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-interview with Ruud Janssen – Netherlands (CS)

mail interview with Ruud Janssen

by Carol Stetser (USA)



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!

Address interviewer:

Carlo Stetser
P.O.Box 20081
AZ 86341 , USA

mail-interview with Ruud Janssen – Netherlands (MG)







(During the interview I was doing myself with Mark Greenfield, he asked me if he could interview me in return. He started with the interview just after I published his interview – TAM-Publications # 960116 , and here is the final result. The text was printed on my computer. I sent a print-out of the text to Mark Greenfield to make it possible to do the layout. The printing & distribution was done by TAM-Publications in Tilburg, Netherlands)

Started on: 6-3-1996

MG: Dear Ruud, do you consider mail art to be an underground “art form” opposed to established art forms?

Reply on 16-3-1996

RJ : Such a question raises another question in my head. Is mail art art? Is networking art? Of course the established art forums are mostly avoided by the mail artists, because they select for exhibitions, they ask fees for entering an art show, they in general select who they think is important enough to expose to an audience. This is what makes the mail artists tick. They want to have control over their own art. But this “art” is not the traditional art. It all has to do with communication.

To speak of myself, I never had a traditional art-education at an Art-University or so, although in the last years I have been doing quite specific courses to expand my knowledge of techniques (like e.g. multi-colored silkscreen-printing). I did my “art-lessons” through the networking I have been doing. Communicating with people that have to live from what their art brings them as well. In mail art there are a lot of participants that do their mail art besides a completely different job. Mail art can be practiced in that many forms, and yes, it doesn’t follow the established art with their rules. However they are not opposites. My first mail art exhibition was in an official Gallery, the “Melkweg” 1985, in Amsterdam. I had complete freedom in the presentation, and they even paid my costs and helped me with the proces; the invitations, opening, slideshows, etc. Only because of that, I liked doing it. I mostly avoid working with or within the “established art world”, although I do like to visite museums and galleries in different countries sometimes. But my views aren’t completely set on art. Communication is also quite interesting.

Next question on 28-3-1996

MG: Learning and communication are important, there are also plenty of other reasons for taking part in mail art. You mention the exhibition in 1985 but I believe you were involved with mail art before this date. What was the first project you took part in and what were your reasons for wanting to participate?

RJ : Well, TAM itself was started in 1980. I didn’t know about the mail art network then, and only in 1983 I got hooked up with the network. Your question is which project I took part in first. You are lucky, because I do have a list of the projects I took part in for the first years (1983 and 1984). After that, I didn’t keep track anymore of the contributions I sent in to the various projects. Number one on this list, an audio-cassette that I recorded for Rod Summers in Maastricht (Netherlands). This was a contribution for his VEC-audio exchange that he was doing. As it turned out he had just finished the project with publishing his last collage-audio cassette (I TCHING), so he wasn’t able to use my recordings.

Second part of your question, my reasons? I guess there are two. Firstly I was making first contacts with other mail artists, and it makes sense to make contacts with the mail artists in ones own country. So I had already made contact with mail artists like Ko de Jonge, Sonja van der Burg, Bart Boumans (all from the Netherlands) as well as Bern Olbrich, Anna Banana, etc. With these contacts I also received the first invitations. Secondly, in 1983 I was still a student (actually I graduated in this year) and student-life also involves (for me) lots of music. I had the equipment, also keyboards and guitar, microphone, and I had already recorded some tapes for myself. When I heard of Rod Summer’s project VEC-audio-exchange, I recorded something for him, and sent it to him. That this first contribution to a project was an audio-cassette is pure chance, but when I look at the list I have of 1983 I see that I did make some other audio-art, mostly collages with sounds, produced by me or found in my surroundings. Other contributions also included photographs, stamp-works, and drawings.

Next question on 20-4-1996

MG: The name ‘TAM’ is used, please explain the meaning of these initials. Although you may not have kept a list of all the projects you have taken part in since that first year, you regularly send out printed documentations about your activities in mail art. Why do you place so much importance on this documentation?

RJ : TAM started in 1980, and it stood then for TRAVELLING ART MAIL. Over the years the word TAM also has functioned on it’s own and got other meanings too (like Tilburg’s Academy of Mail-Art and Tilburgse Automatiserings Maatschappij). I use the “firm” or “College” TAM also to play with the official institutes. It is funny that in the first meaning the words ART MAIL are there, knowing that I only got hooked up to the network in 1983.

Documentation. Yes, you’re right, it is important to me. I have been keeping track of most of the things I have done so far. The fact that I haven’t documented the many contributions to the different mail art projects is just because it takes too much time. Once a piece of mail is ready, it is sent out and I go on to the next thing to do. Keeping track of all the mail I sent out was something I did those first two years. In 1991 I started again with keeping track of how much mail I sent out, just because I was curious myself.

Why it is so important for me, this documentation, is a difficult question. I am not sure. Maybe it gives me a certain grip of the process called “my life”, to know what I have been up to so far. Because I am always working on so many different things, it is essential to keep track of things in a orderly way. To give a small example, the interview I am now doing with you (the fact that I answer your question) is just one of the over 30 interviews that are taking place in my P.O.Box or internet-address. Another reason for documenting is, of course, to let others see the documented things too. In networking you can’t send all your thought, works and words to everybody. So I have chosen to send things out quite randomly, the same goes for the printed documentations you mentioned in your question. It takes less time to document a certain part of your work and then be able to send a copy to anybody you think is interested in it (as a relpy to your mail) compaired to writing long letters over and over again. The time it saves I can use on getting to the more personal details, the personal letters I enjoy writing too.

Next question on 2-5-1996

MG: Both in your interviews and in a lot of your texts, you appear to spend a lot of time analysing the network rather than the individual artist or your own art, what is the reason for this?

RJ : The first part of the question. The interviews and texts are accesible for the network, so it is only natural that ‘the network’ is central in the interview. By answering the specific questions the interviewed person can decide how many details one wants to give about his/her personal life and personal art.
The really personal details and exchange of art with other mail artists is mostly on a one-to-one basis. In the many interviews that have come out you can see how different the interviews go. Analysing the network is interesting for me. It seems everybody has his/her own

views about the network and some mail artists even think that they have grasped the whole concept of the network. With each interview I discover that the network means something else to every specific cell in the network.

The second part of your question, analysing my own art and writing about my own art. Well, I do copy sometimes the drawings that I have made and spread them through the network. But I never choose to write an explanation about my art. Others can judge what they see in it. Also I exchange with some graphic artists my silkscreen prints and water-color works. This is the one-to-one exchange again. I analyze art I see from others. Judging ones own art and analyzing it is quite a personal thing. If someone asks me about the art I do explain however. I remember writing a book-letter about the first multicolored silkscreens I made in 1994 for Litsa Spathi in Germany. In this book-letter I included some parts of the original prints and some testprints to explain how I worked. But I did this because she was interested in these techniques and in what I was trying to explain with the silkscreens. Again on one-to-one basis I explain my own art, but not in texts-form accessible for the whole network. I make my own art because I like to make it, because I need to make it.

Next question on 15-5-1996

MG: Although you seem to spend a lot of time creating mail art, you also seem to spend an equal amount of time producing art which you do not use in your mailings. You mention your drawings, what do you do with the originals? You also refer to your silkscreen prints, some of which I’ve been lucky to see even though I wouldn’t describe myself as a graphic artist! Are there any other forms of art that you use, which are not related to your mail art? While I was at college I specialized in sculpture. Do you create any sculpture?

RJ : Well, your question contains three questionmarks, and almost sounds like a questionnaire about the art I produce. The word ‘art’ is a difficult one, because I am quite confused about what to call art, and what to call ‘things I want to do in my life’. Anyway, back to your questions.

[1] The drawings. Well, it isn’t an ‘equal amount of time’ as you call it. Only when I find the time I work on those other things besides the mail art. I do make copies of most of these drawings and spread them into the network, but most originals I have kept for myself. There is the occasional drawing that I make for a project or for a person, or the exception of an original I send out to someone. The drawings are a way capturing my views. Most subjects of my drawings aren’t planned in advance. I just feel that something is about to come out and make a start. The results mostly show something of what is going on inside me, and that probably is the reason why I keep most of them myself (paper only takes little space). Maybe the making of the drawings is some kind of therapy I discovered for myself. I am learning what makes me tick, and the drawings help me with that. Sometimes after years I discover again something that came out of me through those drawings. Must sound strange maybe, but it is how I feel it. Maybe in the nearby future I will start to send them out. Maybe I will exhibit the collection somewhere if I think it is good enough to do so. Also the drawings are a source to look back on for subjects of other ‘art’ I like to do. Some of the drawings are transformed into an oil painting, others into silkscreen prints, although this last form I don’t use that much anymore. The silkscreens I sometimes send out into the network are testprints I made. A selection of some of the colors-parts I used on a larger silkscreen. The final silkscreens are mostly too large to fit in envelopes. I now and then give them to people I meet who are interested in (mail) art, or make large parcels to exchange things with other graphic artists. Also in the last years whenever I visit a mail artist or when someone visits me, they end up with getting a silkscreen. Made Balbat in Estonia has quite a collection. John Held Jr & Bill Gaglione visited me last year and ended up with the silkscreen I made of a portrait of Ray Johnson (originally the portrait was a linocut made by Tim Mancusi in USA). I don’t like the gallery system, so I never tried to get into one. Except for the mail art project I mentioned before in the Melkweg-gallery in Amsterdam. The only time some of the silkscreens were exhibited was at the ‘Duvelhok’ (in 1993 and 1994) ; an artist work center here in Tilburg with their own exhibiting space. Every year they make an exhibition of the people that have worked there.

[2] Other forms of art, you asked about. Well, no time for other graphic things I guess, although I do write a lot too. Do you call that art too? Also I try to keep up with the changing world of computers and how one can use them to produce things, to communicate, to print things, and is that art? I mostly don’t think of myself as an artist, I just want to have a creative life, and that means doing & creating things. And I do think I have succeeded in that so far. Oh yes, just forgot, I recently started with acryl-paint because the oil-paint took so long to dry. Currently I am making small colorful ‘things’ on carton, to see how I can use this paint. These tests are mostly small and I do send them out to some mail artists. The distinction I made between mail art and art not connected to mail art isn’t that clear. It has to do with the intention. Some art I make to mail out, and other wasn’t made with that intention.

[3] The last part of your question; sculpture? Well, as a young boy I liked to do that very much. I still have two works in my livingroom that I made when I was about 11 years old. They still are a source of inspiration for me, but after elementary school I not done any sculpture at all. I enjoy seeing it though, very much, but a day has only 24 hours and there is only a limited amount of things a person can do. Most of the time goes to the work at College and the mail art anyway.

Next question on 3-6-1996

MG: Much of the visual art that you have sent me has been the “result” of you expressing “what is going on inside”. You appear to concentrate in this type of subject and I can not remember seeing any of your art which was expressing an opinion about “what was going on outside” yourself. In your “7th Thoughts about mail art” article you acknowledge the world is still a turbulent place to live in. How and why do you avoid making any social or political statement visual art?
RJ : The question could be answered with a simple NO. I don’t avoid it and don’t concentrate on the things you mention. Some of my contributions to mail art projects ARE visual statements on social or political issues. Your question probably comes as a reaction to my drawings, because there I must agree that the social or political aspect is not always obviously there. But maybe you should look closer. The views I give of the world that I see INSIDE me is a reflection of the things I see OUTSIDE of me. I am very aware of what is going on in
the world and have written also about that. Maybe the choice of words was wrong. I meant that I don’t use realistic subjects in my drawings, for that I use photography, something I enjoy also a lot. For sociological and political issues I probably use the text-format a lot. The internet for example is a social issue as well (and not a technical as some try to explain) on which I have written quite a lot.

As for my drawings / texts it seems you like to analyze it. I don’t analyze it too much; it just comes out, and I use a visual way (or sometimes a textual way) for that. If someone asks me for a specific social or political statement I participate in those projects too. In my “life besides the mail art”, I have chance enough to deal with social or political subjects. I teach students aged 16 to 21 years old, and they are very interested in these aspects as well. In my student-years I was also member of environmental groups here in Tilburg or even national ones. It seems that the balance in my life makes it so that I don’t have to find another outlet for social or political subjects. For emotions that exist inside me I DO need another outlet, for example the art that I sometimes like to produce.

Yes, the world is a turbulent place. In the mail-interview project I am trying to document some of that too (interviews with Svjetlana Mimica in Croatia and Dobrica Kampereli in Yugoslavia during the war in Bosnia, Clemente Padin in Uruguay who was imprisoned because of his actions, and also more interviews on its way with Andrej Tisma in Yugoslavia, Ayah Okwabi in Ghana, Rea Nikonova in Russia, Edgardo-Antonio Vigo in Argentina, Raphael Nadolny in Poland, etc.). I myself life in a luxury state, where the political and social problems are small compared to those in some other countries. To my surprise a lot of networkers don’t realize in what circumstance other mail artists live. I guess I found another way to deal with these issues than just make art about it.

Next question on 17-6-1996

MG: As well as texts and visuals, you also like to visit a lot of mail artists. Do you consider this an advantage? What are the benefits of these ‘meetings’?

RJ : Your question comes at a quite well-timed moment. I am just back from a weekend in Maastricht where I stayed with Rod Summers. A very pleasant weekend, and you are right; I do like to visit a lot of mail artists. Yes, it is an advantage. In many ways. First, thanks to the job at College I have the money to travel and the vacation-times to do that. Secondly, it is always much more interesting to meet the mail artist then to get the mail art from this person. Of course the first meeting is always the most difficult one. You will find out if you have the possibility to discuss interests and visions. Some meetings with mail artists resulted in the breaking of contact. Other meetings made the mail art contact into a friendship that goes further than mail art. In a piece of mail a mail artists can only tell that much about himself. Seeing the circumstances where the persons lives in (especially in other countries) is sometimes quite revealing and explains a lot about the mail you get from them. To take the example of the very recent meeting with Rod Summers. I met him before, at the Zoo-congress in Antwerpen (organized by Guy Bleus), and the congress in the Postal Museum in The Hague (both congresses took place in the DNC-year 1992). But this meeting was the first time I went to Maastricht where Rod lives with his wife Liesbeth, and saw his archive & the huge collection of audio-work he has produced over the years. Lots of things to talk about, and the amount of thoughts you can exchange in such a weekend is impossible to put in a huge envelope. We both wouldn’t have the time to write the words down of all the things we discussed.

More meetings are on the way. In July I probably go to Germany for a short time. In September there is the Stempel-Mekka in Hagen where I want to go to, and in October I will go for the first time to the USA, and meet lots of mail art friends in San Francisco. I feel lucky that I am able to do that all.

Next question on 3-7-1996

MG: You believe therefore that it is necessary to meet the mail artist you are corresponding with before you can fully appreciate that persons art? What about people you have not met, or people who prefer “the working in physical isolation, giving, receiving, bouncing ideas off artists they never meet” or people who do not want to visit or be visited. Is there no ones art who you have ‘great’ respect for and have never met the artist?

RJ : You start with “You believe therefore….”, but that isn’t correct. Appreciating art has nothing to do with knowing why and how a person makes his art. Of course I have great respect for art of people I have never met. I like Van Gogh’s work a lot, but he is dead, so I can’t meet him. But to understand why Van Gogh made his work, you will have to rely on the stories written down by the people who knew him. With Van Gogh this is easy because he used to write these letters, and they are all published. Therefore the people who know the whole story are the best ones to understand his art.

Meeting the mail artist is an advantage, as I see it. You can exchange & learn more than through the mail, when you meet. Not meeting gives other possibilities. The correspondents in the mail art network can make their own visions about all the mail artists they are in contact with. I am interested in mail art and communication; this is a proces. Art is more like a finished product, a painting, a registration of a performance, etc. I like to know why people produce the things they produce. But there is no link to appreciating art and meeting the artists as you said. Meeting mail artists makes it just more easy to understand the art they make.

next question on 25-7-1996

MG: “Art is more like a finished product”? Do you consider there to be a finished product in mail art? Surely much mail art is not conventional art, certainly not many square canvas for framing. The mail art ‘by-product’ such as xeroxs, rubberstamped envelopes etc. are not what you would expect to find in the ‘traditional gallery’. The important question is: can mail art itself be framed? The ‘by-products’ are like photos, tickets and programmes of an event and not the event itself?

RJ : I once said “mail art is a search”. Of course there are ‘by-products’ as you mention. The answer to your question is simple. NO; mail art itself can’t be framed, it is even difficult to explain to a non-practicioner what mail art is. The mail artists themselves are often tempted to explain what mail art is. But “to know mail art is to do mail art” and it is a personal experience. I don’t feel the need to give a definition of mail art. I have tried too often, and my views are still evolving. I rather give these views and tell also that the views that mail artists have about mail art depends on the different persons as well.

next question on 24-8-1996

MG : So what exactely will you be showing at The Stamp Art Gallery in San Franciso and how will it be presented? Will you be explaning mail art to the audience?

(together with his answer Ruud Janssen sent the newsletter of the TAM Rubber Stamp Archive, August 1996 and some of the special stamp-sheets he made for this exhibition)

RJ : I am not sure what I will be showing there. I’ll try to explain. Since the Stamp Art Gallery has to do with rubber stamps, Bill Gaglione and John Held Jr. thought it would be interesting to present my TAM Rubber Stamp Archive at their place and so they invited me for the exhibition. But it is just impossible to show the complete archive connected to rubber stamps that I have. I also felt it would be wrong to make a selection of the contributions or the materials I have. The Stamp Art Gallery is connected to the Stamp Francisco Company and a part of their large store in the heart of San Francisco. The trip to San Francisco and meeting some of the many friends I have there is more important for me than the exhibition (also I plan to meet four or more people I am currently interviewing for my mail-interview project while I am there!). In the spirit of mail art I made special stamp-sheets for this exhibition. They are supposed to be sent directly to the Gallery, and they will form a large part of the exhibition. I send the special stamp-sheets to participants of the archive together with the latest newsletter of the TAM Rubber Stamp Archive, so they can send in prints of any sort as they would like. I like this concept better than the idea that the stamps of ONE single artist are presented (like most of the previous shows of the Gallery this year). What would be the use of printing my entire collection and hang the prints of the wall. These prints are already scattered all over the world with my mail art.

Besides these stamps-sheets I also asked networkers to send old stamp-sheets they still have, dirtectly to the exhibition. Only for historic purpose I probably will select some stamp-sheets that are already in the collection (over 4500 sheets to choose from you know; read about it in the latest newsletter…..).

Another thing that probably will be exhibited is some of the envelopes I sent to John Held Jr. and Bill (Picasso) Gaglione. Since I am in contact with them for over 15 years, they have a lot to choose from. Also most of the publications in connection to the TAM Rubber Stamp Archive are in their pocession, so they can easily fill the space. John Held Jr. is now the curator of the Gallery, and he will arrange the exhibition. So, also for me the exhibition will be a surprise. It starts on October 6th, and a few weeks later I will be there too. Just today I booked the ticket, and I will leave on
October 20th. On October 26th I will tell something about the archive and my work at the Gallery. I am at the moment working on that. It will be illustrated with slides, and I will add a bit of humor and performance to that. We will see how it turns out to be. So your question “will you explain mail art” would have to be answered with a NO. Most people in the Gallery probably already know something about mail art. The idea that most networkers have of mail art is mostly a personal one.

next question on 26-9-1996

MG: I have always thought it commendable the way you continue to promote other artists art. I believe you have your own gallery. What is this gallery, is it part of your home? How is art presented here? Who gets to view the art on display?
RJ: The problem of answering this question is that it breaks down the illusion the word “TAM-GALLERY” brings to people. Especially people who are inside the “official art world” , and sideways stumble on the mail art network, always want to know where ones art has been exhibited, etc… Since in mail art the best exhibitions take place in very small rooms (e.g. the P.O.Boxes or the places where mail artists get their mail), most “full-time” mail artists don’t exhibit this kind of work that much. I offer some artists the chance to have another “exhibition” on their list. Since the exhibitions are real, the paperwork is real, and only the “size” of the gallery is small it is easy to arrange these exhibitions. I already got offers from artists who wanted to do an exhibition at my Gallery. But so far I myself select the people I hang on my wall……..

Anyhow, the TAM-Gallery is just one wall of my small living-room. I sometimes change the things that are hanging there, and if I select a number of works from a specific artists, I also make an invitation-folder of it and send it into the network and to this artist. I don’t distribute it in Tilburg, because I like my privacy. Actually a lot of the works that are hanging at my apartment are connected to mail art or art my own work (mostly the oil-paintings I like to do when I have the time). My living-place is a constant exhibition of the mail I get in and the art I produce myself and still have.

So, who gets to see this “exhibitions” at my Gallery? Anyone that just happens to visit me during the time the works are hanging here. Mostly just family and friends, and rarely a mail artists who passes by.

The TAM-Gallery fits nicely in the big list of organisations that I have build around TAM. The TAM-Publications, The International Union of Mail Artists (IUOMA), the TAM-Academy, etc. Actually in real life I use sometimes these organisations as well. It is always nice to be the director of TAM, and be able to send mail out like that. In “real life” I also teach my students about how organisations work (with as goal to teach them how informatics-systems have to be build for those organisations), so in a way everything in my life is connected to one another.

next question on 17-10-1996

MG : By exhibiting the ‘byproducts’ of mail art are we providing that there is something to show or collect? Often the art being shown is something very distinctive to mail art, for example the decorated envelopes, I could state many other examples.

