iuoma.org – Interested in Mail-Art?

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

Mail-Interview with Keith Bates – UK



Started on: 15-8-1995

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

Reply on 19-9-1995

(Together with his first answer Keith Bates sent me the documentation of his ‘ARTISTCHEQUE’-project, an artistchequebook, and also some info on his newest project)

KB : I started doing mail art in 1983. I attended an Open University Summer School in which the Polish artist Henryk Gajewski ran a course called “Networking”. Some things in life, you know immediately are for you – it was like that for me with mail art, I fell in love with the concept!

RJ : It seems everybody has his or her own views about mail art. Which concept of mail art do you mean?

Reply on 3-1-1996

KB : I simply love the idea that there existed a network of artists who worked in physical isolation, but exchanged their work, It seemed a superb social outlet for creativity, not tied up with money and profit; a social function bound up with ideas of mutual respect, tolerance, democracy, the lot. And it was fun!

I tend to organise one mail art project every year or so. In addition I try to answer all the mail I receive (except for thank you’s and confirmation of receipt letters, etc.) and to participate in all the projects I hear about (unless they really didn’t interest me). I do however work very slowly; life is busy with other things, so I prefer snail mail to the electronic variety. I’m also not that into letter writing, writing is hard work and for me the occasional letter is an extra to the exchange of mail art.

RJ : Well, when you are slow in answering, this just will mean that this interview will take some time to finish. No problem really. In your answer you mention some interesting things. It seems that you focus mainly on the mail art projects. To give the readers of this interview some idea of what you have done so far, could you mention a few of your projects and tell me what they were about?

Reply on 10-1-1996

KB : I like the way modern art movements have reappropriated graphic design techniques. Mail art does this all the time with artistamps and rubber stamps. A lot of my projects have focused on different graphic design formats and I have based mail art projects on comic book frames (1983), stamps (1984), tickets (1985), jigsaw pieces (1990), shop receipts (1991) and bank cheques (1995). I have also organised projects using fragments of mail artists’ works – Elements in 1986 and my current “Studio Floor” project with Leanda Ryan.

Some of my projects have just been realized as documentation – a booklet, catalogue, photographs and address-list, cassette tape, etc. In 1991 I did a project called “Jackson Pollock’s Shoes” asking mail artists to send me accidental masterpieces by their favourite artists. That project was realized as a spoof Christie’s auction catalogue.

Other projects involve a show or exhibition. My last project, Artists’ cheques, not only involved making Artistcheckbooks for contributors but also exhibitions in Covent Garden (London) and York. My “English Suppresionists” project (1993) about an imaginory movement resulted in an illustrated booklet about Englishness and an exhibition in Brighton.

RJ : Lots of activities since your start with mail art! I notice that the years 1986 and 1992 are not in your list with activities (tourism-year and DNC-year). For me these years were full of meetings with other mail artist (actually also the years 1985 and 1991 for me personally). I remember you had quite specific ideas about those two special international projects, about meeting the other mail artists. Are these views still the same in the year 1996, which has just started?

Reply on 19-1-1996

KB : Yes, I don’t think it should be expected or assumed that mail artists will wish to visit each other.

I did attend a Congress meeting at the Tate gallery in 1986, it was a bit of fun but I don’t think I gained any deep insights from the experience. The whole Tourism thing was hailed as a logical next step for mail artists, almost obligatory. I just tried to defend the corner of those who wanted to mail art, those who couldn’t or didn’t want to congress.

RJ : Another “logic step” some mail artists think of, is the e-mail and the internet as a new way of communicating. I myself have explored this form already, and still prefer the traditional mail. I only use e-mail if the digital form is essential (as in not having to retype texts) or speed is essential (a large text of 20 pages gets at the others address in a few minutes). Have you any specific thoughts about this new communication form?

Reply on 22-3-1996

KB : E-mail and the internet can be used as an extension of the mail art network by those who have access. I don’t at the moment, but I wouldn’t preclude the possibility for the future. It’s worth remembering that a lot of people who do mail art don’t have a computer let alone access to the internet.

I admit to being a sucker for hard copy rather than the screen image. I like the whole mail art thing of envelope, stamps, the colors and textures of papers, inks, paints, the mixed media extravaganza. I’m not convinced that e-mail compares to the richness of the snail mail experience.

E-mail would also be too fast for me. I mail art slowly, I can’t be a high-powered, mail-the-entire-world zealot. I enjoy doing mail art when I want to and when someone has asked for something that inspires me. I try to keep it fun, and part of the fun is the relaxed exchange over several months, not a few hours. I suppose I must piss some people off but you can’t please everyone.

RJ : When you regard mail art as a relaxed exchange than probably the network you are in contact with isn’t that large at the moment. Or am I wrong and are you (like a lot of mail artists) not able at all to answer all the mail you get in?

Reply on 10-4-1996

KB : Funnily enough I’ve just found a few invitations to mail art projects whose deadlines I’ve missed! Guilt trip.

To a certain extent a mail artist can control the amount of mail art he or she receives, the best way to ensure a full mailbox is to respond to communications quickly, the easiest way to back off a bit is to allow more time for your response.

I am afflicted by the dual mail art miseries – time and money. Because of my job as an art teacher, I often get knackered[1] as a term progresses and I do more mail art during school holidays. In addition to that, I am feeling rather poor at the moment, and since I seperated from my wife I don’t have as much spare cash to give to mail art. Nevertheless, even as I write, Leanda and I are preparing to collage the studio floor and the documentation for this project will put me deeper in debt. I am still addicted.

