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 Judith A. Hoffberg – USA


52 – unfinished


Started on: 29-8-1995

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

Reply on 4-10-1995

JH : It is hard to remember exactly when I did get involved in the mail-art network. I remember visiting with Ulises Carrion & Aart in Amsterdam, working with them on a Stamp Art Catalog — and talking for hours about everything for days. At that time, I heard about mail art and sending art through the mail, and asked how to get involved. I think that is how it all happened — in fact, Ephemera was named after a conversation with me — dedicated to me for that whole year.

I met Cavellini at the ArteFiera in Bologna, and other people involved with Cavellini — and perhaps with that opening when CCavellini sent me everything he had published, his roundtrips (of which I have many), postcards, stickers, stamps, etc. , and since I speak Italian, it was an easy friendship. From then on, I heard about Anna banana, Dadaland, and much more.

But Ken Friedman had also told me about the Network in the early 1970’s and I guess I was involved with that early on-as part of the Fluxus movement. So it is really hard to pinpoint when I got involved. As someone who loved to write long letters on the typewriter, and one who loves postcards, it was an easy transition to become an “artist” without having any real creative skills in that regard.

So, first with Friedman and Frank, then with Ulises and Aart, and then with Cavelinni and the whole network by 1977, when I met Gaglione and Banana, and the whole world changed for me. Then there was my large exhibition, Artwords & Bookworks, including many postcards made by artists from around the world. As a result, I opened a shop which featured those postcards, and I also had a mail art show of Umbrella Art in 1979. So the 1970’s was my opening, and Umbrella became my window to the world.

RJ : How did you become interested in Umbrellas?

Reply on 28-10-95

JH : Well, since the name of my business became Umbrella Associates in 1978, thanks to a suggestion from Joan Hugo, as we were sitting in an airport in San Jose waiting for our late plane to Los Angeles after the First Artists’ Publication Fair in San Jose in 1977. I had just resigned from the position of Executive Secretary of the Art Libraries Society of North America, which I had founded, and as we were sitting, Joan, a noted librarian and my co-curator in the Artwords & Bookworks exhibition, asked what I would be doing next; I hadn’t the faintest idea at the time, but she had been thinking about it, and told me she had done some research. She had discovered that there was once a periodical called Parasol edited by Ricky de Marco, but it was not extant. Then she had looked through the entire list of periodicals and could not find any other periodical called “Umbrella”, and so she thought I should start a business as a consultant, called Umbrella Associates, and publish a newsletter called Umbrella, and so I did.

A strong interest in umbrellas had never occurred to me — except for one print which I had bought in 1966 in Washington, DC which I have in my office. But since my interest in mail art had been growing at the same time I founded my business, I decided that the symbol of umbrella had potential as a logo, an indentifying icon, and perhaps a way for me to send mail art around the world with that image. After learning that my friend Kurt de Gooyer had become curator of a Museum of Photography on the University of California, Riverside campus, he was involved in a group called Art Spies, and he thought it would be a good thing to have a mail art show in his museum, and so I announced to the world that the theme of the show was “Umbrellas” and having contacted just about everyone I knew from the mail art world, I started receiving lots of mail art, actual found umbrellas, etc. With over 400 entries, I began to see the potential for a collection. As an archivist, it was easy to organize this material in notebooks, and so it began. Now I have over 60 volumes of paper ephemera about umbrellas, including handmade postcards and broadsides, advertisements, articles about umbrellas, newspaper photos, photographs both black and white and color, antique postcards and advertising ephemera, and much more.

The collection has grown largely due to my many trips around the world including Australia and New Zealand, and continental Europe. I buy postcards of Umbrellas wherever I go and some summers I came back with 250 postcards of umbrella images. Then, too, I take pictures of Umbrellas wherever I see them, including inside shots and outside shots. So if I cannot buy an item, I take a picture of it. Many artists send me things, including jewelry, clothing, paper items, postcards, etc. As a result, I have learned to live with some of the material but until this year, I have had to store the collection, except for 1984, when I showed the collection as Umbrelliana in the Bumbereshoot Festival in Seattle, Washington, which is held every year on the first weekend of September. I filled 4000 square feet of space, and there still was much material at home. Now the collection has increased a great deal more, but now I live with most of it, having decorated my new apartment with umbrellas everywhere — in the kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, office, and everywhere else. It is a universal well known item, whether it be protection against the sun (parasol) or protection against the rain (umbrella), and so I even have taken that name on the internet.

RJ : About the internet I would like to discuss a bit later, but first this magazine ‘umbrella’. In lots of publications about mail art it is mentioned. What is so special about your magazine, and how was it to publish this magazine in the beginning of the 80-ies?

Reply on 8-11-1995 (internet)

JH : In the beginning, I intend Umbrella to be a newsletter that would cover the world??about artists’ books and artists’ publications, about mail art, and about art books, especially those of interest to artists and those who make books, including photography. There would be interviews, profiles of alternative spaces, and the phenomena from 1978 on of an incredible period when anything could happen and usually did.

In retrospect, the 70s were wonderful because it was a period of incredible energy without a market?driven economy. This means that artists were making art because they had to create, not because they had collectors, buyers and sales every day, month or year. As a result, many experimental works were being created by innovative, ingenious and courageous artists.

