , human contacts so much rare in the artistic (and not) universe.
When I shall not more find these sentiments in my mail art, I shall stop, but
always I shall thank the friends of the circuit for that they gave me!

Therefore, in this moment where various bulletins have stopped (also Global
Mail! Do you know? Is it true?) It is a great pleasure for me to give the
“service” to the circuit. In fact, from this month it will start the first number of
the “Mailartmeeting Bulletin” with mail art projects, while Graziella Caroni will
continue “Wild Rabbit News”, with rabbit images, projects, notes etc. soon in
Internet ……AND MAIL ART GOES ………

RJ : Do you think that mail art is a term one can also use for the activities that
mail artists undertaking on the internet?

reply on 4-1-1998

AB : Really, I think the right term for the activities undertaken on the internet is
Electronic Mail Art , because mail art is for me only when there is
transmission by post-box , and internet never will replace the paper poetry,
the colour harmony , the sign strenght. This is MAIL ART! (I think , naturally).

In any case E-mail art is very interesting, important , USEFUL and too much
capturing.

(With her mail Anna Boschi sent me some magazines. Also another mailing arrived with the newest issues of “Mailartmeeting bulletin” and the documentation of Anna’s project “What do you inspire this house?”. The next question was only sent out middle of March 1998 due to a little break I took – RJ)

RJ : Are you participating in Vittore’s IM98 project? Since it is initiated in Italy I
suspect this will cause a lot of activities in Italy…….

next answer on 7-5-1998

(because of a small break in the interview-process I only retyped the answer on January 16th, and sent the next question on that day. The IM98 project has already come to an end and Vittore probably is working on the documentation right now. In the period between the two questions Anna Boschi has been busy. She has sent me several copies of her
“MAILARTMEETING BULLETIN, and also I received the catalogue of her project “LIBRI
d’ARTISTA e POESIA VISIVA – MAIL ART 4” , a book of 143 pages with illustrations of the
contributions to this project.)

AB : Yes, I received some months ago the invitation to take part in the
Incongruous Meetings during 1998 (IM 98), but I think to continue the
MAILARTINCONTRIAMOCI meeting, because it is already an incongruous
meeting! It can be an intelligent meeting, an intolerant meeting, an
impossible meeting, an insuperable meeting etc. etc. However I suspect too
there will be in Italy a lot of activities. In fact, Emilio Morandi will make the IM
98 on July 20th 1998, just when there is his birthday, the same day of
GIORGIO MORANDI’s birth, the big and international artist “bolognese” (he
was born in Bologna , Italy on July 20th 1890). Do you remember my mail art
project “Bottle project” dated 1990 in homage to him? Did you participate?
Now, I don’t remember. His poetry were the bottles (full of silence, art and
lirism). Emilio Morandi wants to refer to this solitary and great artist, being
born the same day, many years after.

Besides, I am sure other Italian networkers will make an Incongruous
Meeting. But, sincerely, this is a hard year for me, on account of serious
family problems; I shall continue to make mail art and to not break the “red
wire” with the circuit, but with less participation and contacts. However my
heart will be always with you all!

next question sent on 16-1-1999

RJ : I guess it is right time now to end the interview. I understand all to well the
busy periods in ones life since I have one right now as well. Was there
anything I forgot to ask you before we end the interview and publish it?

(together with the last question I sent Anna the complete text of the interview to proofread and some more info’s)

next answer on 15-5-1999

AB : Dear Ruud, I am sending you the corrections of the typing mistakes of your
interview with me. I thank you very much for what you did and for all the
interesting and important documentation you sent me. I like the interview and
I hope you make the book, when you can, naturally.
Address mail-artist:

ANNA BOSCHI
Via G. Tanari n. 1445/B
40024 CASTEL S. PIETRO
TERME (BO) – I T A L Y

mail-interview with Anna Banana – Canada

This interview was done in 1995 by Ruud Janssen. Address: TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda , the NETHERLANDS, e-mail : info@iuoma.orgl. It is possible to spread this information to others, but for publications you will have to get permission from TAM and the interviewed person! Enjoy reading this interview.

anna_banana
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH ANNA BANANA 13

Started on: 3-12-1994

RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?

Reply on: 7-1-1995

AB : This is one of those questions I’ve answered so many times, I thought everyone knew by now! Anyway, for the record, here goes. In 1971, I was living outside the small town of Sooke, on Vancouver Island. In an attempt to connect with some creative people, I declared myself the Town Fool of Victoria, capital of the province of British Colombia, some 36 miles from where I was living. That turned out to be an uphill climb, and in an effort to communicate with the populace of Victoria, I started publishing the Banana Rag. I delivered copies of this newsletter by hand to a number of public schools in the Victoria area, and while I was at it, I mailed copies to some of my artist friends in Vancouver.
The response from the schools was varied, and in some instances, I was invited into the schools to do activities with the students. One of my friends in Vancouver who was then a member of the Image Bank collective, responded with a copy of the Image Bank Request List. This little 2-page flyer brought the first information I had that there was, in fact, a network. It was a list of names and addresses of artists, and the sorts of images they wanted to receive; lips, clouds, 50’s cars, that sort of thing.
I went through my stack of old clip magazines and put together an envelope for each of the perhaps 20 artists listed, and mailed them out, with a copy of the Banana Rag, and a note stating that I was interested in receiving ANYTHING to do with bananas; images, news stories, jokes, music, whatever, as long as it had a reference to bananas. Within 2 or 3 weeks, my mail-box came alive, and here I had the sort of enthusiasm and response I was missing elsewhere in my life. Amongst the bananas, there were samples of the others’ work, invitations to projects, etc., and before I knew it, I was HOOKED.
In the course of the next year and a half, I responded to all the mail I received, participated in all projects I heard about, and expanded the number of artists I was exchanging with to perhaps 100. When I left Sooke, it was to go on the road, to meet my correspondents, and decide where I would live next. I intended to drive across Canada, down the eastern USA, across the southern states, and up to the West Coast. However,the van I bought to make this trip in turned out to be a lemon, and my start was delayed for 6 months. When I did leave Canada in May of 1973, I went south into Washington, Oregon and California. In the Bay Area, I met with all 12 of my mail art connections, and decided pretty quickly that that was the place for me to live.
However since I had written to all my correspondents that I was heading their way, I went on with the trip for another 2 months, after which, I realized a number of things:

1The USA is huge, and driving across it more time consuming than I had figured.
2Driving alone across vast stretches of the continent was not all that much fun.
3Most of my correspondents were men, and most of them had wives or lovers who, while they tolerated my visit, were none too enthused about it.
4In San Francisco, I had met my future husband, and I knew that was where I wanted to live. I decided to quit the mega-trip, and headed back to San Francisco at the end of August, where I settled down for the next 8 years, getting even more committed to mail art with the publication of VILE magazine, which I began in 1974.

RJ : This extensive answer arises a lot of questions in me, but I have to settle for one now. Some mail-artists have a private life besides their mail-art life, but in your case it seems that your private life and your mail-art world got completely integrated. I remember the issue VILE (#8, 1983), and it looked like your life and your art were the same at that moment. Some photo’s of you and Bill Gaglione indicate the same. Am I right?

Reply on : 18-4-1995

AB : During those years with Bill, we were both very involved with mail art and performance art, and there was very little time for anything else (except the everyday jobs/work we did to support that activity which took up the majority of our time! We just don’t write about that stuff.), so I suppose you are right, at that moment, my life and art were very integrated. What isn’t apparent from that view you had of us from VILE #8, is that we both DID have jobs or paying work that is never spoken about in the context of the magazine.The humdrum work that just about everyone has to do to pay the bills. Bill had a variety of jobs over the year, and after working in a print shop, and for a weekly newspaper, I started my own graphic design and production company, Banana Productions, which is how I earned the money to publish VILE and the Banana Rag.

Certainly our performing, publishing and mail-art activities did NOT pay our rent, or put food on the table, and we both spent a good deal of our time at those money-earning activities in order to SUPPORT our mail art, publishing and performance work. Further, we both had friends and activities that were not related to art, but our social life was within a circle of art-related friends, and many of my friends in San Francisco were persons with whom I had exchanged mail-art before I went there.

RJ : Why did the VILE magazine stop? What was your next step?

Reply on : 9-5-1995

AB : It cost too much to produce and mail. It took too much time and there were other things I wanted to do. I felt hemmed in by the need to “do the next issue.” Bill wanted to take it in directions that weren’t consistent with my initial concept of it. My relationship with Bill was falling apart. I was tired of the vile focus, and felt it wasn’t an appropriate publication in which to air other sides of my perceptions and activities. I’d “been there, done that,” and it was time to move along, do something else.

At the beginning of our cross Canada tour of 1980, we were offered a sublet on an apartment in Vancouver. We had been evicted from our apartment in San Francisco the month before we left, and had put all our things in storage. We decided to take the sublet and move to Vancouver – a MAJOR change. That never happened. I moved and he stayed.

Arriving in Vancouver in late January 1981, I was like a fish out of water. I didn’t know at that point that Bill would not be coming up, but I was still feeling very displaced. All my close friends were in San Francisco, and the situation I moved into wasn’t quite what I had imagined it to be. In late February I went back to SF to do a final performance with Bill, one we had scheduled before the trip. At that time it became clear that he wouldn’t be moving to Canada.

During those first two years in Canada, I tried to quit mail art. I did only one issue of the Banana Rag, in 1981, and I almost let the mail accumulate, unanswered. Early in 1982, I convinced the local TV station to host my 10th anniversary April Fool’s Day event; the Going Bananas Fashion Contest. I applied for a grant to create the new performance work, Why Banana? and in the fall of ’82, toured it across Canada and the USA. After that, I applied for funding to produce About Vile, so that I could bring VILE to an official conclusion, use the materials that people had sent for it, and wrap up that period of my life. (my years in San Francisco ’73-’81).

Once I had published About VILE (in 1983), the natural place to distribute it was the network. Once I started distributing it, of course, the responses started flowing in…. and I got caught up again in sending and receiving mail. I altered the format and focus of the Banana Rag, making it more a mail-art information/forum, than the strictly banana content of the earlier editions. I had overspent the budget to print About VILE, and ended up with a debt, no money, no job, and no commercial contacts in Vancouver. The printers wanted the balance due, and I approached them with the proposition; give me a job, and I’ll pay what I owe. I was hired and worked there for two years, learning the ins and outs of full-color printing, doing paste-up and camera work, and a lot of in-house design.

In 1984, I was back in San Francisco for the Inter Dada ’84 events, and spent 3 weeks working with my friend Victoria Kirkby on a performance, In the Red, which we presented in that festival. In ’85 I did a performance art workshop with art students in Calgary. We worked with the material from “in the Red,” producing a new work, In the Red, In the Black. In ’85, I quit the producing job, and free-lanced my design services, both to the printer, and to other clients and connections I had begun to develop. I continued printing and sending the Banana Rag, and in the fall of ’86, I did a second tour of Europe, this one solo.

RJ : At the moment you are very active with artistamps. When did you start with those? What is so fascinating about them?

Reply on : 3-6-1995

AB : I did my first artistamp in response to an invitation by Ed Varney in the mid-70’s. He reproduced a number of my stamps on one of his many “anthology sheets.” The first ones I did were in B&W, and he printed them in black and red. Then somewhere around ’76 or ’77, Eleanor Kent, who was a neighbor of mine in San Francisco, got a Color Xerox machine in her home, and invited me to come and work with it. I produced my first two editions on that machine, along with many other collages and postcards, and Eleanor introduced me to Jeff Errick of Ephemera, which produced buttons, postcards and stamps. He allowed me to go and perforate my stamps there, in trade for copies of each edition. I believe it was also during that period (late 70’s) that Ed Higgins did his Nudes on Stamps book, producing sheets of artistamps from nude portraits of mail artists. On the cover of each issue, he stuck the stamp of the person to whom he was sending the catalogue.

While all of this whetted my appetite for the stamp format, it wasn’t until I moved back to Vancouver, and started working at Intermedia Press, that I really got the BUG for stamps. I saw the editions Varney had produced, and found myself wanting that quality of reproduction and that quantity of stamps so that I could really USE them, not just trade sheets. Through my job at Intermedia, I learned the technology necessary to produce full color, photo offset editions, however I didn’t put this into practice right away.