RJ : The final documentation of a mail art project sometimes is just a xeroxed address-list. Your documentations are normally quite special. What is improtant in a mail art documentation?

Reply on 22-5-1996

KB : Thank you for the compliment. I do put a lot into my project documentations. They are works of art. Works which could not have existed without the contributors.

Although putting together project documentation is hard work, I enjoy this aspect of mail art. I like to get some personal touch into each documentation if possible. I have nothing against photocopiers, I use them all the time for my tickets and labels, but if I just receive an address list as a documentation to a mail art show I’ve participated in I consider it to be a sign of life, no more. On the other hand, exciting documentation is for me a real reward of networking, I love it! It is not essential if my work is used in documentation, but it is much more exciting if it is, it’s nice to feel appreciated and valued.

The perfect documentation would show every contributor’s work, but sadly mail art exists in the real world and most mail artists are not rich. Money is scarce and sponsorship for mail art projects is rare, particularly here in Britain. If a xeroxed address list is all someone can afford, that will do – especially if a personal ‘thank you’ or something is enclosed.

RJ : You mention ‘particularly here in Britain’. Are there other things in mail art that are ‘typical British’, or is this a stupid question?

reply on 23-8-1996

KB : I don’t really know if there are things that are typically Britisch about mail art. I suspect the kind of silly, surreal humour that runs through the work of Michael Leigh and Don Jarvis is maybe typically Britisch. My “English Suppressionists” project was an attempt to define my Englishness and I suppose I wondered if my opposition to Tourism might be linked to an English reserve and island mentality.

RJ : Maybe some of the readers don’t know your project English Suppressionists , so maybe you can tell a bit more about it. How did you attempt to define your Englishness and what was the result?

reply on 29-11-1996

KB : In 1992 I did a lot of thinking about the facets of my identity. Being English was hard to define, so I asked mail artists to send something about the subject by joining an imaginary art movement, the English Suppressionists. I received stuff about steroetypes, ideas about language, humour, history, politics, surreal connections. The atoms of identity.

I think that Stephen Perkins best summed it up by explaining that identity is strongest when you have to fight for it. Maybe because the English have tended to dominate the British Isles, it is the Scots, Welsh and Irish communities who make more of their national identities.

Perhaps the English have sat back and basked in the glory of Britisch achievement, history, the Empire, and a language that is pervasive. If the fight forges identity, I guess that’s why it’s lacking.

Perhaps if you are less worried about nationhood and nationalism, you’re free to think globally, to consider yourself human rather that belonging to this or that nation. Or maybe that’s 2 luxury only the comfortable and privileged can expect.

RJ : You have been doing mail art for a long time now. Did you notice any big changes in the mail art network over the last decade? If so, which changes do you find important?

answer on 5-1-1997

KB : I suppose the network has become well-established in the years I’ve been mail-arting. And become establishment to a certain extent, taught in colleges and sponsored by industry. Not necessarily bad things, but in the early eighties I had a real sense of joining something radical, and although part of what I perceive results from my familiarity with mail art practices, I think there is generally less frenzied excitement about the mail art network. People now know what a network is.

There are mail artists who see the electronic network as successor to mail art. mail art certainly provided the template for free exchange, maybe the internet has taken some wind from mail art’s sails – if you want to start serious networking in 2000 I guess you buy a computer. It just hasn’t grabbed me yet, even if I had the spare cash. I saw the David Hockey show at Manchester City Art gallery the other day. He had a fax wall. Fax walls are a good argument for postal art.

Artistamps had a good decade. Major growth. Colour photocopies and colour printouts of computer art too. Black & White photocopies have become annoying to some, but not half as annoying as chain letters. I still enjoy collage stuff – I got a nice little one from Vittore Baroni only this morning.

I’m not sure if Tourism and networking Congresses changed the mail art world while I was in the bath. I think not, though I nearly met Jonathan Stangroom a few months ago – but not quite!

RJ : Have you kept all of the mail art you have received over the years? What is the future of your “archive”?

answer on 8-4-1997

KB : Well, I don’t think I’ll be selling my archive to sponsor my Touristic activities! I’ve kept a wardrobe full of treasures, much of it still in the original envelopes and stored in box files without any real filing system. I’ve certainly not tried to keep every piece of mail art I’ve received and I’m sure I’ve recycled some really valuable items in my time, but I can’t keep everything I receive so I tend to hang onto the things that most appeal to me at the time.

RJ : Should I ask a future question about mail art romances?

answer on 8-4-1997

KB : I’m not sure if you could call Leanda and I a mail art romance. I taught her art at high school many moons ago and when she left to go to college we kept in contact with mail art and she occasionally popped into school for a chat. When she went to university two years later, romantic sparks began to fly and I’m still besotted after almost 3 years!

RJ : The funny thing about this is that I read about you and Leanda in a mail art documentation (by Lancilotto Bellini, Italy) where mail artists were invited to give a short ‘CV’ about themselves. Yes, I would call it a mail art romance since you kept contact in a mail art way as well. Most long-participants in the network know about Bill Gaglione and Anna Banana. John M. Bennett told in his interview that he also met his wife through mail art. Vittore Baroni suggested in his interview that he knew a lot about mail art romances (see the last question he answered) and yet a lot about romances in the mail art network hasn’t been written. Is it easy the expose one’s privat life to the mail art network?

(together with the question I sent Keith bates the interview with Vittore Baroni, so he could read what he said as well)

next answer on 16-6-1997

KB : I think so. You expect mail artists to be broad-minded and tolerant of other’s opinions. Even so, I was at first a bit nervous about how mail artists would react to the fact that I had been Leanda’s teacher and the 24 years difference in our ages. I half-expected some disapproval but it didn’t seem to bother anyone and we received some very nice comments like John Held Jr.’s “Age is just age”.

