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 Dick Higgins – USA


by Ruud Janssen

dick higgins

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

DH: Dear Señor Janssen – I got involved in the mail-art network in July 1959 shortly after I met Ray Johnson in June. He sent me a marzipan frog, a wooden fork and three small letters in wood, which I correctly misunderstood. I sent him some wild mushrooms which I had gathered, and they arrived at his place on Dover Street just before they decomposed.

RJ : Was this mail-art in the beginning just fun & games or was there more to it?

(Together with his answer Dich Higgins sent me his large, 46 pages long, Bio/Bibliography and a contribution to my Rubberstamp Archive, a stampsheet with some of his old and new stamps printed on)

DH: Indeed it was fun to communicate with Ray. But it was a new kind of fun. I had never encountered anyone who could somehow jell my fluid experiences of the time when I was doing visual poetry (thus the letters), food and conceptual utility (perhaps I had shown him my “Useful Stanzas” which I wrote about then. But what had he left out? Nature – thus my sending of the wild mushrooms, collecting and studying which was an ongoing interest (I was working on them with John Cage, an important friend of Ray’s as of mine).

As for rubber stamps, in 1960 when Fluxus was a-forming my home was in New York at 423 Broadway on the corner with Canal Street and my studio was at 359 Canal Street a few blocks away. Canal Street was known for its surplus dealers (some are still there) including stationers, and one could buy rubber stamps there for almost nothing – and we did! I had already made some rubber stamps through Henri Berez, a legendary rubber maker on Sixth Avenue, long gone but he was the first I knew who could make photographic rubber stamps – Berez made a magnesium, then a Bakelite and finally the rubber stamp, And I blocked the magnesiums and used them for printing as well. I had stamps of musical notation symbols made and also of my calligraphies, etc. At an auction in 1966 when he moved to Europe I also bought Fluxartist George Brecht’s rubber stamps (mostly of animals) which he used starting ca. 1960; I used those to make a bookwork of my own, From the Earliest Days of Fluxus (I Guess), which I think is in the Silverman Collection. Others of my rubber stamps are in the Archiv Sohm and perhaps Hermann Braun or Erik Andersch have some, I am not sure. I think there was an article on Fluxus rubber stamps in Lightworks – that must be listed in John Held Jr’s Mail Art: an Annotated Bibliography (Mettuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991) and/or in Jon Hendricks’s Fluxus Codex (New York: Abrams, ca. 1992). I also composed some music using rubber stamps, notably Emmett Williams’s Ear/L’orecchio di Emmett Williams (Cavriago: Pari & Dispari, 1978).

That’s about all I can add to the rubber stamp thing at this time. It would be much more efficient for us if I send you my Bio/Bibliography which has facts that need not be endlessly repeated, so I am doing that under separate cover. The curious type face I used on that is one which I designed and named for Fluxmail Artist Ken “Kenster” Friedman, “Kenster.”
RJ : Your Bio/Bibliography is quite impressive. The sentence on the first page: “I find I never feel quite complete unless I’m doing all the arts — visual, musical and literary. I guess that’s why I developed the term ‘intermedia’ , to cover my works that fall conceptually between these” , indicates you are always focussing on all kinds of media to express yourself. Which place has mail-art in this?

29 C and about 85% relative humidity

(Together with his answer Dick Higgins sent me a poster with titel “SOME POETRY INTERMEDIA” explaning metapoetries or how poetry is connected to many other art-forms. Published by Richard C. Higgins, 1976 , New York, USA)

DH : Yes, I am a “polyartist” – Kostelanetz’s term for an artist who works in more than one medium, and some of these media themselves have meaningful gradiations between them. Visual poetry lies between visual art and poetry, sound poetry lies between music and poetry, etc. But between almost any art and non-art media other intermedia are possible. What lies between theater and life, for instance? Between music and philosophy? In poetry I got into this in my “Some Poetry Intermedia” poster essay. If we take any art as a medium and the postal system as a medium, then mail art is the intermedium between these – postal poetry, postal music, mail-art [visual variety], etc.