There are also some American artists who are writing a lot of texts to establish mail art as an ‘ism’. Although this does not appear to be your aim, all texts about mail art help to ‘establish’ it as an ‘ism’. Obviously you have written extensively on the subject and some of the artists concerned and in my opinion your texts would be extremely important if mail art did become classified as an ‘ism’.

Mail art is now becoming recognized by the official establishment. What are your opinions on mail art becoming an ‘ism’.

RJ : The exhibition of ‘byproducts’ of mail art doesn’t mean that they will be archived! I know of exhibitions where the mail art envelopes, collages, etc. are given to the visitors. Sometimes they are used as collage in the mail art documentation. Some even burn the whole lot and make a performance about it. Of course there is a big part of the mail art that will be saved. The “archives” as we mail artists like to call them are mostly nothing more than collections of the things the receivers found interesting to keep and to collect. Some specialize even and write the network to send them specific things. All this is perfectly o.k. by me. There are no real rules about how to deal with mail art.

The official art-world however is becoming interested because of several reasons. First: Mail artists start to die. If a mail artist has also a name in the official art world, then of course this businessmen will try to get a hold of these ‘byproducts’. Second: The postal communication is gradually loosing its original form. More and more things are done by the computers. Even if someone doesn’t want to, the pens and typewriters are gradually being taken over by these digital machines. The new generations are learning to use and misuse these machines, and it is a way that has obviously no return. If fact with the paid job I have the last years I am even helping in this development since I nowadays teach full-time computer-sciences (and you would be surprised how creative this business is…..).

The main focus of your question is about the texts that are written. Whether mail art becomes an ‘ism’ or not, isn’t at all interesting for me. Normally things are an ‘ism’ when they over and historicans take over. It only becomes an ‘ism’ if the impact on our society was large enough. For me mail art at the moment has more become a way of life. That I use the postal system to communicate, a pen and paper, make visuals, use the computer , send out an e-mail, publish a text on the internet; it is just the need to communicate and to search for what this life is all about and what possibilities that there are. I don’t just live in Tilburg. I live on a planet where lots of things are happening. I want to learn from others what this life is all about and to find out for myself what it is that I am doing or what I want to do. Life is a constant search for new things. It is never a repetition of things so that one does again and again the same things ( some people who call themselves mail artists are doing just that, you know….). People who are in constant development you maybe could call artists. But they don’t always have to paint. There are lots of things creative people are producing. To see the basic thought behind this creativity, that is something really interesting and it fascinates me to see what search-pattern other people have developed.

To come back on the ‘byproducts’. Thank god that of other artists things have been kept. In mail art it is for newcomers very difficult to find out what has happened since the sixties. The many books that are made are difficult to get, and also only show a very limited view. I only know very few books on mail art NOT written by mail artists. As long as that is so, mail art won’t be an ‘ism’ as I see it. The Galleries that do exhibit work of mail artists do so because mostly it is a part of the life of a specific artists that has brought something. Whether it is new art or money (for the gallery-owner) that is another question. But as I told before. I am not in contact with the official art world or the gallery-scene…….. That postal museums are interested in mail art is nothing new. Mail artists use the mail, and besides the historic stamp-collections and postal items, what artistic things are there that are connected to mail? Right; mail art. But the postal museums mostly let a mail artists currate the show or let them advice the museum. Nothing wrong with a sponsor for a great show on mail art. But showing ‘byproducts’ isn’t what mail art is all about.

(This question arrived just after my return from USA / San Francisco, where I was from 20-10-96 till 4-11-1996 for an exhibition at the Stamp Art Gallery about the TAM Rubber Stamp Archive. I also had meetings with 9 mail artists I am currently interviewing or have interviewed, who live in San Francisco or in cities nearby)

next question on 7-11-1996

MG : ‘Constant development’ appears to be important to you. What do see your future role in mail art as being? Can you tell us of any plans or art projects you have for forthcoming development?

RJ : A future role? The constant development is a learning process. Mail art is just one of the sources that teaches me. I don’t have a final goal, I op open to the influences that I encounter in my life. I am not thinking in terms of ‘future role’. Since you ask such a question, I guess you are!

“……any plans or art projects you have for forthcoming development?”. Is this a joke? The TAM Rubberstamp Archive , the mail interviews and publications of booklets and the publishing of a final document connected to this, the WORDS-list, the many articles I write, the acrylpainting I am currently doing, and not to forget the teaching job I have…….. And I almost forget: keeping up with the developments on the internet! A day has only 24 hours, and the only plan I have at the moment is to cut down on the amount of mail art I send out. I like to produce more quality rather than more quantity.

next question on 29-11-1996

MG : The ‘future role’ for my art is ‘constant development’. However I’m not the person being interviewed, you are! But that was the last question I wanted to as you (this time), so unless you have got anything further to add, I would just like to thank you for an interesting and informative interview.

RJ : Well, for me it was an interesting and informative interview as well. It is always a surprise which question someone comes up with. This is one of the three interviews that mail artists started with me. As it turnes out these interviews will aal three be completely different…….. Till again Mark!

(The finished text was sent to Mark Greenfield. He could then arrange the final layout and send the originals back to me.)

mail-interview with Julie Hagan Bloch – USA





Started on: 7-3-95

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: 20-6-1995

JHB: Well, It was probably around the early ’80’s…. 1983 maybe. It sort of pounced…. I’d been carving eraser-stamps for a few years & heard of a couple of rubberstamp magazines, Rubberstamp-madness & National Stampagraphic. I wrote to them and they both showed favorable interest in my carvings right away. Very quickly I was corresponding with some folks via the rubberstamp magazines, and also got in a group that exchanged mail-art on a monthly basis. I forget the name of the group now; it was in 1984 or 1985 , but I still correspond with Kay Sluterbeck & Tom Nelson whom I met in that group. That group may still be going on as far as I know; after a while I had to drop out because of being short of extra time! I’m still short of “extra” time, but I work around it!

Anyhow, these few contacts led to others & I just kept going with it! Always, though, what intrigued me most was eraser-carving. Still does. Other things get put aside so I can do more carving. One thing that’s so great about mail-art is it’s an ideal form for sharing carved images. Mail-art lets me feel in touch artistically, even though I live in a very small town. I truly cherish my fellow-artists/correspondents. I have the best of it all here – peace, quiet, & lovely surroundings, and contact with other artists. Our post-office enjoys the unusual variety that gets sent to me too. I give them samples of the artistamps I make, and they put them up behind the counter. Like my own refrigerator-display! (In your country, do the mothers of small children tape up the kids’ artworks on the refrigerator door?) Well, enough for that question, nu?

RJ : Well, maybe you should do a project on refrigerator’s doors? Mine is decorated with magnet-artworks I received through the mail…. Your eraser-carvings are quite well known in the network. Sometimes your work is even used as illustrations in books. How did you become so good? Maybe you could tell me how the proces of making one stamp evolves.

Reply on 21-9-1995
JHB: The first part is having an idea you want to work with! Then, tools assembled, do your drawing, work with it until you’re pleased with it, transfer it to the eraser, and carve it! Often, I continue the drawing process with the carving tools: refining, deleting, adding texture, or re-designing if I either change my mind or make a mistake! And I’ll let you in on a little secret: the end result is hardly ever exactly as I had envisioned it! But also, it’s hardly ever worth re-doing; time’s better spent on trying not to make the same “mistake” on another carving – or else using the information gained deliberately to create a similar effect.

The key to gaining skill in the process is not unique to eraser-carving. Practice. A lot (I’ve carved over 2,000 stamps by now.) Love the work. Put your heart & mind to it. Concentrate. Have fun with it! Be open to learn whatever you can from a variety of sourses. Recognize that all your skills are a gift, and use them with love & respect. Practice. Love. Attention. I made a stamp about this topic too: “ALL-PURPOSE MAGIC TRICK LEARNED WHILE CARVING STAMPS: Don’t work carelessly, thinking, “why be careful? I can’t do it well, anyhow.” because then, you’ll probably be right. Take the time and care needed, WORK AS THOUGH YOU EXPECT TO BE ABLE TO DO IT VERY WELL because then, you’ll probably be right.”

(This complete text Julie carved in a eraser sometimes in very tiny and precise letters. The carving shows her very wonderful skills when it comes to making eraser-carvings with very fine details)

Oh – a few, actually: “CHECK OUT the work of wood engravers and wood block carvers!” , “What to carve? Look around you! Look inside you!” , “Contents: Helpful, I hope, but NOT TO BE TAKEN TOO SERIOUSLY…. Do whatever works for you! Invent something new! JUST CARVE!!!”
(These are all on the back cover of my little carving book.)

Another point about skill in carving is keeping the enthusiasm fresh. One way I do that is to apply eraser carving to whatever my current interest happens to be. (For heavens sake, one can carve anything!) Lately I’ve been fascinated with ancient Egyptian art & hieroglyphs. (Sadly, I’m lacking a teacher for hieroglyphs, but I do have a couple of excellent texts to work with.) I’m having a wonderful time with it all, and of course it shows up in carved stamps!

RJ : Yes, it sure does! Do you also carve in wood and make larger works?

Reply on 12-10-1995

JHB: I have carved in wood in the past, but haven’t for years. The grain of the wood always seemed to have a different opinion than I did about where a line should go, & we never reached a mutual understanding.

I also used to do larger works – when I was in art school ( a little over 20 years ago!) I preferred large canvases, say 4 x 6 feet, & 18 x 24 inch watercolors & drawings…. But as the time goes by I find that I prefer to work much smaller for many reasons: large pieces require physical strength to manipulate & lots of space for storage, & are harder to share with people many miles away. And large sized works are easy to accept as they are, in the sense of size, and the viewer remaining as is….. Small works seem to ask the viewer to become of a size to enter the work, because it’s too hard to see it well otherwise. One must change & enter into a different view of the world. I guess that sounds weird. That’s okay. Wierd is fine too. It’s good to help shake off the idea that some people may have that this existence is “normal”, whatever THAT is. Magic is normal, & it’s everywhere! Just walking outside today, in this gorgeous Autumn weather one breathes magic! It’s more than just the delightful beauty of scent & color…. it’s a feeling…. I love it!

It’s necessary for me to try to convey some of this in the thing I do. Wether it comes across or not, well, who knows? But it is important that I try, & the magic is ALL of it – the form, color, feeling, & my state of being as I work. I think people would do well to remember we can all do magic. Putting one’s heart and spirit into a made object – that’s magic and very healing for the doer & the viewer. I think one also receives the blessings of whatever the attention focuses on, and of course blessings are extended to the object or place or person or animal that is drawn or carved.

RJ : In the latest pieces of mail I received from you, I noticed that you are influenced by old historic subjects these last months. What is so attractive about the Eastern culture?

Reply on 2-12-1995

JHB: Ruud, I could say any number of things about this, but the main thing is that it just touches my heart. It is beautiful in a way that for me is magic, and it makes me want to be closer to it.

I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in New York City) several months ago, standing before some acient Egyptian tomb carvings: scenes & hieroglyphs… tears came to my eyes and I wanted to know the heart of them, to be closer to that beauty. So since then I’ve been studying hieroglyphs when I can, & looking at the drawings, paintings and sculpture, in books or in museums. It’s magical, mysterious, seductive, lovely. It’s for the same reason I studied Chinese 15 years ago: the art captures my heart.

RJ : Is it the story of your life, that you always follow what your heart tells you to do?

Reply on 3-2-1996

JHB: What a beautiful question! I think that’s probably true for the major events of my life, and I believe that a lot of the time heart & head are in agreement…. or at least they conspire to make it seem so…. Even contemplating the question brings a smile to the heart & a feeling of love. What treasures these feelings are! To be in a space of love & beauty, just by thinking about them. Now there’s magic! Thank you for bringing it on!

ps. Sometimes the pull of love is so strong, it’s not a matter of choice: the only possible thing to do is to follow one’s heart. Nothing else exists.

RJ : Again you sent me some beautiful prints of your newest rubber stamps. Do you keep all your erasers? How large is your collection?

Reply on 21-2-1996

JHB: No, I don’t keep all my carvings. Some I make as gifts, some end up as gifts, a very few are commissioned pieces. But I do keep most of the carvings I make. I probably have about 2,000 and I like always to have at least arround 50 uncarved erasers on hand, plus some of the larger sizes of carving material like Nasco’s carving block, April Pease’s “P-Z cut”, & a few others which I can’t recall just now. Sometimes I get an idea to do a series of carvings that eats up my supply of erasers, so I need to be prepared! It’s best to go with the idea when it takes you by the hand. I love it when I’m able to just flow with the idea & draw and carve for long, uninterrupted stretches.

RJ : You sure are lucky that you can do that, and the results are really wonderful. When I myself got involved with the mail art network the magazine Rubberstampmadness was quite interesting for mail artists (as you told also in one of your previous answers). The most recent issues I saw of the magazine were completely different to the ones from the beginning of the 80’s. It has become a very large glossy magazine with lots of advertisings. What are your thoughts on these developments, that rubberstamping has become big business?

Reply on 5-3-1996

JHB: There is room for everybody & for all of it. RSM has evolved from charming, down-home small publication to classy, professional larger publication. It reaches more people now, yet has information on networking for many levels, some really cool artists, & so forth. Folks who wish to be less “glossy” are not prohibited from being so, for heaven’s sake! I think it’s a waste of good energy to get upset with people or entities for changing, as long as others are still free to go their own way. National Stampagraphic is a lot like it used to be years ago, very low-key, & lovable. That’s the key, I think, to why these 2 (RSM & NS) are still around – love. It’s not how “glossy” you are or aren’t; it’s how much love you work with – (and, of course, simply staying in business is due in part to luck!) – and both are full of love. There’s so much “us” versus “them” in this world – it’s time people realized that there is no “THEM” ; it’s ALL JUST “US”.

And what’s wrong with glossy, anyhow? I can’t find fault with better reproduction of original pieces, more information on cool toys (via – ‘gasp!’ advertising!) – show me where this causes harm? If there’s to be a complaint, let it be with real problems – like polluting our lovely Earth, torturing animals or people, stupid wars, supressing of others’ beliefs, other forms of bigotry (religious, racial, social, etc.) OY VAY! You want problems? EASY to find. You know what else? I’m a lot different than I was in the beginning of the 80’s too! And it’s great! (and so are you, dear; you got me going on that one, didn’t you!)

P.S. I bet there are lots of other rubberstamp publications out there that are very low key – this world is full of surprises!

P.P.S. I could get more in-depth philosophically, but it makes my ears itch. Enough philosophy already, let’s make art!

RJ : Yes, I got you going there for a while. Sometimes it seems that art & money don’t mix, but in reality they seem to be completly connected. In the 70’s and 80’s there were these discussions that mail art and money don’t mix. Nowadays, with the high postal rates everywhere, the mail artists of the 90’s know too well that money is needed to keep the post going and lots of recent larger mail art shows are sponsored to pay for the costs. What are your thoughts on this subject?

Reply on 2-4-1996

JHB: It seems to me a bit like complaining about the weather. Like it or not, what can one do about it? Individual solutions: make more intense (whatever THAT means!) art & correspond with fewer people, making a stronger individual connection; do mass-mailings but less frequently; get a grant; work with people in a smaller area & personal contact (within art schools, for example); pray for postal rates to go down! In fact, Ruud, I saved (somewhere – can’t find it at the moment) a little quote you mailed me a year or two ago, something to the effect that one might reconsider methods if one is continually sending a mass-produced letter about “Sorry I’m sending a mass-produced letter, but I don’t have time to write”. Why not pare down the number to those with whom quality correspondence is enjoyed? Mail art is supposed to be for enjoyment (isn’t it??). Or, admittedly, at times to make a social or political point – but I suspect most of us do mail art because we like to. And in honesty I must admit that I seldom respond to “calls for mail art” for any given event unless the call is accompanied by a personal letter of some kind. Of works to do, I have plenty already, thank you! As I said: for me, it’s about love, not how many pieces of mail I can move in a day.

As far as art & money mixing – well, sometimes they do & sometimes they don’t! Clearly, one needs to survive; and clearly, art needs energy, love. time, & other resources. It can be more subtle, too. In 1991 I got breast cancer. I know why I got it; I was depressed because, due to having to take a “real” job, I couldn’t make art.
(…wow – I had to stop a moment & the moment stretched to over 2 weeks! Time-ways!)

…so – with that diagnosis came the renewed determination to do what I believe I came here to do: show love for this amazing All-of-creation with my art. Please understand, this doesn’t imply I’m any kind of world-class master artist. It just means that, for my own personal life, I must work with beauty, with love. Like birds who must sing, no matter what their song: crow or lark (I like them all!); no matter if they’re heard or not…. though, to be sensible, I suppose the song often serves to attract mates or announce territorial borders… but I bet they’d sing anyhow. Lovely things, birds. Like listening to Kiri te Kanawa, for example, or Kathleen Battle…. like angels singing. Healing to the spirit.

Back to the question – yes, it is a shame when folks can’t afford to mail as they’d like. When I was first married, money was very tight – though we had enough to physically survive, thank god – & I do remember not mailing as often as I would have liked, in order to save money… but what I did then is to do what I could do, & not get my shorts in a bunch, so to speak, because of what I couldn’t do. I don’t have enough time to waste it on being critical like that. As I said before, do what you can do, and with love.

RJ : The envelope you sent your answer in was made from a page about astrology. What does astrology mean to you?

(On April 25th I received a first e-mail message from Julie Hagan Bloch. Nothing special, but just a test if she could reach me that way. I replied that here first e-mail arrived and that she could send in her answers that way too. However, I also told her that I would enjoy her snail-mail more because of the wonderful stampings she always uses).

Reply on 4-6-1996 (internet)

Hi, Ruud!

Yes, I will be sending you some goodies in the mail but I’m feeling a tad guilty at how long it’s taken me to respond to the last question so I’m answering with the help of Thoth Ram Dos (I did tell you that’s our computer’s name, didn’t I?).
Astrology. I guess for me it’s another bit of potentially useful information. Seems to me that this whole universe is pretty much all of a piece, as it were, and that everything is therefore interconnected. I’m not an astrologer. Not enough time to devote to it. But now and then something I’ll read in an astrology journal or and ephemeris will ring a bell and help me to gain a little insight. For example, the time I got breast cancer was when transiting Pluto was squaring my ascendant. (Yes, I know it sounds like gobbledygook. Well, it can’t be helped.) Pluto has to do with deep transformation, sometimes pretty heavy duty. The ascendant is one’s self in this body, for lack of a more succinct explanation. So. Does that help?

On a different subject, David does the grocery shopping for our household, bless his heart. Last time he went, he brought back a golden orange pepper, “just because it was so pretty”. Now, I ask you, is that man a treasure or what? I’ll be sending you a few little eraser carvings I did using that pepper as a model. It really is a lovely thing, that pepper. The color is exquisite, and the shape of it is wonderful. The funny thing about it is that, since the U.S. Post Office recently issued a commemorative stamp of one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings (the red poppy), I was looking through a book I’ve had (for almost 20 years!) of her work. I had in mind to think a bit about her and what she did, and perhaps carve a print or two in her honor. Looking through that lovely book, I was struck most by her just working with what delighted her eye. And that evening, David brings home the pepper. Aha! So in a way, the pepper prints are in honor of Georgia. What an incredible woman she was.

I’m also thinking that perhaps I’ll go to the grocery store myself (I hate to shop, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it’s for art supplies, so to speak), and see the shapes and colors in the produce department. In the seed catalogues I see lovely fruits and flowers and vegetables…peppers, for example, in red, green, yellow, orange, white, purple, just to name a few!

I’ll send the prints off to you in the morning. Meanwhile, happy Spring!

RJ : Now I think of the subjects of your eraser carvings, it has mostly to do with daily life as well. You latest answer came in by e-mail (you actually wrote it a few hours before I got it today!) and I wonder, what is a computer too you, and what do you think of e-mail?

(this next question was sent only 30 minutes after I received her answer, by e-mail of course!)

reply on 2-7-1996 (internet)

JHB: HA! I just remembered where I put the interview question. Oy… when I get behind with paperwork, things do get lost! Okay, the question was about Thoth Ram Dos, our computer, or computers in general.

Computers are great. E mail is a big help for quick communication (well, it CAN be…!) and can be fun besides. What’s not to like? The regular postal system still can be used for sending pictures and what not. It’s good to have both. The more options, the better. It’s not as though use of the more traditional mail systems is now prohibited, for heaven’s sake!
Besides the e mail, I hope eventually to be able to use the computer for producing our books, which is the reason we got it in the first place. We still need to get a scanner, though, and until we do we can’t do the books from the computer. There’s a program that can use my own calligraphy and use it as a font. (First have to have the scanner!) I like doing a LITTLE calligraphy, but it’s getting so that my hand and shoulder cramp up too quickly to really enjoy doing an extended session of it. I do want to use my own lettering in our books, though, and having it available as a font is the way to go. Besides, that way I can spend more time drawing and carving, which I prefer. There I think the computer will be a help, too. In fact, that’s the argument my husband used to get me to consider a computer in the first place. He said: “Think of being able to have your original artwork, blow it up big on the computer, touch it up, reduce it back to the original size, and have it camera ready.” I told him, “Oh, you tempter!”