Revealing details about your private life to family or neighbours is very “in your face”, proximity can make disapproval dangerous ; in many jobs details about an unconventional private life can have economic repercussions. I think that distance and interval enable the networker to be less concerned about the consequences of revelations and more concerned about genuine expression.

RJ : Some mail artists never seem to write or even think about the negative sides there are to mail art. They like to praise mail art, the free exchange, no-money involved, ‘documentation to all’-principle, etc. An example was how people reacted to the project by K. Frank Jensen (Denmark) when he started his ‘missing documentation’ project, where he wanted to list all the promissed documentations that never were sent out. You stated in your answer “You expect mail artists to be broad-minded and tolerant of other’s opinions”. Do you think that the average ‘mail-artist’ is different then the ‘average person’? (Yes, I know, maybe a difficult question…..)

next answer on 25-4-1997

KB : Lots of mail artists don’t really write about mail art at all, but I suspect we do think about negative aspects – time and money problems, will it all be superseded by the internet, the invasion of the Killer Tourists. Missing documentation is probably the least of my worries and in general I think mail art deserves whatever praise we lavish on it.

I have probably got a rather romantic view of mail artists but I think it’s good to be a touch idealistic about things that mean a lot to you. I suppose you have to be prepared to moderate your idealism with realism, but part of being passionate about something involves setting aside logic and common sense, and just doing it because you’ve got to do it.

I think I rather innocently assume artists generally to be more balanced , tolerant and liberal than ordinary folks, other people tell me that artists are more likely to be self-centered, egotistical and abusive to their nearest and dearest. But mail artists I do expect to be different to the average person because he or she has chosen to be involved in a mutual activity with a very real sense of giving as well as receiving. Choosing to give makes people nicer. Mail art feeds your ego and also puts it in a wider perspective through collective goals. Each mail artist largely controls his or her own level of participation and financial outlay. More control, less stress, nicer person?

RJ : With your last answer you (as usual) enclosed some more tickets and other printed matters. The one I liked the most this time: “What is beauty? – It is the sudden flash of truth”. by Joseph Beuys, a Quoticket. I remember that you also did a project called “Jackson Pollock’s Shoes” where you asked mail artists to send their accidental masterpieces by their favourite artists. You seem to be influenced a lot by these modern artists. What do they teach you?

next answer on 28-8-1997

KB : I’ve just watched a television interview with Paul McCartney who was asked if he ever heard someone else’s song and wished he’d written it. Sometimes you see an artwork that makes you wish it was your creation. Sometimes you find people who have similar ideas to your own or who have explored the same corners and it gives you a feeling that you’re not alone, you’re part of a larger process. Other artists’ work can help put your own into context and it can also present new possibilities and fire your imagination.

Some of the mail art projects I’ve most enjoyed contributing to have been tributes – Creative Things’s Homage to Kurt Schwitters was superb. There was a project about Joseph Beuys a while ago, more recently Warhol and renoir, and the current tribute to Cavellini. It gives you an excuse to reasearch or copy and try to do it their way. Or take the piss and do a Cadbury’s Renoir chocolate box design.

RJ : Some mail artists copy a lot from others (mail artists with typical styles or the Dada of Fluxus-movements). Most artists try to develop their own style. Is a mail artist an artist? Is it o.k. when a mail artist only copies what other do?

next answer on 5-11-1997

KB : I’ve stopped worrying about copying. Copy widely enough and you’ll end up with something new in collage or post-modernist fashion. They say “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, and if you have something to say, you will find your own voice.

I’ll never be the most origina; artist in the world, but I add my voice and it’s fun to do things differently.

The old question “is it Art?” is a bit meaningless. Art is an open concept and anyone can be an artist (just by doing art) , mail art included. I suppose you might not consider a straight copy to be a very good artwork, so perhaps a better question might be “is it good art?”

RJ : Together with your answer for the interview I received Vittore Baroni’s book “Arte Postale”. A beautifully done book in italian language about the mail art network where you are included as well. But again a book done by a mail artists and not an outsider to the mail art network. Do you think one of these days an outsider of the network might write a book on this mail art?

next answer on 6-12-1997 (by e-mail)

KB: I can’t help but feel that mail art is best experienced from the inside, by participating, so I think it is good that mail artists are the ones to put our practices into a wider context. Without any doubt outsiders will write books about mail art; they write about it now in art magazines and commentaries in catalogues and documentation. It’s only a matter of time before the definitive history of mail art is written by an android.

RJ : How does it feel to send out e-mail?

next answer on 5-9-1998

KB : That’s better! I’m back to long delays and snail mail. Sorry about that, I’ve been working, doing some music, and Leanda and I have been to New York. Add a holiday in Kefalonia and it all makes meagre mail art moments. I’m trying to catch up with a horrendous backlog.

I did feel a bit dizzy after sending you the e-mail but I don’t feel any lasting ill-effects. I’ve even been trying with the idea of buying a Mac and a modem if the finances pick up sufficiently. Leanda’s enthusiasm for HTML and webby things has rubbed off on me a bit. For the moment I’m a paper fetishist, a dead tree addict with an enduring passion for sweet smelling envelopes – don’t you just love the golden colour and crispy texture of the American envelope I’m sending this answer in!

(The next question was only sent out on November 11th 1998 because I took a break in the interview-project)

RJ : Yes, I am still fond of that paper mail as well, although I do use a lot of electronic bits and bytes in my communication nowadays. You mentioned ‘music’ in your answer. Didn’t you once make a beatiful tape with music related with tyhe theme mail-art?