My initial editions done in Vancouver, were reproduced using Color Xerox, and these dated from 1984, when I had an artist in residence on Long Island, NY, and had the time and resources to experiment with the medium. I also did a series that year commemorating the Inter-Dada ’84 Festival. The originals of these editions were still collages, as were my 15-sheet Euro-Tour Commemorative edition which I did in 1987 after my ’86 European trip. For these editions, however, I utilized the brand new Canon Laser color copier, and was very impressed with the results. However, these were still pretty pricey to produce, and that’s when I started doing the figuring necessary to cost out a full-color printed edition. I circulated this information in 1987, and in 1988 produced the first two editions of International Art Post. There are 16 editions of these in print to date, and considerably more of my own, limited editions, for which I still utilize the Canon Laser copier. (Full colour printing is still too costly to use for all my own editions).

There are many aspects of artistamps that engage my attention. I think the first thing that grabs me about them, is that they parody of an official currency/medium of exchange. People still do double-takes when looking at an envelope with artistamps on them. Because they look so REAL, the question always comes up, “are they real/legal?” , “Can I mail a letter with these?” I like this aspect, because it startles people, and makes them question what IS real. Since I have a healthy disrespect for most government agencies, this is very satisfying.

Another side of this aspect is that of putting ones own subject priorities on a stamp, claiming or assuming power, or the trapping of power, and again, demonstrating that often appearances are deceiving.

Years ago I gave up object making, as it produced too many bulky products that then had to be stored, framed, shipped, etc., all of which took up a lot of room and money. If you put $200 worth of materials and $500 worth of your time into a work, it wasn’t easy to just give it away, and so one felt obliged to take care of there products. I felt there was already too much “stuff” in the world, and I didn’t want to be producing more, especially of things that would tie me down, in terms of mobility, space, and resources. I gave up object making to become the Town Fool of Victoria, creating public events, interactions, and doing mail art.

The beauty of stamp art is that it doesn’t take up a lot of room, doesn’t require exotic equipment and supplies (other than a pin-hole perforator!). One doesn’t have to have a huge studio in which to work. One can experiment with different medium without a big cost factor. One can produce a large body of work, and keep it all in one simple box on the shelf, or in an album. One can produce additional copies of an edition as they are required, rather than having to do a huge run all at once. One can send single sheets, or a whole show around the world without great expense, trade with other stamp makers, and produce limited editions at a relatively moderate cost.

Furthermore, they have a USE. They are not just for matting and framing, but torn up and put on envelopes, they become a colorful and provocative elements on a mail-art piece. One can make a statement with a stamp, in a very limited space. I LOVE THEM!

RJ : Because you are active in mail art for such a long time, you must have received a lot of mail art too. Did you keep it all? How would you describe ‘your archive’

Reply on 28-07-1995

AB : Yes, I kept everything except for chain letters, which I either destroyed, or when I was feeling particularly patient, sent back to sender with a note explaining that I do not consider this form of communication in any way art, or even mail art. I think they are tyrannical and unimaginative, and I have NEVER responded to any of them as requested.

If I had only one word to describe my archive, it would be “humongous,” or perhaps more accurately, “comprehensive.” Being a “paper addict,” and an “image junkie,” I treasured the mail I received from the very beginning. When I left Canada in May of ’73, driving in a Dodge van which I had modified to be my home, I carried with me my mail art archive which consisted of 2 boxes of material. When I took up residence in San Francisco in August of ’73, one of my first purchases was a file cabinet. During my 8 years in San Francisco, the collection grew by leaps and bounds, partly because I was publishing VILE magazine, and everyone in the network then was anxious to have their works documented by having them reproduced in the magazine. I also continued publishing the BANANA RAG during that period, and that also drew numerous mailings from the network.

When I left San Francisco in 1981, I had 40 boxes of archival material shipped to me in Vancouver. While perhaps a third of that was books, at least half of them related to mail-art shows and projects, and a good many were “network ‘zines.” For the most part, I have filed the books, periodicals and catalogues separate from the letters and mailings, to make access to them easier. In the absence of a catalogue of the archive, this isn’t the most satisfactory solution, since any time I wanted to refer to a particular artist, I couldn’t go to just one place in the system to get a complete picture of their activity. I also streamed out postcards, as their own category, and in more recent years, have separated the artistamp sheets from the rest of the materials. The advantage of this system, of course, is that if I want to present a talk about postcards, artistamps, or books and ‘zines, I don’t have to go ploughing through all fifty boxes of material to find what I want. Maybe someday I’ll get around to cataloguing it all, but having recently sold and catalogued 400 pieces to the National Postal Museum of Canada, I don’t think that’ll be any time soon. Cataloguing is a tedious and time consuming activity which I can’t afford to do at this point. That’s all for now, over and out-

RJ : It seems that the Postal Museums are very interested in mail art these last years. What are the plans of the Canadian Postal Museum with your collection?

Reply on 17-8-1995

AB : First I’d like to clarify for your readers, that the NPM has only 400 pieces of mail art from my archive; a very small sampling from my 23-year-accumulation. I think the postal museums have taken an interest in mail-art, as they are loosing their primary position in the world of communication due to phone, FAX and e-mail. While stamp collectors will no doubt continue to treasure the little bits of paper the post offices of the world issue, fewer and fewer people resort to the post office when they wish to communicate. And of course, with telephones, fewer people write letters than they did in times past, so where are they going to turn for new support and interest? Mail-art fills the bill very nicely. It’s interesting, lively, international, visual, playful, creative, and relatively cheap, as art goes… and ANYONE can do it!

The National Postal Museum of Canada has not been very forthcoming about their plans for this collection. The most I know, is that they will use it for educational purposes, and to that end, will probably mount exhibitions from it, and offer workshops in their little gallery within the Museum of Civilization. They have spoken to me about a second mail-art exhibition which would focus on artistamps. The dates mentioned are well in the future, and from my experience in negotiating with them, it will be some time before anything conclusive will come out of these talks. They did suggest that they would like me to be the guest artist when this exhibit does come about, and of course I said I would be most interested. However, I’m not holding my breath about this one… the NPM is part of the large bureaucratic structure of the National Museum, and as such, decisions take a very long time. I will certainly keep you posted on developments.

RJ : Especially the last decade a lot of publications have been written about mail art (mostly by male mail artists). Is it always true what is written down?

Reply on 8-9-1995

AB : That’s a biggie! What is the TRUTH? People have been searching for that one for centuries. I believe to a larger extent, people write what they BELIEVE to be true, but none of us is objective, and we all have our histories, friends, experiences which filter our perceptions. Further, no one individual can tell the “whole story” of mail art, because no one individual has all the contacts – it’s NOT a finite system. An outsider researches the phenomena would never be able to cover the whole picture, because while mail art is not a finite system, it is also a changing one. People are constantly discovering the phenomena and starting exchanges while others quit and go on to other forms of expression. If it were made extinct, by say, the termination of the international mail system, THEN, perhaps, someone could do a complete picture of it, but even then, it is unlike that one researcher could unearth all the persons involved and review all the work that has been exchanged. Nor do I think it important that every work and every practitioner get a mention.

The whole point of mail art has been to be involved in a creative, expressive PROCESS of exchange, between two or more parties. You send out, and you get back. You have an audience that responds. If they don’t respond, you don’t send to them any more. This is the nature od mail art, and it can be represented by describing the types of materials exchanged, and the persons one knows of who make these exchanges. But this isn’t the same as a history of mail art, and I rather doubt we will ever read one that is completely satisfactory to our own perception of the story, because it will not reflect our view of the thing.

For example, in an essay introducing a bibliography of mail art that sounds like the complete history when you read it, unless you happened to be active during the periods described, and your contribution to the process doesn’t get mentioned. This is the situation I found myself in with that essay. I was very active in the 70’s, publishing both the Banana Rag and VILE Magazine. I felt both were focal points in the network, and know that many persons contributed material to VILE in the hopes of being published. I felt that VILE was THE show-place of the network during the period of its publication (74-81), yet I nor VILE got a mention in that essay. What was written was “true,” but incomplete, yet that essay will be quoted as “the story of mail art.”

That essay was published in a mail art show catalogue a couple of years before it appeared in the bibliography. I wrote to the author and asked why I and my contribution to the network were omitted. He didn’t respond to the question at first, and when he eventually did, he really didn’t give any reason. Then he published it, unchanged, in the bibliography. I was outraged. He was well aware of my work, and of VILE, yet he decided not to mention it. I reviewed the bibliography in Umbrella, questioning this omission. However, the book is published, and in circulation. It won’t be changed. It has authority. It is a massive work and very well done. Why did he choose to exclude me from that essay? I don’t know.

In May of ’94, he and I were both at the mail art congress in Quebec city. I asked him again, in person, why he had omitted me from that essay, and why he had refused to alter the piece when I raised the issue. He said he just wrote what came to mind when he was writing, and that he never changes a piece once it is written. So, from his perspective, my work in recording the network during the 70’s was not important. Who can argue with what another considers important? The problem is, that what is written sounds like the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, when in fact, there is a considerable amount of opinion being expressed about the truth, in both what is said, and in what is omitted.

I can’t comment on a lot of the other publications on mail art that have come out, as I haven’t had the time to read them all. However, I’m sure similar situations exists, and the contributions of many others, often women, have been overlooked, or disregarded in the great move now afoot, to record the history of mail art.

I think that, generally speaking, each person who writes about mail art attempts to tell “the true story.” As readers, we have to remember that each person must and will tell it from their own perspective; with all their likes and dislikes, opinions, priorities, and experiences between them and the phenomena we’ve come to know as mail art.

RJ:Well, in a way I am looking for this “true story” and am currently doing these mail-interviews where I don’t edit the answers as much as possible. I already sent you some interviews. Any reaction to the last one I sent you?

Reply on 8-9-1995

AB:I am enjoying reading the interviews, and found the current one you sent, arto posto’s to be quite stimulating. I was interested to note her making a distinction between the original mail art network, and the rubber-stamp net being spawned by Rubberstampmadness. I’ve been watching RSM’s development for some time, and note that many of the advertisers are running CONTESTS to get readers to send in artworks, with PRIZES offered for the best work! This is NOT in the mail art tradition, nor is all the “how-to/techniques” articles that are run in RSM. What I see happening there, is the gentrification of mail art, ie. the “taming of the shrew.”

Since RSM is basically a commercial magazine, with enormous amounts of advertising which represents a lot of money changing hands over the purchase of rubber stamps, supplies, papers, etc. all related to THE CRAFT of rubber-stamping, naturally, the results are more predictable. The focus in this rubber-stamp movement – moving into main stream America – is decorative, rather than revolutionary. This focus on craft and technique produces “pretty” art-works, but entirely misses the CONTENT with which mail art rubber stamping began; ie. the usurping of an initially business technology (the rubber stamp) for the expression of radical, anti-established, anti-consumerist sentiment.

I find it amusing and ironic that mail art, which while radical and critical in outlook, was always about inclusive; anyone can do it – everyone has something to say, everyone’s work is to be of equal value, etc. etc. etc. , is now being watered down by this great rubber-stamp connection to mail-stream America via RSM. In place of discussion of political, economical, human rights or artistic philosophies, we now find techniques and how-to articles flooding the pages. Criticism of the status quo has definitely taken the back seat, if it has not been left behind all together.

I was also interested in arto posto’s comments about how she hasn’t time to keep up with all the contacts she gets, let alone deal with all the responses she gets from the internet. That’s why I have avoided the internet – I am already overwhelmed by the amount of mail I get, and I can’t imagine trying to keep up with more. I am definitely NOT a mail-art crusader, nor do I approve of persons setting themselves up as mail-art experts, and doing workshops to teach others techniques, passing out mailing lists, etc. There are already too many people exchanging to be able to keep up with it all, without going out and beating the bushes to get more recruits.

The funny thing is, Vittore Baroni, Guy Bleus and other earlier mail artists (myself included) all started out attempting to contact EVERYONE in the network, then after a few years, realized that the more people one contacted, the heavier the burden of reply became. In the beginning, it was great fun to get lots of new contacts, but there seems to come a turning point, when the load gets too heavy, both in terms of one’s time and $$$, when it is no longer possible to respond to everyone who sends you mail…. that response becomes a burden rather than a joy. Myself, Baroni and Bleus have all written on this point, and it appears that Baroni has pretty much dropped out of networking, and I have curtailed my mailings to fewer people, and very few shows, aside from Artistamp News to which individuals must subscribe, or I can’t possibly afford to continue the contact. Bleus appears to be continuing to attempt to be there for everyone, and I wonder how long he will last at it.

RJ : Should the “earlier mail artists” , as you call them, learn the newcomers what mail art is about, or should they find it out for themselves?

