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 John M. Bennett – USA

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JOHN M. BENNETT

Bennett

Started on: 4-7-1995

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 27-7-1995

JMB: I got involved in mail art about the age of 8, in 1951, crossing the pacific on a ship from Japan to Oregon. I wrapped up little messages and drawings in many layers of tape and paper and tossed ’em overboard. After that my career went into a kind of lull, except for a brief period of sending poems I’d written to girls when I was in high school, until about 1974 when I started doing mail art at the instigation of a friend, the now-deceased painter Mr. Sensitive. It was great fun and still is. One of the earliest issues of LOST AND FOUND TIMES was a mail art project (copy is enclosed). Mail art delights continue to make their way into its pages.

RJ : Is it possible to describe what is so delightful about mail-art?

Reply on 9-8-1995

JMB: What’s delightful about receiving mail art is that it’s so full of people’s uninhibited expressions, off-the-cuff blurtings, or careful, lunatic constructions. It’s about as close as one can get these days to a “pure” art, one with no agenda, no career-building motives, etc. (This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have political or social messages – it often, even usually, does – but the functionality of that is impersonal).

Anyway, receiving mail art stimulates my own creative processes – it’s a source of contact with other artists which is most welcome to someone who lives a fairly routine life in a relative cultural desert.

What I like about making mail art is that it’s a medium in which I can either distribute my main work, poetry, and/or do completely spontaneous things that often surprise me and serve as a source of ideas for other projects. Do it, and put a stamp on it! What joy!

RJ : What joy! Is mail art only something positive to you? are there any negative sides to it too maybe?

Reply on 19-8-1995

JMB: Well, yes; I can’t bear throwing the stuff out, so I keep filling up these boxes I then have to move around and deal with. (Pile up around the bed, block the narrow aisles in my office, stumble over….) Fortunately, however, there are a couple of libraries who collect the stuff, so every so often I seal ’em up and ship ’em off, so long as they pay for the shipping, which they usually do.

Basically, if I didn’t enjoy doing it, I wouldn’t do it. I do find the rising postage rates distressing, though.

RJ : Like me, you probably get lots of mail art with invitations to projects, chain-letters, add-to projects, etc. Do you reply to all of those or do you select what you answer?

Reply on 2-9-1995

JMB: The add-to projects are among my favorites – little “brain cells” scurrying around the world acquiring more and more memory as they go. Those always get my full attention. I do reply to most of the project invitations. Some are more interesting than others, of course; though sometimes the truly dumb ones are an irresistible invitation to do something really nasty, eh?

Chain letters, however, are a different matter: I rarely respond to them at all, though I suppose my act of breaking the chain is a response of a kind. I don’t like doing mass mailings (I get enough of that sending out LOST AND FOUND TIMES when it’s published) and chain letters seem like I’m doing someone else’s mass mailing. Many years ago I responded to a few of them, but rarely got anything back – so I think there must be a lot of other chain breakers out there, bless their hearts.

RJ: Thank you, I am one of those collector of chain letters and today my collection is over 700….. You mention ‘LOST AND FOUND TIMES’. What is this publication about?

Reply on 18-9-1995

JMB: LOST AND FOUND TIMES is an avant-garde literary magazine (I’m sending you a copy via surface), that includes the occasional bit of mail art. It began in 1975 as a single-sheet publication of fake lost-and-found notices that was stuck under car windshields in parking lots. The first issues included notices by people we knew in the mail art network. When the other editor died suddenly in 1978 (Doug Landies or Mr. Sensitive) I continued to publish it, gradually expanding its literary aspect. It’s rather fat now, gets around a lot, and is collected in numerous major institutions, etc.

RJ : Are you a collector too? Do you keep all the things you don’t recycle?

Reply on 30-9-1995

JMB: I collect: skull rings, skulls in general, little cars, feathers, rocks, hot peppers, olive oil cans, old bottles, books, postcards, records, masks, rubber stamps, mail art (what I don’t keep is given to various libraries that collect such material), nude decks, photographs, flutes, other instruments, baskets, old tickets, socks, hats, bandannas, my own poetry, and shoes. Whew!

RJ : Why do you collect shoes?

Reply on 14-10-1995

JMB: They substitute for my hands, I don’t like to wear the same shoes 2 days in a row, I like to look at something different when I’m walking, they remind me of vaginas and dicks at the same time, I have wide feet and have trouble finding shoes that are truly comfortable, I have bursitis of the heel, they are like tongues.

RJ : And why do you collect skull rings or skulls in general?

Reply on 28-10-1995

JMB: So cute no hair no death I live inside the boney ring my skinmask itches likes to shine like plastic rubber potmetal aluminium silver wood I have a tiny plastic one with spring jaw holds the words “Time Release” a beetle glistens under maybe this provides the frame:

HARDEST

Spoke returned and animation stands of lettuce
driven over (somewhere else) I cancelled drains you
turned savored itching in the furnace ducts stinks
moon sizes closet lamp the corn regrooms shucks
shirt’s milk plate of horns and dribble gleaming
sons frown

frown house, smiles, plate of skull collection
spotless wilk the shirt shucks moon field of ears
and hair silk waves long thought duct tape spilling-
ledges drains you moved or cancelled else, salad,
copulation in the passage air you spinning tire
without a spoke
9.13.95

RJ : Thanks for sharing this poem with me. When the interview is published at least this one will be shared with more readers. I have noticed that you mostly publish your visual poetry on small papers and postcards in collaboration with others, like Cornpuff, Hartmut Andryczuk, Al Ackerman, to name a few of the ones you enclosed with your latest answer. How do these collaborations come about?

(On 2-11-1995 the LOST AND FOUND TIMES booklet that John M. Bennett publishes arrived at my P.O.Box)

Reply on 10-11-95

JMB: Actually, a lot of my visual poetry is published in literary and/or art journals, and some of it usually is included in my books of poetry. I also exhibit a lot of it in art spaces; recently I had a number of pieces in what must have been an excellent show at the Musée de la Poste in Paris.

Anyway, the collaborations start in different ways – sometimes one of us just modifies or adds to a piece from the other; at other times one of us will propose doing a collaboration and start it. Most are done through the mail. Some are purely visual, some mixed visual and textual, some are purely textual.

One of the longest collaboration projects I’ve been involved with is a series of “chapters,” mostly textual, done with Robin Crozier – this has been going on for years. I’ve also been doing a long series of collaborations with Sheila E. Murphy: we plan a full-length book of these poems, which truly seem like they were written by a third person: they have a unique style all their own. I’ve collaborated with dozens and dozens of folks through the years, and I find it an extremely stimulating and valuable process, both in the doing and in the final results.

RJ : Your use of rubber stamps is quite interesting too. Some mail artists in the USA and Europe like to use several rubber stamps to make a (realistic) visual story out of them, but you like to combine rubber stamps which don’t fit together to give some kind of message. On your latest envelope for example, the head of a bald man with two nails stamped onto his ears. What is the story behind your stamp-work?

Reply on 29-11-1995

JMB: Why make something everyone expects to see; something they’ve seen already? I want to make something never made before, something I, and others, will see for the first time. This is my goal in all my art and writing. Rubber stamps are a quick way to achieve this: with a couple movements of the hand, you can make a bizarre combination of images and/or words and thus have an instant experience of seeing the world as if for the first time: the world becomes new and exciting, and one continues to learn about it.

On a less metaphysical plane, I enjoy rubber stamps as objects (they’re one of my “collections”) and for their potential to create works in multiples, a fascination related to my work as a writer, whose works are reproduced in books, which are the ultimate “multiple” art form. Perhaps this is a contradiction (or unity of opposites): I want to create things no one has seen before, but create them in many identical copies. Vive la contradiction!

RJ : There is another contradiction in connection to mail art. I’ve noticed that some say that mail art is more alive than ever because of the many participants and shows that there are today, while others say that mail art is almost finished because all things that are done nowadays have been done before. What are your views in connection to this?

Reply on 18-12-1995

JMB: Both groups are “right” in their own ways. The mail art world is made up of a great number of somewhat overlapping groups. Some groups fade back – like the one Ray Johnson was in – while others expand, to fade back later, etc. Mail, like any medium, will have art going on in it as long as it exists, though the people doing it and the styles they do it in will change, come and go, etc. As to everything having been done already, of course in a way that’s true, but it’s always been true. Everyone has to go through their own learning process and part of that process is to imitate what they’ve seen others do, so they can get it out of the way and go on to something else.

Mail art is no different from any other art form in this. I am not of the belief, by the way, that Ray Johnson was the “originator” of mail art. He was important in the fomenting of one particular circle of it, that eventually got a lot of attention, and spun off other groups. But people have been doing mail art since the postal service began in France in the 18th century, and even earlier, when “mail” was less institutionalized.

RJ : What do you think of the development of e-mail as a tool for communication? Have you tried it yet, or is a computer something you don’t connect to communication?

Reply on 9-1-1996

JMB: Email seems like a great thing to me, and I know a lot of fine stuff is going on there – Electronic Juxta just “published” an email chapbook of mine, in fact, and there are several fine email “magazines” and other projects going on. The impermanence of it, I suppose, frees people up to experiment pretty wildly at times (and at great length sometimes, too, I’m afraid).

I do have an email address at work, but I happen to have a complex and weird vision problem, and I myself can’t do much with a computer: I can’t do more than glance at the screen occasionally without getting severe headaches that last for days, so this means I can’t enter anything into one, or edit anything on screen. The most I can do is glance at what I think I might want to read, and then print it off to read it.

In order to reply to anything, I have to have a postal address. Anyway, I don’t see electronic media as replacing books, say, but as another kind of media with its own values. There’s something about a book, a physical object you can hold in your hands, completely self-contained, that you can deal with in your own time, that has permanent value.

RJ : You mention “your own time”….. Is it true that almost any mail artists I am in contact with, has a problem with finding time to do things? Are there some special things you still have to do?

Reply on 24-1-1996

JMB: Ah, so much to do: organize these files and stacks, compile books and such of so many joint projects, so much wonderful material just waiting for time and $$$ to put ’em together and publish them, so many books of my own work to organize, edit and hustle, so much art I’d like to do, like make a one-of-a-kind book every day, like fill my backyard with junk sculpture and towers, like make junk collages everyday to send out in the mail, oh so many secret projects to do in the mail that I can’t tell you about; oh for the time to contemplate daily for an hour some treasure received in the mail!

RJ : You mention secret projects and I am very curious on what that could be all about. Is it a secret for the network; would telling me about those projects spoil the project completely. Or even better, are they illegal projects, projects nobody ever would get to know about……. Tell me about those secret projects, I sure won’t tell anybody about it (only publish it….)

JMB: I will tell you about my secret projects,

 

 

 

RJ : Well, I never thought that something like that was possible. I am surprised that you are still able to send out mail at all! I just hope that the printer here in Tilburg won’t censor this part of the text. As I can see from your answers before, POETRY seems to be the most important art-form you use to express yourself. Why? What is so fascinating about letters and words?

Reply on 2-3-1996

JMB: If I knew the answer to that I’d have understood what consciousness is. I can say that the process of writing poetry seems to combine several interests, pleasures, needs; seems to satisfy them like nothing else I do: the need to know, the need to be learning, the need to know I know nothing, the need to know nothing, the need to see and know together, the need to hear what I haven’t heard, the need to read what I haven’t read, the need to be someone or something other than “myself”, the need to say what can’t be said, to think what can’t be thought, the need to be outside and inside knowing outside at the same time, the need to be inside and outside knowing inside at the same time. Language, used as an art, springs from, and addresses, several kinds of consciousness at once; it is the best way for me to attempt a totalizing awareness, to know it all and say it all; to be more than “who I am”.

It’s snowing heavily today, but soon I will head to the kitchen to prepare a nice paella, some gazpacho, and garlic bread. Yum!

RJ : So you like garlic! Do you like people who don’t like garlic?

Reply on 15-3-1996

JMB: Not only do I like garlic (as does the whole family – good thing, too, since I’m the cook), but I’ve been growing quite a bit of my own the past few years. It’s a garlic that grows wild around here that I’ve been cultivating in my garden, a stiff-neck variety, nice and strong with a great flavor. I preserve a lot of it by pickling it in olive oil. Some of my favorite high-garlic dishes are pesto (I grow my own basil, too), pasta with raw garlic and olive oil, pasta with clam sauce and lots of garlic, chicken or tofu marinated in various garlic-based sauces; oh the list is just endless!

Uh, about your question, I have known some folks who dislike garlic – I really do not understand that, it’s sort of like not liking sex, eh? – but whether I like them or not seems to have little to do with their garlic-blankness. Life is full of mystery.

RJ : Which mystery of life would you like to solve right now?

Reply on 2-4-1996

JMB: The mystery of mysteries, & suppose; though maybe I’m happier with such things left unsolved, and open.

(together with the retyping of the text and my next question I also sent a complete printout of the complete interview-text to John M. Bennett)

RJ : Well, time to end this interview I guess, unless I forgot to ask you an important question. Thanks for your time and energy!

Reply on 19-4-1996

JMB: In reading through this interview I realized that nowhere did I mention the most important mail art experience of my life; one of the most important experiences in my life in general, in fact. This was the “mail art romance”which brought me together with my wife, C. Mehrl, now C. Mehrl-Bennett. Around 1977, she, who was living in Dubuque, IOWA, saw some work of mine in a mail art show there, and, as she puts it, thought the work was the most “repulsive”thing in the show. So she sent me some mail, it had a nice sarcastic/ironic quality to it that I enjoyed, and we kept on exchanging mail art. It was at least a year before I even knew she was a she, since she gave her name only as “C. Mehrl”and what she sent was mostly visual. Anyway, our correspondence gradually gor more personal, and in 1979 she came down to Columbus for a visit. It was true love, we got married in 1980, now have 2 kids, and are very happy together. For our wedding, we solicited mail art contributions, which were incorporated into a film about us by John McClintock, called MAIL ART ROMANCE. The film was released in 1982. Lady C, as she calls herself, is a painter and assemblage artist, and her work is as beautiful as she is.

RJ : Well, this is certainly a lovely detail of your life, and you might guess that I am now quite curious about this film. Thank you again for this interview John!

Address mail-artist:

John M. Bennett
Luna Bisonte Prods
137 Leland Ave
COLUMBUS , OH 43214 , USA

Address interviewer:

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

e-mail : info@iuoma.org

mail-interview with Julie Paquette – USA

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JULIE PAQUETTE
(USA)

Paquette
© TAM-PUBLICATIONS 1997

TAM-970161

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JULIE PAQUETTE

Started on: 24-01-1995

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: 17-02-1995

JP : Since you asked this question I’ve been trying to remember dates. Since I became aware that the network exists I’ve jumped in with both feet and it’s hard for me to remember a time that I wasn’t involved.

I’ve determined that I was introduced to the network in 1991 by ‘arto posto’ in Atlanta, GA (she was in Chicago, IL, USA at the time). I had been looking at posts on bulletin boards on Prodigy, a computer service network, and found the ones on rubber stamps especially interesting. Some of the discussions weren’t, but when I asked a few questions I was immediately drwawn to mail art. In fact, I issued my first mail art call within a few months from a documentation list arto had gotten from A1 Waste Paper in London, that she shared with me. My first call was THE SHOW MUST GO ON and I hung it in the rehearsal space of a theatre I worked with.

I’ve always loved checking the mail (I’ve done arty things to mail since about 1967 when, as a kid, my family moved and I began corresponding with the friends I’d left behind), but when I was receiving mail for THE SHOW MUST GO ON I couldn’t wait to get to the mailbox! I still feel that way.

RJ : You undersign your mail with several aka’s like “ex posto facto”, “Anne Maybe”, etc. Did you use these names before you entered the mail-art network already? What is the story behind the many names?

Reply on : 17-3-1995
JP : I do have a thing for new names, don’t I? No, none of the names I use for mail art are any I’ve used anywhere else. Well, exept for one that was a childhood nickname (I don’t use it for anything anymore and wish I never had!). Each name has meaning for me and I think demonstrates flux in my life. As I got involved with mail art I was also very involved with e-mail and a network of rubber stampers on Prodigy (*P*). Many people there had given themselves mail art names and I found it charming. arto posto struck me as a perfect nickname for a mail artist and when I was doing some reading I ran across the phrase ex post facto. This was me! I’m always late (after the fact = ex post facto) and I liked very much that it had the word post in it. I annonced on *P* that I had finally found my name. I got a responce from Willy Nilly that it sounded good to her, but didn’t I want to add an “o” to “post” in honor of arto posto Yes, I did. She has truly been my mail art mentor and I was delighted to be able to incorporate a little thank you into my name. ex posto facto is the name I’ve used the most in the Eternal Network. Besides all of the sentimental stuff, I find that it’s useful to be sexually ambiguous now and then. I think there has been a certain amount of “good ol’ boy” networking and a name that is not sexspecific can be a good thing in breaking into a bit.

I went through a time that felt very tenuous and uncertain. I became Anne maybe. I got divorced. I became Nobody’s Wife! I became very close to a friend who was also an active mail artist – together we were the Fake Socorro Sisters, Fate and Destiny. When she dropped out of the movement I assumed both identities. (This was an idea JEM and I had that never really went anywhere.)

I don’t know if I will continue with all the different names or not. I was amused by it when I saw Rudi Rubberoid’s odd list and thought it would be fun, but didn’t think I could come up with names I’d like well enough to want to claim. As it turns out, I could probably rename myself almost monthly. Fluxus is with us. Certainly it is evident to me in my little life.

RJ : Could you tell a bit more about that “good ol’ boy” networking. Is there a difference between your mail art contacts with males or females?

Reply on : 31-3-1995

JP : This could be a loaded question…. Very different. And as I type that I think it’s likely that someone somewhere is getting defensive. I want to say right off that because something is different doesn’t mean it’s better or worse. The good ol’ boys only have as much power as we give them. I wanted to be part of the movement in a big way when I was beginning and I thought I had to be in touch with the powers that be. Now I’m feeling much more settled in. The power thing is definitely over-rated.

I’m not sure how much one’s gender has to do with how easy it is to get involved in the network, but I’ve heard both men and women say it’s tough. I didn’t find that to be the case at all. Some suggested that it was because my mail art name didn’t tell that I’m female. Since I could see many more active men, I thought they had some control over it all. I now believe that mail art is truly what you do with it. No one has CONTROL. Isn’t that the point? Some people like to think they’re “leaders of the movement” and spend time and words to make it so. They are whatever they perceive themselves to be, as we all are in this eternal network.

I don’t think I’ll get into this topic any further. I value my male and female contacts very much and I’d hate to over-generalize and annoy any of them. I’m not involved with mail art to bicker and fight.

RJ : Since you began in mail-art the amount of mail you get must have been increasing all the time. Are you still able to answer all the things you get in mailbox?

Reply on : 18-4-1995

JP : I believe that SENDERS RECEIVE. Since I like receiving so much I figure I need to send, so getting things out is a priority. I document my Fluxus Bucks project when I accumulate ten participants and that has happened every week and a half to two weeks lately. I try to be especially timely with that documentation so that it doesn’t build up and totally overwelm me. Besides, I’m getting some very interesting things due to that and I want to keep it rolling along. It has really expanded my network in a huge way.

As for the other mail I get, it all gets some sort of response eventually. Sometimes the stuff that I’m most impressed with is hardest for me to respond to. Then my answer can be very slow (I’m waiting for genuine inspiration or something).

RJ : Can you tell a bit more about your Fluxus Bucks. How did you think of this project, how did it start, and how is it developing?

Reply on 28-8-1995

JP : Whew! Quite comprehensive questions, my friend! Since Fluxus Bucks have taken over much of my mail art time, I think about why I’m doing them when I get frustrated that I can’t do something else. Lately I’ve been figuring out a more effecient documentation system that will allow me to keep the record on the computer and hopefully not take so much time to produce and reproduce. Since I generally get about 10 responses a week, I’m doing a Fluxus Bucks documentation weekly. This seems like a lot sometimes, and not nearly enough other times. Documentation seems to take longer all the time because I’ve started writing notes to some (many) of the participants and I want to be able to continue to do that but it can hold me up when I want to get mail out. The responses are coming from all over the network — most of the time I get 6 responses from the USA and 4 from other countries (people in Italy, England, the Netherlands, Mexico, Canada, France, Belgium, Malta, Czech Republic, Korea, Ireland, Uruguay, Japan, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Germany, Ukraine and Finland have sent the bucks home). To date (18 Aug. 1995) I’ve received about 290 responses! Just incredible. I’m thinking I may do a little zine thing on the back of the documentation. This is still an idea more than an actuality so I reserve the right to change my mind!

Ok, your questions. How did I think of this project…hmmmmm. It had a lot to do with my day-to-day money concerns at the time. Let me grab the ol’ journal.

On 27 October 1994 I wrote that the idea of a mail art currency had gotten my attention. “I ought to get a Ray Johnson image on there maybe. Or something Fluxux, DaDa — I want my address on there somewhere, too, but I don’t think it needs to take front and center. I’ve cut 150 bills. My idea is that they need to circulate amongst the Mail Art Community. I want artists to carry them in wallets or purses, doodle on them, add their addresses, send them to other artists and then redeem them with me. Or not.”

On 1 November 1994 I wrote” “Fluxus Bucks, make them show the changes around you, them, etc.”

On 10 November 1994 – “My fluxus buck is happening. They’re rubberizing my buck while I’m not there at Acme. I’ve cut and bundled 150 more (sheets of paper). In lieu of a dollar sign I want a fluxus buck symbol. For Global Mail? — ARTISTS! Tired of worrying about money? Request any amount — it will be filled in Fluxus Bucks. Ongoing project — Documentation and Bucks to all.”

13 November 1994 – “I’ve done 550 Fluxus Bucks. I’m mailing a whole bunch of them out. I’m pretty happy about how they turned out, but when I gave them out at the 3’O clock mail art Choir meeting I got a very subdued reaction. I think they were sort of confused….”

Well, there’s some of the stuff I was thinking when I started mailing Fluxus Bucks. The response I’ve gotten has been so good that it’s really encouraged me – which brings me to the last of your questions” How is it developing?

I had a fantasy as some point early with the Bucks that people would like them well enough that I would need a couple thousand eventually. And that has happened already (there are over 2800 bucks in existance so far). I love the way my network has grown and broadened. I’m consistantly surprised and delighted by the variety, talent, depth and silliness of the people in the network. The work/play I get in my mailbox inspires, distracts and informs me. Fluxus Bucks may come and go, the network just goes on and on and on.

RJ : You probably have heard of the statement “mail art and money don’t mix” which tries to explain that in mail art you shouldn’t ask for (the official) money. What do you think of this statement?

(Via e-mail I got a message from Tim Blackburn (Zetetics) telling me that he asked Julie about the progress of her interview. She told him that she lost the last question, and asked Tim to send me this info by e-mail. So I printed the latest question again and sent it to Julie together with another sample of a finished interview).

Reply on 6-12-1995

(Together with Julie’s answer again some Fluxus Bucks and the documentation-sheets. Also included was a nice gift, a rubberstamp about her Fluxus Bucks project. Julie has sent me before such nice gifts).

JP : I LIKE IT! Money seems to take over in too many areas of life. What you can and can’t afford even determines who some think you are. Even though mail artists are people (and people are the ones who make judgements based on $) I find it delightfully refreshing that for the price of a stamp anyone can enter and participate in an international, eternal network. For me the network has been a warm community of generous, talented & amusing individuals. There’s gossip, romance, controversy, feuds, ART & anything else you might find in a group of intelligent people. We enjoy entertaining each other and ourselves. Fluxus Bucks came about to do that.

Unfortunately, the realities of life are that we need money. I can’t fault people who try to make money in areas related to mail art (rubber stamps, artistamps, zines, etc.) but I think it is important – and sometimes difficult – to avoid taking advantage of the network for personal gain.

An unrelated aside: Fluxus Bucks have been around for a whole year! In that year, I’ve seen over 400 responses to the project & sent out as many replies. Wow! That’s it for now. I gotta run to work and earn some actual currency so I can continue to afford to play in the network…..

RJ : Yes, mail art is an expensive thing to do, and most mail artist I know have always some kind of job of study they do besides it. I have found out that sometimes the things people do besides their mail art is quite different in comparison to the mail art they send out, and sometimes it combines perfectly. How is this for you?

Reply on 3-2-1996

JP : For me mail art is a distraction from the regular day-to-day stuff that threatens to wear me out. I was so enthused about rubber stamps when I was first getting into the mail art thing I went into the fun rubber stamp biz with a partner. It was going o.k. when I sold my half to her, but I needed to get a job with a paycheck. And I did! Working for an actual rubber stamp company where they made business rubber stamps. In a lot of ways this was a very good thing, but it was also something that took a lot of fun out of rubber stamps. But! I learned a lot about the whole process and I’m glad to know it! It may even come in handy in the future.

Anyway – these days I work as a cashier at Bingo for a couple of different charities. In fact, handling all that money – especially the PAPER money sort of inspired Fluxus Bucks. I loved the feel of bundles of paper money! Stil do. Since it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll have bundles of real cash laying around to fondle, well, why not come up with my own? Even better – get my friends in the network to help make these slips of paper valuable. That’s the genesis of the idea, but it’s developed in other ways that have surprised me.

The best: I think I’ve mentioned before how my network has grown by leaps and bounds and while some folks send bucks once or twice and fade away, many others have become good, dear postal friends.

The worst: Since I recirculate the bucks I receive I rarely have enough bucks around to bundle – they go away much faster than they come in – just like real cash.

To get back to your question, I don’t think I’ve got a job that “combines perfectly”, but I manage to blend the two wherever possible.

RJ : To my surprise there is yet another mail artist living in your P.O.Box under the name “Atmospheric Cookie”. What does he/she do there?

Reply on 6-3-1996

JP : Your question about “atmospheric cookie” has an easy answer. I heard the phrase on a weather report & it stuck me funny. The description of pressures & counter pressures that followed reminded me of my life so I “borrowed it” Next?

RJ : Together with your answer you sent me again some fluxus bucks. Thank you. The numbers on the bucks indicate that already lots of them are circulating. You always also send me some of the ones you got back yourself, so you are recycling the bucks again. Are you never tempted to collect the nice ones? Are you a collector of mail art items or are you recycling most you get?

Reply on 15-4-1996

JP : I do get some nice ones! Sometimes I have to keep a buck that speaks to me. Since I originally saw them as ever-recirculating I wasn’t sure how I felt about keeping some. I mentioned this to M.B. Corbett and he told me not to worry about this and to consider the bucks I kept to be my salary. I liked it!

Usually though, I like to recycle. I’m seeing the Fluxus Bucks more and more as a networking tool. When I send out documentation of participants and their addresses I am often introducing mail artists to each other. That’s why I started making notes about what I got from the people sending bucks besides the bucks. Then artists could get an idea of those who were doing things they might be interested in. I often hear from people who have contacted one another using the Fluxus Buck documentation and that is terrific! I didn’t see, ahead of time, that this documentation would be so effective in this way. But it is! As much as I enjoy receiving the bucks themselves, I think the real contribution to the movement might be in the on-going documentation and the way it provides current information on active mail artists to other active mail artists.

Meanwhile the bucks give an opportunity to do some quick (or not so quick) art that generally goes back out into the network flow of things. More and more people are adding their address to the bucks so that sometimes their address will be out there even if they weren’t on the current documentation. I don’t think FB resemble most currencies much at all in the way they’re used but I think they’re every bit as valuable! Yesterday I stamped out 250 more of them – a time consuming project since each buck is stamped at least 4 times – and there are 3850 of them now! I know I’m not the only one saving them because more go out than come back. It’s OK with me (people can do what they want with them once they leave here as far as I’m concerned), but I’m thinking about asking – maybe by issuing some sort of mail art call – for mail artists to tell me how RICH in Fluxus Bucks they are. Arte A la Carte (Joan Coderre) told me early on that she was keeping them & I know that John Held Jr. archives EVERYTHING. While I don’t mind that some people are doing this collecting I’m sure glad so many don’t!! I recently got some of this earliest ones I did (over a year & ½ ago) back an I was interested to see how the bucks have evolved as I stamp more and more of them.

