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.

Braincell #916 arrived from Japan

2015-06-13 12.04.18

Ryosuke Cohen is doing the Braincell project since 1985. After 30 years he reached this number 916 already and every 10 days he produces a new one. On the IUOMA platform on Ning we trace all the issues and try to get a more complete view of the project. Have a look at:


Because a large part of the network follows the group we know instantly when a new BrainCell has come out and who particpated on it.  Somehow everybody hopes to see number 1000 one of these days.

mail-interview with Dick Higgins – USA


by Ruud Janssen

dick higgins

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

DH: Dear Señor Janssen – I got involved in the mail-art network in July 1959 shortly after I met Ray Johnson in June. He sent me a marzipan frog, a wooden fork and three small letters in wood, which I correctly misunderstood. I sent him some wild mushrooms which I had gathered, and they arrived at his place on Dover Street just before they decomposed.

RJ : Was this mail-art in the beginning just fun & games or was there more to it?

(Together with his answer Dich Higgins sent me his large, 46 pages long, Bio/Bibliography and a contribution to my Rubberstamp Archive, a stampsheet with some of his old and new stamps printed on)

DH: Indeed it was fun to communicate with Ray. But it was a new kind of fun. I had never encountered anyone who could somehow jell my fluid experiences of the time when I was doing visual poetry (thus the letters), food and conceptual utility (perhaps I had shown him my “Useful Stanzas” which I wrote about then. But what had he left out? Nature – thus my sending of the wild mushrooms, collecting and studying which was an ongoing interest (I was working on them with John Cage, an important friend of Ray’s as of mine).

As for rubber stamps, in 1960 when Fluxus was a-forming my home was in New York at 423 Broadway on the corner with Canal Street and my studio was at 359 Canal Street a few blocks away. Canal Street was known for its surplus dealers (some are still there) including stationers, and one could buy rubber stamps there for almost nothing – and we did! I had already made some rubber stamps through Henri Berez, a legendary rubber maker on Sixth Avenue, long gone but he was the first I knew who could make photographic rubber stamps – Berez made a magnesium, then a Bakelite and finally the rubber stamp, And I blocked the magnesiums and used them for printing as well. I had stamps of musical notation symbols made and also of my calligraphies, etc. At an auction in 1966 when he moved to Europe I also bought Fluxartist George Brecht’s rubber stamps (mostly of animals) which he used starting ca. 1960; I used those to make a bookwork of my own, From the Earliest Days of Fluxus (I Guess), which I think is in the Silverman Collection. Others of my rubber stamps are in the Archiv Sohm and perhaps Hermann Braun or Erik Andersch have some, I am not sure. I think there was an article on Fluxus rubber stamps in Lightworks – that must be listed in John Held Jr’s Mail Art: an Annotated Bibliography (Mettuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991) and/or in Jon Hendricks’s Fluxus Codex (New York: Abrams, ca. 1992). I also composed some music using rubber stamps, notably Emmett Williams’s Ear/L’orecchio di Emmett Williams (Cavriago: Pari & Dispari, 1978).

That’s about all I can add to the rubber stamp thing at this time. It would be much more efficient for us if I send you my Bio/Bibliography which has facts that need not be endlessly repeated, so I am doing that under separate cover. The curious type face I used on that is one which I designed and named for Fluxmail Artist Ken “Kenster” Friedman, “Kenster.”
RJ : Your Bio/Bibliography is quite impressive. The sentence on the first page: “I find I never feel quite complete unless I’m doing all the arts — visual, musical and literary. I guess that’s why I developed the term ‘intermedia’ , to cover my works that fall conceptually between these” , indicates you are always focussing on all kinds of media to express yourself. Which place has mail-art in this?

29 C and about 85% relative humidity

(Together with his answer Dick Higgins sent me a poster with titel “SOME POETRY INTERMEDIA” explaning metapoetries or how poetry is connected to many other art-forms. Published by Richard C. Higgins, 1976 , New York, USA)

DH : Yes, I am a “polyartist” – Kostelanetz’s term for an artist who works in more than one medium, and some of these media themselves have meaningful gradiations between them. Visual poetry lies between visual art and poetry, sound poetry lies between music and poetry, etc. But between almost any art and non-art media other intermedia are possible. What lies between theater and life, for instance? Between music and philosophy? In poetry I got into this in my “Some Poetry Intermedia” poster essay. If we take any art as a medium and the postal system as a medium, then mail art is the intermedium between these – postal poetry, postal music, mail-art [visual variety], etc.

Some of these are more capable than others of the subversive function which I value in mail art – it bypasses the gallery world and the marketplace, so it becomes somehow immune to censorship. If used aggressively it can make a reactionary politician’s life Hell. And it is not yet played out yet. For instance, while Fax art has no special characteristics (it is like monochromatic regular mail, “snail mail”) what is e-mail art? Can’t it subvert the rich folks’ machines? Ruin their modems? Yet even that is a commonplace, once one has considered it. Little artists can do it. Its power is inherent in its medium. I can tell you stories of how the Poles of Kodsko tortured an East German bureaucrat who has banned a Mail art show in (then) East Berlin. I happened to be visiting there at the time and was involved in this.

But let’s think about more positive areas. Please tell me about the spiritual aspects of mail art. How do you see that?

RJ : Yes, a nice try to end an answer with a question to me. I will send you some ‘thoughts about mail-art’ for you to read, but in this interview I would like to focus on YOUR thoughts and knowledge. I am in no hurry, so I would like to hear that story of how the Poles of Kodsko tortured this East German bureaucrat who banned this mail art show in East Berlin…..

DH : (today in 1843 Herman Melville signed abroad the frigate ‘United States,’ this began the journey that led to ‘White-Jacket’)
It must have been about 1988 and I was traveling through Poland, reading and performing with a friend, the critic and scholar Piotr Rypson. Our travels brought us to Kodsko down in the beak of Galicia to where a group of unofficial Polish artist had gathered to discuss what to do since the Mail Art Conference which Robert Rehfeldt had organized in East Berlin had, at the last moment, been canceled by some bureaucrat. It was a final and irrevocable decision the bureacrat had made, finalized by his official rubber stamp besides his signature. This was a great disappointment to these artists who had very little opportunity to meet personally with each other, especially across international borders, and to exchange ideas. However these artists were Poles, from the land of the liberum votum , and they had six hundred years experience at protesting. They made a list of things to do. Having access to some things in America which were problematic in Poland, I was asked to have four exact facsimiles of the bureaucrat’s rubber stamp made up and to send one to each of four addresses I was given, one was an official one in the Department of Agriculture in the DDR and the other three were in Poland. I was also asked to buy some homosexual and some Trotskyite magazines in the USA, to send them one at a time to the bureaucrat and, if possible, to subscribe in his name to these things. I did these things and also I appointed the bureaucrat an honorary member of my Institiute for Creative Misunderstanding and sent an announcement of his appointment to Neues Deutschland, the main communist newspaper of the DDR.

For a few weeks it seemed as if nothing had happened. But then I received a long letter from Robert Rehfeldt in English (usually he wrote me in German) lecturing me on what a terrible thing it was to try to force a person to accept art work which he did not like. And a few weeks after that I received a post card from Rehfeldt auf deutsch saying “Fine – keep it up [mach weiter].”

In this story we can see the usefulness for using the mails on the positive side for keeping spirits up and for keeping contact with those one does not see, on the sometimes-necessary negative side for creating powerful statements which must have caused great problems for this bureaucrat. I have no idea who these people were to whom I sent the rubber stamps, but I can imagine that they were forging the bureaucrat’s signature onto all sorts of capricious papers and causing great consternation within official circles of the DDR. For me this story tells well one of the main uses of Mail Art.

Perhaps it also suggests why Mail Art taken out of context can sometimes be such a bore. It has no particular formal value or novelty, especially when one has (as I have) been doing it for nearly forty years, so that mere documentation seems tendentious and egotistic. Would you want to only read about a great painting of the past? Wouldn’t you rather see it and then, perhaps, read about it? Making good Mail Art is like making a soufflé – the timing is very very critical. Who wants to be told about a decade old soufflé? And documenting the matter is not nearly so interesting as receiving and consuming it at precisely the right moment – with the right people too, I might add. It is an art of the utmost immediacy.

RJ : What was the reason for creating your “Institute for Creative Misunderstanding”?

