This new blog actually should be the central point of all my digital activities. So links to all blogs and websites that I already have and are still alive. beside that also blog-postings to major places and activities that I am involved in. Only one goal and that is to make the information better accesible. The Internet turnes into a chaos without good structures, and I am just trying to make a structure that I can keep up with. The result might be for you that you can find things again and don’t get lost.
Mail-Art for me is a conceptual artform in which I feel at home. Besides that I gradually have created also lots of art (drawings, pantings, silkscreen prints, etc) which I sometimes also share within the Mail-Art network.
A portfolio of my work can be found at:
One of the older envelopes that I sent out to José vanden Broucke in Belgium. I already worked a lot with acrylic paint then. If you are interested in seeing more outgoing mail-art I suggest you Google for my name and the subject you look for. The complete set I sent out is thousands of envelopes large and is all over the earth. I documented a lot to in digital form and that is placed on blogs that were started over the years. See for a good start the old IUOMA blog that is hosted at blogger.
You can access that here:
When you wonder where the old IUOMA website went, it is still online. The link to that place is the same:
and I even placed a link to that website in this blog. I will place more links to oplaces that are interesting for you, so from this BLOG you will eventually find a lot of things that I placed online.
The Menu structure has now been created. More texts from the old website will follow soon. Already 3 complete mail-interviews are online now, and the complete other set will follow too. The search button works, so you can look things up. Also I will document a selection of outgoing mail-art and incoming mail-art on this blog.
The main link to the IUOMA network at NING is also there. That is a lively place with over 1.000.000 pageviews a year. I started that 7 years ago and it has grown ever since with soon 4000 registered IUOMA-members.
Ruud Janssen with Carlo Pittore
TAM Mail-Interview Project
Started on: 10-5-1995
RJ: Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditionalquestion. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
CP: In response to your query, I began my Network mail art activity in1978, encouraged by Bern Porter. Although I had been decorating myletters with pen & ink drawings and water colors for years, inspired nodoubt by Vincents’ letters to Theo, I also learned that drawing on myletters was good practice.
When Bern Porter encouraged me to send an original postcard off to amail art exhibition, I was ripe for mail art. Not only had I been aphilatelist as a kid, but I was eager for community, and was anappreciator of intimate mailed communication.
By 1980, when I published the first issue of ME Magazine, I was a realpart of this expanding Network.
RJ: What was your ME Magazine about? Is it still alive?
Reply on 6-6-1995
(Carlo’s answer came in the form of a booklet made out of 12 different colors forming the rainbow. He also wrote below his answer: “I’d like tosee you reprint this colorful letter as sent…..what?”)
CP: I began ME Magazine in the summer of 1980 after the insult ofpaying an entrance fee to participate in an exhibition in Rockport,Maine. Similar work had already been accepted to hang in an elegantMadison Avenue Gallery in New York City, so when I went to theexhibition with a friend, I was shocked and humiliated that they hadfailed to inform me of rejection & that I was paying for the cheese andwine at the opening! That their rejection was merely subjective, and notaesthetic. I wanted everyone to know that I would never pay to exhibitagain, that their decisions were strictly subjective anyway, and that I nolonger would pursue the carrot at the end of the stick, that in art, Iwould not allow museum curators to control my life.
Also, I had spent the summer painting self-portraits, and makingself-portrait collages – so it seemed that as I was immersed in myself,and yet wanted mail art community, I would call my little publicationME, since it was about ME, yet a put down of ME-ism, and of course,ME is the postal abbreviation of Maine. I enjoyed the pun, and when Iasked recipients to send me a dollar bill to share in my publicationcosts, Ray Johnson was right there, circling the ME in America on theone dollar bill. Some understood.
I filled the 1st issue of ME with my art collages on the theme of selfportraiture, included pertinent quotes on the self, a personalreminiscence of Bern Porter (who’s home I was spending the summer of1980 at, at his Institute for Advanced Thinking, in Belfast, Maine) andother items of concern to me. When I mailed copies of the publicationto Maine artists, and to mail artists, it was the mail artists whoresponded, not my local friends, and it was at that time that I realizedwho my real comrades were…. and when I returned to Manhattan inSeptember, I was a wholly confirmed mail artist.
I opened my mail art gallery, La Galleria dell’Occhio at 267 East TenthSt. NYC in December 1980 – (the first gallery in what became the hotEast Village art scene) – “a homage to Bern Porter” exhibition, andafter the 2nd issue of ME was published in the spring of 1981,essentially on the theme of movement (i.e. motion pictures, or movingpictures, & repetition as in artistamps, I introduced myself, my gallery,my art, and my correspondents addresses to my readers.
The third issue was a play on the theme of ME, on the idea of theuniversal ME. I also enclosed the documentation of the Bern Portermail art Exhibition which I curated, and, too, the additionalintroduction of my POST ME and Bern Porter Commemorative StampSeries. ME = WE.
The 4th issue was an audio cassette letter, of songs, etc. inspired byRod Summers. The 5th issue was devoted to ME, ETC, or METC – tomy Maine Art and Mail art communities, with articles by John Evans,John Jacob, Valery Oisteanu, Mark Petroff, Stephen Petroff, andRoland Legiardi – Laura; and a document of the International Mail ArtExhibition Salva La Campagna Romana in Montecelio, Italy, which Icurated in the summer of 1982, the Boxing international mail ArtExhibition of February/March 1983, with a critique by critic Judd Tully;a declaration of War against exhibitions changing entry fees; astatement on Independence as ME and Community, lists of participatingartists, a listing of mail art exhibitions etc. approaching, and othermiscellany.
Issue #6, “International Mail Art is the most important & mostsignificant Art movement in the world today” was the document of theMaine International Mail Art exhibition at the Maine Festival inBrunswick, Maine, August 1983. Included were two sheets of artistamps,a Cavellini sticker, a Ray Johnson piece, postcards by David Zack,David Cole, Epistolary Stud Farm, Robert Swiekiewicz, Volker Haman,Ubaldo Giacommuci, Stephen Petroff and Eric Finlay, with a series ofstamps by Michael Leigh, and Mark Melnicove.
Tony Ferro published issue #7 in Italy, including a piece that I wroteabout the frustration of rejection, following my exhibition of FIST -boxing painting at Buster Cleveland and Diane Sippell’s Gallery inNYC.
I have not yet published issue #8, but I am not prepared to say it willnot happen. But I must add, that I was hurt by Géza Perneczky’s reviewof ME Magazine in his survey of small Press publications (1993). Hiscriticism was based on the fact that he failed to perceive the irony inME, the pun in ME/Maine, and POST ME (after ME) and theplayfulness of the entire endeavor.
Even mail artists can be as small minded, rigid and uptight as thedominant culture, although I would not have expected that from Géza,of who’s art I have the utmost respect. Let’s face it, none of us areperfect, and all of us make mistakes. Even ME.
RJ: How was your correspondence/dance with Ray Johnson?
Reply on June 18th 1995 “Father’s Day”
CP: Dear Ruud, You ask me about my correspondence/Dance with RayJohnson, and because of Ray’s exit on January 13th of this year, its beena Season of constant Ray Johnson thoughts, mentioned as he is inalmost every mail art communication; and between his memorialservice, and Feigen Gallery Memorial Exhibition, & all the articles inthe New York Times, Art Forum, etc., I have reason to reflect on thepublic Ray Johnson, and the man I knew.
As I said earlier, my first rememberable Ray Johnson communication,was a dollar bill with George Washington saying “ME”, as they do incartoons, with a megaphone drawn from the mouth with ME from A MERICA captioned . I thought that was pretty clever. Everyone is a ME inA ME RICA, first ME in the word AMERICA in the ‘bulb’like with a cartoon. The second ME in America as a country-sign on the bumper of a car.
The first time I met Ray was when he came to my East Tenth Streetapartment (Manhattan) to reunion with Bern Porter. Evidently, Bernhad published something with Ray in 1956!, and I don’t think they hadmet up with one another since then. But as both of them had grown intomature artists, it may have been a reunion of mutual appreciators. Bernis 17 years older than Ray, and Ray was always trim and healthy, and helooked like a kid next to Bern. Indeed, he even exhibited some of thatshy, nervous discomfit of being in the presence of an inquisitive adult.
One time I joined my family in Locust Valley for an anniversarycelebration, and I called Ray to say Hello, and to my surprise, he cameright over to meet me, and all of my extended family. The family wasslightly discomfitted: they knew Ray was not of their ilk. But Ray wasvery friendly to them and to me, and he made me feel like his equal. Ifelt very flattered. I told the family how great Ray was, and howimportant an artist he was, but as they had not heard of him at the time,they were less than suitably impressed.
Another time I hosted a mammoth Mail Art party, and who would havebelieved it? But Ray came. Mind you, he didn’t enter into my apartmentat this time, but remained in the hallway outside my door, holdingcourt. As everyone wanted to talk with Ray. The Hallway became theepicenter. He brought the Party to him.
