mail interview with Ruud Janssen
by Carol Stetser (USA)
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH RUUD JANSSEN.
BY CAROL STETSER
Started on: 4-2-1996
CS : 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 10-2-1996
RJ : When someone asks for a date of starting, I mostly answer 1980. But I was sending out mail as soon as I mastered writing, and that must have been around 1967 or so. My father had a huge correspondence-circle for his big hobby, collecting postage stamps, and he was in touch with all kinds of collectors all over the world. This fascinated me, and I also asked for addresses to write to. One of my first correspondence-addresses, I am still in touch with. Then a little girl in Japan, but now a married woman with husband and two children. This correspondence was even there before I had drawing-lessons at school, so it was purely communication and sharing interests. At highschool I found out that I enjoyed art a lot, and started with drawing, and even oil-painting when I was 15 years old.
When graduated, I had to choose for the next step to study, and the choice was strange. The Art Academy, or Physics…… In 1980 (I was 21 then, and studying Physics) I started with TAM, which stands for Travelling Art Mail. It was the start of combining my art-work and my correspondence. Before that date I only sent out letters, and in 1980, due to an exhibition I saw in Tilburg about “creative mail” an artist sent to himself (don’t know the details anymore) I started to do something similar. I sent out lots of envelopes to fictive addresses in the hope that they returned, and also sent out strange mail to myself to see how they would be processed in the mail-system.
Only in 1983 I got in touch with the network. It seems I was doing something others were doing too. How I got in touch the network is quite a strange story. I put an ad in the local newspaper, and asked for people who thought that mail could be used creatively too. One of the answers came from a journalist, who wanted to do an interview with me. I didn’t mind that, and the next week the interview with photo was published in the newspaper. This lead to other reactions, and somehow I also got in touch with Guy Bleus, who I asked for some more addresses. In 1983 he sent me a list of about 800 addresses at the same time. Probably a list of a project he was working on. This really started me, and I began to write to names that sounded interesting, or countries that looked promising. My search in the network started.
Next question on 2-3-1996
CS : I am glad to learn what the initials TAM stand for. In your early mail art did you make postage stamps (artistamps) in response to your fathers hobby? When did your interest in rubber stamps begin?
RJ : Actually the initials TAM stand also for “Tilburg’s Academy of Mail art” and the Dutch “Tilburgse Automatiserings Maatschappy”, but those things came later.
No, my making of artistamps probably has nothing to do with his hobby. Actually the first things I did in mail art was cutting up the official postage stamps and to collage a new one out of them and then see if the postal office would accept that piece of mail. And yes, they did. As I child I used to collect postage stamps as well, that is something I inherit from my father, but I stopped with this immediately when I joined the mail art network. Postage stamps stopped being a collectors item, but become only tools for communication by mail. My first artistamp I made in 1984 or so, a contribution for a project by someone else (this was Bernd Löbach from West-Germany, who then published them in his wonderful “the bible of International Artists’ Postage Stamps Exhibition Weddel 1985”)
You asked about my interest in rubberstamps. In fact I was interested in rubberstamps also as a child. I remember the first (and very expensive) rubberstamp I made with my name, and I was proud of this “machine” that could reproduce something that quickly and instantly on any surface. The act of placing a stamp on a piece of paper or carton is something I always liked to do. Why? I really don’t know.
So it is no surprise that after getting involved with the mail art network in 1983, I immediately started with sending out papers to others in October 1983, to find out which impressions they were using. The start of the TAM Rubberstamp Archive. Also I started with my first mail art project, the Snip-Xerox project.
(I included a 12 page biographical booklet about myself with the answer together with the newest finished mail-interview of my project)
Next question on 23-3-1996
CS : Tell me about the Snip-Xerox project and elaborate on your rubberstamp archive. (storage, contributions, and documents). Are your mail art projects primarily for exhibition, publication, or archival collection?
RJ : Wheh, what a question. To start with the last part. The projects are sometimes for exhibition, sometimes for publication, and sometimes for archival collection. It just depends on the project. The first one, the Snip-Xerox project, was my experiment to see how mail artists I didn’t know at all, would react to the invitation to make a new story out of a xerox I sent them with all kind of images. The images were carefully selected by me, and I wondered which story the mail-artists would see in them. The responses were very different from each other. I had no plan for an exhibition, but after the project ended I made photos of all the different contributions and made a catalog out of it and sent it to the participants. The “no limits” you often see in mail art projects, and which I used too, caused a variety of contributions. Some were very short, like from Ben Vautier (France) who just cut out one image (a face) and let it say (with a balloon): “Who the hell is Ben”. The project had over 40 participants, and really taught me a lot.