(Apollinaire born today)

(Besides his answer Dick Higgins also sent his poem “Inventions to make”)

DH : Kära Ruud, For years I was struck by how little one understands of how one’s work will be perceived by others. We can prescribe how others will see it at risk of discouraging them. Duchamp, when anyone would ask “does your piece mean this or that…?” would smile and usually say “yes,” no matter how absurd the question. The impressionists thought they were dealing with light; we see their contribution is one of design along the way towards abstraction. The Jena Romantic poets of Germany saw themselves as applying the philosophies of Kant and Plato to their writings, but we see it as reviving the baroque and providing a healthy restorative emotional depth to their poetry which had often been lacking in the work of the previous generation. The same is true of Percy B. Shelley who knew his Plato well (and translated passages of Plato from Greek into English), but who in poems like “Lift not the painted veil” or “The sensitive plant” moves Plato’s ideas into areas which Plato never intended to create a new entity of art-as-concealment. Harold Bloom, a famous academic critic in the USA, was, in the 1970’s in books like The anxiety of influence, stressing the role of recent art as cannibalizing and deriving from earlier art. I was not satisfied with Bloom’s models and preferred to extend them and misinterpret them myself along hermeneutic lines using a Gadamerian model; this you will find in a linear fashion in my book Horizons (1983) and in the forthcoming “Intermedia: Modernism since postmodernism” (1996). But a linear presentation does not satisfy me either; it does not usually offer grounds for projection into new areas and it focuses too much on the specifics of my own ratiocinations. To broaden my perspective I conceived of a community of artists and thinkers who could take conceptual models and, with good will (my assumption, like Kant’s in his ethics), transform these models – evoking not simply intellectual discourse but humor or lyrical effects which would otherwise not be possible. This is, of course, my Institute of Creative Misunderstanding. Into it I put a number of people with whom I was in touch who seemed to be transforming earlier models into new and necessary paradigms. I tried to organize a meeting of the institute, but could not get funding for it and realized that it might well be unnecessary anyway. I still use that Institute as a conceptual paradigm when necessary.

So I would not discribe the Institute for Creative Misunderstanding as a “fake institute,” as you did, so much as an abstract entity and process of existence which creates a paradigm of community of like-minded people by its very name and mentioning. Are you a member of the Institute, Ruud? Perhaps you are – it is not really up to me to say if you have correctly misunderstood it in your heart of hearts.

RJ : Who is to say if I am a member? But I sure like all those institutes and organisations that there are in the network. You spoke of the intention to organize a meeting. In the years 1986 and 1992 there were lots of organized meetings in the form of congresses. Is it important for (mail-) artists to meet in person?

(Cage born -1912)


DH : (laughing) Who’s to say if you are a member? Why the group secretary, of course – whoever that is. Perhaps I am acting secretary and I say you are a member. Anyway, to be serious, the question of meetings is not answerable, I think, except in specific contexts. The events planned at Kodsko could not have been planned without the people being together; but at other times it would seem unnecessarily pretentious to bring them together – frustrating even, since most mail artists are poor and they would have to spend money to be present. At times this would be justified, but if it were simply a matter of pride or of establishing a place in some pecking order, well that would not be good.
Think of a camp fire. Shadowy figures are in conversation, laughing and talking; what they say makes sense mostly among themselves. A stranger wanders in and listens. The stranger understands almost nothing – to him what is said is all but meaningless – and the part which he understands seems trivial to him. The stranger has two options: he can stay and learn why what is being said is necessary, or he can go away and suggest that all such campfires are silly and should be ignored or banned. Mail art is like that. I go to shows, and the work is arranged not by conversation but according to a curators’s skills of the past, as if these were drawings by Goya. But they aren’t. Their meaning is more private, often contained in the facts and conditions of their existence more than in the art traditions to which they seem to belong. The show therefore doesn’t work. Few do. But a show arranged chronologically of the exchanges among some specific circle mail artists – that would have a greater chance for an outsider to learn the language and love the medium. Wouldn’t you like to see a show of the complete exchanges between, say, San Francisco’s Anna Banana*1 and Irene Dogmatic (if there ever was such an exchange) than the 65th International Scramble of Mail Artists presented by the Commune di Bric-á-Bracchio (Big catalog with lots and lots of names, but all works become the property of the Archivo di Bric-á-Bracchio).

*1 of course Anna has since moved to her native Vancouver, and I haven’t heard of Irene Dogmatic in many a year)

Chance encounters among mail artists, meetings among small groups – oh yes, those are quite wonderful. But I don’t usually see the point in large gatherings of mail artists. Actually, there haven’t been many of them – thank goodness. Berlin would have been an exception, methinks.

As e’er- Dick (laughing) (Dicks signiture was placed here as a smiling face)

RJ : What is the first ‘chance encounter’ (as you call them) that comes up in your mind when I ask for a memory about such an event?

DH : By “chance encounters” I mean those meetings which could not have been anticipated or which take place on the spur of the moment. In on Wednesday I arrange to meet you the following Tuesday at 7:30 and if I am unable to sleep Monday night because of faxes from Europe arriving all night long Monday night and the cat is ill on Tuesday so that I must waste half the day at the veterinarian’s office, you and I will have a very different kind of meeting from the situation of my meeting you in the post office and the two of us going to spend a few hours together talking things over, or if I say: “Look: I cooked too much food, please come over and help me eat it.”

We have all had such meeting, no? Those meetings are the most productive, I think. Few mail artists (or any artists) can really control their own time, their own scedule. Only the rich can do that, if anyone can. We are mostly poor and must depend on the schedules of others. But there are days when this is not true – days when it works perfectly to see someone. Ray Johnson was a master of this – he would call, “I am with (whoever), we’re down the street from you. Can we come see you?” If yes – great. If not, one never felt locked into the situation.

That is how I never met Yves Klein. One night, perhaps in 1961, at 11:15 Ray phoned me from down the street and said that Yves Klein was with him and would like to meet me. I said I’d like to meet him too but I was in bed and it was a week-day. I had to go to work the next day. We agreed that I should meet Yves Klein the next time he came to new York. It didn’t happen; Klein died instead.

It is also how I met Alison Knowles, – Ray Johnson and Dorothy Podber and myself had dinner in Chinatown in New York and then they took me to Alison’s loft nearby. I had met her briefly before that, but this time we got to talk a little. That was thirty-six years ago, and Alison and I are still together.

And so it goes –

RJ : Yes, and also the forms of communication are proceeding. To my surprise I noticed on your ‘letterhead’ that you have an e-mail address too. Are you now exploring the possibilities of the internet as well?

(Dick Higgins handwritten answer came from Milano, Italy, where he is preparing a retrospective show of his work.)

DH : Yes, “exploring” is the only possible word, since the internet is constantly changing. You can “know” yesterday’s internet, but today’s always contains new variables.

In the world of computers, most of the “information” is irrelevant, even to those who put it there. Few of us bother to download clever graphics since advertising has made us numb to those. I only download graphics if the text which I see really seems to need them. I need them no more than I need to watch show-offy gymnastic displays, divers or pianists who play Franz Liszt while blindfolded and balancing champagne glasses on their head. What I like on the “net” are three things:

1) Making contact with people whose contributions to the internet shows interest similar to my own. Far from being alienating, as others have said of the web and internet, I find this element a very positive and community-building factor. For instance, I enjoyed meeting on the internet a guy whom I’d met three years ago, a visual poet named Kenny Goldsmith, and had not seen since. Now he does “Kenny’s page ” – <http://wfmu.org so/~kennyg/index.html> – where he creates links to anything in the new arts which excites him. It was like looking into someone else’s library – a revelation, and one which I could use. It led me to meet him again in person, a real delight.

2) I cannot afford to buy the books I once could. But often I can download and print out things to read before going to bed. For an author, what a way to get one’s work and ideas around! Why wait two years for your book to appear, for your article to come out in some magazine which nobody can afford? Put it on the net and it is potentially part of the dialogue in your area of interest. Further, it tells me not only what people are interested in, but what is going on – a John Cage conference , which interested me, was fully described on the net for instance – and it gives me access to everything from dictionaries, indexes and lists of words, people and events.
I suppose a saboteur could list false information, and of course commercial interests can tell me about their stuff, but this only sharpers my skeptical abilities – I can avoid their garbage with no more effect than on a commercial television set. I suspect the internet is a blow to the effectiveness of normal advertising.

3) As someone whose favorite art, books and literature are seldom commercially viable, I am happy to see how the internet actually favors the smaller organizations and media. If I access a big publisher’s pages with ten thousend titles, I stop and quit almost at once – it takes too long. But a small publisher’s page is often worth a glance.
Further, the phenomenon of links gives an element of three – dimenisionality to the internet. A book sounds interesting. I click on it and I see a few pages of it. This is like browsing in a wonderful book store. A good example is the pages for Avec, a small avant-garde magazine and book publisher in California. I found it through a link on the Grist pages – <http://www.phantom.com/~grist>. It’s designed by the editor of Witz , a new arts newsletter (address: creiner@crl.com). Perfect. Another good one is Joe de Marco’s pages <http://www.cinenet.net/~marco> – full of fluxus things and theater. All this suggests new forms of distribution, which has always been a problem for small publishers. If you can safely transmit credit information to an address on the internet, then, if you live in a small village as I do, it is as if you lived in a large city with an incredible book store near you.

Because of links, I do not see how big corporations can commercialize all this. My computer is black and white, I have no money to invest in their corporations, and their rubbish is easily avoided. Thanks to the internet, the damber kind of popular culture will probably begin to lose its strangle-hold on people’s attention. Of course it will take time and other developments too, but the internet rips off the conservatives’ three-piece suits, remakes them and gives them to us in a better form.

RJ : It seems like publishing is very important for you. In mail art a lot has been written about the book “The Paper Snake” by Ray Johnson, which you published with Something Else Press. What was the story behind this specific book?

