Sample of a series of envelopes I sent oiut in the years 2014-2015. Letterstickers are places as last addition. Acrylic paint in layers on the envelope.
MAIL INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEY PARKER OWENS (USA)
TAM-960110 (www version june 2015 with some Global Mail covers included)
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEY PARKER OWENS.
Started on: 23-12-1994
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: 13-02-95
AP : In 1981, I somehow received a mail art chain letter. I believe the source was through an art professor or one of their assistants. At the time, I was married, living in Cincinnati, Ohio, and attending art school with my husband. The chain letter was really fascinating because it had exotic names and addresses from all over the world. The promise of receiving hundreds of artworks from all over the world was really exciting, and I immediately started fantasizing about winning this art lottery. I made a postcard and sent it to the person at the top of the list who was located in Germany. The postcard was a close up photo of a rock (that I took with a 4 x 5 camera) that looked like the surface of the moon. On top of the rock I had pasted a small cartoon of two people copulating. I crossed off this name, made my copies and handed them out to other people at school. I waited expectantly and never got any reply from anyone.
Later, after getting my masters degree in New Jersey and then moving to Chicago, I decided I really liked the concept of a mail art show (’85). Specifically, I liked the non-judgmental all-inclusiveness of it. I was very successful exhibiting my “art” work in Chicago and elsewhere, but I also began entering every mail art show I could find. The lack of organized info on this underground I found frustrating.
I still did not have a very good idea about mail art until I had my own mail art show (’89). That is when I became really educated on the depth of what mail art can be, and have essentially become hooked ever since.
Together with Ashley’s first answer she sent me the new “Global Mail Info Sheet”, in which there is info concerning Global Mail, how it is constructed and can be obtained. Also Info about Ashley herself and some questions with answers that are asked to her often. Besides that the info-zine also contained several statements about mail-art from others, including mine from August 1993).
RJ : Obviously the ‘lack of organized info’ made you decide to publish the first ‘Global Mail’, the magazine that is now well-known as a source-magazine for all kind of contacts. Some mail-artists feel that the whole network shouldn’t be too organized and centralized. What are your thoughts?
Reply on : 26-02-1995 (internet via Guy Hensel)
AP : The data Global Mail contains is not mail art, and it is not networking. The action on my part in publishing Global Mail is MY personal attempt at networking. I am passing on information passed to me. But Global Mail’s content is nothing more than a collection of data. It’s just a resource. It records network activity but it has no meaning in and of itself, other than as entertainment. However, it is a tool that can be used to crack out the secrets of mail art and networking.
There is no ONE location of mail art and networking. The real activity is what is going on behind the scenes, beyond the scope of the projects and shows. The real meaning, the real secret, is the exchange between two individuals. That positive energy is the secret.
If anything, I think Global Mail is good for those just starting out, who are trying to build their contact base. But alas, that group of people really don’t understand the publication. One of the goals of Global Mail is to educate and suck people in to the net. It is important not to make this a secret club there’s plenty of stamps for everyone.
I would like Global Mail to be free form. It exercises the imagination. It stretches your limits of what you conceive mail art to be… but I really don’t feel that it is the central location of info. Really, more co op and pass on mailings come my way than publications with listings.
RJ : How important is communication for you? What do you think is the most essential thing about magazines?
Reply on : 19-4-95
(Together with her new answer Ashley sent me 10 copies of the new edition of Global Mail to pass along to friends and people who are interested. The magazine has a bit changed concept now and contains more reprints of letters she received, information about special topics, etc. besides the large list of 500 entries from 45 countries)
AP : How important is communication? The ideas of individuals must permeate our thought space, rather than advertising images, political ideas, or media messages. It is especially enlightening to get information and alternative viewpoints from those in other countries.
During the Rodney King verdict/LA riots period in American history, I asked for international mail art, text, and newspaper articles featuring this event. [In case anyone is unfamiliar with this, Rodney King was severely beaten by a group of policeman, and the brutal incident was captured on videotape. Even with the evidence, the policemen were judged “not guilty.” The city of Los Angeles, CA experienced many riots, looting, and arson attacks as a result of this verdict because the people were absolutely outraged].
It was illuminating to view the way other newspapers in the world featured the stories. Even with a language barrier, you could still derive a lot of information by the chosen photos, their placement, size, body language and color of the individuals, etc.
When receiving mail art and text from individuals, you get a personal viewpoint that is often lacking in a news story. You can understand emotions and feelings and the presentation plays a critical role. Actual handwriting, elaborate art, inappropriate comments, misspelled words and incorrectly translated English all carry a meaning to the person receiving the message.
What is the essential thing about magazines? [by this I’m taking you to mean “zines” – to me there is a big difference between the two]. With zines, an opportunity is given to individuals to imprecisely and perhaps inaccurately present their thoughts, even if they are not completely formed or “wrong.” In a zine, you can read a rant, or perhaps a point of view that is not “politically correct”. These words are presented unsanitized and unprofessionally. A greater truth, and a greater freedom come from publishing all voices, especially when including those who would not normally be given a chance to share their viewpoints in a public forum.
RJ : Your new Global Mail looks wonderful. GM is not commercial at all. How do you manage to keep the zine alive?
Reply on : 1-5-1995 (internet)
AP : Your question comes at a very interesting time. There are three aspects to how I keep it going:
1. Financial Up to this point in time, Global Mail has mostly been funded by my reliance on credit cards. I went bankrupt on Good Friday this year (95), so I’m not too sure how I am going to be able to continue with the same high ideals. I have recently allowed myself the possibility of running advertisements on the back page. The distinction is that the ads will be for projects only, not products. I don’t know if this is going to work because everyone has access to free project listings, and if you are not making money off of a product, it is hard to justify spending money on an ad. I also have the current rate prohibitively high because I do not want to take many advertisements. This may seem like discrimination of a sort not everyone has money to publicize their projects in this way.
2. Emotional Persistence and Drive I have highs and lows, just as you would expect. When I am close to a deadline, it is very stressful but I also feel very responsible about getting everything accomplished to the best of my ability and on schedule. I get really manic up to the point of dropping it at the printer. After that point, I start a slow sink into exhaustion that leads to depression. It takes a long time to get feedback on the issue and so for a while it seems as though nobody liked it when really they just have not seen it yet.
I really appreciate comments from individuals. I especially like it when I introduce people to the net through Global Mail and they feel like their life has been altered.
I have always loved the variety of listings. Each issue has at least 500 listings, but there are only 4 5 that I consider hum dingers. By this I mean that they are shocking, or very funny, or cross some kind of boundary for me. I realize everybody’s hum dingers are different, I’m just talking about the sensation of newness and what that feels like. Each issue of Global Mail has been different in some way. It is probably not apparent to the casual reader, but for me there has been the experience of certain patterns, growth, and trends. A couple I can think of is the big surge of dream listings around a year and a half ago, and the current interest in co op zine publishing and distro. As far as growth or success for Global Mail as a vision, I’ve noticed a steadily increasing interest from groups that are traditionally not included. Getting listings from Latino and African American networks, as well as political listings from obscure countries means that others are starting to see Global Mail as really open to everyone. That is my biggest accomplishment, and the little successes in these areas is what really keeps me going.
3. Technical Nuts and Bolts As I have continued with Global Mail, I have steadily acquired more computer savvy to help me process the information in a logical and efficient manner. It may seem counter network to be organized and geeky about the computer, but there is no way for me to process all the info without this high tech help.
RJ : Because of the huge address-list that Global Mail includes you must get a lot of mail. Any statistics you know about that? Are you able to answer all the snail-mail and E-mail you get, or do you have to select?
Reply on : 14-5-1995 (Internet)
AP : I get roughly 100 pieces of mail a week, give or take 30 either way. This includes email. I find the mail tends to drop off in the summer and picks up again in the fall.
I certainly do not answer all my mail. Most are simple requests for a sample copy of Global Mail. These are the easiest to process, and I do manage to answer with a copy within a week. I get a lot of zines in trade, and I only acknowledge them with the next copy of Global Mail, unless it is something out of the ordinary, or a big improvement or change from the last version I saw. The people who write for specific items, or have specific questions take the longest time to answer. I refer to this as a pile of “lingering mail,” and it may take up to three months to answer some of it. I only have maybe ten or twenty regular correspondents.
Occasionally I do a big mailing of printed matter, hand made postcards, tubes of art, or boxes. I used to enter almost all mail art shows, and this is something I would like to get back in the habit of doing.