Since I had published a newsletter for the Art Libraries Society of North America, I had the skills pre?computer to create a decent looking newsletter on the IBM composer. As a result, I started out doing a profile of Other Books & So in Amsterdam which I had visited several times; I interviewed Ulises; I talked to Wolf Vostell when he was in Los Angeles; I wrote about Fluxus, Artist Books, and Mail Art. Lon Spiegelman helped me gather all the announcements of shows throughout the world; Ken Friedman helped me with other contacts, and we had four or five issues a year. My newsletter filled a gap, since there were very few English?language periodicals which listed mail art shows, talked about alternative spaces, discussed alternative media such as books, new periodicals by artists, videotapes and audiotapes, and interviewed fascinating people throughout the world about what they were creating, whether it be books, an alternative space, performances, or whatever. At the same time I was curating a massive bookshow which also had postcards by artists, called Artwords & Bookworks, which clearly showed the alternative, having 1500 items by 616 artists. As a result, I opened up a bookshop with two partners, called Artworks. It opened in June 1979. I had been publishing Umbrella for 18 months by then and subscriptions had quickly increased.

Since I am a librarian, many of my colleagues subscribed through their institutions, and libraries even until today seem to support Umbrella and keep it going. In those years I had tremendous energy and loved all the information that was flowing through my mailbox. Even my post office loved the material that was coming in??especially the mail art. It was wonderful to travel through Europe and stay with mail artists wherever I went. I had a new community of friends throughout the world, and I even came to visit with them, taking pictures of their archives, interviewing them for an issue of Umbrella, and sharing that information with my readers.

Of course, it was a great deal of work??with a IBM composer with only 8000 bites of memory, it meant that there was a great deal of duplication and retyping, but it was worth it! Having built up a subscription list of almost 1000, I felt I was reaching out and making new contacts all the time. And as a librarian and archivist, I felt it was necessary to share the information coming through my mailbox. Now it is almost impossible to keep up??well, I thought it was almost impossible to keep up with the mail that was coming snail mail to me. But I tried to synthesize it and get it out. A whole generation of artists became mail artists because of Umbrella??and the sharing of information made it a nexus for a great deal of alternative activity.

In 1984, I was invited to Australia and New Zealand for two months to lecture, and so I left the publishing of an issue of Umbrella to Lon Spiegelman, who used my publication as a vehicle for protesting Ronny Cohen’s diatribe against the mail art network in New York City. As a result, he sent out the newsletter not only to my subscribers but to his list as well. When I returned to the United States, I found that the issue did not reflect either my policies or my philosophy, and since I only had two issues for my archive, the issue was never available to anyone who claimed it after that time. I suppressed that issue as part of Umbrella’s production. And because of failing finances, I had to suppress publication altogether for six months. As a result, I lost many subscribers, who never came back when I resumed publication in 1985. I have really never been able to recoup those subscribers and it has really been a struggle to keep on publishing.

As it has become more expensive to publish because of paper and postage, I had decided to publish less frequently, even sometimes only twice a year. Now I seem to be publishing four times a year, but I still like to keep it irregular, meaning it gets published when I can get it all together. This year, international rates went up, so that snail mail really costs a great deal of money, even here in the United States. Of course, it is nothing like other countries, but it still takes a big bite out of the budget because of airmail rates. And I feel my readers should get the news as soon as it is published. That is my philosophy. Of course, I may turn to the Net for publishing but I cannot do all that work and do it for free. I have published for 18 years and really want to continue, but giving it away is out of the question for that much work that I must do. Perhaps I can find a way soon, but right now, we are still printing the publication, Umbrella, three or four times a year. There have been changes in Umbrella??since I do not publish regularly, I cannot always make the deadlines of some of the Mail Art exhibitions, but between TAM and Guy Bleus and others who seem to be more connected and distribute that information through other means than a formal publication, the news gets out. Right now, I do not get notices regularly from everyone and must search for Mail Art shows more and more. Perhaps it is an indication of what is happening with fax, electronic mail, etc. I haven’t had time to analyze it. But Umbrella is still around, perhaps not as vitally important as in the days when there was no e?mail or the Internet, but it still is being read by librarians, artists, curators, book dealers, etc.

RJ: Some say that with the death of Ray Johnson, the mail art period is coming to an end. Some others say that mail art is more alive than ever because of the enormous amounts of projects and exhibitions that there are all around the world (see e.g. the magazine Global Mail). Is mail art still what it used to be?

Reply on 14-2-1996 (internet)

JH : Even four years ago, I was concerned with the change in what was happening with Mail Art. With the growth and development of so much innovative technology, I knew that the Post Office was going to be the choice of last resort for communication, even before I had email or could get on the Internet. I just used common logic that change is part of the end of the 20th century, and a whole generation grew up not knowing who Ray Johnson is, has been, or will be. But Mail Art never depended upon Ray Johnson; it has always depended upon those curious, innovative, experimental, or adventurous. Getting something in the mail that has been stamped a number of times by the “system” as well as the creator is exciting. Even the postal clerks where I have lived have been excited by what has appeared in my postbox, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. There is less time to look at mail now as a clerk in the psotal system, since the emphasis is “how many pieces” in “how much time”, so one hardly sees what whizzes by, since there are optical scanners and fiber optics which govern the distribution of the mail (or at least the sorting of it).

Then there is a younger generation that is sometimes stimulated by a librarian or a teacher who has been doing “mail art” or “networking” for a while and wants to embrace a whole new group of people in doing it. Not once, but as a habit. And that’s why the rubberstamp industry in the United States has burgeoned into a big business. Teachers especially have taken it up, but there must be something in being “independent” and perhaps not being an “artist” that allows one to use a rubberstamp and use it aesthetically to create imagery that is innovative and ingenious. That is why some people think that Mail Art can be used as a project in the public schools. Perhaps that is also why listings for Mail Art appear in journals more diverse than any of the alternative zines and publications by artists which were the norm in the 1970s and 1980s. Mail Art still hasn’t grasped the imagination of most people, but it certainly is nourished by ancillary industries which distribute the correspondence in an aesthetic way.