Address mail-artist:

2 Ferngate Drive

[1] “knackered” is slang for “exhausted”

Mail-Interview with Robin Crozier – UK

This interview was done in 1995 by Ruud Janssen. Address: TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda , the NETHERLANDS, e-mail : info@iuoma.org. It is possible to spread this information to others, but for publications you will have to get permission from TAM and the interviewed person! Enjoy reading this interview. This is the updated file on 13 June 2015.




Robin Crozier and Jonathan Stangroom in UK


Started on: 2-11-1994

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

Reply on: 21-11-1994

RC : If my memory serves me well…. I had been interested in Surrealism since being a student in the fifties. In the sixties I discovered a bookseller with a catalogue listing and number of surrealistic publications some of which I purchased. The catalogue also listed publications from Something Else Press (ed. Dick Higgins).
I already knew about developments in New York in the sixties but this was the first time I had been able to buy books on/by John Cage, Ray Johnson, Merl Cunningham, Daniel Spoerri, Dick Higgins, George Brecht, Robert Filliou, etc… apart from a few I had found in London. From the same press there was also the Great Bear Pamphlet series. These publications introduced me to intermedia and provided me with new perspectives but I still had the problem of finding out how to get into and be part of this new world instead of just reading about it at a distance.
I had also been interested in concrete and visual poetry and towards the end of the sixties I began to make some publications of my own. But where to send them? However, in 1970 a magazine called ‘Pages’ was published in England. It only came out in Winter 1970, Spring 1971 and in 1972 (three issues then folded owing to financial problems. It was dedicated to promoting the avant-garde and included works etc. by some of those I had met through Something Else but also by numerous other creators from Europe and elsewhere that were sometimes new to me.
But what was most interesting was the information section listing publications, magazines, artists, events etc. with contact addresses. So I was able to begin sending my publications out to establish contacts providing me with more contacts and so on. Soon after this a more commercial magazine ‘Art and Artists’ published an article about Robert Filliou. In it he said he was going to have an exhibition at the Stedelijke Museum in Amsterdam and was asking people to send him material that he will include in the show. What an opportunity! So I sent him a number of little packs of this and that for him to include in works or make into works or distribute as he wished. G.J. de Rook visited the show and he and Robert Filliou made up pages from some of my sendings which de Rook then included in a publication he was putting together called ‘Bloknoot’. So, from early 1972, slowly but surely, I became involved in the ‘Eternal Network’ (Filliou) which had been christened ‘Mail Art’ in 1971 by Jean-Marc Poinsot who had organized the envoi action at the Paris Biennale. And then the snowball began to roll……

RJ : This ‘snowball’ has rolled a long time already. Has the mail-art network changed a lot or is it in essence still the same?

Reply on : 24-01-1995

RC : No, I don’t think the network has changed a lot except in its continuing growth in size. Of course, since the early days there has been more writing about and comment upon the network, sometimes attempts to codify or clarify it, essays about what it might be and critical comments about its directions, quality and so on. So -to a degree- it has become something that people can stand back from and view as an entity. It is also increasingly collected into museums and archives so I suppose its getting quite old. I’ve also noticed that now items from the network are beginning to appear in catalogues as saleable commodities. Those dealers aren’t in the network as far as I know but naturally this notion would go against the spirit of the network. Another observation. At one time there was a rapid growth in mail art emanating from oppressive regimes – South America, Eastern Europe, etc. These ‘cold wars’ are now largely relaxed and so I’ve noticed a rapid decrease in mail art from these areas. This may have something to do with my own involvement but I wonder what has happened to the mail artists in the former East Germany now the element of subversion and protest has been removed. For myself and my own activity, when I first began in the seventies then I was into all kinds of things, organizing shows, projects, publications, almost like the joys of spring and a fascination with new toys. “Somebody out there loves me” was a wonderful feeling. I wouldn’t say I had quite reached Autumn yet but I’ve tuned in on certain activities that are more particular to myself rather than try and do everything all the time. But I still can’t resist collecting all those items that come through my letterbox into my archive. I’m always greedy for more

Oh, and another thing. Snail Mail -which used to be mail art before the appearance of more recent technologies- is being ended by these technologies. However, I suppose, I must betray my status as something of an ’eminence grouse’ in the network by stating that I still prefer handwriting to typing and the original to the multiple. The personal touch. ‘My touch is the touch of a woman’ said Ewa Partum to me through the mail and when I met her she gave me a red rose. Lovely.

RJ : This ‘being greedy for more mail’ is for most mail-artists the reason to keep on sending out mail-art. But you probably also have the problem that you have to select what you are able to answer. Obviously you’ve chosen for the personal mail as a priority. Am I right?

Reply on : 8-3-1995

RC : To begin with, when one begins to become part of the network one is surprised and happy to receive anything but gradually, as the volume increases, selection occurs. My pet hate is chain letters that go straight into the bin. Does anyone respond to them? Next in line are these photocopied sheets asking you to add something and send them on to someone else. I suppose I do send these on but don’t add to them myself – just in case else wants to. Just to keep the network ticking over. As for individual artists I tend to respond more quickly to those who send me something personal rather than those who send out masses of bland photocopies. Of course photocopies have their place, mostly in publications but are not particularly exiting as a personal greeting. And then there is the question of gender. Being male, I am naturally drawn to respond to female advances (although this statement may not apply to everyone) as there is some kind of sexual fission involved. But, again, why are there more male than female artists in the network? Don’t ask me. I’ve no idea whilst on the subject of response, I generally don’t reply to exhibition requests unless they come to me directly. So, yes, as you say, its ‘personal mail as a priority’. But then there’s the question of whether ‘personal’ through the mail is better or more than ‘personal’ through meeting people directly.