Some of these are more capable than others of the subversive function which I value in mail art – it bypasses the gallery world and the marketplace, so it becomes somehow immune to censorship. If used aggressively it can make a reactionary politician’s life Hell. And it is not yet played out yet. For instance, while Fax art has no special characteristics (it is like monochromatic regular mail, “snail mail”) what is e-mail art? Can’t it subvert the rich folks’ machines? Ruin their modems? Yet even that is a commonplace, once one has considered it. Little artists can do it. Its power is inherent in its medium. I can tell you stories of how the Poles of Kodsko tortured an East German bureaucrat who has banned a Mail art show in (then) East Berlin. I happened to be visiting there at the time and was involved in this.

But let’s think about more positive areas. Please tell me about the spiritual aspects of mail art. How do you see that?

RJ : Yes, a nice try to end an answer with a question to me. I will send you some ‘thoughts about mail-art’ for you to read, but in this interview I would like to focus on YOUR thoughts and knowledge. I am in no hurry, so I would like to hear that story of how the Poles of Kodsko tortured this East German bureaucrat who banned this mail art show in East Berlin…..

DH : (today in 1843 Herman Melville signed abroad the frigate ‘United States,’ this began the journey that led to ‘White-Jacket’)
It must have been about 1988 and I was traveling through Poland, reading and performing with a friend, the critic and scholar Piotr Rypson. Our travels brought us to Kodsko down in the beak of Galicia to where a group of unofficial Polish artist had gathered to discuss what to do since the Mail Art Conference which Robert Rehfeldt had organized in East Berlin had, at the last moment, been canceled by some bureaucrat. It was a final and irrevocable decision the bureacrat had made, finalized by his official rubber stamp besides his signature. This was a great disappointment to these artists who had very little opportunity to meet personally with each other, especially across international borders, and to exchange ideas. However these artists were Poles, from the land of the liberum votum , and they had six hundred years experience at protesting. They made a list of things to do. Having access to some things in America which were problematic in Poland, I was asked to have four exact facsimiles of the bureaucrat’s rubber stamp made up and to send one to each of four addresses I was given, one was an official one in the Department of Agriculture in the DDR and the other three were in Poland. I was also asked to buy some homosexual and some Trotskyite magazines in the USA, to send them one at a time to the bureaucrat and, if possible, to subscribe in his name to these things. I did these things and also I appointed the bureaucrat an honorary member of my Institiute for Creative Misunderstanding and sent an announcement of his appointment to Neues Deutschland, the main communist newspaper of the DDR.

For a few weeks it seemed as if nothing had happened. But then I received a long letter from Robert Rehfeldt in English (usually he wrote me in German) lecturing me on what a terrible thing it was to try to force a person to accept art work which he did not like. And a few weeks after that I received a post card from Rehfeldt auf deutsch saying “Fine – keep it up [mach weiter].”

In this story we can see the usefulness for using the mails on the positive side for keeping spirits up and for keeping contact with those one does not see, on the sometimes-necessary negative side for creating powerful statements which must have caused great problems for this bureaucrat. I have no idea who these people were to whom I sent the rubber stamps, but I can imagine that they were forging the bureaucrat’s signature onto all sorts of capricious papers and causing great consternation within official circles of the DDR. For me this story tells well one of the main uses of Mail Art.

Perhaps it also suggests why Mail Art taken out of context can sometimes be such a bore. It has no particular formal value or novelty, especially when one has (as I have) been doing it for nearly forty years, so that mere documentation seems tendentious and egotistic. Would you want to only read about a great painting of the past? Wouldn’t you rather see it and then, perhaps, read about it? Making good Mail Art is like making a soufflé – the timing is very very critical. Who wants to be told about a decade old soufflé? And documenting the matter is not nearly so interesting as receiving and consuming it at precisely the right moment – with the right people too, I might add. It is an art of the utmost immediacy.

RJ : What was the reason for creating your “Institute for Creative Misunderstanding”?