DH: There is no doubt in my mind that Ray Johnson was one of the most valuable artists I’ve ever known. He was a master of the “tricky little Paul Klee ish collage,” as he modestly dismissed them; most of his work of the late 1950’s was collages in 8 1/2 x 11 format roughly corresponding to the European A3. That was a time when Abstract Expressionism (“Tachisme”) ruled the roost in America, and art was supposed to swagger, lack humor, be big and important looking. Johnson had rejected this long before, had, in the 1950’s, made hundreds or thousand of postcard size collages using popular imagery, had also made big collages and then cut them up, sewn them together into chains, had buried the critic Suzi Gablik in a small mountain of them (alas, only temporarily), had printed various ingenious little booklets and sent them off into the world, and, since there was no appropriate gallery for his work, had now taken to sending his collages out along with assemblages in parcel post form. For example, a few days after I had startled Ray by throwing my alarm clock out the window, he sent me a box containing a marzipan frog, a broken clock and a pair of chopsticks, calling shortly thereafter to suggest that we go to Chinatown for dinner.

But Ray could write too. He was always interested in theater and performance, had picked up many ideas from the days when he and his friend Richard Lippold lived downtown in New York City on Monroe Street on the floor below John Cage (all of them friends also from Black Mountain College), and he wrote and sent out innumerable playlets, poems, prose constructions, etc.

I saw Ray around town for several months before I met him, which was at a 1959 concert where I asked him if he were Jasper Johns. “No,” he said, “I’m Ray Johnson,” we got to talking and soon to walking and not long afterwards to visiting. Years later, when I met Jasper Johns, in order to complete the symmetry, I asked him if he were Ray Johnson. I expected him to say, “You know I’m not why do you ask?” Instead he said, acidly: “No.” And he walked away.

Something Else Press was founded on the spur of the moment. First I did my book “Jefferson’s Birthday/Postface” (1964). But before the thing was even printed, I decided the next book should be a cross section of the things Ray had sent me over the previous six years. So, having little room at my own place, I packed them all into two suitcases, visited my mother and spread everything out on her dining table. I sorted the book into piles performance pieces, poems, collages, things to be typeset, thing to be reproduced in Ray’s writing taking care to include at least some of each category. I knew the book would be hard to sell, so I didn’t want to make it a Big Important Book; I chose the format of a children’s book, set the texts in a smallish size of Cloister Bold (an old fashioned Venetian face), decided on using two colors to simulate four (which I could not have afforded), and then laid out the pages in a way which I felt would invite the reader to experience Ray’s pieces as I did on receiving them. Ray, who had at first been displeased by the project, perhaps feeling it would lock him into a format too much, become very enthusiastic as the project developed. Where at first he had refused to title the book, later he called it “The Paper Snake” after a collage and print he had made. He also wanted the price to be “$3.47,” for reasons I have never known (prices of that sort were always $3.48 or $3.98). And when, one winter day in 1966, the book was being bound by a New York City binder, I took Ray over to the bindery to see it being cased in (when the covers are attached to the book). By then he was delighted and wrote me one of the few formal letters ever received from him thanking me for doing it.

As for its reception, the book was a puzzler to even the most sophisticated readers at the time. Even someone who was a regular correspondent of Ray’s, Stanton Kreider, wrote me an outraged letter saying what a silly book it was. Such people usually felt that Ray’s mailings were and should remain ephemera. There were almost no reviews, but one did appear in Art Voices, one of the most scorching reviews I have ever seen, complaining the book was precious and completely trivial, a pleasure to an in group. These letters and reviews are now in the Archiv Sohm in Stuttgart, where you can persue them for yourself if you like.

RJ : It is good that you keep mentioning the places where things can be found, if I do or don’t persue, now somebody else might do it too. There are a lot of archives in the world. Besides the ‘official’ archives there are also the privat collections that most (mail-) artists have built up. Are there still things that you collect?

DH : I feel overwhelmed by THINGS at my home. My letters are one of the main things I have done in this life, and I try to keep copies of each letter I send; but there is no space to save them. For years now my files have been going away – to the Archiv Sohm, for about 1972 to 1989 to the Jean Brown Archive, and from then till now the Getty Center in Santa Monica, California.

I don’t think it makes sense for a private individual to have a closed archive if such a person is going to present a face to the world. I have read that Yoko Ono founded Fluxus, and I have seen that quoted as a fact many times. One critic or student picks up errors from the one before. I don’t know where that “fact” came from. Yoko is a good. modest person; she was a friend of ours and she had done pieces which are very much part of the older Fluxusrepertoire. But she was not present on that November day of 1961 when Maciunas proposed to a group of us that we do a magazine to be called “Fluxus” and that we do performances of the pieces in the magazine; nor was she in Wiesbaden in September 1962 when we did those performances and the press began calling us “Die Fluxus Leute” – the Fluxus people. So while she, for instance, was surely one of the original Fluxus people, she did not found Fluxus. Well, if I am going to assert this, it is important that the documents of the time be available somewhere besides in my own files. Too, my writings are complex and full of allusions; this is not to create mysteries but to enrich the fabric and draw on reality. It can be useful therefore that my files be open to anyone who needs them, and this would be impossible if the files were here in my church.

Then there are other collections: from 1977 to 1991 I collected things related to Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), – apart from a passage in Plato’s Phaedrus, Bruno’s “De imaginum, signorum et idearum Compositione” (1593) has the earliest discussion I know of intermedia – but when Charlie Doria’s translation of this work came out (which I edited and annotated) I sold off all the Bruno materials I had. From 1968 to 1990 (about) I collected patterns poetry-old visual poetry from before 1900 – but that too has gone away, most of it anyway. I have collected almost all of the books written, designed by or associated with Merle Armitage (1893-1975), a great modernist book designer, and my biography of him, “Merle Armitage and the Modern Book”, is due out with David Godine next year. I will then sell that collection too. Perhaps it was a good experience acquiring these things, but that part is over now. Other collections have been given away. I collected a tremendous amount of sound poetry and information on it, meaning to do a book on the subject. But there was never money to do the book right. Perhaps that collection also should depart. There is too much art work by myself here in the church in which I live and work – it gets damaged because it cannot be stored properly. I would like to move to a smaller place, since I do not need and cannot afford this big one, and if that happens more things also go away.

There are some phonograph records, tapes abd CD’s too – too many to keep track of, some going back to my teen years when I used to spend the money I earned by baby-sitting on records of John Cage, Henry Cowell, Göesta Nystroem, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, Anton Webern and such-like. I suppose the only books which are also tools and (for me) reference work-books on design or artistic crafts (orchestration, for instance), Fluxbooks and Fluxcatalogs (I need to check my facts), books and magazines in which I am included (so I can tell where such-and-such a piece first was printed). As for objects, I care about my mother’s dishes and one table, but that is about all – the rest can go.

No, I am a temporary collector – as Gertrude Stein said of her visitors, she liked to see them come, but she also liked to see them go. I will acquire things when they are needed, but I need to unload them too. I have no right to own art, even by friends, because I cannot take care of it properly. It too must go. This church is dark with things, things, things – and maybe somebody else, somebody younger that I, might like to have them.

RJ : Why do you live in a church?

DH : I live in this church because, when I moved to this area from Vermont (where I had lived almost fourteen years, off and on, up near the Quebec border) I bought a house, garage and church complex. It had been “defrocked” by the Roman Catholic Church in 1974, its consecration taken away and the cross and bell removed, and it was sold to a couple who wanted it to become an antique shop. However there was no drive by traffic so they found that would not work. But nobody wanted to buy it from them. So I got it at a good price, as they say. My plan was to live in the house a modest parsonage, for my wife Alison Knowles to use the garage (where we set up a photo darkroom to be shared), and for myself to use the church as my own studio. For this it was fine.

But in 1985 when my finances began to collapse with the decline in the US art world, the rise of our Radical Right and neo Christian coalition, and with the Fluxus syndrome among exhibitors and collectors, I had to rent out the house to survive and to move into the church. It is a nice space, well suited to be a studio, but it is dark in the winter and is quite gloomy and expensive to heat. It has no doors so nobody is separated from anything else that is going on. There are virtually no doors to close, so there is no privacy. Sometimes I think I will go mad here. Maybe I have. I would love to move, but like the previous owners I would find it hard to sell and in any case I have no money to move. Next winter I may have to do without heat here most of the time unless things look up. It is a curious environment for an artist.