I’ve been doing much better about answering mail in the last year. I actually have a system in place that keeps the pile low and keeps me from getting bewildered by it. Strangely, those who send snail mail probably will get their questions answered before those asking through email, just because my system for email is not very efficient. Email builds up in the computer until I combine all my logs, print them out (about once every 6 weeks), and then answer. Whew! What a lag time. I also lost about 3 weeks of email once when my motherboard crashed. Such is life in the electronic age.
RJ : Do you like this electronic age?
Reply on 28-7-1995 (diskette)
AP: Yes, I feel very fortunate and blessed to have grown up in this part of history. I find it ironic that the first little box, the TV (which appeared miraculously in my mothers generation, and is what I grew up with), would be replaced by another box, the personal computer. I feel saved by this transformation of the box I watch every day. Instead of being a passive observer in front of the TV, and feeling alienated from the existence I am programmed to lead, I have created a real world, real networks, and real friendships. I am enthralled by the possibilities for a real development of global community. It’s so different than the image presented on TV for our consumption. It actually is a free exchange of ideas.
Now that I have experienced this electrical connection, I feel I am electricity itself, hurling through the universe.
RJ : Because you are active with snail-mail as well as electronic mail, the archiving of all the information you get must be a problem too. How do you deal with that?
Reply on 19-9-1995
AP: I don’t, sorry to say. I know that is going to drive everyone berserk. I’ve received numerous lectures on the topic, and all I can say is that it is not an activity I’m willing to take on. The e-mail I receive gets processed and stored for approximately two months. I do save email numbers when I have the energy, which I compile into an email directory. I also record all project notices in Global Mail. Other than transferring and recording the useful info, I have no interest in electronic data.
Tangible mail (as opposed to electronic data), gets dumped as well. You have to remember that the bulk of my mail consists of requests for Global Mail, notices for mail art projects, zines, and some mail art. All addresses get recorded into my mailing list, and notices get put into the Global Mail database and then dumped. I love keeping electronic records, and do feel that this is an important information base. Zines get recycled to other people, with the overflow going to John Held Jr. , the Chicagoland Great Lakes Underground Archive at DePaul University Library. Mail art gets saved or recycled. I try to reuse all decorated envelopes, and also use any stickers or miscellaneous small artworks in the mail I send out.
There is a collection of mail art I am hoarding (not archiving). I honestly don’t know what to do with it. I am waiting for the right person to come and take it off of my hands. I recently gave away all my chain letters to one person, and also gave away a lot of my artistamp collection to a couple of interested individuals. I have a good collection of political mail art I would like to save for posterity, but I manage to fit it in a few small boxes. I am open to anyone going through and taking any of what I presently have. I don’t think it’s right to hang onto things. I believe everything should be passed on after use. “I RECYCLE MAIL ART.”
(Because Ashley is going to move to San Francisco, she asked me to postpone the sending of the next question and to wait till she will contact me in January next year. She writes that she will then publish a BIG notice in the new issue of GLOBAL MAIL. So I have waited for her next mail to come….)
RJ : After your move from Chicago to San Francisco, the first questions that come up in my mind are: “Is it a big difference to live in another city?” and “Do you plan to issue a new copy of Global Mail?”. But I also know that moving and starting with a new part of ones life takes a lot of energy. I will wait for the answer to these questions till you are ready to answer them.
(On November 10th I received from Ashley’s new address her booklet “A TRAVEL DIARY” with on the cover “clean restrooms this exit”. In this booklets she describes her journey from Chicago to San Francisco together with her brother and cats. The text is written very direct and tells a lot about herself. The booklet documents the period 2 to 6 October, and was published on her birthday, the 19th of October).
Reply on 11-1-1996
(Together with Ashley’s answer I also got 10 copies of her new edition of Global Mail. The magazine looks better every time, and contains lots of info’ too. I am just one of the distributors of this magazine called “The hole to the underground”).
AP: Will there be a new issue of Global Mail? Yes! I managed to move and put together a new Global Mail. It’s a wee bit late due to the fact that I ran out of funds to mail it, but given the circumstances, I’m really happy I managed to pull it off. There will continue to be new issues as long as I can afford to produce them. At the point I can no longer afford production, it will probably continue as a web page, which is very inexpensive to maintain.
Has moving to another city changed things? Yes! The most important change has been the weather. I have a nice place in the sunny mission district. It’s barely been cold here yet. At night it goes down to 48F and during the day it gets up to 65F. It’s quite a big difference from Chicago. I’m used to rushing about to get out of the severe weather. I no longer have to rush, and can stroll through life. Its very enjoyable and life is pleasant here. Anything I need is within walking distance, and there are about five open markets within a block of my home.
I’ve experienced an earthquake, lots of fog, been up and down the coast, across bridges, in between mountains, stood at the edge of a cliff, been to islands, and experienced walking up a big hill. In general, I’m trying to make each day an adventure as best I can. Oh, I also have a new job in Berkeley, at a computer software firm.
I’ve begun many new social relationships with long time correspondents, which has been a very fun process. I’ve been meeting correspondents at the rate of two a week. Obviously I can’t keep up that kind of pace (nor would I want to!), but it has been exhilarating.
It’s amazing what a new city can do for the soul.
RJ : Well, Ashley, its time to end this interview. I thank you for your time and the chance to interview you in this important period of your life.
Ashley Parker Owens,
E-Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org (old)
People who want to get the current issue of Global mail can get it by sending $ 3,00. For a sample back-issue send 2 IRC’s or (inside the USA) a $ .55 stamp.
If you have a WEB-access, look at Issue #13 at
To make information available, there is a very good website to publish papers, books, etc. I have used it now to make all kind of informatio available for researchers. That way I don’t have to maintain a big website with all sources, but also can guide you to:
This new blog actually should be the central point of all my digital activities. So links to all blogs and websites that I already have and are still alive. beside that also blog-postings to major places and activities that I am involved in. Only one goal and that is to make the information better accesible. The Internet turnes into a chaos without good structures, and I am just trying to make a structure that I can keep up with. The result might be for you that you can find things again and don’t get lost.
Mail-Art for me is a conceptual artform in which I feel at home. Besides that I gradually have created also lots of art (drawings, pantings, silkscreen prints, etc) which I sometimes also share within the Mail-Art network.
A portfolio of my work can be found at:
One of the older envelopes that I sent out to José vanden Broucke in Belgium. I already worked a lot with acrylic paint then. If you are interested in seeing more outgoing mail-art I suggest you Google for my name and the subject you look for. The complete set I sent out is thousands of envelopes large and is all over the earth. I documented a lot to in digital form and that is placed on blogs that were started over the years. See for a good start the old IUOMA blog that is hosted at blogger.
You can access that here:
When you wonder where the old IUOMA website went, it is still online. The link to that place is the same:
and I even placed a link to that website in this blog. I will place more links to oplaces that are interesting for you, so from this BLOG you will eventually find a lot of things that I placed online.
The Menu structure has now been created. More texts from the old website will follow soon. Already 3 complete mail-interviews are online now, and the complete other set will follow too. The search button works, so you can look things up. Also I will document a selection of outgoing mail-art and incoming mail-art on this blog.
The main link to the IUOMA network at NING is also there. That is a lively place with over 1.000.000 pageviews a year. I started that 7 years ago and it has grown ever since with soon 4000 registered IUOMA-members.
Ruud Janssen with Carlo Pittore
TAM Mail-Interview Project
Started on: 10-5-1995
RJ: Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditionalquestion. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
CP: In response to your query, I began my Network mail art activity in1978, encouraged by Bern Porter. Although I had been decorating myletters with pen & ink drawings and water colors for years, inspired nodoubt by Vincents’ letters to Theo, I also learned that drawing on myletters was good practice.
When Bern Porter encouraged me to send an original postcard off to amail art exhibition, I was ripe for mail art. Not only had I been aphilatelist as a kid, but I was eager for community, and was anappreciator of intimate mailed communication.
By 1980, when I published the first issue of ME Magazine, I was a realpart of this expanding Network.
RJ: What was your ME Magazine about? Is it still alive?
Reply on 6-6-1995
(Carlo’s answer came in the form of a booklet made out of 12 different colors forming the rainbow. He also wrote below his answer: “I’d like tosee you reprint this colorful letter as sent…..what?”)
CP: I began ME Magazine in the summer of 1980 after the insult ofpaying an entrance fee to participate in an exhibition in Rockport,Maine. Similar work had already been accepted to hang in an elegantMadison Avenue Gallery in New York City, so when I went to theexhibition with a friend, I was shocked and humiliated that they hadfailed to inform me of rejection & that I was paying for the cheese andwine at the opening! That their rejection was merely subjective, and notaesthetic. I wanted everyone to know that I would never pay to exhibitagain, that their decisions were strictly subjective anyway, and that I nolonger would pursue the carrot at the end of the stick, that in art, Iwould not allow museum curators to control my life.