RJ : In 1986 there was the ‘Tourism’-year and lateron in 1992 there was the DNC-congress year. Did you participate in those or did you meet mail-artists on an individual basis? Maybe tell a few memories of some meetings you had and what it taught you?

Reply on : 11-5-1995

RC : I did not participate in the Tourism year of 1986 or the congress year of 1992. On the whole I like to meet people through the mail. I suppose I see the network as a device for not having to meet people. However, over the years I have met a number of networkers….. In no particular order (of time or merit). Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione came to Sunderland to give some Futurist performances and talk to the students at the college (now University) where I teach. They were on a whirlwind tour of Europe (if this is England it must be Monday – or vice versa) and were highly organized. Anna spent a lot of the time making works of art. Bill seemed rather tired. Emilio Morandi also visited me in Sunderland with his wife and son. They were on a tour of the British isles looking at standing stones and stone civiles. They were very friendly and brought me an enormous ice-cream for my birthday. I visited Neils Lomholt in Hou, Denmark. He was working in a school for handicapped young people and invited several artists over a few months to work with the pupils. I was able to use ideas of communication evolved from mail art to get in touch and receive a response from the young people in spite of physical and language barriers. David Zack had been there just before me and I met him when I arrived. He left the next day but I gained the impression of a chaotic, generous vital person who had been most simpatico with all the young people. Another time I visited Poland and met Andrej and Ewa Partam and a number of other Polish mail artists and artists. Ewa gave me a red rose (“my touch is the touch of a woman”). At that time Poland was still very much part of the regime of “our big friend” (Russia) so I experienced numerous examples of repression at first hand. I stayed with Ulises Carrion for about a week in his flat in Amsterdam. I had an exhibition in Stempelplaats , a stamp art gallery at the time. What an energetic person. Through him I went to see Peter Van Beveren and many others associated with the network. I have been in contact with José Van den Broucke for a long time now. He sometimes comes to Sunderland for a few days and we are in touch on the phone. He is very easy to be with and we have lots of fun looking for Wanda together. I also met a number of British mail artists when I gave a fluxus lecture at the Tate Gallery last year.

RJ : Who is Wanda?

Reply on : 22-5-1995

RC : The original Wanda first appeared many years ago in a publication of mine called ‘Draw More Ducks’. She was sitting on a sofa pointing a revolver at an advancing gander. This may have alluded to Leda and the Swan. Later I successively reduced this image when trying out a new photocopier. The images were incorporated into a unique book which I titled “Wanda Wanders”. It was at this point that Wanda first assumed an identity. Her wanders began with a text which I evolved from a corporate novel I had been working on. The novel began in a modern art gallery. I continued the text incorporating extracts and fragments from my memo(random) project. The search for Wanda then began in earnest as characteristics, types, positions, associations and criteria became more firmly established. I began a ‘Wanda Notebook’ and included in it found texts and writing evolving from sightings, imaginary meetings and collaborative writing. I also collected found images and collated, collaged and manipulated them to form a web of illusion and allusion in an attempt to define, fix and record some of her fleeting characteristics.

The ‘Wanda Notebooks’ began to assume the nature of a work in its own right. Fragments of the texts and photocopies of the images were mailed out into the network with requests for people to send me information about Wanda. I began to receive documentation which I incorporate into the notebooks and keep in separate file. And so the Wanda saga spreads and grows and develops. Wanda is a figment a fragment of the imagination. I see her reflected in windows but when I turn she is gone. I see her in my mind’s eye. The perfume of Wanda passing in the street. She breaths on the mirror. She writes her name on the mirror. Her name fades. In the modern art gallery. Wanda crosses her legs. Wanda uncrosses her legs. Two prints. The receptionist. Wanda travels in a taxi going nowhere but pretending to be everywhere. She is lost in the wrong city. In a small hotel for lost times. Her imprint on the duvet. A faint warmth on the pillow. She speeds past in her fast car. Her legs at the correct angle. Her white blouse. Her black skirt. Her dark tights. Her black stiletto shoes. But this is only one version. There are many more. She sits on the sofa smoothing down her skirt. She dreams sequences. She dreams seas. Sees dreams. “The mirror in this room are made of glass eyes” said Wanda. She walks out and strains the memory as she leaves the room. Her heels click in the corridor. A memory. The dead swan. Without light who needs darkness. Wanda drinks a glass of white wine. She is a performance of Wanda. She observes herself in the mirror. She reflects upon herself. A prototype of Wanda. How many Wanda’s are there? Wanda reads a text about Wanda not realizing that she is Wanda.

I was sitting opposite Wanda on a train. Her bright red lips and dark fringe stood out from her pale face. As we sped along she looked out of the window. I could see her reflection in the windows. The rushing landscape became reflected on her face like a film projected onto the pale canvas of her skin. She dissolved and reappeared in a confusion of strobe lightning caused by the sun shining through irregular densities of passing clusters of trees. The flickering Wanda in the window reflected my mind’s eye while I observed the young woman who might have been Wanda, but wasn’t. Behind glass, in the office. Her dark hair. White blouse. Black skirt. Legs outlined sharply against the immaculate grey carpet. Black high heeled shoes leaving a faint indentation in the pile. She performs her rituals at the keyboard behind the glass. Nimble delicate fingers. Her blouse is open revealing the white lace edging of an undergarment nestling against pale brown skin. Appendant. A gold cross on a slender drain. The transaction completed she places the papers in the tray under the glass partition and our little fingers touch momentarily. A flicker of a smile like the brief illumination of a distant island as passing clouds filter the searchlight sun. Or was it simply an imperfection in the glass. A perfection through imperfection. In the supermarket the legs seen from the side had no volume. Seen from the back or the front they took on degrees of definition according to the light source. As the focus of attention they virtually assumed a life of their own as the person to whom they belonged was not Wanda but they were Wanda. Indeed they would have been mirror images of the same leg or two from an unlimited edition set in motion independently of one another and only occasionally appearing to have the aspect of two different legs as she paused to consider the items on display occasionally leaning slightly to inspect an item more closely. Leaning caused an imbalance and a different function for each leg as more weight was placed on one than the other. One became active the other passive. They therefor developed (to a degree) individual characteristics for an instant before reverting to the same would.