Most projects I did or am doing hadn’t that much planning in advance, they just started with an “inspirational” moment. The “TAM was here” project consisted out of an A5-xerox where I had written on the text “TAM was Here” like a grafitti-spraying (see sample I will enclose for you). I just sent out a few of them, and at that time it wasn’t even a project. Suddenly I started getting the papers back with additions, and then I started to send out more, but this time with the specific instruction “Please add and return” and “add something to the wall”. This projects grew and grew. I must have sent out over 1200 papers in one year and in return got over 400 contributions. At the height of the project I also got a sudden invitation from the famous “MELKWEG” (Milkyway) in Amsterdam, if I would be interested in filling their gallery-part of their multi-cultural center, which includes a pub, a gallery, and the famous concert-hall where so many popgroups I liked have played. Actually my music-interest had made the connection with the “MELKWEG”. So the choice was there to use this “TAM was here” project to exhibit there in this large space. Quite an undertaking, because I also made 400 slides which were to be shown at the opening and in the concert-room during the music-evenings. This was an incredible experience. I had no previous contacts with galleries, and this one just invited me, paid my costs for travelling to Amsterdam, even paid the hotel for the three days it took to build up the exhibition, arranged the spreading of invitations, the sending out of texts to explain the exhibition, and also a real opening. This was all in 1985, a very busy and wonderful year. So what started with no real plans in advance ended in project which was documented with a slide-collection, an exhibition, a small document for all participants and a participants list. The exhibition later on also went to Italy (at the gallery of Emilio Morandi in Italy), which I delivered myself and was the guest of Emilio and family. Yes, 1985 was quite a year to remember.
The TAM Rubberstamp Archive, however is still purely an archiving project. I started with this in October 1983, when I just wanted to see some prints of rubber stamps other mail artists used. The start of such an archive is quite simple. I just designed a single sheet and copied it a few times and sent it into the network. After getting back those sheets, it became a regular thing to do, and I have been sending out these sheets for 13 years now. Besides the prints of stamps I also have other items, and the whole story of the archive is published regularly with newsletters. I will send you the latest one so you can see that it has now over 1500 participants, and thousands of contributions. Because the basic part of the archive is all paper, the storage is only a space-problem. The whole collection of printed images is fitted into two big black boxes, where all contributions are sorted by country. Actually, at the moment from 69 different countries as I just got the first contibution from Turkey. The addresslist of all participants has been published several times. About 9 years ago I started to put all the data in a computer database, and that means I have quite a large address-list with historical details.
In the last years I haven’t done that many mail art projects that should result in an exhibition. Actually I don’t participate that much in those kind of projects either. I guess at the moment most things I do are in connection to publications.
next question on 13-4-1996
CS : These mail interviews are obviously one of your publication projects. What prompted you to begin the mail-interviews?
RJ : Like most of my projects, the start is not a very well planned thing. I just get this sudden inspiration to do something, and than spend a day on working it out. The idea of interviewing people by mail isn’t new. Sometimes these “interviews” aren’t an exchange of questions and answers but rather a sending of a questionaire and the “interviewed” person can add his replies. The proces of the interview is then erased, and the interviewed person can just look ahead to see what the next question will be. These I call questionaires, and I mostly hate to fill them out, and so I don’t like such a concept. I decided to use a different way.
I started with these mail-interviews 2nd November 1994. At that time I also just switched to the use of Internet (I was working with datacommunication since 1987), and so I had a lot of communication possibilities to send out mail. I remember I just had read one of the interviews in the magazine ND with a mail artist, and realized that I was in contact with so many mail artists without knowing their “whole story”. In mail art you only get to see the part of the correspondents they send you by mail. So I realized I would like to read more about a lot of mail artists, but actually there isn’t that much to read besides the books with selections others made.
The concept for my mail-interviews is simple. I send the first question, and explain which possibilities the interviewed person has to reply (see seperate list). Depending on the answer I will send the next question, etc. Once finished I make a printed version of the complete interview and send it to the interviewed person, and keep one for myself.