Also, I had spent the summer painting self-portraits, and makingself-portrait collages – so it seemed that as I was immersed in myself,and yet wanted mail art community, I would call my little publicationME, since it was about ME, yet a put down of ME-ism, and of course,ME is the postal abbreviation of Maine. I enjoyed the pun, and when Iasked recipients to send me a dollar bill to share in my publicationcosts, Ray Johnson was right there, circling the ME in America on theone dollar bill. Some understood.
I filled the 1st issue of ME with my art collages on the theme of selfportraiture, included pertinent quotes on the self, a personalreminiscence of Bern Porter (who’s home I was spending the summer of1980 at, at his Institute for Advanced Thinking, in Belfast, Maine) andother items of concern to me. When I mailed copies of the publicationto Maine artists, and to mail artists, it was the mail artists whoresponded, not my local friends, and it was at that time that I realizedwho my real comrades were…. and when I returned to Manhattan inSeptember, I was a wholly confirmed mail artist.
I opened my mail art gallery, La Galleria dell’Occhio at 267 East TenthSt. NYC in December 1980 – (the first gallery in what became the hotEast Village art scene) – “a homage to Bern Porter” exhibition, andafter the 2nd issue of ME was published in the spring of 1981,essentially on the theme of movement (i.e. motion pictures, or movingpictures, & repetition as in artistamps, I introduced myself, my gallery,my art, and my correspondents addresses to my readers.
The third issue was a play on the theme of ME, on the idea of theuniversal ME. I also enclosed the documentation of the Bern Portermail art Exhibition which I curated, and, too, the additionalintroduction of my POST ME and Bern Porter Commemorative StampSeries. ME = WE.
The 4th issue was an audio cassette letter, of songs, etc. inspired byRod Summers. The 5th issue was devoted to ME, ETC, or METC – tomy Maine Art and Mail art communities, with articles by John Evans,John Jacob, Valery Oisteanu, Mark Petroff, Stephen Petroff, andRoland Legiardi – Laura; and a document of the International Mail ArtExhibition Salva La Campagna Romana in Montecelio, Italy, which Icurated in the summer of 1982, the Boxing international mail ArtExhibition of February/March 1983, with a critique by critic Judd Tully;a declaration of War against exhibitions changing entry fees; astatement on Independence as ME and Community, lists of participatingartists, a listing of mail art exhibitions etc. approaching, and othermiscellany.
Issue #6, “International Mail Art is the most important & mostsignificant Art movement in the world today” was the document of theMaine International Mail Art exhibition at the Maine Festival inBrunswick, Maine, August 1983. Included were two sheets of artistamps,a Cavellini sticker, a Ray Johnson piece, postcards by David Zack,David Cole, Epistolary Stud Farm, Robert Swiekiewicz, Volker Haman,Ubaldo Giacommuci, Stephen Petroff and Eric Finlay, with a series ofstamps by Michael Leigh, and Mark Melnicove.
Tony Ferro published issue #7 in Italy, including a piece that I wroteabout the frustration of rejection, following my exhibition of FIST -boxing painting at Buster Cleveland and Diane Sippell’s Gallery inNYC.
I have not yet published issue #8, but I am not prepared to say it willnot happen. But I must add, that I was hurt by Géza Perneczky’s reviewof ME Magazine in his survey of small Press publications (1993). Hiscriticism was based on the fact that he failed to perceive the irony inME, the pun in ME/Maine, and POST ME (after ME) and theplayfulness of the entire endeavor.
Even mail artists can be as small minded, rigid and uptight as thedominant culture, although I would not have expected that from Géza,of who’s art I have the utmost respect. Let’s face it, none of us areperfect, and all of us make mistakes. Even ME.
RJ: How was your correspondence/dance with Ray Johnson?
Reply on June 18th 1995 “Father’s Day”
CP: Dear Ruud, You ask me about my correspondence/Dance with RayJohnson, and because of Ray’s exit on January 13th of this year, its beena Season of constant Ray Johnson thoughts, mentioned as he is inalmost every mail art communication; and between his memorialservice, and Feigen Gallery Memorial Exhibition, & all the articles inthe New York Times, Art Forum, etc., I have reason to reflect on thepublic Ray Johnson, and the man I knew.
As I said earlier, my first rememberable Ray Johnson communication,was a dollar bill with George Washington saying “ME”, as they do incartoons, with a megaphone drawn from the mouth with ME from A MERICA captioned . I thought that was pretty clever. Everyone is a ME inA ME RICA, first ME in the word AMERICA in the ‘bulb’like with a cartoon. The second ME in America as a country-sign on the bumper of a car.
The first time I met Ray was when he came to my East Tenth Streetapartment (Manhattan) to reunion with Bern Porter. Evidently, Bernhad published something with Ray in 1956!, and I don’t think they hadmet up with one another since then. But as both of them had grown intomature artists, it may have been a reunion of mutual appreciators. Bernis 17 years older than Ray, and Ray was always trim and healthy, and helooked like a kid next to Bern. Indeed, he even exhibited some of thatshy, nervous discomfit of being in the presence of an inquisitive adult.
One time I joined my family in Locust Valley for an anniversarycelebration, and I called Ray to say Hello, and to my surprise, he cameright over to meet me, and all of my extended family. The family wasslightly discomfitted: they knew Ray was not of their ilk. But Ray wasvery friendly to them and to me, and he made me feel like his equal. Ifelt very flattered. I told the family how great Ray was, and howimportant an artist he was, but as they had not heard of him at the time,they were less than suitably impressed.
Another time I hosted a mammoth Mail Art party, and who would havebelieved it? But Ray came. Mind you, he didn’t enter into my apartmentat this time, but remained in the hallway outside my door, holdingcourt. As everyone wanted to talk with Ray. The Hallway became theepicenter. He brought the Party to him.
Of course these were the years when the New York mail artists were allmy best friends: Buster Cleveland, Mark Bloch, John Jacob, John Evans,David Cole, Ed Plunkett, Jim Klein, Rimma and Valeriy Gerlovin, EdHiggins and all those pals who were frequent out-of-town visitors, likeRandom, Banville, Cracker, Saunders, et al. What a community! andwhat a sense of community! It really was a correspondance – and ofcourse there were those I met directly through Ray like Curtis Wells,Joseph Towne, Coco Gordon, Bill Wilson, Andy Warhol, John Russell,and others – including some local East Village types. Even though hewas rarely physically present, the spirit of Ray Johnson always was. Andeveryone had their Ray Johnson stories, or recent Ray conversations torelate. Ray Johnson always hovered over us.
At the opening of his Nassan County Museum exhibition in February1984, Ray greeted everyone on the grounds outside the museum wearinga sweater and blue jeans. And at the same time half the New York artworld was there! Dressed to the nines! All the New York mail artists,all the Fluxus artists, lots of dealers, critics, painters, pop artists,collectors, and others. It was a New York Gala 20 miles out of NewYork; what a testament to Ray’s visual art, and what a testament to hisever-widening correspondance.
I’m trying to think if I ever saw Ray after that… oh yes, at a Long IslandPerformance of his; wasn’t he funny! He always made a big deal aboutdoing Nothing. Our sensibilities are very dissimilar – but I alwaysappreciated him even when failing to appreciate fully his zen-likeattitudes. He hated prose which he saw everywhere stifling art. His wasa war against practicality & the pragmatic. He wanted poetry all thetime. Art -all the time. BRAVO!
Since his apparent suicide, I’ve read a lot about Ray, and wrecked mymemory, and thought back on our meetings and conversations, hisphone calls to me, especially since I returned to Maine, his mailings, hisinfluence, his relationship to the world-wide community of artists….. somany of whom apparently felt very close, humored, inspired, andappreciative of Ray. If influence determines artistic merit, Ray’sinfluence is quite profound at the moment. There are many who werepart of, and who evidently still feel part of his correspondance. Was hethe father of mail art? His spirit still emanates and manifests itselfthroughout the Network.
Of his apparent suicide, one friend thought his act an act of cowardice,but I don’t see it that way at all. Jumping off a high bridge into frigidJanuary waters, from my point of view, requires far greater couragethan I could imagine mustering.
If his decision was askew, his execution was flawless, regardless. And Iam not in any position to judge him, or his action.
RJ: The mail art network has grown enormously in the last decades. Isthere still this ‘sense of community’ as you called it. Or do you see somechanges in the network?