My favorites are bucks that have managed to travel the world and have evidence of the many places they’ve been and the artists they’ve met. I think I’ve mentioned before that this is how I travel for the most part – vicariously through the movement of the bucks.

Your second question is about mail art collection in general – do I save stuff or recycle? Both. When I first got emersed in the mail art magic, everything I got took my breath away. I was so exited and amazed by the whole process that I just couldn’t imagine sending ANY of it away and marvelled at those who did. Lately though, I’m re-thinking that. Practically speaking it’s impossible to save everything without building another room on my house – and I can’t afford to do that unless they’ll let me pay for it with Fluxus Bucks. Also I really like the looks of mail art that a number of mail artists have added to; so more all the time I am recycling my mail art.

RJ : All the mail art I get from you shows no trace of the use of computers in your mail art. Yet you mentioned with your first answer in this interview that you got hooked up to the network through Prodigy. What is a computer for you?

Reply on 18-5-1996

JP : Dear Ruud, I’m in the gymnasium of a Junior High school for my middle son, Sam, to start his basketball game. I’m not really a big sports fan (it’s noisy in here & smells funny) but I like to see Sam play. I meant to bring your latest mail art interview question with me but forgot to. I remember enough to answer, I think you asked about me and the computer. My answer:

My computer was very important in my introduction to the mail art network. I was on-line in the early days of Prodigy and there were a lot of people there interested in mail art. For me the most important contact I made was arto posto. She opened the door to the vastness of the network. Now, however, I’m not on-line at all, and although I miss it occasionally, I find that for the most part I’m more than satisfied with all the great stuff that shows up in my mailbox. I really enjoy the tactile experience that’s part of creating and receiving mail art. The potential magic of the computer doesn’t escape me, though, and I anticipate plunging back into the on-line network again some day (fairly soon). Having had the opportunity to work with arto posto on artistamp sheets on her computer, I look forward to spending time doing that sometime, too. Next Question?

RJ : It seems that your concept of Fluxus Bucks has been taken over by others too. Besides the Fluxus Bucks I produce myself (with your name on it), there are also: the Quid (A1 in England), the Winged Money (Dragonfly in USA), another Fluxus Buck (by Posto del Sol in USA). What do you think of this development?

Reply on 29-6-1996

(Julie’s answer came as a computer print-out. She just entered the internet with the e-mail address Julie8P@aol.com and tried to mail her answer to me. She typed my e-mail address as tam@ddl.nl while it actually is tam@dds.nl, so the message bounced back, and the result of that Julie printed out and sent to me).

JP : I think it’s great! There’s some saying about “duplication is the sincerest form of flattery” (I know that’s not exactly it, but you get the idea). That mail artists all over liked the Fluxus buck idea enough to endeavor to do their version of it delights me. There are a whole bunch more than you mentioned and as I write that, I think I’ve already answered this question. (Not part of interview — Did I do that? If so, where were we….????)

Let me know if I’ve got a more current question, ok? Like I said, I can’t find anything. If this IS the current question, I’ll expound more. Bye for now, ex posto facto, the muddleheaded.

(after this part of the e-mail, some ‘headers’ followed to indicate the route the e-mail had taken. It shows that the e-mail was eventually returned, but a copy of course remained at the ‘postmaster’ of the NLnet)

RJ : It is quite interesting that you entered the internet again during this interview. Your latest answer came by snail-mail just because of one single typing-mistake. That is typical computer-communication. A postman would just have brought it anyway. What are your experiences with the current status of the computer-communication?

(I mailed the new question in printed form in an envelope and also sent it to Julie’s new e-mail address. The message bounced too, and a day later I found out that Julie had a new e-mail address. I remailde the complete text with all the addings by the computers again to Julie)

Reply on 2-7-1996 (via e-mail)

JP : I’m finding it overwhelming, very exciting and inspirational all at the same time. Things haven’t changed completely since I was last on line, but there is MORE of everything: people, places to go, things to see and do, things to get (download). There aren’t enough hours in the day to check everything out. It may take more self discipline than I have to get anything else done. And since, like many mail artists, I’m always thinking of MORE stuff I want to do through my mailbox, I’m going to have to work on that discipline thing so I don’t get too lopsided.

RJ : The word MORE is quite interesting. How much time do you actually spend each week now on mail art and the electronic communication?

Reply on 15-7-96 (e-mail)

JP : More each week.

RJ : Could you be more specific?

reply on 28-7-1996

epf: I don’t think so. I don’t keep track of hours and minutes very well. I’ve noticed that a lot of maintenance stuff (laundry, dishes, washing out the bathtub, etc.) goes longer and longer between getting done. What IS getting done is lots of art related tinkering (which seems to create even bigger messes), some mailings of documentation for the Bucks, and now answering e mail. I’ve found, with the help of my friend, arto posto, a group of people interested in discussing mail art (IMAT International Mail Art Thread) on line. I’m not fascinated by every word, but darn close. I’m wondering if this is a distraction from the stuff I’m interested in getting done or a great asset that will help me. Either way it’s how I’m spending a lot of time these days.

RJ : I myself have had e-mails from newcomers to mail art, and I must say that I never get a clear picture of someones work unless I get some snail-mail from that person. The electronic mail for me doesn’t have that much information about the persons I am communicating with. Words and digital graphics are just a fraction of what I can encounter in the traditional snail-mail network, and for the time being I am focussing mainly on the snail-mail still and have the electronic part only for speed and quick communication and spreading text-informations. How is this for you? How much has the electronic mail taken over the snail-mail?

reply on 19-11-1996

JP : I agree wholeheartedly. E-mail and the electronic world seems more suited to information than art for me. I see art when I surf the net, but it’s not a medium I’m comfortable with yet. It COULD happen, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. Personally, I love the whole process of receiving mail art in my post office box. I like the look, the feel, the smell. I think I get a much greater sense of who I’m communicating with when I hold the artist’s mail in my hands. One way that the electronic world has intruded on my mail art is that it takes over too much of my time. I know that I make the choice, but sometimes time just slips away when I’m using the computer (kind of like when I do art at times).

FLUXUS BUCKS UPDATE: I’ve been thinking about this all for a long time and I’ve come to a decission about creating and documenting fluxus bucks. I’m done once I reach buck #5000 and participating artist #1000. Both of these numbers are right around the corner so I figure I can move on to other projects. This month marks 2 years of fluxus bucks! I’m thinking I might issue a special series now and then for events or non-happenings, but the amount of documentation is taking too much time for me to do some othet thing I want to do. SOOoo… I guess I’ll move along. many people are making bucks these days. I’m happy to participate with theirs (yours included) and whatever I see of the ones I’ve made.

RJ : Yes, I guess there is always a good moment to end things. Also for this interview with you. We have take almost two years now to do this interview, so unless there is something more you wanted to say, it is time to publish these words and let others read them as well.

(together with my question I sent Julie a print-out of the interview text so far, my latest design of a fluxus-buck value 100,000 and a copy of my report of the travel I did undertake to San Francisco in USA)

reply on 12-12-1996

JP : Hi Ruud! Well, finally the interview is finished, at last! Wow. Thank you for your patience and persistence. Thanks also for the over-view of your SF trip you sent. I hope you are finding time to enjoy some things – you sound so busy!!

RJ : Well, I must admit that I am busy, but I sure do enjoy doing those things that keep me busy. Thanks for the interview Julie, and may the fluxus bucks come your way…….

Address mail-artist:

ex posto facto

Julie Paquette
P.O.Box 495522
GARLAND , TX 75049
USA

mail-interview with Ken Friedman – Norway

INTERVIEW WITH KEN FRIEDMAN

(NORWAY)

This interview was done complete with the use of internet in the period May till December 1995.The appendixes contain some texts connected to the interview.

© TAM-PUBLICATIONS 1996

TAM-960104

INTERVIEW WITH KEN FRIEDMAN

RJ: When did you get involved in the mail art network.

KF: In 1966, when I came into contact with Fluxus and with Ray Johnson.

RJ: How did you get in contact with Ray Johnson?

KF: Dick Higgins introduced me to Ray. In 1964 or 1965, Dick published Ray’s book, The Paper Snake. I already knew the book. In August of 1966, I was visiting Dick in New York. Dick had a huge production camera in his basement where he worked every night, listening to Beach Boys records and shooting plates for Something Else Press books. One night, he used the big camera to shoot a portrait of me, the portrait that was published in Jon Hendricks’s Fluxus Codex. Dick suggested I ought to send something to Ray. I chopped a negative of the photo into a jig saw puzzle and mailed it. That was our first contact.

In those days, corresponding with Ray was more personal than after he got his Xerox machine. We exchanged a lot of work over the years. Everything was one to one with Ray in those days. Even after he got the Xerox machine, Ray remained a spider at the center of his web and tried to mediate as many of the interactions between his contacts as possible. Ray had no philosophical relationship to the Eternal Network. He wasn’t interested in social issues or public space. He was interest in a forum for his poetic activity.

Ray’s approach was private, personal, poetic and it was different from those of the Fluxus artists who aspired to broad social discourse. That discourse was a key aspect of the Fluxus approach. It was an implicit network approach, a public and social way of working with art and communication. That was one reason I became active in Fluxus. I got involved in the mail art network through Fluxus and Dick Higgins. Dick introduced me to Ray Johnson and the New York Correspondence School. There was a lot of overlap between the groups but different kinds of activity took place in each.

RJ: Fluxus seems to have earned a place in history. Lots of books have been published, most of them by people who aren’t Fluxus artists. With mail art, it seems to be different. Almost all books, magazines, articles are written by mail artists. Whenever someone who is not a mail artist tries to write about mail art, it comes out as a strange story. On the other hand, what mail artists write is often misunderstood by outsiders. Will it stay like this? If so, why?
KF: The first people to write about Fluxus were the Fluxus artists ourselves, describing our ideas, our work. Several Fluxus people are skilled writers. Some have worked as editors and publis¬hers. Over the years, we defined Fluxus, writing our ideas and our history in our own words. These writings shaped the first wave of Fluxus literature. Intellectual focus and literary skill were two reasons. The third reason was that we felt we had to do it. Thirty years ago, people didn’t know how to respond to the work and it was easiest for critics and historians not to respond at all. If we wanted to put our ideas into play, we had to do it ourselves. We organized our own exhibitions and performances, published our own art and music in scores and multiples, wrote published our theories of art, music, literature and design in essays and books.

We published through several presses, but there were two central Fluxus publishers. One was Fluxus, the publications and multiples organized by editor chairman George Maciunas in New York, producing mostly multiples. Something Else Press was the other, producing books. Fluxus objects ran in editions of a few dozen and Something Else Press books ran in editions ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 copies. These circulated widely enough to affect the cultural life of the United States and Europe. Along with our own presses, we were occasionally given special magazine issues.

The second wave of writers on Fluxus was typified by Fluxus friends and enthusiasts. This included critics such as Thomas Albright or Henry Martin, curators and gallerists such as René Block, Jon Hendricks and Harry Ruhé, archivists like Jean Sellem and Hanns Sohm. Fluxus artists continued to write in an environment where there were more artists in Fluxus than critics or scholars who wanted to write about us. The third wave of writing on Fluxus began in the 1970s when trained scholars began to examine Fluxus in papers and articles. The first doctoral dissertation on Fluxus was in anthropology, written by Marilyn Ekdahl Ravicz at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1974. Art historians first became interested in Fluxus in the 1970s. The first was Peter Frank. By the late 1970s they included Stephen C. Foster, Estera Milman and Jan van der Marck along with scholars in comparative literature such as Georg M Gugelberger Philip Auslander in theater.

In the 1980s and 1990s, available literature on Fluxus began to expand. Growing interest across several disciplines was one reason. Another was the wide availability of publications by Jon Hendricks. The availability source material made an important difference as scholars and writers who became interested in Fluxus had the chance to examine images of work that had often been a rumor more than a fact.
By the 1990s, art historians and critics began to discover Fluxus and intermedia and make the major focus of their work. These included Europeans such as Marianne Bech and Ina Conzen Me¬airs, Americans such as Kathy O’Dell and Kristine Stiles, Asians such as Hong Hee Kim Cheon, and Keiko Ashino. These were the years of the first significant body of writing by trained scholars specializing in Fluxus: Simon Anderson at the Royal College of Art in London, Owen Smith at the University of Washington, Ina Blom at the University of Oslo, David Doris at Hunter College, Hannah Higgins at the University of Chicago and Karen Moss at the University of Southern California.

The growth of Fluxus writing from the artists to independent scholars was characterized by overlaps between Fluxus artists and their friends; between artists and scholars; between artist scholars and scholars who began to make art. That era has come to close. Scholars and critics now come to Fluxus as outsiders. Curators and editors now work on the basis of seconda¬ry material and they can’t always discuss issues and ideas with the artists, composers, designers and architects whose work they present. Even so, there is much source material available. Higgins, Filliou, Williams, Knizak, Flynt, Vautier, Paik and I have all written extensively. Brecht, Beuys, Christiansen, Klintberg and others have written from time to time.

Most important, the Fluxus writers knew their own history and many have been broadly conversant in general culture, culture theory and art history. This makes a qualitative difference between Fluxus and mail art. Few mail artists know their own history well. They tend to oppose histori¬cal writing and thinking. They are often anti experimental and judgmental about intellectual issues, believing that scholarship, theory and intellectual process are the antithesis of the network spirit. As a result, they don’t know that many of the authors writing on Fluxus have also written on mail art.

Mail art seems to be different for several reasons. Most of the books, magazines and articles these days are written by mail artists. Only a few have a scholarly tone or even a public tone. That tone and a way of communicating so that others can understand gives the basis for others to write on a subject. Only a handful of mail art writers make sense to outside scholars. You can count them on your fingers Chuck Welch, Mike Crane, Judy Hoffberg, Anna Banana, Jon Held, John Jacob.

Even so, it’s a bit of a myth to suggest that there are always mistakes whenever non mail artists write about mail art as compared to writing on art in general. Mail artists do as well as any group of artists. There are a dozen excellent writers whose articles were central to developing the network. Those articles often introduced the idea of mail art to new mail artists.
Mail art people have their own, strongly held opinions. When you combine strong opinions with a lack of historical knowledge, what outsiders write on mail art can seem strange. There’s another reason people don’t write about mail art. It’s easy to be attacked. From time to time, a writer or curator who generally does an excellent job offends part of the network. When the offended parties involve their friends in harsh response, the noise grows to deafening propor¬tions. I recall several highly visible examples and they’ve been a reason for some excellent writers and historians to stop writing on mail art. Mail art is a minor field for art histori¬ans and art journals. You don’t get much credit for working on mail art but you can get a lot of anger. In a situation with few rewards and plenty of ways to find trouble, there’s little reason to write.

Will this stay like this? It will until mail art people learn broad, public language. Mail artists often claim to seek broad public discourse. They claim to be open to issues and ideas. But many behave like small town gossips complaining over the strange doings in the next town. There’s little tolerance for differences of opinion, style or culture. The reasons for that kind of culture aren’t clear. I have some suspicions but no answers. You’d expect a different sensibility on the network, broader, more international, more intercultural. Every times I imagine that things are improving, an unpleasant encounter suggests that the mail art network is what it’s been for two decades now. The mail art network has developed a stable culture with a fairly stable population at any given moment and a certain number of relatively stable ways of interacting. It leads me to wonder about the degree to which the mail art network and the Eternal Network coincide. I can’t see the Eternal Network in the village morals and parochial behavior patterns of the mail art network.

RJ: You say that the mail art network has somehow developed a fairly stable structure. The last years there have been some new aspects to the network. The use of the FAX machines, and the introduction of the Internet for some of the networkers. I remember your reply to Guy Bleus’s FAX project in which you explained why you don’t take part in network Telefax Art Projects. Do you take part in Internet Art projects?

KF: No, I don’t, but not for any particular reason. There haven’t been many well thought out art projects on Internet. Most art mediated by Internet or e mail aren’t exciting. E mail works well for correspondence and literature. Web sites make visual art possible. But most artists using the medium aren’t doing work that interests me. If the work isn’t interesting, I won’t take part just because it’s presented in cyberspace.

RJ: Since the beginning, the term “mail artist” has been used in relation to correspondence. Now everybody is talking about “networkers” and “networking.” Somehow I see that the focus isn’t as much on art as it is on communication. What do you think about this?
KF: My use of terms “mail art” and “correspondence art” is flexible. I don’t use the term “networking” to describe art. The term I use depends on the aspect of the work to be emphasized. I also use the term communications art. My work with mail or correspondence isn’t my main interest. It’s part of a larger inquiry. The idea of a network of people doing mail art, correspondence art or E mail art as “networkers” or “tourists” bothers me. Any group of people communicating with each other constitutes a network. What makes one network different than another? The focus and content of their communication. When a network begins to focus primarily on the fact that it is communicating, it becomes a group of pen pals, a small town social club. The larger networks we can form allow us to step outside the boundaries that were once imposed by time and space. Even though we can transcend the restrictions of local culture, the mail art network has built its own small town culture. This culture is enacted in a fragmented but linked environment. It’s described as the mail art network because it grew up around the mail art scene. The culture celebrates its local heroes. Its members set up their own rules and interact in a restrictive and problematic way. The “networkers network” and the “tourist network” are contrary to what interested me in the broad, open ended phenomenon cultural, intellectual, spiritual that Filliou termed “the Eternal Network.”

I don’t talk about networkers or networking. The network doesn’t interest me as a network. It’s no better and no worse than most social clubs. Networks are interesting for what they can do, what they transmit, what they can achieve.

RJ: What IS the primary focus of your work ? What is the larger inquiry you mention ?

KF: The broad focus of my work is art as a tool for research, creative and rigorous experiments in different domains of culture, meaning and consciousness. Every search has many levels. Some levels are abstract. Some are concrete. I stake out problems that interest me and work them through in different ways. That sounds abstract but the work is quite concrete, a response to specific ideas and situations. The situations and ideas change like conversations or food. There are issues that interest you or foods you like but you don’t want the same conversation or the same meal all the time. That’s what makes what I do quite different from what many artists do. Most art is based on a style or format. People play with the style format. It defines their work as artists and enables their public to recognize them. That way of working is characteristic of artists in most media, including mail art.
The whole point of research and experimentation is developing useful tools and interesting ways of approaching problems. The issues that interest me change. The question of tools and problem solving has been constant. Some of my experiments shaped tools or approaches to art that others can use. At one point in the 1960s, I was interested in how experimental artists were communi-cating, how they worked with one another, how they interacted. That interest led to a series of projects involving mailing lists and ‘zines. The lists gave birth to projects such as the File magazine lists and to directories such as Art Diary. ‘Zines such as Amazing Facts or the New York Correspondence School Weekly Breeder helped to define a way of publishing mail art that has widely used since then. Next, I began to wonder how to open mail art network to a broad public. That gave rise to three mail art exhibitions at The Oakland Museum, Henry Art Galley in Seattle and the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. Those experiments gave rise to useful paradigms that others were able to adapt and use.

According to Chuck Welch, these three shows became the model for most the mail art exhibitions and projects since the early 1970s. My purpose with mail art wasn’t to do mail art but to engage larger issues. Intermedia and Fluxus projects predominate in the total range of my work. Like everyone, I take part in projects I like. Every situation sparks ideas. I often work in response to an idea from another artist. Sometimes an idea just pops into mind. Every artist has both experiences. The scope of my interests has been evolving for over thirty years. I did many of these things as a child. George Maciunas saw some of those things when I was sixteen and invited me into Fluxus. Thirty years is a long time. That’s 360 months, 1,560 weeks or 10,950 days. You can get a lot done in thirty years if you keep busy. The specifics change. The overall approach and philosophy has been the same.

My philosophy and activities are described in a number of articles and serious interviews. They’ll answer the question better than a quick reply.

RJ: When I sent the first question for this interview, you sent me a bibliography of books and articles where I could find your thoughts on paper. Here, again, you mention your attempt to describe your philosophy and activities at any time. Why is documenting your activities important for you?
KF: Documentation is the place to look for ideas, art works or events from the past. We continually construct and reconstruct our reality through thought and memory. Documents are a tool. This is natural for artists who work with intermedia and or concept art, including mail art, ‘zines, lists, tapes, letters, even interviews. Art media that function at a distance or over time require documents. Even so, while the document offers an entry into dialogue with the work, it’s not the same as the work. The score to an event is the score. It has a valid function as a document and in some cases, it is also a work in its own right. There is also the realized event, and the realization exists in another way. Documents were aspects of art long before the era of concept art and intermedia. Earlier documents include the musical score and libretto for an opera, the text of a play, the blueprint of a building. They’re all documents and they’re all works in their own right for people who can read them and comprehend them through the act of reading. It is nevertheless true that few people can successfully read and comprehend a musical score or the blueprint of a building. For most people, these documents are more important as keys to a realization.

You can say that I began working with documents of art when I saw the books Dick Higgins was publishing, Ray Johnson’s Paper Snake, Dick’s own Postface/Jefferson’s Birthday, the Great Bear Pamphlets, Daniel Spoerri’s Anecdoted Topography of Chance, Robert Filliou’s Ample Food for Stupid Thought. These books were documents and through them, a body of work and a way of thinking came to life for me. The Fluxus multiples and publications worked in much the same way.

I’d ask your question another way. We live in the age of information and intermedia. Can any serious artist work without documentation? Don’t most contemporary artists cross back and forth between ideas, the representation of ideas and the realization of ideas?

RJ: I couldn’t work without documentation. But there may be a danger in documentation if it forms its own truth. Reality things that happen in a specific moment can never be captured by objective documentation because reality is different for everybody who observes it. Everyone recognizes his own truth through the act of observation. Isn’t there a danger in the possibili¬ty that those who create the documents dictate the shape of history? Is documentation that powerful?

KF: This is a danger. It’s a basic problem that we face in all forms of documentation, no matter who makes them and no matter the purpose for which they’re made. It seems to me that there is a strong argument to be made for a variety of clear, understandable sources of document from several views. In the recent past, most documentation on art has been compiled or presented by a handful of journalists, critics and finally by art historians. I suggest that there can be valid approaches to art documentation by scholars from several fields and by artists themsel¬ves.

The better, the broader, the more clear and conscious a body or documents is, the better we can understand what’s happened. I believe that documentation has valid goals and purposes. These purposes can be realized or abused. How we handle documentation, how much and how well, makes the difference.

RJ: How active are you in mail art at this moment. Do you still send “snail mail,” or has the Internet taken over? This question comes out of my personal curiosity. I haven’t had any exchange of mail art with you and I’m not sure if you are still active. I guess that future readers of this interview will be interested, too. I see your name in lots of Internet related materials and I have only received e mail from you, so that’s the reason for my question.
KF: These days, other projects take most of my time. I’m not active in mail art. I exchange with friends like Dick Higgins or Jean Noel Laszlo and I follow the work of important figures like Chuck Welch or Dobrica Kamperelic. Even so, I haven’t been directly active in mail art for a long time. I do something when I’m inspired by an idea or a message. Mail art always took two forms for me. One was exchange when someone sent me an idea or a work. The other was when I had an experiment I wanted to attempt. Not many people send me mail these days, individual pieces meant specifically for me. I don’t respond to printed things or mass produced objects meant for thousands of people. Once in a while, someone does develop an amazing mass produced piece, but the normal mail art going about these days consists of photocopy collages that don’t interest me.

There are no experiments I want to try using the mail these days, either. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I set out a program of projects and experiments using the mails. I look on much of what I do in art as a form of research. You can consider my mail art experiments as a research program. I completed the research a long time ago. Part of what I set out to do was to test the limits, possibilities and paradigms of the post office with projects like the pieces of furniture that I mailed or finding different ways to send objects that stretched the limits of postal regulations.

The other series of experiments was an attempt to find ways to define mail art as a system, an opportu¬nity, a network. I described some of these experiments and projects earlier in our interview. Internet is a terrific communications tool, not an interesting artistic tool. The technology is still too crude to make good use of Internet for art. Or, to put it another way, the technology that is sophisticated enough to use for art is time consuming and expensive. I’ve like simple, inexpen¬sive tools. That’s one of the things I loved about mail art. With Netscape and Eudora, Internet is a simple, inexpensive communication tool. That’s what I use it for. Pioneers like Joe De Marco see Internet and the World Wide Web as good art tool, but even the best projects to date have actually been communication projects, communicating art. I don’t know what’s next.

If you see my name in connection with Internet, it’s because I give wide permission to circula¬te my work. It’s likely to be related to my work on the faculty of the Norwegian School of Management. Internet has become an important tool for my work as a scholar and as director of the Nordic Center for Innovation. The reason you and i communicate by e mail is that we both have it. For those of us lucky enough to have e mail, there’s no better or faster way to send words back and forth.
RJ: I have noticed that most people don’t archive their e mail as properly as they do with the printed matters they receive. I myself save all e mail on diskette, and I even print out the important parts on paper because I like to re read things on paper rather then on the monitor of my computer. How do you deal with the e mail you get and send?

KF: E mail is easier to archive than snail mail. Paper builds up … books, letters, files. There’s never enough time to file and organize. E mail is easy. It shows up on my screen. My computer is well organi¬zed and filed because it’s easy to handle everything sitting at the keyboard. There’s no need to find a file or shelf space or to move around the room sorting and seeking. If I want to save e mail, which I often do, I copy and paste it into a word processor file. Sometimes there’s a reason to make a paper copy. When I do, it gets lost with all the other paper. The electronic copy is easy to find. It’s right on the computer where I left it.

RJ: How much do you know about computers?

KF: Very little, really. I use a Macintosh because it works the way I do. Computers are a power¬ful, sophisticated tool. Now are they becoming smart enough to be useful to most people for most jobs. The breakthrough came with the Mac.

I started using Mac in 1988 when the Mac got smart enough to handle big jobs, including serious design work. A client wanted me to create a design program his staff could use for internal¬ly gene¬rated publications. I went to his office to help him draw up the design. He showed me how easy it was to use Aldus PageMaker and Microsoft Word to do it myself. It took about two or three hours of coaching and then I was working productively. There are people who are excited about what they call computer literacy. Not me. I want the tool to be smart enough to do what I need it to do with minimum special skills on my part. I’ve done some research and publishing on the ways that the new information will affect society and culture, but I’ve focused specifi¬cally on the human and behavioral effects of information, not on information technology or information proces¬sing. Would you like to read the chapter that I’ve written for a new book on the subject just published by Scandinavian University Press? The title is: Information Science: From the Development of the Discipline to Social Interaction. My chapter focused on social interaction. It won’t tell you too much about my ideas about computers. I don’t have that many ideas about computers. It will tell you what I think about what computers mean for the rest of us.

RJ: Since I work with computers it would be interesting for me to read, but probably not for all readers of this interview. At the moment, with Internet, it is also possible to publish your texts in a digital form. Is this something you would like to do?
KF: Absolutely. Internet and computers make it possible to transact enormous amounts of valuable informati¬on on a useful and selective basis without paying to overproduce. Unlike books, you don’t need a minimum number of orders to break even. That means individual thinkers with proper technical support can publish as easily as best selling authors. Nam June Paik predicted the information superhighway years ago. He even created the name! Fluxus, mail art and Internet go back to the beginning, before the beginning. Narrowcasting and narrowcast publishing on the net are new version of Nam June’s Utopian Laser Television. Before long, computers with small cameras and optical fiber cable will be so common that we’ll be able to set up our own televi¬sion cable broadcasts, the true realization Utopian Laser Television.

