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 to Ray Johnson – USA


In the beginning 90-ies I sent this enveloppe to Ray Johnson. Also got replies from him, but only discovered this envelope recently because it is shown on:


A newspaper article in which they tell about the Ray Johnson Estate that has a large website with items from and to Ray.

The envelope also contained the “This part is CENSORED” sticker, which was in the 90-ies part of the first CENSORISM project where I  distributed 20,000 of those stickers into the network.  The last role is documenteed on Facebook. You can see that on:


I distribute the last stickers in batches in small envelopes and ask receivers to make a digital copy of what they do with it. I document that on Facebook, and will make a book documentation out of that to finish the Censorism-project after 2 decades.

2015-02-15 10.41.21

mail-interview with Peter Küstermann – Germany


60 – unfinished


Started on: 30-12-1995

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 7-1-1996

(On this monday, just before 6 o’clock, I got a phonecall from Peter Küstermann. He said he liked the idea very much and that he wanted to use many different communication forms in the interview. His first answer he then gave, and I recorded this interview of which you here find the text-print):

PK :      In 1982 I was still a normal person. Then I met Don Jarvis, we were reading poetry together. In the interval, this tall slim man in a grey suit shoved a small booklet over to me, wispering “Wanna read that?” Curiously me, sure I wanted, that changed my life.

The booklet contained congratulations, texts and pictures from all over the world for Robert Quercus’s 90th birthday. Maybe you know that that is the latin species name for an oaktree; I had to ask. And I learned that Robert stood in front of Don’s Counsil flat.

It had not made me suspicious that Don Jarvis had a colour toner photocopier in his counsil flat (which means cheap housing from the city for poor people) already in 1982. And my fate was sealed when I bought the documentary booklet about Robert’s birthday from Don, for an outrages sum. He explained its high price with those just seven words that have haunted my mail artist’s poor soul ever since: “I must make up for the postage.

Of course I squeezed out of Don all the details about this wonderful wordwide non-commercial network of artists who had congratulated him on Robert’s Quercus 90th birthday. In the 13 years since, I have launched a series of mail art actions myself and made just as many documentations.

In 1992 I was travelling with Angela as Netmail Postmen carrying mail art around the world. And then we found a sign ‘Quercus Robur’ on a big oaktree at the other end of the world in Melbourn’s Botanical Gardens, and mailed Don a photo with congratulations. After some weeks, back into London again, we celebrated the 100th birthday exactly 10 years later after our first encounter, together with my mail art godfather Don, who meanwhile has become my godMOTHER, because he paints, writes, and performs as Dawn Redwood now, and who has just been our dear guest for the opening of his one-(wo)man-show in our networking gallery in the Cultural centre of Mail Art Mekka Minden. Isn’t that an appropriate bio-logical pseudoname for the daughter of “Robert Quercus”

RJ :      Lots of mail artists travel, but for you it has become a real way of life it seems. I remember getting mail from you from the most strange outher corners of the world, where you have been travelling to with angela. What has been the most impressive travel, and why do you travel that much?

Reply on 29-4-1996

PK :      Our most impressive travel was our worldwide one-year FREE PERSONAL DELUXE NETMAIL DELIVERY Project in 1992, in which we carried 4000 hand-registered pieces of mail art over 100,000 kilometers and across more than 50 broders between 350 networkers and 173 Decentralized Networking Congresses, using over 150 trains, 160 buses, 100 taxis, even a mountain rail, a canou, and a sled – and all that in our postal uniforms. It was a pleasure that you joined the project as participant yourself!

As for our motives, let me please quote from our book “Networking Discussions”, published by Byron Black in Jakarta/Indonesia in 1993:

“We carried + sorted mail art on trains, campgrounds, airports, between Siberian ice and Chinese rice – an anachronism in the age of personal computers, faxe, and communication satellites. Imagine carrying art letters, a beer bottle and even an umbrella and a kangaroo bone by hand around the world in a postman’s uniform, in a super-marathon. Exploiting yourself, supported by the gentle hands of your artists friends. Such cul-tour-ing was exactly what we did from the first to the last second in 1992.

On the whole, this project was an extreme PHYSICAL experience, which was only possible in mutual support and constructive criticism between the two of us:

* carrying all those bags and backpacks full of mail and a few personal belongings, with depots in hong Kong, Minden and Moscow.

* getting used to different climates quickly: within 2 weeks from -45°C in Siberia to + 45°C in the central Australian desert.

* experiencing the microclimates of every participant’s and host’s personal environment, not only on a physical level, but also very intensely on an emotional level, and of course also mentally; behind EVERY single postcard we found a WHOLE creative personality: attractive, adventurous, inviting = worth our undivided attention.

* sleeping in trains, youth hostels, woods, airports, tents or being the welcome guests of our hospitable networking friends, most of whom even restricted their smoking habits for us and geared their kitchen to us vegetarians.

* lots of energy went of course into the mere organizing of such quick hit-and-run travelling. We would have liked to stay longer with quite a few networkers, and are carrying home a series of appointments and invitations to visit each other, also for bigger mutual projects, in the future.

* writing permanently our instant documentary diary with photos and text, which at the same time serves as exhibition material, and will go as free documentation in several hundred copies to all the participants.

An important motive: meeting REAL people in flesh & blood to get an authentic view of the world, not by mass media. Another one: experiencing many new feelings and thoughts beyond sometimes limited verbal communication. Never before has the world been so open for MORE than mail; our fathers were at war with each other, foreigners got stigmatized as scapegoats, the world ruled by national prejudice. We CAN behave differently today, understanding freedom not only as a chance, but as an obligation. Peace is not only the absence of war, but a space to be filled. Networking as a chance for personality in shallow, standardized mass societies which manipulate and exploit our working power – as a chance to give your own art and work a historic dimension, creating one’s own personal international net of friends.

This mind-extending experience included not only the collection and delivery of “mail as art” and “art by mail”, but also so many emotions, surprises, personal goodies and background stories from the participants of our project in the ‘Global Village’.

Networking, as an extended dimension of mail art, becomes a very physical experience, once you expose yourself to the other srtists’ projects: transporting handwritten art messages across oceans on your shaved head, delivering Net Mail sitting in a congress bathtub, or being the postal part of a sculpture made out of naked persons.

When our fathers, and also our grandfathers, traveled in uniform to other countries, that meant disaster. Who knows if our children will have to stay home because immense traveling costs, due to the exhaustion of our national resources, will make such a journey a privilege of the rich? So; for us the chance of longtime travel on a shoestring is also an obligation, to promote and intensify the network idea as a peace-creating force against mass society, racism, and commercialized art markets in a capitalist world.

On our global archipelago schedule we find many more active networkers than the usual participant in his own sub-network usually assume: popular names with their own well-deserved history as well as quite some exotic sometimes peripheral mail artists. How shall we keep the network open if not by integrating more of them regularly? Their unprecedented ideas mean progress and development, if the network does not want to petrify alive.”

RJ :      Besides the traveling you also like to hand-stamp artistamps together with other mail artists when you meet them. When did you start with that and what is the idea behind it?

(after sending this question I received a postcard from Egypt from Peter Küstermann and Angela. Seems like they are on the road again…..)

(on March 5th I received mail from Peter again after a long break. He writes: “Hi ruud – here’s a T.A.M. article for your archive collection. Also I would like to continue our interview. What exactly was your last question? About rubber stamps?” With letter he sent a magazine with in it an article about T.A.M. – Think about Mutation – for my collecttion of TAM-findings. I sent him the last page of the interview again)

PK :

Address mail-artist:


(Peter & Angela Netmail)

P.O.Box 2644

D-32383 MINDEN


mail-interview with Mike Dyar – USA




Started on 23-10-1996

(On this day I went, together with Picasso Gaglione and John Held Jr., to Tom Marioni’s place. A nice surprise was to meet Mike Dyar there. I asked him if he would like to join the mail-interview project, and he said yes. I sent this question later that evening from 24th Street in San Francisco to Mike Dyar.)

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 26-10-1996

(On this day I gave a lecture about the TAM Rubber Stamp Archive at the Stamp Art Gallery on 8th Street. Mike was one of the visitors, and he gave me an envelope with his answer that I later read in San Rafael, where I was visiting Barbara Cooper.)

MD: When I graduated from college in 1974, I knew I wanted to push the limits of art and the system that showed it. I was living in Dubuque, Iowa, a small town about two hundred miles outside of Chicago. Dubuque had no art that would push me, so about every other month I spent a weekend in Chicago. I viewed shows and picked up books on conceptual art or unusual art at the time.

I bought a book by Michael Crane & published by his Running Dog Press. I was moved by it. It seemed to disconnect with just about everything in art. In the book, he asked for artists to send a page to him for his next book. I sent a photo of my head & cut hair from a piece of body art I was doing at the time. When his book came out in 1975 with my work in it, I was immediately connected with the concept of mail art.

(The next question I wrote on 28-10-1996, and I mailed the card just before I entered the Art Institute in San Francisco where I would attend a lecture by Tom Marioni. To my surprise Mike was also there and while sitting next to him I wrote a copy of the next question on a brochure I picked up somewhere.)

RJ: You say the book connected you to the concept of mail art. Did it also connect you to mail artists! Who was out there in 1975?

Reply on 30-10-1996

(The next answer I got via Diana Mars. I visited the party she gave in honor of me on Wednesday 30-10-1996. I had just returned from my visit with Patricia Tavenner in Oakland. I left early and traveled with Tim Mancusi and missed Mike Dyar by just 10 minutes. So he couldn’t give the next answer in person, but Diana kept the envelope and gave it to me on November 2nd at the Stamp Art Gallery on 8th Street, just the day before I went back to Europe.)

MD: Enclosed is the introduction page by Mike Crane, the names and addresses of the list of artists in his book & my page, which became my first piece of mail art. As I stated above, this book connected me to the mail art world & the list of artists included in his book were the players in 1975. I selected thirteen people to establish an art correspondence with: Paulo Brusky, Frank Ferguson Sirq, Clemente Padin, Bill Stipe, Ken Friedman, Len Hollywood, Leonhard Frank Duch, Klaus Groh, Al Whitson, Opal P. Nations, Chuck Stake Enterprises, Endre Tot, & of course, Michael Crane.

RJ: Your name stamp doesn’t just state your name but always has attached to it “EAT ART.” What is this all about?

Reply on 21-12-1996

MD: Why EAT ART? I did not want to use my name. I wanted to lose my “name” identity (Mike Dyar) & come up with a mail art name that represented my art and myself at the time (1975).

Food has always been important to my life—food is for life & thought—so I came up with EAT ART—food for conceptual thought.

Tom Marioni wrote to me in 1977, and asked if I was connected to Daneil Spoerri and his Eat Art Gallery in Düsseldorf. It was the first time that I had heard Spoerri had used the term Eat Art five years before me. So as tribute to Eat Art Gallery in Düsseldorf, I have a sign in the front window of my flat in San Francisco: EAT ART GALLERY (WEST).

RJ: Besides the stamp EAT ART, I also see the stamps TAO ART and ZEN ART on your mail. Did your interest in Taoism and Zen start after EAT ART or is this already part of your life for a longer time?

Reply on 25-1-1997

MD: My TAO, ZEN, and ARAB art stamps were made years after my EAT ART stamp. I have been studying the philosophies of all three traditions for years. After a while, I realized they had always been a part of my life. I understand this to be awareness.

RJ: Awareness of what? Can you explain this to a person that hasn’t studied the three subjects you mentioned?

Reply on 28-7-1997

With his answer, Mike included a copy of Cage in 1989, with the text, “formally trained Zen Buddhist that he was.”

MD: Awareness.

• There are many books on or about this word—Awareness—but all of these books and all of their words are meaning-less.

• An answer to your question would be meaning-less to everyone.

• To understand awareness, one looks deeply into one’s own self.