Reply on 4-7-1995
CP: Your question Ruud, is not very simple. If “community” is an ideal,let me say that as a classically oriented figurative painter (primarily ofthe nude) living in Maine, USA, in 1995, I am isolated, if not alienated.The few figurative painters I know are so damn competitive and self-inflated, that there is no dialogue whatsoever. In the world in which mybody inhabits, painting is neither chic nor affordable, and complicatingthis is that it is an extremely difficult activity. Indeed, drawing is oftentimes more difficult and elusive then I care to elaborate. In such asituation, I play mail art merely to keep in touch with my Network palsof almost 20 years.
When I was younger, and more open to whatever I believed Art to bemore inclusive, and I engaged in multi-media activities; newsletter,magazine & book publishing, movies, gallery operating, poetryperformance art, audio, video, TV, radio, painting & mail-art. It allseemed to be a unit.
As life has become more complicated, and drawing and painting moretime-consuming and difficult, I am more focused on my greatestobsessive pleasures: drawing and painting.
While I still enjoy playing mail art with old network buddies of almost20 years, and some new friends as well, we have all gone in our owndirections, and Art is not as facile as it once was (or as we may haveseen it) and in my own case, I haven’t had the money to publish anythingI’ve done since the middle 1980’s ; what monies I have I need to pay therent and pay for my art supplies. Postage has become prohibitive. Mailart, as Bern Porter reminded me for years, is not a vocation, but anavocation (I haven’t been to Europe since 1984, either)
Having said that, let me not overstate my own private concerns ofdrawing and painting, nor undervalue my own very important communalinvolvement with mail artists. I could easily make a list of a hundredmail artists I love, a hundred whom I admire, a hundred to whom I amthankful for inspiration, help, love, concern, encouragement; and thereis NO question in my mind that mail art has been an extremelyrewarding, and exhausting activity.
If the “sense of community” is not as it was, for me, in the early 1980’s -it may be that so many friends have moved on, died, moved away, andtoo, that mail art has changed, or hasn’t changed. Ego, which has alwayshad a major involvement in mail art, is still unrestrained in some veryactive practioners, and art is, as always, RARE, and more wondrous anddesireable than ever. The mail artists I feel closest to are eitherpersons I love, or whose art I admire, or both. And in the case of myown works, which has become so problematic, maybe it is too difficultto love, and consequently, we, as individuals, too difficult to love.
Because art is so fragile, and the artist so insecure, it is easy to fluffoneself up, to grandstand, & to parade. Maybe, when we were younger,that’s what we were, a parade of grandstanders. Except that someamongst us have achieved some aesthetic heights. And some of us mayhave made Art. Others may have been amusing; others, useful.
Do we today share a common aesthetic? A common goal? A commonheritage? A common concern? Some of us are aesthetes. Some poets,some intellectuals. Some intuitive….. and all of us aging, & possibly aswell, with diminishing resources, patience, time, etc.
Fifteen years ago, maybe 80% of mail artists would have read thisinterview, but now, even if 80% received this interview, how many willtake the time – will have the time – to read this? And rightfully so. Whatcould I say that is new, fresh, original, energizing, or inspiring? Theseare just words I am writing out – PROSE. Who has the time, &/or theinterest? I much prefer original hand made drawings myself, than words.Printed Matter has overwhelmed all of us in the last decade, and unlessit were a four color glossy with reproductions of our own work, whocares?
And who am I, a solitary, living far away in Maine, to talk aboutCommunity? And what would this “Community” be? For me, Communitywould be a community of artists who are different, & yet unique, andwho have artistic respect and admiration for each other. TheCommunity to whom I feel that “Sense” is out there. Indeed, it may wellbe you, dear reader. I can only hope it will also include me.
There are a hundred mail artists with whom I feel that “Sense ofCommunity”; some of whom I love so much that their art is acceptable;others of whom their art is so laudable, they are acceptable. And thenthere are others who are both, and others who are not loveable, butthen again, they may be useful to the community, and thereforelaudable.
Since I do everything by hand, I value those who value the handmade,those who value the maker of the hand-made (especially those who lovemy figurative art) and who sing and celebrate the hand-made, the one-ofa kind.
I do not E-mail. I have NO computer. I may never have a computer. Iput my hand into the soil of my backyard and garden and growvegetables and flowers. And put my hand around the pencil and draw.And around the brush and paint. And around the pen, & write.
I am involved in the community that values my humanistic activity, as Ivalue my friends, and colleagues who ply their activities with equalintegrity. I love poetry, music, sculpture, drawing, painting, love, beautyand all those who practice it, celebrate it. obsess on it. They…. (You?)are my community. This is my sense.
RJ: What is a computer for you?
Reply on 28-7-1995
CP: OK. A computer for me is a series of electrical circuits designed tosimulate (artificial) intelligence…. and art for me is intuitive, sensual,senvous, and anti-mechanical. I understand that the computer has greatvalue & uses, but like the TV – it can also lower standards as well asimprove some things. Letter writing, for instance, is ruined by thetelephone and Email. I prefer my own slow handwriting to the machine.
RJ: Do you still participate in mail art projects when you get aninvitation or have you become selective in answering your mail?
Reply on 26-8-1995
CP: I always try to accept personal invitations. It’s not selective assuch, that determines my mail art involvement (although who doesn’twant some selectivity in where one puts oneself or ones parts) butusually TIME.
I don’t know or understand how time has become so fleeting, but it has,and perhaps as well, my priorities have also changed. I always laughwhen I tell people that there are only three aspects of life that interestme: Love, Art & Food, and I think that order is generally correct,although food goes to 1st place a couple of times a day, and love hasvery indefinite borders.
Mail – the nature of my mail is sometimes very thrilling, especially if itincorporates love. I am always turned onto a handwritten note, or alengthy letter, or something decidedly original, or specifically heartfelt, but much in the mail has become understandably, cold, printed, mass-produced…. alas.
I always appreciate artistic brilliance – even if mass-produced orxeroxed, but “artistic brilliance” in an ideal, & since I often fall short ofit, I’m not in any position to lament its demise in others.
One reads in mail art circles how a mail artist is so isolated & alone,except for the network, & I understand this, & have felt this, but I ammaking a concerted effort to relate better with my local community. Ithink this is more important, rather than less important. Mail is avehicle for communication. but also, perhaps, of NON-involvement, ofselective involvement, of partial disguise…..
RJ: In mail art there are the unwritten rules, actually written downmany times, but it seems that in the last years more and more rules havebeen broken. I remember you used to write sometimes open letterswhen someone broke these rules. Does it still bother you?
Reply on 19-9-1995
CP: When I wrote my angry letter to Ronny Cohen (1984, FranklinFurnace Mail Art Exhibit) I felt she betrayed us by “editing” the show,putting the classic mail artists in glass cases, and relegating the othersto oblivion. I have not hesitated in attacking other art critics, whencalled for, but I have always been hesitant to attack other artistspublicly. It has become quite obvious that some mail artists are cashingin on the system, however, who can entirely blame them? Almost anyway an artist can survive in this economy today is acceptable.
I do think “mail art” has pretty much run its course. It is no longercutting edge, no longer avant garde; it has been co-opted, and what weare seeing is the end, not a lull. While there are still some verylegitimate exciting exceptions, mail art is a misnomer. And who knowswhat art is anymore, anyway?
At a symposium on Public Art in Portland, Maine, last weekend(September 9th 1995), I heard Lucy Lippard, Suzi Gablik, SuzanneLacy, and Mierle Ukeles rail against art as precious object, and art asanything less than a relationship with the community. No longer is artan eye, Suzi Gablik said, but an ear. We must learn to listen, and tohear.
Who can argue that mail art is still fulfilling the kind of need it filledbefore E-mail, before the end of the communist Empire, before thedeath of Ray Johnson?
Mail is still fun, and the exchange is still valuable, but is it still art? Tothe believer, the question is irrelevant. One does what one likes.
But as for Art? In an age when Mierle Ukeles shakes hands with 8,500sanitation workers and calls THAT art, then everything can be art, andconsequently, nothing is art. I do what I like. Art be damned. Is itcommunity relevant? And anyway Ruud – the breaking of what rules?The “unwritten” mail art rules of not mixing money & mail art? -Broken! The “unwritten” mail art rules of “No fee, Exhibition &documentation” – how many more lists do you need, with your name onit? Boring! Boring! Boring!
If the art sent is not art, if the exhibition held is not art, if thedocumentation provided is not art – is it still art?
If so, what is your definition of Art? And who cares?