Thanks to Nam June, I’ve been publishing on line for since last year. When Nam June organized the New York Seoul Fluxus Festival, he arranged a web site where our work was available on line. In typical mail art fashion, I’ll brag about being first to say that Nam June’s show was the first on line art exhibition. I presented some scores. Now, Joe De Marco is develo¬ping a major on line web site for Fluxus. There are scores, art works, and there will later be documents, texts, historical material. Joe has been in touch with historians like Owen Smith and he’s getting in touch with major collections and archives. He hopes to put up a Fluxus archive and museum on the site. There will also be pages for work by individual artists. The Fluxus Home page is < http://www.cinenet.net:80/~marco/fluxus/ > We already have The Fluxus Performance Workbook on line. Interested people can visit the site to browse, copy and download scores by Ay O, Genpei Akasegawa, Eric Andersen, Robert Bozzi, George Brecht, Albert M Fine, Ken Friedman, Lee Heflin, Hi Red Center, Dick Higgins, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Joe Jones, Bengtaf Klintberg, Milan Knizak, Alison Knowles, Takehisa Kosugi, George Maciunas, Richard Maxfield, Larry Miller, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Tomas Schmit, Mieko Shiomi, Ben Vautier, Robert Watts and Emmett Williams. The workbook was planned in 1987 or so. I edited it. It was published by Guttorm Nord, a Norwegian artist who has been active in mail art. It took almost four years to raise the money and publish the workbook. It took about four days between the time Joe De Marco contacted me and the time it was ready to use on the net. You can also find Dick Higgins’s Cowboy Plays on the Fluxus Home Page and there’s lots more to come.
The most use I make of Internet involves scholarly research and communication. I recently completed a survey using Internet. It took me a few weeks to compile the empirical data at a cost of a few hundred kroner. Before Internet, the same survey would have taken months of work and cost at least twenty times as much. Getting decent results, stimulating people to answer the questions and engaging their interest still requires training and skill. Writing is still writing. But the Internet is a great tool. If you have organization, research and writing skills, every step of the physical process is more simple and the costs go down. Just a few minutes before you sent me the last question, I released the on line pre print of a study titled Books in the Age of On Line Information: Will We Read Fewer or More Books? Statistical Summary and Prelimina¬ry Conclusions. The Norwegian School of Management will publish the working paper next month. People can get it on e mail request and decide if they want the working paper by snail mail. Everything just moves faster and more effectively. (A few weeks after this questions and answer took place, the study was published as a special report by the American Association of Higher Education. The study was also discussed in the “Cyberscape” column of the International Herald Tribune on Monday, December 4, 1995.)

RJ: Speed is a relative thing. I’m not referring to Einstein’s theory. I’ve noticed that if one can do things more quickly with computers, one starts to do more work in the same time, makes new tasks for oneself in the free time that is given through the use of the computer. Communi¬cation used to be a slow process. All technological advances speed up the communication process. This results in more communica¬tion, but only for those who have access to the techno¬logy. Isn’t this scary?

KF: There are two issues embedded in your question. The first issue is that we do more work in the same time. That’s not scary to me. The second is that we face the challenge of a world of unequal access to information. That frightens me for many reasons. If you want me to go into it, I will, but to do so, I’ve got to consider political economics and closely reasoned argument. It’s up to you if you think the readers of a mail art dialogue will find that interesting. Let’s consider the first issue, the speed of work. I’m happy for the gains in speed. I love to work. The computer enables me to be more productive as a researcher and writer. The information superhighway enables me to travel farther, to gather information faster and more effectively. My one problem with the infobahn is that it’s poorly organized. The structure is frequently confusing and uninformative. We’ll see things improve vastly in the next three or four years.

Poor structure is annoying to me. New ways of solving problems, new ways of accessing and organizing information, new structures that emerge from the flow of information should, in theory, permit us to address and use the power of questions more effectively. The ability to work with more kinds of information across broad ranges of time and space and the opportunity to seek information from more sources make it possible for users to work in different ways than were previously possible. Some of these ways are more effective, some are less. Those who have had to work with remote libraries and closed stack systems find the new information technology a tremendous opportunity. In some ways, it is not much different than the libraries they have been using except that it places access control in their hands. In some ways, it is superior: it puts a vast amount of information and the contents of many documents directly on their desk with far less waiting time than was required when ordering through a library.

Those who have had the opportunity to work in major, open stack libraries may find the new informa¬tion technology something of a lateral move. An effective information user with field¬ specific expertise and solid general reference skills can navigate a multi million volume library and make use of the materials far more effectively than is yet possible through the new technology. The difference is simple. A good, large scale library permits effective browsing and grazing as well as hunting. The physical medium of the book and the way libraries organize books near one another allows rapid access to the domain of what one does not know that one does not know. This allows one to ask general, open ended questions in a wide variety of ways. While the information superhighway is loaded with documents and ways of finding material that can be surprising and serendipitous, finding useful connections to expert sources can also be surprisingly hard. The infobahn isn’t indexed very well. Developing effective indexing and abstracting systems has always been a key problem for information. This is also true for the medium of physical books and documents in paper technology libraries. The difference is that physical artifacts present themselves organized in some way that rapidly begins to make sense to the user. As a result, the intelligent information user soon structures a conceptual library access pattern. This pattern is an information overlay and navigation chart that becomes an operating system for a multi million volume paper analog information network. Few information users can master the conceptual content of the Internet. It is possible to master the structure and understand the basic content of a physical library. It simply takes examination, practice and footwork. The Internet is too big, and undergoes too much rapid change to make that kind of mastery possible. Good indexes and abstracts together with good links and pointers will be the only way most people can master the concep¬tual content of the Internet. There’s a big diffe¬rence between being afraid and being annoyed. As these problems are solved, I will welcome the improvements. If I want to work more, it’s fine. If I just want to do more in the same time, it’s fine. I may want to do less and use the time in other ways. We have choices. I’ve been thinking about these questions for a week now, the week since I released my preprint report. It’s been an exciting, productive week. I was able to do more work and better work in less time at lower cost. Within three or four days of my preprint getting out, I’ve had requests for copies from nearly two hundred scholars and researchers in over twenty nations around the world, including people I didn’t meet or contact through the original study. Major internatio¬nal magazines and newspapers have contacted me asking for copies. The American Association for Higher Education asked to publish the preprint on their Web Site. I’m finally beginning to understand why the physical scientists who have used Internet have been so much more producti¬ve and resourceful than social scientists or humanists. It’s impossible to describe the profound difference in productivity this technolo¬gy permits. It allows teams, it allows for sharing, it allows people who ought to be thinking and working together despite great distances to do so. It’s one thing to read about something in a magazine and think, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” It’s a another to do it. When you work this way, you understand why this technology is a major development in our ability to serve each other. Information technology is the first signifi¬cant technology that enables us to increase our standard of living while reducing our material resources consumption. That, for better or worse, brings us to your second question. Do you really want my thoughts?

RJ: The problem of access to this digital superhighway is obvious. You have to live in a country with the infrastructure for Internet, you need to have access to a computer, you need to have the money for an account subscription and the phone. I enjoy the possibilities of this new tool because I live in a rich country with the infrastructure and economy to make this possible. The government in Holland also sponsors servers that make Internet access and e mail cheap, too. I am interested in your thoughts about unequal access to information. Many mail artists see Internet as a next step for mail artists, the newest way to communicate.

KF: There are two issues to consider. I’ll take the simple one first. Most mail artists don’t understand what Internet is good for. I’m not speaking in a technological sense. I’m speaking in terms of culture and communication. Mail art has hardly ever been about broad communication. It’s based on small town culture writ large. The mail art network is insular, internalized, self centered. There’s little understanding of history and culture, even little knowledge about the history of mail art. The idea of artists who think this way using Internet as a new way to communicate is a joke. The results aren’t interesting.

Mail art has become boring. Mail art mottoes don’t disguise the fact that mail artists are in many ways a social club. They’re like any other club. We don’t ascribe any kind of great value to groups of pen pals or people who visit each other across borders. What would we think if a group of pen pals claimed to be changing history, revolutionizing art and advancing human progress? Tourism? Networker conferences? The Scouts have been doing it for a century.
Mail art will remain a disappointment without a richer foundation in knowledge, culture and communication theory. The effects of the information society and the knowledge economy are revolutionizing the world. Mail artists haven’t recognized the nature of those changes. They’re working out of old paradigms that don’t make sense today. Perhaps mail art and correspondence art were revolutionary in the 1960s. The world was different. In that distant and more primiti¬ve world, mail art was startling and innovative. Mail art had already become self centered and internalized by the 1970s. The world was shaking. The Cold War was still on but change was in the air. Mail artists were still doing the same old thing, sending the same old messages back and forth to each other. I got into big trouble with a series of essays and pamphlets titled Freedom, Excellence and Choice. I became an outcast in the mail art community. I was startled by the nasty letters and hate cards that I got. I had pursued the same agenda from the start. The network was irritated over the same philosophy and ideas that put me at odds with the art world and gave birth to many of the mail art media now in use. By the 1970s, pursuing those ideas in a thoughtful and critical way put me at odds with the mail art network.

Mail art has no major role to play in the world today. There’s no need for mail art on the Internet. The net’s a different kind of medium. It needs play, ideas and exchange. It doesn’t need mail art. People who see the Internet as an arena for mail art are missing the point. Information technology has opened old fields to entirely new approaches. The technology is helping us to transform information into knowledge by making it possible to work and play in new ways. The information society is shifting the boundaries of most professions, transforming job descriptions and reconstructing businesses. It would be amazing art were to be left untouched.

The world has moved farther than mail art has. The old paradigms don’t hold. Mail artists make too much of their supposedly radical nature without a solid grounding in common human issues. Radical artistic efforts that react against vanished paradigms seem quaint, irrelevant.

RJ: And the second answer, the difficult one?

KF: The second question is extraordinarily difficult. The idea that part of the world will have access to information technology while much of it won’t is profoundly disturbing. If the developed world leaves the rest of the world behind, we’ll have to build a huge wall to keep out the billions of people who want what we have. That won’t work. On the other hand, shaping sustainable development for everyone is a huge problem, just huge.

The flow of information through societies, through organizations, through companies can make a profound difference. But things are difficult. We must make things work in an interlocked system of public policies, business policies and private desires that are headed in directions that don’t lead toward the world we need to shape. I am convinced of the importance of these issues and aware of the extraordinary challenges that face us if we are to achieve enough in the next half century for the human race to survive on this planet.
The flow of information and the development of a good life for all are linked. The development of a good life for all with sustainable development is not the altruism of the rich for the poor, but a key to a good future for everyone. This excites me more than mail art. Back in the 1960s, it was possible to believe that art and the postal system could reshape the world.

To some degree, it was possible then. Those challenges excited me when they seemed possible. It was always kind of a dream, but it was a useful dream. Today, other dreams are more productive.

RJ: I think this is a good place to end the interview. Thank you for your time and energy !

Addresses (old):

Ken Friedman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Leadership and Strategic Design
Norwegian School of Management
Box 4676 Sofienberg
N 0506 Oslo, Norway

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

e-mail : r.janssen@iuoma.org
APPENDIX-1

(Sent in by Ken Friedman together with his first answer)

There are a number of texts and documents you may wish to read:

Friedman, Ken, ed. Art Folio. Boston: Religious Arts Guild, 1971. [Religious Arts Guild “Circular/Packet: 2.”]

Friedman, Ken. The Aesthetics. Devon, England: Beau Geste Press, 1972.

Friedman, Ken, ed. An International Contact List of the Arts. Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada: Fluxus West and Image Bank, 1972.

Friedman, Ken and Stanley Lunetta, eds. International Sources (Source Magazine, vol. 6, no. 1, issue 11) Sacramento, California: Composer/Performer Editions, 1972. [special issue devoted to Fluxus and intermedia, also the catalogue of the exhibition International Sources]

Friedman, Ken. “Flowing in Omaha.” Art and Artists (London), vol. 8, no. 9 (Issue no 89, Aug 1973): 6 9.

Friedman, Ken. “Where is the Art Going Today?” The San Diego (California) Union, November 11, 1973: E 7.

Friedman, Ken. “On Artists’ Stamps.” Art et Communication Marginale. Herve Fischer, ed. Paris: Editions Balland, 1974.

Friedman, Ken and Georg M. Gugelberger. “The Stamp and Stamp Art.” International Rubber Stamp Exhibition. Carl Loeffler, ed. San Francisco: La Mamelle Arts Center, May 1976. [exhibition catalog]

Friedman, Ken. “A Discourse on Community.” Art Contemporary (La Mamelle), vol. 3, no. 1 (Issue no 9, 1977): 12 14, 73.

Friedman, Ken. “Notes on the History of the Alternative Press.” Lightworks, no. 8 9 (Winter 1977): 41 47.

Friedman, Ken. “Correspondence Art in Perspective.” Gray Matter. Eve Laramee, ed. San Diego: San Diego State University Art Gallery (1978): 3 6. [exhibition catalogue]

Friedman, Ken. “Storia dell’Arte Postale.” Mantua Mail 78. Romano Peli and Michaela Versari, eds. Mantova, Italy: Assesorato Cultura Comune di Mantova, 1978. [exhibition catalogue]

Friedman, Ken. “Post Haste: Reflections on Mail Art.” Umbrella, vol. 3, no. 3 (May 1980): 56 58.

Friedman, Ken. “The Retrospective was Cancelled.” Fuse, vol. 4, no. 5 (Jul Aug 1980): 304 306.

Friedman, Ken with Peter Frank. “Fluxus: A Post Definitive History: Art Where Response Is the Heart of the Matter.” High Performance, #27 (1984): 56 61, 83.

Friedman, Ken. “Fluxus and Company.” In Ubi Fluxus, ibi motus. Achille Bonita Oliva, Gino Di Maggio and Gianni Sassi, eds. Venice and Milan: La Biennnale di Venezia and Mazzotta Editore, 1990, 328 332. [book published in conjunction with exhibition]

Friedman, Ken. “Fluxus and Company.” Lund Art Press, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1990: School of Architecture, University of Lund, 289 299.

Friedman, Ken. “Rethinking Fluxus.” (in) Fluxus! Zurbrugg, Nicholas, Francesco Conz and Nicholas Tsoutas, eds. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art, 1990, pp. 10 27.

Friedman, Ken with James Lewes. “Fluxus: Global Community, Human Dimensions.” (in) Fluxus: A Conceptual Country, Estera Milman, guest editor. [Visible Language, vol. 26, nos. 1/2.] Providence: Rhode Island School of Design, 1992, pp. 154 179. [Special issue devoted to Fluxus, also exhibition catalogue]

Friedman, Ken. “Vytautas Landsbergis and Fluxus.” Siksi. 1/92. Helsinki: Nordiskt Konstcentrum, Sveaborg, 33 34.

Friedman, Ken. “Why I Don’t Take Part in Network Telefax Art Projects.” (in) Bleus, Guy. A Networking Fax Project & Performance. Eindhoven, The Netherlands, 1993.

Friedman, Ken. ” Fluxus Idea” (in) The Electronic Superhighway. Travels with Nam June Paik. Paik, Nam June, Kenworth W. Moffett, et. al, eds. New York, Seoul and Fort Lauderdale: Holly Solomon Gallery, Hyundai Gallery and the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, 1995, 87 97.

Friedman, Ken. “The Early Days of Mail Art.” In Eternal Network, Chuck Welch, ed. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995.

Friedman, Ken. “Eternal Network.” Eternal Network, Chuck Welch, ed. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995. [Introduction.]

ALSO

Crane, Michael and Mary Stofflett, eds. Correspondence Art: Sourcebook for the Network of International Postal Art Activity. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984.

Albright, Thomas. “Correspondence.” Rolling Stone 107 (April 27, 1972): 28 29.

Albright, Thomas. “A Guerrilla Attack on Traditional Art Ideas.” The San Francisco Chonicle, February 9, 1972: 49.

Albright, Thomas. “Informed Sources.” Art Gallery Magazine (Ivoryton, Connecticut) vol. 15, no. 7 (April 1972): w1, 7.

Albright, Thomas. “New Art School: Correspondence.” Rolling Stone 106 (April 13, 1972): 32.

Poinsot, Jean Marc, ed. Mail Art Communication: A Distance Concept. Paris: Editions CEDIC, 1971.

Welch, Chuck, ed. Eternal Network,. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1995.

Cohen, Ronny. “Art and Letters: Please Mr. Postman, Look and See… Is there a work of art in your bag for me?” Art News, vol. 80+, no. 10 (December 1981): 68 73.

Zack, David. “An Authentik and Historical Discourse on the Phenomenon of Mail Art.” Art in America, vol. 66, no. 1 (Jan Feb 1973): cover, 46 53.

Artists’ Stamps and Stamp Images. James W. Felter. Burnaby, British Columbia: Simon Fraser Gallery, Simon Fraser University, 1974. [exhibition catalogue]

APPENDIX-2

WHY I DON’T TAKE PART IN NETWORK TELEFAX ART PROJECTS (by KEN FRIEDMAN).

A Reply for Guy Bleus

This text was sent by FAX as a reaction to a FAX-project held by Guy Bleus, Belgium, at ‘De Fabriek’ in Eindhoven, Netherlands, in which Ken Friedman writes about his views to FAX art.

Guy Bleus’s statement on Telecopy Art is intelligent and interesting. Much of what Guy writes is true. Even so, I don’t take part in telefax exhibitions. I want to explain why.

The telefax is a one-line instrument. When my fax is busy, I can’t send or receive other messages. Most network messages are broadcast messages using narrowcast tools. The mailbox is a paradoxial receiver: it is a narrowcast receiver that can receive a large number of broadcast messages at once. Receiving one item in the mail doesn’t prevent receiving another.

The telefax is a true narrowcast receiver. When you are receiving one item, you cannot receive another. Today’s fax technology is still primitive. The fax cannot receive multiple messages and stack them for later feedout. My fax is a fax, and not a computer. I cannot read messages, choose to print, select among them and dump the rest.

Today’s telefax communication is always narrowcast, and I use my fax as a tool of private communication. I want to keep my fax open for incoming private messages. When I travel, I want the paper supply left available for specific communications intended personally for me, not for the network. I am a businessman as well as an artist. I cannot afford to miss a direct communication from a client because the fax is busy all day – or because a full roll of paper runs out on the third day of a six-day trip.
A friend who directs a gallery was once asked to take part in a fax-show. She agreed. Her fax was busy for four days solid. She ran through several dozen rolls of paper. Her colleagues couldn’t reach her. They phoned her to find out why the fax was broken. She wasted hours on the phone every day explaining the problem rather then spending her time getting messages and acting on them. Her colleagues had to spend hundreds of dollars sending urgent information by courier that could easily have been sent by fax if the fax has been available.

This was an instructive lesson to me. The fax should be a tool, not an intrusion. I decided then that I would not take part in telefax exhibitions or projects until the technology changes enough to make it possible for me to avoid these problems. Right now, this isn’t with my cheerful, old-fashioned telefax.

I use my telefax as a personal tool. I do use my telefax to send and receive information for art projects and exhibitions. In some ways, it is the tool that Guy Bleus suggests. At this time, it is a private tool, and I am not willing to open my fax line to the network.

I only want faxes from people who want to communicate directly with me as an individual. I do not want telefax communications from people who see me as part of a network or an undifferentiated member of the category of artists who own telefax machines.

Privacy is an important right. I welcome letters and telephone calls from network friends. I accept network broadcast mailings. I am willing to receive letters and calls from people I don’t know; they may be people I want to know. I don’t want to use my fax as a tool for mail art. Telefax and mail are very different-processes. I prefer to use them in specific and different ways.

(Ken Friedman, March 1993)

APPENDIX-3

SAMPLE OF AN E-MAIL MESSAGE:

PINE 3.90 TEKST VAN BERICHT Postvak:INKOMEND Bericht 57/59
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 1995 12:36:24 +0200
From: “ken.friedman” <ken.friedman@bi.no>
To: tam@dds.nl
Subject: Answer

RJ :

Well, I couldn’t work without documentation. But isn’t the danger of documentation that it forms its own truth, and that reality (things that happen on a specific moment) can never be captured in an objective documentation because this reality is different for everybody who observes it, and everybody recognizes his own truth by observing. Only the ones that document then would form the ‘history.’ Is documentation that powerful?

KF:

This is a danger. It’s the basic problem of all forms of documentation, no matter who makes them and no matter the purpose for which they’re made. It seems to me that there is a strong argument to be made for a variety of clear, understandable sources of document from several views. In the recent past, most documentation on art has been compiled or presented by a handful of journalists, critics and finally by art historians. I suggest that there can be valid approaches to art documentation by scholars from several fields and by artists themselves. The better, the broader, the more clear and conscious a body or documents is, the better we can understand what’s happened. I believe that there documentation has valid goals and purposes, and that these can be fulfilled or abused. How we handle documentation, how much and how well, makes the difference

Ken Friedman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Leadership and Strategic Design
Norwegian School of Management NMH
Box 4676 Sofienberg

N 0506 Oslo, Norway

Telephone Direct: +47 22.11.56.10 (tone) 505
Telephone Switchboard: +47 22.11.55.60
Telephone Private: +47 22.60.85.60
Telefax: +47 22.11.56.20

[EINDE van de tekst van her bericht]

APPENDIX-4

E-MAIL about the E-MAIL projects

STATEMENT: Why I Don’t Take Part in E mail Art Projects

I don’t take part in e mail art projects. I want to explain why. I use my e mail as a tool for research and communication. I subscribe to several listserv lists that have a combined posting of some 200 or so messages a day. In addition, I usually receive another 30 or 40 messages a day to which I must respond, more if a project is under way.

When I travel, I come back to a full mail box. It takes me an average of two hours for every day of travel to get through my mail. I need the communication and I value my time. There’s too much impersonal e mail art communication taking place to interest me.

E mail should be a tool, not an intrusion. I use e mail as a personal tool and a research tool. It is a private tool and I do not want to open my line to the network.

I only want posts from people who want to communicate directly with me as an individual. I do not want e mail communications from people who see me as part of a network or an undifferentiated member of the category of artists who have computers and e mail access machines.

Privacy is an important human right. I welcome letters and telephone calls from network friends. I accept network broadcast snail mailings. I am willing to receive letters and calls from people I don’t know; they may be people I want to know. I don’t want to use my e mail address as a tool for mail art. E mail and snail mail are very different processes and I prefer to use them in specific and different ways.

THE POST THAT I GOT

Subject: Jive Ruud
To: tam@dds.nl (Ruud Janssen)
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 95 7:59:53 CST
From: Chris Dodge <cdodge@hennepin.hennepin.lib.mn.us>
Cc: interjam@art.niu.edu

If ah’ only had time
If ah’ only had
If ah’ dun didn’t need da damn bre’d
I wouldn’t do wo’k fo’ oders
I would wo’k all de time
fo’ mah’self and produce sump’n supa’ fine
If ah’ only dun didn’t need bre’d
If ah’ only had 25 hours some day
If ah’ had da damn time
to answa’ all de quesshuns
dat mosey on down down in mah’ mind.

Karen Elliot for DeSirey Dodge Peace Post

Chris Dodge cdodge@hennepin.lib.mn.us
Hennepin County Library phone: 612 541 8572
12601 Ridgedale Drive fax: 612 541 8600
Minnetonka, MN 55305

Ken Friedman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Leadership and Strategic Design
Norwegian School of Management
Box 4676 Sofienberg
N 0506 Oslo, Norway

mail-interview with Vittore Baroni – Italy

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH VITTORE BARONI

21

Vittore

Started on: 24-01-1995

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: 30-3-1995

VB : I got involved in the mail art net in 1977, when I discovered the existence of mail art through the work of G.A. Cavellini – I had seen an ad in Flash Art Magazine for G.A.C.’s “Free” Art Books – I wrote him, got the books, started a correspondence with G.A.C. (my first contact!) and soon with Anna Banana and all the other late 70’s regulars. The rest is history!

RJ : Is mail art itself history, after the death of Ray Johnson?

Reply on : 20-4-1995

VB : As I wrote in the latest issue of ARTE POSTALE! magazine # 69, the sad demise of R.J. in a way is an event/date that signals the end of the “golden age” of mail art, that big phenomenon that Ray was instrumental into originating in the early sixties and that probably had its peak moment in the first half of the eighties. January 13th 1995 also means the completion of a cycle, with fax/e-mail/internet/etc. picking up the inheritance of “snail mail”/ correspondence. It must be pointed out that those learning to travel the electronic highways have a lot to learn from postal networkers (with years of experience behind them) in terms of strategies, share-work practices and open frame of mind. So mail art is a bit more “history”, but its teachings will live on.

RJ : Could you explain what you mean with strategies, share-work practices and open frame of mind. What are the teachings you would like to live on?

Reply on 27-10-1995 (printed text and diskette)

(I’ve sent a few times copies of the question and some samples of finished interviews to Vittore Baroni. His answer came in a large envelope with lots of info’s. Also there was a diskette in it, but as I tried to read it, I discovered that it was for a Macintosh computer. Since the file was not transformed to a DOS-file, I could read the printed version and retyped the whole answer)
VB : Dear Ruud, sorry if I disappeared without answering to your latest mailings, I didn’t mean to be rude bur really from May to September my work (almost) 24 hours-a-day at the Hotel makes it impossible for me to deal with any kind of correspondence. I don’t even open the damn envelopes, sometimes. Now I’m back home and trying to put things into shape, while answering to the latest question of our mail-interview, I also try to put some order in my head regarding what I feel about the network today, and what I want to do from now on (more ramblings in next Arte Postale!)…. So here I go, reverting to paper (my last disk was by mistake an MS-DOS translated Mac text, but this is yet again a Mac disc on Word 5).

Question: something to do with what is exactly the legacy that mail art leaves to internet surfers?…
A lot of people approach Internet and electronic networking with a strictly utilitarian attitude, they are looking for financial gains or sexual encounters or whatever. Others enjoy the possibility/power to chat with millions of people, but have nothing to say to them, so it’s only a big waste of time and money: to me it is like those Hi-Fi freaks who own incredibly expensive stereo playback systems and use them to hear the same ten records, technology nerds into communication. I hope that some of the “golden rules” of mail art will find their way into the cyber-community, because what I see and read now regarding what’s going on in the Net isn’t always that free and open. I must first of all admit that I do not own yet a modem and I only used Internet a few times through the courtesy of a friendly neighbour who has an access and University pass-word. But I do read a lot about it in international magazines (Wired, .net and the like), so I know more or less what is going on, regarding my favourite subjects. I noticed a lot of resistance against the new media from old-time mail artists, especially those who do not use a computer daily. I do not feel like that, I am really enthusiast about the possibilities of the new media, but I tend to be also realist: I will wait till there will be a Internet link also in my town (and by the way, even local phone calls in Italy may become very expensive if you do a long call, so using Internet for hours is not cheap around here!), also I will wait till the jargon and hype surrounding the Net will have vanished a bit, when it will be just another common communication system added to the existing ones, then I will start doing my electronic projects, probably not leaving the postal medium abruptly but little by little. A book like Chuck Welch’s Eternal Network I think can be of great help even to people who have never heard about mail art and will never practice mail art (or who are not interested in art altogether), as a sort of preliminary introduction to the spirit of free networking: it’s something totally different from the tons of Guides for Internet surfing you find in every bookshop, because it is founded on over thirty years of intensive experiences in the field of free and open exchange-communication. It is a wealth of wisdom that you just can’t sum up in a few words or even in a single book, but I believe a mail artist approach to Internet will always be much more free-and-easy than the approach of people who had no previous networking experiences. If mail art arrived where Internet is today, connecting the whole planet in a web of spiritual energy, using a much cheaper medium, at the same time I believe strongly that mail art as a phenomenon has lost much of its significance now that Internet is spreading: it will be just anachronistic to continue using stamps beyond a certain (and very near) point in time.

Everything reaches a peak and then starts to drop, mail art probably had its peak in ’92 with the Networker Congress thing, and now with the death of Ray Johnson the cycle is complete, the only thing that can be done is tell the whole history in a more complete way (like the books by Géza Perneczky, John Held Jr., Chuck Welch are testifying), museums and collectors can enter the scene and eat the remains. Those who where there for the excitement (& warmth & enlightenments) of it and not for the glory, will move on to better occupations. Of course it will take years and years for the big wave to pass completely and dry out, there is still an enormous amount of activity in mail art, and with Global Mail we also have something the Network always lacked (except maybe for the short life-span of Vile and a certain period of Umbrella) and always cried for, a magazine to act as a forum and reference point, a small but reliable solid island in the chaotic mailstream. I do not intend to stop printing my own Arte Postale! magazine yet (at least three issues are planned for this winter, starting with a Baroni-Bleus collaboration), and there are still things that I need to do with the postal system, but I do not feel tied emotionally hands and feet to it: I am a networker at heart, and I use the more satisfying and more affordable instruments I can put my hands on. If I had the possibility to phone all around the world for almost nothing, I would use the phone, if I had a voice strong enough to get over the mountain, I would just scream and scream. Before year 3000 something better than Internet will be invented, and we will all be finally able to tele-transport ourselves P.K.Dick-style wherever we dream to go.