Of course these were the years when the New York mail artists were allmy best friends: Buster Cleveland, Mark Bloch, John Jacob, John Evans,David Cole, Ed Plunkett, Jim Klein, Rimma and Valeriy Gerlovin, EdHiggins and all those pals who were frequent out-of-town visitors, likeRandom, Banville, Cracker, Saunders, et al. What a community! andwhat a sense of community! It really was a correspondance – and ofcourse there were those I met directly through Ray like Curtis Wells,Joseph Towne, Coco Gordon, Bill Wilson, Andy Warhol, John Russell,and others – including some local East Village types. Even though hewas rarely physically present, the spirit of Ray Johnson always was. Andeveryone had their Ray Johnson stories, or recent Ray conversations torelate. Ray Johnson always hovered over us.
At the opening of his Nassan County Museum exhibition in February1984, Ray greeted everyone on the grounds outside the museum wearinga sweater and blue jeans. And at the same time half the New York artworld was there! Dressed to the nines! All the New York mail artists,all the Fluxus artists, lots of dealers, critics, painters, pop artists,collectors, and others. It was a New York Gala 20 miles out of NewYork; what a testament to Ray’s visual art, and what a testament to hisever-widening correspondance.
I’m trying to think if I ever saw Ray after that… oh yes, at a Long IslandPerformance of his; wasn’t he funny! He always made a big deal aboutdoing Nothing. Our sensibilities are very dissimilar – but I alwaysappreciated him even when failing to appreciate fully his zen-likeattitudes. He hated prose which he saw everywhere stifling art. His wasa war against practicality & the pragmatic. He wanted poetry all thetime. Art -all the time. BRAVO!
Since his apparent suicide, I’ve read a lot about Ray, and wrecked mymemory, and thought back on our meetings and conversations, hisphone calls to me, especially since I returned to Maine, his mailings, hisinfluence, his relationship to the world-wide community of artists….. somany of whom apparently felt very close, humored, inspired, andappreciative of Ray. If influence determines artistic merit, Ray’sinfluence is quite profound at the moment. There are many who werepart of, and who evidently still feel part of his correspondance. Was hethe father of mail art? His spirit still emanates and manifests itselfthroughout the Network.
Of his apparent suicide, one friend thought his act an act of cowardice,but I don’t see it that way at all. Jumping off a high bridge into frigidJanuary waters, from my point of view, requires far greater couragethan I could imagine mustering.
If his decision was askew, his execution was flawless, regardless. And Iam not in any position to judge him, or his action.
RJ: The mail art network has grown enormously in the last decades. Isthere still this ‘sense of community’ as you called it. Or do you see somechanges in the network?
Reply on 4-7-1995
CP: Your question Ruud, is not very simple. If “community” is an ideal,let me say that as a classically oriented figurative painter (primarily ofthe nude) living in Maine, USA, in 1995, I am isolated, if not alienated.The few figurative painters I know are so damn competitive and self-inflated, that there is no dialogue whatsoever. In the world in which mybody inhabits, painting is neither chic nor affordable, and complicatingthis is that it is an extremely difficult activity. Indeed, drawing is oftentimes more difficult and elusive then I care to elaborate. In such asituation, I play mail art merely to keep in touch with my Network palsof almost 20 years.
When I was younger, and more open to whatever I believed Art to bemore inclusive, and I engaged in multi-media activities; newsletter,magazine & book publishing, movies, gallery operating, poetryperformance art, audio, video, TV, radio, painting & mail-art. It allseemed to be a unit.
As life has become more complicated, and drawing and painting moretime-consuming and difficult, I am more focused on my greatestobsessive pleasures: drawing and painting.
While I still enjoy playing mail art with old network buddies of almost20 years, and some new friends as well, we have all gone in our owndirections, and Art is not as facile as it once was (or as we may haveseen it) and in my own case, I haven’t had the money to publish anythingI’ve done since the middle 1980’s ; what monies I have I need to pay therent and pay for my art supplies. Postage has become prohibitive. Mailart, as Bern Porter reminded me for years, is not a vocation, but anavocation (I haven’t been to Europe since 1984, either)
Having said that, let me not overstate my own private concerns ofdrawing and painting, nor undervalue my own very important communalinvolvement with mail artists. I could easily make a list of a hundredmail artists I love, a hundred whom I admire, a hundred to whom I amthankful for inspiration, help, love, concern, encouragement; and thereis NO question in my mind that mail art has been an extremelyrewarding, and exhausting activity.
If the “sense of community” is not as it was, for me, in the early 1980’s -it may be that so many friends have moved on, died, moved away, andtoo, that mail art has changed, or hasn’t changed. Ego, which has alwayshad a major involvement in mail art, is still unrestrained in some veryactive practioners, and art is, as always, RARE, and more wondrous anddesireable than ever. The mail artists I feel closest to are eitherpersons I love, or whose art I admire, or both. And in the case of myown works, which has become so problematic, maybe it is too difficultto love, and consequently, we, as individuals, too difficult to love.
Because art is so fragile, and the artist so insecure, it is easy to fluffoneself up, to grandstand, & to parade. Maybe, when we were younger,that’s what we were, a parade of grandstanders. Except that someamongst us have achieved some aesthetic heights. And some of us mayhave made Art. Others may have been amusing; others, useful.
Do we today share a common aesthetic? A common goal? A commonheritage? A common concern? Some of us are aesthetes. Some poets,some intellectuals. Some intuitive….. and all of us aging, & possibly aswell, with diminishing resources, patience, time, etc.
Fifteen years ago, maybe 80% of mail artists would have read thisinterview, but now, even if 80% received this interview, how many willtake the time – will have the time – to read this? And rightfully so. Whatcould I say that is new, fresh, original, energizing, or inspiring? Theseare just words I am writing out – PROSE. Who has the time, &/or theinterest? I much prefer original hand made drawings myself, than words.Printed Matter has overwhelmed all of us in the last decade, and unlessit were a four color glossy with reproductions of our own work, whocares?
And who am I, a solitary, living far away in Maine, to talk aboutCommunity? And what would this “Community” be? For me, Communitywould be a community of artists who are different, & yet unique, andwho have artistic respect and admiration for each other. TheCommunity to whom I feel that “Sense” is out there. Indeed, it may wellbe you, dear reader. I can only hope it will also include me.
There are a hundred mail artists with whom I feel that “Sense ofCommunity”; some of whom I love so much that their art is acceptable;others of whom their art is so laudable, they are acceptable. And thenthere are others who are both, and others who are not loveable, butthen again, they may be useful to the community, and thereforelaudable.
Since I do everything by hand, I value those who value the handmade,those who value the maker of the hand-made (especially those who lovemy figurative art) and who sing and celebrate the hand-made, the one-ofa kind.
I do not E-mail. I have NO computer. I may never have a computer. Iput my hand into the soil of my backyard and garden and growvegetables and flowers. And put my hand around the pencil and draw.And around the brush and paint. And around the pen, & write.
I am involved in the community that values my humanistic activity, as Ivalue my friends, and colleagues who ply their activities with equalintegrity. I love poetry, music, sculpture, drawing, painting, love, beautyand all those who practice it, celebrate it. obsess on it. They…. (You?)are my community. This is my sense.
RJ: What is a computer for you?
Reply on 28-7-1995
CP: OK. A computer for me is a series of electrical circuits designed tosimulate (artificial) intelligence…. and art for me is intuitive, sensual,senvous, and anti-mechanical. I understand that the computer has greatvalue & uses, but like the TV – it can also lower standards as well asimprove some things. Letter writing, for instance, is ruined by thetelephone and Email. I prefer my own slow handwriting to the machine.
RJ: Do you still participate in mail art projects when you get aninvitation or have you become selective in answering your mail?
Reply on 26-8-1995
CP: I always try to accept personal invitations. It’s not selective assuch, that determines my mail art involvement (although who doesn’twant some selectivity in where one puts oneself or ones parts) butusually TIME.
I don’t know or understand how time has become so fleeting, but it has,and perhaps as well, my priorities have also changed. I always laughwhen I tell people that there are only three aspects of life that interestme: Love, Art & Food, and I think that order is generally correct,although food goes to 1st place a couple of times a day, and love hasvery indefinite borders.
Mail – the nature of my mail is sometimes very thrilling, especially if itincorporates love. I am always turned onto a handwritten note, or alengthy letter, or something decidedly original, or specifically heartfelt, but much in the mail has become understandably, cold, printed, mass-produced…. alas.
I always appreciate artistic brilliance – even if mass-produced orxeroxed, but “artistic brilliance” in an ideal, & since I often fall short ofit, I’m not in any position to lament its demise in others.
One reads in mail art circles how a mail artist is so isolated & alone,except for the network, & I understand this, & have felt this, but I ammaking a concerted effort to relate better with my local community. Ithink this is more important, rather than less important. Mail is avehicle for communication. but also, perhaps, of NON-involvement, ofselective involvement, of partial disguise…..