Reply on 26-9-1995

AB : I don’t see it as the role of ‘earlier mail artists” to instruct newcomers to the field. This is a free playing field, and one of the joys of it was the lack of rules – except, of course, rules were made up and issued – in some cases, almost as demands. This network is evolving, as it always has, since Johnson’s first mailings, since the FLUXUS artists first mailings. In those days (1960’s and 70’s), it was perpetrated by artists who celebrated their being outside the “real art world.” …but who were none-the-less, big time players in that world. Those initial players were critical of the status quo on many levels; from the tightly focussed elitism of the Art World, to the “american way of life,” (ie. consumption).

FILE magazine in the early 70’s brought a whole other community of artists into contact with each other, and these were the artists who carried the ball after 1974. These were still persons who perceived themselves as artists, but ones who enjoyed their “outsider” status; artists who didn’t get shows in commercial galleries, or anywhere else, and who celebrated their discontent with very dada sorts of artworks. The network became their showplace, and their disaffected attitudes and criticisms of main-stream America were exchanged via the mail; then, more frequently through the late 70’s and 80’s, were exhibited in mail art shows. The one-to-one exchanges were replaced by growing numbers of mail art exhibits and projects to which one could send one’s work, and get one’s name in a catalogue. Witness the show listings in Global Mail, if there is any question about this.

In the past five years or so, a number of practitioners (Michael Jacobs, John Held, Peter Küstermann, for example) seem to have become crusaders, and with an almost religious zeal, go about giving workshops to “get everyone to join in,” rather than simply continuing to explore and enjoy their existing contacts. Providing information about the network seems OK to me – if people “get it,” and want to participate, fine, one has facilitated that connection. However, these workshops in techniques seem self-serving in that, in the guise of “spreading the word,” the motivation behind them is either to get paid the fee for doing the workshop, or to sell products; rubber stamps, supplies and equipment – which is a long way from the original critical stance of those engaged in mail art.

All that said, I must come back to your question and say I don’t believe there are any valid “shoulds,” in mail art. Mail art is an ever-changing, evolving networking practice, and it is futile to attempt to tell anyone how they “should” do it. For me, it is not as interesting to exchange with persons who focus on how-to/techniques, or concern about producing decorative, saleable greeting cards and the like, as with those whose focus is a critique of the society in which we live. However, if people are getting their creative juices flowing doing these things, then BRAVO. Carry on, do it, enjoy it, send it out and let the network evolve! This is still far superior to spending one’s time in front of the tube, and I applaud it.

Maybe this is a good point to end? Unless you have some more provocative questions…. Go Bananas!

RJ : Yes, I think it is a good moment to end this interview. But even after ending the interview, I will keep asking questions now and then….! Thank you for this interview.

 

 

mail-interview with Al Ackerman

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH AL (BLASTER) ACKERMAN

506-243x300

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH AL ACKERMAN.

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Started on 17-6-1996

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 29-7-1996

(Al’s first answer came typed on a paper with a copy of one of Al Ackerman’s famous drawings with the text: “Sigh….My most gifted pupil…. too bad her head is bean shaped” on it).

AA : At the time I started doing mail art I had already tried a lot of other things, with zero-to-little success. As a kid I’d early on become addicted to the old pulp magazines Weird Tales, Trilling Wonder, Planet, Doc Savage, Dime Detective and so forth — and my earliest aspirations had to do with becoming part of this world, which seemed to me to be a nicely hermetic three-ring-circus & pocket universe thing where marvels were still allowed to happen.

I’d developed this pulp-ghetto ideal where, by turning out reams of pulp under various pseudonyms for very low pay, you could live a precarious but romantic existence. That was the idea. But by the time I was actually old enough to begin my hand at it, 1953-54, most of the pulp mags had folded, the whole pulp market collapsed, leaving me and my dream bereft. Along with this I had been having some correspondence with Fredric Brown, the late-great scifi and mystery writer. And one of the things he told me, by way of helpful advice, was, “always try to be lucky enough to work in a despised medium.” I wasn’t quite sure I knew what he meant but I filed it away, at least subconsciously, for future reference.

So — time passed and I drifted into quite a lot of writing for the confession magazines and then did some TV work, had a nightclub & TV act, did some theatre, wrote plays, etc. None of it very satisfactory from my pulp-dream standpoint. Finally, in 1972, I happened to pick up a copy of Rolling Stone, the issue with the Thos. Albright article “Correspondence Art.” I read that and all the names and addresses of these people mailing things, I thought that sounded like it might be right up my alley. I had like this very possitive 100% yes-response. To me, the whole mail art thing seemed like an ideal way to realize my long-cherished pulp dream, that is, to do a lot of fundamentally rapid work and use a lot of different pseudonyms and not make a dime.

So I started right in mailing out these nitwit Gnome Club and Clark Ashton Smith Fellowship Chapter doodads. I got a nice response, people like The Northwest Mounted Valise and Dr. Brute and John Dowd and Image Bank and Irene Dogmatic, and later on Billy Haddock and John M. Bennett, and then Image Bank put me onto Dave “Oz” Zack, etc. And on that basis I got hooked. And now here it is, nearly a quarter of a century later, and I’m still hooked. I also understand what Fred Brown meant when he said “Always try to be lucky enough to work in the despised medium.” I’ve had a very lucky run. In fact, looking back on it all, I have to feel luckier than a moth in a tampon factory.

RJ : It is always good to hear that someone feels he had a ‘lucky run’. At “The Online Blaster – Meanderings of an American Ling Master” the text about you starts as: “A master of pseudonyms and of schizophrenia,….” How far do the pseudonyms influence you?

Reply on 23-8-96

AA : Here again — for me — the use of pseudonyms is something that goes back to my first early fascination with the pulps. In the old days, when a pulp mag used more than one of a writer’s stories at a time, it was common practice to put a different byline on each story — this helped give the reader the illusion he was getting more for his dime. If a writer was at all prolific — and some of those guys, like Kuttner and Woolrich, were singlehandedly writing entire magazines — he very often found himself operating under a half-dozen or more pseudonyms. And somehow this was a convention that held a lot of romantic appeal for my younger self. Probably because of its shady, less-than-honest aspects, the multiple-name dodge became in my mind a sort of cicerone or ideal. Years later when I began doing mail art I carried the idea of using multiple names over into that. The fact that the mail art network had long favored the use of weird and intriguing pseudonyms — Dr. Brute , Anna banana, Rain Rien, Andre “The Scientist” Stitt, Art Tar, etc. — seemed made to order for what I was up to.

I started out mailing under the name of “Blaster Al”– and I was also “Mrs. Blaster” and “Leonie of the Jungle” and Ralph “$50,000 Party” Delgado and the critic Ernst Stroh-Symtra (to get what “Stroh-Symtra” was about, read the name backwards) and Eel Leonard (“The Newark Cannibal” — don’t ask him what he had for supper) and Glans T. Sherman and Jana Peruda and Emergency Room Metcalf. (The last named mail art phantom was also known as “The Bleeder” because he suffered from hemophilia and could bleed to death from the slightest paper cut or prick from a postage stamp) plus quite a few other colorful and bogus handles I’ve mercifully managed to forget.

Along with all of this there were the different club names – Clark Ashton Smith Fellowship Chaper, Scientific Electricity Foundation, various incarnations of Gnome King and/or Kink Club, among others, and, later, when things went really out of hand, the Harry Bates Club scams done in collaboration with Gene Laughter and Lon Spiegelman. It was fun. Eventually the Harry Bates Club doings became so twisted that it would require a whole book (some would say a lengthy court deposition) to detail all that went on, including the postal inspectors being called in to investigate charges of “menace” and the seeming establishement of Pepeland, a top-secret Harry Bates clinic for maimed and crippled pets.

You mention the Ling Master — that name came about because I had promised my pal R. Kern a story for his magazine DUMB FUCKER. That first story was called “Confessions of an American Ling Master.” I did others. Ultimately, Ling and his mystic pillowcase hood with the single eyehole went from being a character in a series of stories to a pseudonymn I adopted as part of a mail art offer (“LING ANSWERS ANY QUESTION FOR $5!”), something I was hoping would generate a little extra income. As it turned out, Ling was one of those creations that become somewhat autonomous, and go on to lead a life of their own, meaning that as time went by, the Ling persona was picked up and adopted by a number of people who started using it for their own agendas. For instance, there was a seriously distubed man in London who went around calling himself “Young Ling” until the police stopped him for questioning and found all sorts of unspeakable floatsam taped to his body. More recently, Steve Sleaze Steele’s Provident Hot Check Productions Ltd. has done a film adaptation of the Ling story “I, the Stallion!” It just goes to show what small nuts the mighty okum runneth down and around all over the place seeking whom it may to deflower.

Of course, I could go on and provide a long song and dance that would freight across some fairly portentious academic-type theoretical blather having to do with the use of multiple names. I could talk about alternative realities and personalities as used for mimetic framing devices to create metafictional constructs ( and vice versa); also the philosophy behind “Plagerism”, “Neoism” , “Carrotism” and “Fletcheritis.” Fortunatly, though, life’s too short. Besides, the truth of the matter isn’t all that hard to glim: in the final analysis using a lot of fake names is a neat thing because it allows you to experience more than one reality, and dick around a lot in the process. I recommend it.

RJ : Sounds like a good advice. You have been doing this mail art now for quite a long time (nearly a quarter of a century as you mentioned it yourself). Probably you have noticed some changes in the mail art network over the years. What changes strike you the most?

Reply on 18-9-1996

AA : Well of course the two most obvious changes that come to mind are 1) the hellish ( and seemingly never-ending) increases in postage, and 2) the sheer growth & proliferation of the mail network itself.

Back in the early ’70s, when I was just starting out, it really was possible to know most of what was going on in the mails, to have at least a fair handle on 80% of the names, the personalities, the shows & scams & projects that were happening. Back then, mail art was very much a world unto itself & not all that populous, either. Plus postage was cheap enough to allow you hit the lists and range pretty widely. It made for an intense — and intensely rapid — situation, in which exchange and dissemination seemed to occur practically in the same breath. Things were very concentrated (hm, I almost wrote “consecrated”.)

Whereas today, it all seems a lot more spread out. More diffuse. More “hobbyist” orientated, perhaps. Or maybe after 20+ years I’m no longer quite so able to react in fresh ways. Joyce said we go through the world meeting Kings & Queens, thieves & baby pigs & incredible glycerin beings on legs that keep trying to dart behind us — meeting all these things but always meeting ourselves. So that may be all that I’m reporting here. I don’t know — as far as today’s teeming mail-edifice goes, it’s perfectly possible that someone super-industrious, like, for instance, my pal Ashley Parker-Owens over at Global Mail can keep up and keep track of the scene, maintain some sort of coherent overview….. I can’t. From my point of view, it’s simply grown too huge. These days there seem to be as many practicing mail artists as Wheaties has flakes. Maybe a good thing, maybe not. Who knows. (I tried asking the 14 Secret Masters of the World about it once, but the best they could tell me was, “Think about the life you would like to lead, and will lead, just as soon as you start selling reefer.”)

Anyway, I still try to enjoy what small corner of it comes my way. Changez les draps, as Decartes says somewhere.

RJ : You mention “the 14 Secret Masters of the World”. Who are they?

(On September 27th I received some copies from Al Ackerman’s book where some texts he wrote explain some details of the things he told about in his answer).

reply on 5-11-1996

(Al’s answer was typed on paper that started with a special cartoon with title: “I often wonder, am I……..mad?” made by Al Ackerman)

AA : I have been thinking about this one all day, and I wonder if I can come anywhere near answering it without sounding like The Bat Staffel.

I think, for our purposes here, it would be best to stick to the immediate accertainable mail-art side of things, which means eschewing the palmier and in some ways more fascinating background of ancient mystic lore and eldritch hoodly-doodly that permeated the 14 Secret Masters like white permeates rice. The surreptitious powder theories of Thomas Dalton. The Egbo Assembly, said to have originated at 13th- century fairs. Various ideas about legominism and critomancy. Borges insisting, quite correctly, that “the secret is sacred but it is always vaguely ridiculous.”The Mordacaii Brotherhood, so weird and drooling. Leviticon and Maat Kheru, the true intonation, the Flying Legion and Charles Williams and Chullunder Ghose and Mrs. Guppy’s famous transit and the eerie Hastraun sect…. Some time I’m going to write a book about the 14 Secret Masters complete with all the esoteric trimmings, but this isn’t it.

To begin with, then, let’s just say that the 14 Secret Masters, in certain ways, was a lot like RayJo’s Buddha University. That is, a handy all-purpose cover-name for a number of mail and mail-related activities, not all of them strictly “real”. In the case of the 14 Secret Masters of the World (to give the thing its full sobriquet; hereafter abbreviated 14SM) the emphasis was on the sort of shadowy secret society that exists somewhere between the dingbat methaphysical realms of the Golden Dawn Society and the more lurid down-cellar activities of Fu-Manchu. The 14SM was meant to seem screwball, but it definitely had its meaningless aspects.