RJ : Some readers of this interview might not know your magazine “Arte Postale!”. What is your magazine about?

Reply on 24-11-1995

VB : I discovered mail art in 1977 and the following year I was already corresponding with an ever increasing number of contacts, a hundred or more, so I soon reached the point when you are not able anymore to find the time for elaborate original answers to each and every single mailing. I needed something readily available to trade with other networkers and that could become the focus for my postal activities, so the natural step to take was to create my own magazine, like other mail artists did before me (at the time, I was particularly impressed, even more than by the “glossy” Vile, by an american xeroxed publication called Cabaret Voltaire, that showed you could make a strong original magazine with just a black and white photocopier).
And that’s how ARTE POSTALE! (with – often forgotten! exclamation mark, to me a reminder of the excitement of my first encounter with the mail art medium) was born in October 1979, as a totally non-profit publication, distributed only through the postal system and wholly dedicated to the aesthetics and philosophies of mail art.

Through perseverance and a few weird ideas that did hit the mark, it has become one of the most well known and long-lived magazines in the whole Eternal Network. The title is simply “Mail Art!” translated into italian, as I wanted it to be from the start a “pure” mail art publication, totally rooted in the correspondence milieu. There never was a fixed size or periodicity, though in the first three years I was able incredibly to maintain a monthly pace (I was a young student and single then, with a lot of free time in my hands!), now I am lucky when I am able to publish more than two issues a year. After five or six issues completely printed on cheap paper-plate off-set machines (I later turned to photocopies for a better resolution quality), always produced in 100 numbered copies, the magazine gradually turned into an “assembling” publication, gathering together original pages contributed by various international networkers, while I still printed the cover and a few “home pages”. I don’t remember exactly from where I got the idea in 1979, but probably I was aware of the Assembling magazine by Richard Kostelanetz (though at that point I still had not actually seen one) and I had received some collective mail art publications (though they looked more like artistic “portfolios” than magazines, with loose pages and minimal editorial work). From the beginning, I wanted Arte Postale! to look like a “real” magazine, not an arty multiple, so I always stapled all the pages together, never mind the “preciousness” of some of the works, sealing sometimes the smaller bits into bags or envelopes glued to the pages. Though there were often themes to stick to, participants were usually totally free regarding the size and medium of their contributions (often someone would send a hundred totally different pages), so I also got several tridimensional oddities, like plant leaves, glass beads, ping pong balls and bee wax bas reliefs. This forced me sometimes to adopt unusual formats, the most bizarre issue being the “boxed” N.24, with mostly 3D works and resembling a marriage between a mail art mag and a Fluxus box. To do a “gathering mag” is big fun only if you deeply and sincerely love the mystic side of the self publishing experience. Each time you are confronted with a different challenge of finding the best way to bring into harmony an array of disparate works, so it is never a mechanical practice, it is like stitching together a Frankenstein creature and trying to infuse some life into it. The boring aspect is of course the actual work of collecting page after page to put all the copies together, once a scheme and order of assembling is decided, but I usually did this in the late evening, while listening to music or watching films on TV with an eye, often with the help of my mother (!) who was also sitting in, so with only 100 copies to go it never took more than two or three very relaxed working sessions. I think one reason why some of us just feel a sort of orgasm when they finally hold in their hand the first finished copy of a self publication lies in the fact that we are a generation raised in a global media environment, we are used to get most of our views on the world from the printed page and to assimilate magazines since we are born (I’m talking of people born in the fifties or sixties, younger generations are much more video centered): the fact of actually editing and publishing a mag is for us the (often inconscious) accomplishment of a cathartic reversal of roles. It is like when a video recorder first entered into your house, making you feel that you no longer depended on what “they” wanted to show you: now you could decide what movie to watch and at what pace and which scene you wanted to see again and again. But it is even more than that, now you can star in the movie… Well, anyway, as even the best games tend to become tedious after some time, I decided to stop collecting original pages starting with issue N.52 (it was supposed to be N.51 really, but a lot of people kept mailing things in a hundred copies even after I discontinued the call for contributions I still get the odd accidental package now after ten years, so unforeseeable are the network circumvolutions!). This change left me free to vary and experiment with the number of copies produced, ranging from the single copy of the special “homage issue” (N.53, this was put together by Mark Pawson as a terminal tribute to the “assembling days” of Arte Postale!, with unique pieces by fifty some different networkers, it came like a total surprise and I liked it so much that I decided to give it a proper AP! number) to the 600 copies of issue 63 (with a 7″ vinyl record by my group Le Forbici di Manitu inside, singing the Let’s Network Together hymn) and the “unlimited” issues N. 60 61 69 (xerox copies always available). The most successful and fun to do issues have been the “mail art show show catalogue” N.47 (I organized a project requesting fake mail art invitations, to be diffused to short circuit the net!), the bumper N.5O “silver issue” (a real silver knife sent from Canada hidden in one of the copies), the “mail art handbook” N.55 (a sort of half serious synthetic guide to happy networking), the “mail art & money do mix!” N.56 (I sent money out to networkers with optional requests on how to use it and I glued a real coin to each cover: not only a free magazine, but a mag that pays you to be read!). Differently from several mail art bulletins and publications that consist mostly of reproductions of adds and lists of invitations to projects (these may be useful as a source of information, but I find them really boring as magazines, if not done with the craft and passion of a Global Mail), I always wanted each issue of Arte Postale! to be a sort of personal/collective little art work in itself, with many hand interventions in each single copy (folded pages, blots of colour, small glued inserts, rubberstamped images, etc.), like a miniature “artist’s book” minus the pretentiousness of priced gallery art. So instead of using the small space available (lately, I try to keep AP! under the weight of 20 grams, to save on trees and postage) to reproduce invitations and lists of addresses, I prefer to focus each time on a single theme, selecting the most inspired contributions and arranging them so to make a collective statement on that particular topic (of course also all the contributors not reproduced in the mag to include always everything would be economically and technically impossible! do get a free copy).

In sixteen years, over 500 networkers from approximately 35 different countries, ranging from elementary school kids to well respected artists like Ray Johnson and Ben Vautier, participated into Arte Postale!. In pure mail art spirit, no form of censorship or selection on the original “assembling” contributions was ever applied. Each contributor always receives one or more free copies of the issue he/she is featured into. Up till issue N.63 the magazine, though 99% distributed or traded free in the network, was also made available at a low cover price to interested non mail artists, through the diffusion of small mail order catalogues, but given the difficulties of such a minimal form of distribution sales never repaid even the cost of printing the catalogues! since issue N.64 it has become totally free: you cannot buy the new issues anymore, and I decide who is going to get them for trade or as a gift (only a few back issues are still available in a very limited number of copies). A complete (or almost complete) collection of the magazine is housed in several international archives, such as the Administration Centre/42.292 Networking Archive in Belgium, the V.E.C. Archives in Holland and the Sackners Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry in Miami Beach, USA. And yes, I have spotted recently some deleted early issues of AP! already offered at high prices in specialized catalogues for collectors of avantgarde publications: I don’t know if I should be proud or angry about it, for sure there is nothing I can do (and unfortunately I don’t have a secret stash of back issues under the roof!), I guess it’s inevitable that such ironic turns of events may happen… One thing I’ve been ruminating about for quite some time now is if I ever want to stop doing Arte Postale!, and I just made up my mind to reach at least issue 100, that would be a nice point to stop (or to turn into an electronic publication, who knows but then the name will have to change definitively). This still leaves 28 issues to go, and that means that Arte Postale!, like mail art itself, will still be around for quite a few years…

Ruud, I’m not sure if I have sent it to you already, anyway here is a complete list of the AP! editions so far (please note that some of the issues appeared with a different “fake” logo, still retaining the Arte Postale! numeration):

1 DEMONIA October 1979 edition of 100 copies
2 PATTI SMITH ROCKIN’ DEMONIA November 1979 100
3 ART SONGS FROM DEMONIA December 1979 100
4 MORE POLITICAL SATIRE: POST SCRIPTUM January 1980 100
5 CAVELLINIANA February 1980 100
6 AMERICAN MAIL ART DADA 80 March 1980 100
7 REFLUXUS ISSUE April 1980 100
8 AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ISSUE I May 1980 100
9 UK SPECIAL June 1980 100
10 AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ISSUE II July 1980 100

11 AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ISSIE III August 1980 100
12 ALL STARS ISSUE September 1980 100
13 T SHIRTS ISSUE October 1980 100
14 DEVELOP MY DREAMS November 1980 100
15 (teacher with kids) December 1980 100
16 VISUAL POETRY ISSUE January February 1981 100
17 ETOATLERPSA! March 1981 100
18 THE YAHOO BULLETIN 1st April 1981 100
19 THINK ABOUT MAIL ART May June 1981 100
20 UT FONA RES July 1981 100
21 44 88! no date (July 1981) 100
22 MIDSUMMER ISSUE August 1981 100
23 THE YAHOO BULLETIN (II) September 1981 100
24 BOXED EDITION (in 3D cardboard box) October 1981 100
25 THIS ORDER December 1981 100
26 YEARBOOK 1981 31st December 1981 100
27 POSTCARDSBOX (in cardboard box) January February 1982 100
28 CONFIDENCES March 1982 100
29 CRISIS OF #29 April 1982 100
30 EAST WEST CONNECTION May 1982 100
31 (vintage postcards) June 1982 100
32 BIDET July August 1982 100
33 (mask cover) September 1982 100
34 ARE YOU IN LOVE? October 1982 100
35 BIENNALE DE PARIS November 1982 100
36 (badges cover) December 1982 100
37 S.I.N.EWS I January 1983 100
38 CONCEPTUAL MAFIA March 1983 100
39 LEWD CARESS (also CARE N.8) April 1983 100
40 (old Forte dei Marmi photo) May 1983 100
41 S.I.N.EWS II June 1983 100
42 POST ART GUERRILLA July 1983 100
43 NETWORKART August September 1983 100
44 (postman & drummer) October November 1983 100
45 S.I.N.EWS III December 1993 100
46 A TRIP TO AKADEMGOROD January February 1984 100
47 MAIL ART SHOW SHOW CATALOGUE March 1984 100
48 MCMLXXXIV! April June 1984 100
49 THE MINIATURE ISSUE (in cassette box) July September 1984 100
50 SILVER ISSUE October 1984 100
51 S.I.N.EWS IV January 1985 100
52 SCRIPTA VOLANT February March 1985 200
53 HOMAGE A VITTORE BARONI no date (April May 1985) 1 copy only (this issue organized and edited by Mark Pawson, who also produced and distributed an unnumbered transparent xerox sheet with names of contributors)

54 CORNUCOPIA June December 1985 300
55 MAIL ART HANDBOOK January December 1986 500
56 MAIL ART & MONEY DO MIX! January June 1987 100
57 THE BOX GAME July December 1987 500
58 THE B.A.T. MANUAL January December 1988 300
59 ALTERNATIVE PHILATELY January June 1989 500
60 (the making of) NETZINE July September 1989 unlimited edition
61 SMILE October December 1989 unlimited edition
62 B ART ISSUE January December 1990 500 (250 with insert booklet by Günther Ruch)

(no Arte Postale! in 1991)

63 LET’S NETWORK TOGETHER (with 7″ record) January December 1992 600
63b META CONCERT IN SPIRIT (cassette) January December 1992 93
64 UTOPIA INFANTILE (V.B. & Robin Crozier) January March 1993 100
65 GLASS ENIGMA (David Drummond Milne) April June 1993 100
66 THE ONE MAN SHOW July September 1993 100
67 STICKERMAN SCRAPBOOK October December 1993 100
68 ARTURO G. FALLICO SPECIAL January December 1994 100
69 RAY JOHNSON LIVES! January February 1995 unlimited edition
70 THE NO INSTITUTE/JÜRGEN O. OLBRICH March April 1995 100
71 FUN IN ACAPULCO May September 1995 300
72 ONE YEAR LATER 1 13 January 1996 81
73 A DECK OF POSTCARDS October December 1995 100
74 MY OWN PRIVATE INTERNET 14 17 January 1996 300
75 LUTHER BLISSETT MAN OF THE YEAR 18 January 1 April 1996 100

And the following one is a short essay I wrote for the recent exhibition of the whole Arte Postale! collection organized by Guy Bleus in his mail art gallery space in Hasselt, Belgium it was not used in the catalogue magazine so it’s still unpublished:

ARTE POSTALE! 1979 1995: MEMORIES OF A MAIL ART MAGAZINE MAKER
As the old saying goes, I am not an artist, I am a networker. When I started utilizing the mail art net, I was looking for something that the traditional art system could not give me. At that time, in the late seventies, I tried to restrain myself as much as I could from creating “fine” images. I did not want to make “artworks” and develop a style or please myself aesthetically. I wanted to find new ways to communicate my ideas, avoiding all the usual traps and cliches of the gallery museum critic artmagazine routine. I was very young and naive, and of course I was also wrong (a style always develops in spite of yourself, and you can’t hide away indefinitely your love for pencils and colours), but my clumsy idealism lead me instinctively to fully and wholeheartedly embrace this correspondence art thing. It was so liberating, the whole anarchic idea of Mail What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law. Furthermore, operating at distance (as those travelling the Internet are realizing thirty years later) permitted you to disguise yourself with harmless trickery, switching sex, age, status, credo and (pen)name as fast as you could lick a stamp. It was not art in the traditionally accepted sense, yet you could pretend it was and “play artist” with hundreds of others grown up kids, create new real/fake art myths and throw them in the face of the official Artclique, or simply forget that such a thing as a cultural elite existed and make up your own ideal (net)working dimension, a planetary web with you at the centre.

For me, a networker is a new kind of cultural worker, with a new role in society and new tools and strategies of intervention at his/her fingertips: a sort of “cultural animator”, a meta artist who creates contexts for collective expression, instead of traditional art works. I always felt that, in the mail art medium, the “art work” is not represented by the single postcard or letter I mail, but by the whole process of interaction with my contact(s), including their replies and the spiritual link that is activated between us. A complete mail art project, a collection of contributions from dozens or hundreds of different people (not necessarily “artists”!) responding to one request or theme, is another form of what I regard as a proper networking art piece: not the single contribution, but the sum of all the interacting mailings. In this sense, photocopied (or off set printed) and self distributed mail art magazines, often including manual interventions and original pages submitted by various contributors, are yet another form of genuine art work generated by networking practices. I consider the thousands of copies of Arte Postale! that I lovingly hand assembled one by one in the past sixteen years as the best single documentation of my multifarious activities as a full free time networker. While many content themselves with simple lists of names and addresses, I believe there are infinite ways to turn a mail art catalogue or magazine into a fully satisfying little art piece in itself. All those unexpected holes or original fragments glued on the pages, one of a kind enclosures or hand signed messages are not intended to mimic the preciousness of pricey artists’ books, but to make the experience of reading a mail art magazine as fresh, unique and intimate as that of reading a personal letter. If only in a few cases I have been able to achieve this, then I am an happy networker.

RJ : Thanks for this extensive overview of your magazine and the philosophy behind it. In all those years you must have received lots of mail art. Is it all still at your place? Do you keep an archive or do you recycle a lot?
Reply on 27-12-1995

(With his answer Vittore included a diskette with the text as he had written it on his computer, Unfortunately it was a MAC computer, and since I use a DOS machine, I could not read the disk nor the text. Vittore also included some photos of his archive which I will use as illustrations when possible, and some small hand-made postcards).

VB : In the past fifteen years or so I remember very few days without a piece of mail in my mailbox. When that happens, I know that the post office might be on strike or that it must be a very special day indeed (with a mild sense of relief built in the very experience!). This means that yes, I have received a tremendous amount of mail, but luckily I have never been a compulsive collector and I always recycle a lot of what came in. My room as a young student was not that big, and it had to function as studio and archive of mail art besides containing all my books, records, clothes and stuff. There was no way I could save everything, so my line in action from the very start was to throw the most useless trash-mail in the bin, save the books, catalogues and zines for the library, keep only the “artworks” (classified in alphabetical folders and files, arranged under authors’ names and geographically) and the envelopes that contained enough meaningful drawings, artistamps or rubberstamps. This means that most of the personal messages, envelopes and trivia has been recycled as new envelopes, submissions to assembling publications or material for collages. This still leaves a LOT of paper material and 3D pieces.

When I moved to my new house in 1988, I had to pack everything into dozens of crates, it took me one year to put everything back into shape in the new E.O.N. (Ethereal Open Network) mail art studio-archive, that is now located in two small rooms under the roof at Via Battisti 339, Viareggio, Italy. One room is just a storage space, with boxes containing the works belonging to single projects, theme exhibitions, series of panels of my own work, etc. The other room has a library-wall with all the catalogues and magazines, plus all the folders and larger file-cabinets for the contacts with whom I have long-standing relationship, and files with the other mixed authors, divided geographically.

Downstairs I have a small “home gallery” space with temporary exhibitions by single mail artists, of materials culled from the archive. I must add the archive is in a perpetual state of “orderly disorder”, I am a very orderly type and I like everything to be neatly arranged, but I never seem to be able to keep pace with the upcoming mail.
At the time of writing, there are at least ten big cardboard crates full of answered mail that need to be subdivided into the various files, but who knows when I will be able to perform this lovingly boring task. I usually sneak up into the mail art room at odd times, very early in the morning before everyone wakes up or late at night when everyone sleeps, so I rarely spend there more than one hour a day, and that’s just time enough to answer a few letters and develop some new ideas. Right now the archive would need at least another room, as it has become really full up to the brim with materials. I am thinking right now of an unheard of manner to deal with the space problem, you’ll read all about it in a future issue of Arte Postale!

RJ : This space problem is something I hear from a lot of active mail artists. I am very curious about your solution, but I will wait till you publish it in your future issue of Arte Postale!. Let’s focus on something else. In 1986 there was the “tourism” and in 1992 the “DNC-year”. Were you active in those events too? Is meeting the artists, you are in contact with by mail, a logic step in mail art?

Reply on 17-1-1996

(Vittore wrote me that he will type the answers and questions all on his MAC-computer. Since I can’t read the MAC-diskettes, he will keep track of the words, and will then transform the final interview with the help of a friend to a DOS-diskette and send it to me).
VB : Yes, I did participate partially in both the big “decentralized congresses” of Mail Artists (1986) and Networkers (1992). In the first case, it was mostly through mail friends who came and visited me in Forte dei Marmi, where I still lived at the time. I got really very frequent visits from mail artists throughout the 80es, not one month passed away without someone dropping in unexpected, while in the 90es visits are very few and far between (this must mean something: either people has less money and travelling has become more expensive, my image as a perfect guest has changed, we have all grown old and with family ties, “tourism” is no more that exciting, I really don’t have an answer for this, maybe it is all these reasons put together). In the second case, I helped H.R. Fricker from the very start to formulate the call for the World Wide DNC92, so I felt much more directly involved, I travelled to several Congresses in Italy and to a major one abroad, the one held at Hans Rudi’s house in the Swiss mountains. I have many great memories and sweet anecdotes about all my mail art meetings throughout the years, and not a single bad one, so I definitely think that meeting in person after a long acquaintance through the post is a positive thing, but I would not call it a “logic step” in mail art (it’s probably just an “inevitable step”): when you meet, it is no more “mail art”, regardless to the fact that you do cooperate “live” on a performance or creative work or you just sip tea and chat, it’s a totally different kind of experience. I think meeting mail art contacts now and then is an healthy thing to do, it helps you to put certain things in perspective and to go more in depth and into details in conversation (though, with phone before and Internet now, you can do more of this also at distance), but to meet too many people too often, unless you are unemployed and with all the time in the world in your hands, is just putting an useless stress on your already difficult daily life schedule. Also, a strange thing I noticed is that even if a meeting is very intense and positive on all accounts, usually you tend to correspond less (or even stop corresponding) with someone you have met in person. I guess it erodes the myth we all slowly build around respect and friendships “at distance”, a little part of its magic is always lost in the process.

RJ : Will this magic stay there with the new communication forms the internet brings us? On-line chatting and video-phone…… Or the “anonymous” mail art by “snail-mail” shall survive this?

Reply on 24-2-1996

VB : Some forms of “magic” will probably disappear with the end of snail mail, in a few years or decades, like this strong romantic feeling associated with the history of love letters (letters to the loved one abroad, at war, in prison, etc.), we will miss the collections of letters by great poets, writers and artists, and so on (or we will start seeing collections of e mail messages in print). But other forms of “magic” will be introduced by the new media, like the possibility of taking on different identities (and even change sex) in the Internet, while probably you can do the same through on line dialogue and on video phone: you just have to alterate your voice or do a good make up job, it is easy to fool everyone! So all in all it will not be a great loss, because it will happen very gradually, people will have time to adjust to it and come up with all sorts of new pranks and “creative” transgressions if they want to. You can remain anonymous even if you meet someone else in person, you can change your looks a bit and just insist that your name is Luther Blissett.

RJ : You mention “Luther Blissett”. I’ve read the article about yet another “universal” name, like I knew “Monty Cantsin” and “Karen Elliot”. Isn’t the repetition I see in a lot of mail art initiatives the indication that the mail art network is ready to vanish gradually?

Reply on 19-3-1996
VB : I haven’t noticed a particularly relevant increase in “repetitiousness” in the mail art network in recent months or years: to my knowledge, it has always been there! That of mindless cloning of ideas or of repetition of cliches is maybe an unavoidable side effect of all interesting phenomena and exciting activities, it is always easier to imitate than to be original and too many people are just plain lazy (God bless their unstressed lives!), so I guess this only helps you to select the correspondents with whom you really love to trade stuff… Regarding “multiple names”, their history goes back a long way before Monty Cantsin was born in the mind of Mr. David Zack, as you can read in a chapter of Stewart Home’s 1988 book Assault on Culture (that by the way I am in the process of publishing in italian for the small publishing house AAA I just founded with my ex TRAX partner Piermario Ciani). I am involved in multiple name strategies since 1980, when I created the ubiquitous conceptual group Lieutenant Murnau: with my present band Le Forbici di Manitú I am assembling right now a retrospective CD of Lt.Murnau’s seminal “plagiarist” recordings, to be released later this year on the UK label Earthly Delights. I truly believe the negation of the singular identity in favour of a shared name is a wonderful and radical development of some networking philosophies inherent to mail art (there is no single “artwork”, the process or the collective project is the artwork, there is no centre, each cell is at the centre of the net, etc.). I don’t believe, though, that much has been obtained by Cantsin, Eliot, Mario Rossi, Bob Jones and all the other “historical” multiple names, especially if compared with what the Luther Blissett Project has been able to accomplish in Italy in just two years. Since the beginning of 1995, for the first time the multiple name concept has really been embraced by a large number of people working secretly in several towns (there are now groups of Blissetts in Rome, Bologna, Udine, Rovigo, etc.), and it would take a whole book to report you all the media pranks that have been successfully played to the italian national TV, to big newspapers and publishers, etc. In fact, there are already three books out in Italy on the Blissett case (and a fourth one will be published in May ’96 by AAA: Totò, Peppino e la Guerra Psichica), plus several magazines and pamphlets (a few things are now being translated into english in London), there are also several Luther Blissett radio shows on independent radio stations and tons of articles from the press every month. So this is not the repetition of an old concept, but rather the beautiful big flower that has finally blossomed out of all those minimal old seeds. It is growing fast, you can maybe compare it to the Church of the SubGenius for the kind of fringe people it usually attracts, but it is much more radical in ideology (all Blissett materials are no copyright and the battle against copyright is a favourite cause for Blissett, while the SubGenius is a deposited trademark!), the stated aim being to cause panic into all media, to challenge and sabotage all the centres of Power and Control everywhere. The Blissett Project goes way beyond the problems caused by an enflated ego, so often a burden in all (mail) art circles, and it goes way beyond being simply an “art project” (so maybe I should stop discussing it here!): it is cultural terrorism at work.

RJ : This news about Luther Blissett is quite interesting for me. I thought to be quite well informed about what is going on in the network, but it seems that this Luther Blissett-idea is especially being developed in Italy, and hasn’t reached the network that well yet (I only remember seeing the name on some xeroxes I got from Italy, and then there are the beautiful artistamps that Piermario Ciani designed for his Blissett-project). It seems that in the whole network, Italy takes a special place when it comes to networking within a single country. Any specific reason?

reply on 10-04-1996

VB : There are two main attitudes towards this “mail art” activity as a whole: one attitude consists in escaping the prison of the closed official art system (artist-critic-dealer-gallery-museum-passive audience) just to end up building another (more satisfactory) small ghetto utopian fairyland (the “network” seen as a circle of “friends”, where everyone knows each other and what is going on: mail artists catalogues exhibitions magazines meetings more active mail artists); the other attitude consists (and I subscribe to this one) in seeing the mail art practitioners as just a tiny fragment of a global networking phenomenon (including the small and underground press, the tape network, what happens in free BBS, in some areas of the Internet, and then again fax zines, phone phreeks, ecc.) where no one is physically able to keep trace of every net focussed thing that is going on in the planet, and where really anything can happen to link human consciousnesses together (without necessarily the need of an “art” tag). Italy is part of the global network just like any other geographical or linguistic area, so if a project is well developed here you can’t say it “hasn’t reached the network”, it simply means that in the case of the Blissett project Italy has become the centre of the network (that will spread from there), just like in the case of the Decentralized WorldWide Congresses of 1992 Switzerland functioned as the originating centre of that project: it’s not a dogmatic thing, the centers are always different and shifting places, each one of us is at the center of the whole network, but surely every project must have to begin somewhere… (regarding Blissett, I must point out that there are several english speaking Luther Blissetts in UK, USA, Holland, Germany, Australia: I can provide several addresses if you want, also see the contacts list and english text found in Internet reprinted in issue 75 of Arte Postale! plus LB has written with Stewart Home the pamphlet Green Apocalypse and published another booklet in UK recently, Bob Black has written about LB in the USA, I included a text in english from John Berndt/LB in the book Totò, Peppino e la guerra psichica, etc., but what is really interesting is how the Blissett project has managed to satisfactorily sabotage and infiltrate the big national media: never assume something isn’t happening in the network if you do not know anything about it, I was also pleasingly shocked when I first found out about the Blissett project, just because it proved me that so much can be happening before that even a “seasoned” networker like me finds out about it…). Italy has always been at the forefront of mail art activities (just see the number of italian participants to any catalogue, compared to the size of our country!), so it comes as no surprise to me that there is also a number of projects being developed in our own tongue (there are so many more things that you can do when everybody speaks fluently the same language!), a lot of small poetry magazines for example have opened their pages to mail art since the late seventies here, and I doubt a lot of these mags have spread beyond the borders, as they were all written in italian. There are probably many reasons for this, but I guess it depends a lot on the strong background of political awareness of the average italian student, the cultural agitation of the movements of protest of 1969, 1977, and of the early 90’s really left their mark on several generations of young people, who got used, among other things, to the mail art and networking ideas through several influential magazines (Amen, Decoder, Neural, Rumore I wrote for years a “networking” column for the last two of these high circulation magazines, reaching thousands of readers not to mention the small zines like Arte Postale!, Na, Fuck, Sorbo Rosso, Il Sorriso Verticale, Underground, etc.etc.) and books (Opposizioni 80, No Copyright, Last Trax, to name but a few). I think that besides Italy, maybe only in the USA (through the influential work of Factsheet Five, Global Mail, The Church of the SubGenius, Hakim Bey’s “Immediatist” theories, Chuck Welch and John Held’s books, etc.) the networking practice has become so widely rooted and accepted as a relevant contemporary cultural strategy belonging to everyone, and surely not limited to artistical practices. But inevitably this situation will gradually spread to larger cultural areas. Like millions of other people, I was thinking and doing “networking” for a long time before discovering about mail art, and I am & will be thinking and doing networking in and out of mail art also as I grow old.

