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

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 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

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