There may be more shows announced, etc., but I have seen a great deal less documentation than ever before. I love how people cite the rules–no jury, no returns, any medium, any size, documentation to all–and what happens but you wait years and you may never see a list of participants, let alone remember what show it was and when, when suddenly to your surprise comes an envelope with a list of people who participated in a show two years before. The “community” has not grown that much, but many of my friends have been disenchanted by the novelty of mail art. Not because of Ray’s death, but in spite of it. Between the faxes, the email, and all the other forms of communication that rush through the system like magazines, periodicals, books, artist books, newsletters, and generous forms of communication called letters, well, it is almost too much to respond to whether in just the reading of it, or the answering of the mass of it all.

I believe in email for short messages, but email messages are ephemeral, and even if they are enhanced by good graphics, or the Internet creates sites which are graphically dynamic, good solid information is not part of the tool called email. Quick and neat, but not deep. And I really do not think that email and fax art should be considered Mail Art. Mail Art has to go through the international postal system and have been stamped and delivered by the system in order to come under the category of Mail Art. The other means such as email and the Internet as well as fax art comes under the larger umbrella of “Networking” which is not necessarily Mail Art.

Those of us who met during the Age of Cavellini certainly became a community, a group of friends who could visit each other through the mail, and sometimes even in person. I met many people who had archives already well established in the 1970s such as Anna Banana, Bill Gaglione, and many Europeans. I admired the system of order which most of my friends in Belgium and Holland had in order to archive their Mail Art. Ulises Carri

mail-interview with Jonathan Stangroom – USA




Started on: 4-2-1996

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 2-3-1996

JS : Thank you for the invitation to your interview. I’ve been aware of mail art since my art school days, in the early seventies. I liked the ideas of collaboration and networking (although I doubt that they called it that back then). I liked that it occured outside the mainstream art world…..in the elusive underground. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an address to mail to! That’s not entirely true. In 1972 or so, under the pseudonym “The Guardians of Good Taste of North America,” in collaboration with Liz Hardy a mail box/safe deposit box was reserved in a Canadian project conducted by Image Bank (I may be wrong about the sponsor).

To my knowledge nothing was ever deposited in this box and apart from the confirmation of our box reservation, no mail was generated. I continued to send creative mail (outside of the network) throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s. On returning to the states after a year in India (where the mail became an even greater force in my life) my ex-wife put me in touch with Kate Lanxner (whom I think once interviewed you, dear Ruud). She, in turn, introduced me to RUBBERSTAMPMADNESS as a source for mail art possibilities. Here, I found an entrance to the network. At this time I was experimenting with the copy machines at my brother’s printing shop and produced artworks for Lancillotto Bellini’s “The Artist’s Family.” Other early (for me) projects that I participated in were Jenny de Groot’s “Transport/Transportation” and Pascal Lenoir’s “Mani Art.”

The documentation from these yielded some of my dearest and most consistant contacts. I have to admit that in the beginning I didn’t have a clue what was expected from me (that’s the way I thought). I was a bit shy about it. Once I was into the network the mail came and I’ve been involved since.

Alternative answer : 1987-88


RJ : Do you know now what is expected from you?

JS : I suppose I know that nothing specific is expected. In those early days I hadn’t seen much mail art and didn’t know what it looked like. It is often said that to understand mail art one has to participate…. until I became involved I didn’t realize the possibilities or understand the breadth of the network.
Although, I decided early on to use my real name rather than hide behind a pseudonym, I considered my early mail art to be quite seperate from my painting and other artwork. Over the years this seperation has all but disappeared and I’ve embraced many of the anti-art establishment concepts that I’ve encountered in the network. I am no longer so keen to sell my artwork and have become rather particular about how it is presented. (This may be a result of my close work with galleries and art consultants). I’ve learned that money is not the only gauge of value…. the exchange, the gift is equally enriching. In the meantime my work has matured. My involvement in the network has coincided with my development as a copier artist, original copies being the bulk of the mail art that I send. I also send stampings, collages and the occasional drawing or painting…. usually with a chatty letter. I sometimes create works to address the theme of a particular project (this is expected) but more often than not I already have something lying around that is appopriate.

There is still the odd piece of mail that comes in that I don’t understand! Documentation is another story…. decent documentation of a project is not only expected but required. At this point, I’ve been involved long enough to not have to worry about what’s expected from me…. I work to send quality artwork….. I expect the same.

RJ : You mention your development as a copier artist. One might think that it is just a quick way to make an original by putting something on the xerox-machine. How do you go about when you want to make an “original copy”?

Reply on 26-4-1996

JS : I don’t see anything wrong with making art quickly…. athough my work isn’t produced quite as fast as it might seem. I use the copy machine as both a camera (photo) and a printing device (copy). It’s another tool that the artist can create with. My work generally employs “direct imaging” that is, I place real, three-dimensional objects on the platen to create a tableau. I rarely make editions of given prints as I’m constantly refining the composition. The objects are sometimes manipulated during the course of the copying process to incorporate aspects of time and movement…. these copies are always unique.

Sometimes I approach the machine with a specific image in mind and bring the appropriate materials (I often use the supermarket as my art supply store). Other times I work with whatever is lying about…. always looking for objects that you’re “not supposed” to put on a copy machine. Every new object is an experiment with the limited depth of field. The methods of working are different for the different machines that I use. The color machine makes six passes in the photo mode to make an image, allowing for manipulation between colors. I often create the background colors directly on the machine. Placing and removing a white sheet of paper at the proper intervals during the copying process can produce a specific color. The black and white machine makes only one pass, which allows for bolder movements of the subject. Another machine that I use has four seperate cartridges that print one color at a time. Both this and the black and white machine allow you to send a copy back through the machine for overprinting. Working in this manner takes knowledge of the machine and practice. One has to work with the rhythm of the machine.