• Not the un-self of conditioning from family, friends, society / culture

• But into the true self we all reach when we open up to the creative act of art—music—writing—life.

RJ: You “disappeared” from the mail art network for some time. Are you active again now? Do you look at the mail art network the same as you did in the end of the seventies / eighties?

Next answer on 28-8-97

MD: Since 1975, I have always responded to each and every piece of mail art that I received.

In January 1996, I was in a bike accident and suffered from a major concussion. But now, at the end of the summer of 1997, I am starting to get back to my ritual of solemn ceremonial mail art practice.

I would like to ask you a question. What is your opinion or understanding of my answer to your question about awareness?

RJ: You are not the first to try to ask questions to the interviewer. Awareness. I know that most of the questions I am asking are a reflection of a search. Not just a search of what mail art is all about, but what actually brings mail art into my life. I am aware of Zen and must confess I never really read anything about it. I do know that inside every person there are powers that can be revealed when one isn’t doing things people ask you to do. Just do the things you feel you have to do, and that could start something surprisingly new.

Not really an answer, is it? But I would rather go on with asking questions to you. Is answering mail art like a ceremony to you? How does this ceremony go…?

Next answer on 17-11-1997

(With the answer Mike sent me a copy of a page dealing with “What is meant by Dimensions”)

MD: My process of making mail art is a ceremonial practice…the making of the envelopes, stationary, pieces to be mailed—this whole methodical process.

P.S. Another question for you. Can you put that sticker (the one that you sent to me with your question) on a specific place in the fourth dimension?

RJ: Of course. In 1977, when I studied Technical Physics at the University of Eindhoven, I followed the special introduction-course “Special Relativity by Einstein.” For me this way of thinking is not that difficult. When I put the two dimensional sticker on an object (three dimensional), and send it to you, it automatically becomes four dimensional. The place the sticker will be varies with the time. And even when the sticker would be at a fixed position on Earth, the Earth itself is moving, etc. This fourth dimension, e.g. the time factor, could be the thing that fascinates me so much about mail art. I make something, and after putting it in the mailbox, I can’t control or alter the mail art anymore.

So, what are you trying to do Mike? Trying to make this interview with you an interview with me?

Next answer on 5-3-1998

(Like most of Mike’s letters, he writes the words in lines but one word below another. This makes the letter look like a piece of art itself.)

MD: The reason I make art is to experience the creative act and to communicate with nature, others like you, and myself. Your thoughts and work are very similar to my thoughts and work. Your answers show this clearly.

But an interview without open communication would be difficult because I am not into self-promotion.

You and I are doing this interview so that we can both get to the truth of the creative act—to go beyond the three dimensions into a fourth dimensional continuum.

Yes, your questions are answers and not just questions.

RJ: Yes, what you say is true. This “self-promotion” is seen in some mail artists. They spend so much time on this that they forget what makes an artist an artist. To create things, to react to what you see, feel, hear, etc. To be open to influences from outside and to let others see what is inside oneself.

Well, just a short reaction to your words. I don’t mind that an interview becomes a dialogue. It took me some time to come back to you with a question. Time is an essential part of these mail-interviews. What did you do today, Mike?

(And what day today is depends on the speed of the postal system. I send the question by normal mail in an envelope, so that it takes a week maybe. If I would send the question by e-mail or fax, it would arrive there today—my today.)

Reply on 30-5-1998

MD: I retyped the first poem I’ve ever written. This is what I did today.

(Mike sent a print of the poem with his answer.)

(Because I took a break in the whole interview process, Mike didn’t receive a question for some time. On November 11, 1998, I received a letter with the text: “p.s. I was waiting for my next question. Time passed so here is my next question for you.” It is a question Mike suggested I should ask him and so I did.)

RJ: Is art not the mystic voyage of discovery, but its wake?

Next answer on 24-11-1998

MD: Ruud, my question was for you and you alone, but here is an answer to a question unasked…

I started playing chess when I was five. I didn’t learn to become another Duchamp, but to be good enough to give him a good game when we meet sometime in the future…

RJ: This reminds me of a discussion I had some time ago. Some artists want to become famous and direct their energy to that, instead of just working on producing good art. In a way they destroy their possibilities of becoming a good artist because they spill their energy on something unimportant. Duchamp never wanted to become famous but maybe therefore became famous. Do you like Duchamp’s work?

Next answer on 11-5-1999

MD: Duchamp’s work is very Zen. His works are koans to be figured out inside the self of the viewer. Not an object to just be viewed. What are your thoughts on Duchamp?

RJ: I like original concepts in art, and Marcel Duchamp certainly had a few of those. On the other hand, I hate it when today’s artists start to copy the concepts and try them again. I guess a lot of the art that is produced today is just a reproduction of what already has been done before. It is difficult to do something new. Are you trying to do something new, Mike?

Next answer on 12-6-1999

MD: I could fill pages on what I am doing / working on / trying to understand. Mostly, I try to work on / understand the process of new & original art for myself. Duchamp & Beuys were masters walking down the path of their discovery.

I thank them for showing & putting me on their paths, but death stopped them. Looking into my life has allowed me to walk down these paths. Down their paths into my path & my path is always new to myself. R.J., do you find time to let go of mail art & look down & walk you path?

RJ: Yes, I am gradually going in that direction. The mail-interview project is coming to an end soon and somebody else might take up the task to document things. It is also time to end this interview, Mike. Did I forget to ask you something?

(With this next question, I sent Mike the complete text of the interview)

Next answer never came….

mail-interview with Rudi Rubberoid – USA





Started on 11-11-1995

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 8-12-1995

RR : Sixteen years ago. At the time I owned a store in Bellingham called “The Postcard Palace”, which sold postcards and notecards. I saw some “art rubber stamps” at a trade show and added some of them to the stock of the store. I think Hero Arts was the line I bought. Of course I had to play with them; one day a friend of mine, Bob Urso, came in while I was stamping and mentioned that he was starting a rubber stamp company (“BOBZ) and that stamps could be used for mail art. That was the first I heard of it. He gave me some addresses, including that of F-I-X, which was a bit-of-paper exchange run by Hapunkt Fix. Participating in this got me in touch with the network. Hapunkt seems to have dropped of sight, but I still, after all these years, have an active correspondence with his then-friend Doro Benditz in Berlin.

RJ : When you got in touch with the network, was your name already Rudi Rubberoid? Is seems you are sharing your P.O. Box with a lot of friends….

Reply on 23-1-1996

RR : The name Rudi Rubberoid was designed to be the name of the editor of my first publication, The Rubber Fanzine, which had very little to do with mail art as such. I have had it so long and gotten so used to it that I actually answer to the name when someone phones me. If someone called out “Hey, Rudi!” on the street I would turn around.

As for the people sharing my mailbox, yes, I have a few aliases. It has been suggested that I attend Psuedononymous Anonymous on a frequent basis. The Blaster recently sent me a suitable annotated copy of the most recent issue of the MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) Journal. This is wild exaggeration. There is Edward R. Gonzo, the Slightly Warped journalist. There is also Ace The Postcard Pal, which was an accidental postle wraparound of the name of the shop I owned, The Postcard Palace. He is a collector of Kalakala and exaggeration postcards. Some names were given to me; Wingo Fruitpunch was gifted me by the ineffable Eric Farnsworth, who recently also called me The Center Of The Postal Universe. I don’t think that one will stick. Too unweildly. Any Salyer gifted me with Rasta Bob Gnarly, and carved an eraser stamp to match, with Bob as a skull with wild dreadlocks. Sidney Lurcher comes into play as the excruciatingly bad poet who considers John Bennett to be superior to either Shakespeare or Dante. Felino Zepellini was created for my Italian-American correspondents. Billy Joe Ziploc is a good name for when I’m in the mood for a trashy, butt-kicking letter. Grizelda Guthonk gets hit on a lot by nerds who hit on anything female in the post and won’t write to men. There are a few others, but not many. I have no trouble keeping them apart and my posties think a lot of them as one big, happy family. Of course, they also put mail in my box for any other odd names they can’t place anywhere else. Why do you ask?

RJ : Why I ask? I guess in a way I am curious about peoples concepts in mail art, how they have found a way to deal with all the things that comes on their way in this network. I would like to come back on the publications. You did more than just The Rubber Fanzine, and one of them was quite interesting, Nomo-The-Zine. What was this all about?

Reply on 6-2-1996

RR : I like to think that The Rubber Fanzine was quite interesting too. It is very hard to talk about one and not the other as Nomo-The-Zine was a direct result of problems I had with The Rubber Fanzine.

Like a lot of American mailarters I was actively involved in S-F fandom for a long time, and very much enjoyed the many and varied S-F fanzines. As a matter of fact, my real introduction to fandom was a package of assorted SF zines that I sent away for. So, of course, eventually I wanted to do my very own zine. Since I was by that time also pretty well involved in rubber stamping I decided to make that my emphasis. The first issue was largely my own work, after that I let other people do the art, I stuck to the editing. The zine had a long (four years) and honorable run, I was quite happy with it for a while. It was one of the first, if not the first (actually I think it was the first) zine to deal exclusively with rubber art, rather than rubber stamping in general, as did Rubberstampmadness, etc. Now there are quite a few different zines covering that specialized field.

However, TRF operated on a subscription basis, and that was a hassle. Keeping the subscription lists straight and up-to-date was a lot of work, even with the aid of a computer. I am not very good at this sort of thing. And people subscribing felt they had the right to tell me what I could or could not print, which really frosted my mug. I also had complaints that I discriminated against the dreaded CUTE, which was true, but besides the point. I finally spelled out the fact that I didn’t want cute contributions, which led to all sorts of nasty little letters-to-the-editor. One of my few criteria was that all contributions had to have at least some rubber stamping in them, and eventually I found I was turning down some very cool stuff on that basis, as well as poetry, rants, photo’s etc. So I folded TRF and, after a suitable ‘Moment Of Silence’ (quite a while, actually) started Nomo.

Nomo-The-Zine was a smaller, more mailable format, could not be subscribed to, printed letters, poetry, drawings, eraser-carved art, just about anything. I did continue to print rubber stamp art, but the emphasis more and more turned to mail art and its related icons. I had a lot of good contributors; Blaster Al, Musicmaster, A1 Waste Paper Co., Dr. Crankart, Any Salyer, Larry Angelo, Pag-Hat the Rat-Girl, Michael Pollard, Ruud Janssen, the inimitable Fearless Freep, and too many others to name, as they say. Beginning to sound like an Academy Awards ceremony….

I had a very good time with Nomo and I am very proud of some of the issues I put out. It had the distinction of never having printed a contribution from Ray Johnson. (Of course, I never got a contribution from Ray Johnson…) It ran for the same amount of time as TRF and eventually died from lack of interest, partly mine. After I folded it several people wrote to say that they would miss it, but most wrote to say that if I felt it was time to quit then I should quit. Very civilized of them, but not very encouraging. Another large segement of my readers never bothered to comment on Nomo’s demise at all. And so it goes…..

I had gotten deeper and deeper into mail art correspondence / exchange and was contacting more and more people and eventually something had to give; I was running out of time/postage/money. Like the Phoenix, I will rise again from my own ashes, I suspect. Eventually. Or not. I have no idea of what the next zine will look like. Maybe like a ten-pound glazed doughnut. We shall see.

RJ : You say “something had to give”, and I guess that stopping editing Nomo-The-Zine made your P.O.Box less full. Are you at the moment able to deal with all the mail that you get in?

Reply on 24-2-1996

RR : Of course not. I had a momentary lull following the demise of Nomo, and then I felt freer about taking on new correspondents and projects. I even actively sought out new people, fool that I am. Some of my new correspondents have proved to be far more active in the mail than I can deal with and require more time and energy than I planned on. I enjoy them, but am not always able to reply to them appropriately in a reasonable time. Most of them eventually realize this and sooner or later back off to a level I can cope with. Some of them don’t.