RJ: Yes, I realize that there is a lot of repetition in mail art, especiallywhen I get those same themes in projects again, and when I get anotherxeroxed list of a project. But the advantage of being for a long time inmail art, is that you receive many invitations and you have the luxury ofignoring the projects you don’t like and can focus on the interestingthings in mail art. Mail art still brings me surprises, and that is why Iam still doing it. Mail art still guides me to new aspects I can integratein my life. I am not interested in a definition of ART or in one of themany definitions of MAIL ART. I just want to have a creative life, butactually sometimes don’t really know what I would like to create. Yourpaintings, the letters that you write and mail. Why do you do it. What doyou want to create?
Reply on 19-10-1995
CP: You ask me why I draw & paint, and what do I want to create?Firstly, after drawing and painting for more than a quarter century, Ilove it. I don’t need a purpose beyond the joy, excitement and pleasure Ifeel while drawing and painting. That isn’t the way it has always been,but that is the way it is now, and I assure you I am most grateful for thiscondition: of enjoying what I am doing, enjoying the process (and theletters that I write, too!). It makes me a very happy man.
I suppose if I had a purpose, it would be to celebrate the joy of living,to celebrate life in all its manifestations, to celebrate goodness, love,care, concern, beauty. I would try to discourage violence, self-violence,hate, self-hate, bigotry, blindness, ignorance, and detrimentalbehaviors. For me, there is a real moral component in art – not thatthere has to be – but I feel compelled to celebrate, and compelled toredeem, to save, to preserve, to defend, to honor, to sustain, to keep,and compelled to fight against evil, injustice, unkindness.
Maybe the mere making of a drawing &/or painting is this: a testamentof the goodness in life, a celebration of sober humanity. I want to helpcreate a world where people are motivated by a sense of community, tocelebrate beauty in all its manifestations, to enjoy, to appreciate, tohear, to see, to touch, to be….. I am happy, I enjoy living, I appreciatebreathe – and I want to share this with others: to love.
Thank you Ruud for your interest in me, & what I think and feel. Beingloving, & supportive, as you are, is most creative. Blessings to you, andyour projects.
RJ: I also want to thank you, for the sincere answers you gave duringthis interview and the time and energy you took for writing down yourthoughts and feelings.
– END –
one of the answers….
Reproduced with the permission of
TAM, Further reproduction without the written consent of
Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.
Mail-artist: Carlo Pittore, P.O.Box 182, Bowdoinhan, ME, USA 04008-0182
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen – TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, Netherlands
Ruud Janssen with José van den Broucke
TAM Mail-Interview Project
Started on 15-7-1996
RJ: Welcome to this mail interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
(On July 24th 1996 José wrote to me that he will take part in the interview-project. Probably he will answer in English and partly in Dutch language.)
Reply on 23-8-1996
JvdB: Dear Ruud, I first saw the combination of the words “mail” & “art” end of the year 1980. As a name on the list of visitors of the International Cultural Center of Antwerp I received their program for September. One of the issues was about a certain “Antwerp International Mail Art Festival” organized by Guy Schraenen. “Mail-Art” was an absolute unknown idea to me. I had no education, not in general, not in art-history nor any art discipline. I was a dissident from two local art schools, because I had no technical crafts talent and I acted too self-opinionated. I had not heard about Dada, nor about Fluxus; nobody said anything to me, a working class unskilled angry young introvert mother’s darling. After I had met Electric Mirei and learned sex from her and became the father of her children into this society, as a result wonderful madness woke up in my body and mind. I wrote some poems and did some proletarian lectures about the situation of the individual into society. I was also deeply touched by the readings of the ‘Alpha Cyclus’ of the Belgian writer Ivo Michiels, some writings of Samuel Becket and some documents about Julien Beck’s Living Theater.
I started participating to the International Mail Art Festival Antwerp by sending a first message on 23.12.1980, followed by the sending of a series of photocopies. My name appeared for first in a mail art publication on the front page of Guy Schraenen’s publication Libellus #4 January 1981. The first reproduction of a fragment of my sent mail art was in Libellus #10 July 1981 page 4. It was a fragment of my letter from 23.12.1980. But the real initiation still has to come. So the next autumn I went to see the International Mail Art Festival exhibition at the Antwerp ICC. As a complete virgin I entered the many huge rooms full of hundreds of letters, collages, small papers, nosenses, audio-tapes, a few chaotic videos and strange ‘worthless’ mailed objects. I was furious to see all that quantity of what looked as a ‘undecodable’ chaos to me. I was shocked! I went back home and made a large letter ‘for the organizer’ to express my consternation. I took a piece of paper from a size bigger than my body and wrote in giant letters on it: “Dear Guy, I was visiting the mail art festival on Saturday 3.10.81, and I was not satisfied! So I ask you, please dear Guy, hang this piece of paper on the walls at the mail art festival exhibition so that the visitors can see > read > know that I suppose that mail art is only art if it brings me closer to the people, and the people closer to me.” I brought the letter the very same night to the post office of Deerlijk to mail it to Antwerp. The next night I got a telephone from “the organizer” Guy Schraenen himself. Guy said that he would not hang my letter above the mail that was already on the wall because by using such a big size I had a kind of totalitarian effect on the exhibition, who’s principal form was the multiform quantity of the mostly about A4 sized artworks. We had a telephone conversation and at the end of the conversation the meaning of what “mail art” was in 1981 had opened its mysterious and playful possibilities for me: I was a M.A. enthusiast
(José enclosed copies of the pages that he mentions in this first answer together with his typed answer so I can relive the time he had then.)
In spring 1982 I asked Guy Schraenen a list of mail artists. he sent me 38 names and addresses. I sent them all my “Possible Letter”. I received 8 reactions, under which the first letter from Guy Bleus, Pawel Petasz, Vittore Baroni, Rod Summers, Piotr Rypson.
From this first small project I got new addresses, by which I could participate to Baroni’s ‘Arte Postale!’ and Sonja van den Burg’s “Show me the way to your star, so we can share from far.” This was the start for my first real co-operation. The co-operation with Sonja who was together with Margot van Oosten the editors of “Sun Echo”, that was an important mail-art compilation magazine, lasted many years and gave me a lot of inspirations. By meeting Sonja van der Burg I experienced for first how complex and pleasant human relations and artistic co-operation could join together (the personal contact).
Under the nick name “Mailed A” I did a third project “Send Me Something You Forgot And I Shall Remember”. 43 invitations, 15 reactions, under which the first contact with Catastrophe X Jonas Wille, who should also become an important art-partner for many years. Here I also got my first letter from Robin Crozier who sent me a memory/malaise/history form.
So this is my answer to your first question (While writing this answer to you I’m listening to a very interesting radio-program about the punishment of social not accepted sexual activities during the Middle Ages. I don’t have to my job today. Temple Post M.A. is always deeply influenced by actual circumstances: I don’t add life to art. I add art to life.)
RJ:With all the data and copies of the originals I presume that you are documenting your activities quite well. Is that important for you?
(Before his answer José wrote me twice that he was working on the answer.)
Reply on 10-10-1996
(José sent me by separate mail his report about his bicycle-trip from Deerlijk to Habay-la-Neuve, where he met with Baudhuin Simon. With his answer José sent me 15 photo’s of the state his TEMPLE looks like nowadays to illustrate his answer)
JvdB: Dear Ruud, I can’t find your letter with the second question anymore, but I still remember that you asked me about my archive. You wrote that my first answer to your first question gave the impression that I have a well documented archive.
So in answer I must tell you that I could never succeed in trying to get my M.A. archive in good order nor to get rid of it. The Temple Post M.A. archive is a mirror of my way of living: I dream of a good order but I live in chaos, and I constantly suffer the all too much beauty and quantity but I can’t let it all behind. Seen from the contradiction: archived or conserved art versus living art, the archive is on the side of death (framed, catalogued, conserved pieces of art, such as paintings, sculptures, books, photographs, etc…. so all things that are elements of M.A.)
But fighting my love to recycle all old art (the received mail) into new art (the mail to send away) I realize that if we want to show M.A. as art phenomenon or as instrument of logical or non-logical society interventions, we must have a ‘product’ such as catalogues, exhibitions, reports, books, occasionally or definitive framed works. A good ordened archive is a principal need to be able to take the materials for books, articles, exhibitions, etc…. from it. I think the largest M.A. Archive in Belgium is the Guy Bleus Administration Centre Archive. When I was at his house and saw all the rooms and racks full of boxes, names, paper, impressions, expressions of all those wonderful people all over our postal world, I wanted to get away, because all that Art(ificial) Life seems to cover the daily life as a monster used to do with its prey. M.A. isn’t that strange from the classical exhibited arts: The museum is a palace of death art. Living people must be very careful with it!