(Apollinaire born today)

(Besides his answer Dick Higgins also sent his poem “Inventions to make”)

DH : Kära Ruud, For years I was struck by how little one understands of how one’s work will be perceived by others. We can prescribe how others will see it at risk of discouraging them. Duchamp, when anyone would ask “does your piece mean this or that…?” would smile and usually say “yes,” no matter how absurd the question. The impressionists thought they were dealing with light; we see their contribution is one of design along the way towards abstraction. The Jena Romantic poets of Germany saw themselves as applying the philosophies of Kant and Plato to their writings, but we see it as reviving the baroque and providing a healthy restorative emotional depth to their poetry which had often been lacking in the work of the previous generation. The same is true of Percy B. Shelley who knew his Plato well (and translated passages of Plato from Greek into English), but who in poems like “Lift not the painted veil” or “The sensitive plant” moves Plato’s ideas into areas which Plato never intended to create a new entity of art-as-concealment. Harold Bloom, a famous academic critic in the USA, was, in the 1970’s in books like The anxiety of influence, stressing the role of recent art as cannibalizing and deriving from earlier art. I was not satisfied with Bloom’s models and preferred to extend them and misinterpret them myself along hermeneutic lines using a Gadamerian model; this you will find in a linear fashion in my book Horizons (1983) and in the forthcoming “Intermedia: Modernism since postmodernism” (1996). But a linear presentation does not satisfy me either; it does not usually offer grounds for projection into new areas and it focuses too much on the specifics of my own ratiocinations. To broaden my perspective I conceived of a community of artists and thinkers who could take conceptual models and, with good will (my assumption, like Kant’s in his ethics), transform these models – evoking not simply intellectual discourse but humor or lyrical effects which would otherwise not be possible. This is, of course, my Institute of Creative Misunderstanding. Into it I put a number of people with whom I was in touch who seemed to be transforming earlier models into new and necessary paradigms. I tried to organize a meeting of the institute, but could not get funding for it and realized that it might well be unnecessary anyway. I still use that Institute as a conceptual paradigm when necessary.

So I would not discribe the Institute for Creative Misunderstanding as a “fake institute,” as you did, so much as an abstract entity and process of existence which creates a paradigm of community of like-minded people by its very name and mentioning. Are you a member of the Institute, Ruud? Perhaps you are – it is not really up to me to say if you have correctly misunderstood it in your heart of hearts.

RJ : Who is to say if I am a member? But I sure like all those institutes and organisations that there are in the network. You spoke of the intention to organize a meeting. In the years 1986 and 1992 there were lots of organized meetings in the form of congresses. Is it important for (mail-) artists to meet in person?

(Cage born -1912)


DH : (laughing) Who’s to say if you are a member? Why the group secretary, of course – whoever that is. Perhaps I am acting secretary and I say you are a member. Anyway, to be serious, the question of meetings is not answerable, I think, except in specific contexts. The events planned at Kodsko could not have been planned without the people being together; but at other times it would seem unnecessarily pretentious to bring them together – frustrating even, since most mail artists are poor and they would have to spend money to be present. At times this would be justified, but if it were simply a matter of pride or of establishing a place in some pecking order, well that would not be good.
Think of a camp fire. Shadowy figures are in conversation, laughing and talking; what they say makes sense mostly among themselves. A stranger wanders in and listens. The stranger understands almost nothing – to him what is said is all but meaningless – and the part which he understands seems trivial to him. The stranger has two options: he can stay and learn why what is being said is necessary, or he can go away and suggest that all such campfires are silly and should be ignored or banned. Mail art is like that. I go to shows, and the work is arranged not by conversation but according to a curators’s skills of the past, as if these were drawings by Goya. But they aren’t. Their meaning is more private, often contained in the facts and conditions of their existence more than in the art traditions to which they seem to belong. The show therefore doesn’t work. Few do. But a show arranged chronologically of the exchanges among some specific circle mail artists – that would have a greater chance for an outsider to learn the language and love the medium. Wouldn’t you like to see a show of the complete exchanges between, say, San Francisco’s Anna Banana*1 and Irene Dogmatic (if there ever was such an exchange) than the 65th International Scramble of Mail Artists presented by the Commune di Bric-á-Bracchio (Big catalog with lots and lots of names, but all works become the property of the Archivo di Bric-á-Bracchio).

