THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JENNY SOUP
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JENNY SOUP
Started on: 7-3-1995
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: 2-5-95
JS : I first got involved with mail art and the network back in 1987. I was living in San Francisco at the time, going to Art School. I was introduced to the addicting world of mail art by my boyfriend at that time, and thus the enigmatic Gagliones, the wacky and wonderful Radio Free Dada, the ever present (and past and future) John Held Jr., and others. I was instantaneously sucked into the network with full devotion. I have always enjoyed art and correspondence/ writing, and mail art became a perfect way to blend the two. Good friends were made through mail art, wonderful ideas were exchanged and a lot of stamps were used….
RJ : What kind of ideas (wonderful ideas as you mention them) do you mean. Can you give some examples?
Reply on 22-5-1995
(Together with her next answer Jenny Soup sent me her new poetry-booklet “SORROW’S VELVET GARDEN , Corridors of Madness Publishers, Studia City, CA , USA.)
JS : I couldn’t do justice in talking about all the wonderful ideas that spawned from the mail art medium and from my personal history in corresponding with many great artists. Though justice will not be served…. I will relay a few. When I first started receiving mail art, I took great notice, not only in what was within the envelopes I received, but also the envelopes themselves. This sparked a passion in me, and for a few years, I adorned envelopes with the greatest of time and care. Maybe a simple “hello” would be written on a slip of paper within, but the real Art lay on the envelope itself. I would spend hours on one envelope, collaging, painting and fully decorating each piece. It was a real joy. Now I don’t find the same pleasure in doing the Art on the envelopes, though occasionally I will succumb to the urge to do so. The past envelope decorating, eventually led to my color collage Artwork, which has been shown in Galleries here in Los Angeles, the East Coast, and Germany. And along the same lines, the color collages led to my creating full size oil paintings of the same images. How beautiful the lines of progression.
Now, I find the greatest of pleasure in the letter writing, and the written correspondence among those in the network. Though this limits the number of people I correspond with. I enjoy it so much and it adds immeasurably to my life. It is through the letter writing that I enjoy sharing and receiving personal ideas from artists around the world. Within the last couple of years, I have had the most wonderful of opportunities to meet a few of those people, including yourself Ruud, which I find a great pleasure and it adds to the depth of all the correspondence with such people.
Another example would be in the realm of “Projects”. Through the mail I have seen and heard of so many different projects, some fascinating, some very simple, yet all have the possibility of influencing an idea I may have at the time. Sometimes it can help solve a problem, or be a catalyst to take an art piece to another level. A wonderful part of all this has been the introduction to a combined effort in a single idea. A great influence are the “Mail Art Shows”, in how many people contribute to one thing. The collaboration effort is a glorious thing. One singular person does not take all the credit, or a “First Place” of sorts. Each contributor is as important as the other.
When I started my Poetry and Art Magazine “in remembrance”, I incorporated this idea; to have others contribute to the Magazine, that it wasn’t all one person, that it was the efforts and talents of many that would make it so succesful.
I hope I have conveyed a few examples of how much mail art has effected (infected) my life, and how ideas have formed and grown through this medium.
RJ : Could you tell a bit more about your magazine “in remembrance”. When did you start it? How do you select the work you include in your magazine?
Reply on 27-6-1995
JS : I started my magazine “in remembrance” while in San Francisco. It was around 1987 & at the time, in art school, I was working on extremely large paintings, more like tapestries. These paintings took a lot of time, energy and materials. The work was physically and mentally exhausting to complete. The paintings involved a heavy use of collage and different textures, and each one incorporated the use of language. Through, and because of these paintings, “in remembrance” evolved. My magazine became a small, simple way to express the same ideas as in my paintings. These ideas could then reach more people because of the accesability through the mail, which I was discovering through the mail art network.