In this respect — and taken purely as a mail-art entity — the 14SM functioned on several levels. Sometimes it simply served to designate my favorite core-circle of mailers… or as a convienient letterhead for whatever correspondence scam happened to be going down at the moment. Sample from ’75: “Dear Richard Nixon — ways of filth stand by you and land smell naz creep figure span down toward how long your finger been exhaustingly pleasing little things in big twin hillocks…. (etc., etc. for three more pages). Signed, 14 Secret Masters of the World.”

At other times, especially as the 14SM action became more elaborate and mazelike, there would be actual meetings. My favorites were the ones held at Dave Zack’s house (“Manderlay”), in Portland, Oregon; this was around ’78-’79, when Istvan Kantor was in town. We did a fair amount of plotting, affecting sinister disguises, etc. Zack, for instance, used to don his Arthur Caws mask. I had the beautiful Edgar Allen Poe Head, big and purple and built entirely out of paper mache. Andre “The Scientist” Stitt would cover himself in garish filth. There would generally be someone dressed in the mystic Ling pillocase hood — lots of colorful and dramatic outfits…. Some have said Istvan Kantor (“Monty Cantsin”) was a bit eccentric. He used to come to the meetings dressed as the Oscar Meyer Wiener, and he may have thought he was that character. Talented guy, though.

In those days, Zack had a crazy man named Jerry Sims living in his basement and Jerry used to rush upstairs, burst in on us and jabber things like “I’m very ashamed of my tiny bone structure! I’m very ashamed of my tiny bone structure!”(For some reason he liked to repeat everything twice.) I remember I used to tell him, “Don’t worry, Jerry — your bones are larger than a chicken’s.” At this, he would look relieved, somewhat, and return back downstairs. Point being: this sort of umplanned manic interruption was as much a part of what the 14SM was about as anything else that might have been going on at those meetings. maybe more so.

The — for me — nice thing about the 14SM was that when I started writing the Ling Stories, in the 80’s, I found I had this whole readymade background to draw on, this meticulously built-up pocket universe I could dip into for purposes of verisimilitude. Very handy. Still, what I remember most fondly are the scams and mailings and meetings of the 70’s , when things were at their peak, it was all…. I wouldn’t say overwrought, but it was definitely stimulating, and there were times when, as the saying goes, we stimulated each other practically to the point of nervous breakdown.

I guess that’s all I’m at liberty to reveal about the 14SM.

RJ : Well, the things you write down now reveal already a part of the 14SM. What ever happened to Dave Zack?

answer on 5-1-1997

AA : Dave Zack, now, that glittering guy. There are times when I think he was the most wayward-tragic-doomed figure I ever met, and other times when I think of him I can’t stop grinning. (Hm, something not quite right about that last sentence, but hopefully you get my drift.)

“It doesn’t make it if my postman doesn’t get it,” Zack would mutter, shuffling toward the mailbox, his arms overflowing with envelopes, each day’s astonishing, and astonishingly arted, output.

“This is this,” and as he moved, things would drop from his beard and shaggy jacket: cookies crumbs, flakes of gold glitter, twigs and old leaves. When it came to grooming he was a sort of latter-day Swamp Thing.

There are mail artists, quite a few, maybe the majority, who manage to practice their art and in the same `breath are able to coexist peacefully and even succesfully with the workaday world: they pay their bills and hold down jobs and have families, and never go to jail, and this and that. Not so Zack. Zack was a law unto himself. He was what the scifi people mean when they use the term “mad genius”, and what Aesop had in mind when he penned that cautionary fable about the grasshopper who got punished terribly for dicking around on his fiddle when winter was fast approaching. Zack was brilliant, madding and great. Difficult, visionary and cracked. I would go over to his house in the late- 70’s , in Portland, and find him busy as a bee collaging phone and utility bills. As I later explained it in an article, “In those days Zack knew he would never be able to pay all the bills that came to the house, so rather than show any favoritism or partiality he made it a practice to pay none of them, equally. Rather, he would take the various gas and water and electric bills (also the subpoenas and summonses — never any lack of those) and construct these beautiful 10-foot-high assemblages, which he would then title ‘Tall Carefree Clown #27,’ ‘Tall Carefree Clown #28,’ whatever number it happened to be in the sequence, and these he usually sent out and about as part of his mail art. It was a quite amazing continuous year-round project….” Or I’d go over and find him busy petitioning officials at the state capitol, pestering them with his different nutty fundings proposals. Or he’d be playing his cello upsidedown. Or he’d be writing something for the art mags.

At the same time he gave the imprimatur to mail art by being one of the first to write about it at length for a major slick-paper journal (Art in America), he was finding time to come over and live for long stretches in my pantry, and in my dreams I can often still hear him in there, munching, munching. (Like Wimpy in the Popeye strip, Zack’s motto was always, “I would like to invite you for a duck dinner — you bring the duck!”)

In collaboration with Istvan Kantor, he helped dream up the “Monty Cantsin” name and concept, and what later became Neoism. He was certainly one of the all-time world-class letter writers, right up there with Henry Miller and Fanny Burney. At some point I gave him the nickname Dave “Oz” — Oz obviously being the only locale that could comfortably accomodate him, Baum’s magic fantasy kingdom where even the animals can talk. By and large we had a lot of laughs and he seldom failed to make me want to chew the rug and pull my hair out.

In the late -70’s, true to his history of hairbreadth escapes, Zack gave his Portland, Oregon, creditors the slip by moving to Canada. There he operated a sort of quasi-legal rooming house for drunkard Newfies. A few years later, he left Canada one jump ahead of the mounties and used the money I grudgingly loaned him to lam down to Mexico. Ultimately it didn’t make a hell of a lot of difference to the Mexican authorities that, in Zack, they had one of the world’s top idea-man and practitioners of mail art. The authorities were more interested in the fact that for two or three years he’d been cashing his dead parents’ Social Security checks, which was the routine he’d worked out to support his mail art activities. They tossed him in the jug (I tend to lie awake thinking of this by the hour because if things had happened a little differently I could have gone the same route myself). In ’91, after three or four years of who-knows-what-hell , they finally let him out, probably afraid he was going to die on the premises — by then, Zack who had a lifetime history of diabetes was gravely ill, with (among other things) gangrene of the foot. Somehow he made his way to San Antonio, Texas, and all praise to Patty Blaster who took him in and did what she could for him until what little health he had left failed him.

Last I heard he was in a country rest home or some damn place, stroked out, largely unresponsive. not long ago — last week, in fact — I had an E-mail from one of his former girl friends, Judith Conaway, who’d done a lot to help him over the years, saying she’d heard that he’d died in the latter part of ’95. Maybe so. On the other hand, such was my old pal’s cantankerousness, his boundless power for aggravation that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pop up again. The way I picture this, I’ll be transporting a heavy piano across a rope bridge in Africa and halfway across the chasm I’ll meet a figure in a gorilla suit who’ll proceed to jump up and down and mess things up outrageously. That’ll be Zack.

RJ : Are you crazy enough to be transporting a heavy piano across a rope bridge in Africa, or do you lead a quite normal life nowdays?

answer on 18-3-1997

AA : I don’t know if you’d call it “quite normal” but nowdays my life is definitely quieter. Partly , this is due to natural attrition, the slowing-down process that comes with getting older and no longer being able to sit up all night drinking and bullshitting. These days I find that my nightclubbing activities are likely to add up to no more than two or three nights a week. I am no longer such a rumba addict as I once was. I haven’t gone on the wagon but it must be at least four years since I drank enough to fall down in public. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I sunk all my money in a get-rich-quick uranium deal, or even bet on a horse. No more harebrained coast-to-coast bus flights with $ 3,50 in my pocket.

Aside from getting up on stage and performing on the last Tuesday of each month at Rupert Wondolowski’s Shattered Wig Night, downtown, which I love and which pretty well satisfies my hunger for making a spectacle of myself in front of an audience, I feel happy staying out of the spotlight unless there’s a good deal of money being offered. Fortunately, the people who are likely to offer me this kind of money are not, on the whole, the sort of people I feel comfortable or even safe being around, not the sort I’d want to be trapped in an elevator with, as we used to say in the hospital business. So finding myself tempted into strenuous flamboyant displays is seldom a problem. Living a more sensible life, I often think of myself as a little old character who has survived his own bad habits to become rather monkish and retiring, almost flowerlike.

As I say, getting older accounts to some extent for this new-found mellowness. But partly (and maybe largely) it also has to do with finding myself in this very lucky position, where for the first time in my life I’m able to sit down and devote 6-12 hours a day to just writing. Thanks to the fortunate situation I fell into six years ago when I landed here in Baltimore, I now have considerable stress-free time available, something I never had before, and I am able to put in as many hours at the typewriter working on poems and stories as I want to. That’s where you’ll find me at all-hours — hunched far over the keys, smoking and sipping, my ears ringing. At such times the true bright nitwit light of the fanatic will come into my eyes, I’m told. And once the day’s writing gets done, there’s generally enough time and energy left over to persue my mail art activities. At this moment I have a new book out from Shattered Wig Press that I’m definitely happy with in the sense that I was able to go all out on it and not have to stop for anything; I am well along with a new batch of Eel Leonard poems, and this week, in a burst, I finished two other short magazine pieces and am also about to start mailing out my letest “14 Secret Master Reports on Cloning”. This last, which ia a mail thing, will give me a chance to do up some strange envelopes showing off the new postage stamp series that I and my charming mail pal DKA recently collaborated on. (Which seems as good a place as any to give credit where it belongs, and say that if I still devote a part of each day to mail art it’s largely because of terrefic mailers like DKA. Terrific mailers like Rudi Rubberoid with his inimitable handmade envelopes and gnomic, nearly indecipherable handwriting. Terrific mailers like Suzy Crowbar and Sleaze Stele, who has raised head-infestation to an art, and John M. Bennett and Gerald “Flash” Burns and Jack the Raver Saunders. Aces all, whose work keeps on coming and keeping me interested.). Anyway, when it comes to the stuff I was able to churn out this month, my aformentioned writing and mail output, I’m happy to report that it was mostly accomplished without too much undue strain or looniness, as distinguished from ten years ago when my life was so crazy complicated that this sort of output (coupled with the scuffling I was having to do just to stay afloat financially) would have wrecked me, physically and mentally — and often did. To say nothing of what I put my family through. I don’t kid myself that there aren’t things about the old hectic life I miss, but as I come creeping up on the Big Sixty, I have to feel very lucky that I’ve lived to make the adjustements which have allowed me to remain fairly productive and not vagged or institutionalized as yet. So far so good.

RJ : You say “……… that there aren’t things about the old hectic life I miss”. You can guess that I am curious to know which things these are, or are they too obvious to tell about?