And so Thoth Ram Dos came to live in our house. I love the drawing and carving but I do not like to do the fiddly work involved in getting an image camera ready. Once an image is carved, I want to do something else! There are so many things that I’d like to carve!

RJ : Besides the e-mail there are also the sites and homepages where people put their information on-line. What do you think of that?

Reply on 11-7-1996 (via e-mail)

JHB: I don’t yet have a lot of experience with this part of the internet. I’ve played a bit with it, of course, but it still feels like getting a new foreign language textbook and skipping to the middle or end chapters: sometimes one is able to make sense of bits of it, and it is fun to work with it, but to really GET it a bit more study is required.

My impression as a novice is that one could easily spend a great deal of time in it…. So far, I’ve not had a lot of luck using it as a research tool. Although it seems almost everything is represented in some capacity, the representation usually is rather superficial. At present, I have far better luck in a good big bookstore. It isn’t as time consuming to “download” pictures in a bookstore, either! Using Georgia O’Keeffe as a reference again, I found a scant few illustrations of her work on the internet, but in a bookstore, aaah! Lovely illustrated volumes, and the main problem is to choose which to buy! Such riches…

At any rate, I’m sure there is much good material in magic cyberspace, for one who knows how to access it. I’m sure I will eventually. I did have some luck, surprisingly enough, in finding eraser carving related items on the internet! The luck consisted mainly in having friends tell me the home page addresses (if that is the correct term) for them. I found yours, Ruud, and a few others. What fun! Yes, I can see how one could spend a LOT of time there!
Incidentally, Ruud, my lack of expertise is the reason for the delay in responding to your question. I don’t have a lot to say that means much. But heavens, for not having much to say, I sure did natter on, no?!

This kind of communication is a far cry from that of even 50 years ago. I wonder what will be available in another 50 years! I guess that’s all for now. Be well, dear. Love and blessings, Julie

RJ : Another subject I would like to ask before we end our interview is, “your archive”. Do you keep all the mail that you get in? How do you deal with the flow of incoming mail?

reply on 5-10-1996 (e-mail)

JHB: Your last question related to archiving: “Do you keep all the mail that you get in? How do you deal with the flow of incoming mail?” As you can tell, sometimes the flow of incoming mail does not have a corresponding outflow very soon! Some mail is answered quickly, such as orders for the small books I publish; I try to fill orders and mail them out again within 48 hours. Questions about carving I put at the front of my “mail to be answered” stack. I must confess that though I like to answer mail promptly, often that stack waits a while for me to attend to it. The nearly three month interval between your last question and my answering of it is surely a case in point! It was an interval, however, that saw the completion of the camera ready copy for the next haiku book, which is now at the printer’s awaiting its turn on the press. (I am glad about the book’s reaching that stage, for sure!) Usually when I begin a correspondence with somebody, I warn her/him that while I do answer my mail, the timing of the answer is totally unpredictable.
I don’t keep all the mail that comes to the house. There’s just too much of it. I keep what is special to me personally for one reason or another; and most of the rest of it I pass along. Some things that are not “keepers” but are of a large enough size, I use to line the bottom of the rabbits’ cages when I clean them. I have to use something, after all! Mail art is sacred in the sense of the communication that takes place, but not necessarily as an object once its purpose has been fulfilled. Besides, paper does not keep forever, and space is somewhat limited. The more one has, the more time is necessary to take care of it. I have fantasized about dumping the entire contents of my files into a bonfire, and enjoying the lightening of spirit that accompanies lightening of posessions… but then when I go to weed out some of the files, I end up keeping most of them after all. “I can’t throw THIS away…”. The trick in not becoming inundated in paper is to be strong in the first place and not let the paper enter the file at all; pass it along right away. It isn’t easy. When a piece has been put together with a lot of care and love, it is hard to let it go. But then, it is also fun to share nice work with mail art friends. It is a bit of a paradox for me. I like to have interesting things on hand to look at and respond to, but I don’t like to be responsible for a lot of stuff to take care of. And I like things to be fairly tidy and clean, and of course the more things there are in a space, the more complicated that becomes. I find it easier to think clearly in a clean space. Not only a physically clean space, but also a mentally clean one. If I have too many things to do, I often find it hard to accomplish anything beyond the most essential tasks. The mental system (or mine does, anyhow) gets overloaded with too many things to do, it seems, and fizzes out. Poof! It’s a great exercise in focus, though, to concentrate on one bird in the flock, as it were. It is an interesting question: if a system is best served by simplicity, then why is there the tendency towards complexity?

Ummmm, I dunno. I’m a slow learner, maybe??? ; ) Back to you, Ruud, and I hope you are having a fine Autumn. It is so very lovely here now. I love this time of year. The trees are so spectacular in their blazing brightness, and the clean, crisp air is ambrosial. Aaaaahhh!
P.S The lift of spirit that follows the letting go of possessions is mild compared to the lift felt after completing a major task. It’s almost as though a physical weight were removed from me. ( I wonder if it’s like that at the time of death, the feeling of a major job completed, great relief and lightness, and now it’s time to move on to the next thing…) I love the work I do, but completion is nice too.

There, that was my after midnight nattering!

RJ : Well, maybe it is time to round up this interview. It started in March last year, so if we don’t stop now we might ‘natter’ on year after year (just joking). Was there anything I forgot to ask you?

reply on 26-11-1996 (e-mail)

JHB: I don’t know if you forgot to ask anything or not, but there is one more thing I’d like to put out there for people: There is a great light at the very core of your being that is made of nothing but love. Find it. And realize that the light wears your form, has your tendencies, your loves, your brain, your skills, everything that makes you who you are. You ARE good enough. You are great, just as you are. You must do what makes your heart happy, what you know is right for you in your own circumstances. Honor who you are. Everyone has this light; it is everywhere and in everything. We are surrounded by love.

One of the finest things about mail art is that people share their own unique vision, freely and without external judging. They share who they are. We are surrounded by love.
Well, Ruud, no doubt there will be something else I’ll remember after this is all done, but I can live with that! I suspect that the “nattering” will continue in any case! In the snail mail printout of this that I’m sending, I’ll enclose the latest haiku book, hot off the press, as it were. I hope you like it! Now it’s back to answering other mail, trying to fit in as many projects as possible (one of the first of which is revising my carving book. It’s hard to believe it’s been out for almost ten years…products have changed, and there is more I want to share with those who’d like to carve! The more I teach, the more I notice patterns of things people keep asking, or not realizing that they need to know. I need to address that in the book) , and not wear myself out…well, not too much, anyhow. Bless you for doing this project. It’s led me into some helpful contemplations, and I hope that it may be of some interest to the readers. Be well, be happy, and remember that you are fine, just as you are, and made of love.

Love and blessings,


RJ : Thanks for this interview Julie!


mail-interview with Norman Solomon – USA




(With the sending of the retyped answers I sometimes made typing-errors to which Norman Solomon reacted. Some of the reactions are worth mentioning, and I have done so with the footnotes)

Started on 21-3-1997

Ruud: 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 8-4-1997

(Together with the invitation I sent a copy of the text of Ray Johnson’s unfinished interview. Norman sent me a photo of Ray Johnson at New York Harbor in 1958, and his answer is a reaction to Ray’s answers as well).

NS : Reply on : 21-11-94 RAY : THE MNO QP (mirror view) kind. What about Mimsy Star. She got pinched in the astor bar. RUUD: Was it a mistake that she got pinched………..

“Have you heard that Mimmsie Starr
Just got pinched in the Astor Bar?”

is by Cole Porter. The song “Well, Did You Evah?” was written, words and music, by CP in 1940 for a musical comedy, “DuBarry Was a Lady.” It was featured in a movie, “High Society” in 1956. WDYE was sung in “High Society” by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The drinking in the study scene. The Astor Bar referred to was the one at the old Hotel Astor, owned by Vincent Astor, on Broadway near Times Square in new York City. this was not the newer hotel, the Waldorf-Atoria on Park Avenue. Vincent Astor, the well-known society playboy was a descendent of John Jacob Astor who founded the family’s fortunes hundreds of years ago trading trinkets to the Indians of Western Canada for furs, mainly beavers, whose pelts the British had learned to diminish for the making of felt for fine hats. The Astor family, later, continued their fortune-making wit holdings in New York real estate and banks.

In the 1950’s , Ray Johnson and Norman Solomon went to a lot of moviex together. They went to the Roxie, the Paramount, the Beekman, the 8th Street Playhouse and other famous theatres of that time. They probably saw “High Society”at the Loew’s State Theatre on Broadway.

Pinched had a double meaning here. It meant having a bit of one’s flesh held between a thumb and a forefinger which then got squeezed together hard. This might elicit a screech or a scream or an “ouch!” Or, maybe, not. Pinched also meant getting nabbed by the police, run in, arrested. If Mimmsie Starr got pinched in the Astor Bar by the police, for instance, she might have got her ass, or a small part of it squeezed (as above), or, she might have been for drunken, boisterous, outrageous behavior, or, more likely, for attempting to solicit an act of prostitution. It was, in any event, all in fun.

I have always depended on strange kindnesses for the nothings that I receive in the mails and I hope I can depend upon you to continue the same.

Ruud: When was the last time you talked to Ray? What did you discuss then?

next answer on 25-4-1997

(With his answer he sent a copy of a photo of Ray Johnson and Willem de Kooning, back in 1959, New York. Also the letter held some small papers with comments like: “Don’t make any corrections, Ruud. The mistakes are all part of the story……” and a photo from Ruth Kligman)

NS : Interview. II (pas de tout)

The last time I talked with Ray was the last time I saw Paris.

The Last Time I Saw Paris was the title of a book by Elliot Paul, an American newspaper person. It was published here during the early stages of WW-II ; there was a nostalgia kick. I read it then. EP wrote extensively about an upstairs Left Bank restaurant on the Rue de la Chat Qui Peche, which I visited in 1944. I had biftek and salad and wine and got so pissed that I threw it all up in the street. There still were cobble-stoned pavings.

I sent all of my Army money home to my poor mother. But, I could sell my PX ration of cigarettes for enough francs to enable me to eat well and to drink terribly. I was living, apperently, beyond my experience.

The Last Time I Saw Paris was used, then, as a title and theme for a song sung mostly by Hildegarde . She and it got famous and well-played together.

The Last Time I Saw Paris was made a movie in 1954. It starred Van Heflin and Elizabeth Taylor. They and it were dreadful. Walter Pidgeon, Eva Gabor (whose mother just died) and Donna Reed were featured in it. MGM had apparently decided that since An American in Paris had been such a great success and big hit in 1951, that they could redo the experience. They were wrong and they could not have been wronger. TLTISP was three minutes longer in running time than AAIP had been, but that didn’t help. Dreadful.

What Ray and I had discussed mostly at that time was that people, especially MGM movie stars, were looking puffy. Puffy, apparently, was coming in.

We also discussed the carers of Franz Kline and Bill de Kooning and the interstitial relationship of those artists with Ruth Kligman, and of hers with Jackson Pollock. I had photographed Ruth after she emerged from the hospital, from the crash results of 1956, and we recalled, looking at my pictures, how the stitches in her face had improved upon nature. She had begun to look like Susan Hayward. Beautiful.

We also discussed Ralph Di Padova. Now Ralph wanted to be a gangster, you know. He had also applied for employment to the CIA and to the FBI. They, neither of them, took him on, but — it was just as well. Gangsterdom was his first love, as a vocation. Ralph had an old-time Packard sedan that he sometimes took us around in. It was rather grand and very gangster. Ralph also had a sweet girl-friend of whom he took great and good care. She’d needed surgical operations for her bone problems and he took care of all that.

I notice, I should mention, some misprints or typical graphic errors in the Interview, I.

“fortune-making wit holdings” of course should have been “with” holdings though it obviously took much wit to make fortunes. All great fortunes are founded on great crimes, of course, but — what aren’t?

“went to a lot of moview” got printed for “went to a lot of moviex.”

See how simple it is?

Ray Johnson and Norman Solomon read a lot. They talked often and together about what they were reading and what it meant to them. Books of the 1950’s that got into their fields of vision were Zen intros by R.H. Blyth and Daisetz T. Suzuki. They read all of the early issues of the Evergreen Review, and discussed the cover designs of Grove Press books by Roy Kuhlman. They read Alice B. Toklas and they read Gertude Stein and they read Isak Dinesen. They read Edmund Wilson’s Memoirs of Hecate County. They read everything and anything by Yukio Mishima. They read the poetry of William Carlos Williams and even more by Wallace Stevens. They read the Story of O.

Djuna Barnes impressed them and something by somebody called Susie von Freulinghausen.

They went to a lot of movies.

In addition to Hollywood fare, they’d watch anything by Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa. They went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and saw a history of World film. This was two shows a week for three years. They liked particularly the early German Expressionism, especially the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which got incorporated into their work and attitudes. They saw everything French from 1925-1931. But, the very best of all, was everything ever made by Carl Dreyer and by Robert Bresson. They both considered The Diary of a Country Priest to have been one of the best movies ever made.

Their favorite painter was Mondrian. De Kooning called Mondrian “merciless” in his approach. Norman and Ray studied Mondrian’s Piers and Water, noting the movements of the little fishes.

They hung out with composers, musicians and dancers. John Cage. Merce Cunningham. James Waring. Katie Litz.Lucia Dlugaszewski. Morty Feldman. Earle Brown. Norman knew a lot of jazz musicians: Charlie Parker; Sonny Rollins; Bud Powell. Ray did not know any. Norman had connections in the world of Negro music. Ray had not, and did not care to. Often their worlds overlapped, but not always.

There was congruence and confluence and con alma. But not always. Although often enough. Ray sought out Butterfly McQueen and seemed somtimes to be talking endlessly about her. Norman could not have cared less.

Did Ray play games or music? Well, maybe not conventionally so. Norman played chess, drums and poker. For a while, there was a kitten at his studio. Once, after Ray had visited, the kitten was nowhere to be found. Finally, by crying, it revealed its whereabouts. It was inside a drum. Ray played jokes.

Ray enjoyed talking about the power plays in prison movies. Such as who’d be carrying the shit-bucket to be emptied in the morning, before, during, and after a relationship. Ray was also fascinated and open to discussing at any time, whipping, whipping and ritual torture.

Ray Johnson’s favorite dish (they had experimented at many of New Yorks’s international restaurants) was fetishini.

But, besides food, movies, clothing, make-up, morés, books, painters, paintings and the price of soap, they’d talk about other people.

They visited a lot of studios together. They saw the work of established artists, the know and the unknown, the promising students whom word had got around about and the up and the coming. And Ray would talk long afterward about studio details, not the art but the furniture, the light, the placements.

Ruud: In the current mail art network, the name Ray Johnson is often mentioned. Since I started in the mail art network in 1980, the history of mail art sometimes is difficult to find. I used the modern research tools from now (like the Internet) to find out who Norman Solomon is. There seem to be a lot of Norman Solomons out there. So of course my next question is, which one are you?

(together with the next question I sent some papers which consist of things written by Norman Solomon. I find them on the internet, but as it turns out this is another Norman Solomon……I also sent him a photo of the opening-screen of my computer, which shows the image of the unfinished last painting by Mondrian)

next answer on 12-05-1997

NS : The one who is not out there.

“Sorry, I couldn’t really understand your question. I don’t remember knowing anyone named Ray Johnson”

Using the modern research tools, like the Internet, is like asking if Mae Marsh liked grapefruit.

I thought that you’d be asking questions of greater interest, like what was the price of soap?

Or did that grapefruit, from Mae Marsh, elicit les frissons?

Do you think that it was Djuna Barnes that went to a lot of movies?

What did she see there?

She lived near the Loew’s Sheridan Theatre and the Eight Street Playhouse.

She lived across the street from New York City’s Women’s Prison, at the site of the old Jefferson Square Courthouse.

When, how and where did you first meet Ray Johnson, and what was he wearing?

Media Beat. Not courtesy of Turn Left. Check, but Turn Left Cheek.

The Victory Boogie-Woogie does not appear on your screen. Nor does it appear on anyone’s. What you think that you may be seeing is actually a copy of a copy. The Broadway Boogie-Woogie doesn’t either. You are looking at pictures of pictures of pictures.

And no one “out there” has ever seen PM’s “Times Square”.

05.02.97 , III. Pas des trois. It’s all in the spirit of inquiry.

(to) RJ-II : I noticed that you rearranged the numerals in my letter-headings to you. Is this some personal affliction?

“It’s all in the spirit of inquiry.” What does that exactly mean?

One reads or hears, for instance, so many questions regarding the nature of identity. “Who am I?” “Who is he?” and so forth. Are these in the quest for satisfaction of a scientific curiousity? Or are they a part of the ego-bound eternity of pre-recognition?

Mark Rothko (1905-70) was named by his parents, Marcus Rothkovich.

In the summer of 1954, one day, Mark Rothko and I were standing in the sunshine and on the grass, waiting for lunch. We were discussing the higher things. A pretty girl came up to us and spoke to him. “Mr. Rothko. I’ve heard so much about you! What are your paintings like?”

“My dear,” he answered, “I have devoted my life to beautiful women and I paint the same.”

The Groucho Marx of modern art.

Ray Johnson was always asking me, “Who are you, Norman Solomon?”

“Will the real mark Rothko please stand up?”

It is certainly something, the quest for identities.

When I am asked “Who are you?”

I can only think “Yes. Who am I?”

Ray Johnson and Norman Solomon were in complete and total agreement: that all so-called “identities” were synthetic.

“It’s Only Make-Believe.” “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”

There was a teacher in India, Ramana Maharshi, who postulated that, among other things, he was not his hair, was not his fingernails, and so on down the list of physical attributes. He then presented another self-portrait, the list of the mental qualities, each time denying that the one in particular focus was him. “So. What am I?”, he questioned. “I am not this; I am not that. What then?”

Ruud, I ask you, are we our names?

Here I should follow with the tale of the king and the corpse.

But, it’s getting late. There is a book, however. The King and the Corpse. It was written by Heinrich Zimmer. You could look it up.

Ruud: Yes, I can look it up and so can the readers of the published interview. I still wonder who you are, Norman, not that I am expecting a simple answer, but I tried to look in the books I have here where to place you. In the recently published Dossiers-issue from Black Mountain College I read a small note you wrote on your memories on Ray Johnson, so now I know that you went to the Black Mountain College as well. Looking back at that time now, what did you learn there?

next answer on 9-6-1997

NS : How to write, probably. We used to write notes in lipstick on paper napkins to be passed to each other under the dining tables. It was a great thrill to feel someone else’s fingers putting their notes between one’s legs there. When we got up from dining, we’d watch each other’s legs there looking for lipstick’s traces.

Ruud: Is writing still exciting for you?

next answer received on 24-6-1997

NS : Yes, writing is exciting for me. To write is to breathe. I don’t know what you mean by “still.” Writing is a practice. Writing gets better for me every day, each day that I write. Writing never stops. If writing stops, I stop.

The great Truman Capote said that “There’s writing and there’s typewriting.” Do you know what he means?

A flip slogan of recent years, often seen here as graffiti or on bumper stickers and such, said “Question Authority!” This was a statement which I questioned in itself, because: What was meant by “authority”? Hierarchisch Übermenschen, in this case, as ‘others’. I thought that it was a slogan by, of and for, victims. Like: “Step on me, please.”

I think that the ultimate authority in anyone’s life is one’s self. Therefore, starting at the top, in life and in art there is only one question and that is to question one’s self.

Now, this is where the craft of writing transcends the mechanics of typing: It’s all in the wrist. It’s all in the wrist of the mind. It’s the ability to question one’s self while in the midst of the process of writing. It is, this writing thing, the ability to edit. And, edit one must. One must edit one’s own production, in form and in content, and not be dependent on the doing of it for one by other persons.

As the delegation of authority increases, authority of self diminishes and self-authority becomes increasingly diluted. At the finality of examination, there is the question: “Who’s writing this stuff, anyway?”

In my case, my write is me. Any questions? Why do you ask?

Ruud: I ask questions because I want to learn. I have been doing so ever since I learned to talk. I have learned already that people can be divided into two groups (…..only two groups…? just one of the ways one can make groups, if one wants to generalize….). Group one: the ones that want to keep learning, and — group two — the ones that are just repeating themselves AFTER a learning-process.

But you tricked me, you started to ask me questions. Why do you ask questions?

(On 3-7-1997 I received a postcard from Norman Solomon with on it the rubberstamp “Who Killed Ray Johnson?”. Norman wrote that he had a small back injury and that his answer to my last question is delayed. He also wrote; Don’t give up! I’m not finished yet. Maybe next week. Until then.)

next answer on 9-7-1997

NS : You ask why I question and I ask what I question and what is a question.

Is a question an event?

Is a question a tool? An instrument? A piano?

Is a question a possibility? A chance? A change? A portent? A portion?

A start? An ending? A way out? A way in? A persuasion? An evasion? A vision?

Is a question any point on the brink of the abyss?

Is a question a thought? An investment? An answer to itself?

A portal to the universe? A stone in the road? A cry? A laugh?

A hole in space? A seek before a find?

Is a question an act of love? A green dance of fire?