The first week I started the project I invited Klaus Groh, Robin Crozier, Ruggero Maggi, John Held Jr., Dobrica Kampereli, Guy Bleus, Svjetlana Mimica, Ray Johnson, Michael Leigh, H.R. Fricker, Rod Summers, Michael Lumb. The first series of twelve persons. To my surprise EVERYBODY reacted, and already 8 of these started interviews are finished with a publication. The interview with Ray Johnson was broken up because of his suicide on January 13th 1995, so he never reacted to the third question. Still 3 interviews of this first series are in the process of questions and answers, and I never stated a deadline for the project.
Till today six series have been started and already 23 interviews are finished. This wasn’t the plan in the beginning; if a project is interesting it grows on its own. Besides the booklets for the interviewed person and myself (the TAM-Archive) I also printed more interview booklets for other mail artists to read, and because the interviews are also an experiment of using the different communication tools, I am working with the traditional snail-mail, the FAX, but also the e-mail on the Internet. Only a few months ago I published the Dick Higgins interview on the internet by sending it in e-mail version to a mailing-list in the USA, so that in just a few minutes hundreds of people got the complete file of the interview (already the next day I got 15 responses to the e-mail, and almost all were quite positive and even brought some new contacts).
In the last series it wasn’t only me who decided who to interview. I made these small papers on which people could indicate which mail artists they would find interesting to read an interview from.
(With the answer I included “the communication-forms in Networking” and “Dead mail artists” list)
Next question on 4-5-1996
CS : I like the personal nature of these interviews. Have you met many of the artists you are interviewing? You seem to have travelled a lot during the Congress year of 1992. What are your feelings about mail art Tourism in comparison to these mail-interviews?
RJ : Again a complicated question Carol! Yes, some of the mail artists I am interviewing I have met in person. When I follow the list of finished interviews, I met Michael Leigh (Once when I was in London with a group of students and another time when I was visiting London with Made Balbat), Rod Summers (at the Congress in the Hague in the Postal Museum and at The Zoo-congress by Guy Bleus), Henning Mittendorf (in the Tourism year 1986 in Eeklo in Belgium), Anna Banana (at Stempel-Mekka 2 in Germany in 1994), John Held Jr. (Once in Eeklo, and during the interview he visited me together with Bill Gaglione here in Tilburg after their Fake Picabia Brothers Performance in Paris), Jenny de Groot (several times I visited her in Hengelo, and she has also been here in Tilburg a few times), Mark Bloch (again in the Tourism year in 1986 I met him in Eeklo).
For the other mail artists I am interviewing, I am not mentioning their names yet. Only when an interview is finished I publish all the details. So, Yes, I did meet a lot of them, but sometimes such meetings are so short that you don’t have the time to hear all the details. The interviews are intended to give a glimpse of what mail art means to the individual mail artists. For some it is a major part of their live, for some it is a period in their life, for some it is history, etc. Mail art is something different to everybody.
Yes, I travelled a lot in the DNC of 1992. I must confess that not all the travels were
congresses but sometimes were more like private vacations. Although I did meet mail
artists most of the time when I happened to be in countries like Denmark, Sweden,
Belgium and Estonia. But also earlier, in 1986 during the Tourism-year I met mail artists in Belgium, France and Holland, and in 1985 I met mail artists who lived in Holland (Henryk Gajewski, Ulises Carrion, Sonja & Margot, Joris Meltzer, Ko de Jonge, etc.) and had some visits from abroad (Kate Lanxner, Drew Duncan, Chuck Stake), and went abroad to Italy where I was a guest of Emilio Morandi in Ponte Nossa, and also met Ruggero Maggi.
So, yes the meetings are a part of my life for over a decade now. But I must say I am not that open to just ‘anybody’ that wants to visit me. There must be some connection, something like a mail-contact that shows a meeting will be interesting for both. I have had my share of letters in which strangers invite themselves to pass by in Tilburg where I felt I would be like a hotel for them.
Your last part of the question is the comparison of the “Tourism” and the “mail-interviews”. Well, the mail-interviews are different from personal meetings where two or more mail-artists meet. It is the time-factor that allows the interviewed people to think of their answer. And if both parts take the interview seriously, the line in the interviews will be there too. A face-to-face interview would always be different since this time-factor isn’t there. One has to think of the answer and question immediately. This is also a good way to interview, but the results probably are different.