I’ve collaborated with other copier artists (most notably, Reed Altemus and M. Greenfield) and enjoy that process very much. My brothers have a printing business and for a while they had a store that offered copying servives… I could use their machines as I liked. Important, as I doubt that I would get a good response if I handed a fish over the counter to a technician. It took some time before I felt that I knew what I was doing. When they dismantled the store I bought a black & white machine from them (not working atthe moment)… they kept the color machine which I still travel to use. The color machine is now housed in a shop that is shared by the printing press and my father’s woodworking tools (he’s a wood carver)… there’s a wealth of materials here. The “ORIGINAL” and “COPY” stamps that I use were found in an office supply store and seemed appropriate after a discussion with Andr

mail-interview with John M. Bennett – USA



Started on: 4-7-1995

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 27-7-1995

JMB: I got involved in mail art about the age of 8, in 1951, crossing the pacific on a ship from Japan to Oregon. I wrapped up little messages and drawings in many layers of tape and paper and tossed ’em overboard. After that my career went into a kind of lull, except for a brief period of sending poems I’d written to girls when I was in high school, until about 1974 when I started doing mail art at the instigation of a friend, the now-deceased painter Mr. Sensitive. It was great fun and still is. One of the earliest issues of LOST AND FOUND TIMES was a mail art project (copy is enclosed). Mail art delights continue to make their way into its pages.

RJ : Is it possible to describe what is so delightful about mail-art?

Reply on 9-8-1995

JMB: What’s delightful about receiving mail art is that it’s so full of people’s uninhibited expressions, off-the-cuff blurtings, or careful, lunatic constructions. It’s about as close as one can get these days to a “pure” art, one with no agenda, no career-building motives, etc. (This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have political or social messages – it often, even usually, does – but the functionality of that is impersonal).

Anyway, receiving mail art stimulates my own creative processes – it’s a source of contact with other artists which is most welcome to someone who lives a fairly routine life in a relative cultural desert.

What I like about making mail art is that it’s a medium in which I can either distribute my main work, poetry, and/or do completely spontaneous things that often surprise me and serve as a source of ideas for other projects. Do it, and put a stamp on it! What joy!

RJ : What joy! Is mail art only something positive to you? are there any negative sides to it too maybe?

Reply on 19-8-1995

JMB: Well, yes; I can’t bear throwing the stuff out, so I keep filling up these boxes I then have to move around and deal with. (Pile up around the bed, block the narrow aisles in my office, stumble over….) Fortunately, however, there are a couple of libraries who collect the stuff, so every so often I seal ’em up and ship ’em off, so long as they pay for the shipping, which they usually do.

Basically, if I didn’t enjoy doing it, I wouldn’t do it. I do find the rising postage rates distressing, though.

RJ : Like me, you probably get lots of mail art with invitations to projects, chain-letters, add-to projects, etc. Do you reply to all of those or do you select what you answer?

Reply on 2-9-1995

JMB: The add-to projects are among my favorites – little “brain cells” scurrying around the world acquiring more and more memory as they go. Those always get my full attention. I do reply to most of the project invitations. Some are more interesting than others, of course; though sometimes the truly dumb ones are an irresistible invitation to do something really nasty, eh?

Chain letters, however, are a different matter: I rarely respond to them at all, though I suppose my act of breaking the chain is a response of a kind. I don’t like doing mass mailings (I get enough of that sending out LOST AND FOUND TIMES when it’s published) and chain letters seem like I’m doing someone else’s mass mailing. Many years ago I responded to a few of them, but rarely got anything back – so I think there must be a lot of other chain breakers out there, bless their hearts.

RJ: Thank you, I am one of those collector of chain letters and today my collection is over 700….. You mention ‘LOST AND FOUND TIMES’. What is this publication about?

Reply on 18-9-1995

JMB: LOST AND FOUND TIMES is an avant-garde literary magazine (I’m sending you a copy via surface), that includes the occasional bit of mail art. It began in 1975 as a single-sheet publication of fake lost-and-found notices that was stuck under car windshields in parking lots. The first issues included notices by people we knew in the mail art network. When the other editor died suddenly in 1978 (Doug Landies or Mr. Sensitive) I continued to publish it, gradually expanding its literary aspect. It’s rather fat now, gets around a lot, and is collected in numerous major institutions, etc.

RJ : Are you a collector too? Do you keep all the things you don’t recycle?

Reply on 30-9-1995

JMB: I collect: skull rings, skulls in general, little cars, feathers, rocks, hot peppers, olive oil cans, old bottles, books, postcards, records, masks, rubber stamps, mail art (what I don’t keep is given to various libraries that collect such material), nude decks, photographs, flutes, other instruments, baskets, old tickets, socks, hats, bandannas, my own poetry, and shoes. Whew!

RJ : Why do you collect shoes?

Reply on 14-10-1995

JMB: They substitute for my hands, I don’t like to wear the same shoes 2 days in a row, I like to look at something different when I’m walking, they remind me of vaginas and dicks at the same time, I have wide feet and have trouble finding shoes that are truly comfortable, I have bursitis of the heel, they are like tongues.

RJ : And why do you collect skull rings or skulls in general?

Reply on 28-10-1995

JMB: So cute no hair no death I live inside the boney ring my skinmask itches likes to shine like plastic rubber potmetal aluminium silver wood I have a tiny plastic one with spring jaw holds the words “Time Release” a beetle glistens under maybe this provides the frame:


Spoke returned and animation stands of lettuce
driven over (somewhere else) I cancelled drains you
turned savored itching in the furnace ducts stinks
moon sizes closet lamp the corn regrooms shucks
shirt’s milk plate of horns and dribble gleaming
sons frown

frown house, smiles, plate of skull collection
spotless wilk the shirt shucks moon field of ears
and hair silk waves long thought duct tape spilling-
ledges drains you moved or cancelled else, salad,
copulation in the passage air you spinning tire
without a spoke

RJ : Thanks for sharing this poem with me. When the interview is published at least this one will be shared with more readers. I have noticed that you mostly publish your visual poetry on small papers and postcards in collaboration with others, like Cornpuff, Hartmut Andryczuk, Al Ackerman, to name a few of the ones you enclosed with your latest answer. How do these collaborations come about?