I often refer to this “Fluxus syndrome.” It is my term for a problem that I face. It goes like this. A gallerist, critic or exhibitor tells me “I like your work. I know you are a Fluxus artist.” Then they see more of my work and they compare it to the work of George Maciunas, whom they take to be the leader of Fluxus instead of its namer and, in his own preferred term, “Chairman” of Fluxus. They note that there are differences and they say to me: “But that work is not Fluxus. Do you have any Fluxus work?” I say yes, and I show work from the early sixties through late seventies. It still does not resemble the work of Maciunas. It isn’t usually even fun and games, which is what the public thinks of as Fluxus. So I am marginalized in Fluxus shows, or I am left out of other collections because “This is not a Fluxus gallery/museum show/collection.” The problem is all but unavoidable, and in vain can one point out that if Fluxus is important, it is because of its focus on intermedia, that Maciunas recognized this repeatedly, that he knew perfectly well that there was room in Fluxus for work which did not resemble his at all. If one says anything like this in public, it is taken to be a disloyalty to George or some kind of in fighting for prestige. I have sometimes been tempted to show my work under a false name in order to escape this syndrome altogether. But even that sounds as if I were ashamed of my Fluxus past, which I am not, even though it is not awfully relevant to my work since the late seventies. Also I still feel affinities to some of my Fluxus colleagues, though the work of others has, in my opinion, become repetitious crap. Many of my Fluxfriends could do with a little more self criticism, in my opinion. Fluxus also has its share of hangers on, people who were utterly marginal to the group and who kept their distance during the years when Fluxus had not acquired its present and perhaps false public image, but who are now all too willing to con their way into the list and to enter their colors for the next tournament.

RJ : This story about “Fluxus syndrome,” is quite interesting when I compare it to mail art. There is the difference that in mail art most artist try to avoid the traditional art-world, and there is even the phrase “mail art and money don’t mix” by Lon Spiegelman, that is used by others too. There are on the other hand also artists who say to organize a mail art show and then start to use entrance-fees and ask for money for catalogues ; try to ‘con’ people in the mail art network. What do you think of “mail art and money don’t mix”? I know it’s not an easy question to answer.

DH : Money and mail art? Money and Fluxus? Mixing? You are right, I can’t answer that one easily. Certainly if somebody got into mail art (or Fluxus) as a means of advancing his or her career- “Gee,” says the dork, “ya gotta get inta as many shows as possible, I was in thirty-two last year and here’s the catalogs to prove it,” -he or she would swiftly learn that is not what the field is for. Rather, its purpose is to combat alienation, and that is only in some respects an economic problem. Mail art has tremendous disruptive potential (and even some constructive social potential), as I described in my story about Polish mail artists and the East German bureaucrat. And it has great community-building power – even my hypothetical dork can say” “Wow, I got friends all over, from Argentina to Tooneesia.” But I must make a confession: I have probably seen forty or fifty actual exhibitions of mail art, and NOT ONE OF THEM was interesting to see. There were good things in each of them of course, but the effect of looking at them was weak. Why? Because they did not reflect the function – they always treated the sendings as final artifacts (sometimes ranked according to the prestige of the artist). But mail art pieces are virtually never final artifacts – they are conveyors of a process of rethinking, community-building and psychological and intellectual extension. Thus it is, I think, a distortion to think, of mail art as a commercial commodity of any kind. Because it is typically modest in scale usually and it is usually technically simple, the finest piece may come from the greenest, newest or the least skilled artist. There is no rank in mail art so long as the artist thinks and sees clearly.
Nevertheless, the issue of money is one which must be faces. Lack of it can ruin your capability for making mail art, for one thing. When the heat is gone and you can’t afford to go to the doctor, it is very hard to focus on making this collage to send away, even though one knows that do so would bring great satisfaction and comfort. Yet the mail art itself is not usually salable, and nobody gets a career in mail art. One is free to be capricious, as I was circa twenty-odd years ago when I spent two months corresponding only with people whose last names began with M. It is not, then, so much that mail art and money do not mix but that mail art simply cannot be used to produce money, at least not directly, – which is not to say that one mail artist cannot help another. Obviously we can and do. I remember when Geoffrey Cook, a San Francisco mail artist, undertook a campaign through the mail art circuit to free Clemente Padín, the Uruguayan mail artist (among other things) who had been jailed by the military junta for subversion. It worked. And many is the mail artist who, wanting to see his or her correspondent, finds some money somewhere to help defray travel costs and such-like.

With Fluxus, the issue is different. Fluxart has in common with mail art its primary function as a conveyor of meaning and impact. But Fluxworks are not usually mail art and do not usually depend on a network of recepients. Some are enormously large. Some take large amounts of time to construct, some are expensive to build and so on. Given this, issues of professionalism arise which are not appropriate to mail art. If I insist on making my Fluxart amateur and to support myself by other means, I may not be able to realize my piece. I am thus forced at a certain point in my evolution to attempt to live form my art, since anything else would be a distraction. I must commercialize the un-commercializable in order to extend it to its maximum potential. What an irony! It is, I fancy (having been in Korea but not Japan), like the expensive tranquillity of a Zen temple in contrast to the maniacal frenzy of Japanes commercial life outside it. Peace becomes so expensive one might imagine it is a luxury, which I hope it is not. So one is compelled to support it.

The difference is, I think, that commercial art supports the world of commodity; Fluxus and other serious art of their sort draws on the world of commerce for its sustenance but its aim lies elsewhere – it points in other directions, not at the prestige of the artist as such (once someone once tried to swap, for a book by Gertrude Stein which he wanted, two cookies which Stein had baked, then about twenty-two years before) and certainly not at his or her ego in any personal sense (John Cage musing at the hill behind his then home, “I don’t think I have done anything remarkable, anything which that rock out there could not do if it were active”). One must take one’s work seriously, must follow its demands and be an obedient servant to them: nobody else will, right? If the demands are great and require that one wear a shirt and tie and go light people’s cigars, then out of storage come the shirt and tie and out comes the cigar-lighter. That is what we must do. But we do not belong to the world of cigars; we are only visitors there. It is a liminal experience, like the shaman visiting the world of evil spirits. We can even be amused by the process. Anyway, that’s my opinion.

RJ : Some mail artists say that the mail art network is more active than before. Others say that mail art is history because almost all the possibilities of the traditional mail have been explored, and that all the things that are happening now in mail art, are reproductions of things that happened before. Is mail art a finished chapter?

(Santayana born today (1863) and Jane Austin too (1775)

DH : Well, I think both sides are right. Mail Art is more active than before if more people are doing it. Of course, for those of us whose interest in exploration I am glad they are doing it even though I see no need to do it AS SUCH myself. Mail Art is [only?] history if all the possibilities have been explored yes, if one’s job is to explore things only formally. Of course I love history without it I never know what not to do. For me this last assumption is therefore right so far as it goes, but it does not go very far. Why should we assume that doing something once means it need not be done again? That is what I call the “virgin attitude,” fine for people who are hung up on sleeping with virgins but a dreadful idea if it is really love that you want. Aren’t you glad that Monet painted more than one haystack or waterlily painting? Don’t you have a food recipe which you would hate to change? A “finished chapter?” That has even more problematic assumptions.

After all, a chapter in a book (including the Book of Life) involves reading, and the best books invite reading more than once. Isn’t reading as creative as writing?

Mail Art is, in my opinion, not a single form. I am not much of a taxonomist someone else can decide how many forms it is, can classify and sort it out. What I know and have said in this interview is that Function precipitates Form. So long as new uses for Mail Art can appear, new forms are likely to arise. Just for instance e mail letters and magazines are relatively new. The ways we can use them have not fully revealed themselves. The politics of this world are as fouled up as ever; perhaps there are mail art methods (including e mail methods) which can be used to help straighten things out or at least point to the problems in a startling or striking way. No, I think mail art may be history it has been with us at least since Rimbaud’s burnt letters but only a Dan Quail (a proverbially obtuse right wing politician here) would say, as he did in 1989, that “History is Over!” And as long as there are people artists living alone here and there, confronted by problems (professional, formal, human or social), Mail Art is likely to have a role to play in helping to alleviate those problems. What we must not do is allow ourselves to take ourselves too seriously tendentiousness is a natural health hazard for the mail artist. The freshness and unpredictability of the medium are part of why, if mail art works at all, it really does. Just as we must always reinvent ourselves, according to whatever situations we find ourselves in, we must always reinvent our arts. And that includes mail art.

RJ : Well, this is a wonderful moment to end this interview. I want to thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts.


mail-interview with Daniel Plunkett – USA


41 – unfinished

Started on: 19-05-1995

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 7-10-1995 (internet)

DP : Ruud ‑ I thought I had sent this off already, but looks like I didn’t. Anyway ‑ I started becoming involved in mailart via cassette trading during the late 70’s. After the punk explosion there were lots of people trading tape letters, compilations, music, sounds etc. on tape. And from this network I started to receive news about mailart shows etc. So one day I just sort of started into it all, not knowing what I was getting in for! Each week would bring in new mail, artwork, and contacts which has continued today. I was already a big letter writer and wrote to several “pen pals” already, and to me mail art was great as I could now write people that were interested in some of the same things as I was, plus it was always exciting to see what arrived in the mail. Ok, well that is a brief answer anyway!

RJ : Most people know you from you magazine N D. When did you start that and what is the magazine about?

Reply on 10-10-1995 (internet)

DP : The first issue of N D appeared in 1982. At first it was planned that artists, musicians, etc would each send in a page of artwork or information. The first issue was mostly that; different pages of artwork from various networkers. Then beginning with N D 2, I did a couple of interviews (one with filmmaker Kurt Kren) and included those, along with a few reviews of magazines and audio releases. The magazine started out as a contact resource for mailart shows, audio projects and addresses.