I realize this difference too now you are interviewing me. In these mail-interviews mail artists start to look back a bit on what they have done and react to it with their views as they are now. Some people I am interviewing currently I will probably meet also during the interview. The interviews are my way of getting to know the individual mail artists better, and as a result others will know them better too with the printed result.
(together with m,y answer I sent Carol the interview with John M. Bennett, the May 1996-newsletter of the project, and “Thoughts on mail art” Part-9).
Next question on 2-6-1996
CS : Are there other mail artists living in Tilburg? Are the people in your town aware of your activities in the Network?
RJ : Yes, there are a few other mail artists living in Tilburg. But actually I never have met them, isn’t that strange? I don’t treat them different than other mail artists that contact me, and if someone sends me something that isn’t that interesting I don’t spend time on
responding in great detail. That normally makes the contact fade away, and mail from inside Tilburg in connection to mail art is quite rare. I do however have a lot of contacts with mail artists inside Holland, and I have met quite a lot of them.
The most active ones were all there at the mail art congress in 1992 at the Postal Museum in The Hague (also some mail artists from Belgium were there). About 40 or more I must have met. In a few weeks I even made an appointment with Rod Summers in Maastricht to visit him for a weekend.
But your question was about Tilburg. As I told before, in 1983 there was an article about me in a local newspaper. A year later I sent the newspaper some more details about what I was doing, and they published that. Also with the large exhibition in Amsterdam something was written about me in the newspaper. But after that (in 1985) I have kept quite ‘a low profile’ inside Tilburg. Only friends and family know about all the things that I do, because when someone just visits the apartment where I live it is obvious that I am into mail art. I don’t have any contacts with the local art-community (besides the Duvelhok, where I did my silkscreen printing in 1994-95), and I must say I don’t miss it a bit. I have sent one of the interviews I have done to a local Art organisation together with the newsletter, but I didn’t even get an reaction. It seems there is no interest in mail art from their side, and I must say I don’t miss it.
Mail art seems to be completly different to the ‘traditional art world’. I guess most people in the ‘traditional art world’ don’t know me, and it doesn’t bother me that much. I could have looked for more coverage by the media with the things that I do, but I also know that this attention would only slow things down regarding the things that I am doing. I can now focus on my art and can travel when I need to.
At the College where I teach in Breda, most of my collegues know about my “hobby” mail art. Since I don’t make money with my art, it isn’t considered to be an artists in their eyes. And to be honest; I haven’t really succeeded yet in the 16 years that I am doing mail art, to explain to someone not considered a mail artist what it is all about. Speaking for myself, I sometimes too wonder what it is all about.
There are however a few special persons in Tilburg that know a lot of my mail art, the post(wo-)men here in Tilburg. I don’t know how they react to all the things that I send out, but at the central Postal Office, where I have my mailbox now for about 15 years or so, they are always very friendly to me. I remember that even a postal piece, where the address was : TAM – P.O.Box – Holland (So without the P.O.Box number, and the zipcode) arrived without problems in my P.O.Box. I guess the Postal Office knows my work quite well (I send out about 150 pieces of mail on an average each month.
Next question on 17-6-1996
CS : I know that you have been active with computers as well as snail mail. Have you met any mail artists online that you had not previously known via the post?
RJ : Yes, I have been active with computers already for a long time. In 1987 there was even the TBHS (TAM Bulletin Host System) where people could upload the newest version of the TAM Bulletin and leave their electronic mail. Only few mail artist used that, but in 1994, when I entered the internet and got my e-mail address things changed.
Somehow I always made a difference between the computer-contacts I had
and the mail-art. I am working with computers since 1978, learned programming with the Punchhole-cards, and at the moment work with my fifth computer and my fourth modem. Things have changed quickly, and it will keep changing. Only since the last years the
electronic communication became accesible for the people who aren’t trained to use computers. The modern software is so easy that anybody can learn in a quick way to work with it.
So, mail artists started to use the electronic mail now too because it is cheap and fast. So I have people I am in contact with through e-mail that don’t do mail-art at all. To get back to your question. Yes, a few people contacted me through e-mail and said that they are into mail art as well. But I must say I don’t get a good idea about what they do in mail art unless they start to send me snail-mail as well. The e-mail isn’t that good to send the real interesting things there are in mail art. The colorful envelopes and paper can never be replaced by the digital images.
