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 L

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, mor

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 14

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 Fran

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 mach

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