RJ: In mail art there are the unwritten rules, actually written downmany times, but it seems that in the last years more and more rules havebeen broken. I remember you used to write sometimes open letterswhen someone broke these rules. Does it still bother you?
Reply on 19-9-1995
CP: When I wrote my angry letter to Ronny Cohen (1984, FranklinFurnace Mail Art Exhibit) I felt she betrayed us by “editing” the show,putting the classic mail artists in glass cases, and relegating the othersto oblivion. I have not hesitated in attacking other art critics, whencalled for, but I have always been hesitant to attack other artistspublicly. It has become quite obvious that some mail artists are cashingin on the system, however, who can entirely blame them? Almost anyway an artist can survive in this economy today is acceptable.
I do think “mail art” has pretty much run its course. It is no longercutting edge, no longer avant garde; it has been co-opted, and what weare seeing is the end, not a lull. While there are still some verylegitimate exciting exceptions, mail art is a misnomer. And who knowswhat art is anymore, anyway?
At a symposium on Public Art in Portland, Maine, last weekend(September 9th 1995), I heard Lucy Lippard, Suzi Gablik, SuzanneLacy, and Mierle Ukeles rail against art as precious object, and art asanything less than a relationship with the community. No longer is artan eye, Suzi Gablik said, but an ear. We must learn to listen, and tohear.
Who can argue that mail art is still fulfilling the kind of need it filledbefore E-mail, before the end of the communist Empire, before thedeath of Ray Johnson?
Mail is still fun, and the exchange is still valuable, but is it still art? Tothe believer, the question is irrelevant. One does what one likes.
But as for Art? In an age when Mierle Ukeles shakes hands with 8,500sanitation workers and calls THAT art, then everything can be art, andconsequently, nothing is art. I do what I like. Art be damned. Is itcommunity relevant? And anyway Ruud – the breaking of what rules?The “unwritten” mail art rules of not mixing money & mail art? -Broken! The “unwritten” mail art rules of “No fee, Exhibition &documentation” – how many more lists do you need, with your name onit? Boring! Boring! Boring!
If the art sent is not art, if the exhibition held is not art, if thedocumentation provided is not art – is it still art?
If so, what is your definition of Art? And who cares?
RJ: Yes, I realize that there is a lot of repetition in mail art, especiallywhen I get those same themes in projects again, and when I get anotherxeroxed list of a project. But the advantage of being for a long time inmail art, is that you receive many invitations and you have the luxury ofignoring the projects you don’t like and can focus on the interestingthings in mail art. Mail art still brings me surprises, and that is why Iam still doing it. Mail art still guides me to new aspects I can integratein my life. I am not interested in a definition of ART or in one of themany definitions of MAIL ART. I just want to have a creative life, butactually sometimes don’t really know what I would like to create. Yourpaintings, the letters that you write and mail. Why do you do it. What doyou want to create?
Reply on 19-10-1995
CP: You ask me why I draw & paint, and what do I want to create?Firstly, after drawing and painting for more than a quarter century, Ilove it. I don’t need a purpose beyond the joy, excitement and pleasure Ifeel while drawing and painting. That isn’t the way it has always been,but that is the way it is now, and I assure you I am most grateful for thiscondition: of enjoying what I am doing, enjoying the process (and theletters that I write, too!). It makes me a very happy man.
I suppose if I had a purpose, it would be to celebrate the joy of living,to celebrate life in all its manifestations, to celebrate goodness, love,care, concern, beauty. I would try to discourage violence, self-violence,hate, self-hate, bigotry, blindness, ignorance, and detrimentalbehaviors. For me, there is a real moral component in art – not thatthere has to be – but I feel compelled to celebrate, and compelled toredeem, to save, to preserve, to defend, to honor, to sustain, to keep,and compelled to fight against evil, injustice, unkindness.
Maybe the mere making of a drawing &/or painting is this: a testamentof the goodness in life, a celebration of sober humanity. I want to helpcreate a world where people are motivated by a sense of community, tocelebrate beauty in all its manifestations, to enjoy, to appreciate, tohear, to see, to touch, to be….. I am happy, I enjoy living, I appreciatebreathe – and I want to share this with others: to love.
Thank you Ruud for your interest in me, & what I think and feel. Beingloving, & supportive, as you are, is most creative. Blessings to you, andyour projects.
RJ: I also want to thank you, for the sincere answers you gave duringthis interview and the time and energy you took for writing down yourthoughts and feelings.
– END –
one of the answers….
Reproduced with the permission of
TAM, Further reproduction without the written consent of
Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.
Mail-artist: Carlo Pittore, P.O.Box 182, Bowdoinhan, ME, USA 04008-0182
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen – TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, Netherlands
Ruud Janssen with José van den Broucke
TAM Mail-Interview Project
Started on 15-7-1996
RJ: Welcome to this mail interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
(On July 24th 1996 José wrote to me that he will take part in the interview-project. Probably he will answer in English and partly in Dutch language.)
Reply on 23-8-1996
JvdB: Dear Ruud, I first saw the combination of the words “mail” & “art” end of the year 1980. As a name on the list of visitors of the International Cultural Center of Antwerp I received their program for September. One of the issues was about a certain “Antwerp International Mail Art Festival” organized by Guy Schraenen. “Mail-Art” was an absolute unknown idea to me. I had no education, not in general, not in art-history nor any art discipline. I was a dissident from two local art schools, because I had no technical crafts talent and I acted too self-opinionated. I had not heard about Dada, nor about Fluxus; nobody said anything to me, a working class unskilled angry young introvert mother’s darling. After I had met Electric Mirei and learned sex from her and became the father of her children into this society, as a result wonderful madness woke up in my body and mind. I wrote some poems and did some proletarian lectures about the situation of the individual into society. I was also deeply touched by the readings of the ‘Alpha Cyclus’ of the Belgian writer Ivo Michiels, some writings of Samuel Becket and some documents about Julien Beck’s Living Theater.
I started participating to the International Mail Art Festival Antwerp by sending a first message on 23.12.1980, followed by the sending of a series of photocopies. My name appeared for first in a mail art publication on the front page of Guy Schraenen’s publication Libellus #4 January 1981. The first reproduction of a fragment of my sent mail art was in Libellus #10 July 1981 page 4. It was a fragment of my letter from 23.12.1980. But the real initiation still has to come. So the next autumn I went to see the International Mail Art Festival exhibition at the Antwerp ICC. As a complete virgin I entered the many huge rooms full of hundreds of letters, collages, small papers, nosenses, audio-tapes, a few chaotic videos and strange ‘worthless’ mailed objects. I was furious to see all that quantity of what looked as a ‘undecodable’ chaos to me. I was shocked! I went back home and made a large letter ‘for the organizer’ to express my consternation. I took a piece of paper from a size bigger than my body and wrote in giant letters on it: “Dear Guy, I was visiting the mail art festival on Saturday 3.10.81, and I was not satisfied! So I ask you, please dear Guy, hang this piece of paper on the walls at the mail art festival exhibition so that the visitors can see > read > know that I suppose that mail art is only art if it brings me closer to the people, and the people closer to me.” I brought the letter the very same night to the post office of Deerlijk to mail it to Antwerp. The next night I got a telephone from “the organizer” Guy Schraenen himself. Guy said that he would not hang my letter above the mail that was already on the wall because by using such a big size I had a kind of totalitarian effect on the exhibition, who’s principal form was the multiform quantity of the mostly about A4 sized artworks. We had a telephone conversation and at the end of the conversation the meaning of what “mail art” was in 1981 had opened its mysterious and playful possibilities for me: I was a M.A. enthusiast
(José enclosed copies of the pages that he mentions in this first answer together with his typed answer so I can relive the time he had then.)
In spring 1982 I asked Guy Schraenen a list of mail artists. he sent me 38 names and addresses. I sent them all my “Possible Letter”. I received 8 reactions, under which the first letter from Guy Bleus, Pawel Petasz, Vittore Baroni, Rod Summers, Piotr Rypson.
From this first small project I got new addresses, by which I could participate to Baroni’s ‘Arte Postale!’ and Sonja van den Burg’s “Show me the way to your star, so we can share from far.” This was the start for my first real co-operation. The co-operation with Sonja who was together with Margot van Oosten the editors of “Sun Echo”, that was an important mail-art compilation magazine, lasted many years and gave me a lot of inspirations. By meeting Sonja van der Burg I experienced for first how complex and pleasant human relations and artistic co-operation could join together (the personal contact).
Under the nick name “Mailed A” I did a third project “Send Me Something You Forgot And I Shall Remember”. 43 invitations, 15 reactions, under which the first contact with Catastrophe X Jonas Wille, who should also become an important art-partner for many years. Here I also got my first letter from Robin Crozier who sent me a memory/malaise/history form.
So this is my answer to your first question (While writing this answer to you I’m listening to a very interesting radio-program about the punishment of social not accepted sexual activities during the Middle Ages. I don’t have to my job today. Temple Post M.A. is always deeply influenced by actual circumstances: I don’t add life to art. I add art to life.)