RJ : The expanding of the network is mentioned by other mail artists as well as an important goal in networking. Do you think that everybody can be an artist? Do you think that everybody can be a networker?

Reply on 11-5-1996

VB : Of course everyone can be an artist (good or bad, it does not matter), but this surely does not mean that everyone should be an artist! Luckily, we have all a different brain and a slightly different idea of what is good for us. As the old saying goes, differences are what really spice up the world. At the same time, a little bit of creativity surely makes your life more complete, just like a little bit of sport makes your body feel better. Those who never consider exploring their own creative potentials (and I don’t mean they necessarily have to paint a picture, it can just be arranging the flowers in a vase, or making up a lullaby for your son, etc. etc.) surely are missing a good reason to live up to be 100 yrs old. The same applies to the fact that everybody can be a networker, with the difference that, strictly speaking, everybody already is a networker (of one sort or the other), unless he has always lived alone in a desert island with no form of communication available, not even with the birds and bees…

RJ : Another topic that seems to be very vivid at the moment in the USA is the mail art & money issue. Lon Spiegelman introduced the sentence “money & mail art don’t mix” more then a decade ago. What are your thoughts on this subject?

Answer on 5-7-1996
Question received on May 17, 1996, mailing of the answer delayed till July 1996 (the printer of Vittore’s computer broke down at the same time he started his summer job)
VB : I just wrote a very long and detailed letter on this subject the other day, to an american networker called Joy who gave an university lecture on Fluxus & mail art: in that occasion the issue was raised of the fact I did offer in a recent issue of Arte Postale! magazine “slices” of my archive for sale (that was my provocative solution to the “space problem” discussed earlier in this interview). I reproduce here my letter (minus some personal remarks) that I think can sum up well my own position on the money issue.

“(…) Going straight to the “money & mail art do not mix” affair, I guess every generation of networkers is confronted with this same issue and reacts more or less in the same way. I was very active myself in the late seventies, campaigning for the unwritten “golden rules” of mail art (no jury, no rejects, no prizes, no prices of admission, free catalogue to all, etc.) whenever I found someone trespassing the line of fair conduct by asking an admission fee to a mail art show or money for a mail art catalogue, etc.. At the time I even got myself into a little bit of trouble (by writing a provoking “purist” mail art leaflet in the mock shape of a Red Brigades message…) and surely into endless postal debates, that sometimes spilled onto the pages of Umbrella and other network related zines. What is nice but a bit boring at the same time is the fact that (misinterpretations aside, which anyway always abound!) my position was and is very much alike the one outlined in your letter, that is in turn very similar to the conclusions that any sensitive and judicious networker will get to with just a little pondering: the exchange is FREE, for each show or project (or magazine) ALL participants should receive a free copy of the documentation (surplus copies of catalogues and magazines can be sold to general public, of course, on a generally no profit basis), it is ethically very UNFAIR to sell archives (or single pieces of mail, for that matter!) you accumulated as personal gifts (though there is no law that can prevent you from doing it, if you really want), much better to donate them to interested institutions, and so on and on and on.
As I just said, this is all very reasonable and very simple to understand by everybody, but I just happen to have already lived the whole dispute a few times during my experience that spans several “generations” of networkers, so it is just getting a little more boring each time around… (I should simply reach back in my old papers and photocopy ten years old leaflets and articles, then circulate them again to show that nothing is changing but I just don’t have the time to search through my very chaotic archive… it’s so much easier to think up something new!). Fact is, I don’t like to play the networking game with a “boy scout attitude” to quote an appropriate expression once used by my friend Al Ackerman and instead of writing politically correct “netiquette” manifestos I much prefer to stimulate reactions on a given topic by playing pranks and hard to tell jokes (if it’s too easy to spot, it is no more a good hoax), acting absurdly and (in my intention at least) “creatively”. In the early eighties I devoted one whole issue of my Arte Postale! magazine to the Mail Art & Money dilemma, titled provokingly “Mail Art & Money DO Mix!” (a real coin glued to each cover) and documenting the reactions to a mail project for which I had sent several real banknotes, with amounts ranging from 1 to 50 dollars in different currencies, to contacts around the globe, with humorous requests attached like: “buy me a gift with this money or drink it to my health” or “you are a wonderful artist, keep this money as payment of the mail you just sent me” or “you are a terrible artist, keep this money but please stop mailing me stuff”…

The same “absurdist” approach I adopted recently with the text ironically titled “The big sell out” included in a micro issue of Arte Postale! #74. I had just read news of Ray Johnson’s letters starting being marketed and of people selling or venting the idea of selling their archives, so I had this very instinctive guts reaction of coming up with a paradoxical idea for “selling out” my own archive as well (the cheapo “sharepiece” concept is an obvious parody of digital shareware), just to see how Net Land would have reacted to this move. I didn’t really expect many hot reactions though, there seem to be less and less people in the mail art circles who really care about these issues, and in fact until today your phone call was the only hint of somebody taking my “molest proposal” seriously: I got no reactions at all in the mail, maybe people are too shy to point out that I am doing wrong and they prefer the back stabbing gossip spreading technique (my shoulders and conscience are large enough to take in a lot of eventual bad vibes!), except for just one polite order in cash from a NY publisher/networker (I spent more than 50 dollars to assemble and mail his “share piece”, and he already thanked for it, I’m not sure he got the joke though). Of course, I knew very well that (almost) NOBODY would have spent 50 dollars to get a bunch of old battered letters artistically arranged by me, and even if I DID get an handful of orders, I could manufacture a few “archive share pieces” by using some of the semi junk mailart I receive daily and I always end up recycling into my works anyway. It should be clear to you by now that I am not an anal retentive archivist, I always loved to PlAy with the stuff I receive, I recycle most of the envelopes and useless xeroxes so I never have to buy envelopes and stationery this saves trees, by the way there are pieces I receive that I treasure and others that I throw away and others that I play with, I believe it is my right to do so, just as others con do what they want with what I send them.
One key concept here I think is the “no profit” bias of what you do with your mail art archive, not HOW you use it. Not all of us are collectors at heart or have the time and energy to file orderly thousands of pieces. I have often tried to print top quality issues of my zine Arte Postale! or of other networking related projects (like the TRAX series) and I always lost A LOT of money in the process. I always mailed free (expensively by air mail) copies to ALL the participants contributors to ALL my projects, and then I tried to sell the remaining copies to cover at least part of the printing costs, but I soon learned that people who are in the mail art network just plain don’t like to buy stuff (it’s totally OK for me, and that’s why since 1993 my mail art zine has become smaller and with no price attached), while distribution through other underground or official channels just proved not to work at all (very few copies sold, and two distributors out or three will not bother ever paying you back, I still got credits pending all over the world…). I was never inclined nor lucky in getting funds for my projects from any kind of organization or institution, I always preferred to work independently with no pressures or hustles from anybody, this also means that when I have done a good publication or a small hand assembled catalogue I always paid from my pocket, giving what I believe is a fair “gift” in exchange for the materials submitted to my projects. I sure wish half of the projects I enter into every year would do the same, but usually it’s just a two pages xeroxed list of addresses you get, which I find most of all a very un artistic practice. Even with just two photocopies you can do wonderful mini books… Though I have a good “normal” job, helping out my father in his Hotel business from May to September, plus another low income job all the year round as a professional rock journalist and freelance writer, I find more and more difficult to keep up with the cost of running a family and at the same time communicating with hundreds of friends, that’s why sometimes I have to keep silent for months or why I haven’t been able yet to save enough money to buy me a modem, a bigger computer, a subscription to a server and start up using E mail, as I’m sure I will do in a not too distant future. But I assure you I never intended to become rich by selling pieces of my history, I’d rather starve or sell my record collection than part ways with letters like yours, that have touched a nerve of my being (and that’s the essence of NETWORKING to me).”

RJ : Well, maybe this interview will touch some more nerves of other networkers when it hits the network. I guess with the Summer that has already started, it is time to end the interview unless I forgot something important to ask you?

Reply on 17-7-1996 (complete text via e-mail)

(The last answer from Vittore Baroni came together with a 58 KByte file which contained the complete text of the interview. So far Vittore has been the first to type all answers on his computer, and therefore I only had to adjust the complete text on my own text-processor a bit for the final result)
VB : I really enjoyed answering to your questions and I am a bit sad that this is the last one, as I am sure there are numberless things worth discussing about mail art that have been left out (memories of Cavellini, the Neoist Camps and APT fests, the TRAX saga, marriages arranged and broken through MA, etc. etc.). I believe that a project like your “mail interviews” is very important to the spirit of mail art, exactly like the Decentralized Congresses of past years, because it activates on a (semi)public level A COLLECTIVE REFLECTION on a phenomenon that tends naturally to remain invisible and private. Yours was a very simple idea, but that will surely be fertile of positive results, and for this I must thank you enormously. As this seem to be already a very long interview, I will end up very briefly with the hope that other projects with the relevance of your “mail interviews” will continue to appear now and then unexpectedly in the mail art net, giving back strength and voice to a warm sense of community that often seems to dissolve into “silent” and mechanical exchanges. DO KEEP IN TOUCH!

Address of mail artist:

Vittore Baroni
NEAR THE EDGE EDITIONS
Via C. Battisti 339
55049 Viareggio
LU – ITALY

phone/fax: + 39 584 963918

mail-interview with John Held Jr. – USA (Part 2 – San Francisco)

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JOHN HELD JR. (PART-2)
(the SAN FRANSISCO period)

68

Started on 2-5-1996

RJ : Well John, I think it is time now to start the second part of our interview. During the first part of the interview you were living in Dallas, and now you are already some time in San Francisco. How big is the difference between Dallas and San Francisco?

Reply on 25-5-1996

JH : As I write this Ruud, I am in Helena, Montana, to open the Faux Post artist stamp exhibition on another of its travels, which will continue until 1998. I’m not sure if the European newspapers have reported much about it, but there is a man imprisoned here called the Unabomber. For twenty years he was sending bombs through the mail. So he’s like an extremist mail artist, right? I’m not sure mail art is as dangerous an activity as the actions of this terrorist (whose target was a technological society), but it is still my firm believe that mail art can be an agent of change, a subversive activity, a way of examining the society in which we live.

There is an exhibition now being formed in Germany, which is exploring the effect mail art had on the East German intellectual and artistic community. And just recently I’ve received a letter from Alexandor Jovanovic, documenting his Cage magazine, and the anti-embargo actions of himself and Tisma, Kamperelic, Bogdanovic, and Gogolyk in Yugoslavia. So here are but two instances of mail art playing an important role in the public sector, and the power it has to effect ideas. Between my move from Dallas to San Francisco, I have not changed my ideas about the importance of mail art in my life, and in that of society.

What changes have occured since my move from Dallas to San Francisco? Ruud, this has been the happiest and most productive period of my life. The differences of living in the two cities are great, and I’ll try to explain it to you.

You have to understand that the cultural climate in the United States has become more and more conservative in the nineties. Dallas is a particularly traditional city with its emphasis on business and as a stronghold of conservative religious feeling. When I left the city, I had a retrospective show of my years there and I was called an essentric in the critical reviews. Of course, I welcome the controversy. I would have been disapointed if all my ideas were totally embraced. I like to think of myself as an artist out of the mainstream, dealing with issues that most artists don’t even know exist, but still this reaction to my work was indicative of my stay in Dallas. I was an outsider. So I, like many of my fellow mail artists, reached out through the postal system to others that were more sympathetic to our view of life.

The artistic climate is completely different in San Francisco. It is one of the last bastions of liberal thought in the United States, and has a long history of tolerance (beatniks, the drug culture, gays). There is a whole community here that is engaged in the alternative arts.

As you know, I moved into an apartment with Ashley Parker Owens, the editor of “Global Mail”, and the subject of one of your Mail Interviews. When I lived in Dallas, I had very few people to talk to about mail art. Ashley and I are in constant dialogue about it. And with Ashley I have built in social life because we go to dinner together, for walks, and to events around the city. Ashley and I are very different people, but we understand each other. Ashley doesn’t save things like I do. After she enters her mail for listings in “Global Mail”, she passes it on to me. Ashley is concerned with the process of mail art, while I am also concerned with the preservation of its history. Ashley doesn’t believe in history, because it singles out certain people, to the exclusion of others. I don’t think that I operate in this way, although certain people are connected with ideas that I find interesting and deserve mention.

Ashley also has a broad reach into the zine community, and we’ve met a lot of people in this field. She sets up little dinners were we meet people who publish. I’m also reviewing for “Factsheet Five”, which is the big zine that reviews other zines. Seth Friedman is the editor, and I go over to his apartment to enter my reviews. I get to see the zines sent in for review and have gained a perspective on this huge publishing phenomena. Seth takes much of the really good stuff for himself to review, but I’ve become very interested in the sex zines, which is a whole sub-culture of various fetishes. I’m really curious about the sex subcultures of San Francisco. It’s a fascinating world that is at the forefront of preserving freedom of expression.

I haven’t even mentioned my work with Picasso Gaglione at the Stamp Art Gallery, which is really my main focus in San Francisco. Gaglione and I have corresponded since the mid seventies, when I first discovered mail art. We are on the same wavelength. We know the same people and are very much interested in the history of mail art.
Bill and I are hard workers. We know that we have an unique situation and we want to take advantage of it. Bill is a famous graphic artist, and his catalogs have always been real interesting. But now I am here to add some written texts to his design skills, and is’t just a perfect situation. We have two or three shows a month and we put together catalogs for many of them. So far we’ve done catalogs on Yves Klein (his “Blue Stamp” of 1957), Robert Watts (the Fluxus Artist), Andrej Tisma, M.B. Corbett, Yugoslavian Networkers, a travel diary of our trip to “Alternative Artfest” in Seattle and a visit to Western Front in Vancouver, Canada, Paulo Bruscky, Cavellini, and Ken Friedman. We’ve also done artistamp portfolios for E.F. Higgins, Donald Evans, and Harley. And since the gallery is connected with Stamp Fransisco rubber stamp company, we have done boxed sets of rubber stamps on the works of Tisma, Friedman, Corbett, Endre Tot, and Luce Fierens. We are going to New York City very soon to show all this work at Printed Matters bookstore, one of the leading artist book stores in the world.

Gaglione and I have also curated a show of “Our Fifty Favorite Mail Art Exhibition Catalogs” for the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art Library. It was a great show, and the first show that I know of that focused on this particular aspect of mail art.

Every month we organize performances of classic Fluxus works by people like Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Ben Vautier, and Robert Watts as part of the gallerys’ “Fluxfest 96”. We also have classes at the gallery and have featured Seth Friedman, about making zines, Mick Mather on eraser carving, and I gave a class on rubber stamp publications.

I’ve have also many friends in San Fransciso! Joolee Peeslee has just moved here from Boulder, Colorado. She’s a long time correspondent. Barbara Cooper is another correspondent I like very much also. Mike Dyar is a wonderful friend, and there are many others like Patricia Tavenner, Diana Mars (who works with Gaglione and me at the Gallery), Ted Purves, and Seth Mason.

There is an opportunity to meet interesting people here in San Fransisco, which I didn’t have in Dallas. I met Timothy Leary at a book signing party, and I did an interview with V. Vale of Re/Search publications, who is doing a two volume set on zines. I talked to him about the international zine scene, and the important role played by the mail art community.

RJ : Well, a long answer that triggers a lot of questions in my head. But first a question about the previous interview (Part-1). Did you get any reactions on the answers you gave?

Reply on 29-6-96

JH : Sorry for the very long answer to your first question. I was on a trip and was trapped on a plane. I had to do something. It’s hard for me to sit still.

I had some people mention that they read the interview. But I don’t have any specific memories about their response. It’s enough for me to put out signals, hoping that they will land in a place where it’s appreciated. You never know exactly what words will effect some people. I get enough indications that my work is appreciated to satisfy me, and I also get my fair share of criticism. I don’t let the good words me too high, or the negative ones too low. I do my work because it’s what interests me. I try not to get sidetracked by the opinions of people who don’t really know me or my work. I have very specific goals, both long range and short, which take a very sharp focus to complete.
RJ : Never say sorry for a long answer. I enjoyed reading about the changes because I am about to see San Francisco/USA for the first time myself. You mentioned that you have quite specif goals, both long range and short. You might guess I am curious about these goals….., especially the long range ones.

Reply on 1-8-1996

JH : Right now I’m very involved in the day-to-day activities of the Stamp Art Gallery, and we are half-way through our schedule for the year. In the next months we will be showing Guy Bleus, yourself, Pawel Petasz, and Géza Perneczky in our rubber stamp exhibition program. We will also be showing the artistamp works of Ed Varney, James Warren Felter, Dogfish, and Bugpost.

I’m certainly awaiting your arrival here, and we have already been receiving many works for your TAM Rubber Stamp Archives show, in which you have been mailing out special sheets for the eveny that have been sent directly to the Gallery.

I’m also looking forward to putting together catalogs on the collected writings of Guy Bleus, who has been an active and incisive writer on mail art over the years, and on the artistamps writings of James Warren Felter. For each catalog I will be writing an introduction. We will also be doing a catalog on Pawel Petasz, who has been an important figure in Eastern European mail art. It is a region of the mail art map that interests me very much.

I’m currently working on a project not connected with our exhibition schedule, but which is of great interst. Gaglione was involved in the Bay Area Dada group in the early seventies, and they produced a variety of publications, like the New York Weekly Breeder, the West Bay Dadaist, Punks, Nitrous Oxide, and Dadazine, which preceded the explosion of photocopy zines, and the punk and industrial music scenes, later in the decade. I’ve gathered some one hundred publications produced from 1970 to 1984 by the members of this group, which include Gaglione, Tim Mancusi, Steve Caravello, Charles Chikadel, Mony Cazazza, Anna Banana, Patricia Tavenner, Irene Dogmatic, Ric Soloway, Buster Cleveland, Winston Smith, Rocola, Ginny Lloyd and others.

The Bay Area Dada group was an important link between the New York Correspondence School and Fluxus, and an important influence on a completely new generetion of mail artists that sprang up in the seventies. In the future I’d like to explore other pockets of early mail art activity, like the Canadian groups Image Bank and General Idea, who were also responsible for the international spread of mail art.
But if I can do only one more project before I die, I’d like to do some major research on Ray Johnson and the beginnings of the New York Correspondence School. There’s almost nothing written on this, and now is the time to interview the participants, who are now becoming older. Ray Johnson is already dead, and so is May Wilson, who was an important link in this history. Next year I’ll get my chance to begin work on this, as The Stamp Art Gallery will have a two month show on the NYCS. I’ll start my research with William S. Wilson, the son of May Wilson and the most informed authority on Ray Johnson, John Evans and E.M. Plunkett (who gave the school its’ name). Then I’ll see were else I’ll be lead.

Next year the Gallerys’ direction will be totally different from this year. Instead of two or three shows a month (sometimes even four or five), Gaglione and I will be organizing only six shows that will run for two months each. This will give us more time to concentrate on bigger topics that interest us. One of these will be on the New York Correspondence School. Another will be on Arman, the Nouveau Realist artist, who did a series of rubber stamp works in the mid-fifties. I am already in communication with him and his staff on this, and it will be a major research project that will be the first in-dept of this important series.

Another exhibition will feature Fluxus rubber stamp works, and Gaglione and I intend to do as many rubber stamp box sets with these artists as is possible. Our biggest influence at the Gallery is Fluxus, so it will be a great opportunity to work with those artists who have directed our work.

We will also be doing a show on the late San Francisco Robert Fried, who was best known for his psychedelic poster art, but who also did several large sheets of postage stamps. It is very important to me to explore the works of San Francisco artists who participated in mail art, used rubber stamps, and produced artistamps. I am not a writer and artist that can forget my immediate environment. I want to absorb its’ history so I can move it forward.

Last May when I was in New York for our show at Printed Matter I was at William S. Wilson’s apartment, and he dropped a remark that caught me off guard. He said something to the effect that “when you finish your ten volume set on mail art….”

I don’t seriously consider doing such a thing, but it began me thinking what the titles in that series would be. I can see them sitting on a library shelf. All bound in similar bindings. It’s a tempting but improbable vision.

RJ : Together with your answer you also sent the info about your new homepage on the internet. As you know I have mixed feelings about mail art and the internet, although I do use the internet quite often for my job and for communication and the placing of information on the net (all interviews that are finished are on the net, and also the newsletters of the TAM Rubber Stamp Archive and other projects). What do you expect from your new site on the internet?

Reply on 23-8-1996

JH : Not very much. I was doing some editing for a Brazilian women in San Francisco, who manages the website for the Rainforest Coalistion and also has her own website. I was initially excited about it because her internet address is <http://www.artnetwork.com>, which was just too close to what I’m involved in to be coincidental. So she put up my essay, From Moticos to mail Art, and some biographical information up on it. She had a plan to offer space on her website to mail artists for a nominal rate, but as you yourself have told me, it’s possible to get on the web for free, and I feel a little funny pushing her site in the mail art network, despite the nominal costs. It would be one thing if I had continual access to update and more space for more writings. But I don’t, and that’s why I’m not too interested in it at this point.

I have an interest in website construction because it provides wide and fast access to information, but most of it strikes me as too promotional and not enough interaction. I have less and less interest in electronic information transfer, as it is increasing difficult for me to answer all the postal correspondence I receive. Why take on an added responsibility, and one that doesn’t give me what I want, which is printed materials, either hand constructed by the artist, or catalogs and other materials that document the mail art phenomena.

Besides, Ruud, I spend too much time in front of the computer keyboard writing. It’s a relief to get away from it once and awhile. Letter writing and mailing out has always been a way for me to relax. I like the quiet time at the desk and chance to work with my hands.

I’m aware that this reluctance to dive headfirst into cyberspace dates me. A certain aspect of the world is passing me by. But then again, I don’t get cable television either. There’s such a thing as too much information.

RJ : Well, believe it or not, I am also not that enthusiast about the internet as a substitute for my mail art. For me the computer-work was always there for almost 20 years, and the art I produced kept the balance just right, so just like you I am happy to leave the computer keyboard now and then and to get into the real world instead of the cyber world. For me the person BEHIND the mail art is always the most interesting part of the communication. Is that also the case for you (of course I know the answer is yes, but I wonder WHY it is so for you……..)

reply on 18-9-1996
JH : Way back in the beginning of this interview (Part One) I’m sure I mentioned that when I began in mail art it was because of my isolation, and I was reaching out through mail art to others that shared my interests. I found that mail artists were perfect companions for me, even though they did not share my physical proximity. I have had many interests that have demanded much of my time, and unfortunatly, one thing you have to do when you are concentrating on your art or your writing is eliminate the casual friendships that so many take for granted. It’s often very lonely, and so I am grateful for the relationships I’ve formed through the mail. It has helped me over some very difficult times. My fellow mail artists are my best friends. I’ve corresponded with many of them over twenty years.

Of course, things have changed somewhat since I’ve moved to San Francisco. The mail artists are here. The zinisters are here. Many of my correspondents are here. So now, many of my friendships and mail art relations are intertwinded. Gaglione and I see each other almost every day, and God knows what will happen in the future, but for now, it’s the most remarkable thing for me. We keep pushing each other towards new and better things. Because of our mutual knowledge of mail art, we are almopst psychically joined. And although I am constantly amazed by his creativity, the most amazing part to me is that we are best friends in real time as well as mail time. These things can sometimes work out!

In this regard, it would be wrong of me not to mention Ashley Parker Owens, who has been my roommate for the last year. Has this ever happened before I wonder? When two active mail artists have spent so much time with one another? Netlandia is like a little island where we wait for the bottles to wash ashore for us. And when they arrive, we share our catch and our stories of the people who float them to us. I’ve gained much by living with Ashley, but our time together is growing short. Not only are we both moving to seperate parts of San Francisco in the next month, but Ashley is no longer going to be the editor of Global Mail. She always envisioned her mission as a spiritual one, and now the time has come for her to pass on the work to another. Am I upset about this? Yes, because like all of us I have grown to depend on her and respect her work so much. But the opportunity to know her far outweighs my dependency.

But let me make no mistake about my true feelings. The structure of mail art is important to me. This vehicle of linking the world, cutting through cultures, and teaching us how to live with one another, is paramount. The characters enter and exit, but the play remains. My correspondents come and go. Eventually, I too will depart. What gives me strength is knowing that there will always be a means for people to explore and grow closer on a planetary scale. And the result is never an accumulation of mail, or artist books, or artistamp sheets, or rubber stamps…. it’s the friendships paving the avenues on the way to tomorrow.

(John’s answer came just before my departure to San Francisco where I went for the exhibition about the TAM Rubber Stamp Archive at the Stamp Art Gallery in October 1996. John helped me a lot during this trip and as friends we undertook lots of things together. Besides the exhibition and the meeting of old and new friends I also met 9 of the people I have interviewed, or am currently interviewing, including John Held. Since we discussed on lots of topics and issues I never could decide on the next question, and therefore it took me some time to come up with a next question).

RJ : Well, it took me some time to come back to you with a next question. As you might guessed from the report I wrote on my trip to the USA, I enjoyed it very much indeed. Due to these and other travels it took some time to send the next question, but here it is. It is about an observation I have on the mail art network, and I would like to hear your views on it.

A problem I see in mail art is that the ‘oldies’ in mail art have selected their fixed circle of mail art friends arround them and do not easily answer the mail of newcomers. Sometimes they even don’t take part in the open mail art projects again, so newcomers don’t even know about their exsistence and can’t easily grasp what the history is of the network. Is this a correct observation?

next answer on 8-4-1997

(With his answer John Held enclose some more recent artistamps and also two photo’s taken at the Pacific Rim Artistamp Congress , Feb 22-23 1997).

JH : There is a built in problem in mail art, because at first there is a lot of energy. You are meeting new people and receiving incredible things. Your energy encourages their energy.

Soon your contacts grow larger. You are not only writing letters to an ever widening circle of correspondents, but entering mail art shows, organizing your own projects, making tourism to meet your distant friends, working on enclosures like artistamps and perhaps publishing your own small zine.

Under the right circumstances this process can go on for years. But sometimes the system breaks down. As your contacts become more numerous, questions of time and money begin to enter the picture. If you’re an artist in another medium, or a banker, or a physical therapist, you have to ask yourself the question, which takes precedent – your profession or this uncommercial yet life sustaining activity of mail art. It’s a difficult decision.

So far I have been able to continue answering almost every piece of mail I receive. I enjoy newcomers as well as my long time correspondents. People drop away and others come. I don’t have a fixed circle. The only fixture in my mail art life is the constant stream floating around me.
But I understand all too well the difficulties. In the last year I’ve witnessed the fading away of Ashley Parker Owens from the Network. Nobody was more active then her. She is an administrator on a grand scale, as your interview with her about her editorship of Global Mail testifies.

Global Mail was a mission; a spiritual giving. God only knows the effect she had on many lives around the world as a result of her compiling mail art information on different shows, publications and projects. The people she was able to bring together was legion.

But Ashley literally went bankrupt as a result of funding Global mail out of her own salary. Time became a problem when she wanted to concentrate on Yoga – and on a life. Unmarried for a long time, she had a vision of a baby girl and six months later she bacame pregnant. People often say that there is no gender barriers in mail art. I’ve said it myself. But watching Ashley, I’ve learned that priorities shift, and motherhood is a strong pull.

Ashley passed on the editorship of Global Mail , which may or may not reappear. If not, another publication will eventually come along to take it’s place, or attempt to take it’s place. Ashley set a very high standard for the compilation of mail art information. And with what a heart. Global Mail was no intellectual exercise. It was a spiritual quest.

And who can blame Ashley for moving on? As much as she gave to the Network, she received a lot too. You never truly leave the Network. It’s in your guts, and it impacts on your life, even if you’re unable to keep up with former correspondents.

But will the newcomers realize that the Network is larger than just the current mailing list of a mail art show? If you stick around long enough and pay attention, things begin to fall into place. We all start in ignorance and gain by our diligence.

Life in San Francisco is very different for me then it was in Dallas. Before I had a stable environment in which to do my mail art. Things are a bit more chaotic here. There are many more things to do, and it’s hard to find the time to sit down and answer mail, prepare enclosures, and return the enrgy that flows into me.