Quite recently the mail-interviews got on-line thanks to the help from Jas W. Felter. Since there is a lot of interest in these interviews I will probably start to get more e-mails from people who stumble on those pages. But the snail-mail is still what I prefer, and as long as I haven’t gotten a snail-mail from someone I probably won’t think of him/her as a mail artist.
Next question 0n 2-7-1996
CS : Do you think computer communication signals the death knell of traditional mail art? Will people be willing to spend the time that snail mail networking requires?
RJ : The “traditional mail art” will always be there as long as the postal system is there. The problem however is the money it costs to send things. Already some mail artists work mainly on-line because this is a cheaper way to communicate. But I already have written quite a lot on my views. The series of eleven articles on “electronic mail art” and the other articles I wrote in relation to the newer ways of communication. The postal offices everywhere are increasing their rates while the costs for electronic communication go down. The result will be a change from the analog communication into the digital communication. Economics rule a lot of society, so these changes are eminent but we have still many years to go with out mail art.
Basically there are a few fundamental issues. First, not everybody can and will have access to the computer-communication while the sending of an envelope at the moment is possible for almost everybody. Money is a problem, and the place/country where you live is another one. In Africa you can send and receive mail, but if there is no electricity and computers, then computer-communication is a big problem (unless you are working for CNN of course…..). Second, the digital form doesn’t allow the use of different sorts of paper, colored ink, structures, smell, 3-dimensional works, etc. The results of interesting electronic communication I always put on paper besides storing them in electronic form. So there I have to choose the paper & color etc. Third, most art-producers who go on-line start with putting their
digital artworks on-line. This means the receiver has to go and search for this art. There is no mail-man that brings things to your door! The e-mail however is compatible with the sending of mail art, but it has to be in a digital form too. Fourth, anybody who gets the digital information can edit it and change it. Who is the maker of digital art? The person or the program that is used for the result? If I visit a homepage and download the graphics, I can print it myself (with or without editing). The copyright seems to be a problem when it comes to digital information.
Well, I could go on for hours on this subject. I notice that most mail artists that start for the first time with computers get fascinated by the possibilities and results. Then some think that they can do all things with the computer, but they soon find out you can’t. The computer -in my eyes- is just an extra tool that the artist can explore. But you will have noticed that I use the computer quite specifically. Only when the special elements the computer brings are needed, I use the computer. When hand-work is better, I will do things without the computer……
Your question implies also the factor time. Yes, the computer can save you a lot of time when used in a proper way. Besides time, it can save also money and doing repetitive work, and those elements mean that more and more people are using that machine. But for making new graphics I for instance rarely use the computer. Original concepts & drawings I still make best by hand. And it is more relaxing to work without the computer. Because if the computer saves time & money, you will use that extra time and money to do more. Some choose for doing more on the computer, some just enjoy the free time and spend the money on other nice things.
next question on 25-7-1996
CS : I notice that besides your interest in the high tech world of computers, you also work in the labor-intensive medium of eraser-carving. When and how did you get started making these stamps?
(Since Carol likes to travel, this summer vacation she will spend on the islands. My next answer I sent to: Carol Stetser, c/o: General Delivery, Avara, Rarotanga, Cook Islands, South Pacific).
RJ : Well Carol, the “high tech world of computers” is sometimes also a very labor-intense medium, I can assure you. The results may look simple, but getting good results with a computer is as difficult as getting good things done by hand. The saving of time and money with using a computer comes only after the time-investment because when things ARE digitized, that means access is easy for the ‘computer-world’
But your question is about the eraser-carving. I started with this as soon as I found out about the network (in 1983). I already used rubberstamps before I even was doing mail art. The bureaucratic world we live in has influenced me as a child, and I had an address stamp when I was a teenager. The fun of eraser-carving is that you can work on a stamp for some time and then it is immediately ready for use. I don’t see it as a very labor-intense medium unless you want to get realistic looking stamps. But for those results I rather order a stamp at some business-address. Use the right things/tools for your goals. The eraser-carved stamps I like the most are the ones where you can still see that it is carved. I admire the results some mail artists get (like Julie Hagan Bloch for instance), but I myself never try to make them so realistic.