next answer on 2-5-1997

AA : I wonder. That is, I’m not sure I can succesfully convey all that I mean about missing — I might as well put “missing” in quotes — certain things from a time in my life that, in retrospect, now seems hectic to the point of being chimeratic, if not actually deranged. I look back on those days and I have to wonder how I survived them. In a general sense, the period from 1972 to 1990 during which I was living the mail art life on a full-time basis was not unlike having a job where every day you’re required to go down in this pit, and for 10-12 hours, sometimes longer, you have to try to control seven maniacs with just a chair. Along with the maniacs, there are flames down in the pit — and rats and snakes, etc. And every 10 hours or so you get to take a lunch break, which consists of preparing a bat over the leaping open blue flames: a bat sandwich. That’s the job. You also have creditors and bill collectors trying to get in at you all the time, and relatives and neighbors who think you maybe ought to be put away. It may seem like I’m being exessively metaphoric here, or morbidly fanciful, but consider: on a typical day when I was at my peak and the mail art “life” was running high — let’s say, for instance, on 5-7-83, in San Antonio, Texas, a Thursday morning, I can remember getting Stephanie, my wonderful daughter, off to school and then setting down in the kitchen to work on six or seven seperate pieces of mail art. (For years, I’ve worked at the kitchen table, partly because I’ve never been able to function in a formal office or studio space, and partly because the kitchen table puts me in closer touch with the cold beers that function for me in lieu of breakfast.) As generally happens on such mornings, I’m having a lot of untoward thoughts, doing a lot of writing in my head, thinking about Pego Von Berndt’s proposal that the name “Mail Art” be changed to “Spanish Art,” thinking about the neighborhood bruja (witch) who’s sworn to get me ( a long & complicated story having to do with her mistaken belief that I stole her blouse) etc. On this particular day, I’m also remembering that I have to go over to the stamp place on San Pedro Avenue and pick up my latest rubber stamp. The stamp says “SURFACE FREE LITERATURE FOR THE BLIND” and I’m wondering how that’s going to work out, whether it’s going to help me realize my dream of significant postal savings or mean more trouble from the inspectors. (Too. there’s also the chance that today’s the day Dave Zack will pick to arrive from Mexico, he’s been threatening all month to pay us a visit) but for the moment I’m in the middle of making these envelopes, when I detect the unwelcome sound of footsteps coming up the wooden staircase and onto the back porch. I know those footsteps. They belong to the landlord, who’s intent on collecting his measly $ 200 – 300 in unpaid rent and always picks the early morning hours to come nosing around, a fanatic, fanatic character. Well, I’ve changed all the locks, so that part’s O.K.; he can’t get in. But I’ve forgotten to pull the curtain, so he can see in, and to prevent him spotting me (this morning, for some reason, I’m wrapped in my wife’s dressing gown) I have to get down on all fours and, with a partially completed envelope to Lon Spiegelman (or Pat Tavenner or R. Kern or John Evans or the Mambo 6-Fingers Club — whomever) clutched in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other, crawl rapidly into the bathroom. Where I find Sleaze Steele, our current house guest, kneeling on the tiles and talking to Ed on the Big White Phone. Sleaze has been with us two months now. He has serious nerve and gastric problems, no question about it. He should probably try laying off the wine coolers and cough syrup. In the meantime, having to share the bathroom with him while he’s pouring out his esophogeal wealth and I’m waiting for the landlord to give up and go away, is not exactly my idea of a great morning situation but what you gonna do, Ruud? Through it all, between spasms, Sleaze is rambling feverishly in his mind, saying things like, “The car wash in Spokane failed, and Vi and I set out to see if we could build a life together”, “I have never been at ease knowing there’s a jealous husband in the picture” , “Vi wasn’t much of a talker, so I never really had a chance to find out how much Walter knew, or if he’d hired detectives to follow us, or whether he might be back there somewhere on the road himself grimly dogging our trail in his ancient black Buick”, “I knew the pain the jealous outraged husband in my grandmother’s life had caused my father” , “My brother and I were silent witnesses of it all, the whole neighborhood in on the secret from the beginning when my grandmother grew too passionate about being on top, the unexplained giant rodent, etc.”

By then, it’s nearly 9:30 a.m. and my mail art is just beginning. So to think of doing this willingly — even happily — seems hard to believe, but that’s how it was, back when I was younger and had the energy. I think that’s probably what I mean when I talk about missing certain things.

I mean that I miss the energy I had back then, the energy that allowed me to get through it all and arrive at this quieter, more balanced state where I’m enjoying, as Philip Whalen would say, “Relaxation to write while hearing / Half-misunderstood foreign language in Grant Street.”

RJ : I re-typed your answer today (May 30th 1997), just after coming from the dentist, and because I passed the Postoffice, collected my mail also. Not much mail today so I am able to deal with delayed mail. Mail art is fully integrated in my life, and probably it is the same with you (especially when I hear the details of that specific day in 1983). The question that arrises now might be a stupid one, but who cares. Are you able, nowadays, to pay your rent? Or do postagestamps still get priority?

next answer on 19-6-1997

(Al Ackerman’s answer came in a envelope with a drawing on it stating ‘you are the ENTITY’ – ‘MUY PICANTE’ , where a typical Al’s Adam & Eve are witnessed by a snake in the tree….. In the envelope also a newspaper-article with photo of Al, where Peter Werbe writes — among others — about Al’s forthcoming reading out of his book ‘The Blaster Al Ackerman Omnibus’ at the Detroit’s Trumbull Theatre)

AA : As Ed Higgins might say, Blood Red Sun. And honeycomb in the shape of the body from my sleeping on sofas, its expanse streched in mid-air, nearly weightless, yet already bending a little from its own mattedness. Looking down at this, all this hair and stuff on my comb, made me think of how it would be to restage the Trial of Socrates with just crickets.

Or maybe you were 2 years old and you had a friend, name of Vennie Lice, with a brother got some Lady-Fingers still had the bandage on his right arm from slamming some clam….never mind….besides us sails a mighty armanda of rears, crapping the planet on its upper third….HELP ME OUT HERE, RHONDA!

Ah, I love those Higgins Answers.

Actually, making the rent is always a struggle, always a victory (these days, Ann and I split it on a real hovel) and if I was still spending as much on postage as I was spending back in ’72-’91, it wouldn’t even be close. Nowadays, though, postage only runs me $5-10 per week, a savings of about $60-70. I thought I might go in the hole, last month, when I traveled to Detroit to appear at the Trumball Theater but even though I had a slight psychotic episode on stage (very weird, I suddenly found the spirit of Dwight Eisenhower manifesting itself in my voice and gestures, and ran around trying to light various small fires) the theater management was kind enough to pay me, plus I sold some books, so I wound up doing O.K. on travel expenses and was able to pay my half of this month’s rent, i.e. , $160, when I got back to Baltimore. The old story of “Horrible rent / beautiful art , and vice versa” (I just hope Bierce was right about this.) Hi Vennie.

(Perhaps it’s snowing?)

RJ : Reading or talking in front of a public is quite different from writing letters or texts which are sent in the mail to others. Do you like to ‘perform’ in front of a public, or do you prefer the intimicy of the envelope (when there is a choice…)?

next answer on 28-7-1997

AA : The best answer I can come up with runs like this: if you crossed a horse with a spider you’d have an awfull odd-looking thing but at the same time it would be something that when it bit you you could maybe climb on and ride it to the hospital. That’s sort of how I tend to view (and do) mail art and performance stuff. There’s a lot of overlap. It’s not always easy to keep the two activities separate. For example — a few months ago, I wrote something called “Palookaville” which I sent out as a mail art piece. It’s a rather delecate “mood” piece that begins, “The one-way ticket to Palookaville expressing sexual prejudices in witch hunting has been fortunate in that the prossessed and their investigators usually couldn’t concentrate. But the true success story has been my leaving the marine Corps to investitate the initial charges from a possessed fifteen-year-old girl –” and goes on poignantly in this vein for a page or so, and ends with the words, “Awoke instantly for my mind crossed a rabbit and a fox to produce a thing addicted to bad public relations to the air force.”

Anyway, once I’d mailed it out I had no further plans for it. So, and this is what often happens, I more or less forgot about it. Time passed. Then, several months later when I was in Detroit doing a show and I needed something to read on stage — something brief that would serve as a bridge between two longer pieces — I remembered “Palookaville” and dug it out and read it, and as an extra added gimmick I read it with a half-empty cigarette pack stuffed in my mouth. When you read something and you have a cigarette pack jammed between your teeth it can impart a whole new dimension, can make the piece seem even stranger than it was originally, which, in the case of “Palookaville” , seemed to be what was needed and, sure enough, I had the impression that the thing worked better in performance than it had on the printed page. So that’s one way — using a piece of mail to generate a performance or reading.

The other way is like what I do once a month at the Shattered Wig Nights here in Baltimore. I should probably explain that Shattered Wig is, first of all, a really terrific magazine — The Shattered Wig review — edited by poet and bon vivant Rupert Wondolowski. It’s like one of the very few magazines I take seriously. Fortunately it’s been around for a number of years. And over the years there has grown out of this publishing venture a tradition of Shattered Wig Nights, monthly blow-outs that happen at a club downtown, involving poetry, music, performance and what-have-you. (I say “what-have-you” because some of the acts can get pretty weird and it’s not always easy to tell. I’m thinking here of things like The Montana Joe Project, which involves eroticism with Sesame Street dolls — and T. “Justice” Duggan, whose thing is to dress as a Supreme Court Judge and punish people — anybody who’s foolish enough to get up there with her on stage can have their skin flayed with a whip.) So anyway, while I’m nowhere in the same league as these people, I do get up once a month at these evenings and do readings and sometimes I’ll push it over into the realm of actual live performance and do things like, well one night I had ten people up on stage with me. They were tied — they were roped around me in a circle — with surgical tape. And they’d each been given the task to perform — : “Crush a bag of patato chips under each arm and go, ‘Urg! I’m a party animal!” , “Pretend to knit a straitjacket for Saul Bellow and meanwhile discover turfy things in your hair while squatting and brooding.” So I had these ten different activities that were taking place around me while I proceeded to stand up and read this long poem whose text featured the word “muff” over 150 times. It was quite a spectacle. It took me about 45 minutes to read the “muff” epic and meanwhile the helpers around me were carrying out their various repetative actvities and, towards the end, everybody was becoming frankly exhausted — moaning, falling down, etc.. — so that the stage took on the appearance of The Raft Medusae, that old disaster-at-sea painting where the survivors are writhing in agony on a raft. But the point is, I wrote the “muff” piece especially for this particular Shattered Wig Night. In fact, I was working on it right up until time to go on, practically. It wasn’t till later I xeroxed it for mailing, turned it into a mail art thing, cut it up and pasted it on envelopes and so forth. Made postcards. That’s how it works for me.

Sometimes the performing swings the mail and sometimes the mail swings the performing. I don’t really have a preference — how could I? It’s more like falling down the stairs than any pre-conceived programatic thing and I’m just taking it as it comes. I’m usually surprised and I’m always the last to know — but, I don’t know, Ruud, does that answer what you were asking? I’m not sure I haven’t gone off on a tangent and missed the point entirely. I have the feeling it may be like the old riddle: “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” Ed Dorn, the poet, has a nice answer to that one, where he says, “The question is not, which came first / the chicken or the egg / the question is which came first / journalism or tabacco.” Hell if I know.

RJ: If you missed the point entirely or not isn’t interesting at all. Your answer shows clearly how you work, and I am very much interested in that. Just wondered, do the people who see those performances understand anything of the concept of mail art. Do they participate in the network, or is that part unknown to them?

next answer on 8-9-1997

AA : It varies. I’ve done readings, especially here in Baltimore, where at least half the audience either had done mail art themselves or knew what it was. So they were certainly aware of the connections. Although I don’t know how much difference it made in the long run, as far as my performance went, because, I mean, you can get up in front of a crowd that’s primed to bursting with mail art insights and you can still give a bum reading. Again, I’ve done readings — at high schools, say, or in front of straight poetry groups — where nobody had a clue, the ‘term’ mail art was something they’d never run into before, just a cypher.

In such cases, there are two ways you can go about it. You can either throw out some prefatory remarks, try to explain what mail art is and how it ties in to what you’re about to read — or — you let it go and just read. I’ve handled it both ways. I must say that, times when I’ve tried to explain, I didn’t really feel I was making much headway. Trying to briefly explain the concept of mail art to a roomful of people who’ve never even remotely encountered the term before, is about like trying to explain the concept of model railroading to a Martian. Once, I got up and said: “Mail Art is a sphere whose circumference is infinite and whose center is everywhere” — and everybody in the audience just looked at me. Nowdays I mostly eschrew the explenations. It saves a lot of wear and tear. Nowdays, I’m likely to begin very softly, I’ll have my head sort of lolling to one side — and speaking in this very affected, very fruity-sounding voice, I’ll start by saying something like, “Hello there, poetry povers. I’m Blaster Al Ackerman and I’m not wearing any socks but my ankies are painted with Indian ink. Here’s one called ‘Yellow Wallpaper Song’ that’s a favoriteof mine and — I hope — of yours?” Then I’ll jam a cigarette pack between my teeth and yell:

YELLOW WALLPAPER SONG

I’m goin’ down Georgia
I’m goin’ down Georgia
pelow on my mind
I’m goin’back stay

I’m goin’ back this time
today — really goin’

I see my tie, childish
from gin I guess I’m
freezin’ my palm when

them ripplin’ eyeballs
insistent up the wall
from full intent to
wed my penis to some

wealthy invalid. Oh my veins are blue
tongue bulgin’
out like
magma–

sing
this song
wherever they make you
wait in line

–Eel Leonard

RJ : Because you have been so long working with this mail art, you must have received tons of materials. Have you kept it all , thrown it away, or to be short: how does your “archive” look like?

next answer on 15-1-1998

AA : You reminded me of how long I’ve been putting off shoveling up the mess in here. Things are getting way out of hand in my “archives”.

Actually , where my methods are concerned. the term “archives” is something of a misnomer — venture to say a joke. Just as a hen mysteriously lacks lips — and a snake a navel — I have always mysteriously lacked the power or ability or whatever it takes to keep an “archive” going. I seem to be incapable of maintaining any sort of systemized filing system. Rather, over the years I’ve learned to deal as best I could with greater or lesser “accumulations”. Mail in boxes, mail on the floor, mail stacked out in the garage, etc.

