This interview was done in 1995 by Ruud Janssen.


(A large part of the interview was done by fax)

Started on: 3-11-1994

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: 9-11-1994

KG: I discovered the Network idea of Correspondence-Art in 1967 in San Francisco (USA) when I was looking for material for my doctoral thesis at Dada-Post-Dada- and human art activities. Art, distributed by the normal Postal-System really was fascinating for me. I suddenly was deep involved with that great idea. Later I found out, that this kind of publishing art was so important for artists, working in depressed countries – East Europe and South America.

RJ : What mail-art means to an artist is quite a personal view of the artist. Does, what mail-art means to you, differs a lot from what you think mail-art means to an artist in these ‘depressed countries’ as you call them?

Reply on: 18-11-1994

KG: Yes of course. Mail art just is the way how to distribute art results. Artists is former depressed countries only had this channel to bring their works out of their countries. The postal system in normative rules seldom was controlled, also there was just a small possibility that the controlling official did understand the deep background of a lot of mail art products. A personal view of art is the personal art, but to transport this personal view is another story. So the importance of mail art just is the relative open kind of transporting art worldwide. Mail art is no – ism !

RJ : What does NO-ISM mean? Is it the same as NEO-ISM for you, or do you mean that mail-art just can’t be seen as an art-movement or group?
Reply on: 22-11-94

KG: No-ism in my convinced opinion means, MAIL-ART never will become a special ART-STYLE. MA just is a medium to transport ART or was a super-welcome medium to transport art in depressed countries from that time when the iron curtain still was closed! MA you can compare with any other media like camera or brush. All old and new fixed ART STYLES or …ISMS can be transported by the postal person to person communication. So MA too! And of course many single persons & groups are involved in that easy system. With MA really everybody can be an artist, but -you can see- with big big differences in Quality! , because there are principles of art in any way!

RJ : This differences in quality is obviously there. Can the quality of mail-art be judged by anybody else then the receiver? Is mail-art understandable for a ‘non-mailartist’ ?
Reply on : 26-11-1994

KG: If you say ART – No! But if you only say Mail art – Yes! Do you see the difference? As said before, Mail art (like Erotic Art) never will become a special style of art in the Art History! And if you mean Mail art , of course, everybody is able to write and to read letters and all other postal communication possibilities! So everybody can become also a Mail Artist but just a few also can become Artists!

RJ : Yes, I see the difference. You talk about “all other postal communication possibilities”. You probably know about E-mail and the possibilities it might brings. Will the digitalization of communication-forms change this mail-art, or will it just be ‘another network in the world of networks’?

(like the previous question I sent this question by my FAX-modem to the FAX-machine of KLaus Groh)

Reply on : 30-11-1994

KG: Ok, I think we have to go back a little. The beginning of MA included one very important point: the personal individual touch, a human sign, the intimity of communication. You remember – Person to Person, activities in art! (Just using the welcome medium of direct contacts!) And all these – very important part beside the art results, CREATIVITY! – , all these will got lost by using the E-mail. The electronic Communication has only one survival content: The SPEED! Look how fast I get your answer! But it comes from a machine, ONLY COPIES! You have the original. Mail Art always are personal ORIGINALS! I hope there will start another personal NETWORK!! And I hope, the real consequence of MA art could become the visual & concrete Poetry by MAIL, that means the small site and easy distribution. Digitalization of MA will be a very poor variation of the roots.

RJ : But doesn’t digitalization bring many new possibilities. Isn’t the computer just a new tool artists have to get used too. In business it is used to make COPIES, but an artist can use it to create an ORIGINAL PIECE.

(To give an example, I don’t print my texts on paper and than ‘feed’ it to a FAX-machine to make a xerox at distance. I use the computer to put my thoughts into words in a digital form, and then send this digital words with the aid of a computer and modem to the analog machine, that the FAX is. The only printed version there is, is the FAX-paper that comes out of your machine. And if there is a bad line, the result is the distorted FAX you received).

Reply on : 3-12-1994

KG: Dear Ruud, of course yes, you are right. But that is not mail-art. Use a new word FAX-art / Digit-art / Copy-art or whatever you want. The original idea/content/aim of MA is the personal touch, person to person, transported by the postal international system.

RJ : O.K., lets stick to the original idea’s and aims of mail-art, the things sent by mail. The visual poem you included with your last answer couldn’t be sent in a digital way, and I’m sure that that won’t be possible for many years to come (teleporting still is fiction). Have you always been interested so much in visual poetry?

Reply on : 7-12-1994

KG: Yes, I did. Working the Alphabet & with words and parts of words and letters are treasure with highest graphical values. And because the size could be very small MA is predestinated for such kinds of artistic expressions. If you remember my very first MA-works you’ll find visual poems from the beginning. So also future will be.

RJ : In your visual poetry you use sometimes a lot of stamping. I recently read you statement “Wer stempelt braucht nicht zu schreiben” (who stamps doesn’t has to write) which you wrote January 1976. Can you tell me a bit more about the importance of stamping in your mail-art work nowadays.