A burn? A yearn? A turn?

Is a question one side of a triangle?

A ray of darkness in the light?

When is a question not a question?

What is a question not? And when?

Ruud: A question is something that comes up in me, a need to learn, a way to explore why I do what I do (or do not). I guess I am curious by nature, and I like to know more of the world I live in.

You Live in Berkeley now. You Lived a long time in New York. Why did you move?

reply on 28-7-1997

(With Normon Solomon’s answer he sent a copy of a photo of Ray Johnson in NY – NY – 1960)

NS : 1. New York was a movie I had seen and now it was time to go to the lobby in order to have some delicious treats.

2. New York was a school, The New York School, from which I had graduated and now it was time to go out into the world in order to seek my fortune.

3. In October 1966 I went to Sweden to paint stage sets for Ingmar Bergman’s opera company. That did not happen. I then went to London and made some paintings which were used as a set decoration for John Cage’s talk at the St. James Theatre. I sat with Yoko Ono. Her young daughter, Kyoko, was making a lot of noise. Yoko was on the macrobiotic diet and we talked about the price of brown rice. Later, she invited me to the opening of her small show at the Indica gallery where I read the November ARTFORUM magazine. ARTFORUM had started in San Francisco and then relocated to Los Angeles. The ARTFORUM San Francisco premises were advertised for rent. I bought airplane tickets for California and flew there to have some delicious treats and to seek my fortune.

Ruud: So, when you got to San Francisco, did you find your fortune there?

(After my vacation in Germany I found several pieces of mail from Norman Solomon. One of them was a box, a metal tea-box with on it the word FORTUNE. The tea-box contained also a large collection of ‘fortune-cookies’)

(In another envelope he writes: “Ruud, let’s make the game more interesting. Let’s raise it to a higher level. And he sends me “a long list of the kind of questions I should be asking him”. This was his reaction to my remark that I might ask in the future some more questions about Ray. John Cage, and other things………. The list is interesting, 4 pages long, and I am tempted to ask him all of these questions…….)

(On September 19th I received another sending of Norman , a copy of 700 small texts which look like fortune-tellings which are printed in some kind of book).

next answer on 19-9-1997

NS : Yes, I found my fortunes, many. Here are 700 of them. Please enjoy the pleasure of the printing. The 700 aphorisms: they are all answers. One thing that you could do with them would be to publish them as a project.

(1) Provide the most appropriate questions to these answers.

(2) Provide the least appropriate question to these answers.

They are sure to make someone happy.
They might even contribute towards enlightment.

Ruud: What makes you happy?

next answer on 14-10-1997

(Before Norman sent me his written answer, he sent me a postcard with a collage on it about cartoon-figures asking questions, and his text-collage: “is it possible that 3-4 pages of questions is for laughs and is not questions but a statement?)

NS : The sunrises in the mornings and sunny days and cloudy days and rainy days. The moon at night and starry skies and stormy nights at sea.

A good movie, if there is such a thing.

Reading anything about Ray Johnson.

Walking through the downtown area without getting hit by traffic.

My prick. Shiny, gleaming, glistening and inside her hot and juicy cunt, the pulsations of which enable me to experience a sense of participation with the undulation of the Universe and a sharing of the great Cosmic Joke.

Knowing that the means is an end in itself.

Knowing that the world is perfect and that there’s a place for everything in it and that everything’s in its right place.

Cosmic jokes.

Ruud: Do you laugh a lot lately?

Next answer on 27-10-1997

NS : Yes. yes, I do. In fact, I am laughing now.

Ruud: Do you also laugh when you get your mail in the morning? Is this a special moment of the day for you?

next answer on 14-11-1997

NS : 1. Why, should I?

2. Why should I?

3. Why, should it be?

4. Why should it be?

(Below the answer there were three columns of texts in Japanese language, three identical texts. Also Norman Solomon sent with this answer the footnote on the Indica gallery, which I typed into the interview. It also included a newspaper article about “Yoko Ono’s Art defaced after -touch- quote” which hit the news last week. He also sent me Yoko Ono’s address. It triggered me to invite her for an interview as well).

[illustration with the three identical texts]

Ruud: Well, I just wondered if you think of yourself as a mail artist? You played along in Ray Johnson’s games through the mail…… So, I just wondered. Do you?

next answer on 26-11-1997

NS : Well, you know. Life is but a dream, yes?

Ruud: What did you dream today?

next answer on 8-1-1998 (and a copy on 31-1-1998)

(A prompt reply is its own reward. Normal mailed the copy because I was so late to answer the original. He thought it might have got lost in the mails – NS)

NS : It was a dream within a dream.

I met Ray Johnson in the F.W. Woolworth’s variety store at 37th Street and 5th Avenue in New York City where I had gone to purchase some factory-made ephemera. This was during the noon hour of March 17th , 1951. Ray had been on his way to the matinee premiere of Puccini’s Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera House and had stopped at the Woolworth’s for lunch.

The following year, 1952, Ray and I were both living on Monroe Street in New York’s lower East Side, although in separate buildings.

Each of us soon moved to other places, Ray to Dover Street and myself to Greene Street, but by the late 1950’s we were both at 176 Suffolk Street, occupying different apartments.

Our similarity of interests had brought us close together quite quickly and we studied and practiced what we loved. What we particularly loved, what we particularly threw ourselves into in the attempt to be proximate to and confluent with, were Chinese poetry, such as Li Po’s , the Japanese poetry, Haiku, and the Chinese and Japanese philosophies and religions: Confucianism , Taoism, Zen Buddhism.

We read everything that we could find of these, attended classes of D.T. Suzuki’s at Columbia University, and learned, also, what to eat and how to order in New York’s Chinese and Japanese restaurants.

We were eating Asia up!

We read that Chuang Tzu dreamed that he was a butterfly and that when he woke up he was Chuang Tzu.

“Last night I dreamed that I was a butterfly,” he said. “Was I then Chuang Tzu dreaming that he was a butterfly or am I today a butterfly dreaming that he is Chuang Tzu?”

Ruud: When you would go to a restaurant , Chinese or Japanese , what would you order now?

next answer on 2-3-1998.

NS : In Chinese restaurants: dim sum with Jasmine tea.

In Japanese restaurants: sushi, any style; miso soup; hot or cold sake, for a light and simple meal; green tea.

A complex Japanese meal would be known as ksi-seki ryõri. Not every place can make this special presentation and they differ from this place to that. I won’t attempt to descibe kai-seki, but it is something which would be a shame to have missed experimenting in one’s lifetime, given the opportunity.

(the next question was sent 7 weeks later, on April 22nd 1998, because I took a small break in all the interviews I am doing).

Ruud: My best experience with Japanese food was in Kopenhagen (Danmark) , where I and a friend (Made Balbat , a mail artist from Estonia) ate a 7 course meal in a Japanese restaurant where we were the only not-Japanese visitors and we could sit on the only table they had, provided we took of our shoes and followed the rules in this restaurant. I always enjoy to experience other cultures and ways of living, but only by taking part of it , not feeling too much as a tourist. What the name was of the dish we ate in that restaurant I don’t know. We ordered a traditional dish that the Japanese waitress recommended. This was about 4 years ago.

Next question for you, Norman , What did you do on the day you received this mail from me?
On Fridag 15th September I received an e-mail in which I was informed that on August 1st, –exacltly five years after his doctors had given him six months to live – 2000 he died quietly at peace. Mrs. Postcards informed me that Mr. Postcard (Norman Solomon) informed her that he would like the interview –unfinished—to be published posthumously – as it stood.




(Norman tricked me and let his wife inform me he died August 1st 2000. Years later I heard from a trusty source, Marie Stillkind, that he died on May 22, 2001)
1805 Delaware Street
BERKELEY , CA 94703 ,

mail-interview with Ray Johnson – USA

The Mail-Interview with Ray Johnson – USA (unfinished)


The Mail-Interview with Ray Johnson went in a special way. He reacted to the first formal invitation like this above. He also wrote on the backside, which added the dimension:


He sent it in one of his typical enveloppes:


I published the textual version of the interview too, which I will include here as well.This time also inserted the many visuals that make the interview so special:



This is the TEXT-VERSION of the two answers Ray give as part of my interview-project. I am still collecting all kind of information about Ray Johnson (before and/or after his suicide on 13-1-1995).

Started on: 4-11-1994

RUUD : Welcome to this mail-interview. A lot of mail-artists have stopped with sending out their mail into the network, but you seem to keep it up even till today. Is it true that mail-art is more then art, that it is a way of living your life?

(please put your answer on paper any length you choose….)

Reply on: 11-11-1994


(Ray’s answer was written on the original invitation to the project. He reacted to one specific word on the invitation, the word ‘LENGTH’, and he decided which length the answer would be…)

RAY : O.K. I choose 14¼ Inch length. Another answer – Dear Lamonte Young, Happy death day. Please send second question.

(The next question was in the length Ray wanted, and to make it more difficult for him, I typed the next question on dark-red paper on which I indicated the length he choose with a golden pen. Ray wrote again his answer on this paper and returned it to me.)




RUUD : With this length of 14¼ Inch the depth of my questions will change (for better or worse, I don’t know….) What kind of color would you like my questions to be? Not to dark a color for this second question I hope


Reply on : 21-11-1994

RAY : THE MNO QP (mirror view) kind. What about Mimsy Star? She got pinched in the astor bar.

RUUD : Was it a mistake that she got pinched. Was she supposed to be punched. Does she like PUNCH at all?

(Because of the long silence I wondered if the third question arrived, and I sent the following letter to Ray to ask him what was happened. As I found out a few days later, he had committed suicide).

Letter on : 21-01-1995 (I hadn’t heard of his suicide on this date yet!)


Dear Ray Johnson,

After my third question for the MAIL-INTERVIEW in November last year no reaction from you. So either you are busy or you have no time for the interview or you don’t like the idea. My attempt was to get some real views about MAIL-ART from you. If it is in ‘WORDS’ or in the form of ‘COLLAGE’, I don’t mind, but the idea will be that of every interview I start one booklet will be made. Some others who I am interviewing too by mail already expressed their interest in what you would say, and I must admit I still am curious about who you are and what is behind the messages that you send out. But then again, it is healthy to be curious. You will decide how the mail-interview goes, and I will document in this case too. Take care R.J.

Best wishes from another R.J.,




* On January 24th 1995 I received two mail-art pieces from the USA in which I read that Ray Johnson has died. Tim Mancusi wrote on his envelope: “Ray Johnson jumped off a bridge last friday the 13th & killed himself. He was 66, what a shame”. Michael B. Corbett (Tensetendoned) wrote: “I regret to inform you of the tragic drowning death of Ray Johnson on Jan. 13th 1995”.
* On January 24th 1995 I wrote my last letter to Ray, informing him that he will live forever, and I asked him about his new address, how high it ever might be…..
* On January 24th 1995 I received through INTERNET the E-mail magazine from Guy Bleus where it was confirmed too that Ray Johnson died.

From a researcher at the Feigen Gallery, years later, they sent me a colour image of Ray’s third answer. It seems he never came to sending it to me, but here is is anyway, years later:

Ray Johnson - Interview Answer

Later I did a mail-interview with Ray’s fried Mr. Postcard (Norman Solomon). He tried to explain a bit the answers Ray gave from the American perspective.

see: http://iuoma.org/blog_new_2015/2015/06/17/mail-interview-with-norman-solomon-usa/


mail-interview with Rea Nikonova – Russia



18 – unfinished

Started on: 3-1-1995

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: 20-3-1995

RN : I like your idea of interview. I send you my “architectural” treatment of your question and my answer.

(Rea sent me a xerox where she transformed my question and her answer into one of her artworks, which she calls her “architectural” treatment. This xerox will be a supplement to this interview. The text written in the reply was: ” I got involved in the mail art network in 1986 after an experimental art-exhibition in Hungary in 1985. Serge Segay and I receiced an invitation after that from mail-artist Nenad Bogdanovich (Yugoslavia) and Daniel (New Caledonia) and Harley from the USA wrote to us. This was my second birth.)


RJ : In those years it was still very difficult for artists in the (then called) USSR to communicate with artists in the rest of the world. Could you tell a bit more about the problems in those days. Has it changed a lot in the years after the big changes that have occured?

Reply on 1-8-1995 (registered mail)

RN : I don’t know – can you receive this my letter. Early we (Russians) lived in a time now called “the era of stagnation,” and this era comes again. The era of Stagnation, red lie, the era of the KGB and repression for independent artists and their relatives.

In Russia government and art are all together incompatible. The KGB take great interest in mail-art (and mail-artists) and opens our international letters (our russian letters too). Our letters disappear (We sent them by registered mail only, always) or letters are returned without reason.

I and Serge Segay live in the siege: our son is in prison, we have the threat of a prison for Serge and for me. Serge and I knew for some time that we were taking great risks with our art activities, but we don’t knew that our art is a reason for the prison (many years) for our child.

Yes, emigres publishes their books in Moscow, but I have not one of my books published in Russia (30 years of my literary activity). I could one time go to abroad. Now I think: why the KGB gave me a passport? Maybe, the wanted to know: whom I shall call etc… Maybe, they thought that I shall have a problem with my poetry in Berlin…. A misfortune for them – I had a great success.

I returned to Russia and Motherland prepared “the present” for me: second arrest of my son (20 years old). Of course they wanted to arrest me or Serge, but we are clever persons, we know russian (soviet) life very well. Pour young son of mine….

All of these “joys” became possible with the abvent of “glasnost” and before “glasnost” too. We don’t see “big changes” in Russia. It are decorative changes (a fancy-dress ball).

Serge and I continue working under difficult conditions: we have not the money for food, clothes, letters, paper etc…. We have not our books and exhibitions in Russia, but we live in “freedom”… ro far.




Please, give me a sign (as soon as possible) when you will receive this letter.


(the last part of the letter was treated in the Architectural way like the previous answer)

RJ : Yes, your registered letter arrived. There was 5600 Roubles of postage on it. Inflation also makes communication difficult. How much mail-art do you receive in these difficult times, and how much are you able to answer?

Reply on 19-1-1996 (letter dated 30-11-1995)

(Rea’s answer contained an original art work, and above her answer there was a “arcgitectural” treatment of a letter she sent to Robin Crozier in June 1992. The postage on her registered letter was 7000 roubles this time, an indication of the inflation in Russia)

RN : Yes, I have received your next question but I could not answer – I had not the money – it is very expensive for me.

Now my American friend helped me (to sell my hand-made journal TRANSPONANS, 1979-1986, five copies of each issue), therefore now I can send my letters to you and to other friends. (Also I could “travel” to the prison, to my son, but I couldn’t see him – it is prohibited. I did not see him whole year and I have not the money for an advocat).

My husband Serge Segay is nice specialist for Russian avant-garde but now he is unemployed (KGB realized “best dream”). Now we don’t receive our correspondence almost, especially from America and Germany. My friends in America wrote me: my letters arrived to them – 5 months! Unfortunatelly my English is very poor (Oh, I would like to answer you in Russian!)

RJ : Yes, it would be wonderful if we could talk in the same language without limitations. I am now writing in my second language too, and unfortunately I know only a few russian words. If you would write in russian I would have to look for a translator, and I don’t know anybody nearby. Actually I then would prefer to print your russian answer so that everybody could look for their own translator if they want to read your words. Is a language important for communication?

(On November 27th I received a letter from Rea by registerd mail. It took one and a half month to get here. She wrote that she hadn’t forgotten about the interview and included some stampsheets and two works by her husband Serge Sergay)

The unfinished interview went online with the other unfinished interviews. It was online for some years. Then I received the request from Rea to take it offline because of political problems and I did. Now that she and her husband sadly left us, I decided to put it online again.

For more details see:



mail-interview with Rod Summers / VEC – Netherlands


rod summers

Started on: 18-11-1994

RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?

Reply on: 9-12-1994

RS : Dear Ruud, this is the answer to the first question in your mail-interview project:

I began involvement in the mail-art movement in either late 1973 or early 1974, it’s quite difficult to be more precise as I destroyed my mail-art archive as part of a performance in De Appel in Amsterdam in 1977. The performance was documented on video tape.

Why did I destroy my collection? I began mail art activity to collect material for a project I undertook whilst a student at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. The project was called ‘VEC SECRET BUREAUCRACY’ and collected material with the specific aim of eventual performance destruction. Many noted artists participated in the project in full knowledge of what would happen to their work at the end. A little documentation (other than the video) exists including the shredded remains of works destroyed.
I began mail-arting again in 1978 because I wanted to launch the VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE……

(together with his answer Rod Summers sent me lots of other info’s about his activities).

RJ : When I met you through the mail you were doing the last part of your Exchange project (Tching – The end), so I know how the result looks (hears) like. This VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE was more than the exchange of audio wasn’t it? Why did you start it, and why did it end?

(After sending this question to Rod by FAX he tried out my new FAX-software by sending a reaction to my computer. It failed, but the list of erros was a piece of art itself. Rod sent me an E-mail message via Amsterdam to inform me about this, and called it FAXMANIA).

Reply on : 30-12-1994

(Together with his answer Rod Summers sent a diskette with the ASCII-file of the answer and a print-out of the computer-session of the FAX-MANIA at the Digital City in Amsterdam. Also included was a copie of the interview that appeared in the ND magazine).
RS : The VEC EXCHANGE project was launched as a research organ to inform myself what and who else was involved in the Audio Arts movement. But to understand the concept of the project it is firstly necessary to be aware of the fact that I began my personal investigations into recorded sound in 1961, so by the time I decided to launch the exchange project I was well practiced in the techniques of recording, mixing, editing and copying.
In the late seventies the cassette recorder was becoming more generally affordable, and the audio compact cassette was, and still is, standard globally. I had received a few cassettes from mail-artists in the UK (Paul Carter), the USA (Peter Frank) and Brazil (Leonard Frank-Dutch) and had recorded a couple of sound projects with Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione whilst they were on a visit to Maastricht.

In 1978 I travelled over to Warsaw to perform audio on the invitation of Henryk Gajewski and Piotr Rypson. I performed two live works there and the performances were recorded. On my return to Maastricht I assembled the first VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE cassette from works received and my own works including the two made in Poland. A postcard was made and sent out to the mail-art network, the card informed that the cassette was available in exchange for artists sound works recorded on either cassette or open-reel tape. Reaction was rapid and enthusiastic. A total of 16 exchange cassettes were made in the period October 1978 to end 1983 and over 2000 copies were sent out in exchange for audio works.

Full details of the VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE project are to be found in the essential book ‘SOUND BY ARTISTS’ edited by Dan Lander and Micah Lexier and published by Art Metropole in Canada. For the Swedes I am referenced in the book Ljodkunst by Peter R. Meyer in Stockholm. ND magazine Nr. 17 of 1993 has an interview with me in reference to my audio art activities.

Why did it end? Well, only the exchange part of the project ended. I still work in Audio arts and produce and publish audio cassettes. But the truth is the project outran my very meager resources, both cassette decks and the master tape recorder wore out from the excessive use and, as I had/have no income and get no financial or moral support from any government or institution, I was not in a position to replace the dilapidated equipment, that and just too many of the cassettes that were coming in were of very poor quality, most amateurish, home-music.

There was one other factor that led to the demise of the audio exchange project…. In 1983 I bought my first little computer, a ZX81, and started to use that in the production of my mail-art. By the end on ’83 the little hard copy books I was producing on the computers tiny 1 pin printer were being reproduced in books and catalogues of artist books.

I still regularly receive cassettes from around the globe and I’m still sending out cassettes though mostly my own works. My last full production, the cassette ‘Church of the Fragile Treecreeper’, has just been published in the states by ND magazine of Austin Texas. I regularly work on audio works from other artists such as the Icelander Magnus Palsson. In September (’94) I produced a work with the students of the State Art College in Reykjavik Iceland, and at present I am working on a new production for myself which is an extended conceptual song. After that I am going to produce an international literary cassette, and after that a cassette of poetry and natural sound recordings. In this year of ’94 I have managed to replace several equipment items and (should I be able to work out how to finance it) I am considering reopening the exchange project.

On the first weekend in February ’95 I will be doing a performance in Den Bosch and sound will almost certainly be an element of that performance.

RJ : You mention that in 1983 you started using the computer in your work for audio. What else is interesting enough for you to use the computer for?

Reply on : 12-1-1995

RS : Actually I didn’t use the computer in audio mode until I bought the Acorn BBC model B which had the most sophisticated sounding voice synthesizer. That was in 1985 I think. I bought it with money I earned teaching audio art in Oslo.
These days the computer and I have a stable and yet still developing relationship, My Amiga 4000 helps me write, draw, paint, develop new graphic images from drawings paintings or photos. Probably it’s main function is as a tool in the production of my visual poetry which I print out using an ink jet printer and then disseminate through the mail art network. Using this technique of combining computer graphics and text as ‘desk top publishing’ distributed through the network has brought me in contact with fine accomplished poets.

It is interesting to note that the computer has still not made any significant impact on mail art and is still very much an under used tool. This reluctance is almost certainly due to the awful user interface employed by early computers, and if that theory is true the general adoption of the W.I.M.P. interface should result in an increased artistic/poetic use of the computer on a home user level over the next three years.