I feel guitly that I can only answer very briefly someone who has obviously put in alot of time to send me something. I can see how this guilt can keep one from activity. If you are known for a certain style and quality of mail art, you don’t want to disappoint your correspondent by mailing out a half-hearted effort.

This conflict causes many old time mail artists to depart. I havne’t reached that stage yet. I’m hoping that my correspondents realize my situation, and that as much as I would like to send them a substantial reply each time, sometimes it is impossible.

But I can’t separate myself from the Network. My life is too enmeshed in the day to day ritual of going to the mailbox and seeing what life has washed up on my shore. An empty mailbox is my greatest fear. Sometimes I’m mailing out of desperation. Fear wins out over guilt.

Correspondents find their own level, however. If newcomers are not getting the type of reply they want from the ‘oldies’ then they form a circle with others who are giving them what they want. This is o.k. Mail art is about process, and it’s more important to partake in the process then it is to communicate with any one person. That’s what the Eternal Network is all about. It’s a constant shifting.

Some people don’t want to know about the history of Mail Art. That’s fine. You just go ahead and do it and make your own history. Others are more curious about what went before. There are ways to find out. There is no ultimate level to reach for in mail art. You find your own.

RJ : A lot of mail artists still refer to the ‘rules’ of a mail art project. Is it necessary to have these rules (no jury , no rejection , documentation to all), or can mail artists make their own rules if stated in advance (like e.g. someone in Germany asking for a financial contribution to receive the basic material on which one has to work. If sent in one does get the documentation for free…). Does mail art need rules at all?

next answer on 28-8-1997

JH : Absolutely not. Because the whole point is to keep an open system going (The Eternal Network), and people should be participating solely for the joy and ease of it. Rules only weed people out.

That being said, organizers of exhibitions should realize that by charging for exhibition expenses, materials, documentation, or return postage, they are not going to get the fullest range of work they would normally receive. One reason for the popularity of the mail art show is that it doesn’t have the roadblocks that normal mainstream shows have: the expenses of slides, juries, fees to enter, paying for documentation.

In the beginning (as formulated by Lon Spiegelman, Mario Lara and others), the “no jury, no rejection, no fees, documentation to all,” were “considerations,” not rules. Those that are not considerate of mail art principles don’t last long. They may be able to obtain works for a project or two, but the word eventually circulates through the network that someone is taking advantage of the free circulation of ideas and artworks, “Fool me once – shame on you. Fool me twice – shame on me”, as the saying goes.
No, I have no trouble with people twisting the “rules” of mail art, if they are upfront about it. Such strategies as auctioning mail art works for a good cause such as Amnesty International at the end of an exhibition make perfect sense to me. What’s the difference between this and having the works just sit in a box at the conclusion of the show? Just tell me about it first. Then I can decide whether I want to participate or not.

People who are too didactic about “the rules of mail art” are no better than the art academicians of the nineteenth century. Modern art was a rebellion against these traditions. Mail artists have extended this rebellion even further.

We know that mail artists come from every walk of life. Nothing infuriates me more then a wealthy mail artist, someone with the latest computer equipment, often living off the wages of a spouse, telling me what I can and cannot do with my own collection of mail art. Another rule-mail art and money deosn’t mix. Well, I tell you it does, because I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years not only on postage, but acquiring mail art publications and works from dealers into whose hands they fall.

I have the same problems that many long time parrticipants in mail art face: how does an alternative artist, with little of no income coming from his activities, pay for their mailings in the light of higher postage rates, increased correspondents, and the storage of work received as a result of participating in mail art over a number of years?

As a result of my move to San Francisco from Dallas, I am no longer able to archive materials in my home. Most of my collection is in storage, which costs me $100 a month. That’s $ 1,200 dollars a year to preserve these works. I don’t sell any of it because it’s important to me to keep all the material together so that a full record can someday be obtained from it.

But I wonder how this can go on. I’m an artist, not a rich collector. This is not some hobby of mine. It’s my life. You don’t sell your life, or view it as an investment. You preserve it as long as you can, and then hope that the accumulated body of it can inform and inspire someone else after you are gone.

But holding it intact is a growing concern of mine. And if I wish to sell some of the duplicate publications I’ve received over the years, I’ll have no compuntion in doing so when the time arises. Or selling some of the duplicate stampsheets that I’ve perforated for others in exchange for my services. It’s my choice alone to do what is necessary in regard to my own unique situation. When I hear of someone with no financial worries stating that under no circumstances must mail art be sold, it worries me that there is an art gestapo at our borders.

RJ : I think it is time now to let others read this second part of the interview. Normally I ask the people I interview if I forgot to ask them something? Did I?

(At the MAIL ART ONLINE assembly I found John Held’s message that he sent me the last reply but it hadn’t reached me. So I sent him the last question and text again so he could react again. John Held uses the account of a friend to surf now and then)

next answer on 29-5-1998 (via e-mail)

JH : Well, dear Ruud, as you know, we are both very busy people, and we’ve let some time go between our questions. In concluding this interview, let me bring you up to date on my life “in the jungle of art,” as the late Cavellini put it. In December 1997, Gaglione was forced to close Stamp Francisco and The Stamp Art Gallery, due in part, I think, because of all the money he spent on the artistic, rather than the business aspects of it. But he has started a new rubber stamp company, Stampland, in his basement, just as Stamp Francisco was started all those years ago. Bill and I continue to meet on a regular basis. We are working on a book together for Vittore Baroni. Also we meet with Tim Mancusi, Rocola and Arthur Craven (of Bay Area Dada fame) frequently to socialize. That’s a little funny too, because Rocola is practically a hermit otherwise. In September 1998, I will be curating an exhibition at the San Franciso Public Library on the publications of the Bay Area Dadaists, 1970 1984. I’ve spend much time these past two years reviewing zines for “Factsheet 5”, for which my roommate, Chris Becker, has been the editor the past two issues. In the last issue, I had a big article called, “From Dada to DIY: The Rise of the Alternative Arts.” I’d like to do more work on this subject, because I see mail art as the natural conclusion of avant garde activity in this century. It’s almost over you know, and for me it’s a time for reflection. I don’t see myself going on to something new producing web pages, for example. Instead I want to write about the activity I have been witness to and document it before all traces of it vanish, which it will unless mail artists, like ourselves, bear witness to it. I haven’t seen too much interest in mail art from traditional art historians. Maybe that’s right around the corner or thirty years down the road. For me, it doesn’t matter. Mail art has provided me a lifetime of enjoyment participating in the radical art of our time. Maybe I wasn’t around to walk down the streets of Paris with Duchamp and Picabia, but do you remember your last day in San Francisco, when you, Dogfish and I marched in a Mexican parade for the Day of the Dead, with people dressed as skeletons holding candles in the night? For me, that was a worthwhile adventure in the late Twentieth Century.

RJ : Thanks for this interview John!

Address mail-artist:

John Held Jr.
P.O.Box 410837
San Francisco
CA 94141 – USA
Address interviewer:

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

mail-interview with John Held Jr. – USA (Part 1 in Dallas)

This interview was done in 1995 by Ruud Janssen. 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.

MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JOHN HELD JR.

PART 1

TAM-PUBLICATIONS
TAM950095

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JOHN HELD JR.

(PART 1)

Started on: 3-11-1994

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: 22-11-94

JH : My first trip to Europe was in 1975. I went to France, Italy, Greece, Austria, Germany, and Holland. In Amsterdam I came across a rubber stamp store by chance. They sold sets of visual stamps (flowers, animals, fairy tales). I bought several, and talked to the director, Mr. Van der Plaats, about his business. When I returned to New York, I began to use them in my artwork (I was then doing pen and ink work). I never heard of artists using rubber stamps in the context of fine art before. I thought I had discovered a new art medium. But as a professional librarian, I began to research if this was true or not.

One day in the New York Times newspaper I saw an article about Bizarro Rubber Stamp Company. They published a catalog of visual rubber stamps. I wrote to the director, Kenn Spicer, and he informed me that there was an underground art form called mail art, and that they used rubber stamps to decorate envelopes. He gave me the names of two New York artists who were involved in this work: Ray Johnson and Edward Plunkett. Ray Johnson had started this artform in the fifties as a way of distributing his pop art imagery. Ed Plunkett gave a name to Johnson’s activities in 1962: The New York Correspondance School of Art. Plunkett sent me dadaesque “free tickets” that were rubber stamped with odd names and images. Johnson sent photocopied works, which he encouraged me to “add and send to” persons unknown to me. They turned out to be other members of the NYCSA, such people as Anna Banana and Richard C. But it was with Johnson himself that I had the greatest correspondence.

Ray Johnson not only introduced me to people through mail, but gave me the address and introductions to well-known artists like the painter Arakawa and his poet wife Madelyn Gins whose work I admired. For a young person not yet thirty, this was a fantastic way to participate in the contemporary art of my time, and actually meet the participants.

I accumulated more rubber stamps and made more and more mail art contacts. In 1976 I returned to Amsterdam to have a show at Stempelplaats, the rubber stamp gallery and museum that Mr. Van de Plaats had just started with the encouragement of myself and Ulises Carrion. While there, I spent one week with Carrion, a Mexican artist who had started the Amsterdam bookstore and gallery Other Books and So. Carrion was the center of the European mail art scene and exhibited and sold postcards, rubber stamp works, artist’s books, photocopy work, artist publications of all kinds, in short the only public distribution point for this very underground art form. From Ulises I learned the conceptual side of mail art and the philosophy behind much of my future activity.

RJ : What is this conceptual side of mail art in your eyes? How is it connected to your current activities ?

reply on : 20-12-1994

JH : Many of the ideas Ulises Carrión expressed on mail art and rubber stamps are contained in his book Second Thoughts. In his essay, “Mail Art and the Big Monster,” he explains that mail art uses as support the postal system, but the post is not the medium. A mail art piece consists of a series of actions. Production of the piece and posting of the piece are only two of them. In another essay in Second Thoughts, “Personal Worlds or Cultural Strategies,” Carrión extends the concept of an artwork when he asks the question, “Where does the border lie between an artist’s work and the actual organization and distribution of the work?” He answers it by saying, “When an artist is busy choosing his starting point, defining the limits of his scope, he has the right to include the organization and distributation of his work as an element of the same work. And by doing so, he’s creating a strategy that will become a constituent formal element of the final work.”

So I came to understand through Carrión, and others as well, that mail art is not about the mail, the production of postcards, or other relics of the process, but about communication and the control of distributed creative energy. This is a conceptual exploration that begins with the production of physical objects, but as Carrión has said, “Most artists and the public seem to have lost themselves in the game. They have come to think that making Mail Art means producing postcards.” It’s not so. Mail Art is a medium itself for the distribution of “personal worlds” and “cultural strategies.”

The organization and distribution of the work of which Carrión spoke of is a critical concern of mine. I am not only an artist, but an librarian. Both of these professions deal with information intake and dissemination. I think that my greatest contribution to Mail Art has been the publishing of my book, Mail Art: An Annotated Bibliography. It was a five-year project in which I gathered information, put it in a readable form, had it printed, and left it to find an audience. It was not only a research project, but a work of art. So is the curating of a mail art show. Organizing the show, gathering the information, finding a place to exhibit, mounting it for the public in the form of a global collage free of restrictions, these are all elements of a sustained energy, which is conceptualized, harnessed and presented to the public. The Mail Art Congresses of Fricker and Ruch; the Art Strike that Stuart Home conceptualized; Guy Bleus’s Administration projects; Neoism as undertaken by Istvan Kantor Monty Cantsin; Picasso Gaglione’s Stamp Art Gallery; Pawel Petasz’s Commonpress Project; Dobrica Kamperelic’s Open World magazine; your own Rubber Stamp Archive – these, and many other efforts within the network, are other projects that I consider important conceptual artworks within a mail art structure.

Currently I am curating a mail art show at the National Museum in Havana, Cuba, organizing the Faux Post artist stamp that will travel the United States for two years, editing Bibliozine, producing artist postage stamps and other visual works for exhibition, writing and lecturing about my experiences, planning for future travels that will allow me to meet other networkers, and of course, answering the mail that comes to me daily in a creative fashion to ensure maximum information exchange. These are all current projects that are based on my conceptual understanding of Mail Art.

RJ : When I read this answer I realize that mail-art has taken over your way of life a lot. Your travels and work are integrated with the concept you give of mail art. Your travels seem to bring you to the corners of our world that are difficult to reach by mail. Cuba is just a new example after your travels to the USSR, Yugoslavia, etc… Why are you reaching for these outer corners of the network?

Reply on : 13-1-1995

JH : If mail art is about communication, then the greatest challenge is to reach those who are at the “outer corners”. If one can overcome language problems, cultural differences, governmental obstacles, and technical difficulties when contacting correspondents from different countries, them you get a better understanding and appreciation of those closer at hand.

My collaboration with Abelardo Mena, the Curator of Foreign Art at the National Museum of Beaux-Arts in Havana, Cuba, has presented special problems because of the economic and cultural barriers between our two countries. The mail cannot be sent directly to Cuba from the United states, but must be forwarded through a third country, such as Mexico or Canada. Our letters would take from two to six months to arrive at their destination. To overcome this we began to communicate on the Internet. Now our communication is practically instantaneous. This action reveals both the limitations of mail art and it’s expansion into different areas.

My friendship with Abelardo Mena has given me special pleasure because of the obstacles we have had to overcome to achieve it. I have always thought of mail art networking as a grassroots diplomacy, and this has never been more true than in my recent relation with Aberlardo. Because of the situation that exists between our countries, we are both forced to make extra efforts to communicate and collaborate on a project of common concern. I look forward to my forthcoming trip to Cuba, for which I have worked six months to obtain travel visa from the Cuban government and a license from the United States Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control in order for Abelardo and I to meet.

The communication mediums of mail and telecommunication are often preludes to physical contacts. I learned very early in my meetings with mail art participants that there is a mysterious, yet veiled, bonding that is cultivated through the postal system. When distance is stripped away and the contact is manifested in the flesh, the relationship is totally changed. Sometimes this is for the better, sometimes it is not. It is less mysterious, but it is more truthful. Most revealing is that the long-distance/time-delayed encounter is inherently flawed by a lack of essential information that is hidden through mediated communication processes.

This is not to diminish the importance of the mail art experience. I can’t think of anything else that better prepares two people to meet. Something very essential is always communicated. And even if there is never a physical meeting between the two, something is gained through the postal contact. At it’s best, a spiritual connection can be formed. Of course, it’s impossible to meet all of one’s correspondents if one is very active in mail art, but it’s a great way to explore the greater world. I am curious about the unseen world, and mail art allows me to explore it.

My travels are guided by a search for practical answers that can be used to conduct my life in a more knowledgeable and comfortable fashion. Mystery is a lack of information that is overcome by meaningful communication. It may seem that by traveling to the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Uruguay, Japan, and now Cuba, that I am driven by a desire for exotic experiences. The truth is that travel, like my use of the postal system, is based on making my life less exotic, more truthful, and to use the “outer corners” to discover the center. I always return home better informed, more aware, of the greater world. This has an influence to my future networking activities.

RJ : What is the vision of these ‘future networking activities’ for you?. It seems you started to use Internet (just like me) as an alternative for mail just to gain time or to have a communication-form when there is no other way. Do you think that E-mail will gradually take over what Mail-art brings or is it just “an extra tool” for the networker?

Reply on : 28-2-1995

JH : First of all, I have to mention that since we talked last, Ray Johnson died. This happened on January 13th, 1995, just four days before my trip to Cuba. I’ve talked about Ray before and how he was not only the founder and guiding spirit of Mail Art, but also a personal mentor for my own activities. His death marks a new period for this medium which he gave birth to. It is especially meaningful to me that so shortly after his death, I left for Cuba to curate the first Mail Art exhibition in a National Museum of Fine Arts. The members of Banco de Ideas Z, the Cuban art collective that co-sponsored the show, dedicated this exhibition to Ray.

Now some may say that this event marks a decline in Mail Art, and that this alternative artform has now entered the highest tier of the museum structure. I choose to look at this differently. Ruggero Maggi has stated that, “Mail Art uses Institutions in the place of Institutions against Institutions.” This is true for me as well. Mail Art is infiltrating the mainstream art world through the mainstreams’ own institutions, and using them to communicate its message of global art and the diversity of ideas. Museums are one more weapon in the arsenal of Mail Art.

Mail Art is not “selling out.” Direct person-to-person contacts continue in the netland. And not only through the post, but through the new communication technologies, like Internet. This is an evolution of great importance. It extends the reach of the Mail Artist making him a Network Artist. I still prefer to use the mail, because of it’s intimate nature: one can feel the materials that were created and touched by another person. But I also use faster communication mediums when the circumstances require it. I like this flexibility, and it shows me that the concept of mail art networking is broad enough to escape the limitations of the postal system. Ray Johnson started a spark that has grown to become a firestorm of international creativity.

Mail Art has also become more than person-to-person contact. Now we have Mail Art and Networker Congresses that involve a number of Networkers at any one time. We have exhibitions in important museums, which extend our audience and recruit new participants. Many in the network have give “mail art workshops,” which introduce the mail art experience to beginners. Mail artists continue to write about the medium in the vacuum of critical acceptance by mainstream art writers and scholars. Recently, Crackerjack Kid (Chuck Welch) has published, The Eternal Network: A Mail Art Anthology, which contains over forty essays on the Mail Art and Networking experience.

Mail Art is bigger, more active, and attracting more attention than ever. It’s not a sign of getting away from it’s root’s, but an indication that these roots are planted in fertile soil and that growth is taking place. The branches of Mail Art are reaching out and beginning to have an effect on those who have ignored it in the past. When Mail Art began, it was a sideline for mainstream artists. Now it can hold one’s attention on a full-time basis.

This is my good fortune. I have done mail art continuously since 1976, and I have grown as it has evolved. I am now able to pursue my interest in Mail Art almost full-time. Of course, it doesn’t pay, but that’s not so important to me, as I still have a part-time job that I enjoy (at the library), that pays most of my rent and bills. Mail art is not a career for me, but it is a preoccupation. And with this increased acceptance and growth, I have more opportunities to lecture, to curate exhibitions, to write, to exhibit works related to my mail art activities, to give workshops, to sit on panels that discuss such topics as the alternative arts, Fluxus, rubber stamp art, performance, and other subjects that have influenced and are effected by Mail Art.

So these are my future networking activities, which are still rooted in the traditional Mail Art exchange of postal objects. This does not mean that I don’t recognize that others in Netland may be taking a completely different path. After I returned from Cuba, I went to New York City for the publication party of Chuck Welch’s new book. I met Mark Bloch there, who I haven’t communicated with for four years. But Mark has not been inactive, nor have I. He has been involved in computer networks at the expense of his postal activities. We haven’t written to each other, and I haven’t seen his name on mail art show lists. But he’s been networking, and I’ve been networking. Just in different networks.

So where once there was a wholeness in the Mail Art Community, there are now divisions. The Networker Congresses of 1992 pointed this out. The Mail Art tree not only has new branches; it now has fellow trees. Mail Art can’t control the E-mail experience. E-mail can’t control Mail Art. But they can inform each other. They can interact with one another. And they can move forward together. Because despite the differences of the mediums, they still have communication creativity as a common goal. Ray Johnson planted a tree in what has become a forest.

RJ : When I look at the organ of senses a human being has, the computer-network has still only limited choices of communication (for most it is only visual communication!). The mail also has its limitations but adds smell and feel-possibilities, 3D views etc.., but with the tourism and congresses, the mail-art networking isn’t just a tree, it has to do with open communication. Maybe it is time to get rid of the term “mail-art” which is getting old-fashion? What do you think?

Reply on : 14-3-1995

JH : It’s not so much that Mail Art is old-fashioned, just that it is now in existence for some forty years. It has matured. Mail art is no longer the providence of avant-garde artists as it was when it was begun by Ray Johnson and Fluxus. In the fifties and early sixties, Mail Art had powerful new conceptions about art (democratic art of open systems, non-commodity art, communication art, collaborative art, the question of originality, art activism, multi-culturalism) that were unexplored and unacknowledged by mainstream art. Now these ideas have been brought forward and have entered the dialogue of the art community at large. Through the explosive growth of mail art shows, the medium is no longer a secret exchanged surreptitiously through the postal system, but can be seen on the walls of university galleries, alternative art spaces, and even National Museums.

Networking art expands the concepts that mail art first exposed. Artists are moving into the new communication technologies like computer and fax and applying the lessons learned in Mail Art, especially the collaborative aspect, the respect for divergent opinion, and the notion of originality. Other artists have applied these lessons in performance works that are done in real time and space. Many artists are now involved in a variety of mediums, and they can best be represented as communication or networking artists. As these artists move into new territories, they find even more information to be examined and new results that push art beyond it’s present definition.

But Mail Art still exists. The term Mail Art doesn’t need to be thrown out. It exists in mailboxes around the world, and is very much a reality. It is useful to many people who still find it an inexpensive and far-reaching tool. But now it is just one weapon in the arsenal of the progressive artist: this new artist – the Networker. And it is the Networker who is now pushing forward the new frontiers of artmaking.

To be a Mail Artist, yes I agree, it’s not an avant-garde activity anymore. It has entered the mainstream. To practice only Mail Art is worthwhile for many, but it’s nostalgic. It is an activity based in history. For many who began mail art, this rage for the avant-garde still burns. So they move forward into Internet, into fax, into Congressism and Tourism, and even newer means of art communication that have not even been named yet. They move into Networking, but they can still practice Mail Art with effective results. It’s just that choices have to be made in getting one’s message across in creative ways. If you are stuck in Mail Art, you may not be getting your messages across in the most effective manner. You can’t refuse the new computer technologies. Then you lose by omission, just as the painters and sculptors, and other tradition laden artists refused to consider Mail Art a legitimate new art when it first arrived to revolutionize the new art theories.

RJ : With your book and your newsletters it is obvious that you like to document things a lot. Is there a reason for putting all these things on paper? For the Electronic Mail (-art) it becomes even more difficult to document it because it is connected to hardware and software, and the printed form is just a copy of the art. How should the electronic mail be archived and how do you do that?

Reply on : 5-4-95

JH : It’s often difficult being both an artist and librarian. One of my good friends in the network is Dr. Al Ackerman, who is just a complete wild man. He seems to act from a subconscious level, where I am always analyzing. Ackerman is a natural artist because something pure flows through him and he has a very individual way of expressing it. The same was true with Ray Johnson. And for these two, documentation is not a primary interest. Reflection is not a component of their art as much as unfiltered creativity. But this is not my way. It doesn’t come naturally, and I have to work hard for my art. I feel an affinity with Marcel Duchamp, who was also a great artist, but more measured. Duchamp was also a librarian for a time, a writer, and a curator as well. Art and the Network have room for these different approaches to the creative process.

It’s not so much that I like to document things, but I’m in a position to do it because of my professional training in informations science, and I don’t see anyone else attempting it. I know if these ephemeral things in the Network don’t get documented, in all likelihood they will be lost. Mail art and networking are important to me, and I feel that the work I am doing will make them more accessible to others. Then they will join me in seeing that something very important is happening as a result of networking activity.

Before I started using a computer I wrote my articles on a typewriter. The first several drafts were thought out on paper. I saved these drafts so that others, if they were curious enough, could see the development of my thought. This is, of course, the same for other writers throughout the centuries. But now writers, myself included, are composing on the computer and corrections are made electronically with no record left behind. This is perhaps a deficiency in the new technology, but there are so many other benefits that this negative is far outweighed. For instance, when I write letters on the computer they can be stored and saved for the future. Previously they were handwritten, and I had no record of them. When I write articles they can be filed for further updating and compilation. And of course there is the matter of easy access. All my letters, articles, and graphics are easily found.

Now as to the archiving of Electronic mail, since I have so little experience in this, it’s difficult for me to comment. But can’t these electronic messages be printed out and/or stored? If so it’s a matter of choosing which message to save. I save all the mail art I receive, so there is no issue of selectivity. I can understand, however, that the personal computer only has so much memory, so the issue of selectivity must be confronted. This is unfortunate, because what appears to be disposable one day becomes important in the future. Whenever I am researching, I am always surprised what I find in the archive. My interests change from year to year. What is important to me one year is less so another year.

But the thing to remember is that electronic mail is a completely different medium than mail art, and has different demands. It’s like the film and video mediums. Although the technology exists to videotape movies from television, I’ve never recorded programs, because there are always new ones that come along. It’s a never ending stream, and yes, sometimes it’s nice to dip into the river and try to capture a moment of it, but the nature of the river is that it is constantly changing. Maybe it’s the same with the electronic mailstream. It’s nature is instant communication and change. So it’s not as important to capture the small physical moments as one does in the medium of postal exchange.

Anyway, it’s not a question of one medium (electronic) replacing another (postal exchange). Each has it’s own benefits, and both can be used to one’s advantage. Each has it’s own storage requirements, and I’m familiar with those of the postal exchange, but not the electronic one. Since I don’t have a modem yet, or even a personal fax machine, I’m not immersed in the archiving of the telecommunication medium at this point.

I am, however, very interested in the question of stored electronic messages, and plan to do a great deal in the future with compilations and anthologies. For instance I’m planning to compile all the issues of Bibliozine I’ve done to date (30) into one work. This is very easy to do when all the issues are stored electronically and can be manipulated into a different format without too much effort. I’d also like to anthologize all the essays I’ve written. In the age of the electronic word this is much more easily done than previously. Copy and paste are commands much more easily done in the electronic medium than the printed one. And isn’t it interesting that these words (cut and paste) have been taken from the print medium to the electronic one. It just shows that mediums are interchangeable in certain ways, but have peculiarities that distinguish them one from another.

RJ : After so many years of mail art and writing about it, how would you describe mail art to a non mail artist?

(Between the sending of the answer and the getting of the reply John Held Jr. and Bill Gaglione visited me in Tilburg after their performance at the ‘Museé de la Poste in Paris where there is currently an exhibition of rubberstamps used by artists as well as a selection of mail-art including rubber stamping)

Reply on 31-5-1995

JH : When I meet someone for the first time, and they ask me what I do, I tell them I am a Mail Artist. Then they look at me like I’m stupid, because, of course, I’m obviously a “male” artist. Very few people know what “Mail” Art is, even other artists. This is very frustrating because I spend so much of my time thinking, living, and doing Mail Art.

My standard answer in response to the question, “What is Mail Art?,” is that it is an international community of artists that exchange art and ideas through the mail. If pushed, I explain that rubber stamps and artist postage stamps are used to decorate envelopes, and that it is an art open to everyone from professional artists to children, because it is a democratic artform that provides an opening to anyone that wants to participate.

Often I am told that, “Oh, I’m a Mail Artists, because I decorate my envelopes and letters also.” I explain that Mail Art is more than the act of decoration, that Mail Art is a process of interaction with a global network of artists. That these artists join together for mail art shows, assembling publications, collaborative performances, and other projects that stress the collaborative nature of the medium.

But as any Mail Artist knows, an explanation of mail Art is very difficult, and that a true understanding of the medium can only be obtained by doing it. Then the intricate weaving of the fabric of the network begins to make sense.

The thing that upsets me the most is that people think that because there is no commercial value to Mail Artworks, it is a hobby, not a valuable contribution to contemporary art. The general public, and other artists alike, tend to judge the importance of an artwork and it’s creator by the commercial value assigned to it. There is such a lack of spirituality in mainstream art today that people can’t believe that artists would make art for any other reason other than financial gain. And if they do, it’s a hobby, because it doesn’t generate any income. So I think most people write Mail Art off as an amusement.

But what I hope Mail Art can do is transform people’s conception of what art is. That it is a creative transfer of information that has the power to show the world that a common thread runs through the culture of all people, and that once this thread is discovered in one aspect of life, it can be extended to other sectors such as social welfare and politics. Once we know more about each other it becomes harder to wage war, impose embargoes, and stereotype enemies. Mail art is about living in a shrinking world.