A long time ago I determined that the only fair and proper way to deal with mail was to answer it pretty much in the order in which it was received, and mostly, I do. There are exceptions that require immediate answers. Generally though, I do stick to “first received / first answered.” Usually, if all is going well, this amounts to a two or three week lag between the time I get a sending and when I answer it. Usually. Anything out of the ordinary, such as an illness, holidays, vacations, can increase that time period considerably. The smoldering, moldering mail pile weighs heavily on my conscience and I spend extra time reducing the interval when it has gotten too lengthy, the lag has gotten as long as two months, and sometimes as short as a week. (Not very often). I never claimed to be efficient. Or handsome.

I am aware that I could reduce the lag-time by not getting carried away with lengthy, burbling letters, which I sometimes do. If I hand write/print I am not as prone to do that, but sometimes I write my letters on my computer, and then I babble. At length. I also have to deal with the cat, who wants me to feed her krunchies while I type, or she will sit on my lap, the printer, the monitor, the keyboard, whatever…. It isn’t the babbling that I mind, some people even consider my babbling amusing, it’s the amount of time it takes. And wordprocessing on a computer lends itself to revision, amplification, polishing, etc. I can spend a whole evening on a two page letter if I don’t watch myself. The same with the articles. One short article can take me days, and it’s not even all that good.

Another time waster is over-polishing envelopes and other artworks; adding or accreting more and more stuff to envelopes and collages, coloring in rubber stamping and xeroxes, carefully cutting out clippings to collage letters that really don’t need them, etc. All fun things to do, but time consuming and unnecessary.

I am not terrible good about thinning out the ranks of the unwashed; I suppose that at least 25% of my correspondents aren’t all that fascinating and tend to be rather repetitive; I think that over the years I may have “dropped” a half dozen people, no more. I have had at least twice that number “drop” me. Dropping someone implies a judgement about their worthiness, and I don’t much care about making that sort of call. Who’s to say who is “worthy” of being a correspondent of mine? I’m not big on god-like powers. I very much enjoy most of my correspondents/mailers and consider some of them to be very close friends, even though I have never met them. I don’t begrudge them the time I spend on them, I feel I receive just as much in return. Now you’ve made me cry…..

RJ : Dear Rudi, what you call “babbling” you might also call writing, and I must say I have always enjoyed reading the things you write. Some mail artists seem to wear a mask when they send out their mail, and don’t show their real face, their real feelings. You probably know that I don’t answer all the mail I receive, I am just not able to. So I see the main principle of mail art that you respond to the human energy that you get in. So if someone is repetitive or sends something that doesn’t interest me, what should I do with something like that…….? Send them just a thank-you note and get the same repetitive answer, or just spend my energy on another piece of mail I am eager to answer to? I’m not sure if this is a question. What do you think?

Reply on 17-4-1996

RR : 1) dunno. 2) Anti-zygote. 3) What? 4) Gypsy moth larvae. 5) Blaster Al Ackerman. 6) Either way. 7) 34.

Are those the answers you were looking for? Cultivate discipline, Ruud…. That was a terrible excuse for a question. Yes, Besides, I think I covered most of that in my previous answer, didn’t I? Perhaps not. I tend to Have My Way, mailartwise, without flaming anyone or patronizing anyone. Not always easy, but I think worth the effort.

One of the most common mail art problem-persons is the “I’m new to mail art, I love it, and I can do more of it in twenty-four hours than you can in a month” person. Comet-like, they flare into existence, shine ever so brightly for a brief while, then as quickly disappear without a trace. I do try to direct these people and point out to them that they will enjoy (mail) life more if they slow down and (um) smell the paper, as it were. I don’t think it pays to get annoyed at this sort, once in a while they pupate into Worthy Correspondents. Once in a while one is great fun even if they don’t last long. Ziiiiiiiiiiiip!!

I can sometimes enjoy this sort a great deal better than the terrible serious newcomer who, within days of arriving on the mail art scene, issues manifestoes, projects of great import, congresses and Significant Publications, all of which are to be responded to instantly with reams of equally significant verbiage. Yawn! I find that if I take an exceptionally long time to answer them they have usually self-destructed on the rock of their own ego by then. A lot of problem mailarters solve themselves with time. Lots of time…

Then there is the “Send me dirty photos / send me a photo of yourself without any clothes on” person. One of my pseudonyms is female, but I find that “she” gets no more of these than my “male” nomen. I usually point out that at my age and general physical condition, a photo of me without any clothes on is not a pretty sight. Hardly stimulating, to say the least. I try to explain that I enjoy raunchy humor, if it’s funny, but I have several reasons for not finding pornography per se all that fascinating, I won’t go into them right now as that is a whole other story, but usually this is effective, though it doesn’t, for some reason, translate too well into Italian…

Then there are the people who insist on being non-verbal; an envelope fulla stuph, a collage postcard, a odd chunk of something with postage and address affixed. All of these are ok with me, but I do like to get a few words from these people too. Perhaps because I am extra-verbose myself. Some of my most cherished correspondents do all these things, and still verbalize well. A matter of balance. I have one totally non-verbal correspondent of some years standing. I would be shocked if he suddenly started “talking” to me. With most of the Non-Verbals I find that continued communication with them, and writing to them when I send, eventually gets a few words back. Sometimes they are non-verbal for a reason; they have nothing to say. Sometimes not. That’s the way the sending crumbles…

There is no cure for dullness. A dull correspondent can be a real pain. Of course, you can be dull back. Save letters that you wrote to Ruud Janssen and decided were too dull for such a brilliant fellow, cut off the greeting and send them to your Dull Correspondent. Done a collage or a piece of artwork that just didn’t pan out? You know where to send it. Have you accumulate clippings, xeroxes, etc., that were too dull to send to anyone? That’s right; send them on to Mr./Ms. Dull. Of course, this gets you a Dull Reputation, but consider the crowd….

If you really get a dull, repetitive person who won’t give up, there are Strategies. If you have sixteen copies of one dull postcard design, send them one by one to the Dull Person over a period of months. Clip out and send a variety of Light Beer and tampon adds. I doubt they will survive that. Hey, be creative, eh?

RJ : Well, lets go on to another subject. Do you keep track of all the mail that you send out and get in?

Reply on 25-5-1996

RR : Yes, I have for years. Not for “Posterity” but to help me remember what I sent to who and who sent me what. Sometimes, once in perhaps a hundred times, there is reason to do this. I keep the information in cheap stenographer’s notebooks, mostly because they don’t take up as much room on my desk as a letter size pad or notebook. I have them going back quite a few years now, I don’t know why I keep them. A year back makes (a little) sense, more than that is Odd. A little keeping one’s toenail clippings in a jar. Some day I will burn all the notebooks. Pretty dull stuff. Illegible to anyone but myself as well. Did I mention how much I dislike archiving?

RJ : No, you didn’t mention archiving in this interview yet, but you did wrote it to me once. For the reader of the interview it might be interesting to hear your views on archiving too. So, why DO you dislike archiving so much?

reply on 7-7-1996

RR : For many years I attempted to be a “serious” artist, and dealt with the whole interrelated complex of galleries / museums / critics / art writers / biographers / archivists, and I am/was not impressed. When I finally gave up due to lack of time, money and talent (being a successful artist is expensive nowadays!) I found mail art to be a refreshing change from the mainstream, mostly due to its lack of expectations. However, after a while I had collected some twenty-seven large boxes of mail from other people and found myself willy-nilly being an archivist. On looking over this collection I found that I could easily pass on 50% of it, trash 40% of it, modify and recycle 10% of it and keep just a few items for my own personal pleasure, nothing for posterity. In my opinion, mail art is to send, to pass on, to recycle, not to store away someplace in hopes that someone you correspond with will become famous and you will become rich selling her/his artifacts. Mail art should be kept active and in flux and enjoyed above all. I could go on, and quite often do, but I think I have made my point. Goodbye!

RJ : Well, Rudi, I want to thank you for your interesting answers in this interview. I know that we will stay in contact. Till again!

Address mail-artist:

Rudi Rubberoid
P.O.Box 2432
WA 98227 – USA

mail-interview with Patricia Collins – UK



Started on: 28-8-1995

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 11-9-1995

PC : I first became involved in mail art in summer 1993. I had taken out the U.K. listings magazine, “Artist’s Newsletter” and saw the ads in the mail art section. I had not heard of mail art + could find nothing about it. To satisfy my curiosity, I wrote to the magazine and I received a splendid letter from Robin Crozier in Sunderland, U.K. telling a little about his notions of mail art and inviting me to take part in his ongoing Memo/Memory project. Intrigued by his letter, I sent work to all the mail art ads in the magazine and to memo/memory. Some of those first contacts have become regular correspondents. Others are yet to reply – Such is mail art.

RJ : So, your first contact was with a mail artist in England too. How many people have you contacted till now, and what does the response tell you?

Reply on 20-9-1995

PC : I can’t tell you how many people I have contacted because I do not keep such a record. The responses have told me a little of the variety of mail art work + mail artists. I have found great generosity in exchanging work and nearly every post brings me a reminder of human ingenuity + creativity. I have a sense of artists having fun, spending copious time + energy + telling of what concerns them in the mail art network.

RJ : You speak of the variety of mail art works. What is interesting for you in the responses you got from the network, or are all new things interesting to you? (including chain letters, add-on papers, projects, long letters….)

Reply on 5-10-1995

PC : I especially enjoy receiving project documentations; I like to see the different ways that people collate + re-present the body of work that they have collected. I particularly admire work in which the final means of representation reflects the project topic. I also get great pleasure from mail art compilations, I enjoy seeing different interpretations of work.

Then there is the pleasure of finding on my doorstep the familiar writing of favourite correspondents.

RJ : Although you are only recently working with mail art, you already did some mail art projects too didn’t you? Could you tell a bit more about how you started your first projects?

Reply on 16-10-1995

PC : My first project was “Greenhouses”. I had been working as an organic gardener managing a 6 acre garden. In it was a suite of Victorian glasshouses, badly in need of repair. Each summer the garden was open to the public and I had put up an exhibition of artwork in the vinehouse for each open season. I set up the greenhouse mail art project with a view to exhibiting it in the vinehouse gallery in the summer of 1994. The exhibition did draw many visitors to the garden and many gave donations of money to the fund to restore the greenhouses. In accordance with the artists’ wishes, none of the artwork was sold but at the end of the year it was boxed up in panels of window frames from the old greenhouse and presented to the National Art Library where it can be seen today.

RJ : You are also doing other projects aren’t you? Can you tell a bit about those?

Reply on 21-10-95

PC : I have two on-going projects ‘National Geographic’ + ‘Damaged in Transit’. As a child, I loved National Geographic magazine, an American publication with exquisite photographs. It has been a great influence on my life + art. I have an open invitation to any artist to send me a piece of their work which is inspired by the magazine + I will send them a similarly inspired work of my own. I have compiled the photos, collages, poems that I have received into an illustrated lecture which I present with the aid of an ancient epidiascope.

‘Damaged in Transit’ is my newest work. I am sending out messages in plastic bags asking artists to send me back the bag with any words, image or objects about damage. This piece came about when the G.P.O sent me a piece of work from Julian Beere in a plastic bag with a profuse apology for the damage that had been done to the work in the mail. I opened the bag to find Julian’s work in pristine condition! I hope the Damage works will stand as an image for all the wear + tear we each experience in life.

Perhaps I should list here the projects I have organized:

GREENHOUSES : Exhibited Summer 94 Vinehouse Gallery, now at V+A National Art Library.

ARTISTS’ KITES: London Kite Festival June 95. Now part of British Artistic Kite Group Touring Show.

PHARMACY: A collection of cures + remedies re-presented in a limited edition Artist Book. A copy of this book is in the Tate Gallery Library. The cabinet housing the work will be shown in Cardiff in Spring 96.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: Ongoing project creating illustrated epidiascope lecture. First presentation to an invited audience Spring 95.