“Piles” might be not a bad way to describe it, except for certain spurious medical connotations. For years I used to let things pile up, the glut and overflow relieved only by what I was glomming up on the walls or recycling back into the mail network. From time to time I would make desperate gifts to this or that museum — the Krazy Kat Archives at St. Andrews (Scotland) got a lot of the early stuff, and later on the Smithsonian took some of it off my hands.

Once, when the walls of my kitchen, in San Antonio, had reached such a state of overload that the layers of mail were threatening to drag down the plaster, I removed everything, peeling it off laborously into a sort of continuous gigantic scroll and, with John M. Bennett acting as go-between, donated it all to Washington University. This vast and lumpy artefact known as “The Ackerman Kitchen Collection”, which I packed in a large crate for shipping, comprised five years of nonstop mail art accumulation — postcards , letters , collages , paintings , manifestos , you name it. Quite a treasure.

Unfortunately, a multitude of roaches had started nesting behind it on the walls and when the art came down and went into the crate a good many “roach hotels” went along for the ride. I never did find out how the people at Washington University reacted to what must have certainly been a lively uncrating scene.

Bequests to museums and universities, frantic recycling measures — no matter what I tried, I could never keep ahead of the build-up. I wasn’t the only one. Nunzio Mifune, another top mailer, was also having problems with overflow. I visited him once at his home and found him staring glassy-eyed at the piles. I asked him if he had any ideas but all he said was, “You may have heard the one about the after-dinner speaker who knew a good story about a gun and wanted to tell it, but couldn’t think of any graceful way of introducing it into the speech he was making. Desperate at last, he cried, ‘Bang! Was that a gun I heard?’ and went on happily to unleash his gag……”

At this point I realized poor Nunzio had gone clean off his rocker. He had become hebeprhrenic — just another tragic victim of mail-art buil-up. My living situations have always been on the precarious side, with lots of relocations and moonlight flits. Nevertheless, between ’72 and ’89 I managed to haul a dozen or so jumbo boxes of mail along with me wherever I went, including two hellish cross-country moves that left me shaky as a kootch-dancer.

Seventeen years of this. What to do? Finally , in 1990, a year of unpredictable weather and heavy rains, the matter was teken out of my hands when a flash flood in San Antonio, Texas, wiped out most of my collection. I think it would be a bit inaccurate to say that just because I was suddenly relieved of carting around hndreds of punds of mail art the loss came as nothing but a relief. A lot of what I lost was irreplaceble and to this day I still miss it. On the other hand, there are days — especially moving days — when I can’t stop grinning.

Anyway , my decision after the flood of ’90 was to save no more than I could comfortably carry. I’ve found this to be a challenge but by recycling most of what comes in I’ve managed to stay in the clear. As it is I still manage to go on accumulating a hell of a lot of stuff. Even though the clutter and overflow is nothing like it was in the old days, my mail space here at the bookstore is far from tidy. I keep looking around at the piles, which have a way of accumulate glacially, and telling myself that tomorrow, for sure, I’m going to give things a good sorting and cleaning. That’s what I keep telling myself.

Well, we live in hope, and when the time eeeeaaaaGGGGHHH!

Excuse me – something just came out of one of the piles and bit me.

RJ : I hope you are O.K. Blaster , this mail art can be dangerous sometimes. I guess it is time now to end the interview so I won’t be feeding your mail piles anymore. On the other hand, when I publish the interview it might cause some reactions to your mail box……. Anyway , my last question is always: “Did I forget to ask you something?”. But somehow I know I probably did……

Next answer on 14-5-1998

AA : Yes

RJ : I could have known that…… Thanks for the interview Al Ackerman!

Address mail-artist:

Blaster Al Ackerman
c/o Normal’s Books,
425 – E 31st Street,
Baltimore – MD 21218, USA

Address interviewer:

Ruud Janssen – TAM
P.O. Box 1055
4801 BB Breda
Netherlands
e-mail : r.janssen@iuoma.org

mail-interview with Andrej Tisma – Yugoslavia

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH ANDREJ TISMA 38

Andrej Tisma Yugoslavia

Started on: 15-5-1995

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: 16-6-1995

AT : I made my first mail-art work in 1973 after a visit to one of the pioneers of Yugoslavian mail-art, Bogdanka Poznanovic from Novi Sad. I mailed to her two bus tickets I used going to her and returning home, fixed on a postcard. I wrote beneath them: “My visit to the DT 20 Studio in the formulation of GSP (City Transportation Enterprise)”. I think that in that moment I wasn’t aware of the mail-art movement.

Later on that year, before I left for Prague, Czechoslovakia, to study painting, she launched an international mail-art project under the title “Feedback Letter-Box” and she invited me to send in something. The project was about letter-boxes; she sent out photos of her letter-box to 45 people, expecting them to send in their’s. The project was open one year, and I sent my contribution in summer of 1974 (a photograph of the building and the window where I was receiving mail in my students’ home, and the lady in white coat who was distributing letters). Later, when I returned to Novi Sad for vacation I saw the exhibition which was held in Poznanovic’s DT 20 Studio. Participants were, among others, Joseph Beuys, Ken Friedman, Klaus Groh, Jochen Gerz, Janos Urban, Michele Perfetti, J.H. Kocman, Clemente Padin, Sarenco, Natalia LL, and from Yugoslavia Miroljub Todorovic and Balint Szombathy. I was listed under Czechoslovakia.

During my stay in Prague I continued sending mail-art, but only to few friends in Yugoslavia, because I was long away from home (for the first time in my life), so mail-art functioned in my case as continuation of creative contact with dear fellow artists which was interrupted by my leaving for Prague for several years. It was a natural need to stay in touch with some artists, surmounting the great distance between us. Soon after arriving to Prague I bought a rubber-stamp letter print for children, using it to print some words on envelopes and letters. It was some kind of visual poetry and concept art, sent by mail.
Since I studied painting and painting was my main art expression in that time, I used mail-art just sporadically. I also took part in some international mail-art shows in 1979: “Feedback Letter-Box”, Zagreb (then Yugoslavia), “Numbers”, Allesandria (Italy), “International Mail-Art Fair”, Paris (France). Also in the year 1979 I got in touch with Franci Zagoricnik (from Kranj, former Yugoslavia) and Westeast group, which was based on mail-art communication, publishing the “Westeast” anthologies of visual poetry, using the “Assembling” method of compilation of 300 original works, also making exhibitions. Every anthology had its theme, and I took part in many of them. Through that I got in touch with many mail-art works, but the problem was that Zagoricnik jealously kept the addresses as top secret so I couldn’t communicate with all those people. I could just watch their works and slowly get into the international mail-art spirit.

My real involvement in the network happened in 1983 when I met Dobrica Kamperelic, mail-artist from Belgrade (Yugoslavia). Even though we had correspondence for years, we met for the first time by chance in a Novi Sad bookshop. He gave me immediately a bunch of invitations for mail-art projects in Brazil, USA, Europe, also some personal addresses, and soon after I eagerly plunged into that challenging, unexplored field called mail-art network. Since then Kamperelic and I stayed closest collaborators and friends.

Soon I began receiving catalogs, info-zines from all over the world and the list of my correspondents was growing each day. The same year I launched my own mail-art project “Mail – Art Olympic Games” , which was organized in conjunction with the XIVth Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo. In two months I received works by 120 artists from 20 countries, so I began to feel as a real part of the Eternal Network.

RJ : Participating in projects is something else than doing your own project. What did you learn from this first project that you did yourself?

Reply on 1-8-1995 (registered mail)

AT : Yes, it is different. When I began participating in others’ projects, or I did mail-art communication on one-to-one basis it was a feeling of great excitement because you send your artwork to somebody unknown, or for some exhibition, for the unknown visitor. There is also a great expectation of some personal reply, or reaction that your work provokes in some spectator’s mind, or in mind of a particular and much respected person to whom the work was dedicated. Such reply gives the mail-artist a special stimulus and encouragement for further work. And that is the most important aspect of that kind of communication. Of course important is also exchange of information, also of friendship and kindness. Another important characteristic is that you are choosing your correspondents, even if you are sending out mail massively. Substantially it is GIVING.
A different thing is starting your own mail-art project. The best comparison is with fishing: you throw the fishhook, or even a fishnet, and you wait for what is going to happen. If you are lucky, and if your “bait” is good enough you will catch plenty of “fishes.” But in that plenty they will not be all of good quality, and in mail-art there is no throwing back “fishes” into the water. They all must be kept and “eaten.” And that sometimes causes little problems. In other words, doing your own project you can’t choose your correspondents, except if your invitations are strictly personal. But the charm of doing your own project is just the uncertainty and great expectation. The same as in fishing. Substantially it is TAKING.

But on the other hand, organizing of a mail-art project requires a great degree of responsibility, unlike the participation, when you are not obliged about nothing. When you organize a project, an exhibition, first you have to collect and keep the arrived works carefully, notify them, make the address list, find the exhibition space, produce a catalog or any documentation (time and money problem), and send the documentation to all participants. You become not just artist, but also a gallerist, writer, publisher and administrator. But I always did that as a kind of a little sacrifice for the international network, glad that I can give my small contribution to the collaboration, establishing new and creative contacts within it. I see every such international project and his organizer as a knot in the net, which keeps the whole together. In that sense, organizing of a show is also GIVING (REPAY).

Another problem with the one’s own project is that you suddenly begin to receive a huge amount of mail, without a physical possibility to reply to it (a printed catalog after the show is not a real mail-art reply to an artwork). It can also give you a (wrong) impression that you are so important personality in the net because you get ten to fifteen pieces daily from all over the world. That feeling is very pleasant, but when the project is over your mailbox becomes sadly empty. That’s the reason, I suppose, why some people in the network are running new projects one after the other. But it is not real creativity.

My first mail-art project, “Mail-Art Olympic Games” in February 1984, was realized in cooperation with the Novi Sad Television Program “Sunday Afternoon.” Actually the exhibition was first shown on the television (installed in the studio), and after that it was installed in the “Forma” gallery in Novi Sad. That was maybe the first television mail-art show in the history, and it was broadcasted in the whole country, the former Yugoslavia, during the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, so people from different countries, participants and visitors to the Olympics could watch it too, and the show has had millions of “visitors.” In the show there were 120 participants from 20 countries after the deadline of only two months. It was a great experience for me. The next year I installed the show in Sarajevo, and that was the first mail-art show ever in that town. After that, in 1986 the show was hosted by Chuck Stake’s CCAG in Calgary, Canada. So my first mail-art project gave me plenty of pleasure and excitement.
RJ : Another large project you did was “Nature gives….”. What was the concept of this project?

Reply on 6-10-1995

AT : When you mentioned the word project it reminded me that in fact every artist’s project is also a kind of his own artwork. So it can be taken also as self expression. Because the artist is one who chooses the theme of his own project, and he usually chooses the words or sentences that effect him/her the most. So the organizing of your own project is not only taking from the Network, but also playing with it, expressing yourself through others. I found somewhere a very good definition of today’s artist, for whom other artists are the media of expression.

I would also like to use this opportunity to mention three of my earlier mail art projects I did in 1979 and 1980 but unlike “Mail-Art Olympic Games” I didn’t get any response to them. The project “My Home” from 1979 consisted of sending to a number of artists a groundplan of my apartment, and a short description of circumstances of my living. It was my try to establish contacts with artists, but not based on art exchange, but on life exchange.

Another project, done in 1980, consisted of colorful postcards with flowers, and on the other side was my rubber stamp imprint saying: “How Are You.” The addresses, which I had chosen at random from the phone-book were printed with a typewriter, and there was no trace of sender. My aim was to surprise those unknown people, to make them reflect about how they are, are they satisfied with their life? They couldn’t reply to me because I didn’t give my name and address.

The third of my earlier projects (1980) was “Collective Infinite Work.” I sent out an empty square and asked from the receiver to draw a line on it, and send it further on. Every artist was asked to draw only one line, until the drawing is completed, in the last one’s opinion. The last one should send the completed work with a list of participants to me. It seems that this work will really be “infinite.”
Now the “Nature Gives….” project which was your question. You are right, it was a large, in fact my largest project, with 375 participants from 30 countries, with 1,000 works sent in, and a full color 200 pages book as a documentation, sent to all participants. This project came after my also huge “Private Life” project (320 participants) which was shown in fourteen Yugoslavian galleries, so I was exhausted and decided not to organize any new mail art project in at least one year. But then I got a phone call from a cosmetics factory in Osijek, Croatia. They asked me to organize a mail art project in connection with nature and beauty and they will sponsor it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised that someone so far away heard about me and my mail art activity, and wants to invest money in it. So, what could I do, I accepted it, with few conditions: that a large full color book will be printed at the end,and that they will mail the invitations. They agreed, so we launched the “Nature Gives….” in 1988, and it lasted one year. My aim was to make an homage to nature and make artists and viewers all over the world to read and watch again and again the word “Nature” and become more aware of it. It occurred that, taken on the average, every day of that year one artist was sending in works.

