Started on: 17-11-1994

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

Reply on: 26-11-1994

HR : July 16th 1981 I received the magazine “Sphinx No. 12/13 1981” from Thierry Tillier, Charleroi, Belgium. I found Thierry’s address (very small printed and the term “mail-art” above it) in the magazine “Gepein” from west-Berlin, which Felix Kälin, a librarian from St. Gallen, gave to me when I asked him for books on the term mail-art.

From the magazine Sphinx I took the addresses from Vittore Baroni (Italy), Lon Spiegelman (USA), Ben Vautier (France), Wulle Konsumkunst (Germany), Pawel Petasz (Poland), Günther Ruch (Switerland), Jürgen Olbrich (Germany) and some others and sent to them a postcard with one question only on it: “What is mail-art today?” I received many different answers, letters, manifestos, invitations and postcards. This was the beginning of my international mail art involvement.

But, ten years before I began to use the mail for artistic purposes, in the late seventies I was a member of a regional network. Contacts and activities by mail, telephone and through magazines, shows, performance activities. These activities became more and more “group-activities” and this was rather difficult in a regional area around the city of St. Gallen. This network was not open and I was glad to find the channels to the worldwide network with the help of Thierry Tillier in the summer of 1981.

RJ : In 1986 there were the MA-congresses and mail-artists from all over the world started to meet. How did this idea of the congresses start and what has it brought to the network?

Reply on : 24-1-1995

(Because of the language-problem we decided that Hans-Ruedi will answer in German language and I will translate his answer into English. Because I read & write both languages it is no problem. The questions to Hans-Ruedi are sent in English language too, because reading English is no problem for him, he only feels more comfortable in expressing his thoughts in German language)

HR : “International Mail Art is the most important and most significant art movement in the world today” was an often quoted stamp-slogan from Carlo Pittore in New York, beginning in the 80-ies.

Doubt! Were those hundreds of mail art shows, compared to normal art shows just small size, really so important? Was the “NO FEE, NO JURY, NO RETURN” as a rule really the answer to the one-way mass-media. Could these exhibitions show the artists the way out of isolation? I doubt it.

Who were the artists that participated so actively in the network? Is Carlo Pittore a typical Mail artists? He came from Maine to New York to be discovered as talented artists, painted, looked for Galleries and in his free time was a mail artist. He was a good networker, participated in shows, edited a magazine (self-propaganda?) in which he published lists of mail art shows. Carlo had hundreds of personal contacts through the post where he encouraged many people to undertake their own activities. Carlo was a generous host in his New York apartment at the 10th street.

In February 1984 I lived for 14 days in his apartment, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. Every morning there came this young Latin boxer in Carlo’s atelier, put on the boxer-shirt, boxing gloves and matching shoes and froze into a fighting-position so Carlo could paint his portrait in oil-paint. While the boxer tried to keep his position Carlo complained that the galleries didn’t accept his paintings, that suddenly they all were interested in Keith Haring and that his own painting was great too….

The right mood to make me crazy. The apartment and atelier of Carlo Pittore/Charles Stanley covered with dozens of boxer paintings – in fighting position or knocked-out lying on the floor. Where Carlo dreamt his American Dream – famous and rich – but frustrated, frustrated…..

I was at the meeting-place of the “dead artists society” ; the mail art network was merely used to recreate the misconception of the genius and most important artist.

Outside, in the real world, Art and information had, for long-time already, become products in a booming market. The artist as a “moralistic institution” was only a commercial slogan of the art-market. Moralistic attitudes were better of at Greenpeace; Creativity had its place at silicon valley.

Then, with the experiences in the atelier of Carlo Pittore, I started with the Tourism Campaign….. I wanted the mail artists to move away from the tables filled with rubber stamps. With firm directions – PLEASE VISIT: ……. – I wanted to let then travel around the real world, where they would never meet anybody, because the travelling was the goal.

Who were these “artists” that were involved in the network? Was Carlo typical? Are there people who wanted to transform “artists” into “humans” again?