(On 2-11-1995 the LOST AND FOUND TIMES booklet that John M. Bennett publishes arrived at my P.O.Box)

Reply on 10-11-95

JMB: Actually, a lot of my visual poetry is published in literary and/or art journals, and some of it usually is included in my books of poetry. I also exhibit a lot of it in art spaces; recently I had a number of pieces in what must have been an excellent show at the Mus

mail-interview with Vittore Baroni – Italy




Started on: 24-01-1995

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: 30-3-1995

VB : I got involved in the mail art net in 1977, when I discovered the existence of mail art through the work of G.A. Cavellini – I had seen an ad in Flash Art Magazine for G.A.C.’s “Free” Art Books – I wrote him, got the books, started a correspondence with G.A.C. (my first contact!) and soon with Anna Banana and all the other late 70’s regulars. The rest is history!

RJ : Is mail art itself history, after the death of Ray Johnson?

Reply on : 20-4-1995

VB : As I wrote in the latest issue of ARTE POSTALE! magazine # 69, the sad demise of R.J. in a way is an event/date that signals the end of the “golden age” of mail art, that big phenomenon that Ray was instrumental into originating in the early sixties and that probably had its peak moment in the first half of the eighties. January 13th 1995 also means the completion of a cycle, with fax/e-mail/internet/etc. picking up the inheritance of “snail mail”/ correspondence. It must be pointed out that those learning to travel the electronic highways have a lot to learn from postal networkers (with years of experience behind them) in terms of strategies, share-work practices and open frame of mind. So mail art is a bit more “history”, but its teachings will live on.

RJ : Could you explain what you mean with strategies, share-work practices and open frame of mind. What are the teachings you would like to live on?

Reply on 27-10-1995 (printed text and diskette)

(I’ve sent a few times copies of the question and some samples of finished interviews to Vittore Baroni. His answer came in a large envelope with lots of info’s. Also there was a diskette in it, but as I tried to read it, I discovered that it was for a Macintosh computer. Since the file was not transformed to a DOS-file, I could read the printed version and retyped the whole answer)
VB : Dear Ruud, sorry if I disappeared without answering to your latest mailings, I didn’t mean to be rude bur really from May to September my work (almost) 24 hours-a-day at the Hotel makes it impossible for me to deal with any kind of correspondence. I don’t even open the damn envelopes, sometimes. Now I’m back home and trying to put things into shape, while answering to the latest question of our mail-interview, I also try to put some order in my head regarding what I feel about the network today, and what I want to do from now on (more ramblings in next Arte Postale!)…. So here I go, reverting to paper (my last disk was by mistake an MS-DOS translated Mac text, but this is yet again a Mac disc on Word 5).

Question: something to do with what is exactly the legacy that mail art leaves to internet surfers?…
A lot of people approach Internet and electronic networking with a strictly utilitarian attitude, they are looking for financial gains or sexual encounters or whatever. Others enjoy the possibility/power to chat with millions of people, but have nothing to say to them, so it’s only a big waste of time and money: to me it is like those Hi-Fi freaks who own incredibly expensive stereo playback systems and use them to hear the same ten records, technology nerds into communication. I hope that some of the “golden rules” of mail art will find their way into the cyber-community, because what I see and read now regarding what’s going on in the Net isn’t always that free and open. I must first of all admit that I do not own yet a modem and I only used Internet a few times through the courtesy of a friendly neighbour who has an access and University pass-word. But I do read a lot about it in international magazines (Wired, .net and the like), so I know more or less what is going on, regarding my favourite subjects. I noticed a lot of resistance against the new media from old-time mail artists, especially those who do not use a computer daily. I do not feel like that, I am really enthusiast about the possibilities of the new media, but I tend to be also realist: I will wait till there will be a Internet link also in my town (and by the way, even local phone calls in Italy may become very expensive if you do a long call, so using Internet for hours is not cheap around here!), also I will wait till the jargon and hype surrounding the Net will have vanished a bit, when it will be just another common communication system added to the existing ones, then I will start doing my electronic projects, probably not leaving the postal medium abruptly but little by little. A book like Chuck Welch’s Eternal Network I think can be of great help even to people who have never heard about mail art and will never practice mail art (or who are not interested in art altogether), as a sort of preliminary introduction to the spirit of free networking: it’s something totally different from the tons of Guides for Internet surfing you find in every bookshop, because it is founded on over thirty years of intensive experiences in the field of free and open exchange-communication. It is a wealth of wisdom that you just can’t sum up in a few words or even in a single book, but I believe a mail artist approach to Internet will always be much more free-and-easy than the approach of people who had no previous networking experiences. If mail art arrived where Internet is today, connecting the whole planet in a web of spiritual energy, using a much cheaper medium, at the same time I believe strongly that mail art as a phenomenon has lost much of its significance now that Internet is spreading: it will be just anachronistic to continue using stamps beyond a certain (and very near) point in time.

Everything reaches a peak and then starts to drop, mail art probably had its peak in ’92 with the Networker Congress thing, and now with the death of Ray Johnson the cycle is complete, the only thing that can be done is tell the whole history in a more complete way (like the books by G

mail-interview with John Held Jr. – USA (Part 2 – San Francisco)

(the SAN FRANSISCO period)


Started on 2-5-1996

RJ : Well John, I think it is time now to start the second part of our interview. During the first part of the interview you were living in Dallas, and now you are already some time in San Francisco. How big is the difference between Dallas and San Francisco?