When I collected the works in autumn 1989 I went to Osijek, showed them to the sponsor and they were excited. We made agreement that I prepare texts for the book, chose works for reproduction, find the printing-house, and they will pay everything. I engaged a professor from London, Pierre Rouve, art historian (he wrote the screen-play for Antonioni’s film “Blow Up”) whom I met in Novi Sad, to write an essay on mail art as foreword. Also I asked a young ecologist from Novi Sad to write on the catastrophic situation in the world, and I myself wrote an introduction about the project.

But as time was passing the situation in the former Yugoslavia was slowly changing. Croatia prepared its secession and soon my sponsor informed me about “financial problems”. They suggested that I wait, but things were going worse and worse. Soon, in 1991, military clashes in Croatia began, so it became clear to me that I will have to realize the book myself (I had promised it to participants), and find another exhibition space.

So I had to begin everything from zero, searching for sponsors here in Serbia. It took me one year till I collected the money for printing the book (twelve firms participated). Finally in summer 1992 we opened the show in Belgrade’s Cultural Center Gallery. It was a great success and media showed a great interest. It was the time soon after the imposing of the international cultural blockade on our country, so an international exhibition was a great event. The show was later traveling to the cities of Novi Sad, Sombor, Zrenjanin, Sremski, Karlovci, Pristina, Nis,…. all over Serbia during the years of the international cultural blockade.

Once I got an information that cosmetics factory in Osijek was bombed and completely destroyed, because it was used for ammunition storage.

That was a little bit sad story about mixing of art and life, mail art and war, ecology and politics. But I should say that in this case art, Nature and friendship had triumphed. Because in that show, among others, many Croat, Bosnian, Slovenian mail artists participated and the book was sent to all of them, even the war was going on in their republics.

RJ : This international cultural blockade is now lifted for some time. How were the international contacts during the blockade, and how are they now?

Reply on 18-11-1995 (registered mail)

AT : Unfortunately we have to talk about the blockade of Yugoslavia (Serbia-Montenegro), although I would rather talk more about mail art, or Network phenomenon, about art in general, about spirituality, but I hope in this interview we will get back to these issues. The international cultural blockade was imposed on us, so it is logical that the theme of embargo on art is “imposed” to this interview, but it was “imposed” also to the whole Network as a real and crucial problem. So it is worth talking about. The blockade has put the entire networking idea on test, and that was maybe the most important event in the Network (besides the Balkan war) in the last few years. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we the Serbian networkers were here to testify about the embargo’s effects and to try to overcome them, with a help of our friends from abroad.

As you might know the international blockade, which included also sports and cultural embargo, was imposed on Serbia on May 31, 1992 (about the righteousness of that I will not discuss now). The United Nations, or their mentors, decided to exclude Serbia and its people from the cultural exchange. For us networkers, who are working for decades on establishing cultural exchange with all parts of the globe, looking for a planetary culture, that was a great shock. We who contributed so much for years and decades to this humane and cosmopolitan idea, were simply put under blockade without exception. The cultural blockade is inhumane, harmful and inadmissible, but on the first place unnatural in today’s globalized world. And that was the reason we raised our voices in protest against cultural embargo. So the postal communication was not the problem, because mail was going almost regularly, as before the embargo, but that feeling of injustice was my, and my friends’ main motive to act. I took embargo as a symbol of VIOLENCE of the world authorities which endangers our nice and positive idea of an open network, and my task was to fight against it, for the universal reasons, not the selfish ones. Because, as I said, the postal communication didn’t stop, but UN’s decision to put one state, one group of people under cultural blockade made me react. So I left almost all other art activities and dedicated my time and energy to fight the MONSTER.
In the moment the embargo was imposed I made a hand-carved rubber stamp with the inscription “EMBARGO ART”, and I used it on everything I sent out to the network. During these three years of embargo I made more than twenty anti-embargo rubber stamps, did anti-embargo performances, published anti-embargo articles all over the world, organized many anti-embargo exhibitions in collaboration with Aleksandar Jovanovic, publisher of the anti-embargo magazine “Cage” (in Vichte, Belgium, in Dallas, Tokyo, also in Belgrade, Novi Sad). All our anti-embargo activity began in Sremski Karlovci, where I organized the Anti-Embargo Net Congress (September 1-3, 1992) where eight of us Serbian networkers signed the “Deblockade of Creativity” declaration which was distributed into the network. We did so many things since then, that one book could be written on it.

Besides me and Javonovic the anti-embargo group consisted of Dobrica Kamperelic, Miroljub Todorovic (Belgrade), Jaroslav Supek, Nenad Bogdanovic (Odzaci), Ratko Radanovic (Srpski Miletic), Jozef Klacik (Novi Sad), and later Vlado Njaradi (Vrbas), Sandor Gogolyak (Odzaci) and Anica Vucetic (Belgrade) have joined us. But maybe the most important was the support by foreign networkers from about twenty countries, who collaborated with “Cage” magazine, published our protests, exhibited our works, visited us here in Serbia, distributed our stuff, supported us morally in letters and publicly in their countries, made anti-embargo works themselves etc. Among them are John Held Jr. (USA), Peter and Angela Netmail (Germany), Jose van den Broucke (Belgium), Shozo Shimamoto (Japan), Hans Ruedi Fricker (Switserland), Ruud Janssen (Holland), Gyorgy Galantai (Hungary), Crackerjack Kid (USA), Ruggero Maggi (Italy), Clemente Padin (Uruguay), Teresinka Pereira (USA), Livia Cases (Italy) and many others. That brother/sisterhood made us stronger and more decided to fight till the end. In one interview John Held stated: “Yugoslavian networker artists are using their position to signal the condition of their life. They are saying in creative ways that it is wrong to separate people culturally, as well as economically. I’m for an art that is used for a higher purpose than to compliment the colors of a living room couch. Yugoslav networker artists are freedom fighters and are serving as examples to other network artists. They are reminding us of art’s higher purpose. (…) Even though it is more expensive now to mail from Yugoslavia, the artists have kept in touch with other network artists. Their spirits have not been defeated, if anything they seem to have gotten stronger. They have done important things with their anti-embargo art actions. I think perhaps this has made their art even more relevant. Certainly it has given them increased respect throughout the world. (…) With their experiences under cultural embargo, and their creative response to it, they have placed themselves at the very center of network attention”.

During all these years of blockade the real problem in communication within the network was our difficult economic situation and foreign anti-Serb propaganda. So back in 1993 the daily monetary inflation was 300% (!), our monthly income was about US$ 3,-, but the postal taxes were on the world level. So you had to decide if you are going to send a letter by airmail to the USA or buy for that money twelve kilos of bread (bread was almost everything we ate in that time). Of course I always gave the priority to sending the letter. Because to stay in touch with the Network, especially with some of the friends, meant more than bread. It gave us moral support which was important in circumstances when there was no heating in the winter, no fuel for cars or city buses so we had to go everywhere by foot, and sometimes we had electricity only for four hours a day. With your networker friend’s letter in your pocket you feel safer and warmer, really.

I mentioned also some misinformation by the foreign media, so during these years I received few insulting letters in which it was written that Serbs are killers, that I can not be trusted because of Serbs’ acts in Croatia, that I am a fascist swine and that my Serbia should be bombed (By the way I had nothing in common with the civil wars which were all fought outside of Serbia, and Serbia as a state was not in war for a single day. But that’s a long story). Also many networkers who were invited to come and visit us, because of misinformation and propaganda were afraid to come, although our country was totally safe and peaceful. That was experienced by only few networkers who have visited us since the war began in the former Yugoslavia, like Bob Kirkman (USA), Livia Cases (Italy), Peter and Angela Netmail (Germany), John Held (USA). As Peter Netmail stated in his “DNC Book 92” after visiting Serbia (Belgrade, Novi Sad, Odzaci): “It is dangerous to rely on mass media reports in our countries only. Personal eyesight was definitely better. (…) Everyday life was grotesquely normal, even full of hectic consumerism in Belgrade (…), Novi Sad and Odzaci. Every single day of his life Peter has seen in his own Germany home cities more soldiers than in Serbia now. (…) Our networker friends take great efforts to stay cosmopolitan and pacifist within very narrow horizons. Their biggest heroic deed seems to happen in their own hearts, attitudes and consciousness.”
In your question you have mentioned that the cultural blockade is now lifted for some time, and you are right, it was suspended in October 1994. But it seems that it is not working in practice, especially in America, Canada…. I was surprised, even shocked when the Chuck Welch’s book “Eternal Network: A mail art Anthology” was not aloud by United States Postal Service to be sent to Serbia. It was in March 1995 when Chuck received his package back with bright red ink imprint “REFUSED”. Chuck has informed me, after asking the State Department, that his package was violating the UN embargo sanctions imposed upon Serbia. So the story begins again, and it never stopped, even though we already celebrated the lifting of the Cultural embargo together with John Held on our 1st Post Cultural Embargo Networker Congress, Novi Sad, October 30, 1994. Since I was very angry on such an act by the US Postal Service, and the same thing happened with Canadian too, I wrote an open letter to Welch (on March 29) asking him to protest to his government, and he did so writing to four of his congressional representatives personally (on April 6), asking them “what right have we to create cultural concentration camps of other countries in the world?”. Since he was not satisfied with their answers he continued his fight to make possible that his book comes freely to my doorstep. In his correspondence he was informed in October 1995 by the State Department’s officer, trough Senator Bob Smith that “last year the United Nations suspended a limited number of sanctions, including those on cultural exchange”, but that “under current US law, however, Americans are not entitled to sanctions relief, and are still prohibited from engaging in transactions with Serb entities without permission from the Office of Foreign Assets Control”. So as you see sanctions are still functioning in some countries, and our fight for freedom of art and cultural exchange must continue. But we must fight all together, if we want some results. Now Chuck is fighting hard; he launched a project into the Internet asking people to protest by sending letters, post-cards and anti-embargo art to some governmental institutions’ addresses in Washington. Let us hope for success. We must first FREE the art and then DO art. Our fight for free art is also art, if it is sincere and humane.

RJ : Just before the falling apart of the large Yugoslavia you started with the “Institute of spreading of love”. What was the idea behind this?

Reply on 16-1-1996

AT : Actually I started the Institute when the war in the former Yugoslavia was on its beginning, in November 1991, as the continuation of my previous activities for peace; performances, (spi)rituals, street actions, written statements sent into the Network etc. For example in September 1991, when the war in Croatia was on its peak, I did the public (spi)ritual “Declaration of Peace”, in the Peace Chapel of Sremski Karlovci, a Franciscan church, talking about love between people, then breaking knifes and lighting candles symbolically, distributing rubberstamp imprints of a big red radiating heart to the audience. And already in August that year I launched the “Love Offensive” campaign and rubberstamp, as reaction to hatred, nationalism and destruction all around me in the former Yugoslavia. I used every opportunity to radiate love, in everyday life, in my art, in the radio, TV etc. So the founding of the Institute for the Spreading of Love was the result and continuation of all these activities, and also an art project. Because I realized, as I stated once, that LOVE is the greatest ART, and greatest TREASURE in this world. So, dealing with love was pure art for me. The CROWN of it all.
In January 1992 I began publishing the “Love” magazine (bilingual) and sending it all over the world. As I stated in the introduction of the first number, the aim of the Institute was to collect, to record and to study all positive world trends which include feeling, demonstrating and spreading of love. Intention was also to coordinate and initiate events of such kind all over the world, and to radiate love through rituals. The Institute consisted of three departments: for love for the humans, love for the nature and for arts. I sent out invitations for collaboration, and soon I had very good international response. All received stuff was published in the “Love”magazine and sent out to collaborators for free. The Institute and magazine had public presentations in Novi Sad, Belgrade, on radio and TV, in newspapers and even books. In that time Chuck Welch (USA) wrote: “I see Andrej Tisma’s Institute of Love as a bold statement and challenge, not without risk, in a war torn Yugoslavia”, and Harley (USA) supported me writing: “Your Declaration of Peace performance with its message of love is of vital importance. The constant roar of all the violence and hatred is hard to fight with quiet messages of love and peace – but effort must be made. It is the last refuge of sanity. Please don’t give up and lose your faith – my heart is with you”.