Günther Ruch from Genf – 400 km from my city – did write often about the desire to organize a congress to discuss this theme. He believed in a democratic congress where there are resolutions to confirm a common goal. We decided together to explore the adventure called “congress”. I was very skeptical. The Congress as “Institution”, where only few could participate and influence the outcome? The rich Switzerland as meeting place? The people from the East isolated and not able to travel, the people from overseas, who could pay that?

But the idea to discuss the mail art strategies for the 80-ies was very interesting. The mail artists of the 70-ies had, by the book “Correspondence Art” from Stofflet and Crane, their own historic document. A congress could clarify the new positions. Günther and I talked for long about the idea, but only could agree on the concept ‘lets pretend’. In the summer of 1985 we sent, to the active mail-artists we knew, a congress-invitation and asked for a reaction about their views about this idea. It became clear: as a central happening the congress could only take place in a fictive way.

Strange enough the idea of a congress was accepted quite well, and only few protested against the proposed centralization. Because of the overwhelming response from the network, Günther wanted to proceed with the congress-idea. No fictive congress, but a real one in Switzerland.

For me the idea still felt uncomfortable. The international mail art network was no “group” like the Futurists, the Surrealists, the ‘Situationistisch Internationalists’ (SI), or other gatherings of artists with a goal to break through, which wanted to explain the boundaries of who was a mail-artist or not. It was obvious that the “artist” as a concept no longer was valid so why go back to the conventional means of gathering as a group?

How to solve this problem? To meet people personally, one believed to know very well through the post, was an excellent idea. Tourism – to use the space between the people – perfect.

In spring 1985 I started a project in St. Gallen (East-Switzerland) called “Scene intimate/Decentralized Exhibition of the year”. I made a proposition to fellow-artists from the local regional Art-scene, to make an exhibition or installation not at a central place, but everywhere there where the artist lived. The visitors of the “Annual exhibition” could not see the complete exhibition at one place in e.g. 5 minutes but they had to travel through St. Gallen to visit several places. Also the artists had to visit each other. A map of the city locating the artists with their art was should become the invitation. But eventually the majority of the artist decided for an exhibition at a central place. A defeat for me? No. Because the principle – decentralization – brought me the idea: think Local, act global.

That was the solution for the mail art congress! Not at one place, but at many places. Not one organizer, but many….. No program but offer an open principle:

decentralized world-wide mail-art congress where two or more people meet there a congress will take place.

Günther was surprised when I agreed with a real congress, and I could convince him, that the “decentralized form” was perfect for the congress.

We made from the material we gathered through the first (fictive) invitation a selection and Günther made from that a Clinch Magazine. With Clinch 8 we made propaganda for the decentralized congress-idea. Between June and October 1986 everybody could organize a congress, following his/her own possibilities and needs, or, where two or more mail artists meet, a congress takes place.

With this it became possible, that in South-America, Australia, in East-Europe, in small or large cities, in houses, halls or at the beach, congresses could take place. The length of the period (between June and October) should make it possible that there would be congresses at different moments, so an artist with a love for travel could visit many congresses. The idea was accepted very well and about 80 sessions in over 20 countries took place.

Günther and I didn’t organize the congress, but the single organizers of the sessions did. We were only the initiators of an idea based on networking, which we only had to put into words.

The congress should not raise borders; it should be the basis for personal, open and real meetings. I met many interesting people who didn’t belong to the “dead artists society”, they were networkers.

RJ : In 1992 there was a new series of congresses, the worldwide “Decentralized Networker Congress” where you organized together with Peter W. Kaufmann. This year, in 1995, Chuck Welch is doing the Telenetlink congress, where he wants to explore the possibilities of Internet for mail artists. In what direction is this all going? Could you give your views and explain them to me?

Reply on 11-2-1996

HR : Already in 1992, during the worldwide Decentralized Networker congresses, Crackerjack Kid had many e-mail contacts with networkers who used the internet. Thanks to him, a bridge was established, from the mail art movement to the new networker generation.

For some years there are artists, who were not connected to the mail art network, one could say depending on their system, tried out new networking-strategies. Many of them were brought up with the computer, at the University they had access to computers, and on-line connections could be made for free.