I have always enjoyed Poetry and language. Ever since I was a young child, I can remember writing poems and short stories. The enjoyment from writing and from reading other works has been a large part of my life, always. I carried this love into my magazine. As the magazine reached more people, in turn, more people would write to me about it. They would send in their work, poems, art, ideas and comments on what they thought of the magazine. All of this helped shape the magazine and helped it to evolve.
I took into consideration all of the submissions I received for “in remembrance”. I included those which personally affected me, those which emotionally moved me. In this selection process, a family started. The result of this “family” , was a group of artists who shared the same “visions” and thoughts as I and as I achieved in “in remembrance”. The magazine has the feel of haunting beauty. It researches the loveliness that is found in many different areas, by many different means. Many of the works I receive by mail, don’t fit the themes, or feel of “in remembrance”, and it is hard to turn down these works. Just because they don’t fit in the realm of “in remembrance”, does not mean they are not strong pieces. Because I choose not to use them doesn’t mean they are not good, or worthy of being published. But that is the job of an editor. To choose what completes and complements the original intentions of the project. It’s not always easy, but it is neccessary. I want to keep “in remembrance” true to itself, and this is the only way to do that.
RJ : How large is the network you have discovered so far?
Reply on 6-8-1995
JS : The full size of my correspondence is in the hundreds, though it’s not a completely consistant network. There will be steady lines of communication for a period of time, and then months without. This depends on factors in my life whoever I am writing to/with. Sometimes I’ve been wrapped up in a project that will take me out of circulation for months! Same with the other person(s). When I was in Europe last year, though I kept writing to close friends, when I returned 5 months later I had a box full of mail with many letters saying, “where are you? Why haven’t we heard from you?”. Or sometimes, even years later, I’ll receive a letter from someone I lost contact with, and they’ll have written about what kept them out of circulation for so long. My network also changes and reforms itself. People send me artwork and write, its all so ephemeral. I doubt I would ever have the energy to accumulate and organize all the addresses of people I’ve corresponded with over the years. All of it is stored in boxes and boxes.
I do enjoy the variety of the experience of correpondence, though. That I can have contact with a network of people around the world, is truly an exciting realization.
RJ : Is there a difference in the mail-art here in Europe and in the USA?
Reply on 33-8-95
JS : I think there is a difference in art of all senses, in Europe than in the USA. There is a greater involvement and respect for art, in Europe. Children are raised to believe there is an importance of art in daily living, they are surrounded by it. Or so I observed,in my travels through Europe and during my stay in Paris for 5 months. I was delighted to see very young children in the museums, drawing on paper, on the floor, from great masterpieces of Picasso, Matisse, and others. Art seems to be everywhere in Europe. From money to stamps to phonecards, to bus stops, murals, galleries, great gardens and architecture. As an artist, I can see the beauty of much of America, but it is very different. There is less of a general social appreciation for ‘art’.
As far as mail art goes. I believe there is such a connection in the network, that any differences fade. Sometimes it seems that European mail artists are much more consistant in their correspondence. Not that us Americans are “flakes” per se, or are we? Just kidding. I feel the mail art network, at least the core of folks I correspond with, are of the same breed, that we all find each other because we are different from everyone else.
RJ : I know you sometimes do work with a computer. Do you also use it for your art? And for communication?
Reply on 26-9-1995
JS : I use my computer for many things. It’s for letters, poetry, writing and artwork. Though in my artwork, I am still very “hands-on.” I will use the computer to outline a design or for exact measurements in boxes/lines/type, but for the rest, I love to draw by hand. I’ll take what I started on the computer and finish the drawing with ink, pencil, paint, whatever. And with my paintings, I never use the computer for anything! The image goes from my mind straight to the canvas – no “middle man”!
I do enjoy the computer, don’t get me wrong, and I see wonderful artwork come from such electronic means. But I still respect the “old-fashioned” method when I see art that’s been drawn/painted by hand, I feel there’s a more “human” aspect to it. Same with letters but when it is hand written, there’s more of a connection with the person, the human-ness of the act of writing.