(the answer I sent to the Cook Island, where Carol would collect her mail. On November 26th I got the envelope returned with stamps on it proving it reached the Islands, but it wasn’t collected. I mailed it again to Carol at her home-address in Sedona USA).
next question on 18-12-1996
CS : The last question I asked you was mailed 5 months ago and your response traveled around the world. From Europe to the South Pacific to North America – now that’s global mail. In the Cook Islands in July and August I checked General Delivery once a week but missed your envelope. I’m not surprised. All the General Delivery mail was piled in a corner of the post office on Rarotonga and patrons had to sort through a mountain of envelopes to find their correspondence. I’m more amazed that the ‘unclaimed’ envelope was returned to you and now sits on my desk.
While your mail art traveled so did you and I. In October and November you visited the USA for the first time. What was the most memorable moment of the trip?
RJ : Yes, I did visit the USA for the first time. Actually it was mostly a visit of the town San Francisco and surroundings, and the reason was the exhibition of the TAM Rubberstamp Archive that was at the Stamp Art Gallery during October 1996. San Francisco is NOT typical USA as I realize.
You ask about ” the most memorable moment of the trip”. In fact I don’t think in terms like that. There were lots of moments not to forget. I already published a first report about my trip and these four pages contain a lot of details of what I have done, who I’ve met, whom I visited, places I saw, etc. If I would have to select one thing, I would probably mention the 26th at the Stamp Art Gallery. Over 30 people attended the lecture I gave about the rubberstamp Archive. I had prepared slides for this as well. Judging from the audience a big succes, but somehow I was glad it was over so I had the chance to talk to all those people in person. During my stay in California / San Francisco I met a lot of mail artists I have interviewed (Anna Banana, John Held Jr. , Robert Rocola, Ashley Parker Owens) , mail artists I am currently interviewing (John Held Jr. again with whom I am doing part 2, Picasso – Bill – Gaglione , Judith Hoffberg, Patricia Tavenner, Tim Mancusi) , and I also invited someone for a new interview and started the first questions and answers in San Francisco (Mike Dyar).
The reason for going was the exhibition and the lecture about the archive, but as it turned out the mail-interview has influenced the stay there as well. But I also had a chance to meet with some other correspondents (like Barbara Cooper, Michael Harford, Diana O. Mars, Bob Kirkman, Dogfish, and more……see the list on the first report).
For myself I kept a travel-diary as well. But the notes I made in that book (over 100 pages) are not for immediate publication. I will see if there will be a second report. I made lots of photos that would be interesting. But I will probablyintegrate the images & memories in the
mail-interview that are yet to be published.
next question on 10-1-1997
CS : Sounds like you met and re-met many mail artists on this trip. Do you notice any difference between European mail-artists and American mail-artists.
RJ : Yes, I met a lot of mail artists in this short period. San Francisco and surroundings sure is a place where these people like to be. A lot of the mail artists I met weren’t born in San Francisco. They somehow moved to this exciting place. San Francisco (and California) is not a typical example of America as you and I realize, so to notice differences is not easy. I would have to generalize.
When I would generalize between Americans and Europeans, the differences are known. Realizing ones own background is very important here in Europe. The culture doesn’t just go back a few centuries (like in the USA people like to think), but we speak in terms of before or after the year ZERO. A part of the place now called New York, once was Dutch. Just a small part of the culture I know from Holland.
Another thing; languages. You must realize that this English I am writing now, is only my second language. I am Dutch and therefore speak and write Dutch the best. In Europe most people also know English (to some level at least), and it is quite common to know more languages (I speak and write German too for instance, and my French is a bit rusty, but I can survive in a city like Paris quite easlily). The Americans I normally encounter only spoke the English, but I must admit I was also surprised to find out that some people also spoke languages like Italian or Dutch. Americans sometimes have strong connections to specific European countries.
Of course lots more of generalizations. Americans like to do everything by car (I don’t drive a car, and like walking, bicycling and using the public transport, which is quite easy to do here in most European countries), Americans normally don’t know that much about what there is outside America.
But I must admit, that these generalizations don’t work that well on mail artists. Most mail artists tend to be very internationallly orientated and are interested in culture, languages, and art-history. So, the conclusion might be that mail artists are not to be compared with the ‘normal people’ inside a country. They have this strange urge to communicate and to learn more about what the whole world makes tick.
next question on 16-2-1997
CS : Do you notice young people today becoming mail artists or is it mainly the pre-computer generations used to snail-mail that participate in the network?