RJ:With all the data and copies of the originals I presume that you are documenting your activities quite well. Is that important for you?
(Before his answer José wrote me twice that he was working on the answer.)
Reply on 10-10-1996
(José sent me by separate mail his report about his bicycle-trip from Deerlijk to Habay-la-Neuve, where he met with Baudhuin Simon. With his answer José sent me 15 photo’s of the state his TEMPLE looks like nowadays to illustrate his answer)
JvdB: Dear Ruud, I can’t find your letter with the second question anymore, but I still remember that you asked me about my archive. You wrote that my first answer to your first question gave the impression that I have a well documented archive.
So in answer I must tell you that I could never succeed in trying to get my M.A. archive in good order nor to get rid of it. The Temple Post M.A. archive is a mirror of my way of living: I dream of a good order but I live in chaos, and I constantly suffer the all too much beauty and quantity but I can’t let it all behind. Seen from the contradiction: archived or conserved art versus living art, the archive is on the side of death (framed, catalogued, conserved pieces of art, such as paintings, sculptures, books, photographs, etc…. so all things that are elements of M.A.)
But fighting my love to recycle all old art (the received mail) into new art (the mail to send away) I realize that if we want to show M.A. as art phenomenon or as instrument of logical or non-logical society interventions, we must have a ‘product’ such as catalogues, exhibitions, reports, books, occasionally or definitive framed works. A good ordened archive is a principal need to be able to take the materials for books, articles, exhibitions, etc…. from it. I think the largest M.A. Archive in Belgium is the Guy Bleus Administration Centre Archive. When I was at his house and saw all the rooms and racks full of boxes, names, paper, impressions, expressions of all those wonderful people all over our postal world, I wanted to get away, because all that Art(ificial) Life seems to cover the daily life as a monster used to do with its prey. M.A. isn’t that strange from the classical exhibited arts: The museum is a palace of death art. Living people must be very careful with it!
Of course as real M.A. freak I want to have ‘my archive’! But due to the many correspondents who send me too frequently their interesting things, asking me to answer, to give information’s, to feed their day- and night-dreams, to encourage, to give correct information, to discuss by letter, to answer as fast as possible, to send money or to do not send money, to send this letter to that person, to find out where a certain correspondent lives, or what happened with him, to participate to ecological, political, sexual protests and provocation’s, etc…. I am not able to order the mail from yesterday and the days before, because every day I have new M.A. to face, care for, work out. On the average I usually receive 5 letters a day and answer the same quantity.
The Temple Post Archive can be described into layers:
* First layer: The received, not yet read, seen, opened mail. (Some days I don’t open mail, because I’m mentally not ready to have new impressions. Some mail with too long theoretical texts about art or particular mail art are put aside for a long time, because more important information has priority.)
* Second layer: Opened, seen, read mail that has to be answered. (I try to limit the quantity of this layer by using a book in which I write down the receiving date and the date of answering the letter. Some letters have to wait to be answered four seasons or more. Other letters, particular the love-letters are often answered immediately. Letters which stay too long unanswered are often send to another receiver. I also want to limit the new correspondents by sending their first letter to The Temple to another Networker and only sending the original sender a message in which I warn him that I won’t answer his M.A. personally. But as many new correspondents give the impression of being very interesting, I can’t resist sending some personal answer.)
* Third layer: The answered but not classified mail. This is an enormous mountain. Different mountains. To slow down the speed of communication I also often wait several days to bring answers in addressed already closed envelopes to the post-office. To exclude misunderstandings I use my stamp ‘closed but not send on……’
* Forth layer: The Archive itself. Boxes with classified mail. I classify the received mail country by country. When a certain sender has enough sent mail, I give a complete box to his M.A. Some senders have more than one box. I also try (in which I failed until today) to make list on the kind of mail I receive: Postcards, artistamps, photos, art-books, stickers, rubber stamps, audio-tapes, video-tapes, catalogues. But as I wrote before: The Temple Archive is a Temple of Chaos. No classification System succeeds long enough. Systems are mixed with systems and crossed by periods of non classification, I’m too slow to be able to control the Temple Post Network Section.
Usually I send more than I receive. It takes a lot of my life-time and money. The last time I ordered the mail from this pre-classification (third layer) into the real archive classification (forth layer) was in may 1995! (with the aid of my children). So you can imagine what a hell it is to me when I want to find back a certain text or artistamp or postcard etc…. to use it as comment-material in an exhibition or to documentate an article or talk about the M.A. movement. It is as going to Hades to find back the wandering soul of an unforgettable companion. So in order to develop my love and hate feelings towards ‘archiving-ordering’ I can do three things:
1. Burn or throw it all away.
2. Ask every sender what I must do with the mail he/she ever sent to the Temple (what should be an immense work).
3. Accept the lovely chaos that all senders and myself create around me.
Mostly I try to do the third. Sometimes I use received mail as original (no copying) material to answer the senders or someone else, sometimes I throw it away somewhere in town, on the road, in a station or pub, etc…, so that an occasional finder can possibly get ‘touched’ by the poetry of M.A. (the principle power of the Network as a movement). When I received disgusting letters (which almost never happens) I send the letter back ‘return to sender’ or extremely unacceptable mail (such as fascist manifests or menace-messages) I collect it in black shut envelopes as ‘poison to be careful with’. Sometimes I show mail in the window on the street-side at my home, so that my neighbours and those who, walking or cycling, are passing by, can have a look and read the story from ‘someone of this time and planet’. With intimate letters, such as love-letters I am very respectful and will never ‘spread’ these into the Network.
In fact the principal Temple Post Archive is not the materials that I have in here, but the copies or originals from received mail that I all or not multiplied, distributed again into the Network.
The Archive can’t be more than a kind of a dusty shady lovers room, after the lovers went away, both back on their own personal path through the labyrinth.
The idea of ‘Archived Mail Art’ makes me melancholic and sad.
Often my wife and children say that I am living in a paper world. They are right. Often I am isolated with boxes, lists, date-stamps, photographs, stories, small or bigger art-works, audio cassettes, video cassettes (I have no player nor monitor!), and even CD-ROMs (I have no PC that can read CD-ROMs ; see my reaction on Guy Blues’ sending of the beautiful Artistamp CD-ROM), and I wish I could send myself away in an envelope to be able to spend the night with M.A. princesses or start just one more utopian post dAdA-, post Fluxus-, post-Post revolution with all those beautiful peace and freedom loving senders of the papers and other materials that are the building stones and the dust of the “The Temple” -chaotic Archive.
My actions as an artist, in M.A., in poetry, in performance, in photography, and in the daily life, are all about freedom of sexuality and human relationships, the astounding beauty of nature and the human body, justice in society construction and guidance, brotherhood in food and energy spreading and freedom of speech. My house is full of boxes, full of mail, talking about hope, about revolution, about internationalism, about sexuality, about the construction of a global world, open world, no frontiers world, no selection world, not for sale world, but sometimes I think that at the end I will just be a fool on a mountain of dreams, dissolved frustrations and loneliness. The god of art is the god of loneliness. Also in M.A. my archive is not a solution for my solitude. Nor for the one of the sender. We’re all ones in the crowd. That’s beautiful. So The Archive is not of principal importance. It is only the memory of a future wonderful past: The Temple in The Actual Time and Actual Global Situation.
Enclosed some photo’s of The Temple situation beginning of September 1996.
While working on this answer I heard the news about Afghanistan. As young man in the late sixties, I was told that god was love. Now I hear that god is oil/energy and that the holy places are where the pipelines must be controlled. I’m sure that in the next century god will be information. So free exchange will be more and more difficult. Be careful for the coming god. Don’t trust the preachers. Keep your eyes and ears wide open. Stay in touch with individuals, don’t accept ‘the voices of those who pretend to speak for the people’.
RJ: Could you explain more precise what you mean with: “don’t accept ‘the voices of those who pretend to speak for the people”. Who are these “preachers”?
Reply on 20-11-1996
JvdB: Dear Ruud, The answer to your question I gave years aMoniek Darge from Studio Logos in Gent (Belgium), but I can’t find the text right now. Consider this card as my reply.
(On the other side of the card there was an article with the text “Nuclear Power Lobby boycotts research on the development of cheap solar cells.”)
RJ: I thought you meant ‘preachers’ inside the mail art network, but now I understand you speak of preachers in our society. For some mail artists the mail art network is a lot of ‘fun and games’, but for you it seems to be a reaction to the current world we live in. Does (or did) mail art change the world? (A difficult question, I know, but I am curious about your answer).
Reply on 18-1-1997
(José sent me his answer twice. Due to the large amount of mail I got, and the travels abroad, I only was able to retype his long answer in June 1997, and this was the time I sent him the next question.)
JvdB: Dear Ruud, I received your reaction (next question) on my preceding #1 on 2 December 1996. Now on 18 January 1997 I finally find some time to answer. Meanwhile I made a trip to ArtPool (where I found after sending two letters to announce my arrival only a closed door and a telephone answering-machine) and to Vincze Laszlo M.A. participant living at Tâigu-Mures, Transylvania, North of Roumania (Where me and Electric Mirei were welcomed as friends and enjoyed a wonderful hospitality.)