I think computers have seperated us from much of our “human-ness” of our relationship with “nature”, and lean us toward the “artificial”. In no way do I believe computers are “bad” or technology is “evil”, but there is a good balance between science & nature if we keep our heads together.
Computers are a marvel, they’re fabulous, and I see a lot of potential for their use, beyond what we have now. But for now, I’ll just use mine as I do for work & play. And I will still be in awe at the work of a human hand, whether it be digging in the dirt of a garden or a child finger-painting, or a drawing of Mary Cassatt, or a surgeon at work, or someone typing at a computer.
RJ : Where do you find your inspiration for your art?
Reply on 10-11-1995
(With her new answer Jenny Soup included a set of 4 photo’s of her paintings ans also an announcement of her newest “in remembrance #14 which is ready and can be ordered)
JS : The word “inspiration” is so fleeting & ephemeral, to me. I try to find ideas for my artwork, in a multitude of places. Most of my paintings are done out of necessity to create. Of course, many of my ideas first come from my head, from memory or fantasy & go directly to canvas. Sometimes I look through old photographs to get ideas & some image will jump out at me.
I am not a consistant painter. I lack discipline in this sense. I think much of painting is this discipline… combined with “inspiration”. I will go through periods where I’ll paint for weeks straight, one painting after another, and then months of nothing at all!
I believe that everything is worth painting. From a piece of fruit, to the human face, to flowers, fantasy or everyday life. It all “inspires” me to create, yet I’ll paint whatever I feel “in the mood” to paint!
RJ : Lets go back to the mail art. Globally there are two different attitudes towards the mail art people get. Some want to keep everything and start to create their own “archive” while others rather like to pass on the things they receive and recycle most of the things the get from the network. What do you do?
Reply on 3-1-1996
JS : Well, I’m the third attitude! I tend to pick and choose what I keep and what I pass on. I used to keep literally everything, but as space ran out and box after box got full, I began to reconsider keeping everything.
Whenever I receive two of the same things I will pass on one to someone else. If I receive an abundance from one person, I tend to pass on a few pieces. But mostly I will keep what I receive – especially when I see that a lot of time & energy has been put into making it. Often times I will receive “trash” in the mail, seems people will just rip up a piece of paper or what not, put it in an envelope and pass it on as “mail art”. I often don’t keep it and frankly, I don’t pass it on either. I am not trying to be “elitist” by saying that, because I’m not one to judge what is or is not mail art. I just tend to save the items I receive that I see time and effort in.
I have great respect for those who save and archive the mail art they receive. You, Gaglione, John Held Jr., and others, are providing a great service to all of us by documenting and preserving such a unique communication and genre.
RJ : Well, I’m flattered by such comment. I know that there are many more mail artists that archive a lot of what they receive, and the biggest archive is without doubt that of Guy Bleus in Belgium. Is documenting really that important? Do you document all your art activities (for instance, do you keep a list of all the mail you send out)?
Reply on 21-2-1996
JS : Forgive my initial exclusion in not listing one of the greatest Archivists, Guy Bleus. Where was my mind?
Your question “Is documentation really that important?” brings up a variety of emotions and thoughts. I learned many years ago in Art School, from various sources the phrase….”Documentation is everything”. whether a performance, a painting or an impact of a piece of work. And this can be advantageous for the Artist in many circumstances. And for historical value, documentation is a great aid in preserving a “happening” or a piece or body of work.
But now, 10 years after I was told “Documentation is everything”, I don’t believe it. On the other hand of the documentation coin, I see it as a great restraint. Such importance is placed on the past, on what has alrady happened.
It seems ironic to me, that mail art, such an ephemeral, temporary art form, always in transition and a state of flux, is held in boxes, and files, and forced into an archival existance.