Each issue has been the same kind of format with interviews, and then as much information and reviews as possible. So basically it started out as a networker tool, and still is, but probably now there is more focus on the interviews and trying to provide a history behind some of the artists.

I started the magazine with a lot of the ethics and rules that have been on‑going withing the mailart world, by that I mean I would mention every thing that was sent in, everyone would receive a copy etc. But now, that has proved impossible, otherwise each issue of N D would be 2500 pages! We still cover a large majority of what we get in the mail (cassettes, shows, etc) but we simply dont have the time or room to mention it all.

Plus there are other excellent resoures such as Global Mail and Factsheet Five that are exhaustive in what they cover.

RJ : Is almost all the mail art you do connected to your magazine N D, or did you organize some other projects too?

Reply on 17-10-1995 (internet)

DP : Well, more and more over the years the mail art I do is connected with N D. Either by mailing the magazine to shows, or using the magazine to cover interviews and articles on mailart. The lines get pretty blurred anyway, it all becomes one on‑going project. We did organize a show a few years back called “Undercurrents” which was a month long exhibition at a local museum. This was an exhibit of over 1000 cassette tapes from around the world, and we organized it in many ways like a mailart show. We tried to present a rough histoy of the cassette network since the 70’s and we also had guest speakers (John Held Jr, and Robin James) and artists who performed during the event. So although we focused on the cassette medium ‑ we tried to connect it to the larger networker activity going on too. Other projects we have done have been a couple of exhibitions of visual artists, performance art exhibition and events, and several concerts of touring musicians and groups.

RJ : Why and when did you start to use the e-mail for your communication?

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

DP : I started using email a little over 2 years ago now. I had been introduced to it before, but always sort of avoided it ‑ just what I needed was more mail! But actually it has worked out well. More and more people that I know have email accounts and it is a quick and cheap way to stay in touch. Also it has been interesting to see people discover all of this kind of underground activity via the net. People that would never really come across this world unless they wrote letters, found a magazine at a shop, etc.

So anyway, I just started using email once I finally felt “oh well, what the hell” and have slowly jumped into it. Of course, Michael Northam should be given credit for giving me the push to get the nd.org site set up and also he is the one who has designed the N D webpages.

RJ : You new N D #20 is about to come out. How does the process go of finishing one issue? Is there a fixed concept or is every new magazine a completely different undertaking?

Address mail-artist:

Daniel Plunkett – ND
P.O.Box 4144
AUSTIN , TX 78765

Mail-Art from Richard Canard – USA

2015-05-30 16.08.04 2015-05-30 16.08.16 2015-05-30 16.11.18

Incoming mail-art from Richard Canard (USA). Always a puzzle to solve with his mail, and I have started on IUOMA a special group to collect all his mailings worldwide. The IUOMA-Members even do that, so a lot of information you can find on:


I also placed his latests mailing there. Somehow it all fits together, and I hope some researcher one day will devote him/her-selve to that task…..

mail-interview with Clive Phillpot – UK



Started on 26-05-1997

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 28-8-97

CP : Dear Ruud: I guess I got involved in 1972 when I started writing a column in Studio International , the London art magazine. I was supposed to review things that nobody else reviewed – like exhibition catalogues , magazines , artist books , etc.

In the first column I mentioned Thomas Albright’s two articles on ‘Correspondence Art’ in Rolling Stone , also in 1972.

Slowly, in 1972 + 1973, I began to hear from the L.A. Artists’Publication , File Magazine , the Fluxshoe people , the Bay Area Dadaist / Dadaland , Ecart , and received mail art pieces as well as publications from them…….

RJ : Was this also the moment you started to consider yourself a ‘mail artist’?

reply on 10-9-1997

CP : Aha! Mail artist! I don’t think that I have ever consider myself a mail artist. I have corresponded with many mail artists, but usually about mail art. Though now & again I would correspond with something other than the regular letter. (I have responded to a few calls for mail art exhibitions…..)

The closest I might have come to this desciption might be as a sparring partner for Ray Johnson, mostly in the late eighties + early nineties. He kind of nudged me into mail art responses to his mail art.

RJ : The term ‘sparring partner’ is interesting. What kind of ‘punches’ did Ray send to you?

next answer on 22-9-1997

CP : Given your reaction, perhaps a boxing metaphor was not exactly right. What I had in mind by ‘sparring partner’ was along the lines of a champion needing lesser lights to keep him sharp and in shape – even if they couldn’t keep up with him over ten rounds. Sometimes , in sparring with Ray, I might raise my game to his level – other times not.

RJ : Maybe my question wasn’t specific enough either, With ‘punches’ I was actually asking for maybe a few examples of some ‘correspondances’ you had with Ray.

next answer on 1-11-1997

CP : OK, here’s one where I came off quite well. At some point, on the phone, Ray asked me if I knew who Anna May Wong was? Perhaps he had included an image of her in a mailing? I said I had no idea. He told me she was a 30’s (?) movie star.

After that Ray would refer to her – in mailings , or in conversation – because of my ignorance.

Then a while later, in 1992, he sent me a mailing of a bunny head with the words Anna May Shun in it, plus the question: “Who is Anna May Shun?”

I let the question run round my head for a day or two, then responded with a sheet on which I stuck a xerox of a photo of Chou-En Lai – with some additions – and the phrase: “Anna May Shun is the half-sister of Chou-En Gum!”

In the next mail I got a sheet with two bunny heads + a self-photo of Ray. The heads said: Judy Garland (upside down!) and Chou-En Gum! There was also a note telling me to call him about this. When I did, I asked him why he had put Chou-En Gum with Judy Garland? He said it was because Judy Garland’s real name (or her sister’s?) was Frances Gumm!!!

RJ : Ray was always interested in the names of movie stars and played a lot with names and images. Do you know where the use of the ‘bunny’ originated from?

next answer on 19-11-1997

(With the written answer Clive Phillpot sent a copy of the text he wrote for the catalog of Ray Johnson’s exhibition at the Goldie Paley Gallery at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia – Pennsylvania in 1991 , which contains a very good list of principal sources).

CP : No, I can’t remember Ray ever explaining their origins. In one sense , they just grew. When I was working on the catalog of Ray’s 1991 exhibition in Philadelphia, I assembled an evolutionary chart – derived from the letters in the 1976 North Carolina Museum publication.

He did tell me once that when he signed a letter with a bunny head, it was a self-portrait. But when others drew his bunny-heads, they became their self-portraits.

Then there was another shift at the end of the eighties, when the black scared-looking-bunny-heads began to include people’s names within their outlines. These heads have now become a kind of Ray Johnson icon.

RJ : In the beginning of the interview you mentioned that in 1972 you started with reviewing artists’ books. At the moment you are even lecturing about artists’ books. What is so fascinating about this form of art?

next answer on 1-12-1997

CP : The other worlds that books contain are fascinating – these worlds can be conjured up through words or images or both. And sometimes such books are visual, or verbi-visual, works of art.

The idea that some books can be hand-held movies also appeals to me, as well as the book as a random-access artwork.

Thinking about books as art in the context of mail art , I would say that their similar non-institutionalization is also appealing. For me, the multiple – usually printed – artists’ books are most interesting because they are conceived to be disseminated to a wide audience. Also books printed in editions can slip into bookstores very easily, but surprise people browsing because of their often unusual content.

RJ : You were the Director of the Library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where there are lots of artist’s books as well. Do they also have a mail art collection?

next answer on 17-12-1997

CP : Yeah – that’s right. I had the pleasure of buying the Franklin Furnace artist book collection just before I left the USA and leaving it to be merged with the one I built from 1977-1994.

As for mail art in the library, there is some. For example, there are a few pieces from Ray Johnson that go back a bit. (He wrote to many of the curators over the years, and some of them passed pages, etc. , on to the library). But on the whole there is not a lot particularly because I thought it more appropriate for the library to be collecting documentation (as well as multiple art , like artists’ books).

So I bought a fair number of catalogues of mail art exhibitions, plus a lot of artist magazines, some of which were related to mail art. Of course, Ray Johnson managed to subvert all this :-

We had worked together on a little book during 1986-88 which was published by the Nassau County Museum in Long Island. After this, when I was writing a piece about him for the Philadelphia exhibition, he suggested that he create a book which would be made up of 26 parts (chapters?) , each of 26 pages, + that he would send me a few pages at a time through the mail.

In due course this is what happened – in 1990. Before the book petered out in the summer, I received about 50 pages at the library – of “A Book About Modern Art” – plus some short sequels.

This book is quite unique – so it went against my normal policy for mail art + for artists’ books! Trust Ray to be different.

RJ : I think that – unlike Fluxus – mail art is still quite unknown in the “official” art world. Is this true and will it stay like that?

next answer on 11-2-1998

CP : Yes, I am sure it is – in the official sense. But, on the other hand, Ray – who I keep coming back to (as my exemplar) – sent his mailings to so many critics , curators , directors & trustees of museums, that even if they could not recognize it , they experienced mail art.