Reply on 25-5-1996

JH : As I write this Ruud, I am in Helena, Montana, to open the Faux Post artist stamp exhibition on another of its travels, which will continue until 1998. I’m not sure if the European newspapers have reported much about it, but there is a man imprisoned here called the Unabomber. For twenty years he was sending bombs through the mail. So he’s like an extremist mail artist, right? I’m not sure mail art is as dangerous an activity as the actions of this terrorist (whose target was a technological society), but it is still my firm believe that mail art can be an agent of change, a subversive activity, a way of examining the society in which we live.

There is an exhibition now being formed in Germany, which is exploring the effect mail art had on the East German intellectual and artistic community. And just recently I’ve received a letter from Alexandor Jovanovic, documenting his Cage magazine, and the anti-embargo actions of himself and Tisma, Kamperelic, Bogdanovic, and Gogolyk in Yugoslavia. So here are but two instances of mail art playing an important role in the public sector, and the power it has to effect ideas. Between my move from Dallas to San Francisco, I have not changed my ideas about the importance of mail art in my life, and in that of society.

What changes have occured since my move from Dallas to San Francisco? Ruud, this has been the happiest and most productive period of my life. The differences of living in the two cities are great, and I’ll try to explain it to you.

You have to understand that the cultural climate in the United States has become more and more conservative in the nineties. Dallas is a particularly traditional city with its emphasis on business and as a stronghold of conservative religious feeling. When I left the city, I had a retrospective show of my years there and I was called an essentric in the critical reviews. Of course, I welcome the controversy. I would have been disapointed if all my ideas were totally embraced. I like to think of myself as an artist out of the mainstream, dealing with issues that most artists don’t even know exist, but still this reaction to my work was indicative of my stay in Dallas. I was an outsider. So I, like many of my fellow mail artists, reached out through the postal system to others that were more sympathetic to our view of life.

The artistic climate is completely different in San Francisco. It is one of the last bastions of liberal thought in the United States, and has a long history of tolerance (beatniks, the drug culture, gays). There is a whole community here that is engaged in the alternative arts.

As you know, I moved into an apartment with Ashley Parker Owens, the editor of “Global Mail”, and the subject of one of your Mail Interviews. When I lived in Dallas, I had very few people to talk to about mail art. Ashley and I are in constant dialogue about it. And with Ashley I have built in social life because we go to dinner together, for walks, and to events around the city. Ashley and I are very different people, but we understand each other. Ashley doesn’t save things like I do. After she enters her mail for listings in “Global Mail”, she passes it on to me. Ashley is concerned with the process of mail art, while I am also concerned with the preservation of its history. Ashley doesn’t believe in history, because it singles out certain people, to the exclusion of others. I don’t think that I operate in this way, although certain people are connected with ideas that I find interesting and deserve mention.

Ashley also has a broad reach into the zine community, and we’ve met a lot of people in this field. She sets up little dinners were we meet people who publish. I’m also reviewing for “Factsheet Five”, which is the big zine that reviews other zines. Seth Friedman is the editor, and I go over to his apartment to enter my reviews. I get to see the zines sent in for review and have gained a perspective on this huge publishing phenomena. Seth takes much of the really good stuff for himself to review, but I’ve become very interested in the sex zines, which is a whole sub-culture of various fetishes. I’m really curious about the sex subcultures of San Francisco. It’s a fascinating world that is at the forefront of preserving freedom of expression.

I haven’t even mentioned my work with Picasso Gaglione at the Stamp Art Gallery, which is really my main focus in San Francisco. Gaglione and I have corresponded since the mid seventies, when I first discovered mail art. We are on the same wavelength. We know the same people and are very much interested in the history of mail art.
Bill and I are hard workers. We know that we have an unique situation and we want to take advantage of it. Bill is a famous graphic artist, and his catalogs have always been real interesting. But now I am here to add some written texts to his design skills, and is’t just a perfect situation. We have two or three shows a month and we put together catalogs for many of them. So far we’ve done catalogs on Yves Klein (his “Blue Stamp” of 1957), Robert Watts (the Fluxus Artist), Andrej Tisma, M.B. Corbett, Yugoslavian Networkers, a travel diary of our trip to “Alternative Artfest” in Seattle and a visit to Western Front in Vancouver, Canada, Paulo Bruscky, Cavellini, and Ken Friedman. We’ve also done artistamp portfolios for E.F. Higgins, Donald Evans, and Harley. And since the gallery is connected with Stamp Fransisco rubber stamp company, we have done boxed sets of rubber stamps on the works of Tisma, Friedman, Corbett, Endre Tot, and Luce Fierens. We are going to New York City very soon to show all this work at Printed Matters bookstore, one of the leading artist book stores in the world.

Gaglione and I have also curated a show of “Our Fifty Favorite Mail Art Exhibition Catalogs” for the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art Library. It was a great show, and the first show that I know of that focused on this particular aspect of mail art.

Every month we organize performances of classic Fluxus works by people like Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Ben Vautier, and Robert Watts as part of the gallerys’ “Fluxfest 96”. We also have classes at the gallery and have featured Seth Friedman, about making zines, Mick Mather on eraser carving, and I gave a class on rubber stamp publications.

I’ve have also many friends in San Fransciso! Joolee Peeslee has just moved here from Boulder, Colorado. She’s a long time correspondent. Barbara Cooper is another correspondent I like very much also. Mike Dyar is a wonderful friend, and there are many others like Patricia Tavenner, Diana Mars (who works with Gaglione and me at the Gallery), Ted Purves, and Seth Mason.

There is an opportunity to meet interesting people here in San Fransisco, which I didn’t have in Dallas. I met Timothy Leary at a book signing party, and I did an interview with V. Vale of Re/Search publications, who is doing a two volume set on zines. I talked to him about the international zine scene, and the important role played by the mail art community.