My answer to the question if mail art change(d) the world is: YES. But behind this simple word we must see a whole complex of hopes and disillusions. I know many creative people who begin to participate to the Network with a lot of engagement, to stop a few years later, disappointed about the results of their efforts. I think that particular mail art , especially because of its statement ‘Not for sale’ is ‘Art Inutile’. In this society it is very difficult to continue spending time and money on activities that don’t give you any financial feed-back. And because of the Art Of Loneliness (Mail art is isolating you at your desk, at the copymachine, at your Pc-screen) you will also don’t enjoy much physical company of all those you call ‘dear friends’ (you will never meet most of the people you are networking with, and when you’ll meet them the contact will be fast, loaded with exchange-passions, and for every ‘Personal Contact’ manifestation you will need a real guerilla-attitude to find the time and money to do M.A. Tourism.) I understand those who say that M.A. is just a faked impossible dream.
But it changed the world because it did something that never happened before: Via the evolutions coming from Dada and Fluxus and via the arthistorical fact of Ray Johnson’s New York School of Correspondence a strange thing happened from within the world of artists: Doors were opened for a huge quantity of people who are not familiar with the art-scene. Within the meaning of the magic words ‘No Jury’ a boiling chaos of exchanges between artists and non-artists, southern and northern people, fools and intellectuals, started living as A Thing Nobody Could Orchestrate. The consequence is that all of us receive often a lot of bullshit-papers, obsessional messages, and so on: Mail art is rubbish, dust, noise, materialized absurdity, hope against all misery and hypocrisy! Dada was everything that was not before. Mail art is Nothing New. Nobody-Art. Anonymous fame. No-thing of Any Value.
There are only two reasons to continue Mail art:
1. Because one is an adept of receiving/sending out communication Signs (MAIL-art).
2. To maintain contact from Artist to Artist (mail-ART).
I don’t believe that mail art is able to have an influence on other fields than those belonging to these two activities.
Mail-art didn’t change the world outside the mail art circuit as art in general didn’t change the world in general. Only if art can penetrate into society it is able to change the world. Often we see that ‘dangerous’ art phenomenon’s such as the Berlin Dada-movement had the potency to change the world but because of this it was pointed as a kind of political-criminality (artists can get arrested because their work/actions have an influence on society evolution). I believe that Mail art and E-mail excists thanks to institutions such as the National Postal Services and the PC hard- & soft-ware business. Networking is not a creation from the artists, but an economical development within the concept Mail art Network is playing its game.
Mail-art as activity is equal to all arts: It uses certain possibilities to Play. The meaning of the idea of “Playing” is a dissident thing into society of “exploitation” with mainly financial goals. The difference between The Play of the classical fine arts and Mail-art is that mail-art also plays with its own value: Mail-art works have no value (it is Not For Sale). So many people doing Not for Sale activities within the idea of L’Art inutile is the principle changing I can see. But it will lead to the same nothing as all Arts: The wonderful Nobody Nowhere World of poetry and nonsense’s. every try to make catalogues, exhibitions, public manifestations, publications, readings, etc…. is a try to survive the self-destruction of Mail-art. But the self-destruction of Mail-art seen as ‘Art for a certain person’ or ‘Art from a certain period’ is irreversible. No-one will ever be able to point out ‘The end of Mail-art’. Mail-art will dissolve into the 21st century of communication possibilities and business. It seems to be impossible for me to say that Mail-art doesn’t exist and never existed.
Art is or business or destruction. Mail-art is part of what Duchamp called ‘The Artist Of Tomorrow Will Go Underground’. Excepts certain exceptions, such as the action to liberate Clemente Padin from jail in the seventies (or was it another decenia?) , Mail-art and all networking is just a try to play with possibilities such as mail-traffic, fax-machines, computer networks. But seen from the inside I think that Mail-art exchange/networking changed many of the visions on living within a certain society and within the so-called ‘global village’ of the enormous amount of networker-individuals. As well the networker is an invisible person as his ‘art-work’ stays hidden for the outsiders. The networking idea is situated into a philosophy as expressed by Foucault (also expressed by Warhol: everybody can be famous for a few seconds): This time has no longer centers of power and famous people, all individuals are a small center of power on themselves. Into the more commercial level we see how ‘stars’ become famous very fast and ‘disappear’ a few years later with the same speed as a kind of ‘out of use’ products. We see the same in politics. We see the same into Mail-art where participants lose their possibilities to send out mail (Only Senders Can Be Located). Everybody seems to be reduced by the media into ‘a temporary exploitable hero’. Mail-art started in the heart of this ‘media’ phenomenon. Good mail-art networking is when mail artists can find personal and evoluting solutions for this 21st century monster of ‘communication’. The networker is closer to the original idea of dada than to ‘someone who will change the world’. For many networkers the networking is a personal statement for personal use. Many of us don’t believe in rose gardens. We know that we don’t have the power. We exist and we try to maintain a kind of existence we regard as senseful. That’s why we spend time and money. I know that some do it ‘to change’. But mostly they are focussed on the art institutions, such as galleries, museums, publications, etc….. but they are only ‘the artists’ into the net. Besides them there are an enormous quantity of people participating without having any other goal than ‘to change’ their own circumstances as individual towards ‘certain others’ and to ‘maintain’ this New Activity. This ‘persistency’ is often directed more towards ‘the one on the other side’ than towards ‘the personal profit’.
Mail-art and networking changes the world of every participant, but I don’t think it is able to change ‘the world’ . For those who want to promote political, ecological, etc…. activities I think that it is better to use other channels such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International and all organized political, ecological, etc…. action-groups. Here I want to remind Clemente Padin’s famous words: ‘M.A. isn’t sufficient.”
Other Networkers build up an archive of interesting and often quality art works. During my visit at Vincze Laszlo in Târgu-Mures Transylvania I saw how the ‘Ex-Libris’ – makers (lino-cut on small format) have their own net for exchange their experiences and artworks. A main part of internet is about exchange of sex-themes. So we can’t say that communication/exchange networks are a creation of the Mail-artists. But in the seventies and the eighties the Mail-art network became a phenomenon that grew above all other networks, especially within the sub-culture of people who are interested into personal expression such as artists and creative people in general. Mail-art opened doors that were never open before.
A second answer to your question is about how mail-art changed my life. It gave me the enormous treasure of being in touch with so many people I couldn’t ever be in touch with without the network. But maybe instead of the Ray Johnson NY School of Correspondence / Fluxus / Ben Vautier / etc…. histories, a net of pure correspondence could have given me all the personal information and tourism possibilities I enjoyed. While I was very active into the mail-art network I got more and more isolated from the world around me, such as my family and my local society. Because Mail-art wasn’t able to change the world which is the world of daily lies, media manipulation and development of norms which are often creating a system of exclusion. Due to the information and the contacts within the mail-art network I could read, hear, meet people and their messages who gave me a place into the chaos reality is. I lost my place into the fake world and became a clown in love with so many personalities that I call some of them ‘my dearest friend’ or ‘O my lover lover lover.’ Although I’ll never be able to meet them and build the society we all perceive in our dreams. Mail-artists aren’t The New Power (black or white, fuck it) but The Invisible Dissidents Of The Dealy Exploitation Of All Creativity And Artistry. Beginning this century Dada was the best soap available. The last half of the Xxth century is washed by Mail-art. Thanks to it I could often clean away the omnipresent shit of this Big Monster (Communication Systems) Era within which honesty is measured into degrades of lying and almost all water became undrinkable.
But because of Mail-art I became a double dissident: The first part of the expression: Mail (no jury / all that can be send by mail…) made me a dissident to the Art-institutes (no financial nor other support for exhibitions, travelling, no publications by any local nor governmental cultural organization.) The second part: art, made me a dissident to the establishment (all real artists are criticizing the establishment of society). So after 16 years of Mail-art activity very little is left. I lost more than I gained. It is almost time to leave. That’s why I feel the importance to answer your question as clear as possible. I do it now. For this TAM-interview project that I regard as Something Interesting. I’ll never do it again.
On your question if Mail-art changed the world I can easily answer: NO it didn’t.
It will be funny to have been part of this indefinable movement that wasn’t able to change anything but its own participants. And I’ll be very sad when it will be The End. (‘Cause the media is the message , Life is art, Merz for ever’).
RJ: In your long answer you tell also a little about your travels to other mail-artists. Sometimes your trips bring you to quite isolated places where there are mail-artists who aren’t always able to send out mail. Why this choice?
Reply on 5-9-1998
(Because of a break I took the answer was only retyped in April 1998, and the interview was continued. José wrote in his last letter besides the answer that he hasn’t that much time to continue the interview, so after his long answer I will only ask one more question…..)