DAMAGED IN TRANSIT: Ongoing project aiming to create a catalogue of disasters.

CRUSOE’S DOG: A tin full of work about the dog kept by Robinson Crusoe on his island. First shown at Field Study Show Chiltern Street, London W1 July 95. To be shown in Devon Winter 95/96

What draws me to doing this work is not only the variety of response I get from mail artists but my own sense of enjoyment in the task of curating.

Answering this question has given me the idea of making an overview of the projects I am involved in + I can feel a buzz of excitement as the ideas flood in. So I must stop writing + get to work.

RJ : It seems like most projects start with a spontaneous thought that comes up in your mind. Is this also how you make your art or do you sometimes plan things quite well in advance?

Reply on 28-10-95

PC : I do value spontaneity in life + art. I loathe routine + ritual, but I’m not sure that it is the best description of how my work comes about. I have a number of longstanding themes and concern + constantly seek ways of representing these. Out of the many ideas that arise, I do act in a quite immediate + intuitive way on those that feel right.

Three years ago I was seriously ill and that experience has intensified my sense of immediacy + intuition.

RJ : Most envelopes I get from you are recycled ones. Why do you like to recycle these envelopes so much? Are there also things you like to keep?

Reply on 8-11-1995

PC : Yes, I recycle as much as I can. I think this relates back to working as a gardener + the cycles of growth and decay, compost and harvest. I also learned from my mother a pre-green thrift + economy + like her, I hate waste.

I have made several pieces of work that relate to these values of “make do + mend” that are nearly lost today. But I do save even hoard work in boxes + files. I also collect far too many things that might one day be useful for new pieces. Found objects + documents are a particular love. In using these in my new works I am again involved in re-cycling, re-presenting.

I also take a practical joker’s delight in sending envelopes that are not what they seem, bill envelopes to the bank for example.

(Patricia Collins’s answer came in a recycled envelope, and the text of her answer was written on a xerox and illustrated with clippings from mail she received from others).

RJ : Did you ever meet another mail artist in person?

Reply on 21-11-1995

PC : Yes.

RJ : When was this and what was it like?

reply on 30-11-1995

PC : I invited a mail artist to my weekly ‘open studio’. We survived well enough to work on a group-show, well enough to meet regularly but we still maintain a lively mail art exchange.

RJ : You talk about a ‘lively mail art exchange’. I know that some mail artists, who are active in mail art for a longer time, are facing the problem that they aren’t able to even answer all the mail they get in. This is mostly the result of doing some projects and works that draw attention, and then others start to write to you too. Have you reached this point yet?

Reply on 7-12-1995

PC : I’m interested in the idea of such a well charted career in mail art. I still answer everything + never find it too much.

RJ : Well, then you must be lucky. I am only able to answer 50% or less of the mail that I get in, and to be honest, it is NO “well charted career in mail art”, as you call it. But lets go to another aspects. Why do you think that some people stay active in mail art for such a long time?

Reply on 22-12-1995

PC : I’m sure they have good reasons. I wonder how people stop, as having one’s name on a list or two seems to generate a lot of mail. This mail can keep coming for years. Do retired mail artists still secretly hope to receive their missing documentation?

RJ : How important is documentation for you?

Reply on 14-1-1996

(Besides Patricia’s answer I also received several other pieces of mail from her. Some were 3D objects that were part of her installations, and also there was a catalog, handmade, with several color-photo’s of Patricia’s work & projects)

PC : I love receiving good documentation. I feel that my contribution to a MA project is a personal interpretation of the project’s theme. I like to see the interpretations of other participants in documentations. It gives me great pleasure to see the many ways in which a theme can be interpreted. I also appreciate thoughtful presentations of MA projects + documentations that reflect the theme. I have particularly enjoyed David Dellafioa’s tape-slide presentation of his Kenneth Anger project, Michael Leigh’s “postage” tape and the Body documentation by Sal Wood. This was simple but effective using bubble wrap, plaster + a hospital name bracelet.

I do get tired of poor quality photocopies + address lists.

RJ : While doing this interview, and also before we started with this interview, I received several 3D objects that you used in your installations, or that are connected to your projects. My favorite piece I received from you is the handcarved letterset made out of pencils with eraser-ends (now in TAM Rubberstamp Archive). Do you also receive a lot of 3D pieces in return from the network?

Reply on 30-1-1996

PC : I get some 3D sculptural pieces especially from Jaime Weitzman in America + Anne-Miek Bibbe in Holland and a lot of books. I have just started to create work on a computer with a view to sending e-mail art. Work in this new medium has made me realize how much I like the objectness of books. They have tactile qualities and weight, their pages rustle and hold smells, they can be viewed at different distances on a lap or lectern for example. I enjoy work that appeals to all the senses.

RJ : I must say I agree with you that the computer normally only appeals to a few senses of the human body. But artists are known for using the new mediums in quite specific ways. What do you think is interesting to use a computer for?

Reply on 8-2-1996

PC : I am interested in three different areas of work:

(1) Administrative tasks – C.V’s , letters of application, address database – the daily paperwork of being an artist.

(2) In the creation of work, e.g. the manipulation of images by software such as photoshop.

(3) The distribution of works e.g. via the internet or in the sense of entering work onto a CD ROM which can then be sent out.

In 1995 I made a New Year’s resolution to get myself computer-litererate. My resolve took me through my first category. In 1996 I hope to develop the creation & distribution of my work.

RJ : Any more plans for the future, in connection to mail art?

Reply on 20-2-1996

PC : Doing the above seems a pretty big plan! I have some ongoing projects + I hope that my work as an artist will flourish.

I guess my mail art dream is that one day the GPO will have to send me a special delivery. A separate postman/postwoman with a complete sack of mail. No junk mail, no bills, just mail art.

RJ : Yes, something like that sounds tempting. I always enjoy getting a lot of mail, but the answering of it all sometimes is a problem. Another subject I would like to discuss with you. Whenever I look at lists of participants I notice that there are always more male mail artists than female mail artists. What do you think is the reason for that?

Reply on 8-3-1996

PC : I would like to know the reason. I would have thought that there would be less under-representation of women in mail art than in other art forms. I had thought of mail art as one of the most accessible forms that could be practiced within the constraints that many women experience. For example it can be a domestic practice + does not require a studio, it can be done in moments of free time, it does not depend on the long hours of concentration necessary for some other forms, it can be executed in found materials + for the price of a stamp, it can be a supportive network for isolated artists. But it seems that these factors have not brought more women into mail art than into other practices. I have to assume that the under representation of women in mail art is for the same reason as in other art forms.

However I would say that I do not believe that numbers are always important; quality counts too. I am sure many mail artists would agree that a single good postcard can outweigh a heavy tome of grungy photocopy.

RJ : I sure agree with that! Maybe that is one of the reasons that male mail artists sometimes dominate the lists of participants to a mail art project. Just because they want to participate in all (quantity) rather than send in more interesting stuff to a selected project (quality). Just my thought. Actually that deals with one of the things some art-critics have to mail art, that it lacks quality. When I look at the mail I got in the last years I must say that I sometimes wonder what some xeroxes are all about. Some things aren’t interesting at all anymore, and I then just don’t reply. Do you still reply to all the mail you get in?

Reply on 21-3-1996

PC : I do. I even have a technique ‘the Bates Method’ (after Keith Bates) for dealing with chainletters. I send something to everyone on the chain list – usually just a post card + thereby bring one branch to a halt.

RJ : Well, maybe it is time to bring a halt to this interview. Or is it that I forgot to ask you something?

Reply on 1-4-1996

PC : Perhaps, but do check your e-mail + I would like to see a draft copy of the whole interview to know if this is the final.

RJ : Well, I always send a draft copy to every mail artist I interview, so that is no problem. I just wondered about your comment on e-mail. I check my e-mail almost every day, and if you DID send me something it hasn’t arrived yet. So, now I am not sure if this interview is ended or not. Anyway, I would like to thank you very much for your time & the answers, and I hope you’ll stay in touch.

(Just after sending Patricia the draft-text I received her first e-mail message, which I replied to).

Reply on 10-4-1996

PC : My e-mail address is Pat@E1Studio.demon.co.uk. I’d be happy to hear from any mail artist, but as yet I cannot garantee that I can reply.

RJ : Well, you entered the cyberworld too now, so a good moment to close this interview. Thanks again!

Address mail-artist:
128 Kingston Road,
Teddington – TW11 9JH

mail-interview with Litsa Spathi – Netherlands

This interview with Litsa Spathi was done by Zora von  Burden (USA) in 2004. It has been published in the book  “Women of the Underground: Art”, Cultural innovators speak for themselves. Book published by Manic D Press, Inc. (December 4, 2012) ISBN-13: 978-1933149332 . The complete book can be ordered at: Go to Amazon Bookshop.



The questions & answers:
1. What was the first introduction to any type of surreal based art you can remember? One which gave you inspiration to work within this type of medium?

It must have been in Athens, 1972. The political system was a dictatorship. The art-education was based on this. They forced upon me an esthetical system which wasn’t mine. It was tragically, because already at the age of 3 I had decided to become a painter.

On one of those days I came across a bookshops in the centre. And as chance wanted, I found myself holding a book dealing with surrealistic art. I knew instantly: there it is, the art the teacher at the Gymnasium didn’t want me to paint.

One year later I emigrated to Germany and wanted to study art. Starting from spring 1974 I began to visit the museums…… There I was seeing Otto Dix and Francis Bacon.

2. What would you describe the main difference is of surrealist art as to fantastic realism?

I myself hardly see any difference. The fantastic realism is in my opinion a variation of surrealistic art. Maybe its child. But let me think. The surrealists wanted to grasp the unconsciousness. For them the real outside world wasn’t important but rather the inner reality. The world of imagination is seen as the only reality. Reality and unreality didn’t conflict in the sur-realism, but rather embraced each other.

The fantastic realism came up in the 60-ies, and precisely there, in 1966, Breton died and with his death the chapter of surrealism should actually have been closed. But there were already new artists who claim to be surrealistic painters. Of course they don’t duplicate the old art. But they too show works with a realistic – fantasy view of the world around them with cosmic and apocalyptic visions. These transreal worlds also report of the human search for the other and original life that will be created in every new generation.

3. What is fantastic and what is ‘realism’ in itself to you?

Well, for me “realism” means the presentation of objects and items in a real, life real way, without any additions or alterations. When that is done I would speak of transposing on the first level, the transportation of direct information. When it stay on this level, the picture would bore me after five seconds. In the principle: See it, absorb it, decipher it, get it, forget it. Why? I miss the vision, the utopia. “Fantastic” are the things we have to ‘discover’ and have to ‘imagine’. Only then they start to exist.

”Fantastic” as second component creates another, distorted reality. Only on this level things can change and metamorphoses can take place. That also creates the secret atmosphere that questions the reality and make the observer wonder. For example I see a statue on a painting that bleeds. Statues normally don’t bleed. However: why shouldn’t a statue bleed?

4. How many years have you been a Fluxus artist?

To be precise: 20 years. It was in 1984. The place was Frankfurt, and the location an international book fair.

5. For those who may be unfamiliar with the movement and group, how would you best give an example of it in text?

First I should explain something about the history of Fluxus. Mental Father of Fluxus was John Cage. Through everyday sounds and theatre actions he widened the borders of music. Students at his courses at the “New York School for Social Research” were artists who later would be the heart of the original Fluxus Group: George Brecht, Al Hansen, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Allan Karpow, and others.

In 1958 John Cage came to Germany and worked as a professor for new music in Darmstadt. Then the spark went further to Eric Andersen, Henning Christianen, Nam June Paik. Only later people like Joseph Beuys, Ben Vautier, David Spoerri, Robert Filliou and Willem de Ridder came to this group.