Excited by this new communication-tool, and aware of the cultural changes that are ahead as well as guided by theoreticals as Baudrillard, Flusser and others, many artists started to work in areas that were already been covered by lots of mail artists.

For the older generation mail artists it is often surprising to see, how these new networkers and media-artists try out network strategies and show their works in Galleries and Museums as modern art, while these things have all been done before in the mail art context.

Well, this shouldn’t surprise us too much. First, these network strategies sometimes look alike, but the roots and goals are different as they were done in mail art. Second, in the mail art network it was the wish to stay outside the official art world.

Because I believe, that many active mail art networkers have a wealthy experience in worldwide exchange and also in connection to direct communication and the cooperation they can share their stories, they should participate immediately in the current discussions, wherever they take place. In particular during the 80’s the mail art movement has developed its own field for worldculture and discussion.

In many aspects the mail art network was a preparation of Internet.

Plenty of energy was needed to build our communication system; lots of mail art shows, magazines and meetings, which make the door open for “mail on-line” exchange systems. The participating in the mail network was often not really satisfying, because in spite of the goal, “the networking with all people” this couldn’t be done. Probably a clever mail artist invented the Internet.

In today’s Internet there are, also online, several possibilities to contact others directly: who wants to be in contact with artists just has to look for the right forum. Who only wants to look for “contacts” probably will end up in the Chatboxes. Who wants to presents his artworks without jury, can do so on the Internet.

I will start to participate in the Internet as soon as have more control over my new computer. The modem is ready; I only need to get the access to a provider. To work together building a virtual world, what prospects!

But, then there are the experiences and knowledge of the mail art network, the transport- and communications-era has brought us different surroundings, different ways to look at the things that are around us.

In this new reality, e.g. the “conquered transition to smaller distances and endless spaces”, I must find my place, I want to explore my creative goals. But these goals won’t be merely the sending of mail art products or the communication in Internet.

RJ : The specific aspects of the Internet that are different to the traditional network via the postal system aren’t always that positive. In some large parts of our world there are people who have a mailbox, but not a computer, let alone access to the Internet. Also the digital form of the Internet doesn’t allow all kinds of artworks to be shown, sent or received. I am not all that optimistic for the use of the Internet in the future (I published some texts about this which I will send you). Am I being too pessimistic?

Reply on 16-3-1996 (this time the answer came in English language)

HR : It seems we have different views on what Internet is. For my interests as an artist the Internet is not a transport system it is a context. This context is a communication system and a space system. The cyber space… As an artist I prefer to act in spaces. That means I have to change strategies and instruments all the time. Each artistic act is an intervention that changes the system and I know that I am a part of the system too.

RJ : Well, I think that different views are very healthy. In fact I think that if one is open, and doesn’t always think that he/she is right but is open for new things, the hearing of different views is very attractive. It shapes the thought of every single person. For me the mail art network, the network, the Internet, it is just a learning system in which I am learning all the time. The results of my learning proces I try to express in which form is necesarry. So it is also some kind of act. But is it art? What is art nowadays for you?

Reply on 18-4-1996

HR : A word, a context, a communication-strategy (using art-techniques).

RJ : What communication-strategy do you use? Could you explain your thoughts on that?

next answer on 15-4-1997

(Hans Ruedi’s answer came after a long silence. This time he answered in german language again, which I translated into English).

HR : When I told before, Art itself is also a communication-strategy, I didn’t limit it on the topics “networking” or Mail Art.

Networking has enlarged the artsystem by making direct, autonome communication and exchange between artists possible. I realize that also the means – the media – are essential and important. A painting or any other traditional artform, as shown in most Museums and galleries, are also communication-forms from individuals.

Not only paper ………..

(Because of time & other things that happened in both our lives this
interview was broken off. On November 25th 2001 I decided to put all
unfinished interviews online as well).

This Interview is like mail-art: it is never finished………

Address mail-artist:

Hans-Ruedi Fricker
Büro für Künstlerische Umtriebe Auf dem Lande
9043 Trogen

Tel/FAX : ++41.71.942249
e-mail :

Adres Interviewer :

Ruud Janssen
P.O. Box 1055
4801 BB  Breda