Of course as real M.A. freak I want to have ‘my archive’! But due to the many correspondents who send me too frequently their interesting things, asking me to answer, to give information’s, to feed their day- and night-dreams, to encourage, to give correct information, to discuss by letter, to answer as fast as possible, to send money or to do not send money, to send this letter to that person, to find out where a certain correspondent lives, or what happened with him, to participate to ecological, political, sexual protests and provocation’s, etc…. I am not able to order the mail from yesterday and the days before, because every day I have new M.A. to face, care for, work out. On the average I usually receive 5 letters a day and answer the same quantity.
The Temple Post Archive can be described into layers:
* First layer: The received, not yet read, seen, opened mail. (Some days I don’t open mail, because I’m mentally not ready to have new impressions. Some mail with too long theoretical texts about art or particular mail art are put aside for a long time, because more important information has priority.)
* Second layer: Opened, seen, read mail that has to be answered. (I try to limit the quantity of this layer by using a book in which I write down the receiving date and the date of answering the letter. Some letters have to wait to be answered four seasons or more. Other letters, particular the love-letters are often answered immediately. Letters which stay too long unanswered are often send to another receiver. I also want to limit the new correspondents by sending their first letter to The Temple to another Networker and only sending the original sender a message in which I warn him that I won’t answer his M.A. personally. But as many new correspondents give the impression of being very interesting, I can’t resist sending some personal answer.)
* Third layer: The answered but not classified mail. This is an enormous mountain. Different mountains. To slow down the speed of communication I also often wait several days to bring answers in addressed already closed envelopes to the post-office. To exclude misunderstandings I use my stamp ‘closed but not send on……’
* Forth layer: The Archive itself. Boxes with classified mail. I classify the received mail country by country. When a certain sender has enough sent mail, I give a complete box to his M.A. Some senders have more than one box. I also try (in which I failed until today) to make list on the kind of mail I receive: Postcards, artistamps, photos, art-books, stickers, rubber stamps, audio-tapes, video-tapes, catalogues. But as I wrote before: The Temple Archive is a Temple of Chaos. No classification System succeeds long enough. Systems are mixed with systems and crossed by periods of non classification, I’m too slow to be able to control the Temple Post Network Section.
Usually I send more than I receive. It takes a lot of my life-time and money. The last time I ordered the mail from this pre-classification (third layer) into the real archive classification (forth layer) was in may 1995! (with the aid of my children). So you can imagine what a hell it is to me when I want to find back a certain text or artistamp or postcard etc…. to use it as comment-material in an exhibition or to documentate an article or talk about the M.A. movement. It is as going to Hades to find back the wandering soul of an unforgettable companion. So in order to develop my love and hate feelings towards ‘archiving-ordering’ I can do three things:
1. Burn or throw it all away.
2. Ask every sender what I must do with the mail he/she ever sent to the Temple (what should be an immense work).
3. Accept the lovely chaos that all senders and myself create around me.
Mostly I try to do the third. Sometimes I use received mail as original (no copying) material to answer the senders or someone else, sometimes I throw it away somewhere in town, on the road, in a station or pub, etc…, so that an occasional finder can possibly get ‘touched’ by the poetry of M.A. (the principle power of the Network as a movement). When I received disgusting letters (which almost never happens) I send the letter back ‘return to sender’ or extremely unacceptable mail (such as fascist manifests or menace-messages) I collect it in black shut envelopes as ‘poison to be careful with’. Sometimes I show mail in the window on the street-side at my home, so that my neighbours and those who, walking or cycling, are passing by, can have a look and read the story from ‘someone of this time and planet’. With intimate letters, such as love-letters I am very respectful and will never ‘spread’ these into the Network.
In fact the principal Temple Post Archive is not the materials that I have in here, but the copies or originals from received mail that I all or not multiplied, distributed again into the Network.
The Archive can’t be more than a kind of a dusty shady lovers room, after the lovers went away, both back on their own personal path through the labyrinth.
The idea of ‘Archived Mail Art’ makes me melancholic and sad.
Often my wife and children say that I am living in a paper world. They are right. Often I am isolated with boxes, lists, date-stamps, photographs, stories, small or bigger art-works, audio cassettes, video cassettes (I have no player nor monitor!), and even CD-ROMs (I have no PC that can read CD-ROMs ; see my reaction on Guy Blues’ sending of the beautiful Artistamp CD-ROM), and I wish I could send myself away in an envelope to be able to spend the night with M.A. princesses or start just one more utopian post dAdA-, post Fluxus-, post-Post revolution with all those beautiful peace and freedom loving senders of the papers and other materials that are the building stones and the dust of the “The Temple” -chaotic Archive.
My actions as an artist, in M.A., in poetry, in performance, in photography, and in the daily life, are all about freedom of sexuality and human relationships, the astounding beauty of nature and the human body, justice in society construction and guidance, brotherhood in food and energy spreading and freedom of speech. My house is full of boxes, full of mail, talking about hope, about revolution, about internationalism, about sexuality, about the construction of a global world, open world, no frontiers world, no selection world, not for sale world, but sometimes I think that at the end I will just be a fool on a mountain of dreams, dissolved frustrations and loneliness. The god of art is the god of loneliness. Also in M.A. my archive is not a solution for my solitude. Nor for the one of the sender. We’re all ones in the crowd. That’s beautiful. So The Archive is not of principal importance. It is only the memory of a future wonderful past: The Temple in The Actual Time and Actual Global Situation.
Enclosed some photo’s of The Temple situation beginning of September 1996.
While working on this answer I heard the news about Afghanistan. As young man in the late sixties, I was told that god was love. Now I hear that god is oil/energy and that the holy places are where the pipelines must be controlled. I’m sure that in the next century god will be information. So free exchange will be more and more difficult. Be careful for the coming god. Don’t trust the preachers. Keep your eyes and ears wide open. Stay in touch with individuals, don’t accept ‘the voices of those who pretend to speak for the people’.
RJ: Could you explain more precise what you mean with: “don’t accept ‘the voices of those who pretend to speak for the people”. Who are these “preachers”?
Reply on 20-11-1996
JvdB: Dear Ruud, The answer to your question I gave years aMoniek Darge from Studio Logos in Gent (Belgium), but I can’t find the text right now. Consider this card as my reply.
(On the other side of the card there was an article with the text “Nuclear Power Lobby boycotts research on the development of cheap solar cells.”)
RJ: I thought you meant ‘preachers’ inside the mail art network, but now I understand you speak of preachers in our society. For some mail artists the mail art network is a lot of ‘fun and games’, but for you it seems to be a reaction to the current world we live in. Does (or did) mail art change the world? (A difficult question, I know, but I am curious about your answer).
Reply on 18-1-1997
(José sent me his answer twice. Due to the large amount of mail I got, and the travels abroad, I only was able to retype his long answer in June 1997, and this was the time I sent him the next question.)
JvdB: Dear Ruud, I received your reaction (next question) on my preceding #1 on 2 December 1996. Now on 18 January 1997 I finally find some time to answer. Meanwhile I made a trip to ArtPool (where I found after sending two letters to announce my arrival only a closed door and a telephone answering-machine) and to Vincze Laszlo M.A. participant living at Tâigu-Mures, Transylvania, North of Roumania (Where me and Electric Mirei were welcomed as friends and enjoyed a wonderful hospitality.)
My answer to the question if mail art change(d) the world is: YES. But behind this simple word we must see a whole complex of hopes and disillusions. I know many creative people who begin to participate to the Network with a lot of engagement, to stop a few years later, disappointed about the results of their efforts. I think that particular mail art , especially because of its statement ‘Not for sale’ is ‘Art Inutile’. In this society it is very difficult to continue spending time and money on activities that don’t give you any financial feed-back. And because of the Art Of Loneliness (Mail art is isolating you at your desk, at the copymachine, at your Pc-screen) you will also don’t enjoy much physical company of all those you call ‘dear friends’ (you will never meet most of the people you are networking with, and when you’ll meet them the contact will be fast, loaded with exchange-passions, and for every ‘Personal Contact’ manifestation you will need a real guerilla-attitude to find the time and money to do M.A. Tourism.) I understand those who say that M.A. is just a faked impossible dream.