George Maciunas founded the Fluxus as a group. That was in the year 1961, when he came to Germany. The Fluxus Movement as such has much to do with non-sense, asks provocative questions in its time, removes the borders between the different areas in art and demands an active part of the audience.

Annoying smells and sounds fit perfectly with these art events, to Fluxus, Eat Art, Happenings and the whole spectrum of this revolting and unleashed Action-Art. Beside these actions Fluxus also brought a flood of printed materials and a gigantic amount of absurd and provocative objects in the spirit of Dada. Almost always there is provocation involved, that doesn’t exclude sex, religion or even pornography.

The Aesthetics of the painted pictures one denounced. Therefore consequently one also rejected the concept of the museums. As Chef-ideologist George Maciunas said: “Fluxus can’t be found in the museums”. Yes, of course Fluxus is a anti-museum movement, one that revolts against the bourgeois culture.

The new utopia was a symbioses of Art and life. John Cage for example cooked in one of his concerts, to demonstrate that this is possible. Others included animals in their performances or it smelled like honey. Dead fish, of a dead rabbit. The first performances of the group members were Intermedia actions with always different members. They called them “Concerts” or “Festivals”, but they resulted in legendary happenings that might result in the complete destruction of the piano.

The theatre for a performance could also be a tennis court, like the “Open Score” by Robert Rauschenberg. The players used tennis rackets that were installed with microphone and sender. Every time a player hit the ball, the audience heard a loud bang, and at the same time one of the 48 lights, that were hung in the hall, went out. With the shutting down of the last light the “play” came to an end: The Farewell symphony by Joseph Hayden in a different way. After that hundreds of people went on the court, to look at what has happened. They couldn’t see anything because the court was dark, but the events taking place there were registered with light sensitive cameras and projected on large screens in the hall. So what the ‘performers’ did and couldn’t see themselves was made ‘visible’. The audience is taken out of its passive role and is given a chance to make experiences that he/she would make never before. In this project by Rauschenberg the basis is the irritation, the conflict. One is participating but doesn’t see oneself what one does. Only afterwards with the aid of technical reproductions.

6. Do you feel that with Fluxus work, you’re ever too vulnerable as an artist?

Yes, of course. Because I show which themes and conflicts touch me. Which utopias are important to me. One has to be engaged and have the guts to do this, a daring working attitude, for which one does bare the sole responsibility. That is why ones own Achilles heal becomes visible, that means one gets vulnerable.

7. What was the motivating factor in founding the Fluxus Heidelberg Center?
8. What did this process entail?

The idea came up spontaneously, at first like a thought, which I mentioned in a conversation with Ruud Janssen. A both real building and a digital Fluxus Center should be founded. I didn’t need much time to convince him. He was very enthusiast and arranged all the computer work, the design and realisation of the website www.fluxusheidelberg.org and integrating it on the Internet.

We are in the Fluxus-tradition also connected with the first generation of Fluxus artists. With several of them we have collaborated. We practice our Fluxus not s a duplication of the old form, but in an evolutional form – with the help of tools and communication forms of our times. And that is mostly digital. We wanted and still are implementing these modern tools in our Fluxus works. How that looks concrete? An example: I write the Fluxus poetry in a digital way which is published by Ruud Janssen on our website. Only afterwards they get printed on paper and are published on cards. Together with Ruud Janssen I write performances that we realize and document. Sometimes even digital performances.

For one year now I have been working on the “Calendar Performance” A special performance for which we use both the traditional and the modern Fluxus tools. Every month I collect the most important events for the Center, made from that a large drawing and integrate in text the events and/or connected names. Persons that contacted me in Germany. After finishing the original I sent it to Ruud Janssen in the Netherlands. He scans the drawing and publishes it on the website. Makes the connections to the online world. He also makes DIN A3 sized copies of that specific calendar-month drawing and sends them back to me. Only then comes the final everymonth part of the performance: Every person or institute mentioned on this calendarpaper gets a signed copy.

9. Are you satisfied with the Center and its progress?

Oh yes, very. The Center certainly brings a lot of work, but also a great deal of satisfaction. Many visitors come, we have interesting discussions and also requests for realizing contacts. At the moment the Fluxus Heidelberg Center has become an important contact place. And that in such a short time.

10. Why do you think this type of art, be it dada, surrealist, or Fluxus has mainly been a European phenomenon?

The French Revolution in 1789 goes into the books as the revolt of the farmers. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite). The artists needed yet another 127 years longer to start their revolt, when in 1916 with Dada they started.

The art should not be owned by the upper-class or ordered products by the society and should not exists an absolute aesthetical way. All can be art. And….. nothing can be more art or less art than something else. But all this should be seen in a historical perspective. What Picasso once started with his collage, is taken consequently further by Duchamp with his bottle holder (Egouttoir of Hérisson – Ready Made). It finds its final and most extreme form in Dada. The artists emancipated and as said, in 1916, revolted against the bourgeois society, against their rulers, against the political system, which all at the same time here in Europe failed, and caused the start of the first World War.

A war that was unknown here in Europe in these dimensions. Where people were sent to the front as food for the canons. Also the Dadaists. The social and historic conventions lead to a catastrophe, according the Dadaists, and that is precisely why they rejected all these conventions, that is all civil and idealistic art forms, including the expressionism.

Dada stand for absolute senselessness, for anarchy. Breton later developed the Dadaism further into Surrealism, and Fluxus also has its roots in Dada.

11. Your work has been displayed in many archives and museums, do you have any particular works shown that you are most proud of?

To be honest I never thought about that, and now nothing comes up of which I am most proud. I am proud of all. All the works have been necessary for me. They reflect my reactions to the world I live in. they show my thoughts, my life, my fears and visions. They belong to me like…… like for example the fingers on my hand. All works are different and yet all are essential and valuable for me.

12. How do you react if your work is misunderstood? Is that a concern for you?

The first time I was irritated and unhappy. I saw the misinterpretation as a rejection of me and my work. Today I see it as a compliment, because I know it has more to do with the observer himself as with me.

When I first showed my art here in Heidelberg, people already knew me as an artists and an educator but they never had seen my work. This new side of me they didn’t know., and what they saw made them afraid. The distance grew even during the opening of the exhibition. It took some time before we could communicate in a normal way again.

Another example is when I wanted to start a dialogue with artists. Again here in Heidelberg, to be precise with their “Forum für Kunst”, an artist group run by artists themselves. Ideal I thought, but first I had to go through the formal way of applying, handing over some samples of ones work and formally apply to become a member.

Without telling me the reasons my application was rejected. The colleagues had voted against me. That hurt. Their rejection however protected me from their provincial mentality.

13. You have written many books as well. Can you talk about those briefly?

Some books have my poetry in them. Others are Artists Books with my own work which I published myself. There is also a large series of Artists Books, or books with visual poetry, that have been made in collaboration with other Fluxus Artists.

Besides that I work together on a regular basis with the in Berlin living and working publisher Hendrik Liersch. I illustrate texts by other writers which results in publications issued by his “Corvinus Presse Friedrichshagen”. These publications are mostly bibliophilic treasures, printed by hand in a limited and signed edition and contain original linocut prints or other graphics. Precisely in the tradition of Gutenberg.

14. What would you say is the most important expression a Fluxus artist can produce?

Chaos…… After that a new order can start.

15. You’ve also done many elaborate performance art. Will you talk about some of the small and large scale work you’ve done?

There are performances of different nature. They sometimes come up spontaneously, by coincidence, as a result of a specific situation. Sometimes also as a reaction to a social or political event. And it also could happen the performance is just done for pure enjoyment. But there are also those performances that are planned long ahead, prepared in full details, rehearsals so we have learned the smallest details.

A sample of the last sort. Some years ago, at the University in Heidelberg, the medical director of the psychosomatic clinic celebrated his 49th birthday. The party would take place in one of the official rooms at the clinic. Guest would be members of the staff, colleagues of the director, medical specialist, crème de la crème on the subject of Psychoanalyse from Heidelberg and far away.

”7 times 7”, I called this performance. For the actions I had prepared a special Artist book, each page printed on a hand-press by myself. The content: 49 perforated coupons for very special hot themes. Seven coupons were for one kiss. Furthermore seven coupons for one quicky, bread, coffee, longy , bath and change. Every coupon-title brought the thoughts of the audience into a specific direction, causing for a part wild expectations, which weren’t confirmed with the words I spoke. My storyline was always in another direction, an unexpected one, and brought the themes in a different light. With this also the emotions of the public had to follow this line and went from excitement to disillusion. After ending the performance with handing over the Artist book to the director, the audience came to rest and the specialist praised me that I achieved with the aid of art that they all felt on the sofa of a Psychoanalyst.

A spontaneous performance was done after I heard on the news that Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected as next governor of the state California. I used my earrings as contact lenses. They transformed me into a woman with bionic eyes and before the mirror in the bathroom I performed “Terminator IV”, made winner signs. Doing this I asked Ruud Janssen to document this event with a digital camera. The complete performance was published on the Internet and brought lots of visitors and comments. Comments like: “Is the new governor as convincing like you are as Terminator IV?”.

Of course I can go on about my performances, but maybe too much for this interview…..

16. Do you prefer working solo or in collaboration? What was your most memorable collaborative work and with whom so far?

Normally I like to work alone, like most artists. Reasons are: First of all one is responsible for the work oneself, the creation process and the result. One can control every step in realisation and modification as one likes. Secondly the copyright-issue isn’t a problem. It solely lies by one person.

Some examples of my most memorable collaborative works:

The Blue Book. For that I invited Robin Crozier from England to work with me on two books that went back and forth by mail (December 1995 till July 1996). In them visual poetry was created by me, on which Robin should interact. The final result was a set of two object books of which also a printed edition of 200 copies was published by Nobody Press Heidelberg. This publication later on is also mentioned in the “Anthology on Visual Poetry”, published in 1998 by Dmitry Bulatov, Koenigsberg. It is also an example of how the copyright-issue can go wrong. There it is mentioned as Robin’s Publication with copyright by Nobody Press England.

The Say Cheese Performance is another collaborative work I did for the Fluxus Heidelberg Center. The idea was to ask tourists to take photos of Ruud Janssen and me in front of the Old Castle in Heidelberg, taken from the “Old Bridge”. Instead of photographing the old stones they were asked to add on their pictures living persons that work inside Heidelberg right now. The press was informed and the “Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung” in Heidelberg brought a large article about the event. The resulting photos were exhibited in Heidelberg. The performance is memorable because it confirmed the idea that tourists are only interested in dead stones of a city and not in the living persons within that city.

A third Performance is memorable because of it complexity: three persons from three countries, and a time-frame where one communicates between two years. Fluxus artist Ken Friedman from Norway does this performance every year, and at the end of 2003 Fluxus Heidelberg was invited to take part.

17. How exactly does one go about the process of melding oneself with the viewer?

Very complex but mostly it is a natural process that one has in ones mind when creating the idea of a performance.

When I think of a specific performance I mostly already know what kind of audience here is and I will keep that in mind while conceiving the performance. It is like preparing for an exam. The theme, my knowledge, the audience, and that all mixed with a bit of psychology.

18. What would you say the focal point of a large portion of your work has been in the last decade? What was it when you had first started out as a Fluxus artist?

When one starts with the first steps in art one is under the influence of the artists that one admires and has seen. That happens to all and one has to free oneself from that and search for own ways of expression. So the focal point for me was also to find a way to express my thoughts, my feelings and my emotions in a form that fits me.

The ways that I have chosen brought me to Fluxus, a platform that gives me the broadest basis for combining several things that normally don’t go together or aren’t brought together.

19. Of all the mediums you’ve worked with, and you’ve worked with many extensively, which would be your preferred?

It isn’t drawing. Drawing is just like a disease for me, I constantly feel the need to draw. The medium I would prefer is most likely the painting and the object book. Funny enough one of my latest works was a combination of both. The British Council in London invited me to send in a work for an exhibition to be held in February 2005. The envelope for the object book I designed for them was an original painting on canvas.