RJ : Yes, I do get a lot of mail from newcomers to the mail art network. Also people who read about it on the Word Wide Web start to write snail-mail as well. As I see it the electronic communication is just another (important) tool that is available to the people who want to find out what is going on in the world. Don’t forget that in a lot of countries the electronic highway isn’t accesible yet to most of the people. What I do notice is that most newcomers are having problems with getting information about what is happening in the mail art network. The informations are not that accesible in the private collections that mail artists have built over the years, and only few museums keep a mail art collection that is accesible to the public. The young people who start with mail art nowadays are very much interested in the possibilities to exchange art, ideas, views and objects and to play with the communication-forms that are accesible to them. What I do miss a lot in the things I get from newcomers is the “art-” part in their mail. But being creative is a process one has to learn. The network sure provides them with lots of possibilities to learn more. Learn with a fixed structure like a school or Academy. Just follow what the mail brings you and start to build new contacts. The fault some make is that they all try to write to the same names. To speak for myself, I hardly have time to reply to all those letters. Last week I was away spending my vacation in Germany. When I came back I found 29 pieces of mail in my P.O.Box (not including the other mail, like regular post from firms & banks etc.) The average of 5 pieces of mail art I get each day is quite low since I have dropped the amount of mail I send out the last half year. And I don’t even have the time to answer half of it. If you calculate well, you will realize that it still is about 130 pieces of mail I get every month. Just try to deal with that……!
next question on 16-3-1997
CS : Yes, burnout from too much mail art to answer is something I can relate to and one of the reasons I “retired” from the network. But obviously, you have no intention to retire with all the projects you are currently working on.
I have always believed that the “art” half of mail art is as important as the “mail” part. But many mail artists (especially the text writers) stress the importance of communication (mail) over the art that is sent. Do you think the “art” is as important as the “mail” or is mail art turning into Mailism?
RJ : A difficult question since I can’t give you a clear desciption of what I think mail art is. It is one of the reasons why I am doing these interviews with other mail artists. Mail art is something else to every participant in this global networking. I myself normally decorate my envelopes, but the content mostly is also more than a letter or an artwork. It is a combination of both. I don’t think in terms of letters or artworks, I just react to the things I get in my mailbox. The reason why I have cut down on the amount of mail I send out is because I want to react when I feel like it. I don’t want to feel forced to answer every piece of mail that comes is. It is the problem every mail-artist encounters. If you answer all, you are tempted to write letters like “thanks for your mail, I enjoyed it, please keep in touch”. Then include some xeroxes, put a few stamp-prints or stickers on the envelope, and mail it.
I know that a lot of mail artists do this sometimes, just to keep all the contacts going. I have stopped with that, and probably have stressed some people with that. But the contact in the network I have now are more precious then ever. A lot of contacts became good friends, and sometimes meetings are also part of that contact. Mail art is fully integrated in my life, but it doesn’t mean that TAM is a service-bureau that answers all incoming mail and takes part in every project that is being offered. The selecting is only natural for me. I like communication, I like to use all kind of tools for it. Sometimes a small drawing or painting tells more then words, sometimes a long letter is what I want to do. No fixed rules in how I communicate, only things I like and dislike.
(Enclosed with this answer there were 4 newsletters about Ruud’s mail art activities).
Next question on 17-4-1997
CS: I think this is a good place to conclude this interview, unless you have something else you would like to add. We began this interview February 1996. The next month Mark Greenfield (England) also began an interview with you. You sent me a copy of this interview and I am amazed at how different these two interviews are, even though they were conducted over the same period of time. All your interviews with other mail artists begin with the same question and then branch off in all different directions. This is the first time we have two different interviewers for the same artist over the same time period and we still end up with different content. MAIL ART LIVES. thanks for an interesting interview and a great mail art project.
RJ : Yes, it is funny how all these interviews go differently. every mail artist is an unique person. The fact that two different mail artists interview me at the same time (actually there are two more at the moment….) doesn’t mean that I give the same answers like a ‘machine’. Mail art is always an interaction between two (or more) and I just react to the mail (in this case answers) that I get. I think the reason that the two interviews with me are so different is because the interviewers had different goals when interviewing me.
It is more currious that I am interviewing about 30 mail artists simultaneously (including you at the moment Carol!), and that all these exchanges of words still tells a lot about the whole process and the individual mail artist.
So, yet another interview is finished (the 36st to finish the statistics). I am only halfway of this enormous project. Thanks for interviewing me Carol, and I hope we do stay in touch!
AZ 86341 , USA