Reply on : 14-12-1994

KG: Stamping is the only “original-reproduction” of a hand-made starting project. The hand-made (hand-cut) rubber stamp is a reproduction nearest to an original. Remember that I said to the last human touch in Art-Productions! So if you write by cutting it into a rubber-stamp you always reproduce the original writing by stamping. That’s what I mean. “TRY TO TRY” is a similar thought

RJ : Could you explain the thought behind “TRY TO TRY”. It seems that “to try” is important to you as I remember another thought of you which was “TRY = LIFE”

Reply on : 28-12-1994 and on 11-1-1995

KG: To try is the permanent decision in all action of life. The human decision should not only be an animal self-reaction, it should be accompanied by thinking about all consequences and about all alternatives. So mostly there is to each human act an alternative act with similar matching situations. So all activities in everybody’s life is a permanent decision, that means permanent TRY to TRY so the consequence is this idea comes to the result TRY = LIFE! So human existence is a permanent decision to try the next step!

All activities in everybodies life is the permanent trial to try, to reach the always best for individual existence. The moment in each second you always have to decide whether you do it or you do it not. The result always is totally open always with millions of possibilities, everywhere. Each step, each movement, each act, everything is in the moment of doing totally open. When it is done there is mostly no return. And from each step you have to decide again – and then again & again. That is life! So, I am sure you have a new understanding view of my main sentence TRY to TRY and also the other sentence TRY = LIFE

RJ : What is your next step in connection to mail-art?

Reply on 12-1-1995

KG: I think, – I told you in parts-, just exchanging postal pieces is not enough to communicate. Mail art has a very important place in artistic activities – special for former depressed countries. Now, these must be started with completely new artistic fields! So, let’s think about what could be possible. Human existence should be in the center for ever! So we all have to try to start again with new QUALITIES in producing things whatever it should be. The new medias (FAX, Electronic, computer, satellite connections, etc. etc.) must include again any kind of human touch! So my idea, my next step, could be again new forms of visual & concrete Poetry , Collages with all printed medias , Sounds with understandable contents , communication with serious feedbacks , TRY MORE! Go on asking.

RJ : How do you achieve that TRY MORE doesn’t result in duplicating the same things over and over; that TRY to TRY result in trying to do something without being able to make progress? Or is it that the artist is the person who will always proceed in learning and discovering?

Reply on : 20-1-1995

KG: TRY = Life! So real life always is progress! Always the next in life, accompanied by millions of tryings (tests!) whether so or so (!). And, of course you’re completely right: the artist, all creative people are predestinated to proceed, that is human life! So progress (improvements) is very possible by permanent tryings and discovering; all is open, what you find is new and determines the next future. Not only in art, ==> in all kinds of creative existence. “Whoever is creative – lives!” (“Wer kreativ ist, lebt!”)

RJ : When I think again about words like predestination, progress, life and trying, I get these philosophical thoughts. Why progress, why trying, what is this predestination? Is the answer an individual one, or it there a predestination for everybody in a larger concept. Have you ever thought about that?

Reply on : 31-1-95

KG: The answer concerning progression, future life, life at all – not predestination! – is not a personal problem, it is a human aim, a human content, a human necessary! So -I said- try doing, thinking and also laughing is an ability, that makes the difference between human and animal beings. The whole history of human existence is based on progress in all fields of possibilities. That there are also bad results, that is the risk of human existence, that is human at all too! Of course, I thought about that in so many situations! Art only is a very small part of that all!

RJ : How important is this art to you? Is it just a small part of your life or are the people that are called artists just the people where the ‘art-part’ of their life is a bit larger then the average?

Reply on : 9-2-1995

KG: Yes, you are right, artists, musicians, poets, writers, they all are more sensitive getting outside world impressions and at the same time, they have the ability to express these feelings, their impressions in their media. Just that is the difference to the other people. Because everybody has the same eyes to see, ears to hear, hands with brain to write, but only a few – the creative ones – can handle with what they feel, hear, mention, etc. For me personal art is the most important field in my social environment, art or artistic doing in all possibilities, help me to live – so remember: Try is life! Mondriaan once said, if everybody will be artists, the world will be ok at all. Because active sensitive feeling with doing is life in art, is life!

RJ : On the envelope you send your reply in, you wrote: “Ray Johnson’s death touched me very deep. He was the Moses of mail art. We never should forget him!” Were you ever in contact with him? What did you learn from him?

Reply on : 16-2-1995

KG: Yes, but not person by person. 1972 I had to stay for three days in New York. I had a meeting – making an interview for my doctoral thesis with George Maciunas (Father of the Fluxus dreams) -with some friends. Mail Art was just starting to exist. I had a 10 minutes phone call with Ray and deeply was impressed about what he already said about Mail Art. The name Mail Art does not exist. His word for that wonderful mailing communication was correspondence Art and he wrote not correspondence but correspondance. It should become a game, a happy DANCE , in contact with the other players of that game the international touch of that activity already was the main content. And, dear Ruud, look, what happened, what was coming out of Ray’s great idea. He built bridges between creative active people in the world. And look for a way to leave the world adequately. He used just a bridge to jump into his death. Really it was too early, maybe nobody ever will know the reasons. But the great idea lives! The network is gigantic, Ray knew that! So it is quite natural, also mail art changed its first idea – starting serious, getting “just to be in” , up to today, trying to get serious again! We have to look for new contents of the correnspondance art

RJ : So, should I end this interview now, so we can dance and play again, or is there something I forgot to ask you?

Reply on : 22-2-1995

KG: Ruud, no, I think in its complexity this interview gives a small overview around the mail art network. It is a great idea, serious communication just now really is so important and helps complete human existence. It is a big word, but it is true. TRY = Life!

RJ :Thanks for the interview!

Ended on : 22-2-1995

Klaus Groh,
P.O.Box 1206
D-26182 Edewecht