But it changed the world because it did something that never happened before: Via the evolutions coming from Dada and Fluxus and via the arthistorical fact of Ray Johnson’s New York School of Correspondence a strange thing happened from within the world of artists: Doors were opened for a huge quantity of people who are not familiar with the art-scene. Within the meaning of the magic words ‘No Jury’ a boiling chaos of exchanges between artists and non-artists, southern and northern people, fools and intellectuals, started living as A Thing Nobody Could Orchestrate. The consequence is that all of us receive often a lot of bullshit-papers, obsessional messages, and so on: Mail art is rubbish, dust, noise, materialized absurdity, hope against all misery and hypocrisy! Dada was everything that was not before. Mail art is Nothing New. Nobody-Art. Anonymous fame. No-thing of Any Value.
There are only two reasons to continue Mail art:
1. Because one is an adept of receiving/sending out communication Signs (MAIL-art).
2. To maintain contact from Artist to Artist (mail-ART).
I don’t believe that mail art is able to have an influence on other fields than those belonging to these two activities.
Mail-art didn’t change the world outside the mail art circuit as art in general didn’t change the world in general. Only if art can penetrate into society it is able to change the world. Often we see that ‘dangerous’ art phenomenon’s such as the Berlin Dada-movement had the potency to change the world but because of this it was pointed as a kind of political-criminality (artists can get arrested because their work/actions have an influence on society evolution). I believe that Mail art and E-mail excists thanks to institutions such as the National Postal Services and the PC hard- & soft-ware business. Networking is not a creation from the artists, but an economical development within the concept Mail art Network is playing its game.
Mail-art as activity is equal to all arts: It uses certain possibilities to Play. The meaning of the idea of “Playing” is a dissident thing into society of “exploitation” with mainly financial goals. The difference between The Play of the classical fine arts and Mail-art is that mail-art also plays with its own value: Mail-art works have no value (it is Not For Sale). So many people doing Not for Sale activities within the idea of L’Art inutile is the principle changing I can see. But it will lead to the same nothing as all Arts: The wonderful Nobody Nowhere World of poetry and nonsense’s. every try to make catalogues, exhibitions, public manifestations, publications, readings, etc…. is a try to survive the self-destruction of Mail-art. But the self-destruction of Mail-art seen as ‘Art for a certain person’ or ‘Art from a certain period’ is irreversible. No-one will ever be able to point out ‘The end of Mail-art’. Mail-art will dissolve into the 21st century of communication possibilities and business. It seems to be impossible for me to say that Mail-art doesn’t exist and never existed.
Art is or business or destruction. Mail-art is part of what Duchamp called ‘The Artist Of Tomorrow Will Go Underground’. Excepts certain exceptions, such as the action to liberate Clemente Padin from jail in the seventies (or was it another decenia?) , Mail-art and all networking is just a try to play with possibilities such as mail-traffic, fax-machines, computer networks. But seen from the inside I think that Mail-art exchange/networking changed many of the visions on living within a certain society and within the so-called ‘global village’ of the enormous amount of networker-individuals. As well the networker is an invisible person as his ‘art-work’ stays hidden for the outsiders. The networking idea is situated into a philosophy as expressed by Foucault (also expressed by Warhol: everybody can be famous for a few seconds): This time has no longer centers of power and famous people, all individuals are a small center of power on themselves. Into the more commercial level we see how ‘stars’ become famous very fast and ‘disappear’ a few years later with the same speed as a kind of ‘out of use’ products. We see the same in politics. We see the same into Mail-art where participants lose their possibilities to send out mail (Only Senders Can Be Located). Everybody seems to be reduced by the media into ‘a temporary exploitable hero’. Mail-art started in the heart of this ‘media’ phenomenon. Good mail-art networking is when mail artists can find personal and evoluting solutions for this 21st century monster of ‘communication’. The networker is closer to the original idea of dada than to ‘someone who will change the world’. For many networkers the networking is a personal statement for personal use. Many of us don’t believe in rose gardens. We know that we don’t have the power. We exist and we try to maintain a kind of existence we regard as senseful. That’s why we spend time and money. I know that some do it ‘to change’. But mostly they are focussed on the art institutions, such as galleries, museums, publications, etc….. but they are only ‘the artists’ into the net. Besides them there are an enormous quantity of people participating without having any other goal than ‘to change’ their own circumstances as individual towards ‘certain others’ and to ‘maintain’ this New Activity. This ‘persistency’ is often directed more towards ‘the one on the other side’ than towards ‘the personal profit’.
Mail-art and networking changes the world of every participant, but I don’t think it is able to change ‘the world’ . For those who want to promote political, ecological, etc…. activities I think that it is better to use other channels such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International and all organized political, ecological, etc…. action-groups. Here I want to remind Clemente Padin’s famous words: ‘M.A. isn’t sufficient.”
Other Networkers build up an archive of interesting and often quality art works. During my visit at Vincze Laszlo in Târgu-Mures Transylvania I saw how the ‘Ex-Libris’ – makers (lino-cut on small format) have their own net for exchange their experiences and artworks. A main part of internet is about exchange of sex-themes. So we can’t say that communication/exchange networks are a creation of the Mail-artists. But in the seventies and the eighties the Mail-art network became a phenomenon that grew above all other networks, especially within the sub-culture of people who are interested into personal expression such as artists and creative people in general. Mail-art opened doors that were never open before.
A second answer to your question is about how mail-art changed my life. It gave me the enormous treasure of being in touch with so many people I couldn’t ever be in touch with without the network. But maybe instead of the Ray Johnson NY School of Correspondence / Fluxus / Ben Vautier / etc…. histories, a net of pure correspondence could have given me all the personal information and tourism possibilities I enjoyed. While I was very active into the mail-art network I got more and more isolated from the world around me, such as my family and my local society. Because Mail-art wasn’t able to change the world which is the world of daily lies, media manipulation and development of norms which are often creating a system of exclusion. Due to the information and the contacts within the mail-art network I could read, hear, meet people and their messages who gave me a place into the chaos reality is. I lost my place into the fake world and became a clown in love with so many personalities that I call some of them ‘my dearest friend’ or ‘O my lover lover lover.’ Although I’ll never be able to meet them and build the society we all perceive in our dreams. Mail-artists aren’t The New Power (black or white, fuck it) but The Invisible Dissidents Of The Dealy Exploitation Of All Creativity And Artistry. Beginning this century Dada was the best soap available. The last half of the Xxth century is washed by Mail-art. Thanks to it I could often clean away the omnipresent shit of this Big Monster (Communication Systems) Era within which honesty is measured into degrades of lying and almost all water became undrinkable.
But because of Mail-art I became a double dissident: The first part of the expression: Mail (no jury / all that can be send by mail…) made me a dissident to the Art-institutes (no financial nor other support for exhibitions, travelling, no publications by any local nor governmental cultural organization.) The second part: art, made me a dissident to the establishment (all real artists are criticizing the establishment of society). So after 16 years of Mail-art activity very little is left. I lost more than I gained. It is almost time to leave. That’s why I feel the importance to answer your question as clear as possible. I do it now. For this TAM-interview project that I regard as Something Interesting. I’ll never do it again.
On your question if Mail-art changed the world I can easily answer: NO it didn’t.
It will be funny to have been part of this indefinable movement that wasn’t able to change anything but its own participants. And I’ll be very sad when it will be The End. (‘Cause the media is the message , Life is art, Merz for ever’).
RJ: In your long answer you tell also a little about your travels to other mail-artists. Sometimes your trips bring you to quite isolated places where there are mail-artists who aren’t always able to send out mail. Why this choice?
Reply on 5-9-1998
(Because of a break I took the answer was only retyped in April 1998, and the interview was continued. José wrote in his last letter besides the answer that he hasn’t that much time to continue the interview, so after his long answer I will only ask one more question…..)
JvdB: In the expression ‘Mail-Art’ we have two words. The double synthetic idea. The second part ‘Art’ is about a new kind of art that is build on collectivity and co-operating. This can easily be done without personal contact. Often the distance and the mystery of the other one on the other side of the sender-receiver playground is a main element of the desire to send and joy to receive, the mail-art exchange. Mail-art without personal contact is mysterious, erotic.
The first word ‘Mail’ is about the constant creation of an undependent alternative system/network for global village info exchange. The more we can do this mail (exchange or information & art), by direct personal contact, the more its goal: the global village construction, is approximated. So the ultimate communication is the personal meeting.