But explaining this is difficult. Each person has to come to their own level of understanding. All you can really do is stress that Mail Art is fun and that it is exciting to receive mail from all over the world. Then if the person gets involved, they can come to their own conclusions.

RJ : Besides the Mail Art you do, you also did and still do a lot of performances as you have mentioned before. Could you describe how such a performance usually works for you?

Reply on 28-7-1995

JH : Do you think it was a performance when I came to see you last month? Showing up at your door with Fake Picabia Brother Picasso Gaglione? When we went to dinner? When I went through your archive, and Picasso took many impressions of your rubber stamps? And you, blowing up the air mattress I was to sleep on. Now that was a performance!

The Fake Picabia Brothers trip to France, Belgium, and Holland in May 1995, was it a performance or just a part of life? Le Musée de la Poste. Daligand. Bleus. Summers. Janssen. The Fake Picabia Brothers. I can’t tell you if it was a tour, an extended performance, an excursion, certainly a meeting of old and new friends interested in the network. And then the documentation Gaglione published through his Stamp Art Gallery, including my travel diary, photographs, and the stamp impressions Picasso pulled along the way.

Certainly, Gaglione and I did a more formal performance at the opening of the exhibition, “L’Art Du Tampon,” at the Musée de la Poste in Paris, which was carefully prepared. At least aspects of it. A special rubber stamp commemorating the event was made at Galione’s Stamp Francisco rubber stamp company. Stickers were produced. The action was thought out and explained to the curators of the museum exhibition. Modifications were made. Things were improvised during the actual performance, which consisted of Gaglione using my tuxedo as a mount for the rubber stamps he stuck on me. We passed out posters of the action, which were first impressed by the stamp on the sole of my shoe. It involved the participation of others, and fortunately, there was a large crowd that seemed interested in the action.

So that Musée de la Poste performance was more controlled like the more free-flowing exchange we had. Which I consider in some way to have been a performance. At the least, a Mail-Art Meeting in the grand tradition of Ray Johnson’s Correspondence Art Meeting, Flux Festivals, Ace Space’s “On the Road Travel Diaries” of 1971, the Eastern Europe tours of Anna Banana and Dadaland in the mid-seventies, the Mail Art Congresses of 1986, the Networker Congresses of 1992. This personal interaction among networkers is always a special moment. When I meet other networkers, I try to focus on the daily occurances that haphazardly happen, rather then dictate a planned agenda. Nevertheless, it seems more clear than the ordinary acts of life; a crystal-clear moment framed by previous acquaintance in a shared art context.

Gaglione likes to repeat performances. He says only a few people get to see them at a time, so why not do it over again for a new audience. I’m of a similar mind, because you learn something about the piece every time you do it. The technique firms up. Nuances are noted. also like doing working in a series. The shadow performances, the letter-opening events, the electrical tape anti-embargo works, the mail art meetings, the Fake Picabia Brothers; all of these are done till the idea driving them become exhausted.

All of these events come out of the mail art experience. That’s the key that informs the entire body of work. I don’t do a performance for it’s dramatic or visual effect. Usually these are resultant occurances. Ideas derived from mail art involvement shape the concept, determine collaboration, and conceive the documentation. My performance activities are just fodder for continuing mail art correspondence and visual material.

And dear Ruud, I know it is I who is answering the questions and not you, but don’t you think that your Mail Art Interviews are a performance? The writing of letters. Sending faxes. Networker interviews via Internet. Concentrating on asking the right questions. Determining who to interview. Knowing when to end it. Preparing the documentation. It’s difficult to know where the performance ends, and where reality kicks in.

It’s the same for me. My life is so full with the different activities of mail art, that the lines between it’s practice and my personal life get a little fuzzy. Performance, being a real-time component of the Eternal Network, is just cultural interaction made manifest. Like mail art, this type of performance is never good or bad, only useful if it is open enough for people of different cultures and levels of understanding to appreciate it in their own way. And if they want to participate, prepare an opening for them to experience it as well.

RJ : In your “Art from the Rim: The New York Correspondence School of San Francisco Artistamp Travel Diary,” sent to me by Picasso, I read that you are making another “performance”, you are moving from Dallas to San Francisco. Are the reasons for moving connected to mail art too?

Reply on 12-9-1995

JH: Yes, very much so. In the past years I have been collaborating with Picasso Gaglione on performance and other projects, such as writing for his publications program at the Stamp Art Gallery. I’m very impressed with the work he is doing. You must remember that I started in mail art because of my interest in rubber stamps, and that I was very involved with stempelplaats, the first rubber stamp gallery, in Amsterdam, Holland. I believe strongly in the free-flowing nature of mail art, and it’s direct communication between artist. But I also think that it can co-exist with points around the globe where these communication and artistic experiments surface on a regular basis and manifest themselves to the public. I’m for an utopic art, but not a cult art, and this is one manner in which mail art can reach a wider audience.

San Francisco also can claim an important place in the history of mail art. Gaglione and others in the Bay Area during the late sixties (including Anna banana, Pat Tavenner, La Mammelle Art center, Geoffrey Cook, Tim Mancusi, Jeff Berner, Buster Cleveland and many others) are among the first generation of the true mail artist. Not artists who painted and also did mail art; who performed and also did mail art; or did conceptual art and also did mail art; but who were full-time mail artists. The Bay Area Dada Group, like the Canadian art groups General Idea and Image Bank, were an important evolution beyond the initial impact of Ray Johnson and his Correspondence School. This is something I want to research more when I move to San Francisco and can access to the primary materials that were generated by Bay Area Dada.

In addition, contemporary San Francisco is one of the most important centers for zine culture, and the base of operations of R. Seth Friedman and his publication Factsheet 5. This is an aspect of networking that interests me greatly, and I hope to become more involved in this area.

There is a whole support base in San Francisco for the networking arts that is completely lacking in Dallas. Mike Dyar, Seth Mason. Vicki Manuel, Steve Caravello, R. Seth Friedman, Gaglione and his wife Darling Darlene, Geoffrey Cook, Patricia Tavenner, Darlene Tong, Steve Lieber, Lure Books: all these people are familiar to me through my activities, and I look forward to closer contact with them. In Dallas I am completely alone. Of course this is the state of most mail artists and what drives them to communication through the mail. But after fifteen years, I’ve grown too isolated, and have done what I can with the institutions at hand. I look forward to a new start, and must say it is very exciting for me, and I relish the prospects of this new experience.

RJ : Now that you are preparing for the moving to San Francisco, you surely will be confronted with the large amount of mail art that you have received over the years. Have you kept all? How well organized is the archive of a librarian?

Reply on 12-10-1995

JH : I have thought about moving for a number of years now, but it has always worried me that I wouldn’t have enough space for the Modern Realism Archive. But in talking to Gaglione about the possible move to San Francisco, he assured me that I could keep the materials in the Stamp Francisco warehouse until I found a place for them. That convinced me that the move was possible.

Not only have I kept and continue to archive all the mail I receive, but I also receive collections from other mail art friends, who don’t share my passion for documenting this activity. I was recently staying in Chicago with Ashley Parker Owens of Global Mail, who was busy with the organization of the Underground Press Conference where I was speaking, and she gave me the first opportunity to go through her collection of over one-thousand zines and mail art catalogues that she was about to distribute to the participants of the conference.

Since Ashley is at the forefront of international communication in facets such as mail art, internet, and zinedom, you can imagine the incredible collection she has amassed. Ashley’s approach to collecting mail art is completely opposite of mine. She thrives on the process and concentrates on that. Her’s a constant worldwide activity, which has contributed incredibly to the spread of networking arts. The American Ryosuke Cohen.

Ashley doesn’t want a collection. That’s not what interests her. It’s the same for others and I respect their choice, which most of the time is due to storage problems, as much as anything else. But I’m building the tower of Bable. I’m collecting all these different voices and trying to make sense of them – in my language.

I’ve saved every scrap of paper that has come to me since I moved to Dallas in 1981. Before that, I have scattered correspondence from my start in 1976. I packed 18 small boxes of correspondence, rubber stamps and clothes for my move to Dallas. Fifteen years later I leave having spent the entire Summer organizing the archive for the move to San Francisco.

How does a librarian do it? I started first by sorting all my mail by domestic and foreign correspondents. I have 19 legal size storage boxes of American mail art and 16 boxes of foreign mail. Each box contains files for about 60 correspondents. That’s over 1200 American correspondents and almost 1000 Foreign corresponds

In addition to the storage boxes of correspondents I have special sections of the Archive devoted to artists stampsheets (3000 sheets from 400 artists in 31 countries), posters, mail art catalogues, artist publications and zines (about 750 titles from over 25 countries) personal documentation and artwork, rubber stamps (3000), reference material that formed the Annotated Bibliography, and other subdivisions of special interest (such as Congresses, Art Strike 90-93, Cuba, Ray Johnson, Mohammed, Stempelplaats, and others).

An attempt has been made to house these materials so that they will be preserved. The storage boxes are made of acid free materials so that they will not damage the works within. I remove all tape and paper clips from the works, which will in time damage the works. I lay the posters flat so that they will not become brittle from folding. These are small things that I have learned from my work with ordinary library materials.

In addition I have bookcases holding books and magazines about mail art, fluxus, contemporary art, artist’s books, mail art catalogues, and other interests. This is probably the strongest part of my collection, because I have made it a point to gather all the books on the subject of mail art and networking that I can. The annotated bibliography was conceived primarily to ferret out these sometimes very hard to get items (like Poinsot book, Italian and French books on Futurist postal activity, Johnson’s Paper Snake, a rare hardcopy of the Dutch PTT mail art catalogue, etc.) I’ve seen a lot of mail art collections first-hand, but in this category of books about mail art, I have never seen a finer collection than my own.

The Archive ia a working reference library. I am constantly to it for information on the articles and other writings I am doing. Therefore, it is organized so I can find things. That’s the real reason for the collection: to collect materials rich enough in breath allowing for a substantial overview of networking art. Then in writing about the medium, I can make informed opinions with a foundation of information behind me.

When I went to library school, I had no idea that I would become involved in the arts. It was always an interest, and I loved to read different biographies on artists. I saw them as free spirits in a world that limited our independence of action and style. When I first started writing to artists it was very much as an outsider trying to get a closer look at the monkeys in the cage. I met Jean Brown, who introduced me to many of the Fluxus artists. I met Ray Johnson in 1977. I began to witness first hand the creative personality, and it became an ideal of mine to emulate the freedom I witnessed. All the time, I was working in a library, married, raising children, and this freedom seemed impossible. But I was able to reach out through mail art and convince myself that this ideal was attainable.

Finally, in the mid-eighties, I was able to combine my skills in library work with the world of mail art I was witnessing, and the Annotated Bibliography was born. I feel now that I have in some measure repaid my many correspondents around the world for all the kindness they have shown to me over the years. Now after years of watching and learning, maybe I’m ready to enter their ranks as an artist myself.

RJ : Since you are now almost moving to San Francisco, I think it is a good moment to end this interview. But somehow I feel the interview isn’t finished yet, so I will call it ‘PART 1’. When you are settled down in San Francisco we will see if we both have the energy for a ‘PART 2’. I want to thank you for your time and I wish you a wonderful next part of your life in California!

Reply on 26-10-1995

JH : I think your idea is great, Ruud! I am very much on the edge now – on the rim of something new. It is now October 19th , 1995. In two days the movers come to pack my large rented truck, and then I will begin my adventure to San Francisco on October 23th. This is the last letter I will write and mail from 1903 McMillan avenue, an address that has served me well over the years.

Last week, on October 14th, I had an opening reception for my exhibition, John Held Jr. / Modern Realism: A Dallas Retrospective, 1981-1995. I had a very nice review of the show in the Dallas Morning News right before the opening (“Always on the Edge, and Always interesting”), and perhaps as a result, over 300 people came to the really beautiful non-commercial art space where it was shown. It was very pleasing to me that Honoria and her friend Miss Ruby (The fake Picabia Sisters) traveled from Austin, Texas, and buZ blurr came from his home in Gurdon, Arkansas.

It was great to see how much work done over the past decade and one-half on display. There was a room for my work (performance photo documentation, performance relics, mail art, large photocopied works that were colored with oils, a rubber stamp mural, posters of past projects at Dallas institutions), and another room that hosted selections of past shows at Modern Realism (Cavellini, Julie Hagan Bloch eraser carvings, Jenny Soup envelopes, postcards by Buttons, Ken Brown, Open World magazines by Dobrica Kampereli_, Printed Matters by Banco de IdeaZ in Cuba, Artistamps by Joki, etc.).

So, yes, dear Ruud, this is the time for summing up and for a new start. I have to tell you also that right before the show opened I had to have surgery for cancer, which was, thankfully, a complete success, so this only adds to the sense of finality and new beginnings.

And just yesterday, the catalog that I was long awaiting came from Banco de IdeaZ and the National Museum of Fine Arts in Cuba, which documented the mail art exhibition that I curated there last January. It has an essay of mine, “The Open World of Netland.” Here’s the last sentences in it. “Because of the new communication technologies and the continuing desire of individuals of different countries and cultures to reach out to one another, borders are becoming obsolete. The object is not the creation of one world culture, but a respect and understanding for each other in our fragile, shrinking, world.”

I want to continue this search for understanding before my time is through. I think that in San Francisco I will have a firmer base from which to conduct this investigation. Ashley Parker Owens, our friend from Global Mail, will share an apartment with me. We will also share a post office box. I’ll be working with Picasso Gaglione at the Stamp Art Gallery. It is a bit of a Mail Art Utopia.

But we’ll wee in PART 2, yes?

RJ : We sure will, thanks for this part of the interview!

NEW address mail-artist:

John Held Jr.
P.O.Box 410837
SAN FRANCISCO,
CA 94141-0837
USA

Address interviewer:

RUUD JANSSEN – TAM
P.O.Box 1055,
4801 BB  Breda
NETHERLANDS

e-mail: r.janssen@iuoma.org

mail-interview with John Evans – USA

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JOHN EVANS.

69 – unfinished

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Started on 11-6-1996

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 16-1-1997

(John Evan’s answer was written on a paper filled with color-tests with ink he made before).

JE : Dear Ruud Janssen. Thanks for inviting me to be interviewed for your project. Sorry that I have been slow in responding. The pile of mail on my desk simply seems to keep growing. I need a secretary – ah wouldn’t that be great.

Happy 1997. When is your birthday? As to your question – When did I get involved in Mail/Male Art?

Well it was in 1964 – 33 years ago. WOW! I remember it vividly – I was @ a party on West 10th Street in “the ” Village @ HarveySpevaks. It was a hot summer afternoon, and there were these 2 men there – Ray Johnson + Albert Fine who were fascinated by this rather crude tattoo of a knife on my left arm (I got it while in Highschool in Redondo Beach, California). I had no idea who they were, but Ray went off somewhere, and then reappeared on the roof where the party had moved, with a drawing of a knife, which could be a penis – it said “knife” and was signed Ray Johnson. It hangs above this desk. After that I began getting correspondance of the “please add to and send to” variety from both him + Albert. Have really met so many people through this encounter that I lose track – it changed my life, and I am eternally grateful to all concerned. Since Ray died I have been a bit slow in getting to my correspondancing, on + I do try. Do hope this is what you want. Best of love, luck + laughs, @

ps. What ever happened to Sonja van der Burg of Afzet? She always spoke highly of you.

RJ : Dear John Evans, In connection to your questions to me: My birthday is July 29th. What happened to Sonja? She moved to a new address and sent nobody this new address. A way to stop with mail art, and as far as I know she moved to other ways to express herself. I did get her new address from Mark Bloch one year ago, but the letter I sent to her was never replied.

But in this interview I would like to focus on what you have done and experienced in these 33 years. A long time indead. Are you still in contact with most of the mail artists from the 60’s and 70’s you encountered then?

(Together with my answer I sent John some info’s of my latest activities)
next answer on 3-3-1997

JE : Thanks for the package postmarked 22 January. Like the strange creature that you painted on the envelope. Also the account of your trip to San Francisco was a joy to read. It is a great city. Next trip you must come to Daciddy – Nieuw Amsterdam, which is an even greater city. There are a number of mail artists here, but we are not very organized.

As to your question abot being in contact with the mail artists from the 60’s & the 70’s , many of them have died, or dropped out of the circuit. Those who have died that I know of being Cavellini, Ray Johnson, May Wilson, Pauline Smith, Harvey Spevak, Albert Fine, Mike Belt, Rob Cobugio, Brian Buogac and perhaps Falves Silva of Brasil. There are many who I am still in touch with from that time – Ed Plunkett, Buster Cleveland, Ed Higgins, Mark Bloch, Bill gaglione, Tim Mancusi, Pat Tavenner, Anna Banana, Les Barbot, Carlo Pittore, Walt Evans, Michael Leigh, Art Naphro, Bill Dobbs, Les Oisteame, Geff Hendricks, Sur Rodney Sur, Wally Darnell, Philip van Aver, Jim Klein. There must be others who I am forgetting, but @ my advanced age it is to be expected. Actually as I wrote the above three of my favorites come to mind – Richard C. + Blaster (Al Ackerman) + Wilson.

It is getting late and I must get to bed as I get up @ 5 AM so that I can go to my part time job as a “horticultural technicien”. This helps pay the rent, and is only 3 days a week so it is bearable. It entails watering + caring for plants in these Manhattan Towers – a strange, but wonderful garden.

Hope all is well for you. Love, Luck + Laughts @ *

(* this is a lowercase E with a dot, not a symbol for at (@) – my signature)

RJ : The problem is that the computer has problems with “lowercase E with a dot”, but then again, it is a machine and not human. This interview seems to get more of a letter-exchange then a set of questions and answers, but I don’t mind. Yes, I know that New York is an interesting place to visit. It is on my list of wishes, so who knows what happens.

You mention a lot of mail artists of the beginning period. Are there also newcomers to the mail art network that write to you?

next answer on 28-8-1997

(with his answer John Evans sent me two xeroxes.One xerox was about his upcoming exhibition Invitational ’97 – September 10 – October 4. The other copy of a page in the New York Times, about America Off-line; the effects of the e-mail and the explenation that there still is MAIL. His interview-answer was written on a cut-open envelope from Magret A kane with color stains of paint on it).

JE : Thanks for your last missive of which there is no date that I find legible. Your letter actually accompanied me to Redondo Beach, California, where I thought I might have a bit of time to do some Mail art.

Had to go attend my mother’s funeral, but did not have any time to do much but deal with family matters. My mother, Alice Sauers Evans , lived to be 91 and had been sick, so her death was expected, but it is always hard to lose one so close. Things went smoothly though.

As I look over the copy of my letter to you I see some blatent omissions from my list. Guy Bleus, who I simple love, being the most outstandingly missed.

Your question, regarding newcomers – there do not seem to be any with the exception of yourself who has been around for awhile, that I am now correspondancing with. C’est la vie.

RJ : You like to work a lot with paper, ink and water-colors, all those things done by hand. What do you think of the things that are produced by computers?

(In March 1998 I heard from Roy Arenella that he met with John Evans at the opening of his new exhibition – Collages & Paintings , 1968-98. I decided to send the last question to John Evans again just in case he lost it. Quite soon after that I got the next answer and als a photo/card in it that Roy sent to John with a portrait photo he made of him).

reply on 11-04-1998

JE : What do I think about computer art? Well I find it to be a valid form of Art. More so than so called “performance” or “Video”. Guess I do not like things that make one vegetate. I barely watch videos or TV @ home. Why should I have to go to a gallery or a museum. Some performance art has been really quite wonderful, but I prefer “the” theatre. Computers are like cameras in a way and I love photographs preferably old ones from the 19th century. Can one believe the time? WOW. End of 20th. Strange weather we have been having. Very warm. Have been getting collages from a couple of college students in Brasil. Interesting!

RJ : What makes a collage interesting to you?

(there was a lang pause between the sending of the question and the receiving of the answer. Just before the summer, which I spent in Germany and Greece, I sent John Evans a copy of the last question)

next answer on 19-11-1998

(with John Evans’s answer he sent two cards of invitations to exhibitions. One of Collages by Vince Grimaldi – “Man and his world” , and the other one “And I Quote” (dedicated to Buster Cleveland 1943-1998) with also work by John Evans in it. “A very good show!” , John writes on this last card. Something I knew since another person I interview (Roy Arenella) sent a very wonderful review about John’s part in the exhibition)

JE : Dear Ruud, Cannot believe that I am finally getting around to answer your question and the pack of things which you last Zent. Do hope that you got to Germany + to Greece.

My daughter India is now in Perugia – Italia. She seems to be loving it. Who wouldn’t @ 20, and studing art. In the next term she will be in Firenze. Lucky.

As to your new question – on the verso. “What makes a collage interesting to me?” – I really love to look @ all different kinds of collage and all art in general. It is always fascinating how a person handles the different elements which go into the making of a work. As Gertrude Stein said: “Everything is the same on lt different” and vive la difference. Love, Luck Laughts @

RJ : You seem to like Frensh language a lot. Any specific reason for that?

Address mail-artist:

John Evans,
Avenue B. School of Art
199 E. 3rd Street – 2B
NEW YORK , NY 10009, USA

mail-interview with Jenny Soup

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH  JENNY SOUP
(USA)

JenyySoup
TAM-PUBLICATIONS JULY 1996
TAM960135

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JENNY SOUP

Started on: 7-3-1995

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: 2-5-95

JS : I first got involved with mail art and the network back in 1987. I was living in San Francisco at the time, going to Art School. I was introduced to the addicting world of mail art by my boyfriend at that time, and thus the enigmatic Gagliones, the wacky and wonderful Radio Free Dada, the ever present (and past and future) John Held Jr., and others. I was instantaneously sucked into the network with full devotion. I have always enjoyed art and correspondence/ writing, and mail art became a perfect way to blend the two. Good friends were made through mail art, wonderful ideas were exchanged and a lot of stamps were used….

RJ : What kind of ideas (wonderful ideas as you mention them) do you mean. Can you give some examples?

Reply on 22-5-1995

(Together with her next answer Jenny Soup sent me her new poetry-booklet “SORROW’S VELVET GARDEN , Corridors of Madness Publishers, Studia City, CA , USA.)
JS : I couldn’t do justice in talking about all the wonderful ideas that spawned from the mail art medium and from my personal history in corresponding with many great artists. Though justice will not be served…. I will relay a few. When I first started receiving mail art, I took great notice, not only in what was within the envelopes I received, but also the envelopes themselves. This sparked a passion in me, and for a few years, I adorned envelopes with the greatest of time and care. Maybe a simple “hello” would be written on a slip of paper within, but the real Art lay on the envelope itself. I would spend hours on one envelope, collaging, painting and fully decorating each piece. It was a real joy. Now I don’t find the same pleasure in doing the Art on the envelopes, though occasionally I will succumb to the urge to do so. The past envelope decorating, eventually led to my color collage Artwork, which has been shown in Galleries here in Los Angeles, the East Coast, and Germany. And along the same lines, the color collages led to my creating full size oil paintings of the same images. How beautiful the lines of progression.

Now, I find the greatest of pleasure in the letter writing, and the written correspondence among those in the network. Though this limits the number of people I correspond with. I enjoy it so much and it adds immeasurably to my life. It is through the letter writing that I enjoy sharing and receiving personal ideas from artists around the world. Within the last couple of years, I have had the most wonderful of opportunities to meet a few of those people, including yourself Ruud, which I find a great pleasure and it adds to the depth of all the correspondence with such people.

Another example would be in the realm of “Projects”. Through the mail I have seen and heard of so many different projects, some fascinating, some very simple, yet all have the possibility of influencing an idea I may have at the time. Sometimes it can help solve a problem, or be a catalyst to take an art piece to another level. A wonderful part of all this has been the introduction to a combined effort in a single idea. A great influence are the “Mail Art Shows”, in how many people contribute to one thing. The collaboration effort is a glorious thing. One singular person does not take all the credit, or a “First Place” of sorts. Each contributor is as important as the other.

When I started my Poetry and Art Magazine “in remembrance”, I incorporated this idea; to have others contribute to the Magazine, that it wasn’t all one person, that it was the efforts and talents of many that would make it so succesful.

I hope I have conveyed a few examples of how much mail art has effected (infected) my life, and how ideas have formed and grown through this medium.

RJ : Could you tell a bit more about your magazine “in remembrance”. When did you start it? How do you select the work you include in your magazine?

Reply on 27-6-1995

JS : I started my magazine “in remembrance” while in San Francisco. It was around 1987 & at the time, in art school, I was working on extremely large paintings, more like tapestries. These paintings took a lot of time, energy and materials. The work was physically and mentally exhausting to complete. The paintings involved a heavy use of collage and different textures, and each one incorporated the use of language. Through, and because of these paintings, “in remembrance” evolved. My magazine became a small, simple way to express the same ideas as in my paintings. These ideas could then reach more people because of the accesability through the mail, which I was discovering through the mail art network.

I have always enjoyed Poetry and language. Ever since I was a young child, I can remember writing poems and short stories. The enjoyment from writing and from reading other works has been a large part of my life, always. I carried this love into my magazine. As the magazine reached more people, in turn, more people would write to me about it. They would send in their work, poems, art, ideas and comments on what they thought of the magazine. All of this helped shape the magazine and helped it to evolve.

I took into consideration all of the submissions I received for “in remembrance”. I included those which personally affected me, those which emotionally moved me. In this selection process, a family started. The result of this “family” , was a group of artists who shared the same “visions” and thoughts as I and as I achieved in “in remembrance”. The magazine has the feel of haunting beauty. It researches the loveliness that is found in many different areas, by many different means. Many of the works I receive by mail, don’t fit the themes, or feel of “in remembrance”, and it is hard to turn down these works. Just because they don’t fit in the realm of “in remembrance”, does not mean they are not strong pieces. Because I choose not to use them doesn’t mean they are not good, or worthy of being published. But that is the job of an editor. To choose what completes and complements the original intentions of the project. It’s not always easy, but it is neccessary. I want to keep “in remembrance” true to itself, and this is the only way to do that.

RJ : How large is the network you have discovered so far?

Reply on 6-8-1995

JS : The full size of my correspondence is in the hundreds, though it’s not a completely consistant network. There will be steady lines of communication for a period of time, and then months without. This depends on factors in my life whoever I am writing to/with. Sometimes I’ve been wrapped up in a project that will take me out of circulation for months! Same with the other person(s). When I was in Europe last year, though I kept writing to close friends, when I returned 5 months later I had a box full of mail with many letters saying, “where are you? Why haven’t we heard from you?”. Or sometimes, even years later, I’ll receive a letter from someone I lost contact with, and they’ll have written about what kept them out of circulation for so long. My network also changes and reforms itself. People send me artwork and write, its all so ephemeral. I doubt I would ever have the energy to accumulate and organize all the addresses of people I’ve corresponded with over the years. All of it is stored in boxes and boxes.

I do enjoy the variety of the experience of correpondence, though. That I can have contact with a network of people around the world, is truly an exciting realization.

RJ : Is there a difference in the mail-art here in Europe and in the USA?

Reply on 33-8-95

JS : I think there is a difference in art of all senses, in Europe than in the USA. There is a greater involvement and respect for art, in Europe. Children are raised to believe there is an importance of art in daily living, they are surrounded by it. Or so I observed,in my travels through Europe and during my stay in Paris for 5 months. I was delighted to see very young children in the museums, drawing on paper, on the floor, from great masterpieces of Picasso, Matisse, and others. Art seems to be everywhere in Europe. From money to stamps to phonecards, to bus stops, murals, galleries, great gardens and architecture. As an artist, I can see the beauty of much of America, but it is very different. There is less of a general social appreciation for ‘art’.
As far as mail art goes. I believe there is such a connection in the network, that any differences fade. Sometimes it seems that European mail artists are much more consistant in their correspondence. Not that us Americans are “flakes” per se, or are we? Just kidding. I feel the mail art network, at least the core of folks I correspond with, are of the same breed, that we all find each other because we are different from everyone else.

RJ : I know you sometimes do work with a computer. Do you also use it for your art? And for communication?