*1 of course Anna has since moved to her native Vancouver, and I haven’t heard of Irene Dogmatic in many a year)

Chance encounters among mail artists, meetings among small groups – oh yes, those are quite wonderful. But I don’t usually see the point in large gatherings of mail artists. Actually, there haven’t been many of them – thank goodness. Berlin would have been an exception, methinks.

As e’er- Dick (laughing) (Dicks signiture was placed here as a smiling face)

RJ : What is the first ‘chance encounter’ (as you call them) that comes up in your mind when I ask for a memory about such an event?

DH : By “chance encounters” I mean those meetings which could not have been anticipated or which take place on the spur of the moment. In on Wednesday I arrange to meet you the following Tuesday at 7:30 and if I am unable to sleep Monday night because of faxes from Europe arriving all night long Monday night and the cat is ill on Tuesday so that I must waste half the day at the veterinarian’s office, you and I will have a very different kind of meeting from the situation of my meeting you in the post office and the two of us going to spend a few hours together talking things over, or if I say: “Look: I cooked too much food, please come over and help me eat it.”

We have all had such meeting, no? Those meetings are the most productive, I think. Few mail artists (or any artists) can really control their own time, their own scedule. Only the rich can do that, if anyone can. We are mostly poor and must depend on the schedules of others. But there are days when this is not true – days when it works perfectly to see someone. Ray Johnson was a master of this – he would call, “I am with (whoever), we’re down the street from you. Can we come see you?” If yes – great. If not, one never felt locked into the situation.

That is how I never met Yves Klein. One night, perhaps in 1961, at 11:15 Ray phoned me from down the street and said that Yves Klein was with him and would like to meet me. I said I’d like to meet him too but I was in bed and it was a week-day. I had to go to work the next day. We agreed that I should meet Yves Klein the next time he came to new York. It didn’t happen; Klein died instead.

It is also how I met Alison Knowles, – Ray Johnson and Dorothy Podber and myself had dinner in Chinatown in New York and then they took me to Alison’s loft nearby. I had met her briefly before that, but this time we got to talk a little. That was thirty-six years ago, and Alison and I are still together.

And so it goes –

RJ : Yes, and also the forms of communication are proceeding. To my surprise I noticed on your ‘letterhead’ that you have an e-mail address too. Are you now exploring the possibilities of the internet as well?

(Dick Higgins handwritten answer came from Milano, Italy, where he is preparing a retrospective show of his work.)

DH : Yes, “exploring” is the only possible word, since the internet is constantly changing. You can “know” yesterday’s internet, but today’s always contains new variables.

In the world of computers, most of the “information” is irrelevant, even to those who put it there. Few of us bother to download clever graphics since advertising has made us numb to those. I only download graphics if the text which I see really seems to need them. I need them no more than I need to watch show-offy gymnastic displays, divers or pianists who play Franz Liszt while blindfolded and balancing champagne glasses on their head. What I like on the “net” are three things:

1) Making contact with people whose contributions to the internet shows interest similar to my own. Far from being alienating, as others have said of the web and internet, I find this element a very positive and community-building factor. For instance, I enjoyed meeting on the internet a guy whom I’d met three years ago, a visual poet named Kenny Goldsmith, and had not seen since. Now he does “Kenny’s page ” – <http://wfmu.org so/~kennyg/index.html> – where he creates links to anything in the new arts which excites him. It was like looking into someone else’s library – a revelation, and one which I could use. It led me to meet him again in person, a real delight.

2) I cannot afford to buy the books I once could. But often I can download and print out things to read before going to bed. For an author, what a way to get one’s work and ideas around! Why wait two years for your book to appear, for your article to come out in some magazine which nobody can afford? Put it on the net and it is potentially part of the dialogue in your area of interest. Further, it tells me not only what people are interested in, but what is going on – a John Cage conference , which interested me, was fully described on the net for instance – and it gives me access to everything from dictionaries, indexes and lists of words, people and events.
I suppose a saboteur could list false information, and of course commercial interests can tell me about their stuff, but this only sharpers my skeptical abilities – I can avoid their garbage with no more effect than on a commercial television set. I suspect the internet is a blow to the effectiveness of normal advertising.