RJ : Well, a long answer that triggers a lot of questions in my head. But first a question about the previous interview (Part-1). Did you get any reactions on the answers you gave?

Reply on 29-6-96

JH : Sorry for the very long answer to your first question. I was on a trip and was trapped on a plane. I had to do something. It’s hard for me to sit still.

I had some people mention that they read the interview. But I don’t have any specific memories about their response. It’s enough for me to put out signals, hoping that they will land in a place where it’s appreciated. You never know exactly what words will effect some people. I get enough indications that my work is appreciated to satisfy me, and I also get my fair share of criticism. I don’t let the good words me too high, or the negative ones too low. I do my work because it’s what interests me. I try not to get sidetracked by the opinions of people who don’t really know me or my work. I have very specific goals, both long range and short, which take a very sharp focus to complete.
RJ : Never say sorry for a long answer. I enjoyed reading about the changes because I am about to see San Francisco/USA for the first time myself. You mentioned that you have quite specif goals, both long range and short. You might guess I am curious about these goals….., especially the long range ones.

Reply on 1-8-1996

JH : Right now I’m very involved in the day-to-day activities of the Stamp Art Gallery, and we are half-way through our schedule for the year. In the next months we will be showing Guy Bleus, yourself, Pawel Petasz, and G

mail-interview with John Held Jr. – USA (Part 1 in Dallas)

This interview was done in 1995 by Ruud Janssen. It is possible to spread this information to others, but for publications you will have to get permission from TAM and the interviewed person! Enjoy reading this interview.





(PART 1)

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: 22-11-94

JH : My first trip to Europe was in 1975. I went to France, Italy, Greece, Austria, Germany, and Holland. In Amsterdam I came across a rubber stamp store by chance. They sold sets of visual stamps (flowers, animals, fairy tales). I bought several, and talked to the director, Mr. Van der Plaats, about his business. When I returned to New York, I began to use them in my artwork (I was then doing pen and ink work). I never heard of artists using rubber stamps in the context of fine art before. I thought I had discovered a new art medium. But as a professional librarian, I began to research if this was true or not.

One day in the New York Times newspaper I saw an article about Bizarro Rubber Stamp Company. They published a catalog of visual rubber stamps. I wrote to the director, Kenn Spicer, and he informed me that there was an underground art form called mail art, and that they used rubber stamps to decorate envelopes. He gave me the names of two New York artists who were involved in this work: Ray Johnson and Edward Plunkett. Ray Johnson had started this artform in the fifties as a way of distributing his pop art imagery. Ed Plunkett gave a name to Johnson’s activities in 1962: The New York Correspondance School of Art. Plunkett sent me dadaesque “free tickets” that were rubber stamped with odd names and images. Johnson sent photocopied works, which he encouraged me to “add and send to” persons unknown to me. They turned out to be other members of the NYCSA, such people as Anna Banana and Richard C. But it was with Johnson himself that I had the greatest correspondence.

Ray Johnson not only introduced me to people through mail, but gave me the address and introductions to well-known artists like the painter Arakawa and his poet wife Madelyn Gins whose work I admired. For a young person not yet thirty, this was a fantastic way to participate in the contemporary art of my time, and actually meet the participants.

I accumulated more rubber stamps and made more and more mail art contacts. In 1976 I returned to Amsterdam to have a show at Stempelplaats, the rubber stamp gallery and museum that Mr. Van de Plaats had just started with the encouragement of myself and Ulises Carrion. While there, I spent one week with Carrion, a Mexican artist who had started the Amsterdam bookstore and gallery Other Books and So. Carrion was the center of the European mail art scene and exhibited and sold postcards, rubber stamp works, artist’s books, photocopy work, artist publications of all kinds, in short the only public distribution point for this very underground art form. From Ulises I learned the conceptual side of mail art and the philosophy behind much of my future activity.

RJ : What is this conceptual side of mail art in your eyes? How is it connected to your current activities ?

reply on : 20-12-1994

JH : Many of the ideas Ulises Carri

mail-interview with John Evans – USA


69 – unfinished


Started on 11-6-1996

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 16-1-1997

(John Evan’s answer was written on a paper filled with color-tests with ink he made before).

JE : Dear Ruud Janssen. Thanks for inviting me to be interviewed for your project. Sorry that I have been slow in responding. The pile of mail on my desk simply seems to keep growing. I need a secretary – ah wouldn’t that be great.

Happy 1997. When is your birthday? As to your question – When did I get involved in Mail/Male Art?

Well it was in 1964 – 33 years ago. WOW! I remember it vividly – I was @ a party on West 10th Street in “the ” Village @ HarveySpevaks. It was a hot summer afternoon, and there were these 2 men there – Ray Johnson + Albert Fine who were fascinated by this rather crude tattoo of a knife on my left arm (I got it while in Highschool in Redondo Beach, California). I had no idea who they were, but Ray went off somewhere, and then reappeared on the roof where the party had moved, with a drawing of a knife, which could be a penis – it said “knife” and was signed Ray Johnson. It hangs above this desk. After that I began getting correspondance of the “please add to and send to” variety from both him + Albert. Have really met so many people through this encounter that I lose track – it changed my life, and I am eternally grateful to all concerned. Since Ray died I have been a bit slow in getting to my correspondancing, on + I do try. Do hope this is what you want. Best of love, luck + laughs, @

ps. What ever happened to Sonja van der Burg of Afzet? She always spoke highly of you.

RJ : Dear John Evans, In connection to your questions to me: My birthday is July 29th. What happened to Sonja? She moved to a new address and sent nobody this new address. A way to stop with mail art, and as far as I know she moved to other ways to express herself. I did get her new address from Mark Bloch one year ago, but the letter I sent to her was never replied.