I’ve used the computer in so many projects already it would need a database to list them all! I also realize there are infinite other possibilities to use this computer creatively, such as robotics, image generation from mathematical formulae, interactive (hah!) projects whatever, but I use the computer to realize my ideas rather than realizing my ideas to employ the computer.
RJ : Last year Crackerjack Kid tried to start the TELENETLINK 95 project. I’m not sure if it really started or not. Only few mail-artists in Europe have an E-mail address. You and me are a few of them. What do you think that this digital communication will bring to the creative people?

Reply on : 10-2-1995

RS : Until the bottle neck traffic jams on the access routes to the digital highway are cleared by increasing the number of nodes and lines to the user, the whole concept of E-network and Email is a joke. It usually takes me four or five days before I achieve access to my node which is in Amsterdam! No not a lot of fun to be had there yet, my vote still goes to fax it’s fun, fine, now I have a fax/modem and free from subscriptions, at least for the time being…

(Ruud, I wrote a much longer and almost clever text but lost it entirely tiredly trying to make a copy, so this will have to suffice. r.s.)

RJ : ……lost it entirely. That is what is typical of the electronic communication-forms, especially E-mail and internet. The things I see on my screen I mostly want to have on paper too. This digital format seems sometimes so unreal to me. Guy Bleus soon will start his electronic Administration Center. Can art really be put into the bits and bytes, or shall it always be the sea of possibilities between the zero and one?

Reply on : 24-2-1995

(Together with the diskette we use for exchanging the ascii-version of our text Rod Summers also included a printed version of the interview so far printed with green ink on white paper. Unfortunately I couldn’t read the ascii-file with my processor (a data-error) so I had to retype Rod’s answer. I told him this by E-mail and sent the next question on disk with a print-out in very-small sized letters and on yellow paper)
RS : Art is subject to continuous evolutionary processes because the human animal and it’s thought development is inseparable from the time in which it exists. [Mail art is an element of contemporary art activity. In the beginning it developed from conceptual art but the activity very quickly outgrew it’s founding principles and became an amorphic exercise in global communication with strong supra-political dithered] Therefore the artist is obliged to consider whatever technology is available in the pursuit of his or her creativity. We live in the birth-pang age of computers, artists must consider how the computer fits into the artistic toolkit. I didn’t throw away my pastel crayons, camera and tape recorders when I became busy with computers and I still buy ink for my fountain-pen and refills for the two different sorts of roller-ball pens and three sizes of propelling pencils I use, I’m very dependant now, fortunately I can’t foresee a world where computers are going to be superceded. After all with this beige box I can both create and communicate and then simultaneously! What we decide to do with the computer and the electronic highway at this moment will determine how the computer develops as a tool for artists of the future. I listen to BBC world service on the radio and have a monitor with CNN on constantly (with the sound turned off), I am an unrepentant information junky.

Hardcopy will always be a desirable outcome of artistic computer usage (see the excellent initiative ‘Prints van Oranje’ by the dynamic Dutch/Belgian artist group of the same name (They have a section on the BBS Art Doc Comm)). When the computer is as established in the average household, as say television is currently, then the concept of sending/selling sets of sequenced graphics for home monitor (dare I say wall-sized art monitors?) display of computer art becomes a feasibility.

E-mail IS already taking a large percentage of traditional postal methods, and there are supposedly four and a half million new users each month. Guy Bleus Eadmin Center is up and running if one considers the third edition of his magazine is already circulating the net.

After only three months on the network the volume of my incoming E-mail is greater than I can read!… When I can get through that is (I get about 30/40 pieces of regular mail a week, mostly letters these days).

We surf the waves of contemporary cultural initiatives and do not let ourselves become swamped with the floods, should I say the inundation, with the incoming tides of opportunity. Aye Aye!

RJ : In 1986 H.R. Fricker started with his tourism. He tried to move the mail-artists from behind their desks and let them travel to meet the other artist. In 1992 (DNC) even on wider scale mail-artists met. Is the Internet making us sit back at home again because we need to react on all the information we get through the net……?

Reply on : 7-3-1995

RS : Good question! Yes it’s back to the cocoon with the only signs of life coming out of the telephone wire. The future watchers would have it that all business will be conducted from the home with perhaps a weekly visit to the office. Well let’s put a positive spin on it. If I were to switch entirely from buying stamps to digipost it would save me money which I could use to travel and visit other artists! Hmm? Somehow I don’t think so. It’s just another tool, it might make things fractionally cheaper. It’s all very well for us to shout of fraternity, but the sheer geographical distances between netcells determines that we stay at home most of the time. Besides that, I’m not sure I want to meet too many mail artists, some of them probably wear grey socks and were born on a Tuesday afternoon or some similar cultural impediment which is embarrassing to a highly sensitive analogue person like me <\ ; >
RJ : Glad to hear you are an analogue person (\ 😉 and you like smileys too (\:-). So, you don’t like to meet too many mail-artists. Tell me a bit about your experiences with meeting mail-artists. Did you meet most in Holland or did you travel to their places to meet them?

(besides the next question I normally also include some kind of letter with some personal information, about my work, how I use my (old) computer for my mail-art and am thinking about buying a new one. Sometimes the answer to the interview-question and the personal letter are mingled together in the answer in the interview)

RS: Busy huh Ruud? Tough the old teaching biz? Trouble with an inadequate computer eh Ruud? Finding it difficult to keep up with it all eh? Started to count the days between now and the pension have you Ruud? You probably have the ‘flu, I know I have.

I’m trying to progress with my new novel but get endless interruptions, so we all have our frustrations. Let’s see now, meeting mail artists, um… I get regular visits by many artists who think that mail art is a stupid waste of artistic energy and financial resources. Just lately, since the new postal prices were introduced and now that I’m getting more invitations to show my real work, their statements are beginning to look like common sense.

The list of visiting mail artists wouldn’t be very long. Several visit regularly so I’ll list the ones that have come here more than once, Anna Banana, Guy Bleus, *An Dudek Durer, *Pawel Petasz, *Henryk Gajewski, Peter Kustermann (net mail), Charles François, *Pete Horobin, ***Helgi Fridjonsson, *Vittore Baroni, Emilio Morandi, *Tom Winter, *Ever Arts… Well that’s those I remember, several of these people (marked*) are mates far beyond mail art and we visit each other when we can. The number of single visits made by artists is more difficult to come after, from the States, like Bloch, Held, Gaglione, Homler, then there are the Galantai’s from Artpool in Budapest, Ruedi Schill in Switzerland and H.R. Fricker from the same land.

Mail artists I have visited or met otherwise… also not a lot, when I eventually do get to America I will visit such monsters as John M. Bennett in Ohio, Geoffrey Cook and the rest of the Californian crew. In Canada Anna Banana. I’d like to visit Alex Z in the Ukraine and Ryosuke in Japan. When I travel it is for the purposes of either bird watching, landscape photography or geology, mail artists tend to be thin on the ground in the remote places my wife Liesbet and I like to visit.

Several mail artists I have met are drones without much artistic expression or energy. Actually that is exactly the same within the art world beyond mail art now I come to think of it. The experimental poetry scene within mail art remains very positive.
Many of the mail art meets I have attended have been downright silly though there have been exceptions. At the last meet I organized, the HEAVEN meeting for DCWWNC, or whatever it was called, my friends, the owners of the tearooms provided fine foods and drinks FREE to everyone, all forty attending here offered hash cake, several took it, many for the first time, four people got so stoned they fell over, one very famous French artist pissed himself. Now, when people wrote their reports about the event WHICH WAS A STATEMENT ON DRUGS TOURISM, not a single one was brave enough to tell the truth about the event. So my opinion upon the validity of mail art as a section of contemporary arts fell dramatically. Everyone APART from Guy Bleus totally missed (or deliberately ignored) the point. But then… Guy Bleus is one of very few who has made mail art into an art.

This summer Liesbet and I are going to visit my old homeland of Southern England and Wales, we will be staying with Magnus Palsson in London for a few days whilst we check out Kew Gardens, whilst there we also intend to call in on The A.1. Waste Paper Co. and I have already made an appointment with Michael.

OK that was this bit. A bit strongly influenced by post influenza infection probably but never mind. Incidentally Ruud, if you ever want to visit the VEC you are more than welcome, Best Greetings.

RJ : I notice this interview and our personal correspondance/dence are being mingled here, but in a mail-art interview anything is possible. I must admit I am tempted to answer all those things with a long letter, and I will do so, But first the next question. The things that are written down about mail-art (referring to your experiences on DCWWWWWWNC, add or delete a few W’s) don’t always give a good impression of the mail-art. It is really true that everybody has formed his own network that is surrounding him/her. Every personal network is worth documenting, and it is a pity only few of those networks are documented good because of the possibilities of the mail-artist. How important is this documenting for you? Should we document at all or should we leave that to others. Is the documenting determining eventually how people will see mail-art. (Sorry for so much questions at once, but they just come up at the moment)

Reply on : 26-04-1995

RS Koowell, we’ll use Email for correspondancing and this disc medium for exchange of the interview. Your questions this time refer to:

Documentation of archive materials and the ripples on ones own lake. I have always considered mail art a free exchange between consenting artists, a celebration of fraternal communication, an interesting armchair journey. The VEC Audio Exchange Project 1979 1983 was my contribution to the Mail Art Network, logical as I’m an audio artist.

Genuine original international projects have been very few and far between. Individual contacts have been welded. I have often used the international aspect of mail art to realize personal projects, International mail has an intrinsic value which is exotic, mysterious, even dangerous perhaps? These are, as they always have been, fine emotive elements for consideration during the production of artwork. Documentation of mail art is an art by itself.

The creation of a pseudo bureaucracy as an art project when I was a student at the Jan van Eyck Academy was the How? I became involved in mail art. I’ve maintained detailed documentation on three elements of my mail art experience. But first let me tell you the area where there is absolutely NO documentation, postcards and individual items of mail art are placed in chronological ordered boxes, they are not even sorted out into artist order.

I have perfect analogue triple cross referred documentation on the audio cassette archive (808 cassettes in the archive). Artists books, catalogues, posters and publications are on a data base with full and deep search facilities.

A cardex system is the way I maintain addresses and I log what I’ve received and dispatched on the same card, so basically I can see everything I’ve received and what I sent out since 1978.

This documentation is only important to me as it still functions as an element of the original pseudo bureaucracy project. For me, only Guy Bleus has IMPORTANT documentation, everything else is absorbed into the arrogant black hole of my anarchistic attitude.

RJ : Do you archive the electronic things too? Do you keep all the E-mail messages you get, the graphics you made etc.?

Reply on : 6-5-95 (internet) 7-5-95 (disk)

(The diskette was brought to me by John Held Jr. and Bill Gaglione when they visited me on 7 & 8 of May after their performance in Paris and their visits to Guy Bleus & Rod Summers)

RS : Yes to both questions, Email is saved to disc, archived to another disc and sometimes I make a small edition of A5 hard copy books (Lamers Progress) from a session at the emailbox. I keep all the graphics I make on the computer in uncompressed form on, at the time of writing 14:30, 6 May 1995, 60 DD DS floppies. All the images are logged by title and date of production, disc and directory into a fast and efficient database.
A similar database is used to catalogue the 31 floppies of DTP as visual poetry, fax art, scripts etc. My computer is blessed with a 260 megabyte hard drive of which 30 megs are graphics or DTP files. Slowly computers become inter compatible in the facility to read each others graphic output. We just require a little more patience before communication utopia becomes a universal reality.

RJ : Lots of specific dates and numbers in your last question. Are these numbers important to you?

Reply on 13-6-1995

RS : Numbers, dates and lists have a special significance to the follower of poetic reality, like considering the number of bibles hand transcribed before the date Gutenburg got his alphabet block act together and the lists of disappearing species littered pages made of disappearing trees. Numbers give perspective and dimension to historical time and space. We delineate the greater part of our experience with parameters described in numbers, so, yes, I think you can say numbers are important to me though mathematics is not the strongest of my suits. [How’s your English?]

Magpies can count up to five. The Viking age ended on 25th. September 1066. My computer has ten megabytes of memory. The next life is many lifetimes away. I go on holiday on the 19th. June. This was answer number ten.

RJ : Well, these ten questions with the ten answers gave a really nice view about your involvements in , and thoughts about mail art. Thank you for the interview!


mail-interview with Roy Arenella – USA

Ruud Janssen with Roy Arenella – USA


Started on 28-7-1997
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 28-8-1997
(In the beginning I received some letters from Roy. He was surprised that I invited him, since he has used the rubberstamp: “Photographer” & not “Mail Artist”. He doesn’t consider himself a mail artist and hesitated to participate in this project. But Roy always sent me material about Ray Johnson which he knows quite well and that mostly is reason enough to find out who he is….. On August 28th I received his first answer).

RA: I’ve been on the fringe, the edges, of what I understand to be mail art since about 1971 when I began to send out material in the mails in a sustained & coherent way. I began with postcards collaged with pieces of newspaper clippings, mailed to a few friends & family. I called these mail outs NEWSFAX (my own personal version of the news) and as this project progressed, the list of people who received them grew. Though I occasionally made & sent simple line-drawings, or xeroxed visual pieces, or material collaged onto cards (& I also once did a small booklet) I finally settled on a format of a single 82 x 11″ page of typewriter paper on which I made concrete & visual poems. I used the typewriter mostly, sometimes rubber stamps. Fifteen or 20 copies of each NEWSFAX were made, xeroxed, then mailed out.

I did not think of NEWSFAX as a little “literary” magazine (or a zine); it was meant to be mailed to a few “select” individuals. I tried to design the single page whenever possible to accommodate the folds made by fitting it into an A-2 envelope. It wasn’t available by subscription. Sometimes it was received with a welcome, sometimes not. During the course of 3 years about 36 different “issues” of NEWSFAX were made & sent out to a total of about 25 people. All sorts of people, all known to me. Some people received some issues & didn’t get others.

Eventually a good number of NEWSFAX did get sent to & published in magazines, the first of those being Richard Kostelanetz’ “Assembling” (where in subsequent issues I saw work of contributors I later learned were mail artists).

But in1971 I wasn’t only putting NEWSFAX into the mails. In the Summer of that year, on a visit to Paris, I met Martine Hahn, who lived & was a student there. For several years (until she came to the USA & we were married) the mail between her apartment in Montmartre, Paris & mine in Little Italy, New York was heavy & varied. Not only letters such as lovers write but all manner, shapes & sizes of things were mailed — testing the limits of the postal service’s powers of accommodation. (Better then, than now, I think.)

Some of these mailings were only playful; but some were necessary for carrying between us the more serious ideas & feelings which others, who are not living apart, are able to continually share in person. In our trans-Atlantic circumstances we couldn’t help but learn to communicate by relying heavily on the mailbox. Though Martine & I were able to spend a few months together each year (we of course spoke with each other expensively on the phone) we both depended on the mails not only to carry informational content between us, but to be, in itself, a form of connection. And since Martine was (still is) interested in collage, in writing, in images (she completed a Masters Degree at the University of Paris with a thesis on Concrete Poetry) our correspondence was a connection which was rich and full of diversity.

All through this time (& since the mid 60’s) my major activity was photography. I did mostly personal work, but sometimes paid, commercial jobs. When asked I would say I was a part-time professional but a full time amateur. (The rent was always paid by my job as a social service worker.) I have had one-person exhibits & have been in group shows in a variety of galleries & alternative spaces, from a temporary wall in a public theater to a posh gallery on 57th Street in New York, as well as a few public & private galleries in Europe.

When I began photography, the gallery scene was very sparse. In many ways it was an idyllic time — certainly compared to now. But even then my experience with that scene was never really a relaxed & comfortable one. And since then, things have gotten much worse, from my point of view. (This is not the place to explain why this is the case.)

One of the areas in photography that did give me an enormous amount of satisfaction (& that I was very comfortable with) was making small photographs & mailing them out. At first I sent out the salvageable parts of photos (rejected from the darkroom process) in order not to discard & waste them. But as time went by I began making prints expressly to be used as cards to be mailed out. There was something satisfying & sustaining in knowing that my photos would have an immediate & definite use. Each would go out in the mails to one person, (for one person) who would look at it, & read what I’d written on the back. Otherwise the damned photo would sit in a box, doing nothing, perhaps seen by a few friends. What those boxed photos were actually doing was waiting — waiting & hoping to be hung on a gallery wall. Most of them never were.

My reliance on — dependence on — photo/cards was further increased when I found a way to re-work some of the NEWSFAX pieces, (done originally with a typewriter), as photo/cards. Gradually, by the late 70s, competition for gallery exhibitions got tougher & tougher. So called “Fine Art” photography became high profiled, a Big Business, fierce with competition and exhibiting an ego which I found to be pretentious & obnoxious. I could see that I was beginning to rely more & more on making & sending out photo/cards as my way of doing photography. These little cards, it seemed to me, could carry a whole world.

Because photo/cards combine my interest in photography and the mails, they seem to be any ideal form for me. But I still continue to send out various other kinds of mailings. Aside from NEWSFAX-like pages, I like working with things postal in a personal, autobiographical way. I occasionally do xeroxed pieces, sometimes conceived for & sent to only one person, sometimes sent to several or a group of people. And of course, there are always letters.

RJ: The last year you have been sending me lots of material about Ray Johnson. Did you get in contact with him through the mail or through your photography?

Reply on: 2-10-1997
(After receiving the answer, I also received a postcard with the text : “Begin again Begin again”: Optimist’s Ring, a NEWSFAX ‘as’ photo/card.)

RA: The story of my “contact” with Ray Johnson is a non-story, or a story of non-contact, unless I define that word very broadly.

In order to answer your question in an extended way I will have to interpret contact to mean more than is usually meant. Because I met Ray only twice; spoke with him only once, after one of his happenings, exchanging only a few words about taking his photograph. I sent him a few of my photo postcards; he never sent anything to me. But if you take contact to mean more than just meeting face to face or communicating personally…. then I have plenty to say about Ray. (I’ll call him “Ray” here, though it doesn’t sound right in my ear, since I didn’t know him personally. But calling him anything else would be a little silly; too stiff, too formal.)

While answering your first interview question I was browsing through some papers about NEWSFAX & found an old, yellowing, 3×5 index card on which I’d written: “Ray Johnson / 65 Landing Road / Glen Cove NY 11542 // Mail Stuff.” It was meant as a reminder to mail NEWSFAX to him. But I never did. And I don’t know why I didn’t. That’s the earliest example of what I mean by non-contact.

I wrote you earlier about the best of my non-contacts with Ray: the one that took place a few years ago when my wife & I were leaving the Nassau County Museum of Art where we had gone specifically to buy a few more catalogs of an exhibit that he had at the museum 4 or 5 years previous to our visit. (I had not seen that major exhibition, but had spotted the catalogs in the museum shop on another, previous visit.) As we were walking out the main door of the museum with 2 copies of the newly bought catalog, Ray walked in. I recognized him of course but didn’t know him personally. My wife nudged me and suggested that I say hello, acknowledge my purchases & perhaps talk with him. But I shied away from this — probably worried that I would appear too much the “admiring fan”. My wife — who is the social part of our family, I the unsocial — took the catalogs from me & retraced her steps to catch up with Ray. They talked a long time, while I walked around the museum grounds & finally sat in the car & waited for her to return. (For the record, I should say that my wife’s version of this story differs from mine a little. She remembers, for example, that she introduced me to him & we exchanged a few words. I remember none of that). When my wife returned she showed me the catalog which Ray had inscribed for us with a few words & a snake drawing. But more importantly — it turned out later — she gave me the issue of Rubberstamp Madness which he was carrying & had given to her (because he was featured in it as the cover story). I say “more importantly” because it was from this magazine (via another zine) that I eventually found SHOTS, a photo magazine which over the years has published many of my pictures & has been an enormous source of enjoyment & satisfaction to me. (Thank you, Ray.) But the best & most exciting news my wife came back to the car with was the promise that Ray was going to put us on the list of the NY Correspondence School & that we would eventually be getting things in the mail. But we never did. That never did happen.

After a long wait (with nothing from Ray) I did make a few half-hearted attempts at connection by sending him a few photo/cards. But I heard nothing in response. So much for my second non-contact.

The real contact with Ray (contact in the broader sense that I referred to earlier) came first in an article which appeared in the mass-circulation magazine New York (early 1970). The short article of several pages & 3 or 4 illustrations has really stuck in my mind through all these years. Of course I’d heard of Ray Johnson before that article & I’d seen his work. And I liked his work. But as I remember it now it was this article which helped me understand a little bit more about what I was seeing in Ray Johnson. There were two things mentioned in it that struck me strongly then & have stuck with me since. Over the years these two remarks have become very important to me.

The first was a little story of a few lines about how Ray once took a taxi ride from one bar to another because of the way the names of the 2 bars related to each other — either in a punning manner or some other, poetic way (I don’t remember now). I thought that this was a terrific thing for somebody to do — I mean, I had admiration for a man whose imagination is constructed in such a way that it worked on, and with, the real, everyday world — an imagination that used the very ordinary, but also (somehow hidden) common world to make poetry.

The second thing I remember from that article was a critic pointing out that you couldn’t buy Ray’s (mail) art; you could only receive it in your mailbox & this was interpreted as undermining the entrenched profit motive of the world of gallery art. Though this could be seen as part of the larger threat that Conceptual Art was staging during this same time, I could more easily identify with Ray’s activities than I could with the “heavier” (and often more pretentious & overly belabored) “strategies” of the conceptualists. Almost everybody has a mailbox & Ray’s ideas took the shine off art’s snob appeal & in my eyes strengthened the idea that art was an activity, not a professional career.