3) As someone whose favorite art, books and literature are seldom commercially viable, I am happy to see how the internet actually favors the smaller organizations and media. If I access a big publisher’s pages with ten thousend titles, I stop and quit almost at once – it takes too long. But a small publisher’s page is often worth a glance.
Further, the phenomenon of links gives an element of three – dimenisionality to the internet. A book sounds interesting. I click on it and I see a few pages of it. This is like browsing in a wonderful book store. A good example is the pages for Avec, a small avant-garde magazine and book publisher in California. I found it through a link on the Grist pages – <http://www.phantom.com/~grist>. It’s designed by the editor of Witz , a new arts newsletter (address: creiner@crl.com). Perfect. Another good one is Joe de Marco’s pages <http://www.cinenet.net/~marco> – full of fluxus things and theater. All this suggests new forms of distribution, which has always been a problem for small publishers. If you can safely transmit credit information to an address on the internet, then, if you live in a small village as I do, it is as if you lived in a large city with an incredible book store near you.

Because of links, I do not see how big corporations can commercialize all this. My computer is black and white, I have no money to invest in their corporations, and their rubbish is easily avoided. Thanks to the internet, the damber kind of popular culture will probably begin to lose its strangle-hold on people’s attention. Of course it will take time and other developments too, but the internet rips off the conservatives’ three-piece suits, remakes them and gives them to us in a better form.

RJ : It seems like publishing is very important for you. In mail art a lot has been written about the book “The Paper Snake” by Ray Johnson, which you published with Something Else Press. What was the story behind this specific book?

DH: There is no doubt in my mind that Ray Johnson was one of the most valuable artists I’ve ever known. He was a master of the “tricky little Paul Klee ish collage,” as he modestly dismissed them; most of his work of the late 1950’s was collages in 8 1/2 x 11 format roughly corresponding to the European A3. That was a time when Abstract Expressionism (“Tachisme”) ruled the roost in America, and art was supposed to swagger, lack humor, be big and important looking. Johnson had rejected this long before, had, in the 1950’s, made hundreds or thousand of postcard size collages using popular imagery, had also made big collages and then cut them up, sewn them together into chains, had buried the critic Suzi Gablik in a small mountain of them (alas, only temporarily), had printed various ingenious little booklets and sent them off into the world, and, since there was no appropriate gallery for his work, had now taken to sending his collages out along with assemblages in parcel post form. For example, a few days after I had startled Ray by throwing my alarm clock out the window, he sent me a box containing a marzipan frog, a broken clock and a pair of chopsticks, calling shortly thereafter to suggest that we go to Chinatown for dinner.

But Ray could write too. He was always interested in theater and performance, had picked up many ideas from the days when he and his friend Richard Lippold lived downtown in New York City on Monroe Street on the floor below John Cage (all of them friends also from Black Mountain College), and he wrote and sent out innumerable playlets, poems, prose constructions, etc.

I saw Ray around town for several months before I met him, which was at a 1959 concert where I asked him if he were Jasper Johns. “No,” he said, “I’m Ray Johnson,” we got to talking and soon to walking and not long afterwards to visiting. Years later, when I met Jasper Johns, in order to complete the symmetry, I asked him if he were Ray Johnson. I expected him to say, “You know I’m not why do you ask?” Instead he said, acidly: “No.” And he walked away.