I think that mail art will surface in museum exhibitions occasionally. When Ray gets the big retrospective that he deserves, surely mail art will become visible then?

But we must not forget that even as far back as 1970 , mail art was featured in a major museum , the Whitney Museum of Modern Art , thanks to Ray and to Marcia Tucker!

Perhaps a more important question is whether the acceptance of mail art by the “official” art world would be a good thing or a bad thing? Is mail art not more intersting as a personal expression in a guerilla relationship with museums? Museum shows might coopt mail art? Kill it?

RJ : Yes, you might be right there. I must confess that when I visited mail art exhibitions in galleries or museums (especially the postal museums DO exhibit nowadays) I was always more interested in the visitors (sometimes only mail artists….) than in the exhibited mail art. Did you also meet some of the mail artists you were in correspondence with?

(It took some time before I heard from Clive again, so I sent him another copy of the question. It turned out he had moved to another address)

next answer on 24-11-1998

CP : Yes, I did. Inevitably most were from New York and the East Coast; people such as Buster Cleveland, Carlo Pittore, and Crackerjack Kid, but also FaGaGaGa, Steve Perkins, and John Held. Plus artists from abroad such as Ulises Carrion.

Then there are all the fluxus artists. I have met most of them – except for three of the best, George Maciunas, George Brecht and Robert Filliou.

And one time, 1992 I think, I kinda hosted a congress that started at the Museum of Modern Art and finished at the Hilton Hotel in mid-town Manhattan, especially for Angela and Peter Netmail.

RJ : You mention both Fluxus-artists and Mail-Artists. Is the connection really that strong as some Mail-Artists like to make it?

next answer on 04-01-1999

(with the answer Clive Phillpot sent me a brochure of the exhibition “Artist/Author Contemporary Artists’Books” , an exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts at several locations during 1998 and 1999 in the USA. In the brochure there was a text by Clive Phillpot: “A Concise History Of Artists’ Books”. Together with Cornelia Lauf he curated the exhibition).

CP : Well, when I think of Fluxus I don’t think of Mail-Art (except perhaps for the stamps of Georg Maciunas and Bob Watts), but when I think of Mail-Art I do think of Robert Filliou and George Brecht, of correspondence, and of their origination of the idea of “The Eternal Network” in 1968.

The postal system was vital to Fluxus as the principal means for distributing their art, but I don’t think that this means that they necessarily created Mail-Art. Fluxus is much more relevant to the histories of the multiple and performance. However, I think that Ben Vautier’s ‘Postman’s Choice’ postcard is a Mail-Art classic.

RJ : Are there more “Mail-Art classics” you remember right now?

next answer on 2-2-1999

CP : One that I think of as a classic, was something from Ray Johnson to me. I would guess that it wasn’t the first – or last – time that he used the idea, but, as ever, he responded specifically to the occasion.

In 1987 Ray asked me to join him is documenting a performance that he had done at the Nassau County Museum just outside New York. He told me about the event, showed me photos, and suggested that I ask him some questions. later I did just this, and sent him some questions in the mail. He responded subsequently with what seemed to me to be nonsensical answers. I had to admit to him on the phone that I didn’t understand his response.

The next thing that happened was that I got a piece of paper folded like a kid’s airplane in an envelope from Ray. On unfolding the plane, I found that it was a photocopy from a book on Picasso’s work. Ray had underlined odd passages, thereby revealing to me the origins of his mysterious answers. (Though not exactly what he had meant by them.)

Then a week or so later I got a letter in the mail that had been sent to “Monsieur Picasso” at an address in Paris. It was inscribed “inconnu” and stamped “return to sender” (in French). The reason why I got it – since I never sent a letter to Picasso, even when he was alive – was that the return address in the top left corner of the envelope was MINE!

I guess it’s an old trick. But a neat one. A letter sent from Long Island had been sent on a long journey via Paris to me in New York, thanks to the efficiency of the post office, and the kindness of the people now living at Picasso’s old address.

I was very amused by Ray’s manoeuvre. But the final piece of my story took me several more weeks to unravel.

Some time later I looked again at the xerox from the Picasso book. Then the penny dropped. The work illustrated was a cubist work of 1912 entitled “The Letter”. But even through the fragmented plane of the painting I was able to make out that the painted letter was addressed to “Monsieur Picasso” at the very same address to which Ray had despatched his letter for me!

I am so glad I got to know Ray.

RJ : Did you save the items you received from Ray or are they in some kind of archive?

(Clive Phillpot’s answer came after a few months because he was in New York, to give a lecture on artist books at the New York Public Library.)

next answer on 18-5-1999

CP : Yes, I have saved everything Ray sent me, from 1981 to late 1994 a few months before his suicide. They are part of my own archives. I also have notes of his phone calls over many years – I still need to transcribe and expand these…..

As well as sending things to me personally he also sent a few things to me especially for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, with specific instructions that they were for the Library collections. He even asked me to send him letters confirming that these pieces were safely in the Museum. The principal piece was the Book About Modern Art, which was made up of several mailings of three or four sheets each.

RJ : You mentioned your Archives. What do they look like?

next answer on 23-5-1999

CP : Well, I guess they look much like other people’s , you know lots of files. As for their contents and arrangements, I imagine that they too are not very different from other people’s solutions.

There is a section on my writing comprising typescripts and photocopies (plus all the eventual books, catalogs and magazines in my library). There are many files of correspondence with artists, and about art. Also artist files – which include announcements of exhibitions, press releases, cuttings and reproductions of articles, essays, etc. There are also some specific files on artist books, and about book artists. And as well as these art-related files there are some others on miscellaneous things, and correspondence from friends and relatives. And if you really want the nitty-gritty of their organization, I think most of these are organized by name and/or by date. (There are only so many ways to skin a cat.)

I suppose that I should add that I have discs that archive most of what I have written on the computer, plus some email messages.

RJ : Yes, that computer. Do you like working with computers?

next answer on 31-8-1999

CP : I like working with some computers. At home I have an old Macintosh; I really enjoy the simplicity and logic of its software. But at work I have a Windows-based PC. Ugh! I find it amazing that this cluncky software rules the world. Business has won out over technology.

Much as I enjoy computers, the thing that has really changed the way I work – and maybe think – is word-processing. In fact word-processing helps one to write more like one thinks. I can hardly believe that I once used a typewriter with carbonpaper, witeout, etc.

And almost as important as that facility is email. When I moved back to England I felt so cut off for the few months it took me to settle down, and before I set up email again. When one has friends – and work opportunities – in many countries, email is unsurpassed for keeping in touch, though there are still times when letter writing is important.

RJ : How did you become so interested in letter writing? Is it just connected to your work in which you communicate with so many different people worldwide, or is it the other way round? (So that you got interested in communicating worldwide through letter writing)

(It might look like a strange question, but I wonder because in my case I learned through my father -at the age of 7- the thrills of communications worldwide and because of doing the same stumbled onto the mail-art network)

(answer on 9-10-1999)

CP : I guess I always wrote letters to friends and relatives whom I couldn’t see regularly. Similarly when I moved to New York in 1977 the simplest way to keep in touch with people overseas, and across the USA, (since email was not an option) was through letters.
When I moved back to England I left a lot of friends in the USA, so letterwriting continues, and not just to the USA, plus a great deal more email.

Finally I think I quite enjoy the time one gives to thinking about a communication when writing letters, and to shaping the language of the communication. Since telephone, for example, is a medium for talking, this is a very different kind of exercise.

(because of a break in the whole mail-interview project, the next question only went out a long time later. Giving an extra time-dimension to this interview).

RJ : Was there anything I forgot to ask you?

(answer on 4-3-2001)

CP : Yes, you didn’t ask me about Solong

RJ : What would you like to tell about Solong?

(answer on 10-3-2001)

CP : So long it’s been good to know you! Thanks for the interview, I hope it will be useful. Cheers. Clive.

RJ : Thanks for the interview as well. The readers will judge if it is useful. I sure did enjoy it.

Address interviewed person:

3 Pevensey Avenue
New Southgate

Address interviewer:

Ruud Janssen
P.O. box 1055
4801 BB  Breda


mail-interview with Clemente padin – Uruguay




Started on: 3-12-1994

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

Reply on: 31-12-1994

CP : My first experiences in Mail Art date from 1967 when with my latin-american friends Edgardo Antonio Vigo, Guillermo Deisler and Dámaso Ogaz we started to exchange our reviews : Diagonal Cero, Ediciones Mimbre , La Pata de Palo & Los Huevos del Plata (Diagonal Zero , Osier Editions , Leg of Wood and The Eggs of the Silver ) and our mail-art works. The Uruguayan review OVUM 10 published 6 post-cards with my visual poems in 1969. Later, in 1974, during the Uruguayan military dictatorship, I organized the First Latin-American Mail Art Exposition documented at the Gallery U, in Montevideo and I was editing the second epoch of OVUM, about which Géza Perneczky says: “The periodical and private publications that had midwifed in the birth of the network ( File of Canada, the American Weekly Breeder and Mail Order Art , Poland’s NET , Padin’s OVUM , etc ) displayed, to different degrees, motives that emphasizes the need for social contacts or were based on more commercial interests.” (A Halo, 1991, p.232). After the history continues…

(Clemente Padin typed his answer and made under the text a collage with some artistamps with texts like “Junio 1973” , “Zona Militar” , “Ay” )

RJ : The mail-art I have seen from you mostly has a political meaning as well. Did mail art have an effect on the political situation?