JvdB: In the expression ‘Mail-Art’ we have two words. The double synthetic idea. The second part ‘Art’ is about a new kind of art that is build on collectivity and co-operating. This can easily be done without personal contact. Often the distance and the mystery of the other one on the other side of the sender-receiver playground is a main element of the desire to send and joy to receive, the mail-art exchange. Mail-art without personal contact is mysterious, erotic.
The first word ‘Mail’ is about the constant creation of an undependent alternative system/network for global village info exchange. The more we can do this mail (exchange or information & art), by direct personal contact, the more its goal: the global village construction, is approximated. So the ultimate communication is the personal meeting.
On artistic level this can be practiced by doing occasional co-art-actions that might be public or not, and by doing occasional congress mail-art (by snail-mail), by fax or telephone, by e-mail.) On the social level it can be practiced into love- and friendship-relation building (emotional/sexual and social solidarity) and particular into being guided within the social reality of the visited inviting mail-art partner (experiencing the local circumstances, the home town, the friends & family, the specific possibilities and limits.) Seeing this reality can lead to a brutal demystification of the image of the “never met before mail-art partner-companion”. For me this means not a devaluation of the person of my mail-art partner, but to a better mix of mystery & reality. In mail-art , more than in the traditional arts, reality is the art. Art = all realities and imagination in interaction with each other. Australian aboriginals say the ‘art’ is to know what is going on’ (this in trans-chronological and in transcendental sense). The idea of the personal meeting is, in my opinion, accurate described into the publication ‘Radio Sermonettes’ about ‘Immediatism’ , Liberian Book Club, New York 1992, which was only recently reaching me, here at The Temple in the south-west of the Flanders Belgium Europe anno ’97 a.s.o.
The power of the personal meeting is based on a mutual personal curiosity into the other one and into the particular togetherness of certain personalities who are meeting at certain places and moments. Without this mutual curiosity the meeting will be hypocrite and worthless, just a show (as we see in many art-events). When the personal meeting happens, I call it: The Temple.
In the usual exchange (mail-art, fax, e-mail) there are 3 main distances to cross: the geographical, the physical (the impossibility of the pleasure of sensorial observation and influencing), and the individual/cultural. At Temples of Personal Meeting 2 of these distances are resolved: I am at the same place and time as my partner and I can see, observe, hear, smell, maybe touch him/her. Only the individual/cultural distance stays as a provocation for creativity and possible source of frustration.
To return from here to your original question I must emphasize on the fact that for Isolated Artists (those we are interested in and passionated to mail-art participation, but who are forced by circumstances such as lack of organization or lack of money, not any longer able to send out ideas, images, sounds, desires, invitations, answers, participation’s, provocation’s, advises, greetings) only the personal meeting with the other (more rich, more luxurious) partner, gives the opportunity ‘to exchange’. I visited Vincze Laszlo end 1996 /beginning 1997 because it was the only chance to know what was/is his actual life as man, father, ex-libris artist and mail-artist. I felt very sorry to be not able to travel to Belgrade during the period of the Cultural Embargo. Many of us are dreaming of a visit to Rea Nikonova and Serge Segay at Eysk. Often we are obliged to stay at home while we feel ‘where it’s at’ and to join on another moment at another place.
During two journeys I experienced the same conflict between the ‘Art’-idea and the ‘Mail’-idea:
First I went to Romania, in the spring after the X-mas revolution. At the airport Dan and Amalia Perjovski were waiting for us. They had been very active in mail-art during the Ceausescu repression and stood at the door of new institutions to be accepted as ‘Romanian Temporary Artists’. Besides this meeting I also met more working class hero mail-artists such as the brothers Vincze, Marosan and Pungucz Karoly.
When I went to St. Petersburg I met the artists couple Paul & Helen Veshev, members of the Raft Art Group (in that period visited by the Shozo Shimamoto Netrun Group), and also the mail-art correspondent and police-officer Eugene Shaskhin. In both cases of mail-art tourism the artists had the freedom and the luxury of many connections, as familiar to the situation of ‘artists’, and guided us very heartful towards all places they wanted us to see: Their ateliers and the cultural and art-historical attractions from their locations and the reference of their artistic activities to all this. The more ‘amateuristic’ (please Networkers, all of you who read this interview, don’t shoot at me, the pianist) or do I better say: the ‘not for sale partners’, showed me ‘the right stuff’ (the survival of the individual and his friends/family, with their personal aims and necessities, within the own circumstances.)
In both cases of visiting, after the visit, ‘the artists’ didn’t contact me even once again. We left at the airport, shook hands, embraced, had a good time behind, made indistinct appointments for the future and me and my family crossed the ‘only passengers’ border and left. That was the end. No more communication. No explanation. The radical elimination of exchange. In both cases the others, the ‘non’ official artists’ stayed in touch with me. The reason for this is that their desires for exchange were in harmony with mine, which are about the practical foundation of the global village. This while the ‘artists’ only had the expectation of the foundation of a network for the promotion and distribution (selling) of their personal art production. These aims, which I respect, are foreign to my personal situation as mail-art networker.
Of course the mail-art network has its limits: to continue it needs the non-isolated partners (Only Senders Can Be Located). But I believe that an essential task of the enormous mail-art network is, also, to be able to ‘take in tow’ Isolated Artists. The Isolated Artists are the living provocation to practice the Mail-Art rule: “No selection / Open for all.” Isolation is a growing reality, To break it is our new utopian desire. (Of course we will lose, but we don’t accept this: We are here to found Paradise for ourselves and for all.)
I am not able to travel much (lack of social freedom, lack of money). So I must do other things:
1 – Funtioning as a transmit zone:
– Sending Art ne Rat mail from Croatia to Serbia and Bosnia and vice versa.
– Multiplying and distributing Dobrica Kamperelic’s Open World magazine (sometimes also other mags).
– Distributing some personal messages from Isolated Artists as Temple Post Worldnews flyers. (I am very grateful if Internet connected networkers put these messages on Internet).
2 – Creating non José Vandenbroucke participation’s to M.A. projects, with the materials from Isolated Artists in the Temple Archive, so that the Mail-Art from artists who have no possibilities to participate arrive before the deadline at the address of the project, in an envelope that has as sender the address of the Isolated Artist and not the one from the physical sender, The Temple. So it is possible to find participation from Romanian or other mail-artists that are sent from Belgium. In mail-art all is possible, even the impossible! dAdA! The intention is that the art of the Isolated Artist is shown in the project and that the participating Isolated Artist will receive the catalogue. (Sometimes I don’t participate myself, so that the Isolated Artist will receive more useful information than I do).
Mail-Art is about exchange of information. To be isolated is to be not able to exchange. All networkers must face this problem as something to work on. Mail-Art isn’t sufficient.
Together with this answer I’ll send you a message from Segay, as recently received (please put it as an illustration into the Interview Booklet / if possible) , a photo of me and Mirei at Ludwig Forum Museum Aachen, were we pose in front of a big work from Dan Perjovski at the exhibition ‘Romanian Art After Ceaucescu’ (no reference to and visits from Mail-Art partners between 1981 and now).
I also must ask you to ‘finish’ this Interview (only one or two more questions) because it takes me a lot of time and forces to formulate the right answer to your interesting questions, as I want to do this with the quality I want to offer to your very respectful and historical Interview Project
(The next question was sent after a break of over a year on January 16th 1999 and is also the last question for the interview.)
RJ: After a long break I think it is time we let others read your words as well José. It seemed you needed always a lot of words to answer my questions. Sorry for the small break, but as promised eventually all interviews will be published. The last & traditional question is always: Did I maybe forget to ask you something?
Reply on 26-06-1999
JvdB: Dear Ruud, I can’t imagine what you forgot to ask. I received your Interview-mail on 3.3.1999. So almost 3 months ago. This after I almost attacked you because of your long delay in answering me. Mea Culpa Great Administrator. But there was a war. There is a war. At the Balkans and on so many places on our actual media-manipulated planet Earth, and into the heart of what we so dearly call “Communication Art.” Communication is more than ever a product. A subject of economical and socio-political value. Many sensitive people return to an intimate production of personal art. Fin de sciecle panic? Tiredness? Survival necessity?
It is a fact that the M.A. Network didn’t succeed in creating an independent network that could be a practical aid for the survival of the free communication for all. The dream is over. Many former M.A. are more isolated than ever. We, the rich Europeans, have no tools to keep them involved into the magma of messages. Meanwhile the conflict between the idea of “quantity” versus “quality” became less funny, more dramatic. Daily I have a series of names into my head to whom I want to send something. But I can’t decide to send a folded copied and over-copied A4 with my Temple – Post logo stamped on it, just to show I’m still alive. As long as there’s nothing sensefull to say I feel forced to wait. Maybe I’m just tired of seeing that poetry can’t rule the world.