Something Else Press was founded on the spur of the moment. First I did my book “Jefferson’s Birthday/Postface” (1964). But before the thing was even printed, I decided the next book should be a cross section of the things Ray had sent me over the previous six years. So, having little room at my own place, I packed them all into two suitcases, visited my mother and spread everything out on her dining table. I sorted the book into piles performance pieces, poems, collages, things to be typeset, thing to be reproduced in Ray’s writing taking care to include at least some of each category. I knew the book would be hard to sell, so I didn’t want to make it a Big Important Book; I chose the format of a children’s book, set the texts in a smallish size of Cloister Bold (an old fashioned Venetian face), decided on using two colors to simulate four (which I could not have afforded), and then laid out the pages in a way which I felt would invite the reader to experience Ray’s pieces as I did on receiving them. Ray, who had at first been displeased by the project, perhaps feeling it would lock him into a format too much, become very enthusiastic as the project developed. Where at first he had refused to title the book, later he called it “The Paper Snake” after a collage and print he had made. He also wanted the price to be “$3.47,” for reasons I have never known (prices of that sort were always $3.48 or $3.98). And when, one winter day in 1966, the book was being bound by a New York City binder, I took Ray over to the bindery to see it being cased in (when the covers are attached to the book). By then he was delighted and wrote me one of the few formal letters ever received from him thanking me for doing it.

As for its reception, the book was a puzzler to even the most sophisticated readers at the time. Even someone who was a regular correspondent of Ray’s, Stanton Kreider, wrote me an outraged letter saying what a silly book it was. Such people usually felt that Ray’s mailings were and should remain ephemera. There were almost no reviews, but one did appear in Art Voices, one of the most scorching reviews I have ever seen, complaining the book was precious and completely trivial, a pleasure to an in group. These letters and reviews are now in the Archiv Sohm in Stuttgart, where you can persue them for yourself if you like.

RJ : It is good that you keep mentioning the places where things can be found, if I do or don’t persue, now somebody else might do it too. There are a lot of archives in the world. Besides the ‘official’ archives there are also the privat collections that most (mail-) artists have built up. Are there still things that you collect?

DH : I feel overwhelmed by THINGS at my home. My letters are one of the main things I have done in this life, and I try to keep copies of each letter I send; but there is no space to save them. For years now my files have been going away – to the Archiv Sohm, for about 1972 to 1989 to the Jean Brown Archive, and from then till now the Getty Center in Santa Monica, California.

I don’t think it makes sense for a private individual to have a closed archive if such a person is going to present a face to the world. I have read that Yoko Ono founded Fluxus, and I have seen that quoted as a fact many times. One critic or student picks up errors from the one before. I don’t know where that “fact” came from. Yoko is a good. modest person; she was a friend of ours and she had done pieces which are very much part of the older Fluxusrepertoire. But she was not present on that November day of 1961 when Maciunas proposed to a group of us that we do a magazine to be called “Fluxus” and that we do performances of the pieces in the magazine; nor was she in Wiesbaden in September 1962 when we did those performances and the press began calling us “Die Fluxus Leute” – the Fluxus people. So while she, for instance, was surely one of the original Fluxus people, she did not found Fluxus. Well, if I am going to assert this, it is important that the documents of the time be available somewhere besides in my own files. Too, my writings are complex and full of allusions; this is not to create mysteries but to enrich the fabric and draw on reality. It can be useful therefore that my files be open to anyone who needs them, and this would be impossible if the files were here in my church.

Then there are other collections: from 1977 to 1991 I collected things related to Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), – apart from a passage in Plato’s Phaedrus, Bruno’s “De imaginum, signorum et idearum Compositione” (1593) has the earliest discussion I know of intermedia – but when Charlie Doria’s translation of this work came out (which I edited and annotated) I sold off all the Bruno materials I had. From 1968 to 1990 (about) I collected patterns poetry-old visual poetry from before 1900 – but that too has gone away, most of it anyway. I have collected almost all of the books written, designed by or associated with Merle Armitage (1893-1975), a great modernist book designer, and my biography of him, “Merle Armitage and the Modern Book”, is due out with David Godine next year. I will then sell that collection too. Perhaps it was a good experience acquiring these things, but that part is over now. Other collections have been given away. I collected a tremendous amount of sound poetry and information on it, meaning to do a book on the subject. But there was never money to do the book right. Perhaps that collection also should depart. There is too much art work by myself here in the church in which I live and work – it gets damaged because it cannot be stored properly. I would like to move to a smaller place, since I do not need and cannot afford this big one, and if that happens more things also go away.