Of course the repetitious aspect of the items on display may have influenced the observer into formulating the theory that he was looking at one leg reproducing rather than at two different legs. The theory had naturally been evolved some time after the initial observation of the natural event thus proving that the mind crosses out and dissipates an initially strong sexual attraction. Wanda sent this and…… Your letter was such a pleasure. I am very pleased to meet you. There’s so much I want to say. I don’t quite know where to start…… Well, let me start by saying that I spent this past week driving back forth to Ohio. As I drove west on the Perma turnspike I wondered about you…. and began to day dream…. about meeting a stranger along the roadway. I imagined meeting him at a picnic area, I caught his eye at the water fountain. We shared a meal of fruit, bread cheese, washed down with wine. A simple picnic among simple roadside picnickers – but somehow we only used the meal as a basis for the fundamental dialogue. As others roadside families climbed back into their cars, we stayed waiting for darkness, waiting for the mantle of night to cloak our true desire. Venus rose, bright against a black velvet sky, signalling that evening had fallen, as we fell on eachother….

I drove on & on, imagining how the stranger lifted my skirt to grasp my buttocks and finger the wetness between my tights, I imagined the shudder of yearning, the pounding of a tempted heart. Oh, golly, anyway, I always imagine….

At my dark room I imagined that once I photographed Wanda on a hot summer afternoon. But as you know I never met her. It was just a dream. A negative print of a male desire. She poses in black stockings with her hands behind her head. Her bra undone to reveal tightly stretched breasts. She is quite thin. One can easily determine the anatomy of her abdomen and public region. She poses naked on a sofa. Kneeling with her elbows resting on its back. Her hair cascades over her shoulders. Her ass just out inviting penetration. Her look is candid and cold. She sits on the floor in front of the sofa. Her back leans against the seat. Her elbows are in the seat. Her legs are apart. Her knees are raised. She reveals her vagina inviting penetration. Perhaps Wanda is somewhere very near to you as you read this. Can you feel her presence. Hurry. Go and look for her. Send her to me. Maybe its too late. She is just out of sight. But not out of mind. Only an impression remains…. her perfume passing in the street. A stain on the memory. Her breath fading on the mirror.

RJ : No, Wanda is not here yet. How much does your search for Wanda influence your mail art? Is mail art also a search for you?

Reply on: 16-6-1995

RC : Well, keep a look out, Ruud, you never know when Wanda may appear when you are least expecting her. I don’t think that my search for Wanda influences my mail-art very much. On the contrary, its probably the other way round. I think that for a long time, even before I became involved with mail-art, I was searching for a Wanda but it was only through the events, contacts and structures of mail-art that I began to find ways of objectifying Wanda, of putting her into words and images. She now travels through the network as a personality molded and fashioned by those who document her as well as being an emanation from my mind. I must say I don’t quite know what I’m searching for through my involvement with mail-art. Maybe ‘search’ is not the right word.

I don’t know. Maybe its two sides of the same coin. One side is inward looking. A looking into myself and finding ways to present this looking. Finding ways to combine media which will mirror my complex thought patterns, emotions, obsessions and so on. For a long time I’ve never thought of myself as being any particular kind of artist. I don’t want to wear a label saying painter or sculptor or poet and so on. I just want to produce works whose form and media fit the content whatever that may be. And so the other side of the coin is probably the fact that the mail-art network provides one with all kinds of propositions, challenges and questions to be answered in so many different ways. I suppose that mail-art is as much a finding as a searching process. I also like the idea of working ‘with’ things, objects, structures, people. Cooperate activities. Recycling. Setting up structures that lead into unknown or unforseen territories. Chance. Serendipity. External events molding directions. I like travelling rather than arriving. Flux. But this is talking about art. In my daily life I’m a creature of habits, of ritual. But this orderliness no doubt allows my mind freedom to travel in many different directions. I don’t have a car. I sometimes say that I wouldn’t know where to drive to if I had one. I could drive anywhere. But where? So I get on a train. I know where its taking me and I’m free to look out of the window. The eternal observer. A network of observation.

RJ : Most mail-artists probably know you because of your memory/memorandom-project, where you ask a memory of a specific day from a mail-artists and in return send him/her someone elses memory. What was the reason for starting this project?

Reply on 28-6-1995

RC : Firstly, a description of how the memo(random) project works, because that’s relatively simple. When somebody contacts me for the first time or perhaps when I see someone who I think might be interesting or whose work catches my attention I will send them a memo(random form as part of my initial contact with them. The form requests “what do you remember about…..(a particular date)”. On the back of the form it says “please reply on this paper to receive another memory from someone else”. When I receive the completed form (which can be completed in any way the contributor wishes) I copy (if it is writing) or transpose (if it is visual) the contribution into a series of memo books. I’m working into book number seventy right now and there are getting on for six thousand individual memories. When each book is filled up I mail it to the Getty Archive in the USA.