I want to end this interview by sending my expression of thanks to the huge work your Interview Project is, a work which value will grow in future. It is, besides Robin Crozier’s History Memory Malaise sendings and Ryosuke Cohen’s Brain Cell sendings a window on the enormous activity that was and still is developed by the many former, actual and future networkers, grouped under the magic phenomenon-name: Mail-Art. And by sending my dearest regards to all who will read it. I have no truth nor authority to say: “This was Mail-Art” (Wilfried Nold published in Numero 4, 1998 , my letter about continuos Death and Rebirth of the Mail-Art Network), nor to say “This is Mail-Art. I leave it all to you. Good Luck.
RJ: Thanks for the interview José!
– END –
Reproduced with the permission of
Further reproduction without the written consent of
Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.
Mail-artist: José van den Broucke, Pikkelstraat 49. B – 8540 Deerlijk, BELGIUM.
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen – TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, Netherlands
Since the old website from IUOMA.ORG was started in 1996, the maintaining of that website became too dificult. So I am now rebuilding the website with the new blog concept by WordPress. The first files already are added. Soon you will find back here all the details, and hopefully find back the things you were looking for.
The menu structure for the blog will be build slowly, so you will be able to see it grow. Also I plan to add all the mail-interviews here too, since the website where they were hosted vanished last year. Have a bit of patience. The new times are digital, but take a lot of time to.
I decided to place the blog over the old website. That is still there, but when you go to the main domain name, you go strait to the new place.
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH KEITH BATES (50)
Started on: 15-8-1995
RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on 19-9-1995
(Together with his first answer Keith Bates sent me the documentation of his ‘ARTISTCHEQUE’-project, an artistchequebook, and also some info on his newest project)
KB : I started doing mail art in 1983. I attended an Open University Summer School in which the Polish artist Henryk Gajewski ran a course called “Networking”. Some things in life, you know immediately are for you – it was like that for me with mail art, I fell in love with the concept!
RJ : It seems everybody has his or her own views about mail art. Which concept of mail art do you mean?
Reply on 3-1-1996
KB : I simply love the idea that there existed a network of artists who worked in physical isolation, but exchanged their work, It seemed a superb social outlet for creativity, not tied up with money and profit; a social function bound up with ideas of mutual respect, tolerance, democracy, the lot. And it was fun!
I tend to organise one mail art project every year or so. In addition I try to answer all the mail I receive (except for thank you’s and confirmation of receipt letters, etc.) and to participate in all the projects I hear about (unless they really didn’t interest me). I do however work very slowly; life is busy with other things, so I prefer snail mail to the electronic variety. I’m also not that into letter writing, writing is hard work and for me the occasional letter is an extra to the exchange of mail art.
RJ : Well, when you are slow in answering, this just will mean that this interview will take some time to finish. No problem really. In your answer you mention some interesting things. It seems that you focus mainly on the mail art projects. To give the readers of this interview some idea of what you have done so far, could you mention a few of your projects and tell me what they were about?
Reply on 10-1-1996
KB : I like the way modern art movements have reappropriated graphic design techniques. Mail art does this all the time with artistamps and rubber stamps. A lot of my projects have focused on different graphic design formats and I have based mail art projects on comic book frames (1983), stamps (1984), tickets (1985), jigsaw pieces (1990), shop receipts (1991) and bank cheques (1995). I have also organised projects using fragments of mail artists’ works – Elements in 1986 and my current “Studio Floor” project with Leanda Ryan.
Some of my projects have just been realized as documentation – a booklet, catalogue, photographs and address-list, cassette tape, etc. In 1991 I did a project called “Jackson Pollock’s Shoes” asking mail artists to send me accidental masterpieces by their favourite artists. That project was realized as a spoof Christie’s auction catalogue.
Other projects involve a show or exhibition. My last project, Artists’ cheques, not only involved making Artistcheckbooks for contributors but also exhibitions in Covent Garden (London) and York. My “English Suppresionists” project (1993) about an imaginory movement resulted in an illustrated booklet about Englishness and an exhibition in Brighton.
RJ : Lots of activities since your start with mail art! I notice that the years 1986 and 1992 are not in your list with activities (tourism-year and DNC-year). For me these years were full of meetings with other mail artist (actually also the years 1985 and 1991 for me personally). I remember you had quite specific ideas about those two special international projects, about meeting the other mail artists. Are these views still the same in the year 1996, which has just started?
Reply on 19-1-1996
KB : Yes, I don’t think it should be expected or assumed that mail artists will wish to visit each other.
I did attend a Congress meeting at the Tate gallery in 1986, it was a bit of fun but I don’t think I gained any deep insights from the experience. The whole Tourism thing was hailed as a logical next step for mail artists, almost obligatory. I just tried to defend the corner of those who wanted to mail art, those who couldn’t or didn’t want to congress.
RJ : Another “logic step” some mail artists think of, is the e-mail and the internet as a new way of communicating. I myself have explored this form already, and still prefer the traditional mail. I only use e-mail if the digital form is essential (as in not having to retype texts) or speed is essential (a large text of 20 pages gets at the others address in a few minutes). Have you any specific thoughts about this new communication form?
Reply on 22-3-1996
KB : E-mail and the internet can be used as an extension of the mail art network by those who have access. I don’t at the moment, but I wouldn’t preclude the possibility for the future. It’s worth remembering that a lot of people who do mail art don’t have a computer let alone access to the internet.
I admit to being a sucker for hard copy rather than the screen image. I like the whole mail art thing of envelope, stamps, the colors and textures of papers, inks, paints, the mixed media extravaganza. I’m not convinced that e-mail compares to the richness of the snail mail experience.
E-mail would also be too fast for me. I mail art slowly, I can’t be a high-powered, mail-the-entire-world zealot. I enjoy doing mail art when I want to and when someone has asked for something that inspires me. I try to keep it fun, and part of the fun is the relaxed exchange over several months, not a few hours. I suppose I must piss some people off but you can’t please everyone.
RJ : When you regard mail art as a relaxed exchange than probably the network you are in contact with isn’t that large at the moment. Or am I wrong and are you (like a lot of mail artists) not able at all to answer all the mail you get in?
Reply on 10-4-1996
KB : Funnily enough I’ve just found a few invitations to mail art projects whose deadlines I’ve missed! Guilt trip.
To a certain extent a mail artist can control the amount of mail art he or she receives, the best way to ensure a full mailbox is to respond to communications quickly, the easiest way to back off a bit is to allow more time for your response.
I am afflicted by the dual mail art miseries – time and money. Because of my job as an art teacher, I often get knackered as a term progresses and I do more mail art during school holidays. In addition to that, I am feeling rather poor at the moment, and since I seperated from my wife I don’t have as much spare cash to give to mail art. Nevertheless, even as I write, Leanda and I are preparing to collage the studio floor and the documentation for this project will put me deeper in debt. I am still addicted.
RJ : The final documentation of a mail art project sometimes is just a xeroxed address-list. Your documentations are normally quite special. What is improtant in a mail art documentation?
Reply on 22-5-1996
KB : Thank you for the compliment. I do put a lot into my project documentations. They are works of art. Works which could not have existed without the contributors.
Although putting together project documentation is hard work, I enjoy this aspect of mail art. I like to get some personal touch into each documentation if possible. I have nothing against photocopiers, I use them all the time for my tickets and labels, but if I just receive an address list as a documentation to a mail art show I’ve participated in I consider it to be a sign of life, no more. On the other hand, exciting documentation is for me a real reward of networking, I love it! It is not essential if my work is used in documentation, but it is much more exciting if it is, it’s nice to feel appreciated and valued.
The perfect documentation would show every contributor’s work, but sadly mail art exists in the real world and most mail artists are not rich. Money is scarce and sponsorship for mail art projects is rare, particularly here in Britain. If a xeroxed address list is all someone can afford, that will do – especially if a personal ‘thank you’ or something is enclosed.
RJ : You mention ‘particularly here in Britain’. Are there other things in mail art that are ‘typical British’, or is this a stupid question?
reply on 23-8-1996
KB : I don’t really know if there are things that are typically Britisch about mail art. I suspect the kind of silly, surreal humour that runs through the work of Michael Leigh and Don Jarvis is maybe typically Britisch. My “English Suppressionists” project was an attempt to define my Englishness and I suppose I wondered if my opposition to Tourism might be linked to an English reserve and island mentality.
RJ : Maybe some of the readers don’t know your project English Suppressionists , so maybe you can tell a bit more about it. How did you attempt to define your Englishness and what was the result?
reply on 29-11-1996
KB : In 1992 I did a lot of thinking about the facets of my identity. Being English was hard to define, so I asked mail artists to send something about the subject by joining an imaginary art movement, the English Suppressionists. I received stuff about steroetypes, ideas about language, humour, history, politics, surreal connections. The atoms of identity.
I think that Stephen Perkins best summed it up by explaining that identity is strongest when you have to fight for it. Maybe because the English have tended to dominate the British Isles, it is the Scots, Welsh and Irish communities who make more of their national identities.
Perhaps the English have sat back and basked in the glory of Britisch achievement, history, the Empire, and a language that is pervasive. If the fight forges identity, I guess that’s why it’s lacking.