These two ideas picked up from the magazine article weren’t the only important things that I remembered about Ray at that time. Of course there was the work itself, which, as mentioned, I already was looking at. (I had also seen Ray in the flesh occasionally, on the streets of the newly burgeoning art district, SOHO). I liked the work a lot (more than I knew how to say), the formal collages as well as the ephemeral “throw-away”‘ mail art, (liking the latter better, as time passed). For me Ray’s work was very appealing; it had a homemade, endearing quality. I liked almost everything I saw. A lot of it looked like work anybody could do, (especially the mail art) but we all know that it’s not as easy as it looks. All the material things that go into it are always at hand for everybody to use, but…… who has put those things together the way Ray did?

I don’t mean to suggest here that my eyes were always turned only to Ray Johnson on matters concerning art; that is absolutely not the case. But it is true that there was some inexplicable power to his activities & a good many of his ideas that held me longer than the same or similar ideas of other artists — artists who were earlier, more main stream & famous & respected, “heavier” & more vociferous than he was. Maybe it was his “lightness” his fleet footlessness that kept him always out there in front.

So I kept up these kinds of “contacts” (as an outsider) with Ray’s work through the years. I have certainly made no study of it, but my take on it has been — put simply — that Ray was a “connector”, a lyrical connector — (yet, himself a loner). I’ve always chosen to emphasize this aspect of his work rather than the slapstick, dada goofiness part. (This understanding of Ray, by the way, at first made his “final departure” very strong for me: The Connector Severs All Active Connections — to put it in the glibness of newspaper headlines.)

I think it was at a memorial tribute to Ray, a year after his death (in his hometown library) that I heard someone mention that he had become interested near the end in nature, & had begun taking daily walks along the water’s edge, near where he lived. I was happy to hear about that & wondered how this interest would have eventually shown itself in his work. (“Nature” getting less & less attention from “modern” artists these days.) I was even happier to hear that he had gotten interested as well in photography, in taking his own pictures. And it really warmed me when someone said that for his photography he used one of those inexpensive, “disposable” cameras. “Incredible!” I thought to myself when I heard that.

At the beginning of this year I went out to Sag Harbor. I thought that you & a few other people I know would be interested in having a photograph of “…the bridge from which Ray Johnson……” Though I knew exactly where it was (our country house is only at 20 minutes from the spot) I kept putting off driving there. When I finally went, the weather was typical of one kind of Long Island day: low, gray skies, gray air full of moisture; no color anywhere. I thought by taking a picture of that bridge I’d finish up some unfinished personal business & be done with thinking about it. But of course the connections only deepened. The web got tighter. (Here I am in that web, struggling with this answer to your question!) Maybe this sense of connection is what gave Ray’s work the appeal it had for me right from the very beginning, even though I didn’t name it then. In a sense it was then already functioning as a connecting apparatus. And a thing like that doesn’t get broken easily.

RJ: Your name isn’t mentioned a lot in mail art texts, books and other related material. Are you in touch with a lot of people who “call” themselves a “mail artist” (like me)?

Reply on 8-12-1997
RA: A few months ago a poet friend of mine mentioned that he had bought a book — a bibliography of international concrete poetry — and that my name was listed in it. I was only a little surprised. But I’d be very surprised if my name were listed in a similar book on mail art.

Perhaps there might be a mention in material connected with some mail art shows I contributed to in the 70’s. One, I remember, was a large show with hundreds of artists and probably a few thousand contributors (“The First New York City Post Card Show”, 1975). I also remember a few mailings back and forth with Al Souza after contributing to his “International Mail Art Postcard Exhibition” in 1977 at Smith College in Massachusetts. I contributed work to a show of language art in Toronto ( “Language And Structure in North America”, 1975). This wasn’t really a mail art show, but if I go back over the list of contributors I’m sure I’d find some “names” you would recognize as mail artists. (Ray Johnson was in that show, as well as some Fluxus “names”.) There were a few other shows, but these are the ones I remember now. My contributions were either photo postcards or visual poetry.

Most of the people I’m in touch with regularly now don’t call themselves mail artists; they are “poets”, “photographers”, etc. But there are a few recent contacts (besides yourself) who do. One in Washington state, one in NYC, one in the mid-West. There are others with whom I exchange photo postcards; but I would say that they think of themselves mostly as photographers, who also use the mails.

And then I am in touch with “just plain folks”, who don’t consider themselves any kind of artists at all. Of course, they are the greatest challenge. I can imagine them (when receiving some of the things I send) scratching their heads and saying to themselves “Now what in the hell is this all about !!?” Keeping a communication open with those folks is not an easy matter, is often dismally frustrating. But sometimes it works : and a connection is sustained. And it’s a great feeling of satisfaction.

RJ: There are a lot of these “poets”, “painters”, “photographers”, etc. playing in the mail art network. For me it isn’t interesting whether they think of themselves as mail artists or not, it is interesting for me to see what they are doing and how they are evolving. I guess that is why sometimes this “connection is sustained”. Sometimes by mail, sometimes in other forms. What interest me most of the time is: Why do people make art? Why do you make art, Roy?

Reply on 2-3-1998
(Before I retyped Roy’s answer and sending the next question some time passes in which we still communicate by mail. Roy sent me some of his photo/cards and the magazine SHOTS in which an article by him is included.)

RA: So there is your next question & it’s a “heavy” one — especially if one is inclined to carry it to a serious level. It would be nice to have the necessary knowledge & all the time in the world to try to answer it fully, on many levels. But that’s just not the case here. You do the best you can.

Recently we’ve sold our house in the country & among other things this necessitated that I go through years of accumulated paperwork. This gave me the opportunity to look at some of my old notes & written statements for exhibitions. I found that in the past whenever I tried to write down an answer to a question similar to the one you’ve just asked me, I tended to be too heavy-handed & unnecessarily complicated in my responses. Looking at those attempts now I am embarrassed at their pretensions. (As an example I’ve included a catalog from my photo exhibition at the American Cultural Center in Paris in 1976). As time went by I learned how to use quotes from other people in my answers. In a way, doing that was easier & I could always blame the pretention on the people quoted. I suspect that I will also look back on this reply to you & wish that I could have answered it more clearly, closer to the bone & more honestly.

But I’m stalling now…. your question still faces me. It won’t go away. And in good conscience I couldn’t say that I don’t know why I make photographs; because, to some extent, I do know. And though it’s always tempting to hide behind a flippant, dada-like answer or to resort to the Zen practice of turning the question on its head, I prefer to stumble along with a straight forward answer, no matter that it’s not as clear as I’d like it to be.

Maybe I can begin by first backing up a little bit….. & mentioning that something bothered me a bit in the preamble to your question: you say that a lot of poets, painters, photographers are “playing” in the mail art network. Now, I’m wondering why that word, “playing” bothers me in this context. Does it mean something different in Dutch/English than it does to me in American/English? I hope that I didn’t give you the impression that the non-mail artists I know, who use the mail, are only “playing” at it. And I hope you don’t think I am.

No, I’m dead serious about using the mails. I’ve already told you about my own personal frustrations with the traditional world of galleries, the art world “proper”. I’ve told you how I don’t fit into that world very well (& they certainly don’t need to accommodate me). No. Putting my photographs (& words & collages) into the mail & sending them to individual people is the best hope for me now. This seems now to be the best way open for me to “connect”. And though you may connect “playfully”, connecting, as such, is a serious matter.

Connecting is part of the reason I make pictures. I didn’t always think so. I used to think that one could paint or write or photograph only for him/herself. But I think differently now. Having a connection with others gives you a possibility to share what you’ve made & that’s important for the obvious reasons & important also because one needs to have a reaction to what one makes, even if only a silent — no words — reaction.

I think that the deepest reason for my making pictures is because it completes a very natural human process. This process starts with the outside world stimulating a thought, feeling, intuition. You work on these things inside your own head/body because there is a human need to react to the world in this way. We are not stones. You take the world inside you and work on it till you are at home with it (or it is at home with you); until it’s “yours” . You construct (or rather reconstruct) your version of it inside you. But you don’t stop there. There is a next step. And that step is to find a way to get what’s inside your head, outside of it. You shape the thought, feeling, intuition into a form which can stand outside of you on its own in the “real” world. The form can be a photograph, poem, drawing or whatever. Naturally you want this thing you’ve made to feel “right” to you, so you shape it to the thought, feeling or intuition as you knew of those things when they were inside you, when you recognized them as your own.

And as I mentioned earlier, there’s still a further step: someone else needs to experience what you’ve made; it is then that it becomes another “thing” out there in the real world. That completes the process. (Except, of course, for what happens in the people — including yourself — who experience what you have made.) You go on to make the next thing. You have begun to create a world.

This whole process is very natural. I don’t think about it in exalted, cosmic or mystical terms. It’s almost a biological process. To some extent it happens to everybody. Though most people don’t allow the process to go further than the “taking in” stage. They don’t form & then give back to the world what they’ve made of it.

Though I promised myself this time that I would answer your question with my own words, wouldn’t rely on quoting somebody else, I can’t resist it. One of my favorite quotes is from the American poet William Carlos Williams. It reads easily & is not pretentious. In it — I’m certain — can be found a good, short answer to your question. “For life is to walk about, to see, which is to feel, to express as we have said, or to sum, to give praise, to put into form what we see which is our only service.”

RJ: First. “Playing” was meant positive Roy. One sends something into the network and never knows what comes out. I used the word playing because of the intention that mail art is supposed to have. Not the sense of “faking”. I like to think that Ray also saw the NYCS as a playground for his art. When an artist from another field (poets, painters, etc) plays in the mail network, I mean that he/she uses this network to share his art with others, gains experiences from others, gets stimulations from the network. Playing the network is a positive thing. In your answer I see the same.

To give you an example of this playing. You mentioned in one of your letters you had met with John Evans in New York. Currently I am interviewing him as well, and with the next question to John I told him that I was interviewing you as well. One of the photos you took of John you send as a photo/card to him, and he now forwarded it to me. Now that is how things can go in the network. You never know what happens to the things you send out. By the way, I enjoyed the photo very much! Never knew before what John Evans looked like although I am in contact with him for years.

For me this word playing is maybe important in life as well. Playing is also discovering new things, learning. That is why children like to play so much. When one grows up one should not forget to play, let the child stay inside.

But now I ramble on, I should ask a new question to you Roy. Does this all make sense to you?

Reply on May 20th 1998
RA: Yes, it makes sense to me. It sounds like one of the ways that you are using the word “play” is like we might use it here for sports: the team “put the ball into play”. And, of course, after the ball is in play anything can happen. It makes even more sense when you bring the idea of child’s play into the discussion — active, imaginative play, play that engages the child’s attention completely.

I find though that once you’re out of childhood it isn’t easy to play. Everything in adult life seems to be set up against it. Adult “play” is often negative or even destructive. It’s doing something but knowing that you should be doing something else, something “important”. The paradox is that once you are an adult, it’s not easy to play; you’ve got to work at it. That’s what I mean about play being serious.

I wasn’t sure what you meant when you mentioned poets, painters & photographers “playing” in the network. You could have meant “play” as something frivolous, or easy; something you do while waiting for the “real” thing to happen. The poet or painter playing in the network until the time comes to get serious in the art world proper. But if I now understand your meaning rightly, then we agree.

By the way, I am very happy that John Evans sent you that photo/card. One of the things I stressed in the article in Shots is that I like my pictures to have use (in the world outside my own head). John has made use of one of them & you have also — if only by using it to illustrate something to me in your last question. That’s great!

(After the answer I got more mail from Roy. One of them a photo/card of Dick Higgins, who he met in May 1998.).

RJ: Knowing a bit more about your photo work (you send me these beautiful photo/cards!) I realize you often like to make portraits. Even portraits of non-existing persons when the lines of nature make them visual for us (examples are the two photo/cards you sent which you made in New York). Is it true that you like to make portraits? Why?

Reply on 29-07-1998
(Because of a break in the interviews I only retyped the question in January 1999 and then sent Roy the next question. In these last months we did exchange mail a lot. Also Roy, and his wife Martine, moved to another address where Roy now has a P.O. Box. A last photo/card I received from Roy was this photo/card, and from his wife I received an e-mail with some photo’s of them during Christmas-time 1998/1999. With Roy’s answer I received the pages from the magazine SHOTS which published some photo’s and a letter of him – issue #51, March 1996)

RA: You’re question surprises me! I don’t normally think of myself in connection with portraits. Though, God knows, I’ve sent you a lot of photo/cards & even other types of work which were concerned with the idea of “the portrait”. Yet I would not categorize myself as a “portrait photographer” (nor even as a “people photographer”). And to answer your specific question, I don’t particularly like making portraits. It’s a question of personality & I am just not comfortable pointing a camera at someone’s face. Or maybe I should say that there are other kinds of photography that I like doing much more. But yes, portraits are important to me.

I guess I sent you portrait things because I thought that you might be more interested in them than in the other kinds of photography I do. And I thought that you also might be interested in the subjects of some of these portraits. I try to pay attention to what the receiver of what I’m sending might have an interest in. In the same mail with your question came a photo/card from a photographer in Los Angeles with whom I’ve recently begun exchanging cards. I think that he’s a photojournalist (his pictures — the subject is always “people” — look like the kind that are taken on assignment for magazines or newspapers). At first I sent him pictures of the kind I usually do — very different from his. Recently though, I’ve gone back through my negatives looking for pictures more like those that he does. I thought this would help build a dialogue between us, rather than the usual 2 way monolog that most often occur in these kinds of exchanges. Of course you have to remain true to your own interests; but if you want to communicate you need to look past yourself a little. Don’t you think?

In your question you mention “portraits” I had done that were not really of people but of things you could see the “face” of a person in. In a woodland, a vine shaped itself to form an outline of the profile of a face; or the poster which had been partially pulled off a city wall, leaving parts that formed what looked like a face. I do like finding those kinds of portraits. Of course that can become a superficial game (find the hidden face). But I think that’s not what I do. I think that I make these kind of portraits because they are a substitute satisfaction for the universal need to interact with others, without experiencing that aggressive feeling I get when aiming a camera at someone’s head. I am usually as uncomfortable behind the camera as the person being photographed usually is in front of it. When I do photograph other people — & of course I do, often — it’s much easier for me if I know them personally. I’m more comfortable, feel less intrusive. As you might expect I have a great many pictures of my wife. And my son! — he’s been photographed since the moment he was born & right up until he left home for college.

And I have been taking pictures of myself since I started using the camera (see SHOTS self-portrait issue, enclosed). Mostly reflections, or shadow self portraits. Sometimes I use a self-timer & sometimes I use objects as “stand ins” to represent me. These kind of portraits are easier to do.

When you put all these kinds of pictures together — & you can add just about any other kind of picture you want — what you have & can’t help but having, is some kind of grand portrait, over time, of the person who made the pictures. In that sense people are always doing self portraits.

RJ: Is there still something you would like to ‘capture’ with your camera, but haven’t succeeded in yet?

Reply on 28-2-1999
(It took some time before I retyped Roy’s answer into my computer. During that time I received quite a collection of mail from Roy. Especially the photo-cards were meant to illustrate his latest answer. Besides that he also sent a copy of the magazine SHOTS that he was featured in. Also through his wife Martine, I get now and then e-mails to exchange the latest details of both our lives)

RA: Dear Ruud, The part that I’ve succeeded in “capturing” with my camera is of course much, much less than what’s out there; there are more subjects that are still “free” than that are “captured”. But that doesn’t bother me a bit.

I see photography as a means of noting down what I look at & see & find interesting. Put simply, it’s seeing things. And I understand personal photography to be an effort at accumulating those things seen, like keeping a diary. Ideally, all your photographs should make a pictured index of the contents of your head. When you have a view like this then you’re never finished photographing. There’s always something more (like the present moment, for example!).

Nevertheless, your question makes me think about how difficult it is to photograph –“capture”– some things. I think that “Nature” is one of them. (Because this whole subject is one of my pet peeves I have to be careful not to sound like a born-again religious zealot preaching on a street corner.) Nature doesn’t seem to be important to most people these days. Especially people in cities — the people I know. They are just not interested. It isn’t a “cool” subject, people don’t care about it & don’t know about it in any personal way. If it rains, carry an umbrella — that’s the extent of the city dweller’s practice & serious interest in nature. Or some people might watch a TV show because they like to see chimpanzees or cuddly pandas — their version of “nature”. Other people might spend their two week vacation “in the country”: This is the extent of nature’s intrusion into the timed lives of most people I know.

This indifference — this “who cares” attitude about nature is also prevalent in the world of “serious” art photography. It’s hard to find good nature pictures in the current gallery scene. Amateurs love to photograph their cats, & sunsets & “scenic views”. Sometimes these do come off as good photographs, but mostly they are pictures that follow a formula & aren’t interesting. Art photographers (like everybody else) aren’t much interested in nature, it’s not an “in”subject. Probably it would be more accurate, objective & fair to say that for every good nature picture you can find 1000 better urban pictures.

That’s because it’s tough to make a good nature photograph. One that’s good as a picture — good as photography — good at “capturing” the subject it’s about (nature). One of the problems is that both photographers & the photographic audience bring certain expectations to the idea of “nature photography”. When thinking of “city photography” people don’t only imagine huge skyscrapers, or crowded streets. Most people have individualized experiences of cities, sometimes very subtle experiences. The word “City” brings up many personal meanings, memories, ideas & reactions. Why then do people expect that there should be a lion or tiger or an elephant (or even their cat) sitting in the middle of a “nature photo”? The sky is nature. Water trickling in a gutter towards a sewer is nature. A mouse in a trap is also nature. You take it as it comes, as you find it in front of you in your daily rounds (& not only on TV or in the movies.) Why can’t you see nature out of the corner of your eye, or in a glance, or in passing, or while concentrating on something else — that is, see it in the ways that you see most everything else? Maybe nature should begin with a small, not a capital “n”.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a field naturalist when I grew up. Not the kind that adventures along the Amazon & discovers rare species in exotic locales. My ideal was a local man who built a small nature museum & preserve in the suburban town near where I grew up. He could name all the local birds, animals, trees, & plants. He could identify what weed was growing in a crack in your driveway. My interest was not the Wilderness, or Global Ecology — fashionable topics today with people who often can’t name one bird in their own backyard (except for the pigeon). When I look back I realize that as a kid I was interested in a kind of backyard, “domestic” nature (if I can use such a term). Now, what I would like to be able to do is make good photographs of that, photographs that “capture” & construct that idea of nature.

The group of photo/cards I’ve been mailing to you — there are a few more yet to come — are also a part of my answer to your question. The visual part. Maybe that’s the better part. Anyway, I don’t want to be too preachy, to sound like that street-corner fanatic I mentioned above; so now I’ll stop.

(Enclosed with his answer there were also two color-copies of “postal nature” which illustrates the nature on postage stamps and the ignorance of some clerks working at the postal office.)

RJ: Roy, Thanks for this very personal answer. I believe I should include the photos with the interview, and give the readers of this interview also the visual aspect of your work. Therefore I would like to end this interview with the last ‘traditional’ question: “Maybe I forgot to ask you a specific question?”

Reply on 6-7-1999
RA: Dear Ruud, You ask if there is a question that you might have forgotten to ask. Reading back over the interview, no unasked question has come to mind. I should say though, that I do have the feeling that I could continue, could keep on answering questions!

I also see that my responses to your questions were usually too long, especially the earlier answers. I wish now I could have been briefer & more precise.

There is something though that I would like to mention. As you pointed out in the beginning of the interview, my rubberstamp doesn’t say “Mail artist”. But if you’ve noticed — in the course of the two years of this interview — I did make a new rubberstamp for the back of my photo/cards. It reads Photomail – Arenella. I think that it was involvement in this interview with you that caused that shift, that put the “mail” in my rubberstamp. Also during this same period of time I was fortunate in meeting other mail artists whom I’d only previously read about or known only through their work. I thank you for your share in all of this. And I appreciate — because of this interview — having had the opportunity of collecting together some of my ideas & feelings and trying to make them clear for you. I think that the interview has been a very helpful occasion for me. Thanks….

RJ: Thanks for this interview Roy. Also for me it was a learning-experience!

mail-interview with Mark Bloch – USA

Ruud Janssen with Mark Bloch – USA


TAM Mail-Interview Project
(WWW Version)

Started on: 12-02-1995
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: 25-02-95 (internet)
MB: I first did mail art in 1968 when I did a postage stamp of a kid in my 6th grade class who used to scream a lot. He had some sort of personality disorder and as a 12 year old, I thought this was very amusing so I immortalized him with a stamp. I first used rubber stamps of Popeye, the cartoon character when I was 5 years old or so. My first use of the mail for artistic use as an “adult” was around 1976-1977 when I bought some used rubber stamps from a little shop in Kent Ohio where I was in college. They had belonged to the members of DEVO, I think.