Reply on : 21-01-1995
CP : I am not sure but in my personal case the answer is: YES! You know, I was imprisoned for the Uruguayan dictatorship the 25th August, 1977 for my opposition to the military government. An edition of rubber-stamps and false mail-stamps denouncing the suppression of human rights and the death, torture and disappearance of many people opposite to the regimen led my incarceration and the sentence by four years for “transgression that hurt the moral and reputation of the army”. Also, for organizing the Counter-Biennal in front of the latinoamarican section of the X Biennal of Paris, France, curated by the Director of the Fine Arts Museum of Uruguay, in the fall on 1977. But an intense and supported mobilization of hundred and hundred of artists in the whole world freed me after only two years and three months!

Mail art (and the network) could have effect in the social-political situation because it is a product of the human work and reflects and reproduces the social relations. Like artistic product is specificly art, with a value in the market interchangeable by money (in our concept the value is high but the price or its expression in money is contemptible for the merchants). Like product of communication, mail art is inseparable part of the social production and it can not leave to express the reality but symbolically. Thus, mail art is a subliminal form of social conscience and an instrument of knowledge (like science). So, also, it can be a tool of change (or status’s legitimation) and transformation (or retrocession).

RJ : You call mail art ‘an instrument of knowledge’. After so many years of doing mail art, how would you describe the things you learned from the network? What does the network bring that you could not have learned in any other way?

Reply on : 14-2-1995
CP : First, it is an instrument of knowledge of myself. And the others. After, there are many things that you can learn by personal experience through networking. Network (and art) discovers dark and secret zones of our spirit an existence. Also, it brought us to understand the entangled of our present world. By means of networking we have learned what things like solidarity and true friendship are. Sometimes we can question and change indesirable reality. Only by networking the people know all the possibilities of the new instruments of communication that technology have putted in their hands. On the other side, art and network have discussed and anticipated the scientific knowledges like impressionists that discovered the corpuscular nature of light. It happens because artists that experiment with artistical supports or new instruments of communication also discover its structure and physical properties.

RJ : Can you give some examples of ‘new instruments of communication’ that you have worked with?

(On February 23th Clemente sent out his first E-mail message, which I read on February 25th. It was not an text-answer, but in a way an answer to my last question. Clemente has entered the Internet too. I sent him an E-mail reply to confirm arrival of his message and wrote to him that he could sent his next answer by E-mail too.

Reply on : 11-3-1995

CP : By a side the new instruments of communication work like tools of inscription: pencil, brush, chisel, etc. By other side they use different supports like paper, frame, painting, wood, books, etc. Now for the inscripts we use the scanner of the P.C. and like support of the Facsimile or the P.C. sconce or the modem. Before we use air or sea mail for communication between us. Now, we use the electronic space. Before we sent objects, post-cards, envelopes, letters, DIN A4, etc. Now we transmit electronic impulses and, in the near future, R-laser.

We know that the works are altered by the medium, because each medium has its own in-put and out-put, id est, its own codes of entrance and exit, included its own channel of transmission. All these items integrate the form of expression that determinate the form of contents inevitably. If you obtain a competent expression to a peculiar content, using the new instruments of communication, perhaps you gain an artistical message. Personally I have used fax and through a job-friend I’m trying to use E-mail. Also “new instruments of communication” involve all the last discoveries of the graphic industries.

RJ : Can you tell me a bit more about your first experiences with E-mail. To make the question more concrete I will send this question by E-mail and by the traditional mail on the same day.

Reply on : 2-4-1995 (by Internet) , 4-4-1995 (by snail-mail)
CP : A friend, from AEBU, is an associate of a database called “Chasque” and he consents the use of his e-mail to me. Finally, February 23th 1995, I did my first e-mail communication to Chuck Welch, Fagagaga, Reid Wood, Harry Polkinhorn and you. After Ashley Parker Owens sent me the e-mail directory from Global Mail. I also connected with Abelardo Mena from de Banco de Ideas Z de Cuba. In Uruguay there are only three e-mail services connected with Internet: the Republic University; URUPAC, a public institution belongs to the official telephonic service and RED CHASQUE (“chasque” is the ancien and primitive communication system between the latino american first people) depending of the private institution: the Third World Institute.

The first communication by Internet in Uruguay was the August 23th 1994, to the SECIU (Informatic Centre Service of the Republic University). You see, we are too young! The costs for transmission in minimum between 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and for nothing between 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. A Kilobyte received costs one cent and each kilobyte sent costs five cents of a dollar, but you must add the cost of the CHASQUE subscription. The first world sells us the computer technology, but also the rules of its use.

RJ : In 1986 you and others proposed the constitution of a Universal Federation of Mail Artists (see MA-Congress 86, edited by G. Ruch, page 50). Some years later I invented the International Union of Mail-Artists, as a fake union in which everybody could take his own role (see IUOMA-magazine, june 1991). Do you think that there should be some real organization for mail-artists or would it undermine the whole game of mail-art in which there are no written rules?

Reply on : 9-5-1995 (internet)

CP: The Institutions are born when they are necessary. Mail Art doesn’t need Federations or Syndicates for to act but the mail artists need institutions in particular situations of their lives.
Near 1986, almost all Latino america went out of dictatorships and we need to defend our rights. The unity of people was essential for to consolidate the reconquered liberty. Our Universal Federation of Mail Artists was defined itself “by the principle of freedom, justice and social solidarity” and was pronounced for “the respect of the human rights and for economy political according to the social interest”. Also it proposed lines programmatic action for to defend the interests of the mail artists in front of private and public institutions. Like you have said, Mail Art doesn’t need rules and, if you read the text in MA Congress 86, our proposal didn’t impose ones. Only it just joined efforts to struggle for our dignity, first like humans and second like artists.

RJ : Currently you are very busy with the mail-art project: “Jose Marti: 100th Anniversary” with an exposition for AEBU. Why did you start this project?

Reply on 11-6-1995 (E-mail) 15-06-1995 (snail-mail)

CP: If you see, all my mail art projects regard these considerations: join the people to struggle for their rights and demand situations political economics that permit us a peaceful life. It is the case of the “Jose Martu, 100 Anniversary”. He died liberating his country, Cuba, and he died raising the flags of solidarity and equality between men. Those are not only words. He really sacrificed his life for our rights. Not only he struggled against the spanish and north-american colonialism but, also for the elemental human rights, like to love, to eat, to work, to sleep, to be restored to health, to have two square meters of land for to be buried on, to have a roof … don’t have to struggle for the food with the rats like more of the half of the latino-american population. Jose Marti is not dead and never will he rest while there was anybody hungry on the world.

RJ : Is the project a succes? Did the mail-artists who contributed to the project understand what it was about?

Reply on 28-7-1995
CP : Almost all networkers that have participated in the Martí’s homage have understood his thought. For many people to convoke a mail art show over José Martí was a surprise and also an anachronism because the network don’t exalt the individualism neither the official history (always placed in hands of those who have the power). But to talk about Martí is not to talk about the past or the individual person but the heroic fighting for the liberty and dignity of the peoples, like him, 100 years old before.

To talk about Martí is not to talk about Cuba or “Our America” (as he called America Latina) but the whole world, there where there is an outcast or a starving man for bread and justice. I have rather chosen to evoke his gigantic figure in these critical instances for his small mother country and people, arbitrarily and unilaterally blockaded since decades by the largest economic and military power of all the times, as well as in these instances of sharp crises in our Latin America, where underdevelopment and neo-liberalism oblige to more than a half of our population to infraconsume and hungry.

I like his maxim “Doing is the better way of saying”, leaving to the rhetoric of words and symbols its mere role of being the frame of the action. During all his life Martí proclaimed his humanist thought and cultivated the essential values of life: equality, dignity and fortitude before difficulties, the total offering to just causes, love to his people and liberty, thirst of justice that admits no bribery. And network has understood it in this way, supporting this initiative in a great number with the participation of 315 networkers from 38 countries.

RJ : How do the Postal Offices in Uruguay look at mail-art nowadays. Is it different compared to the times you started?

Reply on 20-8-1995

CP : Yes, it is different. In 1967, when I started with mail art and when I was editing “Los Huevos del Plata”, generational uruguayan review, the post was costly. Nowadays, it is the same as in the countries of the First World. Also, we have the SAL service, more cheap but slow. I have a post office box that costs US$ 40,- each year.
In jail I knew the President of the Postal Union. He told me that in the Uruguayan Post Office there are always police investigators (civil policemen). He was imprisoned ten years under dictatorship because he was the employers representative (!). Now, I do not know if there are investigators but we know that the repressive apparatus from dictatorship was not removed in Uruguay.

RJ : In all the years you have been active in mail art you must have received a lot. Do you keep it all? How does your archive look like?