Perhaps if you are less worried about nationhood and nationalism, you’re free to think globally, to consider yourself human rather that belonging to this or that nation. Or maybe that’s 2 luxury only the comfortable and privileged can expect.
RJ : You have been doing mail art for a long time now. Did you notice any big changes in the mail art network over the last decade? If so, which changes do you find important?
answer on 5-1-1997
KB : I suppose the network has become well-established in the years I’ve been mail-arting. And become establishment to a certain extent, taught in colleges and sponsored by industry. Not necessarily bad things, but in the early eighties I had a real sense of joining something radical, and although part of what I perceive results from my familiarity with mail art practices, I think there is generally less frenzied excitement about the mail art network. People now know what a network is.
There are mail artists who see the electronic network as successor to mail art. mail art certainly provided the template for free exchange, maybe the internet has taken some wind from mail art’s sails – if you want to start serious networking in 2000 I guess you buy a computer. It just hasn’t grabbed me yet, even if I had the spare cash. I saw the David Hockey show at Manchester City Art gallery the other day. He had a fax wall. Fax walls are a good argument for postal art.
Artistamps had a good decade. Major growth. Colour photocopies and colour printouts of computer art too. Black & White photocopies have become annoying to some, but not half as annoying as chain letters. I still enjoy collage stuff – I got a nice little one from Vittore Baroni only this morning.
I’m not sure if Tourism and networking Congresses changed the mail art world while I was in the bath. I think not, though I nearly met Jonathan Stangroom a few months ago – but not quite!
RJ : Have you kept all of the mail art you have received over the years? What is the future of your “archive”?
answer on 8-4-1997
KB : Well, I don’t think I’ll be selling my archive to sponsor my Touristic activities! I’ve kept a wardrobe full of treasures, much of it still in the original envelopes and stored in box files without any real filing system. I’ve certainly not tried to keep every piece of mail art I’ve received and I’m sure I’ve recycled some really valuable items in my time, but I can’t keep everything I receive so I tend to hang onto the things that most appeal to me at the time.
RJ : Should I ask a future question about mail art romances?
answer on 8-4-1997
KB : I’m not sure if you could call Leanda and I a mail art romance. I taught her art at high school many moons ago and when she left to go to college we kept in contact with mail art and she occasionally popped into school for a chat. When she went to university two years later, romantic sparks began to fly and I’m still besotted after almost 3 years!
RJ : The funny thing about this is that I read about you and Leanda in a mail art documentation (by Lancilotto Bellini, Italy) where mail artists were invited to give a short ‘CV’ about themselves. Yes, I would call it a mail art romance since you kept contact in a mail art way as well. Most long-participants in the network know about Bill Gaglione and Anna Banana. John M. Bennett told in his interview that he also met his wife through mail art. Vittore Baroni suggested in his interview that he knew a lot about mail art romances (see the last question he answered) and yet a lot about romances in the mail art network hasn’t been written. Is it easy the expose one’s privat life to the mail art network?
(together with the question I sent Keith bates the interview with Vittore Baroni, so he could read what he said as well)
next answer on 16-6-1997
KB : I think so. You expect mail artists to be broad-minded and tolerant of other’s opinions. Even so, I was at first a bit nervous about how mail artists would react to the fact that I had been Leanda’s teacher and the 24 years difference in our ages. I half-expected some disapproval but it didn’t seem to bother anyone and we received some very nice comments like John Held Jr.’s “Age is just age”.
Revealing details about your private life to family or neighbours is very “in your face”, proximity can make disapproval dangerous ; in many jobs details about an unconventional private life can have economic repercussions. I think that distance and interval enable the networker to be less concerned about the consequences of revelations and more concerned about genuine expression.
RJ : Some mail artists never seem to write or even think about the negative sides there are to mail art. They like to praise mail art, the free exchange, no-money involved, ‘documentation to all’-principle, etc. An example was how people reacted to the project by K. Frank Jensen (Denmark) when he started his ‘missing documentation’ project, where he wanted to list all the promissed documentations that never were sent out. You stated in your answer “You expect mail artists to be broad-minded and tolerant of other’s opinions”. Do you think that the average ‘mail-artist’ is different then the ‘average person’? (Yes, I know, maybe a difficult question…..)
next answer on 25-4-1997
KB : Lots of mail artists don’t really write about mail art at all, but I suspect we do think about negative aspects – time and money problems, will it all be superseded by the internet, the invasion of the Killer Tourists. Missing documentation is probably the least of my worries and in general I think mail art deserves whatever praise we lavish on it.
I have probably got a rather romantic view of mail artists but I think it’s good to be a touch idealistic about things that mean a lot to you. I suppose you have to be prepared to moderate your idealism with realism, but part of being passionate about something involves setting aside logic and common sense, and just doing it because you’ve got to do it.
I think I rather innocently assume artists generally to be more balanced , tolerant and liberal than ordinary folks, other people tell me that artists are more likely to be self-centered, egotistical and abusive to their nearest and dearest. But mail artists I do expect to be different to the average person because he or she has chosen to be involved in a mutual activity with a very real sense of giving as well as receiving. Choosing to give makes people nicer. Mail art feeds your ego and also puts it in a wider perspective through collective goals. Each mail artist largely controls his or her own level of participation and financial outlay. More control, less stress, nicer person?
RJ : With your last answer you (as usual) enclosed some more tickets and other printed matters. The one I liked the most this time: “What is beauty? – It is the sudden flash of truth”. by Joseph Beuys, a Quoticket. I remember that you also did a project called “Jackson Pollock’s Shoes” where you asked mail artists to send their accidental masterpieces by their favourite artists. You seem to be influenced a lot by these modern artists. What do they teach you?
next answer on 28-8-1997
KB : I’ve just watched a television interview with Paul McCartney who was asked if he ever heard someone else’s song and wished he’d written it. Sometimes you see an artwork that makes you wish it was your creation. Sometimes you find people who have similar ideas to your own or who have explored the same corners and it gives you a feeling that you’re not alone, you’re part of a larger process. Other artists’ work can help put your own into context and it can also present new possibilities and fire your imagination.
Some of the mail art projects I’ve most enjoyed contributing to have been tributes – Creative Things’s Homage to Kurt Schwitters was superb. There was a project about Joseph Beuys a while ago, more recently Warhol and renoir, and the current tribute to Cavellini. It gives you an excuse to reasearch or copy and try to do it their way. Or take the piss and do a Cadbury’s Renoir chocolate box design.
RJ : Some mail artists copy a lot from others (mail artists with typical styles or the Dada of Fluxus-movements). Most artists try to develop their own style. Is a mail artist an artist? Is it o.k. when a mail artist only copies what other do?
next answer on 5-11-1997
KB : I’ve stopped worrying about copying. Copy widely enough and you’ll end up with something new in collage or post-modernist fashion. They say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, and if you have something to say, you will find your own voice.
I’ll never be the most origina; artist in the world, but I add my voice and it’s fun to do things differently.
The old question “is it Art?” is a bit meaningless. Art is an open concept and anyone can be an artist (just by doing art) , mail art included. I suppose you might not consider a straight copy to be a very good artwork, so perhaps a better question might be “is it good art?”
RJ : Together with your answer for the interview I received Vittore Baroni’s book “Arte Postale”. A beautifully done book in italian language about the mail art network where you are included as well. But again a book done by a mail artists and not an outsider to the mail art network. Do you think one of these days an outsider of the network might write a book on this mail art?
next answer on 6-12-1997 (by e-mail)
KB: I can’t help but feel that mail art is best experienced from the inside, by participating, so I think it is good that mail artists are the ones to put our practices into a wider context. Without any doubt outsiders will write books about mail art; they write about it now in art magazines and commentaries in catalogues and documentation. It’s only a matter of time before the definitive history of mail art is written by an android.
RJ : How does it feel to send out e-mail?
next answer on 5-9-1998
KB : That’s better! I’m back to long delays and snail mail. Sorry about that, I’ve been working, doing some music, and Leanda and I have been to New York. Add a holiday in Kefalonia and it all makes meagre mail art moments. I’m trying to catch up with a horrendous backlog.
I did feel a bit dizzy after sending you the e-mail but I don’t feel any lasting ill-effects. I’ve even been trying with the idea of buying a Mac and a modem if the finances pick up sufficiently. Leanda’s enthusiasm for HTML and webby things has rubbed off on me a bit. For the moment I’m a paper fetishist, a dead tree addict with an enduring passion for sweet smelling envelopes – don’t you just love the golden colour and crispy texture of the American envelope I’m sending this answer in!
(The next question was only sent out on November 11th 1998 because I took a break in the interview-project)
RJ : Yes, I am still fond of that paper mail as well, although I do use a lot of electronic bits and bytes in my communication nowadays. You mentioned ‘music’ in your answer. Didn’t you once make a beatiful tape with music related with tyhe theme mail-art?
2 Ferngate Drive
M20 4AH – ENGLAND
 “knackered” is slang for “exhausted”