It was obvious that people all over the world, and especially in the war surroundings of the former Yugoslavia, are very fond of love, and my Institute was treated very seriously; I was invited to TV shows (the Institute was even announced in the evening TV news, strongly contrasted to images of bloody corpses from the war-front) to different meetings, manifestations, the magazine was collected by libraries, included in some magazine shows, even got awards, sponsors etc. All those forms of public life of the Institute were fascinating and inspiring for me. My work of art got its real life, it mingled into the everyday life, brought new friends, stirred emotions (one friend told me that he was crying while reading the magazine), did something positive in the awful life of that time, gave hope to many people, gave another image of Yugoslav people abroad. It was my master-piece of art, but also realization of ideals, of the networking principles, of human principles. I entered some new networks and circles of people, nice and spiritual, good willing persons. Giving love resulted in receiving love, and the circle of love was formed.

But when the former Yugoslavia split up into many small countries (in 1992), which was assisted by Europe and USA, the part in which I found myself (Serbia and Montenegro, or the small Yugoslavia) was put under total embargo. All positive things I did were put aside and I had to suffer equally with all my compatriots: women, children, old and sick people under unseen before inhuman circumstances. So I started the fight against the embargo, together with my networker friends (that was the theme of our previous question), and the Institute for the Spreading of Love had to slow down for a while (unfortunately). I have published the last issue of the “Love” magazine in August 1993. But by then I had already organized the Anti-embargo Congress (September 1992), and the first issues of the “Cage” magazine were edited by A. Jovanovi, in which I was very active for three years.

Now the war is over, and the blockade is suspended. Reasons for further publishing of “Cage” don’t exist anymore. So we will see what will be our next activity. I would prefer to come back to the “normal” networking, exchange of views, art stuff, spiritual issues that are mostly interesting for me. Because spiritual development of mankind is the greatest task of our time. It can be achieved through love, compassion, exchange on all levels. So there are many tasks in front of me, and I’ll be glad to work on that new challenge which concerns the whole planet.

RJ : Could you explain what you mean with “spiritual development” without getting too technical?

Reply on 21-2-1996
AT : Thank you for asking me that. Because all my art activities, since mid 70-ies, when I was still a painter, were aimed not towards visual or aesthetic explorations, but toward ethical, ecological and humane messages. Because I think that even thought art can not change the world, it can influence people’s minds, consciousness, spiritual level.

I remember in 1973 to 1976, while studying painting at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts (I am one of the few mail-artists who have a classical art education, and for me it was maybe more difficult to “jump into networking”, leaving behind all I have learned at the Academy) themes of my paintings were, for example, good deeds of people in the city streets, buses, helping old and sick people, feeding animals, helping poor people etc. After that, when back from Prague, I was painting ecological metaphors, dedicated to the power of nature, of growth, pure energy, etc. That is why discovering of the mail art movement and participation in it was for me a great joy, because I could work with many persons world-wide, apply my ideas and test them in communication. Because for me mail art is not just sending beautiful pieces of paper, but working with living people, spiritual exchanges with them, which leads to mutual spiritual development.

If you remember, the themes of my mail art projects were dedicated to some social, political and ecological problems of our civilization: Mail Art Olympic Games (1984), Private Life (1986), AIDS and Paradise (1987), Nature Gives… (1992), FAX HeART (1994). Also my “Love Offensive” campaign, founding of the Institute for the Spreading of Love, publishing of the “Love” magazine, organizing the Anti-Embargo Net Congress and the three years long anti-embargo campaign world-wide. All these activities I consider to be art, my works of art, which is engaged not aesthetically or visually, but mentally and spiritually.

Besides networking I have since 1984 an other parallel activity I call (SPI)RITUALS. It is direct spiritual exchange with the audience during my performances. In short, it is transmission of my inspiration, or positive energy on people, opening their spiritual channels, widening their consciousness, which is still too narrow. So I am doing my best in its widening. In the last six years I did about forty different (spi)rituals, some of them, since 1991, were aimed to stop the war in Iraque, then in former Yugoslavia, and finally against the cultural isolation of my country. I did it by radiation of love onto the universe, trying to influence all confronted sides to find peaceful solutions. Now when the war in former Yugoslavia is over, I will dedicate my energy to spiritual development of people around me, and further on, everywhere in the world. Because I believe that artists will be PRIESTS of the future world. Or more precisely, artist, priest and scientist will again become one person, as in ancient times.
I think that the mail art network is a good model for the future world, because it is based on collaboration, love, exchange, tolerance, cosmopolitism. Also I can say that my (spi)rituals derived from mail art activity. It began with postal exchange world-wide, then it developed into Tourism which was direct mental exchange with people whom I met (I called that kind of art activity “Meet art”, before I heard of Frickers project). After I defined in 1985 mail art network as an “immense collective work of art; pulsating spiritual sculpture that encompasses the world”, I began considering all my meetings with networkers to be works of art – spiritual sculptures. After that I realized that I can also meet ordinary people, and that it will still be a spiritual sculpture. So I began with public performances in which I was “meeting” people, unknown people, trying to exchange my inner world with them. And it was working so well. I found a huge new territory for artistic work I call (spi)rituals. I use them for the “spiritual development of mankind” you were asking me about.

I will not get too technical, I’ll just say that in my (spi)rituals I mostly use talk, in form of lecture or monologue. After, or during that I distribute some printed materials: flyers, post-cards, xeroxes, or I apply stickers, badges, or some other material – in order to break the communication barrier with the audience. Sometimes I put rubberstamp imprints on people’s hands, or other parts of the body, or I draw or write on them. It is all mental game to open their attention for the present, and to make them active and collaborative. Then I give them my spiritual content, I inspire them, with words or by direct transmission of spiritual energy. You can find more about that in my article Art As Telepathy, Meeting And (Spi)ritual published first in the “ND” magazine No. 14 (February 1991), then in Chuck Welch’s “Eternal Network” book (1995). Of course, by doing that I believe I influence not only the present audience, but the more wider territory, using the audience as transmitters of my spiritual energy, by telepathy. That is also one kind of networking, but by using non-material and invisible means.

So, by “spiritual development” I mean that with time people could become better, more compassionate, loving all creatures, less envious, evil, destructive. I mean spiritually more developed people with whom we could realize a new world, a better world to live in all together and in love. I think all of us networkers are striving for that. In some happy moments of networking it seems to me that we are already living in such a world.

RJ : You mentioned before the term Internet, and I know that your views, as stated once to an open letter to Chuck Welch, were quite specific. Some mail artists are now using e-mail for their communication, others just don’t want to use it, and some just see it as a new communication-tool like the FAX is. Are your views about the Internet still the same?

reply on 22-04-1996
AT : In short I would say: in mail art, and especially in Tourism, you are dealing with EMOTIONS, and in Internet with E-MOTIONS! As I consider Tourism to be the greatest artistic achievement in the field of networking, maybe also in the 20th century art, I can’t see anything better than personal contact between artists, or the artist and the audience (in performance). Internet can be just a very good tool for bringing people together, but can not SUBSTITUTE GATHERINGS. Because Internet can not guarantee sincerity, can not transmit expression of love, nor can lead to real love (especially between different sexes, as Tourism can). Also you can’t feel someone’s smell, can’t observe his emotional reactions, and so on and on. As I stated to Chuck Welch, back in 1993, Tourism philosophy is a child of a new world of COMPASSION, and Internet is a child of the sterile world of ILLUSION.

Instead of Internet I suggested another solution for the networking, more advanced than Tourism: The Networkers’ Teleportation System (By definition given in The Aquarian Guide to New Age, 1990, teleportation is ability to transport physical bodies instantaneously to a new location without moving through the intervening space). In that case, if such vehicle will be available to us, meetings will be immediate, without exhausting traveling, and it will make creative communication faster, more direct, amusing, unexpected and richer than Tourism and Internet are. It will enable creative people, compassionate people, loving people and happy people to gather in any moment, to stay together as much as they like, with whom they like. To live in Paradise on Earth.

Of course I am not against e-mail or Internet, because I think they are very useful, as telephone or fax are. Sometimes I think I couldn’t live without telephone. But when I want to meet some dear person, I prefer to meet her/him personally. Also mail artists, I had many phone talks with some of them, but until we met personally I always felt these contacts to be incomplete, because I couldn’t use all of my senses. I felt alienated. On the video screen it could seem less alienated, but in fact it is also only an illusion of contact. Such contacts can only function as additional ones, not the only ones. Of course in the field of artistic communication.

RJ : The problem of course is that teleportation, as you described it, is a fiction, while snail-mail, Internet, e-mail, fax and Tourism are all reality and have existed for several decades (including Internet). Communication is only possible in reality. To be honest I don’t believe that from a technical view, teleportation is possible. In your previous answer you mentioned telepathy, and I wonder, is this reality or fiction?

Reply on 2-7-1996
AT : Well, dear Ruud, if you don’t believe in telepathy, even though it is obvious to majority of people that it is reality, I can’t convince you about that. I just want to remind you that scientific experiments with telepathy have been done for decades in USA and USSR for example, of course for military purposes, and as I read in some scientific magazines, they were very successful. People were sending messages from laboratories where they were totally isolated and under control, to other people who were also isolated thousands of miles away, using only their thoughts. They communicated through some mental energy, some waves which were immediately received on the other side. This ability of living beings (plants can also read our thoughts) is unfortunately neglected in our civilization, which rather relies on communication by language, image or text. For me as an artist it is interesting and challenging to use telepathy in my art, because it gives new possibilities to my expression, and opens a new field of research, which is extremely interesting to me.

Actually I am interested, and working on it, in transmission of emotions, radiating love on people and everything around me, and transmitting my inspiration directly on people without using any classical media for that. I am trying in my (spi)rituals to give people my artistic inspiration directly, to make them feel inspired the same as me. Because in use of any material media the great percent of the initial idea and inspiration is lost. So I am trying, by means of mental resonance with the audience to “tune” their mind to the state I’m in in that moment of enlightenment and try to enlighten them too. I feel I have success in that.

Now concerning teleportation, it is also reality, and experiments proved it. I read one such experiment was done by US Navy in October 1943 in the Philadelphia harbor. They were using Nikola Tesla’s electromagnetic fields of low frequency induced by lasers to make one warrior ship (Eldridge DE-173) invisible. In few seconds, after becoming invisible, the ship appeared in the harbor of Norfolk (Virginia) 350 kilometers far from Philadelphia. After the electromagnetic field was disconnected, in few seconds the ship appeared again at the same place it was before, in the harbor of Philadelphia. I am sure such experiments have been done many times, but they are still kept in secret. I hope this technique will be soon improved and will enable networkers to travel faster through space, doing Tourism. I didn’t say that Networkers’ Teleportation System is possible today, but I was suggesting it as a solution for communication better than Internet. It is not just a fiction.
RJ : I remember seeing a Science Fiction film about the Eldridge, but for me it really is fiction. I studied Physics for six years and have learned to analyze things quite well. For me teleportation is impossible judging the basics of physics. But I guess it wouldn’t be interesting in this interview to see what is possible or not. It also has to do with belief I guess. Maybe readers of this interview could give their own opinion on this issue to both of us.
Well, I guess it is time to end this interview now, or did I forget to ask you something?

Reply on 29-7-1996

(Together with his answer Andrej sent me some more of his rubber stamp prints, and the catalog of his recent exhibition at the Association of Artists of Applied Arts and Designers of Vojvodina in Serbia, Yugoslavia).

AT : So we came to the end of our mail-art interview. I think it was a great pleasure for both of us. Our “conversation” took more than one year, and I’m very glad if you thought it was worth doing it through such a long period. Congratulations to both of us for patience, persistence, good will and energy for exchange of our thoughts, which we had to do besides many more other things we were occupied with.

Of course we could discuss more things, for example my rubber stamp activity which is going on for more than 20 years, and I exhibited stamps this year in the Stamp Art Gallery in San Francisco (250 imprints), and these days in Novi Sad (100 imprints). But maybe you know too much about stamps, since you are one of the greatest collectors of them in the world. Also we could talk about my writing on art, since I am a professional art critic, also about my activities in the field of photography, video-art, about my poetry and prose which I publish for 16 years under the pen-name Andrej Zivor (I have ten books published, two in USA and one in France)…. but it would take much more space and time. If you feel I told you enough about things you were interested in, I’ll be glad to finish this great interview, and I’m eager to see the book ready, in my hands and in the hands of my networking friends. SO LONG and THANKS!

RJ : Also thanks to you Andrej, for this interview. Maybe some other interviewer will ask the things that aren’t covered by this interview. I’m sure we’ll stay in touch.

Address mail-artist:

ANDREJ TISMA
Modene 1/IV
21000 Novi Sad
YUGOSLAVIA