When a contributor sends me a memory then I send them another blank form with another request for a memory together with an original from someone else so that they can continue the process of sending memories and forming a collection of originals. I often pick the day on which they sent me the previous memory to ask for the next but not always. And I do exercise some choice as to which memory I send where perhaps looking for some affricity between the memories. But not always. I also copy all the memories from the memo books into a series of files which I have in my archive and very occasionally I use some of these or extracts from these in other works. The reason why the memo books go to the Getty archive is that when I began the project I sent the books to Jean Brown for her to put in her archive in the USA. I had established a strong contact with Jean and she was always very supportive towards me. However, towards the end of the eighties her archive moved to California to the part of the Getty archive and my books went with it so I continue to send them there.

In the front of each memo book is written “Each memorandom contains random memories recording times passing through Robin Crozier who here records the memories for Jean Brown and future times past.” I feel that the Getty archive is the right place for the books to be housed as, after all, mail-art began in the States, with Ray Johnson, and I know they will be well looked after there and form a fascinating human document for future generations (unless there is an earthquake!). I know that I began the project in February 1983 as I record each form going out and which original coming in by date and name. I don’t record whose memory I send to whom – I have to have time to do other things! But exactly why I began the project in the first place is, I’m afraid, much more difficult to remember at this stage. I know that I had been involved in other publications in the seventies where I sent out requests for material then published the results and mailed them out as publications to the contributors but I think that I was beginning to feel that this kind of system was a little too ponderous and slow and also lead to an end of the project. Also I was involved in some interactive exhibitions where I had an suitant contact with the ‘audience’. I had kept a daily diary since the age of eighteen. I suppose, as I may have said before, the mail art can introduce one in some way into people’s private lives, can get behind the facade of the closed front door where only the letter box provides a chink in the answer. So to find out what people had been doing on a certain day could be part of this “being nosey”.

Of course by no means everyone reveals themselves in this way. There are many different ways of filling up the forms. And so for various reasons, or non-reasons the idea of a continuous project emerged whereby I would ‘publish’ the memories to contributors almost like successive installments in an ongoing novel whilst retaining versions of all the memories in one place to be experienced as a whole. Because I am the only vessel through which all the memories pass I suppose in one sense you could say ” “did” very little with the project but then without me the project wouldn’t exist and so many memories would be left unrecovered and so much would have been lost to the future. Its rather the idea of the artist as instrument or a catalyst facilitating relationships. There are sounds in your room right now but you can’t hear them. If you have a radio, turn it on. You can now hear the sounds. That’s what I mean. You may want to return to the memo project again or ask me about some of the projects / exhibitions I worked at earlier or………..?

RJ : As a matter of fact I just had turned the radio on when I opened your letter. It is something I normally do when I get back home, a sort of touch with the outside world when I am inside. Even now I have retyped your answer and am thinking of the next question I also hear the news on the radio. What did you do when you opened my mail. How was your day today?

Reply on 28-7-1995

RC : On the day when I opened your mail I was in a house in the country in the North West of England. The area is known as the Lake District and its famous for being the place where William Wordsworth and other English poets lived and wrote. But I don’t know how famous Wordsworth is outside Britain. I once asked an American about him and she had never heard of him. However there are enormous numbers of Japanese tourists who visit the area to make pilgrimages to all the sites associated with Wordsworth. What affinities they could have with the poet I just don’t know. But there it is. I’m not at all interested in Wordsworth myself but just about a mile or so from the house is the village of Ambleside. Kurt Schwitters lived there from 1945 and died there in 1948. His grave is in the churchyard and I visit it now and then. Kurt is no longer there as his remains were esdumned and taken back to Germany. I don’t know when. What is curious is that there is nearly always a bunch of flowers on his grave. So I suppose that others who remember him still pay a tribute. I had not been too well in the night and had a number of vivid nightmares but can’t recall any of them now. Just as well. In the morning I assisted in a ritual of throwing stones with words written on them into the river. The stones had originally been taken from the river, the words had been written upon them and they had been taken into the house where they were arranged in groups in various rooms. The ritual of return involved the placing of the stones in a sequence in the meadow by the river. The stones were then returned one by one to their natural element. Also a bunch of flowers was thrown into the river to be carried down stream towards Ambleside. I had carried them from there along a lane and they had been placed in the house. I often walk along this lane. It is one of my favorite places.

Soon after lunch I left the house and took a taxi to Windermere which is about six miles away in order to catch a train. As well as my case I was carrying a parrot in a cage. Of course there were a number of Japanese visitors on the train. To travel from Windermere to Sunderland. From the North West to the North East means taking four trains but I enjoy travelling like this as I look out of the window and observe my fellow travellers. I make this journey quite often but there is always something different to take note of. This time a young woman got on one of the trains and almost as soon as it left the station she went into the toilet carrying a suitcase. She went in wearing casual clothing – jeans, sweater etc. and emerged almost ten minutes later like a brightly coloured butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. An amazing transformation had taken place. She was now wearing a suit with a very short revealing beautiful long legs with little bracelets around her ankles. Her long golden hair flowed out over her shoulders. You might suppose she was Wanda but, no, not this time. Not quite right. She sat behind me so that I couldn’t see her but her image lingered in my memory. And still does as I write this some time later. I arrived home in Sunderland in the evening and opened the mail which had arrived while I had been away. One of the items was from you asking me “How was your day today?” Well, now you know something about the day but of course there are so many things that happened that day and so many thoughts that have now gone unrecorded. All those events lost forever. And now, looking back, I’m not even sure if what I have related did actually take place in the same day or whether its an amalgamation of different days. A memory of rituals. The rituals of travelling memories.