Reply on 26-9-1995

JS : I use my computer for many things. It’s for letters, poetry, writing and artwork. Though in my artwork, I am still very “hands-on.” I will use the computer to outline a design or for exact measurements in boxes/lines/type, but for the rest, I love to draw by hand. I’ll take what I started on the computer and finish the drawing with ink, pencil, paint, whatever. And with my paintings, I never use the computer for anything! The image goes from my mind straight to the canvas – no “middle man”!

I do enjoy the computer, don’t get me wrong, and I see wonderful artwork come from such electronic means. But I still respect the “old-fashioned” method when I see art that’s been drawn/painted by hand, I feel there’s a more “human” aspect to it. Same with letters but when it is hand written, there’s more of a connection with the person, the human-ness of the act of writing.

I think computers have seperated us from much of our “human-ness” of our relationship with “nature”, and lean us toward the “artificial”. In no way do I believe computers are “bad” or technology is “evil”, but there is a good balance between science & nature if we keep our heads together.

Computers are a marvel, they’re fabulous, and I see a lot of potential for their use, beyond what we have now. But for now, I’ll just use mine as I do for work & play. And I will still be in awe at the work of a human hand, whether it be digging in the dirt of a garden or a child finger-painting, or a drawing of Mary Cassatt, or a surgeon at work, or someone typing at a computer.

RJ : Where do you find your inspiration for your art?

Reply on 10-11-1995

(With her new answer Jenny Soup included a set of 4 photo’s of her paintings ans also an announcement of her newest “in remembrance #14 which is ready and can be ordered)

JS : The word “inspiration” is so fleeting & ephemeral, to me. I try to find ideas for my artwork, in a multitude of places. Most of my paintings are done out of necessity to create. Of course, many of my ideas first come from my head, from memory or fantasy & go directly to canvas. Sometimes I look through old photographs to get ideas & some image will jump out at me.

I am not a consistant painter. I lack discipline in this sense. I think much of painting is this discipline… combined with “inspiration”. I will go through periods where I’ll paint for weeks straight, one painting after another, and then months of nothing at all!

I believe that everything is worth painting. From a piece of fruit, to the human face, to flowers, fantasy or everyday life. It all “inspires” me to create, yet I’ll paint whatever I feel “in the mood” to paint!

RJ : Lets go back to the mail art. Globally there are two different attitudes towards the mail art people get. Some want to keep everything and start to create their own “archive” while others rather like to pass on the things they receive and recycle most of the things the get from the network. What do you do?

Reply on 3-1-1996

JS : Well, I’m the third attitude! I tend to pick and choose what I keep and what I pass on. I used to keep literally everything, but as space ran out and box after box got full, I began to reconsider keeping everything.
Whenever I receive two of the same things I will pass on one to someone else. If I receive an abundance from one person, I tend to pass on a few pieces. But mostly I will keep what I receive – especially when I see that a lot of time & energy has been put into making it. Often times I will receive “trash” in the mail, seems people will just rip up a piece of paper or what not, put it in an envelope and pass it on as “mail art”. I often don’t keep it and frankly, I don’t pass it on either. I am not trying to be “elitist” by saying that, because I’m not one to judge what is or is not mail art. I just tend to save the items I receive that I see time and effort in.

I have great respect for those who save and archive the mail art they receive. You, Gaglione, John Held Jr., and others, are providing a great service to all of us by documenting and preserving such a unique communication and genre.

RJ : Well, I’m flattered by such comment. I know that there are many more mail artists that archive a lot of what they receive, and the biggest archive is without doubt that of Guy Bleus in Belgium. Is documenting really that important? Do you document all your art activities (for instance, do you keep a list of all the mail you send out)?

Reply on 21-2-1996

JS : Forgive my initial exclusion in not listing one of the greatest Archivists, Guy Bleus. Where was my mind?

Your question “Is documentation really that important?” brings up a variety of emotions and thoughts. I learned many years ago in Art School, from various sources the phrase….”Documentation is everything”. whether a performance, a painting or an impact of a piece of work. And this can be advantageous for the Artist in many circumstances. And for historical value, documentation is a great aid in preserving a “happening” or a piece or body of work.

But now, 10 years after I was told “Documentation is everything”, I don’t believe it. On the other hand of the documentation coin, I see it as a great restraint. Such importance is placed on the past, on what has alrady happened.

It seems ironic to me, that mail art, such an ephemeral, temporary art form, always in transition and a state of flux, is held in boxes, and files, and forced into an archival existance.
When I first started out in mail art, I did document a great deal of what I received and what I sent out. I would photograph decorated envelopes I made, and keep folders full of xeroxed artworks I mailed out. After awhile, I questioned why I was doing all this documenting. Why was I saving the remnants and shadows of my sendings? I took on a different view, and lived in the sending and receiving, not the delicate perservation. When its sent, it’s gone. Though I do have a great deal of trouble throwing things away, to this day. Never thrown out a letter. It all goes into boxes, largely marked….MAIL, and thats it. I enjoy the now, and not in reviewing and filing what’s in the boxes. So…. why do I hang on to the box? Who knows, maybe one day soon, I will build a giant catapult and send each box off into space, one by one, with a big bang! Or bury each box deep in the ground, to be discovered by archeologists hundreds of years from now. And whatever I choose to do with these boxes of mail, the bigger question is, “Will I document the act of what I do with them?”

RJ : Well, at least you should invite some other mail artists for such an occasion…..! There is another side to documentation of course. The people who don’t know anything about mail art normally want to know about what has been going on and what it is all about. The only sources nowadays are the mail artists themselves and (if they keep any) their archives. The books about mail art mostly are written by mail artists, and non-participants just don’t seem to understand what mail art is all about. How would you reply to a person that asks about your “mail art” when you know he/she doesn’t know what it is about?

Reply on 16-3-1996
JS : I agree with your point about the documentation – that’s why I mentioned that it does have historical value. Much of history is based upon such preserved remnants of an era, or genre of subculture. Of course the other side of that coin is that what “we” base history on, is a very small portion of the overall scene. Historically – the archives that are being kept and written about and looked at, are only a percentage of the overall picture. Usually “history” comes out very one sided & biased. Are the “big names” in mail art, that every one notes, and writes about, are they giving an acurate account of the mail art scene, entirely? I don’t know, I’m just throwing out the question. And do people within the scene include or exclude certain people at a whim, when they choose?

From my experiences and observations, I notice the ‘cliques’ in mail art, the closed circles that are very difficult to enter. I wonder if this will affect the historical representation of mail art. Mail art hasn’t truely hit the mainstream of society, so few people do know what it’s about. The popularity of rubber stamps & art made from them did open up a lot of people into the mail art realm, that weren’t aware of it before. Many of my friends over the years have admired the mail I receive and ask about it. They see the decorated envelopes, rubberstamp art, xeroxed stuff inside or whatever, and they are very intriged. They think it’s wonderful & ask what it is all about. The easiest response is that its art that gets about through the mail. Big art, small art, xeroxed, painted, written, anything goes. And like a chain letter, once you’ve sent out a few pieces your name and address are picked up and the network process kicks in. You’ll always have someone to send things to, and you’ll always be receiving something.

I would be so interested in the observations of non-mail-art participants. I would almost be more interested in reading that, than a book written by a mail artist. Hmmmm. A good theme for a mail art show?

RJ : This is probably an essential point, this last remark. Mail art is still for the people that participate in the network. Others who get to see it, haven’t gone through the process of networking, and only see the piece of mail as a final result. Exhibiting mail art in a museum or a gallery is therefore always quite difficult. And maybe it isn’t even necesarry at all. Maybe your theme for a mail art show is interesting. Ask someone in your surroundings to observe the mail artist for a specific time, and make a report…….. Hmmmm. Actually, I kind of stopped with doing those ‘traditional’ mail art shows, where you ask the ‘network’ to send in their works to a specific theme. How about you?

Reply on 13-4-1996
JS : I honestly do about 3 to 4 Mail Art shows per year. For a long time I did every show I heard about, and for awhile it was fun and interesting. I like the general idea of rounding up a variety of perspectives on a singular subject, but I feel the mail art show falls short of what it’s potential could be. For example, a call comes through the mail for works on the theme of… Whatever. Maybe it’s a trendy theme, such as a certain war that exists, and everyone is really against this war and the violence, and all the work submitted reflects their views on this. All this artwork is sent to one person, who types up the contributors names on a list, puts together a nice booklet and sends them back to those who sent in the work. This seems like a very small, closed circle. Even if the work is shown in a gallery or library or other venue, people come in and look at the work, agree or disagree with the issues set forth, and then they go home. If we can all get together on some level to express our ideas, as in this example, for instance being against a certain war, then let us use all this energy to make a change, make situations better. Use our voices in channels that can cause an affect on a given situation.

I am not implying, in any way, that Art has no power, in fact it can be a very powerful tool and medium to affect the masses. But it must be directed to do so, and done efficiently. An incestuous mail art show is not using all that creative power efficiently. If a mail art show was arranged on the subject of war or child abuse or even trees, instead of sending all the work to just one mail artist, have everyone send something to a figure in a position to do something about it. Send all the tree mail art, and why we are sending it, to the person or people in charge of our national parks or government officials who can pass stricter environmental laws. If the issue is war then send all the works to the government officials initiating and perpetuating the war. Use this marvelous creative energy to DO SOMETHING, not just fatten ourselves in the glutenous files of mail art and show documentations. I see all of us falling short of what we are capable of doing, of what can be done along the same lines of the mail art show, but it really meaning something.
To further this point, if I was involved (involuntarily) in the war around Bosnia and I heard of someone putting together a mail art show about the war, and thought of all the money and energy and time to mail it all out, collect, document, etc., and all the energy of those sending work to someone somewhere in another country most likely, I would be so utterly offended. I would think and say to myself, “So what? My family was just killed by gunfire, what do I care of artwork in a file, and names of contributors on a list. I could die tomorrow because of this war.” Instead of mailing a xeroxed art piece to another mail artist, I write letters to government officials.

In the large scheme of things, what is the big deal of a mail art show? I believe the mail art show and the mail art scene need to evolve. They need to evolve for many reasons, to continue their existence, to create importance, and to keep up with evolving mail artists.

RJ : How did YOU evolve through mail art? What did mail art teach you when you look back at almost ten years of being a mail artist?

Reply on 28-5-1996

JS : When you learn and experience a great deal, you automatically evolve (or devolve). I learned a great deal from mail art itself, as well as individual people in the network. Mail art was such an unusual medium at the time, for me. I had always been a “letter-writer” by nature, I do a lot of writing, poetry, stories, journals, etc. But the “mail” became an incredible outlet once I discovered mail art, not just a pen-pal thing anymore. I learned by observance, and experimentation that “anything goes!”. It was scary, yet releasing feeling. I began to “push the envelope” pardon the pun), and this testing of the boundaries naturally reflected into my Artwork, my paintings and collages. Mail art taught me to express and try new things, not to be scared if they didn’t work out completely, that the journey and the action, the “performance”, so to speak, was the real essence. There was no real success or failure, it was not a black and white world. At the time it was all gray, and all open for discovery and exploration. I danced in the realms of Dada and Fluxus, began to appreciate Performance Art, and pretty much the Art of Life!
I am so thankful for what I have experienced through mail art. The people I met and exchanged with. The personal aspect I experience in mail art, is the real appeal for me. The artwork received and exchanged is wonderful, but for me it is the people and their lives that I grow fond of, that I wish to stay in touch with, with or without the realm of mail art. There was a real transition through the years for me. At first I was absorbed by the Artwork, what I received, what I sent out, and then over the years it became the people. The lives of those I exchange work and letters with, held so much more importance than the work. In that holds the key to how I have evolved in mail art.

RJ : Well maybe this is a nice moment to end the interview, or is there something I forgot to ask you?

Reply on 27-6-1996

(together with Jenny Soup’s answer she sent me a copy of her newest “In remembrance” #15.

JS : I would like to say how very much I have enjoyed doing this interview with you. What a tremendous project. In looking back, it has almost taken a year to complete! Your questions set a lot of thoughts into motion, about mail art and life! I had a great time thinking about and answering your questions. I hope your readers enjoy our correspondence, too. Thanks Ruud.

RJ : Thank you too for this interview Jenny!

Address mail-artist:

Jenny Soup,
P.O.Box 1168-584
Studio City
CA 91604 – USA

mail-interview with Jenny de Groot – Netherlands

THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JENNY DE GROOT

jenny_de_groot

Started on: 31-3-1995

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: 5-4-1995

JdG: The first time I came across mail art was in 1983, when I was
studying photography and design at AKI (Academy for Arts and
Industry). One of my teachers was Bart Boumans, who at the time was
very active in the mail art circuit. He gave me a list of addresses in
Japan: I was doing some ‘research’ on Japanese calligraphy, and I
needed the addresses for information. Among those who replied were
people like Shozo Shimamoto and Ryosuke Cohen and voila: there it all
began….

RJ : What do you remember about the first contacts with mail artists?

Reply on : 12-4-1995

JdG: Do you mean contacts through the mail or in person? Anyway, on
Bart Boumans’ address-list was also Byron Black, who was then living in
Bangkok, Thailand. He wrote to tell me he was not preoccupied with
calligraphy at all so he could not provide me with information on that
subject, but he would like to exchange mail just the same. The first
audio-cassette came from him, and in 1984 he sent me a video tape that
I still show anyone who wants to see it. Until today I never met him in
person, although I would love to.

The first mail artists I DID meet in person was Barry Edgar Pilcher….
who responded to my first-project-ever. In 1987 my daughter Esther and
I went to see him and his family in their beautiful green valley in Wales.
This meeting was an experience I will remember and cherish for the rest
of my life.

RJ : Well, I meant the contacts through mail, but it is interesting that
you start talking about meeting mail-artists in person. How important is
meeting compared to writing to a mail artist?

Reply on : 28-4-1995

JdG: I am not sure if it is really important, but I think it is at least very
exciting to meet a mail artist in person, it always turns out to be a quite
different event than you expected it to be. Before you meet someone in
person you have a certain idea of that man or woman: you only know
him or her through the mail: from letters, photographs, sometimes you
know a voice from audio tapes. After a ‘close encounter of the personal
kind’ you find the image you have of that person is totally different
from ‘the real thing’, and the mail you exchange with that person
usually changes: it might get more personal, or it might even stop (after
I met Pat Fish in april 1993 – or was it 1992 – I never heard from her
again….)

RJ : Again you mention the audio tape. Because we already exchanged
lots of audio-cassettes I know that you like this medium. What is so
special about the audio tape that makes you use it?

Reply on : 2-5-1995

JdG: Audio-tapes can bring an extra dimension into the act of
exchanging mail. To hear someone’s voice on tape is one thing, but it is
also very good to hear all the different sound collages that people
make, sounds from the place they live in, pieces of radio-programs,
poetry, music: Barry Pilcher is a musician, and since we first started to
exchange tapes he has sent me lots of exciting examples of his own work
and the work of musicians he admires.

During the performance I did with Jos‚ Vanden Broucke in 1989 (for
the mail art project ‘transport, transit, junctions’) we used a 30 minute
tape with a collage from our collection of mail artists’ audiotapes we
received over the years: it is still one of my favorites!

And furthermore I think there is a lot more information you can put on
an audiotape than in a written letter…..

RJ : The project ‘transport, transit, junctions’, what was it about?

Reply on : 13-5-1995

JdG: Transport/transit, junctions was a mail art project that I did for
the Palthehuis in Oldenzaal: the works I received (more than 300) were
shown there in december 1989/january 1990. The idea behind it was
that in/near Oldenzaal traffic junctions come together, and at the time
a large transport site was built in the industrial area (of course
everyone was free to make his or her own interpretation on the theme,
but there were still a lot of cars and trucks driving through my
letterbox).

A part of the show were contributions from children, which was
particularly fun: I introduced the project to them during a few lessons
where I (tried to) explain about mail art (showing work and letting them
write to mail-artists). Each one of the four classes (from four different
schools) made works for the show.

I would have loved to send everybody a detailed, full color catalogue,
but the money I got from the municipality of Oldenzaal was not half
enough to cover all the costs, so I had to keep it cheap…. only a xeroxed
booklet with colored cover. Expensive enough though…. But never
mind, you know very well what it’s like, there is never enough money
but you always manage, somehow….

RJ: You also did a mail art show in Hengelo connected to Containers
didn’t you? What was this all about?

Reply on : 19-5-1995

JdG: ‘Container Con Amor’ was an art manifestation that took place in
the summer of 1988 (seven years ago already! Time flies!). Large sea-
containers were placed on a square in the center of Hengelo, and in/on
and around them several artists showed their work. Some used the
container as exhibition space, others made an artwork of the container
itself. The mail art project I did for the show was also called ‘Container
Con Amore’, and everything I received was shown inside one of the
containers. Because of the unusual way of showing art the show was
VERY successful (many visitors, many articles in the press), and the
mail art-container was crowded with people during the ten days the
‘iron village’ stayed there.

RJ : Did you notice any changes in the mail art network in the last 10
years?

Reply on 10-6-1995

JdG: The past 10 years… I must admit that I have jumped in and out of
the m.a. circuit over the past five years… there were long periods of
time where I didn’t contribute to any project or whatever: from time to
time I even neglected the contacts with people who are especially dear
to me (all this due to various circumstances; job, money, moving (again)
and a hundred other things…. all bad excuses, I presume).

But the first thing that comes to my mind are political changes, which
led to more mail to and from eastern european countries (and sad
enough less or no mail at all from former Yugoslavia). Furthermore I
have noticed that there seems to be more ‘junk’ mail going around…. as
if more and more people take the easy way, send a quick xerox and
that’s it.

And then there are the new media, electronic- and fax mail: myself I
prefer the good old ‘snail mail’ (as you call it), but – as I have access to
a fax machine at the place where I work – I did contribute to a few fax
projects.

RJ : At the moment you are working on a new project. Can you tell a bit
more about the idea behind it.

Reply on 28-6-1995

JdG: The mail art project is part of a larger project called ‘Duivels
Prentenboek’ (Devil’s Picturebook), which was started on April 24th
1995 by four women: Anir Witt, Claudia Heinermann, Josje Eeftinck
Schattenkerk and myself. The central theme is the four women in
playing cards, and each one of us will take an aspect and work on it.

My part is a mail art project (my first since 1989…!): I invited 52 female
artists to portrait themselves as a playing card Queen…. and after a
while, when people – like yourself Ruud – started asking questions about
the what’s and why’s, I decided to invite 52 MALE artists as well….
might be interesting to see how they respond to this. At least they
respond instantaneously: the Male invitations were sent out several
weeks later than the Female invitations, and I already received more
male than female works. Maybe the reason for this is that women are
more careful in what they want to send and take more time to create
something special? I don’t know, really.

52 weeks after we started the cards project (in April 1996) this whole
thing will result in a mutual exhibition. In this stage we are still looking
for a suitable exhibition space: there are one or two places we have in
mind, and we are thinking of a church: might be an interesting place, as
opposed to a profane subject as this.

In September we have an appointment in Amsterdam with Arno
Sinselmeijer, who is a collector of playing cards, and who told us there
is at least one game that he knows of where the Queen has the highest
value: an American game from the 1960’s, called ‘The Queen is High’.
And so you learn every day……

RJ : Is there a difference in the male and female players in the mail-art
network?

Reply on 28-7-1995

JdG: Well, there is definitely a difference in the number of male and
female mailers. There are MUCH more men involved than there are
women. This is a fact, and I don’t really know why that is. It is obvious
that men are over-participated in all aspects of society, whether it is
arts, or politics, or business, or sports, or whatever. But are there any
essential differences? Do YOU think there are any?

One thing that I find rather annoying is the fact that the mail I receive
from male networkers (some, not all!) sometimes tends to be a bit
ambiguous. Like this guy I never heard of who wrote me to say he saw a
photo of my daughter Esther and thought she was very pretty. Yes, I
know she is, so what! These kind of things have nothing to do with why I
decided to be a part of the mail art circuit. This irritates me a lot.

It’s also a reason why I stopped sending out selfportraits that show
more than my hands or my feet…. or myself fully dressed. Somehow my
selfportraits get misunderstood and I receive all kinds of junk in return.
Not from those I made it for, but from people who saw a photo
somewhere in a catalogue or whatever, and thought they needed to
contact me. These things have made me very careful with what I send.

Is this an answer to your question???

RJ : Yes of course it is. After doing lots of years mail-art I think
everybody starts to get ‘junk-mail’ because there are always newcomers
who are reaching out for new contacts. Do you still answer all the mail
you get?

Reply on 9-9-1995

JdG: No, I don’t. I hardly answer any mail that is not personal: a xerox,
or a request (‘send your work!’) when there is no personal note
whatsoever, and I answer none of the junkmail I receive. I answer ALL
letters/cassettes/objects/collages I receive…… o.k. it might take some
time, but eventually I DO answer! Ofcourse, most of the mail I
exchange is with people I have been in touch with for a long time and
who have become good friends: we keep in touch, even when it is only
once or twice a year…. that happens, you know!

RJ : Do you still have time for photography?

Reply on 23-9-1995

JdG: I really wish I had more time to do whatever…!! I still have to put
up my darkroom again…. meanwhile I use a friend’s darkroom whenever
I have to print, but these days, with little Anne who needs all my
attention, it is hard to find a minute or two…. Don’t get me wrong,
being busy with this little lady is wonderful and very rewarding: I am
not complaining! But I always keep thinking that SOME day (when
Anne goes to school maybe?) I will have more time to go on with
photography.

Just yesterday I finished a work for a group-exhibition which starts next
October: it is a small installation called ‘personal history’ and it
consists of ten small bottles filled with pieces of the industrial
landscape photo’s I used to make. It looks quite good, and also a bit
sad, like ending another chapter….

It’s good to be part of the mail art networks: there is always time
between things to answer mail or make a collage or send a cassette
letter. Or answer your questions in this interview…

RJ : Yes, and I am glad you take the time to answer all those questions
I ask you. I remember that when I visited you, you had this organized
archive at the Boekeloseweg, with the boxes for the audio-cassettes, the
collections of individual exchanges with mail artists, etc. How does your
archive look nowadays?

Reply on 29-09-95

JdG: Well, I don’t have the place at Boekeloseweg anymore and I
moved everything to this place, and now the ‘archive’ is here and there
and everywhere, some of it stowed away in closets, some of it on
shelves, some of it in boxes.

After all the times I moved from one place to another it’s hard not to
loose track of all the mail art stuff: it is all there somewhere, but even
when I DO try to keep it all as clear as possible: when I am looking for
something specific it takes quite some time to find it…. but in the end I
find it!

The contributions from the projects I did have their own place, and so
do the audio and video cassettes, the publications about mail art as well
as the mail from the people I correspond with regularly.

I think, over all, my ‘archive’ is quite organized in it’s own way. I’d
rather use another word, ‘archive’ sounds a bit like century-old layers of
dust and colorless men in faded-brown-suits-with-elbows-shining-
through, It is more a collection of mail, of art, and everything between
it.

RJ : The newest thing in communication is the use of computers and the
internet. I myself am exploring in a critical way this “e-mail” (see also
the enclosed concept article I wrote). What are your views when it
comes to the use of computers?

Reply on 10-10-1995

(All the answers I got from Jenny de Groot so far were made on the
computer she uses at her workplace. Besides these answers she normally
also includes a small note for our personal correspondence).

JdG: First of all… speaking of computers…. this is the first answer I
write with a pen, because the place where I work moved to Almelo last
week, so I can’t use the printer right now……

Back to your question: When you mean using computers merely to
exchange images and/or texts with other computers I must say that it is
not the way I want to be working. I want to be able to open an envelope
to see what was sent to me, instead of starting up a computer. Also I
find it important to reach as many people as possible, including those
who do not have access to computers….

Using a computer to create a work of art is something else, it is another
way to express yourself, like you do when you make a painting or a
photograph, but it is still very new…. compare it with the early days of
photography: it is a new medium that will be more and more accepted as
a tool in a creative process. It is obvious that you can’t just ignore
computers and computer art anymore, and I think there are very
interesting developments going on that are very much worth our
attention.

RJ : Well, I must say I also still prefer the handwritten letters above the
computerized ones, but computers do have their advantages. I hope
your printer is back at your desk now…… Probably the people who work
there with you also see that you produce so many letters. Did you ever
try to explain to them what mail art is all about. And if so, did you
succeed?

Reply on 3-11-1995

JdG: Yes, I tried. No I didn’t. I think it is too divers: you can’t explain
the phenomenon of mail art in just a few sentences, unless people are
REALLY interested…. And even then the only way to understand is to
dive into the network and see for yourself.

Some of my colleagues think I collect stamps, others think I have a lot
of pen-pals. Let’s leave it at that.

RJ : Did you ever succeed in getting someone so far to “dive into the
network?” I remember you once actually did give some mail art lessons,
didn’t you?

Reply on 22-11-1995

JdG: Yes, I did: this was part of a project called “Art in the classroom”
for which I was invited, and I used the opportunity partly for the
preparations for the Transport/Transit/Junctions show. I did four
classes of mail art for children, at four different schools: they
participated in the Transport project, there was a mail art show inside
their school. I explained about mail art and ofcourse we sent a lot of
mail art as contributions to various projects around the world. It was
fun to do and the kids loved it!

Don’t ask me if any of them ever sent mail art afterwards, because I
wouldn’t know….

Before I forget, I would like to return to your question concerning the
use of computers: at the moment there is a VERY interesting exhibition
in Enschede on the theme “Obsessions – from Wunderkammer to
Cyberspace” : photographic installations, CD ROM’s, videoworks and
other multimedia projects. This really gives a good idea of how the new
media are accepted and used by artists of every background. Go and see
it! (till 26 November).

RJ : That sounds very interesting, but there are only three days left to
go….. And tomorrow I have to work in Breda, on Saturday I go to a
computerfair in Utrecht, and on Sunday there is my mothers birthday
and I would like to visit her then……. It seems you are quite up to date
when it comes to visiting exhibitions of the many different artforms.
Now I think back I remember you often have written me about those
visits. Are these visits important to you?

Reply on 29-11-1995

JdG: I am interested in almost every art form, and it’s always good to
keep up with developments, see what people are doing. Not that I see
everything – I must say I miss many shows, even when I am invited.
Shame on me!

However, the Enschede-based Photo Biennale is something that started
as an idea of one of my teachers at the art academy, in 1984, and since
that first show (with Dutch and American photographers) I never
missed an edition. The exhibition I mentioned is this year’s edition: the
concept has changed from strictly photography to a wider perspective:
(multimedia projects, etc.) I am curious where it will go from here!

One thing is certain: it will never be like “the old days”, when I used to
help with the organization: we spent days and days cleaning glass and
framing photographs….. Today’s complicated installations are built by
the artists themselves: they know how and where they want everything.

Anyway, you’ll have to wait another two years or so, because yesterday
was your last chance to see it…..!

RJ : Well, to give us both some more time to focus on art, maybe it is
time to end this interview….. Unless I have forgotten to ask you
something?

Reply on 4-12-1995

JdG: I don’t know. Have you? Forgotten anything? Let me just mention
the playing card project again: we found a great exhibition place in
Turnhout, Belgium: at the National Museum of the playingcard. I moved
the deadline to April 1996, so people have some more time to send me
something interesting! There will probably be money from here and
there, so we can make a nice looking catalogue (which will be ready
next half of 1996: the show itself will be at the beginning of 1997)

Finally I’d like to say I enjoyed being interviewed by mail, so I could
take my time and think about my answers: this interview took exactly 8
months!! Ok. Ruud, thanks, and see you in the mail!

RJ : Thanks for the interview Jenny!

Address mail-artist: Address interviewer:

Jenny de Groot,
Rudolfstraat 60
7553 WK Hengelo
Holland Holland

mail-interview stucture on this website

One of the goals of this new website is to make the mail-interviews accesible for you. I place them in the blog, but also build a menu-structure so you can easily find any individual interview with just clicking on it.

The interviews are sorted in alphabetic order, and when in the Alphabet there are more names, a second pop-up menu will appear.

The first 27 mail-interviews are online now. Slowly the rest will follow until the whole set is online. With the individual mail-interview I will also include visuals when available.

When you click on the main menu choice MAIL-INTERVIEWs you will go straight to the latest published mail-interview.