When I first started out in mail art, I did document a great deal of what I received and what I sent out. I would photograph decorated envelopes I made, and keep folders full of xeroxed artworks I mailed out. After awhile, I questioned why I was doing all this documenting. Why was I saving the remnants and shadows of my sendings? I took on a different view, and lived in the sending and receiving, not the delicate perservation. When its sent, it’s gone. Though I do have a great deal of trouble throwing things away, to this day. Never thrown out a letter. It all goes into boxes, largely marked….MAIL, and thats it. I enjoy the now, and not in reviewing and filing what’s in the boxes. So…. why do I hang on to the box? Who knows, maybe one day soon, I will build a giant catapult and send each box off into space, one by one, with a big bang! Or bury each box deep in the ground, to be discovered by archeologists hundreds of years from now. And whatever I choose to do with these boxes of mail, the bigger question is, “Will I document the act of what I do with them?”
RJ : Well, at least you should invite some other mail artists for such an occasion…..! There is another side to documentation of course. The people who don’t know anything about mail art normally want to know about what has been going on and what it is all about. The only sources nowadays are the mail artists themselves and (if they keep any) their archives. The books about mail art mostly are written by mail artists, and non-participants just don’t seem to understand what mail art is all about. How would you reply to a person that asks about your “mail art” when you know he/she doesn’t know what it is about?
Reply on 16-3-1996
JS : I agree with your point about the documentation – that’s why I mentioned that it does have historical value. Much of history is based upon such preserved remnants of an era, or genre of subculture. Of course the other side of that coin is that what “we” base history on, is a very small portion of the overall scene. Historically – the archives that are being kept and written about and looked at, are only a percentage of the overall picture. Usually “history” comes out very one sided & biased. Are the “big names” in mail art, that every one notes, and writes about, are they giving an acurate account of the mail art scene, entirely? I don’t know, I’m just throwing out the question. And do people within the scene include or exclude certain people at a whim, when they choose?
From my experiences and observations, I notice the ‘cliques’ in mail art, the closed circles that are very difficult to enter. I wonder if this will affect the historical representation of mail art. Mail art hasn’t truely hit the mainstream of society, so few people do know what it’s about. The popularity of rubber stamps & art made from them did open up a lot of people into the mail art realm, that weren’t aware of it before. Many of my friends over the years have admired the mail I receive and ask about it. They see the decorated envelopes, rubberstamp art, xeroxed stuff inside or whatever, and they are very intriged. They think it’s wonderful & ask what it is all about. The easiest response is that its art that gets about through the mail. Big art, small art, xeroxed, painted, written, anything goes. And like a chain letter, once you’ve sent out a few pieces your name and address are picked up and the network process kicks in. You’ll always have someone to send things to, and you’ll always be receiving something.
I would be so interested in the observations of non-mail-art participants. I would almost be more interested in reading that, than a book written by a mail artist. Hmmmm. A good theme for a mail art show?
RJ : This is probably an essential point, this last remark. Mail art is still for the people that participate in the network. Others who get to see it, haven’t gone through the process of networking, and only see the piece of mail as a final result. Exhibiting mail art in a museum or a gallery is therefore always quite difficult. And maybe it isn’t even necesarry at all. Maybe your theme for a mail art show is interesting. Ask someone in your surroundings to observe the mail artist for a specific time, and make a report…….. Hmmmm. Actually, I kind of stopped with doing those ‘traditional’ mail art shows, where you ask the ‘network’ to send in their works to a specific theme. How about you?
Reply on 13-4-1996
JS : I honestly do about 3 to 4 Mail Art shows per year. For a long time I did every show I heard about, and for awhile it was fun and interesting. I like the general idea of rounding up a variety of perspectives on a singular subject, but I feel the mail art show falls short of what it’s potential could be. For example, a call comes through the mail for works on the theme of… Whatever. Maybe it’s a trendy theme, such as a certain war that exists, and everyone is really against this war and the violence, and all the work submitted reflects their views on this. All this artwork is sent to one person, who types up the contributors names on a list, puts together a nice booklet and sends them back to those who sent in the work. This seems like a very small, closed circle. Even if the work is shown in a gallery or library or other venue, people come in and look at the work, agree or disagree with the issues set forth, and then they go home. If we can all get together on some level to express our ideas, as in this example, for instance being against a certain war, then let us use all this energy to make a change, make situations better. Use our voices in channels that can cause an affect on a given situation.