On artistic level this can be practiced by doing occasional co-art-actions that might be public or not, and by doing occasional congress mail-art (by snail-mail), by fax or telephone, by e-mail.) On the social level it can be practiced into love- and friendship-relation building (emotional/sexual and social solidarity) and particular into being guided within the social reality of the visited inviting mail-art partner (experiencing the local circumstances, the home town, the friends & family, the specific possibilities and limits.) Seeing this reality can lead to a brutal demystification of the image of the “never met before mail-art partner-companion”. For me this means not a devaluation of the person of my mail-art partner, but to a better mix of mystery & reality. In mail-art , more than in the traditional arts, reality is the art. Art = all realities and imagination in interaction with each other. Australian aboriginals say the ‘art’ is to know what is going on’ (this in trans-chronological and in transcendental sense). The idea of the personal meeting is, in my opinion, accurate described into the publication ‘Radio Sermonettes’ about ‘Immediatism’ , Liberian Book Club, New York 1992, which was only recently reaching me, here at The Temple in the south-west of the Flanders Belgium Europe anno ’97 a.s.o.
The power of the personal meeting is based on a mutual personal curiosity into the other one and into the particular togetherness of certain personalities who are meeting at certain places and moments. Without this mutual curiosity the meeting will be hypocrite and worthless, just a show (as we see in many art-events). When the personal meeting happens, I call it: The Temple.
In the usual exchange (mail-art, fax, e-mail) there are 3 main distances to cross: the geographical, the physical (the impossibility of the pleasure of sensorial observation and influencing), and the individual/cultural. At Temples of Personal Meeting 2 of these distances are resolved: I am at the same place and time as my partner and I can see, observe, hear, smell, maybe touch him/her. Only the individual/cultural distance stays as a provocation for creativity and possible source of frustration.
To return from here to your original question I must emphasize on the fact that for Isolated Artists (those we are interested in and passionated to mail-art participation, but who are forced by circumstances such as lack of organization or lack of money, not any longer able to send out ideas, images, sounds, desires, invitations, answers, participation’s, provocation’s, advises, greetings) only the personal meeting with the other (more rich, more luxurious) partner, gives the opportunity ‘to exchange’. I visited Vincze Laszlo end 1996 /beginning 1997 because it was the only chance to know what was/is his actual life as man, father, ex-libris artist and mail-artist. I felt very sorry to be not able to travel to Belgrade during the period of the Cultural Embargo. Many of us are dreaming of a visit to Rea Nikonova and Serge Segay at Eysk. Often we are obliged to stay at home while we feel ‘where it’s at’ and to join on another moment at another place.
During two journeys I experienced the same conflict between the ‘Art’-idea and the ‘Mail’-idea:
First I went to Romania, in the spring after the X-mas revolution. At the airport Dan and Amalia Perjovski were waiting for us. They had been very active in mail-art during the Ceausescu repression and stood at the door of new institutions to be accepted as ‘Romanian Temporary Artists’. Besides this meeting I also met more working class hero mail-artists such as the brothers Vincze, Marosan and Pungucz Karoly.
When I went to St. Petersburg I met the artists couple Paul & Helen Veshev, members of the Raft Art Group (in that period visited by the Shozo Shimamoto Netrun Group), and also the mail-art correspondent and police-officer Eugene Shaskhin. In both cases of mail-art tourism the artists had the freedom and the luxury of many connections, as familiar to the situation of ‘artists’, and guided us very heartful towards all places they wanted us to see: Their ateliers and the cultural and art-historical attractions from their locations and the reference of their artistic activities to all this. The more ‘amateuristic’ (please Networkers, all of you who read this interview, don’t shoot at me, the pianist) or do I better say: the ‘not for sale partners’, showed me ‘the right stuff’ (the survival of the individual and his friends/family, with their personal aims and necessities, within the own circumstances.)
In both cases of visiting, after the visit, ‘the artists’ didn’t contact me even once again. We left at the airport, shook hands, embraced, had a good time behind, made indistinct appointments for the future and me and my family crossed the ‘only passengers’ border and left. That was the end. No more communication. No explanation. The radical elimination of exchange. In both cases the others, the ‘non’ official artists’ stayed in touch with me. The reason for this is that their desires for exchange were in harmony with mine, which are about the practical foundation of the global village. This while the ‘artists’ only had the expectation of the foundation of a network for the promotion and distribution (selling) of their personal art production. These aims, which I respect, are foreign to my personal situation as mail-art networker.
Of course the mail-art network has its limits: to continue it needs the non-isolated partners (Only Senders Can Be Located). But I believe that an essential task of the enormous mail-art network is, also, to be able to ‘take in tow’ Isolated Artists. The Isolated Artists are the living provocation to practice the Mail-Art rule: “No selection / Open for all.” Isolation is a growing reality, To break it is our new utopian desire. (Of course we will lose, but we don’t accept this: We are here to found Paradise for ourselves and for all.)
I am not able to travel much (lack of social freedom, lack of money). So I must do other things:
1 – Funtioning as a transmit zone:
– Sending Art ne Rat mail from Croatia to Serbia and Bosnia and vice versa.
– Multiplying and distributing Dobrica Kamperelic’s Open World magazine (sometimes also other mags).
– Distributing some personal messages from Isolated Artists as Temple Post Worldnews flyers. (I am very grateful if Internet connected networkers put these messages on Internet).
2 – Creating non José Vandenbroucke participation’s to M.A. projects, with the materials from Isolated Artists in the Temple Archive, so that the Mail-Art from artists who have no possibilities to participate arrive before the deadline at the address of the project, in an envelope that has as sender the address of the Isolated Artist and not the one from the physical sender, The Temple. So it is possible to find participation from Romanian or other mail-artists that are sent from Belgium. In mail-art all is possible, even the impossible! dAdA! The intention is that the art of the Isolated Artist is shown in the project and that the participating Isolated Artist will receive the catalogue. (Sometimes I don’t participate myself, so that the Isolated Artist will receive more useful information than I do).
Mail-Art is about exchange of information. To be isolated is to be not able to exchange. All networkers must face this problem as something to work on. Mail-Art isn’t sufficient.
Together with this answer I’ll send you a message from Segay, as recently received (please put it as an illustration into the Interview Booklet / if possible) , a photo of me and Mirei at Ludwig Forum Museum Aachen, were we pose in front of a big work from Dan Perjovski at the exhibition ‘Romanian Art After Ceaucescu’ (no reference to and visits from Mail-Art partners between 1981 and now).
I also must ask you to ‘finish’ this Interview (only one or two more questions) because it takes me a lot of time and forces to formulate the right answer to your interesting questions, as I want to do this with the quality I want to offer to your very respectful and historical Interview Project
(The next question was sent after a break of over a year on January 16th 1999 and is also the last question for the interview.)
RJ: After a long break I think it is time we let others read your words as well José. It seemed you needed always a lot of words to answer my questions. Sorry for the small break, but as promised eventually all interviews will be published. The last & traditional question is always: Did I maybe forget to ask you something?
Reply on 26-06-1999
JvdB: Dear Ruud, I can’t imagine what you forgot to ask. I received your Interview-mail on 3.3.1999. So almost 3 months ago. This after I almost attacked you because of your long delay in answering me. Mea Culpa Great Administrator. But there was a war. There is a war. At the Balkans and on so many places on our actual media-manipulated planet Earth, and into the heart of what we so dearly call “Communication Art.” Communication is more than ever a product. A subject of economical and socio-political value. Many sensitive people return to an intimate production of personal art. Fin de sciecle panic? Tiredness? Survival necessity?
It is a fact that the M.A. Network didn’t succeed in creating an independent network that could be a practical aid for the survival of the free communication for all. The dream is over. Many former M.A. are more isolated than ever. We, the rich Europeans, have no tools to keep them involved into the magma of messages. Meanwhile the conflict between the idea of “quantity” versus “quality” became less funny, more dramatic. Daily I have a series of names into my head to whom I want to send something. But I can’t decide to send a folded copied and over-copied A4 with my Temple – Post logo stamped on it, just to show I’m still alive. As long as there’s nothing sensefull to say I feel forced to wait. Maybe I’m just tired of seeing that poetry can’t rule the world.
I want to end this interview by sending my expression of thanks to the huge work your Interview Project is, a work which value will grow in future. It is, besides Robin Crozier’s History Memory Malaise sendings and Ryosuke Cohen’s Brain Cell sendings a window on the enormous activity that was and still is developed by the many former, actual and future networkers, grouped under the magic phenomenon-name: Mail-Art. And by sending my dearest regards to all who will read it. I have no truth nor authority to say: “This was Mail-Art” (Wilfried Nold published in Numero 4, 1998 , my letter about continuos Death and Rebirth of the Mail-Art Network), nor to say “This is Mail-Art. I leave it all to you. Good Luck.
RJ: Thanks for the interview José!
– END –
Reproduced with the permission of
Further reproduction without the written consent of
Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.
Mail-artist: José van den Broucke, Pikkelstraat 49. B – 8540 Deerlijk, BELGIUM.
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen – TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, Netherlands