20. Do you feel it’s necessary to be educated in some degree of art to be a Fluxus artist? Or would that completely undermine the point?

What one needs is a the ability to see things, recognize things, analyse things and to play with them. For that one doesn’t need some degree of art, rather a degree of creation. There isn’t a college for that yet.

21. Do you have a moment in your career with which you had felt you reached the apex of your work? Or expressive possibilities?

No, not really. I am still too young to see things I have done as the apex of my work. Too many plans for the future still.

22. What would you say is the single most important expression an artist can relay to another?

The first word that comes up in my mind is credibility. An artist I admire a lot is Vincent van Gogh. The paintings he made in his last years are so bright, emotional, and ingeniously made. His whole life he worked to reach this, even if he had only so little time. He always searched further to capture the essence of his search. An idealistic search for beauty and truth in relation to man and nature. Because of the intensity of this search the works of van Gogh show credibility.

Thinking of that another expression an artist can relay is consequence.

23. Of all the work you’ve seen throughout your illustrious career or life’s work, what type of medium do you feel is something that should be explored more, or has yet to be discovered?

Often I have heard that all has been done in art. Throw away all you tools, brushes, paint, etc. That would be the natural consequence. It is subjective to think that all has been already done. The new times and new mediums will emerge and artists will discover them and start to use them. Sometimes as new mediums, sometimes in combination with the old. We have seen the birth of video, digital media, and lots of artists have now their own website.

What I think is interesting is the exploration of the digital media and how they affect our lives. The new digital media alone don’t give the sensual satisfaction that we look for in traditional art.

24. What are your plans with the Fluxus Center in the future?

Lots of things already have been started and the plans are to work on realizing these things. The Calendar performance for 2004 will soon be ended and the final publications for this large undertaking will be published. New performances were created and are being planned. New Fluxus poetry is realized and will go online. Just the everyday routine.

But the greater plans are also there. Building plans have been discussed and the builders have started with the building of a new place for the Fluxus Heidelberg Center and that includes my new atelier. So one of the future performances will be a move to another building, another city, another country. That is the real Fluxus life

25. As a Professor, what types of classes are you teaching? What are some of the focuses in these classes you teach?

I teach two subjects: languages and art. The students are always adults. Some classes want to learn a new language. The other classes want to learn to paint on large scales with acrylics on canvas. In these last classes I try to show students how to find ones own way in painting. Create instead of copying the art that is already there.

26. Do you feel an artist should try and embrace all types of mediums whether they’re considered successful in all areas or not?

For god’s sake no. Imagine you would enter a store with clothes and you would buy all clothes that are modern for all generations in all colours. If you would wear then and go out of the store, how would you then look like?

Litsa Spathi
Fluxus Heidelberg Center
P.O. Box 1055
NL-4801 BB Breda




Publisher book: City Lights Books · 261 Columbus Ave. · San Francisco · CA · 94133

mail-interview with Alison Knowles – USA

The Interview with Alison Knowles by Ruud Janssen


(question sent on 5-4-2006 by e-mail)

Ruud Janssen : Welcome to the interview. Before I start with an interview I always like to read through the biography of the person I am interviewing. Looking at such a career in Art I always wonder, do you still remember when you decided you wanted to be an artist?

(answer on 5-4-2006 by e-mail)

Alison Knowles : Yes, I remember well when I decided to be an artist. It was when my grandmother addressed me as one. She looked at my pencil drawing of an osprey’s nest built in the cross wires of a telephone pole and hung it over the piano. I was six, maybe seven years old.

(question sent on 6-4-2006 by e-mail)

RJ : You graduated in 1954 from Pratt University. Looking back at this study, what did you learn there, or maybe a better question is: what didn’t you learn there?

(answer on 11-4-2006 by e-mail)

AK : My graduation from Pratt Institute was in 1956. I had transferred from Middlebury College in Vermont. Because my father was an English professor at Pratt I was able to enroll at no expense in the Art Department

In the night school for three years I was able to study painting with Adolph Gottlieb a recognized abstract impressionist at the time. He said very little to anyone, but spoke directly in front of the work to each person so it was a personal critical dialogue about art with each one of us. He made me feel I could be a great painter. at the time I intensely admired Helen Frankenthal, and had acquaintance with the work of Pollock.
Franz Kline also taught in the class from time to time. During the day I studied graphic design and commercial layout. My best class in the day school was with the painter Richard Lindner. He was a philosopher and dedicated his thoughts to areas outside painting. We had discussions as a group. We also had an hour to draw together. His concentration drawing technique is really a mediation on time . We would draw for five minutes as slowly as possible with pencil on the paper, not taking our eyes off the subject. We began the class each week in this way. I learned very much from him and use this drawing technique with students today. What I learned there was that I am artist. What I should have learned there was that I am not a painter. However, in those days all artists were painterd.

(question sent on 13-4-2006 by e-mail)

RJ : In a text I read: “Alison Knowles is a conceptual artist doing performance art, installations, sound art and bookmaking”. Quite a variety and definitely no mentioning of painting. It seems that after your formal education some informal education took place. Is this somehow connected to the “New York Mycological Society” ?

(answer on 13-4-2006 by e-mail)

AK : Oh yes, the mycological Society was led by John Cage, who along with my father is my teacher. We went on Sunday walks in Upstate New York near where John lived. We went by bus, Dick Higgins my husband and myself to spend time in the woods together, studying mushrooms and having the time while walking to talk to one another. I find walking together to be the best way to exchange ideas. John was always willing to talk to people proposing an idea or observation. We all became acquaintances and then friends. I knew of John through the New School course he gave in the late 50’s and was eager to have some of that wisdom and daring rub off on me. As for painting, my attentions dwindled after a show at the Nonegon Gallery on 2nd Ave. in New York. My diverting to the New School class was gentle and then abrupt. I destroyed all my paintings in a bonfire behind my brothers country house. This is slightly distressing to me now, as they would be easily marketable in Italy.

However, this act of destruction on my part led me directly into the Fluxus family of friends and as I say, connections to the New School and George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Al Hansen and Allan Kaprow, among others. On our first Fluxus tour in ’62 I began to write performance events. But perhaps that is another question.

(question sent on 21-4-2006 by e-mail)

RJ : When did you meet Dick Higgins for the first time?

(answer on 21-4-2006 by e-mail)

AK : I was invited to a party at 84 Christopher Street by a friend Dorothy Podber and our friend Ray Johnson. It was Dick’s apartment. I stayed for three days.

(question sent on 24-4-2006 by e-mail)

RJ : You talked in your previous answer about “the Fluxus family of friends”. When was the word “Fluxus” first used in this circle of friends?

(answer on 25-4-2006 by e-mail)

AK : These friends who did concerts together performed under the banner Fluxus. Simultaneously I would say we felt like friends rather than say a group of actors doing a play together. The term family may be my own invention but I like it. No way to put a date on this, but early on.

(question sent on 24-4-2006 by e-mail)

RJ : The term family is also an indication of how these times must have felt. It is interesting that Ray Johnson also belonged to this circle of friends. Some say he also belongs to the group of Fluxus people but I also read somewhere that Ray never considered himself a “Fluxus artist”. How do you see this?

(answer on 27-4-2006 by e-mail)

AK : Ray Johnson was a mail artist, and founded the Correspondence School.
He never travelled with us, or wrote pieces for performance that we could use. I have many memories of his work, always absurd and interactive.

(question sent on 27-4-2006 by e-mail)

RJ : Could you describe one of your favourite performances of the early days. If possible I will publish the original score with this interview. But I am more curious on how you think back of the piece you choose.

(answer on 28-4-2006 by e-mail, booklets on 6-5-2006 by regular mail)

AK : like “shuffle ” a lot. It presents the group as a group entering and leaving the hall in a snake-like conga line. I would like to send you my pamphlet of early pieces called By Alison Knowles. It lists the event scores from this period. Please give me your mailing address.

(On 6-5-2005 I received two booklets by mail. The first booklet: “by Alison Knowles”, 1965, A great Bear Pamphlet – New York. It contains a listing of 17 scores written by her. The second booklet: “MORE by Alison Knowles”, 1979 2nd Edition, Printed Editions New York. “These pieces in MORE are the writings, spoken parts, poems and events from my environments of the 1970’s. Given the opportunity to reprint MORE, I decided to leave out several of the shorter pieces in the first edition to make room for Three New Bean Events, The Shoemaker’s Assistant, and Bean see also Bein. The collage preface that follows was made by Philip Corner.” As a reaction I sent her some samples of previous mail-interviews that I published.)

(question sent on 6-5-2006 by e-mail, booklets on 7-5-2006 by regular mail)

RJ : Thanks for sending me the two booklets. I also looked on the Internet to find details about the performance “Shuffle”. Online one only finds fragments of what it must have been. On you own site (url: www.aknowles.com) also a lot can be found on what you did. A booklet fits more to the times these first scores were performed. I probably will use the booklets as illustrations for the finished interview. As I read in your biography you came in contact with computers in an early stage. I quote:

“In 1967, Knowles produced The House of Dust poem, possibly the first computerized poem, which she produced with composer James Tenney following his informal seminar on computers in the arts held at her home with husband Dick Higgins in 1967”.

What does a computer mean to you nowadays?

(answer on 8-5-2006 by e-mail)

AK : Nowadays I use the computer for daily email contact and to sometimes
send a picture for card or publication. I don’t use it every day, and I am not a computer adept but it is a great tool we all agree. I do not use it to do artwork however. All my work seems to be tactile, touchable and musical sometimes (the beans falling down inside the
paper) or performances where real people look at real people.

(question sent on 10-5-2006 by e-mail)

RJ : When you talk about performances where real people look at real people I am trying to visualize that. The bean performance is probably a superb example of where this happens. It also involves the musical element. I found a photo of one of those performances (I thought it was on the site located at: http://www.4t.fluxus.net/
Where the 40 year celebration of Fluxus in France was documented. What I wonder is: Why beans?

(with this e-mail I sent the photobeans alison knowles
that is also besides this question)

(answer on 11-5-2006 by e-mail)

AK : beans are not usually used to make art or sound works so my position
in using them for both is unique. It opens up the world of art to
ordinary things such as edibles.

I discover rare information about beans in libraries all over the
world. The first of my publications was the Bean Rolls published by
Fluxus in the early sixties. The next was A Bean Concordance published
by Station Hill Press in the 70’s. I am always collecting new
information and I find everyone has something to say on the subject.
Also, I think it is healthy for artists to have outside areas of
research besides their own world. I am leaving for Venice now so please hold the questions for a few weeks.

(question sent on 22-5-2006 by e-mail)

RJ : How was Venice?

(answer on 24-5-2006 by e-mail)

AK : Today Venice is rainy. I am here with a performance and exhibition through July 1st.

(question sent on 24-5-2006 by e-mail)

RJ : Could you tell me more about what kind of performance you did and what you exhibited in Venice? It is raining here too……

(since I didn’t get a reply in September, I resent the question again with attached the concept for the Mail-Interview booklet.)

(answer on ….-10-2007 by e-mail)

AK : (interview was stopped)

1. New York Mycological Society
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi, of which the vegetative growth is typically underground or in wood. Fungi serve a major recycling role in nature, breaking down dead trees and other organic material. Fungi also help nourish trees and other plants, thus playing a key role in the health of our forests. And yes, some fungi can also play a destructive role in nature by attacking living things such as trees. Most mushrooms are not poisonous and quite a few are very good edibles. But some are very toxic and a few are deadly! Unfortunately there are no simple foolproof rules to distinguish the edible from the poisonous. One must learn individual mushroom species if one plans on eating mushrooms. The most important point is that no one should ever eat unknown mushrooms! When in doubt, throw it out! Joining a mushroom club is the safe and fun way to learn about mushrooms and fungi. The New York Mycological Society is a non-profit organization of 150 members who share an interest in mycology (the study of mushrooms and fungi) as well as in mycophagy (the eating of mushrooms). The present NYMS was reincarnated some 40 years ago by the composer John Cage and a small group of other mushroom lovers and students. Mycology is mushrooming! (text from the NYMS – Site)

2. Dorothy Podber ran the Nonegan Gallery in the mid-1960s and she was associated with Black Mountain friends, the Mole People, the art world and the underworld. She is famous for shooting a stack of Marilyn paintings in late 1964, which she can she considered a performance.