I began to send mail art to people on postcards without knowing what mail art was. I watercolored and drew on the cards, too.I became interested in rubberstamps that way. That led me to The Rubber Stamp Album by 2 women. I think one of them was named Joni Miller but I’m not sure. Maybe one was named Lowry? Anyway, that book had an article about mail art in it. I realized that I was not the only one doing it. I got Ed Higgins’ address out of it and sent him some mail art. That was after I had graduated college and had moved to California. 1978. Also at this time, I came across a little poster for a mail art show stapled to a tree with Bill Gaglione’s address on it. I sent him something. The Poster was put there by the Westside Agent Michael Mollett, a mailartist from LA who later became a friend.

All of this happened around the same time. I also saw the work of Ray Johnson in that Rubber Stamp Album for the first time. It made an impression on me (no pun intended). But I didn’t know I could write to Ray myself. So I didn’t start with him until 1980 or so. Ed Higgins also started me with Ed Golik Golikov, a early member of the New York Correspondence School living in Denver Colorado. I also saw a big rubber stamp art exhibition by Stephen Vincent Benes in Santa Monica California. Come to think of it, I think that is where I heard about the Rubber Stamp Album. Yeah, I went to the show because I was using stamps and I saw a mention in a newspaper, when I visited the gallery I heard about the book and from the book I heard about mail art.

By late 78 I decided to make my activities official. I contacted my friend Kim Kristensen in Ohio, back where I used to live, and asked him if he wanted to be PAN Midwest. He said OK. Michael Heaton, another guy I had been sending art to through the mail after my graduation from college moved to New York and he became PAN East. I lived in Laguna Beach California and became PAN West.

Within a year I was in touch with people all over the world. Shozo Shimamoto and Rysuke Cohen sent some of their first mail art at that time to me. I also received things from Booster Clevellini who was actually Buster Cleveland but at the time I got him and Cavellini mixed up so I couldn’t understand what all the hype was about when Cavellini made his fist US visit in 1980 for Interdada 80.

Anyway, after Cavellini’s visit I became very much involved with mail art. Seeing some of the people in person, including my earliest correspondent EF Higgins, helped me to understand the network. I began to use the name PAN myself and my friends in Ohio and New York continued to be correspondents but by then ceased using the PAN name. POSTAL ART NETWORK was what Pan stood for, but soon it became clear that the bigger postal art network was something I should participate in and using the name PAN for myself was more interesting, just as Higgins used Doo Dah and Gaglione used Dadaland. So that is how I became Pan. A few years later I started to notice similarities between myself and the greek goat god Pan but that is another story.

RJ: How did things develop after you started with mail-art and meeting mail- artists. How did you get involved in the communication with the use of computers?

Reply on: 11-3-95 (internet)
MB: Things developed rapidly. I was very inspired by the Inter-dada 80 festival. I met Cavellini for the first time. Also Buster Cleveland, Ed Higgins, as I said above, as well as Bill Gaglione and other “2nd generation” mail artists. I also had the pleasure of meeting Al Hansen (Hansen died shortly after Mark Bloch wrote this – ed.) , who is a very important art historical figure who has avoided the spotlight due to his extreme views of the art marketplace. Those very views are what attracted me to him in the first place. I knew immediately I was dealing with “the genuine article.” He was in John Cage’s composition class at the New School with Dick Higgins and the other pre-fluxists and was an important contributor to the first happenings. In fact, he was doing them before they were called that. So I sat spellbound as he and Cavellini drew portraits of each other in a Pasadena coffee house. I also joked around with him, asking him for his autograph on a very tiny piece of paper. He wrote “Alan Kaprow” folded it up and handed it back to me. I was amazed that I could interact with a person like Hansen who was a legend to me.

I realized then that the mail art network would allow me to collaborate with people of Hansen’s stature if I wanted to. I was also very impressed with the other mail artists and the spirit of dada that engulfed the various events I attended. I recall Josine Starrells Janko, the daughter of dada Marcel Janko, gave a lecture at the Venice (California) jail. She said the mail artists were not as dada as her father’s generation of dada and she may have been right. But I didn’t care. I was very happy to be dealing with people who KNEW about dada. Up until that point, I had only read about such things and was ridiculed and labeled a trouble maker when I pursued such activity at college, before I had heard of mail art.

Now here were a whole lot of people who had studied dada as I had, who valued it’s anarchistic spirit and were taking actions to promote it in a new context. I was thrilled.

I began to correspond with as many people as I could and tried to meet them if they were local. I was always interested in meeting people in a way that reflected the chaos and fun of mail art so I proposed bizarre ways of getting together with people. I met correspondents Jim Reva and Maia Norman at Laguna Beach with a theme of MEAT (meat equals meet.) I brought along an entourage of friends and kids and a giant cow with an actual cow head locked in a paper maché head. They were waiting for me at the designated time and place (1pm July 6, 1980) dressed as butchers with meat spread about them on the sidewalk. We have been friends ever since. A videotape was made of the event and its aftermath.

I also corresponded with a local guy called the LA Obscurist Club. Somehow we started corresponding about mice and then cat and mouse and finally I proposed a Cat And Mouse game to meet. He wouldn’t do it but we did exchange some pretty wild objects at each others’ doorsteps and through the mail. Eventually we met at a mail art show.

Those were the early days of mail art meetings for me, also with Jerry Dreva; David Zack , who lived in LA then. Eventually I met a lot of the people I corresponded with, using various degrees of fanfare. But I always enjoyed the experience of meeting people in person. Things changed drastically in 1982 when I moved from LA to New York. I saw a poster that said Cavellini was going to be in New York. I called the number and ended up speaking on the phone to Buster Cleveland. He said I could perform at the gig. So I was part of a bill that included many of the people I had been corresponding with. One of them was Carlo Pittore. I will never forget our initial meeting, he was yelling to me from the bottom of a stairwell and his big smile and warm greetings were like a Welcome Home to the network. I experienced comraderie from that point on that did not exist in the LA mail art community. Or at least I did not feel a part of it.

Carlo introduced me to John Evans, John Jacob, Ray Johnson, Steve Random, Jean Brown, Zona (Bernard Banville) and many other mail artists. Foreigners came to visit like Arno Arts, Jürgen Olbrich, HR Fricker, Henryk Gajewsky, Sonja Van Der Burg, Günther Ruch. We had all sorts of parties and events for each of them. I always made a special point of having a one-to-one face-to-face meeting with people at least once. I value those collaborative meetings a great deal. It began to seem obvious at that time that the future of mail art was going to be in those meetings. I began a series of interviews with mail artists myself at that time -around 83- for The Last Mail Art Show. I felt that contact between those of us in the network was very important. I knew then what were later formalized in Tourism and in the onslaught of mail art writings that followed.

As for computers, I knew that was an eventuality, too. In the first edition of PANMAG (Panmag Number 1, there had been two others before it- Panmags 391 and 451. And there was also a Number 2 of 391 making it even more confusing. But anyway…) I made a sticker that said that the next logical step for mail art was computers- “But who ever said mail artists were logical?” I’m not sure of the exact date of that sticker but it was the first time computers were mentioned in mail art, to my knowledge.

Anyway, such things are not important because someone else always did something “first.” But the point is that I was very interested in computers from the start. I should have mentioned that the stickers I made were done with a computer.

In 1977, around the time I started with rubber stamps, I made my first work of computer art. It wasn’t made with a computer at all. It was a canvas with all sorts of information about computers collaged on it, including a portrait of me made by a computer. The type of thing you could have made at a shopping mall at that time for a very high price. I couldn’t resist having one made of my image and cutting it out for collages.

Actually I forgot to mention that I also used that same image to advertise a show I was having at my college. It was called 11-7-77 to 11-11-77. I stenciled those dates onto the computer image and stuck it everywhere on the Kent State University campus. My name did not appear, just numbers. Oh yes, I also used my social security number for my name.

So yes, I was very much interested in computers from before I ever heard of mail art. I took a class in FORTRAN in 1975. I wish I had stuck with it because now I wish I were a programmer.

In the mid eighties I used a graphic computer to create drawings of me as Pan. I also used a different computer to make random lines on a piece of vellum by attaching a pen to a moving computerized table.

In 1990, after a brief experiment with the WELL in California, I started Panscan on the Echo Teleconferencing BBS. Panscan was a link between the Internet and the mail art net. Unfortunately not enough mail artists had computers then so it took a new direction, away from mail art. We did things like create a collaborative poem or tell stories about how we got our taste or discussed the Art Strike and The Word Strike or talk about Dada and Duchamp as well as mail art.

Now (1995) more mail artists have computers so I am hoping I can continue with my original plan of a more concrete link between the two media. Also I should mention that a few mail artists did access Panscan once or twice- Charles François, Guy Bleus, CrackerJack Kid- and many others saw it on their visits to New York- John Held and Xexoxial Endarchy and Mark Pawson.

I think the future for mail art and computers is bright. Especially now that I am in the process of creating a PANSCAN HOME PAGE on the World Wide Web.

RJ: In the time you were doing the Panscan I was experimenting with the digital TAM-Bulletin (as a BBS-service). It seems the time wasn’t right then as you mentioned. Also the costs for data-communication was then a problem. Now, in 1995, the sending of this question to you by E-mail via INTERNET costs me half the price a normal envelope with the question would cost…. But the difference is that I send you the question in digital form. Just ASCII, and no color, no smell, no touch of my hand that you can trace. Is the electronic communication ready for artists?

Reply on: 18-03-1995
MB: You say …. just ASCII, and no color, no smell, no touch of my hand that you can trace. Is the electronic communication ready for artists?

I say- YES YES YES. I think you have given a good case in favor of it with your question. The electronic communication IS ready because there is no color, no smell, no handprints! The Internet needs artists!

Most of the home pages I’ve seen are pretty lame. There is very little inspired work going on. In fact, in ALL spheres of influence on our planet there is very little inspired work going on- not just Internet or World Wide Web but also in the Art Market and in the political arena and in the business arena and YOU NAME IT. The world needs artists!

The business world is perhaps the MOST creative area of human endeavor right now. Isn’t that ironic? They have come up with the most creative solutions in the computer area and even in the problem of what to do about Eastern Europe. The businessmen lead the way (after the mail artists, of course, we were there first, as usual). Sure they fuck stuff up too, but I look at the planet and what it needs and it needs so much and I see a big gap that artists need to fill. So yes, the answer is YES. There IS room for artists on the Net, it is imperative.

You spoke of ASCII. I pride myself on the fact that I use ASCII in my work. I am only now -in 1995- getting a high speed modem. Up until now -for 7 years- I have used a 1200 baud modem. I like that! It is cheap and easy to use- not just for rich people in the USA but for anyone anywhere. A cheap computer and a modem can be pretty inexpensive. The phone bills are another problem but if we are clever we can also overcome that obstacle too.

I prefer ASCII, very low tech computer communications. Why? Because then we have to rely on the written word. That requires a person goes into their INTERNAL network of experiences and feelings and thoughts and COMMUNICATE through the written word. I like that.

I am working on an autobiographical novel. It contains no pictures. But with 184,020 words I have communicated most of what has happened to me and how I feel about it fits in a 1052 kilobyte file. I can put it on a floppy disc and send it to you or just include it in this letter and e mail it to you. You’ll read all about the colors and smells and experiences that are my life in great detail.

I have never believed that being an artist meant being a visual artist. Though I also see opportunities for visual artists in computers.

RJ: One of the things I find difficult with the electronic communication is the archiving-part. My mail from the P.O.Box I can put in boxes, but somehow archiving the text-files and the graphic files is more difficult because it is connected to the changing hardware and software as well. How do you archive your mail-art? (both the snail as the electronic mail)

Reply on: 25-03-95 (Internet)
MB: Well, now you’ve hit on something interesting because my archive is completely unmanageable! The hard mail (snail mail) used to be organized – I think it was completely perfect for 15 minutes in 1985 or so- but now it is EVERYWHERE and completely UNorganized. I actually paid a guy to come in and work on it with me in the mid-eighties and that is when things got good. I set up a system and he implemented it.

Everything was separated by size. There was basically the postcards, the letter size envelopes, the larger envelopes and the big envelopes and then the packages, I believe. Within those categories it was set up according to countries and states (for the US) and then within those categories alphabetical by person’s name. Not their real name but the one they used. That system worked ok for a awhile and I plan to put everything in that order eventually but for 10 years it has just piled up chronologically in cardboard boxes.

Especially the past 6 years I have been on Word Strike and Ex Post Facto, Retroactive Art Strike and so I haven’t answered but 5 or 6 pieces of mail in all that time. So all the mail goes into piles by WHEN it was reviewed. To be answered and sorted later. Of course I will probably never answer most of it. But I would like to. I still receive a lot of mail, believe it or not, and I am thankful for it.

So mostly we are talking about a big file cabinet filled with organized mail art, some boxes filled with organized mail art. There are also 4 big boxes that I call the Last Mail Art Show. They contain pieces I selected in 1984 that I wanted to use for the catalogue to my show of that name (that never got made.)

The rest is just chaos.

Also- I made an agreement to give whatever I don’t want to the Kent State University Special Collections Library in Ohio, where I went to college. They have a very nice collection of all kinds of manuscripts there and I am honored that they want to preserve any mail art I want to give them.

They also have the collection of a New York mail artist named Tom Wirth who died a few years ago. Tom was a member of the New York Correspondence School with Ray Johnson in the 60s. His collection of correspondence ended up in Kent which is wonderful because between his archive and mine, they have a very thorough collection mail art from the early 60s thru to the present.

So I occasionally get it together to send them some boxes of mail art that I have looked through. I go through the boxes and pull out all postcards, which go into a huge box I have. (It used to be a box that a mail box was bought in!) I also pull out the artistamps. They go in a special place. So do the show catalogues and projects. Then I save any personal correspondence with friends or family. And anything I just happen to like. Those items go into the Pantheon and will be categorized as I mentioned above some day. The rest I send off to Kent.

I also have a huge pile of xeroxes over here. I make copies of almost anything hand made that I have ever sent out so it is quite a pile. Maybe 4 or 5 feet tall. I also keep copies of letters I wrote on my computer on disc.

That brings us to the electronic side of things. I have been saving everything electronically since I got my computer in 87 or so. It is all on floppy discs and organized in some general categories but generally, this is also chaos. It needs to be looked at.

I do have some organization. There are files called Letters To People and most of the letters are there. There are lists of everything I ever sent out and to whom all in one folder. (also somewhere are similar lists scribbled down before I ever got the computer). Then there is Echo.

Ever since 1990 when I got on Echo, the BBS I use and where my Panscan is located, I have saved every piece of e mail I ever got. It is in hundreds of files downloaded into my computer. It is a mess. Perhaps a PANdora’s box I will never open. I don’t really care anymore but it may come in handy some day so I save them. Space is cheap on disc. I also have archives of things I’ve written on Echo’s other conferences. Stuff about philosophy, love, being a man, psychology, culture, tv, movies etc. I save those and would like to use them some day to make a book or something.

All of it is semi-organized. None of it is organized to my satisfaction. I wish I had a lot of space and a lot of time and a lot of money

RJ: Well, time. In Computerland everything goes fast. Diskettes grow old and get useless (magnetic information doesn’t lasts that long), the messages on INTERNET get distorted and aren’t always as they originally were planned (The messages as you send them to me are accompanied by lots of strange and wonderful computer-poetry, but I select the ASCII I need for the interview only). The Gigabytes of info I myself have on diskettes will be useless if I don’t make backups every few years and keep all the hardware I need for it. I am a bit pessimistic about archiving all the electronic information and therefore still prefer that paper. Electronic information for me is like electricity. It is useful, and it transforms in many forms. Guy Bleus has started his Electronic Archive. How should such an Electronic Archive look like?

Reply on : 8-4-1995 (Internet)
MB: It should look like this

(This is the complete file as it came in via internet. I only adjusted the layout a bit)

Item 1 (127) Ground Rules For Panscan (YOU MUST READ THIS)
Item 2 ( 67) What is Panscan?
Item 12 ( 50) Ideas for New Projects We Can Do On Panscan To Make Life more exciting.
Item 121 (127) Post-Art Events, Panscan Events, Best Laid Plans, etc. PAN-Cal
Item 308 (178) Panscan: The Eulogy, The Funeral, & The Vigil
Item 345 ( 50) The Golden Age of Panscan: Memory or Myth?
Item 354 ( 49) Panscan Pride: The Few, The Proud, The Bold
Item 355 ( 60) Panscan Improvement Item
Item 336 (227) Panman apology item
Item 339 ( 70) Fall 1992 Postal Art Event
Item 4 (135) Postal Art History
Item 5 (156) HOW TO Item
Item 8 (172) The Art Strike
Item 9 (247) The Meaning of the Word ART Join the Word Strike 1991-1993
Item 18 ( 48) Japanese Mail Artists Network Run Across Europe
Item 27 ( 22) Panscan Express: WISH YOU WERE HERE
Item 40 ( 75) CAVELLINI 1914-2014
Item 41 (132) Self-Publishing and the Sub-Modern tradition
Item 42 ( 41) Pan Pals In Eastern Europe
Item 55 (109) RubberRubberRubber – RubberRubberRubber
Item 95 ( 82) Chain Letters
Item 102 ( 61) Postage Stamps / Artistamps
Item 104 ( 68) (maga)ZINES (pronounced “zeens”)
Item 116 ( 24) Reflux Project
Item 125 ( 6) 1992 Networker Congress
Item 165 ( 2) Virgin Mail Artist
Item 167 ( 1) EAST/WEST NET-LINK.
Item 256 (250) The Junk Mail Tally
Item 263 ( 4) YAWN the art strike magazine
Item 269 (432) Elvis Gets a Stamp!
Item 273 (150) FAX ART RESPONSE/March, 1992
Item 321 ( 43) NC92 – Electronic Mail Art Event
Item 322 (127) stuff I heard about Fact Sheet Five
Item 347 ( 39) MORE Things I’ve Hears and Thought about Factsheet Five!
Item 6 (172) Discussion of Postal Art Shows and Projects (See also #13)
Item 13 ( 11) Postal Art Shows and Projects List
Item 15 (823) E Poem II
Item 16 ( 38) Contribute to the Calendar
Item 17 ( 57) Looking Glass
Item 20 (148) Textual Art: found or created
Item 24 (219) ASCII_ART
Item 25 (935) The E Mail Poem- an on-line experiment
Item 35 (101) ArtsWire
Item 43 ( 30) VT-100 art
Item 48 ( 78) Deranged Dictator Action Game
Item 51 ( 67) Arithmetic
Item 54 ( 45) Project with Kids
Item 98 (106) Fascinating conversation
Item 99 (199) Say Something *Dangerous*
Item 100 (105) Top 100 Item
Item 129 (465) Currency Event
Item 141 (232) The analogue computer
Item 142 (158) Remote Control Object Maker
Item 143 (124) Virtual Theater!
Item 144 ( 65) Palindromes
Item 145 ( 29) Limericks
Item 153 ( 43) Echo Exhibition
Item 155 ( 90) Superzoom… an Echo collaboration
Item 158 (161) Evolution vs. Deterioration: An Experiential Workshop
Item 164 ( 14) Experimental Theatre
Item 268 (487) Intersection of Scientific Ashrams
Item 276 (204) Hyperpanscan Hypercard Hyperstack
Item 288 (371) the name of the item is…….FUCK CONFORMITY !!!!!
Item 291 ( 21) Rapper’s Delite!
Item 317 ( 39) Poems on Paintings
Item 350 ( 54) Midwinter Improvisation
Item 352 ( 19) CA Agrippa – raw material, parodies, commentary