Reply on 13-9-1995

(by separate mail I received the beautiful catalog of the Marti’s exhibition with a large list of all the participants and some samples of contributions)

CP : In fact my first archive was formed by visual poetry since 1967. Remember that the visual poetry exhibitions in Latino American (that we called “New Poetry”) first were shown in Argentina by Edgardo Antonio Vigo in 1967, and after, in Uruguay, in 1968 by me. All these works from more than 400 poets (fonics, visuals, process-poets, etc.) were exhibited in the “Exhaustive International New Poetry Exposition”, at the Gallery U in Montevideo, Uruguay, 1972. After I packed it for an exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum of Santiago, Chile, directed by Nemesio Antúnez.

The ten wood-boxes with all the works were sent to the Chilean Embassy in Montevideo, in September 1973. But one month later, there was the Pinochet’s state-stroke and I couldn’t return to the Chilean Embassy because we had our own dictatorship in Uruguay and I was afraid for my freedom. So I lost my visual poetry archive. After my first mail art show in the exterior (the “Image Bank Post Card Show”, Vancouver, Canada, 1971, and the well known “Omaha Flow Systems”, Omaha, USA, 1973, by Ken Friedman) I began to organize the “Festival de la Postal Creativa” (“Creative Post-Card Festival”) in 1974 and I re-organized my archive. But, when I was imprisoned by Uruguayan dictatorship in 1977 I lost 20 suitcases with all the works and correspondence; letters and cards from Beuys, Ulrichs, Higgins, Friedman, Albrecht/D, Blaine, Carrión, Sarenco, Groh, Gappmayrs, Tilson, Dowd, Deisler, Zabala, Vigo, Ben, Garnier, Moineau, Filliou, Urban, Xerra, Jandl, Plant, Atchley, Davi, Det Hompson, Crozier, Nannuci, Miccini, Spatola, Gerz, Nichol, Arias-Misson, Kooman, Meltzer, Ockerse, Cook, Toth, Beltrametti, Ehrenberg, Varney, etc., etc.
After that, from 1983, whet I was re-born to art and life, I organized the “May 1st., Workers-Day” at AEBU, Montevideo and many other shows about freedom to Chile, Panamá, Paraguay, Nicaragua, against apartheid and United States Interventions, etc. All these exhibitions were donated to the social institutes that had sponsored them, like the “Uruguayan Association for Mandela’s Freedom”, etc. par example, the José Martí: 100th Anniversary” that I curated in this year was donated to the “Americans’ House” of Cuba, because José Martí was the Cuban National Hero. And so…..

Now, I am cataloguing and placing anything that I receive. My archive is stored in suitcases and is available for viewing and studying to all people. Also, I’m preparing slides and documentation for my periodical statements and conferences. In the future, I wait till somebody transforms my archive in a Latino American Networking Space for to preserve the memory of these years, so much rich and actives.

RJ : After so many years of doing mail art, do you see any changes that have appeared in the network over the years?

Reply on 1-11-95

CP : Sure! Mail never stops, always it is transforming. First, the beginning with Ray Johnson in the mid. 1960s with the sendings to his friends and the foundation of the New York Correspondence School. After the apparition of the first lists of mail artists by the action of Ken Friedman and others. The political and social situation of countries of the Third World and East Europe propitiate the birth of the network like an artistical resource for to surpass the isolation and the institutional arbitrariness through communication and interactivity toward freedom and dignified life. This part was studied exhaustively by Géza Perneczky in his book “A Haló”. We read: “Accordingly, the network started to expend around the year 1972 through the almost simultaneous emergence of the Image Bank in Canada, the File magazine and other pioneering experiments with international lists of addresses that involved the Polish Koksal Gallery, a couple of Czech artists and Clemente Padin of Uruguay.”
More later the new media increase extraordinarily the connections and the participants in network was more and more. Also the fall of the Berlin’s wall and the incorporation of new countries in mail art did that, today, there are hundreds and hundreds of exhibitions each year and the networkers sum thousands and thousands in all the world.

Now, we assit to the inclusion of the fax and e-mail increasing the interactivity between networkers and, also, to the growing mercantilization and institutionalization of the mail art. Money and mail art don’t mix: precisely, the force of the network lies in this norm. The theme is to maintain art in the area of use, and not in the area of the market or change. By now network only has value. It has not a price with search for profit or lucre, out of its social function like the market art.

RJ : I have noticed that some mail artists that are in the network for a longer time, build their own “correspondence school” and don’t always react to newcomers who try to contact them. One reason is of course time and money, but another is that they get tired of explaining again and again the concept of mail art and rather just play the game with old friends. Do you ever get tired of explaining what mail art is all about?

Reply on 27-12-1995

CP : (here, a memento for my old chilean friend, Guillermo Deisler, who died the fall of October 1995 in Halle, Germany).

No, I am not tired of explaining to all what is mail art and networking, especially to newcomers. They have in their hands the future of these forms of communication. The change and the transformation of the Network are absolutely necessaries to preserve the principles of the eternal communication. When the network stops, it dies and dissapears. For the newcomers, I have edited a small booklet about latino american mail art with exhaustive notes about mail art’s characteristics and I am answering all the correspondence that I receive (the money only does speed up or slow down that process).
So, it is impossible I can build my own “correspondence school” though I have my old friends, naturally, like Edgardo Antonio Vigo, Graciela Gutiérrez, Brusky, César Espinosa, Klaus Groh, The Barbot’s, John Held, Bill Gaglione, Geoffrey Cook, Blaine, Hamann, Polkinhorn, Braumuller, Hoffberg and many others.

RJ : The last networker we lost was Guillermo Deisler, as you mentioned. I also heard this news earlier from Birger Jesch in Germany. Did you know Guillermo for a long period? How will you remember him?

Reply on 6-2-1996

CP : Yes, I knew Willy postly from 1967 when we interchanged our publications “Ediciones Mimbre” and “Los Huevos del Plata” and our incipient mail art. Personally, I met him in 1971 during the “International Expo of Propositions to Realize”, in the CAYC, Art and Communication Centre, conducted by Jorge Glusberg. The event was curated by Edgardo Antonio Vigo. From that moment we were friends for ever. Guillermo was professor at the Visual Arts Department of the Chilean University in Antofagasta, a northerly city. During the state-stroke by Pinochet and the Chilean Army, in 1973, Will and his family had to escape quickly from their mother country. After a stay in Paris, with Julien Blaine, they established at Plovdiv, a Bulgarian city and, later they mover to Halle, Germany, where he died in fall, October 1995.

In my first public opportunity, at the beginning of the V Biennal International of Visual/Experimental Poetry, curated by César Espinosa in Mexico City, from 10th to 20th of January, 1996, I performed an homage to Guillermo, with a lecture of his poems and tales about our friendship ( I recorded when Guillermo sent me Bulgarian official stamps that I bought in Montevideo for financing the “OVUM’s” mail). I ended my performance, called “Willy, for ever…” showing the video of “Memorial America Latina” (Philadelphia, Penn, U.S.A., 1989) where it is possible to read, in the portals which closes the cemetery-memorial: “They have not died, they are sleeping and dreaming with the freedom”. Like Guillermo now.
I am organizing two events in homage to Willy. First: a great exposition at The Chilean University with his works, in the fall of 1996. I am asking the network to send me works, letters, postcards, or anything that is related to him. All the works will be donated to the Chilean University, and documentation will be sent to all. And second: a mail art show “Guillermo Deisler, our friend…”, without restrictions (no jury, no return, no size-limits), documentation to all. The deadline for this will be October 30th 1996. Contributions to both projects can be sent to my mailing address.

RJ : Well, I guess the interview is coming to an end. Anything you would like to say while you have the chance?

Reply on 4-3-1996

CP : Sure. Now, we assist to the globalization of the culture of the First World and the greater expansion of the transnational capitalism. This is meaning that our old cultures of the Third World are dissapearing because they are not equipped to defend themselves. If the tolerance before the multiplicity of focuses and expression possibilities as well as respect to the personality of the “others” through pluralism (social, politic, economic, ethnic, religions, cultural, sexual, etc.) are the irrenounce bases of network, then here is a contradiction between networking that aspires to the universality of communication and the small communities, indefensive and fragiles in front of satellites, computers and modem technology. We know that this signifies the expansion of a commercial culture (Coke, McDonalds, Disneylands, etc.) and not most communication and understanding between peoples. Marketing doesn’t care who you are or what your culture is like, because it wants to make everything everywhere the same for its good business. How could we resolve this contradiction.

RJ : Well, maybe someone out in the network can comment on that. Time to finish the interview so others can read your views as well. I would like to thank you for you time to do this interview, and I wish you good luck with all your activities.
Address mail-artist:

Clemente Padin,
Casilla de C. Central 1211,
11000 Montevideo,

E-mail : juanra@chasque.apc.org

Phone : 560885
Fax : 959417

mail-interview with Chuck Welch – USA

Mail-interview with Chuck Welch
(Crackerjack Kid)

About the interviewed artist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RJ :What will be the future of your archive?

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

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

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

RJ :Thanks for the interview!