3. #1 Shuffle (1961)
The performer or performers shuffle into the performance area and away from it, above, behind, around, or through the audience. They perform as a group or solo: but quietly. Premired August 1963 at National Association of Chemists and Performers in New York at the Advertiser’s club.

4. Beginning in 1962 Alison Knowles wrote an important series of event scores (instructions for events carried out) which anticipate do it. These event scores were published in A Great Bear Pamphlet (1965) which included scores for Shuffle #7, 1967 (“The performer or performers shuffle into the performance area and away from it, above, behind, around, all through the audience. They perform as a group or solo…but quietly”) and Proposition, 1962 (“Make a salad”).

mail-interview with Ruud Janssen – Netherlands (HR)


4 – unfinished


Started on: 5-3-1996

HR : Welcome to this mail-interview. You are the founder of the Mail-interview Project and I think that your own thoughts should be part of this project too. Ofcourse you could do a fictive interview with yourself, but in that case I would miss the dialogical process, therefore I invite you to answer my questions.

First let me ask you your own traditional question at the beginning of an interview. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?

RJ : Thanks for the invitation. Actually already some more people asked me if I “interviewed myself”, and I replied to that question that this is a strange idea. How to ask oneself a question when one knows already the answer?

Yes, that traditional question. The reason why I normally start with the same question in my interview project is that it gives an idea to the readers of the finished interview where to place the interviewed persons. Sometimes it even turns out to be a difficult question to answer. How does one get involved in the network? I invented the name TAM (Travelling Art Mail) in 1980. At that time I was sending out mail to fictive addresses in the hope that they would return to me. Also I mailed letters to my own address to see if the postal office would accept the piece of mails I put in the mailbox. Lots of drawings, colors and also collaged official postal stamps on them. I didn’t know the term “mail art”, and it is quite funny how the words ART and MAIL came together in this TAM-word.

Before 1980 I was already corresponding to all parts of the world. As soon as I learned to write I inherited this activity from my father, who was in contact with all corners of the world, yet in another network, the postal stamps exchanging. I wrote to Japan, East-Germany, Argentina, and all kind of countries I know were very far away.

I like drawing and painting also when I was a child, I even started with oil painting when I was about 15 years old. This early correspondence in the 60’s had nothing to do with art, and after seeing an exhibition about “creative mail” in a local Art Center I started with TAM in 1980. The year I got involved in the mail art network was 1983. I had put a small ad in the local newspaper to see if anybody else was doing this creative mail too, and believe it or not, the reaction came from a journalist who wanted to do an interview with me. I didn’t mind the interview, and the next week the story of my “strange hobby” was on the front-page of the local newspaper, and I got lots of reactions. One of the reactions directed me to Guy Bleus in Belgium, and to my request for more addresses he sent me a huge list. Probably a list of one of his older projects, and from that list I started to write to “interesting names” on the list like Anna Banana, Ben Vautier, Arno Arts, etc. And yes, I got replies and started the learning-process of what mail art is all about.

Question on 16-3-1996

HR : We have been in contact since you invited mail artists to send you their rubber stamp prints. Maybe we started corresponding in 1983. You always answered with an address-list of those who participated to your rubberstamp project. That was great because I was able to see to whom you are corresponding and I saw which artists are using this special art medium (rubber stamps). I never just sent mail to everybody, I was looking for the interesting ones, and your list was a great help. Also your TAM Bulletin with all the new mail art projects was important to many of us. From the beginning I admired you as a collector and as a wonderful mediator and therefore as a real networker. But, I asked to myself often: is Ruud an artist? Today I do not have to answer my own question any longer because the artist is dead.

What were Art and the Artist to you when you entered the network in 1983?

RJ : Well, lots of nice words, and than suddenly this difficult but interesting question. For me the “art-part” in mail art wasn’t that important in the beginning. I was mostly interested in systems, and how communication in reality works. Also I enjoy communication (whether it is talking, writing, etc.) from a child, and to be honest, I even remember that I played “postoffice” with my sister and brother when I was really young (like 6/7 or so). The invention of TAM in 1980, gave me the possibility to mail to firms as well, because the letterhead of TAM looked official enough. The research of the mail system evolved my knowledge of how the postal office works. I even have still some subscriptions from the Dutch KPN (the owner of the postal system in the Netherlands) thanks to the director who helped me with this research. So, in the beginning I was interested in mail (even with a technical approach), communication, and the art of the communication. But I have had always many interests. Drawing & painting was one of them, and as a 15-year old pupil I was already part of an art-group at the highschool. Not just small things, but we even started with oil painting, and lateron did with the group and other pupils our own exhibition. Most of the participants of this small art-group went to Art-College after graduating. I choose differently. I started to study Technical Physics, and lateron even Mathematics. The time I graduated (in 1983) was also the moment I entered the mail art network. But I was already working a lot with mail during my whole life. So, back to your question. Art for me was a hobby at that time. I never had the idea to make a living out of art. What was an artist? At that time I probably thought of an artist as someone wanting to make money through his artworks. But, words aren’t important when it comes to ART. I am gradually making up with the loss of not having followed Art-University. I already followed some art-courses, and am mastering new techniques. Strangely enough I am also not working with Physics or Mathematics too. Gradually I started to learn more about computers, and at this moment I teach informatics. However, most persons than think that a mail artist whi works with computers to make computer-art. And strange enough, that is not the case. Since you are in contact with me for such a long time already, you probably will have noticed how my mail has changed/evolved. I started in 1980 as a 21-year old, and I must say the network has taught me a lot.

Next question on 18-4-1996

HR : Yes I noticed how your mail has evolved during the last ten years. There is a phenomenon that is typically for many contributors of the network. On one side they act as networkers, they build communication systems through open projects like shows, magazines, congresses and they prefer the interactive person to person contact instead of performing in front of an anonym audience. They use different medias, even new ones like video, computers and they use fax machines and the information transport on internet which means that they reflect their own, and all other fellow-beings, role as a sender and creator of our world in opposition to the “consumer and hangerons”.

At the other side, many of those “artists” who act in networks have an old fashion meaning of what art really is and what “artist” means in our society. They want to be painters and they want to make money as painters. Most of them are just horrible painters, without any talent, and it seems that they are not willing to understand what happened in art during the last one hundred years. I am sorry to say, that I never liked your visual (art-) material but I felt that your coming out as a painter, illustrator or graphic artist was very important for you. I see this as a conflict. Flexibility of roles may be typical for a contemporary artist who uses roles and techniques just as a tool for his/her strategies and intentions (as I try to do, sometimes), but what about you?

RJ : I don’t get the essence of this question. It seems you are telling me about you views and ideas, and that you try to fit me into a group. The word “artist” is a difficult one. It means something different to everybody. I have gotten the question before, “are you an artist?”, and considering that I don’t sell my work, seldom exhibit in the official galleries, don’t do much performances and installations, have other interests besides art, I guess I am not the artist as society sees the artist. A word is just a word.

But on the other side I am exploring the possibilities that art and technique offer, and spend the free time I have on art, mail art and writing, but also on science & computers. Networking is a big part of this search. Mail artists send lots of impulses to you and if you are open to them, it sometimes guides the next steps. But I also have my paid job that gives me the luxury of having a steady income. When I look at what society calls “artists”, it is a problem for them if they aren’t able to sell their work. And having to sell work sometimes means making compromises.

I am not that interested if I fit in a certain group or not. I have been studying art-history now for some years, and I found out that the things that “artists” do besides their art normally is also interesting and gives a better view of their life and goals.

You write: “I am sorry to say, that I never liked your visual (art-) material but I felt that your coming out as a painter, illustrator or graphic artist was very important for you”. First, it is funny to read that you never liked my visual (art-) material. I wasn’t aware of sending you ever something of my larger artworks. The mail art someone sends out isn’t the same as the larger works some mail artist produce. Some mail artists don’t produce any larger art. The ones that do, don’t send it to mail artists. I have been often positively surprised by the “other art” some mail artists produce, which I could only see on the occasion of meeting them. You never saw my oil paintings, you probably never saw the coloured versions of my concept-drawings, sometimes transferred into larger multicolored silkscreen works, woodprints, mixed media, paintings. And how could you? I only send the graphics to other artist that are doing graphic techniques too, and want to trade, and only had a few of them in “official” exhibitions. I never send them to mail art exhibitions. All my oil paintings are on my wall, or are gifts to special people in my life. So, funny, you judge my “art” on what I send to you by mail, and that is my “mail art”. For me they are not the same.

Very important for me? I guess so, that it is important for me to have this creative outlet, to be able to put my thoughts in visuals, images, etc. The things that I have made which are important to me are either still here with me, or I gave them to people that are also special to me or when I meet them. The few times that people wanted to buy something from me, I simply refused. Sounds stupid maybe? I rather select the people I give things to, then sell them for money. The way I have arranged my life, I am able to do that. But you questions started a story that has little to do with mail art. Or has it?

Next question on 11-5-1996 (via e-mail)

HR : If you receive works from other networkers, for example an envelope with stamps, rubberstamps, slogans etc. do you just collect the work or do you think of it as a good or bad, interesting or typical piece of Art?

RJ : First part of your question, “….do you just collect the work?”. Well, it depends on what people send me. If someone sends me prints for the TAM Rubberstamps Archive, then sure, I collect. But I also observe what people send me and try to react to their sendings. Mail art for me mostly has to do with communication. Of course I think of mail art I receive as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I get some horrible things sometimes. But I always try to figure out why people sent me something. When I have found that out, then the proces of replying (or sometimes not-replying) begins. Some mail I get I wouldn’t call mail art anymore. Some contacts with networkers have evolved to others stages. Some contacts became correspondents, where the writing of (personal) letters is important. Some contacts evolved into the exchanging of art-works (I do not consider a multicolored silkscreen a piece of mail art since it has little to do with mail. It is art that I happen to mail, the art was not made with the intention to mail).

So I guess basically I think of the mail art I get as good or bad, interesting or typical, as you call it. But this doesn’t mean I only react to ‘good’ things. Sometimes a ‘bad’ piece might trigger me to respond. And of course the interesting piece doesn’t mean I have to react. If I receive a wonderful documentation of a project I can read through it for a long time, but after that I might just put it with the collection and write a small “thank-you” note.

I think again of the word ‘collect’ you used. When you are in mail art for some years you sometimes start to ‘collect’ automatically. But it isn’t the essence of the mail art, it is just a way to file away all the things you get. An example; I never subscribed to mail art magazines when I got informations about them, it isn’t interesting to collect the whole series of publications. I sometimes get the publications eventually when I sent the editor something that I produced, or I occasionally DO order a specific issue when I know it is interesting.

Next question on 8-6-1996

HR : What does rubber stamps say on networking? Is or was the rubber stamp an instrument of the networking discussions? What did they explain and who was the founder. Examples?

RJ : Of course the rubber stamp is a tool, an instrument, used in networking, but if it stimulates the discussion…..not always. The reason a lot of networkers like rubber stamps is because they can print an image quickly in the color of their choice on a piece of paper, an envelope, or anything else. What this says about networking is that rubber stamps save time in printing an image or text, and once you have a rubber stamp it saves money too because printing in color in other ways is expensive. The rubber stamp balances between the completely handmade things and the printed matters. It is a handmade reproduction. In the large collection of prints of rubber stamps I can see quite clearly the difference in the use of rubber stamps by several networkers. Some prints are very well though out, others are done in a rush. Just like the difference you see in any other technique.