Item 70 ( 1) Explanation of the next 19 items
Item 71 ( 29) Monday
Item 72 ( 19) Tuesday
Item 73 ( 21) Wednesday
Item 74 ( 21) Thursday
Item 75 ( 30) Friday
Item 76 ( 20) Saturday
Item 77 ( 21) Sunday
Item 78 ( 7) January
Item 79 ( 6) February
Item 80 ( 7) March
Item 81 ( 6) April
Item 82 ( 7) May
Item 83 ( 7) June
Item 84 ( 6) July
Item 85 ( 7) August
Item 86 ( 6) September
Item 87 ( 6) October
Item 88 ( 7) November
Item 89 ( 8) December
Item 90 ( 58) Discussion of the last 19 items
Item 38 ( 78) Before Dada, Dada, Surrealism, After Surrealism
Item 123 ( 81) Henry Miller and Anais Nin
Item 146 ( 36) Death and the Single Artist
Item 147 ( 86) Wittgenstein
Item 154 ( 56) Charlotte Moorman
Item 244 (601) Name Dropping
Item 338 (189) Dylan
Item 7 (151) Networking Theories
Item 57 (503) Artists and Suffering
Item 106 (220) Democracy
Item 108 ( 53) Technical Proficiency
Item 109 (412) Critique The Critics
Item 114 (361) Post-Modernism
Item 115 (367) Art and Terrorism
Item 117 ( 62) Concerning the Spiritual In Art
Item 122 (213) Gift giving (including letter writing)
Item 126 ( 51) Is the avant garde dead?
Item 127 (217) Design: Graphic, Industrial, Experimental, Annoying
Item 136 (286) What is entertainment
Item 138 ( 86) Computer art, Thinking and Doing
Item 139 (145) Gnawing, Nibbling, Biting, Chewing theFat on Taste
Item 157 (176) Post-post-modernism: Refreshing new thoughts from now people
Item 163 (224) Death The Final Frontier
Item 169 (300) Intellectual Property
Item 248 ( 61) Taboos.
Item 259 (332) Miss OB 1991’s Narrrative Item
Item 289 ( 43) Playworld
Item 323 ( 44) Hypertext/Hypermedia
Item 335 (107) Cheesey vs, Campy
Item 346 ( 85) CYBERcide
Item 349 ( 41) Negativland and U2 and Copyright
Item 353 ( 80) “Masterpieces”– Pro and Con
Item 362 ( 4) Patriotism
Item 10 (158) Computers, On Line Communications, Mail Art, Language
Item 26 ( 76) History and the Big Lie
Item 28 (127) Pseudonyms, Impersonations, Fictional (?) Characters
Item 160 (222) Language Is A Virus From Outer Space
Item 168 (363) Amy B.’s Foucault Item
Item 227 (210) The Museum of Annoying Slogans
Item 231 ( 56) Word
Item 267 (113) Childhood Textuality Voice Literary Supplement
Item 53 ( 77) The Soundscape
Item 212 (150) Sense of Smell
Item 252 ( 10) Sense of Touch
Item 258 (194) Impairments/ DisabilitiesQuestions/Discussion
Item 66 (139) Life’s Little Lessons
Item 91 (187) The Water will Change to Cherry Wine
Item 97 (234) Information Overload
Item 151 (252) Pretty toenails
Item 156 (189) Your philosophy of life
Item 170 (326) Philosophy and Nausea
Item 254 (101) The Sine Wave Theory of Life
Item 255 ( 49) Pet Philosophies
Item 270 (212) Want to have a Philosophy Conference on ECHO?
Item 316 ( 19) thought for the day
Item 327 (247) KARMA
Item 328 (309) Truth or Consequences
Item 334 (134) Mind Body Duality
Item 150 (967) GOD: Defense Mechanism, Helpful Construct, or Just a Close Personal Friend
Item 172 ( 19) Mysticism In Your Lifetime
Item 257 ( 26) The Tao Te Ching — The Way
Item 271 (379) Son Of God
Item 275 (195) I have been thinking about the difference between Christianity and Zen
Item 274 (250) Epiphany
Item 324 (162) Meditation
Item 325 (194) Feng Shui – the art of placement
Item 358 ( 40) Sex and Spirituality
Item 33 (280) The NEA, the intolerant, freedom of speech and you
Item 67 (247) People Without Addresses (The Homeless)
Item 69 (200) CYBERPAN World Brain
Item 93 ( 70) Utopia
Item 94 (110) Dystopia
Item 113 (502) Masturbation in the 21st Century
Item 307 (150) Male feminists. Female sexists. Genderless politics??
Item 310 ( 34) Depiction of Women on Television
Item 311 ( 59) Depiction of Men on TV
Item 341 ( 99) Your political orientation
Item 351 (219) Multiculturalism
Item 360 ( 44) Is homosexuality a culture? – “Subitem” from #351
Item 52 (608) No Mask
Item 96 (258) Famous Some Day
Item 130 (140) ANGER
Item 133 (101) Galleria of the Fractured Fragmentos
Item 149 (247) Loneliness: Taboo
Item 171 ( 48) why am i so serious?
Item 173 (138) Your biggest fear
Item 246 ( 42) Favorite Suffering
Item 249 (177) narcissism — or why i am the most important character in the world
Item 261 ( 59) OBSESSion
Item 264 (434) Success
Item 280 (191) Responsibility
Item 304 (220) Thin Skin Thick Skin
Item 312 (250) Procrastination
Item 313 (255) BOREDOM (yawn)
Item 319 ( 71) Cleanliness, Neatness, Clutter and Filth
Item 3 (976) Introductions
Item 29 (359) I Hate Everything
Item 30 ( 60) I am dancing at the feet of my lord all is bliss all is bliss
Item 31 (986) Childhood Memories
Item 32 (144) My Old Thoughts
Item 37 ( 83) Not Quite and The Job That Got Away
Item 50 (235) Safe and restful sleep sleep sleep
Item 62 (211) Most Memorable Happening In Your Life
Item 101 ( 70) REUNIONS
Item 105 (231) Nicknames and How They Got That Way
Item 118 (295) Did your parents destroy your life?
Item 131 (389) Book(s) I bought today
Item 162 (172) Home
Item 243 (113) What’s your major?
Item 251 (238) Your Area Of Expertise
Item 262 ( 14) a fragmento funeral
Item 277 (221) Nightmare Jobs from Hell
Item 281 (315) I had this amazing dream last night….
Item 282 ( 38) Retirement, savings, and other assorted ugly grown-up things..
Item 283 (331) You and your father
Item 284 (464) You and your mother
Item 285 ( 16) You and Your Mother-in-Law
Item 287 (114) Your ex-wife/husband
Item 292 ( 53) How did your parents meet
Item 306 (110) One Year Sabbatical – What Would YOU Do?
Item 315 (417) What was the best thing you saw today?
Item 343 (171) Transforming Arsinoe
Item 56 (208) House Beautiful?
Item 58 ( 43) The Most Beautiful Thing In Outer Space
Item 59 (193) Most beautiful thing on Planet Earth
Item 60 (149) Most Unpleasant Thing on Planet Earth
Item 61 (196) Most Likely Explanation For the Creation of the Universe
Item 63 ( 78) Greatest Artwork of All Time
Item 64 (169) Most Boring Artist Of All Time
Item 107 (213) The difference between Mark Kostabi and Jenny Holzer
Item 134 ( 65) What Does The Future Hold for Art?
Item 159 (192) Remember 1991?
Item 326 (249) Jeff Koons’ dream
Item 357 ( 55) Should Ugly People Dance?
Item 359 ( 50) My Favorite Work of Art
Item 337 ( 8) Quotes about “art
Item 361 ( 28) Citizen Kane
Item 47 (140) Pan The Nature God
Item 92 (194) Heroes and Heroines and Acts of Heroism
Item 103 ( 13) Myths, Mythology, Legends and Archetypes
Item 124 (135) Temple of Disembodied Tele-Love
Item 207 ( 24) Other Deities and Other Demons
Item 240 ( 65) vampires
Item 340 (124) The Unpretentious Wine Item
Item 348 (106) Goddess of the Month Club
Item 237 ( 20) ECHO Classics
Item 253 (589) The Sociology of Echo
Item 331 ( 39) TOPIC D R I F T
Item 356 ( 61) The History Of Echo in Under 1000 Postings
Item 296 (275) Mr. Happy and Mr. Smith on trial
Item 298 ( 45) YES YOU LIKE THIS!!!!!!!!!!
Item 299 ( 5) SMEGMA
Item 302 (112) Mallarme, Mr. Happy, Four letter words, etc… (a serious disc)
Item 293 ( 78) Hunting!
Item 294 ( 33) PANSCAN CRAPPER!!
Item 295 ( 56) BORDERLINE: crime, love, satan, art, joy
Item 49 ( 21) Pan’s Birthday- The on-Line celebration.
Item 132 ( 67) Help The Panman
Item 137 ( 37) Panmans Mail Bin
Item 265 ( 33) Descriptions of Panman
Item 174 ( 27) Questionairre guaranteed to annoy and delight
Item 188 ( 40) mental image
Item 190 ( 74) Amusement ride?
Item 197 ( 56) Taste in Your mouth
Item 236 ( 27) Favorite hour of the day
Item 238 ( 30) Left or Right?
Item 239 ( 52) Your favorite lipid
Item 245 ( 21) Favorite Bodily Discharge
Item 247 ( 22) Your favorite caucus command
Item 250 ( 42) Icky Food Combos
That was the set up of my Panscan Computer Conference as of February 93 It has grown since then and I’ll tell you rest some other time. Basically I think an Electronic Archive will work best when it is organized and easy to use.

RJ: Dear Mark Bloch: On April 8th I received your last answer to the interview project. I sent the next question in a large envelope to your P.O. Box, but it seems it didn’t arrive, or that you haven’t found the time to answer it (maybe because of your BIG UN-project. Here I send you the question again….

With the electronic communication things can get out of control rapidly. If your message is interesting and lots of people react to it, how do you deal with answering it all? I believe that at the moment you are mostly communicating by computer and hardly answer any snail-mail? (I’ll send this question by snail-mail to see if you still collect your mail at the P.O.Box….)

Reply on: 14-8-1995
MB: Well, Ruud, the answer to your “lots of people” question is in the “it seems it didn’t arrive” introduction! Yeah, you see I often DON’T answer my mail anymore- both the snail mail and the Internet mail. I would like to. And I intend to. But what I have learned in my 5 year Ex Post Facto Art Strike (1990-95) and the Word Strike (1991-1995) is that if you don’t answer your mail IT REALLY ISN’T THE END OF THE WORLD. Sure, I’ve missed opportunities and I’m sure I’ve pissed some people off or just confused them or made them wonder about me… and for that I am sorry… but I’ve taken the time for MYSELF these past few years and gotten some interesting answers to some questions that plague all of us.

Namely, that one quality correspondence is better than 1000 superficial correspondences. I used to try to answer everything and (HERE IS THE ANSWER I THINK YOU WERE LOOKING FOR) that meant sitting down with an idea, making a postcard or 8 1/2 x 11 inch page or PANMAG issue and then mailing it out to hundreds of people all at once. That included rubber stamping them all the same more or less, maybe jotting down a short note or two, addressing them very quickly, buying a bunch of stamps and licking them all at once until my mouth tasted like turpentine and slapping them into a mail box. The responses would then pour in- hundreds of letters out equals thousands of letters in- and then I’d do it again. It got me nowhere.

I met a lot of interesting people and established myself as a mail artist in the network but no one really knew who I was or what I do until I met them in person. THEN I was able to give a fuller picture of myself the way you get when you are in a one-on-one correspondence with someone. You write letters. You ask and answer questions. You talk about your daily life.

Both ways of interacting are valuable but for me the mass mailing got tiresome after 15 years in the network. I felt like the Publishers Clearinghouse which is an American company that sends out millions of junk mailings to everyone with an address. That is not art activity- that is busywork and though it was interesting for a while, it got less interesting over the years.I stopped with the mail in 1990 after mailing out THE LAST WORD, my contribution to the ART STRIKE literature and propaganda and only maintained a few mail relationships. One was with Ray Johnson. I continued to mail him stuff on a daily basis and now that he is dead I am so grateful that I had an opportunity to really devote myself to our friendship in a way that would have been impossible if he was one of a thousand correspondents.

I also kept up my local interactions during this time on Echo a local BBS in New York where my Pascan conference resides.

Now with Listserve on the Internet I am back into corresponding with thousands again. It has it’s place but it is not as rewarding as the slow relationships I’ve built over the past five years with my wife, my new baby Simon, Ray Johnson, and also people like you via the Internet and Fa Ga Ga Ga a mail artist from Ohio whom I have met in person on many occasions face to face in the past five years because he comes to New York often and I go to Ohio from time to time.

But if corresponding with thousands is something that interests a person, it is easy enough: all you have to do is get a table and a rubberstamp and some postage stamps and make a thousand xeroxes of whatever you want and subscribe to Ryosuke Cohen’s Brain Cell or Ashley Parker Owen’s Global Mail. There is no shortage of mindless busywork to do. Some people do this almost as a profession and have become very famous without ever having an original thought! But not Cohen and Owens.They know who they are.

It’s easy and it’s fun and it is a beautiful way to avoid ever having to face yourself. PS there is one other way to do it – the best of both worlds as I have done. Sit quietly doing nothing for 5 years and then take the rest of your life to send each person a long letter. I guess that’s my plan for now.

Here ya go.

RJ: Well, I must say I appreciate these personal answers very much. In a way I am doing the same as you, with these mail-interviews I get to know some mail-artists quite good and on the other hand I neglect the non-personal mail I still get in by the dozens in my P.O. Box. In your last answer you also mentioned the building up of a relation with Ray Johnson. Your e-mail message about his death I would like to include in the printed version of this interview. How was your relationship with Ray?

Reply on 8-2-1996 (Internet)
MB: We had a pretty cool relationship. We’d call each other up on the phone about twice a month. Sometimes less but usually more. He would call and ask for mail artist’s phone numbers or addresses. Or to see if I’d gotten this or that catalogue or letter. I’d call him just to chat or to joke or to ask if he’d seen some book or article about Duchamp.

I think we had a similar idea about mail art. We were both interested in it but we also mocked it a bit. As he told me one day “Mail Art is an industry.” I think it’s true. It got a bit too large for it’s own good at some point in the 80’s. Or maybe just too serious for its own good. But Ray I both like to joke so we would joke about mail art. We also would joke about Marcel Duchamp and his last project, The Etant Donnes, and about all sorts of stuff.

We used to talk a lot about TV. We both enjoyed working with the TV on in the background so we would watching the same shows- not on purpose. But often it would be- “hey did you see so and so?” and of course, both of us had. So we would talk about a show or a film or an actor or a scene or whatever. I remember he enjoyed the Fashion series they had on PBS. We also both sat mesmerized by the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Debacle which was an American political scandal/confirmation hearing for a guy nominated for the Supreme Court. Too hard to explain. But there was a real wonderful cast of characters on that. A guy named Doggett Ray and I both couldn’t believe. And a black woman I enjoyed watching very much. I remember Ray said “Float her down the Nile!” and I made a piece of art about her as a Nefertiti-like statue afterwards.

That is how our conversations went. They were very free-form, very lighthearted and fun. Kind of making puerile jokes about all sorts of intellectual subjects. And finding profound synchronicities in things like stupid made-for-TV movies.

Ray loved to make fun of Arsenio Hall, a stupid talk show host. I think we were both equally repulsed and fascinated by the constant stream of mindless entertainment. I miss talking to him.

I used to write down a lot of the things Ray said in our calls. It started out that I would just jot down something he said- a name he dropped or whatever. Someone I’d never heard of.To look up afterwards. But as time went on I began to write down everything he said. I can write quite fast from over 20 years of journal-writing so I’d make notes and piece them together after I hung up. Now that he’s dead I am so glad I did that. I look through some of the things he said and find whole new worlds to explore. He was always recommending books to read. I am glad now I can go back and read them. Or look up people he mentioned. I’ve met a lot of them since his death quite by accident. I run into people and we talk about Ray and then I go home and look them up in my Ray data base and sure enough, there they are. He mentioned everyone! I like to theorize that he was a bridge between people and now that he’s dead- jumping off a bridge- we are left to make the connections ourselves. At the same time, there are so many things I wish I could ask him now. I asked him just before he died if I could do a video interview with him and he seemed excited by the idea. I’m sorry we never did it.

I think Ray and I understood each other. We communicated in weird non-verbal verbal Taoist talk show code. I enjoyed sending him mail art. He’d send me a lot too. I’d like to gather it all up at some point. I have a lot of it collected here but there are still dozens and dozens of envelopes in my archive that I need to find eventually.

I really think he decided on his death many years ago so I would like to find them all and look for clues. Plus I would just like to have them around because I miss Ray as a friend and a mentor.

He helped me a lot. He introduced me to lots of wonderful people. He used to constantly be filling in little gaps in my knowledge. Huge gaps, really. Ray was the type of person I could call up and ask any question of. He’d gladly respond if he was in the right mood. If he was not in the right mood he’d say “I don’t know” or “Who cares?” or answer with a riddle. But the answers he gave always lead me in the right direction.

Most of our conversations were like long free associating poems that started somewhere and ended nowhere. They’d begin with an excuse to call and then meander all over the place, taking weird turns with every pun and obscure reference. We both liked puns and we both enjoyed TV and pop culture. I should say that he LOVED the TV show Twin Peaks and so did I. He told me once he thought it was the best show ever on TV. If you really want to know what our friendship was like, watch that show. It sort of flopped along like that…

RJ: Well, the show was here on Dutch Television too, but at that time I wasn’t watching that much television. So I will watch out for it when it comes back again, or when I see something on video. I want to thank you for this interview Mark, and I hope we’ll stay in contact.

– END –

Date: Thu, 2 Feb 1995 16:24:28 -0500
From: markb@echonyc.com
To: tam@dds.nl
Subject: Ruud Jannsen Ray Johnson say 50 times fast
<> Panman- 02-FEB-95 16:24 – markb@echonyc

Ray Johnson 1927-1995
This time it’s for real
I’m sorry to announce that Ray Johnson, the founder of the New YorkCorrespondance School and a man who playfully announced his own death manytimes, died for real this weekend.

He drowned during a visit to Sag Harbor, New York. He was pulled from the water at12:35pm Saturday afternoon, January 14, 1995. He was fully clothed- in a typicaloutfit for him- levi’s, a wool sweater, a levi jacket and a wind breaker. He was lastseen around 7pm Friday night after checking into the Barron’s Cove Inn in SagHarbor, near the end of Long Island, NY. Sag Harbor is on the north shore of LongIsland, about a two hour drive from his home in Locust Valley, a journey he appearsto have made in order to do some drawings at the estate of Jackson Pollock andLee Krasner.

The weather was unusually mild for this time of year. Ray was fond of the water. Heoften took walks along the shore at Oyster Bay near his home. He was also prone towalking out on piers and docks. There were several near the area where he wasfound on Saturday. He told me on the phone recently “I’m going to do my exercises,”that he was “working on a washboard stomach” by doing “rowing exercises on thebeach with rocks.” And that he would “walk with rocks” as weights and that he was”feeling very fit.”

Ray turned 67 years old on the 16th of October. He was going strong, remarkably fitfor a man of that age. He ate no meat, didn’t drink, smoke or partake of recreationaldrugs. He worked from morning until night, often with the television on in thebackground. As usual, he was still making up new incarnations of hisCorresponDANCE School, the latest one I had heard of being the “Taoist Pop ArtSchool.” He had taken up photography in recent years and took daily walks wherehe would make photos. I also noticed that only weeks ago he had finally retired therubber stamp with his return address on it that he had used for years in favor of anew one. I had meant to ask him about that.

Born in 1927 in Detroit Michigan, Ray Johnson’s first experiences using the mail asa medium for art have been documented as early as 1943 in a correspondence withhis friend Arthur Secunda. In the late 40’s- early 50’s (?) he attended theexperimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina where he studied withJoseph Albers and Buckminister Fuller among others. He has influenced thousandsof people, from other Black Mountain faculty like John Cage and Willem and ElaineDeKooning to his contemporaries like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, JasperJohns and the Fluxus group (whom) he met when he moved to New York in the 50’s)to an entire generation of younger artists who called him “the granddaddy of mailart.” History may also eventually see Ray Johnson as the first Pop artist. Hisminimalist collages using the images of James Dean and Elvis pre-date AndyWarhol’s and most of his contemporaries by several years. In addition to makingelegant collages, which he called ‘moticos,” Ray hosted many happenings andevents at various locations around Manhattan in the 1960’s. These actions dreweveryone in the art world and started the cross-pollenation of personalities thatbecame his Correspondence School. He would send things to friends and strangersalike, asking them to add to them and send them on to another person, often usinghis unique brand of intuitive word play as his guide. Some of this activity isdocumented in The Paper Snake published by Dick Higgins’ Something Else Press.He has been called “the most famous unknown artist in the world.”

Ray lived on Suffolk Street on the Lower East Side until 1968 when he was mugged-around the same time- if not the same day- that his friend Andy Warhhol was shotby Valerie Solanas. He decided to leave the city and his friends artist RichardLippold and collector Arturo Schwartz reportedly were instrumental in his moving to”the Pink House” on 7th Street in Locust Valley, from which he never moved. Heworked there, almost hermit-like with the exception of of his voracious appetite forphone calls and correspondence, mysteriously and prolifically for over 25 years.

Many people wanted to show his work but he prefered his quiet admiration of thesage Lao Tse. His last major show was at the Nassau County Museum of Art in themid-eighties and a gallery show in the 90’s in Philadelphia of his “A Book AboutModern Art.” A catalogue raissonne’ was in the works. He had recently done one ofhis informal non-performances which he called “nothings” at a gallery in LongIsland. He told me in one of our last phone calls, “Will you come to my show atSandra Gering in January? I’m doing a half a nothing. I can’t decide whether to do itin the first half or the second half.”

Many of us who know each other in the art world and its fringes have that pleasurebecause of Ray Johnson. As the extent of his influence on 20th century art and”letters” continues to be uncovered, we will surely miss Ray Johnson, the man. Inspite of his Taoist fondness of nothing, Ray was really something.

January 15, 1995

Reproduced with the permission of
Further reproduction without written consent of
Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.
Mail-artist: Mark Bloch, PO Box 1500, NY, NY USA 10009
E-mail Mark Bloch – The Panman
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen – TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, HOLLAND

mail-interview with Klaus Groh – Germany

This interview was done in 1995 by Ruud Janssen.


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

Started on: 3-11-1994

RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?

Reply on: 9-11-1994

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

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

Reply on: 18-11-1994

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reply on : 30-11-1994

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

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

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

Reply on : 3-12-1994

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

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

Reply on : 7-12-1994

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

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

Reply on : 14-12-1994

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reply on 12-1-1995

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

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

Reply on : 20-1-1995

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

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

Reply on : 31-1-95

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

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

Reply on : 9-2-1995

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

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

Reply on : 16-2-1995

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

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

Reply on : 22-2-1995

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

RJ :Thanks for the interview!

Ended on : 22-2-1995

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