But in this interview I would like to focus on what you have done and experienced in these 33 years. A long time indead. Are you still in contact with most of the mail artists from the 60’s and 70’s you encountered then?

(Together with my answer I sent John some info’s of my latest activities)
next answer on 3-3-1997

JE : Thanks for the package postmarked 22 January. Like the strange creature that you painted on the envelope. Also the account of your trip to San Francisco was a joy to read. It is a great city. Next trip you must come to Daciddy – Nieuw Amsterdam, which is an even greater city. There are a number of mail artists here, but we are not very organized.

As to your question abot being in contact with the mail artists from the 60’s & the 70’s , many of them have died, or dropped out of the circuit. Those who have died that I know of being Cavellini, Ray Johnson, May Wilson, Pauline Smith, Harvey Spevak, Albert Fine, Mike Belt, Rob Cobugio, Brian Buogac and perhaps Falves Silva of Brasil. There are many who I am still in touch with from that time – Ed Plunkett, Buster Cleveland, Ed Higgins, Mark Bloch, Bill gaglione, Tim Mancusi, Pat Tavenner, Anna Banana, Les Barbot, Carlo Pittore, Walt Evans, Michael Leigh, Art Naphro, Bill Dobbs, Les Oisteame, Geff Hendricks, Sur Rodney Sur, Wally Darnell, Philip van Aver, Jim Klein. There must be others who I am forgetting, but @ my advanced age it is to be expected. Actually as I wrote the above three of my favorites come to mind – Richard C. + Blaster (Al Ackerman) + Wilson.

It is getting late and I must get to bed as I get up @ 5 AM so that I can go to my part time job as a “horticultural technicien”. This helps pay the rent, and is only 3 days a week so it is bearable. It entails watering + caring for plants in these Manhattan Towers – a strange, but wonderful garden.

Hope all is well for you. Love, Luck + Laughts @ *

(* this is a lowercase E with a dot, not a symbol for at (@) – my signature)

RJ : The problem is that the computer has problems with “lowercase E with a dot”, but then again, it is a machine and not human. This interview seems to get more of a letter-exchange then a set of questions and answers, but I don’t mind. Yes, I know that New York is an interesting place to visit. It is on my list of wishes, so who knows what happens.

You mention a lot of mail artists of the beginning period. Are there also newcomers to the mail art network that write to you?

next answer on 28-8-1997

(with his answer John Evans sent me two xeroxes.One xerox was about his upcoming exhibition Invitational ’97 – September 10 – October 4. The other copy of a page in the New York Times, about America Off-line; the effects of the e-mail and the explenation that there still is MAIL. His interview-answer was written on a cut-open envelope from Magret A kane with color stains of paint on it).

JE : Thanks for your last missive of which there is no date that I find legible. Your letter actually accompanied me to Redondo Beach, California, where I thought I might have a bit of time to do some Mail art.

Had to go attend my mother’s funeral, but did not have any time to do much but deal with family matters. My mother, Alice Sauers Evans , lived to be 91 and had been sick, so her death was expected, but it is always hard to lose one so close. Things went smoothly though.

As I look over the copy of my letter to you I see some blatent omissions from my list. Guy Bleus, who I simple love, being the most outstandingly missed.

Your question, regarding newcomers – there do not seem to be any with the exception of yourself who has been around for awhile, that I am now correspondancing with. C’est la vie.

RJ : You like to work a lot with paper, ink and water-colors, all those things done by hand. What do you think of the things that are produced by computers?

(In March 1998 I heard from Roy Arenella that he met with John Evans at the opening of his new exhibition – Collages & Paintings , 1968-98. I decided to send the last question to John Evans again just in case he lost it. Quite soon after that I got the next answer and als a photo/card in it that Roy sent to John with a portrait photo he made of him).

reply on 11-04-1998

JE : What do I think about computer art? Well I find it to be a valid form of Art. More so than so called “performance” or “Video”. Guess I do not like things that make one vegetate. I barely watch videos or TV @ home. Why should I have to go to a gallery or a museum. Some performance art has been really quite wonderful, but I prefer “the” theatre. Computers are like cameras in a way and I love photographs preferably old ones from the 19th century. Can one believe the time? WOW. End of 20th. Strange weather we have been having. Very warm. Have been getting collages from a couple of college students in Brasil. Interesting!

RJ : What makes a collage interesting to you?

(there was a lang pause between the sending of the question and the receiving of the answer. Just before the summer, which I spent in Germany and Greece, I sent John Evans a copy of the last question)

next answer on 19-11-1998

(with John Evans’s answer he sent two cards of invitations to exhibitions. One of Collages by Vince Grimaldi – “Man and his world” , and the other one “And I Quote” (dedicated to Buster Cleveland 1943-1998) with also work by John Evans in it. “A very good show!” , John writes on this last card. Something I knew since another person I interview (Roy Arenella) sent a very wonderful review about John’s part in the exhibition)

JE : Dear Ruud, Cannot believe that I am finally getting around to answer your question and the pack of things which you last Zent. Do hope that you got to Germany + to Greece.

My daughter India is now in Perugia – Italia. She seems to be loving it. Who wouldn’t @ 20, and studing art. In the next term she will be in Firenze. Lucky.

As to your new question – on the verso. “What makes a collage interesting to me?” – I really love to look @ all different kinds of collage and all art in general. It is always fascinating how a person handles the different elements which go into the making of a work. As Gertrude Stein said: “Everything is the same on lt different” and vive la difference. Love, Luck Laughts @

RJ : You seem to like Frensh language a lot. Any specific reason for that?

Address mail-artist:

John Evans,
Avenue B. School of Art
199 E. 3rd Street – 2B
NEW YORK , NY 10009, USA