I am not implying, in any way, that Art has no power, in fact it can be a very powerful tool and medium to affect the masses. But it must be directed to do so, and done efficiently. An incestuous mail art show is not using all that creative power efficiently. If a mail art show was arranged on the subject of war or child abuse or even trees, instead of sending all the work to just one mail artist, have everyone send something to a figure in a position to do something about it. Send all the tree mail art, and why we are sending it, to the person or people in charge of our national parks or government officials who can pass stricter environmental laws. If the issue is war then send all the works to the government officials initiating and perpetuating the war. Use this marvelous creative energy to DO SOMETHING, not just fatten ourselves in the glutenous files of mail art and show documentations. I see all of us falling short of what we are capable of doing, of what can be done along the same lines of the mail art show, but it really meaning something.
To further this point, if I was involved (involuntarily) in the war around Bosnia and I heard of someone putting together a mail art show about the war, and thought of all the money and energy and time to mail it all out, collect, document, etc., and all the energy of those sending work to someone somewhere in another country most likely, I would be so utterly offended. I would think and say to myself, “So what? My family was just killed by gunfire, what do I care of artwork in a file, and names of contributors on a list. I could die tomorrow because of this war.” Instead of mailing a xeroxed art piece to another mail artist, I write letters to government officials.
In the large scheme of things, what is the big deal of a mail art show? I believe the mail art show and the mail art scene need to evolve. They need to evolve for many reasons, to continue their existence, to create importance, and to keep up with evolving mail artists.
RJ : How did YOU evolve through mail art? What did mail art teach you when you look back at almost ten years of being a mail artist?
Reply on 28-5-1996
JS : When you learn and experience a great deal, you automatically evolve (or devolve). I learned a great deal from mail art itself, as well as individual people in the network. Mail art was such an unusual medium at the time, for me. I had always been a “letter-writer” by nature, I do a lot of writing, poetry, stories, journals, etc. But the “mail” became an incredible outlet once I discovered mail art, not just a pen-pal thing anymore. I learned by observance, and experimentation that “anything goes!”. It was scary, yet releasing feeling. I began to “push the envelope” pardon the pun), and this testing of the boundaries naturally reflected into my Artwork, my paintings and collages. Mail art taught me to express and try new things, not to be scared if they didn’t work out completely, that the journey and the action, the “performance”, so to speak, was the real essence. There was no real success or failure, it was not a black and white world. At the time it was all gray, and all open for discovery and exploration. I danced in the realms of Dada and Fluxus, began to appreciate Performance Art, and pretty much the Art of Life!
I am so thankful for what I have experienced through mail art. The people I met and exchanged with. The personal aspect I experience in mail art, is the real appeal for me. The artwork received and exchanged is wonderful, but for me it is the people and their lives that I grow fond of, that I wish to stay in touch with, with or without the realm of mail art. There was a real transition through the years for me. At first I was absorbed by the Artwork, what I received, what I sent out, and then over the years it became the people. The lives of those I exchange work and letters with, held so much more importance than the work. In that holds the key to how I have evolved in mail art.
RJ : Well maybe this is a nice moment to end the interview, or is there something I forgot to ask you?
Reply on 27-6-1996
(together with Jenny Soup’s answer she sent me a copy of her newest “In remembrance” #15.
JS : I would like to say how very much I have enjoyed doing this interview with you. What a tremendous project. In looking back, it has almost taken a year to complete! Your questions set a lot of thoughts into motion, about mail art and life! I had a great time thinking about and answering your questions. I hope your readers enjoy our correspondence, too. Thanks Ruud.
RJ : Thank you too for this interview Jenny!
CA 91604 – USA