In general there are two kinds of rubber stamps. The prefab ones that you can easily buy in a store (well, nowadays in the western world that is. It is still an extreme expensive and difficult thing to get rubber stamps in some of the countries where networkers live!). The second ones are the selfmade ones (ordered at a store or even completely selfmade). The artist is the one who will decide what to do with it. The placing of a stamp print is the art. Some like to make collages with rubber stamps, other use a single print to give a message, there are only few limitations. Some prints show a very special way of using the stamps; others use any kind of rubber they can get their hands on. I myself for instance use silicon rubber sometimes, which I can make myself in any form I wish. To many possibilities to mention in an interview.

Some like to buy lots of rubber stamps to make visuals collages, and especially in the USA this has become big business for the rubber stamp companies. I myself mostly use quite specific rubber stamps. Lots of them bought on my trips to other countries (many in Hagen Germany where I visited most of the “Stempel Mekka’s” ; organized by Wolfgang Hein and Diana Arsenau), but the ones I like the most are the selfmade rubber stamps and the gifts I have gotten from so many networkers. Some are really precious to me, and all the stamps people give or send in to my archive aren’t just stored away. At my desk there are always lying dozens of stamps, and I use most of the stamps on a rotation basis to spread the images and statements into the network.

Well, the two specific parts in your question: “an instrument of the networking discussions?”, I guess so, because in networking all kinds of tools that are quick to use seem to be the favorite. Why quick? Because it saves time and mostly money, and I can see from a lot of mail I get in that it was quickly made…….

“What did they explain and who was the founder. Examples?” Well, Just look at all the stamps that are used on the envelopes you get. I don’t feel like make lists in an interview. About “the founder” I guess you should read the catalog of the exhibition at the Postal Museum in Paris, “L’art du Tampon”, held in 1995. It just depends on what you call the first artistic use of stamps.

Next question on 13-6-1996

HR : When I think of the use of “tools” in society and art I see the context and the content of the “instrument”. Do you think that producers of rubber stamps see and reflect the rubber stamps function as a political instrument? (During World War II at the border of Switserland they stamped a big J in every passport of a person with jidish religion!) And second, how important was the use of the language on rubber stamps. Did the artist turn into a writer or what was the language good for?

RJ : The producers of rubber stamps. You can look at that from two sides. The ones that actually make the rubber stamp are businessman. Even the mail artists that have started a stamp company, they have a business to run, and making money is the main point then. If you consider the designers of the rubber stamp (who then places the order at a shop/factory or just makes/carves it by himself) then he/she is the one who determines if it is a political instrument. I know form my visits to Eastern Europe that the rubber stamp there IS a political stamp. A document that is signed is valid. A rubber stamp for a normal person/artist wasn’t easy or even impossible to get. I remember that in 1991 I used some official stamps, that I got a friend at the local government, to invite a friend from Estonia for a visit. Because of the stamps, there was no problem. Even when I invited her as the director of TAM (as the Tilburg Academy of Mail Art), actually a non-existing academy, but the Dutch Embassy also worked along. Of course in the last years this has changed.

Your question about language. Communication can be done in many ways. Language is just one of the tools for communication. I don’t see how the language on a rubber stamp turns an artist into a writer. The thinking of a text and putting it on paper is being a writer. Making a stamp out of it, or buying stamps with text is another thing. The rubber stamp is just an instrument for cheap reproduction and has some other nice uses; it is quick, you can change colors of ink, etc. We both know these things.

Next question on 24-6-1996

HR : At the moment, interviewing your partners, you are using the language as an instrument of your networking activities. What are your experiences?

RJ : First you must understand that I not only interview “my partners” as you say it. Of course I interview mail artists that I am in contact with for lots of years, but others can also advise me to interview someone other. This is how I got in contact for the first time with people like Dick Higgins, Ken Friedman, E.F. Higgins-III and other mail artists from the early days. I wasn’t in contact with them before I invited them for the interview.

The experiences could be a long story, but I will keep it short and get the some basic experiences without mentioning specific names of people I interviewed. It is funny to see how some mail artists grab the opportunity to present themselves as an important mail artists, mention all their friends in mail and things they have done. In the interviews I try to let the persons talk about themselves in the way they want to, so that gives the best view of whom the person is all about.

There are also the mail artists that react in a visual way. A typical example in of course Ray Johnson. He took the words on the invitation “choose any length you want for the answer” quite symbolic and indicated the number of inches of his answer. Other mail artists like Robert Rocola and Ko de Jonge also replied in a visual way, but these interviews aren’t published yet as I write this. Most interviewed mail artists take the project quite seriously though, and reply in words.

The problem that comes with words is that not everybody speaks the same language. I conduct the interviews in English (or some also in German language). The published result is obviously in English or visual language since that is the international language used in mail art. The better control an interviewed (mail-) artist has over the English language, the better he can express him/herself. But when the English sometime looks like ‘broken English’ I still print it mostly the same as the answer arrived. I don’t like to censor or edit too much. The answer is best-left authentical so others can see how the communication went. The whole mail interview project has to do with this communication. The way we express ourself and the means we choose. The Internet seems to be the fastest way to proceed with the interview, but documenting things and keeping track of the interview seems to be a problem for some. I am lucky to be quite skilled in dataprocessing, and working with large amounts of data. Keeping 25 interviews going simultaneously has proven to be a very time-absorbing job, but it has been the best learning-process for me I ever had.

(After a silence I asked H.R. if he wanted to continue the interview. The next question came by surprise through the e-mail)

next question on 7-5-1997 (e-mail)

HR : Dear Ruud, yes I would like to continue interviewing you. From now on I can do it by E-mail. Question from HRF to Ruud Janssen. Are you glad? from now on you won’t need a waste paper basket for my mail. No envelopes, no stamp sheets, no stickers, no pins and no aluminium signs anymore.

RJ : No, I am not glad. I like paper, postage stamps, and all materials I can send. The bits are just bits and don’t always get the message accross. I have been working a lot with computers, but they haven’t replaced everything as you might have noticed.

next question on 16-5-1997

(The next question arrived on paper. It was the printout of an e-mail which was sent to a wrong e-mail address of TAM).

HR : Do not worry…. it was more or less ironical. At the other side, I like breaking brifges behind me (sometimes). That’s the reason why I like thinking on art and artists without all those old fashion art techniques. May be you are right “the computers haven’t replaced everything” but what are they good for? Isn’t it a great chance for art and artists to discover new fields and duties? Making art means making interventions. Just on paper? I don’t think so. What would happen if artists could use computers and virtual strategies like Internet only?

(the answer I sent via e-mail and snail-mail on 19-5-1997)

RJ : The computers are already with us for lots of years. Already in 1987 I used them for communication, but these methods for communication weren’t easy for the non-technical people. Since 1994 the Internet has made electronic communication easy for everybody, provided one is rich enough to buy the equipement and pay for the phone-costs and provider. It is still a luxury communication-form, but when you overcome the first costs it becomes a very cheap way of communicating. Because of my profession (I earn my money teaching Informatics nowadays) I do follow these developments intensively, and I see how the electronic communication will be integrated more and more in our daily life. Of course there is a role of an artist there, to show what these changes mean for us. Artists choose however which tools they want to use in theor art, and for me the computer has never overtaken the ‘traditional art’ I like to do. For me this computer-stuff isn’t all that new. Next year it will be the 20th year I am working with those machines. Longer then I am doing mail art. What I miss in computers is normally the personal touch. The handwriting, the colors, the structures of letters, the smell of paper, and the things I can hold in my hand. What artists surely will do is bring this personal touch into the computer. I know lots of artists who are working with computers (also more then a decade ago). That electronic communication is open to everybody is still a farce. My first e-mail from Africa came from Ayah Okwabi (Ghane), but only because he was lucky enough to follow a course in Sweden, from where he could send the e-mail. Mail art is still open for everybody (one stamp is the barrier). E-mail depends on access and the location one lives. The electronic communication I have is mostly with the fortunate group that doesn’t always realize how fortunate they are.

next question on 9-12-1997 (via e-mail)

(Hans-Ruedi Fricker is thinking of building his own site with in it lots of details about his activities. That undertaking triggers the next question which he sends to me by e-mail at the end of a personal message to me)

HR : What do you think about a virtual cementary for those networkers who spent a lot of energy to build a virtual reality who will have influences to our reality too ?

(Due to a short break in the interviews and two trips abroad I only could answer this question beginning of March 1998)

RJ : It is a complex question Hans-Ruedi! We live in a real world and the persons who build these virtual realities also live in real realities, which influence them and trigger them to build these virtual realities. The web site I have created I wouldn’t call a virtual reality. It is just a digital documentation of some of my activities that I place on the web to show others what I am doing. Virtual realities (in computer-terms) are areas where people can actually move in, but don’t really exist. Documenting a virtual reality is impossible since every person who would enter the virtual reality will experience something different.

You speak of a virtual cementary, but when I hear the word cemetary I think of a place where nothing much changes and something is resting there for a very long time. The Word Wide Web isn’t like that at all. The pages online change all of the time. My web site is updated every week or so, and at the moment I even keep a kind of digital diary online with links to other things I find on the web. I don’t consider these informations to be important enough to save as a ‘digital cementary’. Once I have had enough I can just erase the complete files. I document the things I do in the old-fashioned manners. I make printouts, and even photos of computer-screens. The World Wide Web is a tool. The digital information if difficult to ducument. Which fase should one save in a cementary? Things are constantly changing. Also there is the costfactor. Putting things online isn’t free of charge most of the time. I use the free accesses I can get, but I realize that one day it will change and the digital information will be gone. The idea is to share it with others, and if others want to save parts of it, that is o.k. Lots of people printout the things they want to save because they know that in a few years that digital information might have vanished.

If someone spends a lot of time on their vrtual reality, it means that hopefully a lot of people will be able to see it. The visitors are indeed a select group. To give you an example of my site: I analysed (thanks to NEDstats) the pages I have put online in the last 4 months:

51% of the visitors came from Europe.
40% came from North America ,
1,2% came from Middle- and South- America.
0,4% came from Australia.
0,3% came from Azia and another
0,3% from Africa.
6,8% was unknown.

I have spent 2 and a half-year building my site now. Is the site my cemetary? I don’t like to think so. It is a living thing. Once I am dead the site will vanish as well since the organisations that keep them online expect a working e-mail address for the connection. Once they send you an e-mail that bounces, the site is removed. This happened to me once when I was using a school-account that was ended. The site that was connected to the e-mail address was gone. Saving it on disk and call that the cementary would also be a bit folish. Nobody could access this disk. Even when I would ‘publish’ the disk like a book, it wouldn’t be the same as the online files. And online files are a living thing. If they aren’t maintained the files become worthless. Too many sites have grown into that direction. The links they have and the informations they offer are outdated. It is a bit like mail art. When the mail art piece is archived it is no longer a piece of mail art, but an artifact ready to be destroyed or framed or archived or whatever. Archiving digital files is neccesary, of course. But I have lots of diskettes lying around here that I probably won’t be reading again. Some I actually can’t read anymore (the 5,25 inch diskettes)

I guess I am not that fond of cementaries, not even the digital ones. Once you call something a cementary it becomes static. And talking about the real cementaries. You are not supposed to build your own are you. The people who keep on living will decide what is important enough what to save. If what I put online is interesting enough for others they will save it (printed form or on diskettes). I know of lots of people who have printed out the texts and thoughts I have put online. They form the cementary. I myself only document the things I do so I know from where I can go further. Life itself means evolving, not preparing your own cementary. The portfolio I keep here in Tilburg is a printout of all the current files that are online. The actually web site is what counts, and only is functional when it lives and evolves. Others will save only important things. It is not my task to decide what is important.

(The interview was never continued, and on 10-12-2001 I decided to end all running interviews and to put the results online).