RJ : When I receive mail from you, I always recognize your handwriting. It seems you never use a typewriter or even a computer. Is there a special reason?

Reply on 16-8-1995

RC : Well, first of all, I suppose I actually enjoy the act of writing. My hand holding the pen to make lines and marks which become words, sentences and paragraphs which follow my thoughts line by line. I enjoy the idea that handwriting is unique, as personal as a finger print. On the other hand I have never been very interested in mechanical things, in learning techniques and processes which I often saw as hindering rather than as assisting progress. In sculpture I didn’t like casting so generally carved directly. I hated framing things for exhibitions and wasn’t very fond of printmaking where we had to go through lengthy operations like etching or lino cutting and then put the whole thing through a press before arriving at an image. I think I said somewhere else that this is why mail art suits me as a medium. You make it, put it in an envelope and mail it out. What could be simpler. I know that I can do this even more easily through recent technical innovations but I still prefer the ‘personal touch’. Again I think that handwriting gives me time to think. It being a slowish process. I don’t think that I think very quickly. I ponder on what I am saying in writing and very seldom, maybe not at all, retrace my steps to make alterations or elisions or to rewrite. I write it down carefully and leave it as I leave this answer alone.

RJ : I’ve noticed that for you recycling of the things you get is an important aspect. The memories you pass on, the envelopes you recycle. Is there anything you keep? What is your archive like?

Reply on 21-9-1995

RC : I didn’t recycle things much to begin with. Still being in the gallery of publishing tradition perhaps where you send something out or exhibit and so on but its all one way traffic with no collaboration. The tendency now is to recycle more but when I receive a particularly interesting envelope – sometimes one I’ve collaborated on – sometimes not, I keep it in the box of ‘particularly interesting envelopes.’ This leads into ‘what I keep’ – my archive is in quite a small room – say about eight by twelve feet. But as you know an enormous amount of mail art can be packed into a very small space.

Years ago now I remember filling a large space at college with by no means all my archive. Well, this is roughly what my archive is like. I sit at a table looking out of a window onto a street in the town on the ground floor of my house. On the table is a fill containing a record of outgoing mail with dates and a note to say if there was a reply. There are mi-trays for incoming mail and upcoming shows, projects etc. Also a tray of a collection of slides from other mail artists. The other three walls are build with shelves so I’ll look around and describe something of what I can see. The box of ‘interesting envelopes’. A box of artists postcards. Shelves containing files with works by individual artists – more than fifty of these. More collections of slides and a collection of audio tapes. Books, catalogues and publications mostly predating my involvement with mail art. Below a record of all the mail shows I’ve been in – requests, cards, reviews etc. Also a collection of artistamps. Below this are a number of publications in boxes like Pips and so on. Behind me are bookshelves. Here are mostly books not to do with mail art but there is quite a large collection of books by Diter Rot and also some Doc(k)s publications. Next to the shelves is a large folder containing numerous posters for mail art shows. Moving into the next wall – the one to my left we find the major part of my archive containing boxes of works by those artists who have sent me a lot of work, boxes of numerous mail art magazines and other publications and a box relating to Fluxus.

On the shelves are numerous catalogues and other publications arranged in groups such as artistamps, artists books, postage stamps, audio works, publications by individual artists, collaborative works, series like Arte Postale! and Or magazine, concrete poetry, Fluxus and so on. Don’t know how many but there quite a lot. Maybe I should start counting them sometime? Then there is all the material relating to Wanda – a box full of contributions from others and my own files and boxes. A pile of incoming publications, catalogues etc. that I haven’t read yet. Files containing addresses and a record of all the shows, publications I’ve been in plus other things like audio works, my own publications etc. There is a collection of one of each of my own publications and another of all those exhibitions where I’ve been the only exhibitor. Then there are all the files relating to the memo(random) project and memos waiting to be produced. Then there are a whole lot of fills etc. relating to previous projects I’ve undertaken and a lot of material that I use for recycling. There are also some boxes of this under my table which, I think, is ,ore or less where we began. I imagine that my archive will be similar to many others. It’s quite organized but private as hardly anyone else is allowed in. But then there are so many people here with me right now in this little room. So many friends in the mind.

RJ : Yes, your archive sounds exactly like mine. To fill your archive even more I send you a finished interview of someone else. I hope you still have place for this. I guess it is now time to end the interview or is it I forgot to ask you something?

Reply on 28-9-1995

RC : Maybe I forgot to tell you something, so now we end this interview on equal terms perhaps as a metaphor for the network.
Au revoir.

RJ :Thanks for the interview Robin!

Address mail-artist:

5b Tunstall Vale
Sunderland SR2 7HP

Address interviewer:

P.O.Box 1055
4801 BB  Breda

e-mail: info@iuoma.org

Since the original website with interviews is no longer online, I am republishing these interviews in blogform too.


Since the time of websites is vanishing quickly, and the time of blogs integrated in social networks is there for years, I also started with a blog on the IUOMA domain name. We will see how that goes. This is just the first posting. Getting used to the settings of WordPress, and as it looks now it isn’t that complicated.

2015-05-27 17.17.25Because Mail-Art is visually orientated, I will include lots of visuals as usual. Here is a first sample of an envelope sent to Diane Keys in the USA. She already received it and posted it on facebook. The texts and images are everywhere these days, and a normal visitor of the Internet is swamped with all kind of details.


Can we still find our ways in this gigantic chaos? I just started just one more blog it that chaos. Not sure if someone will actually also read this.