There are some phonograph records, tapes abd CD’s too – too many to keep track of, some going back to my teen years when I used to spend the money I earned by baby-sitting on records of John Cage, Henry Cowell, Göesta Nystroem, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, Anton Webern and such-like. I suppose the only books which are also tools and (for me) reference work-books on design or artistic crafts (orchestration, for instance), Fluxbooks and Fluxcatalogs (I need to check my facts), books and magazines in which I am included (so I can tell where such-and-such a piece first was printed). As for objects, I care about my mother’s dishes and one table, but that is about all – the rest can go.

No, I am a temporary collector – as Gertrude Stein said of her visitors, she liked to see them come, but she also liked to see them go. I will acquire things when they are needed, but I need to unload them too. I have no right to own art, even by friends, because I cannot take care of it properly. It too must go. This church is dark with things, things, things – and maybe somebody else, somebody younger that I, might like to have them.

RJ : Why do you live in a church?

DH : I live in this church because, when I moved to this area from Vermont (where I had lived almost fourteen years, off and on, up near the Quebec border) I bought a house, garage and church complex. It had been “defrocked” by the Roman Catholic Church in 1974, its consecration taken away and the cross and bell removed, and it was sold to a couple who wanted it to become an antique shop. However there was no drive by traffic so they found that would not work. But nobody wanted to buy it from them. So I got it at a good price, as they say. My plan was to live in the house a modest parsonage, for my wife Alison Knowles to use the garage (where we set up a photo darkroom to be shared), and for myself to use the church as my own studio. For this it was fine.

But in 1985 when my finances began to collapse with the decline in the US art world, the rise of our Radical Right and neo Christian coalition, and with the Fluxus syndrome among exhibitors and collectors, I had to rent out the house to survive and to move into the church. It is a nice space, well suited to be a studio, but it is dark in the winter and is quite gloomy and expensive to heat. It has no doors so nobody is separated from anything else that is going on. There are virtually no doors to close, so there is no privacy. Sometimes I think I will go mad here. Maybe I have. I would love to move, but like the previous owners I would find it hard to sell and in any case I have no money to move. Next winter I may have to do without heat here most of the time unless things look up. It is a curious environment for an artist.

I often refer to this “Fluxus syndrome.” It is my term for a problem that I face. It goes like this. A gallerist, critic or exhibitor tells me “I like your work. I know you are a Fluxus artist.” Then they see more of my work and they compare it to the work of George Maciunas, whom they take to be the leader of Fluxus instead of its namer and, in his own preferred term, “Chairman” of Fluxus. They note that there are differences and they say to me: “But that work is not Fluxus. Do you have any Fluxus work?” I say yes, and I show work from the early sixties through late seventies. It still does not resemble the work of Maciunas. It isn’t usually even fun and games, which is what the public thinks of as Fluxus. So I am marginalized in Fluxus shows, or I am left out of other collections because “This is not a Fluxus gallery/museum show/collection.” The problem is all but unavoidable, and in vain can one point out that if Fluxus is important, it is because of its focus on intermedia, that Maciunas recognized this repeatedly, that he knew perfectly well that there was room in Fluxus for work which did not resemble his at all. If one says anything like this in public, it is taken to be a disloyalty to George or some kind of in fighting for prestige. I have sometimes been tempted to show my work under a false name in order to escape this syndrome altogether. But even that sounds as if I were ashamed of my Fluxus past, which I am not, even though it is not awfully relevant to my work since the late seventies. Also I still feel affinities to some of my Fluxus colleagues, though the work of others has, in my opinion, become repetitious crap. Many of my Fluxfriends could do with a little more self criticism, in my opinion. Fluxus also has its share of hangers on, people who were utterly marginal to the group and who kept their distance during the years when Fluxus had not acquired its present and perhaps false public image, but who are now all too willing to con their way into the list and to enter their colors for the next tournament.

RJ : This story about “Fluxus syndrome,” is quite interesting when I compare it to mail art. There is the difference that in mail art most artist try to avoid the traditional art-world, and there is even the phrase “mail art and money don’t mix” by Lon Spiegelman, that is used by others too. There are on the other hand also artists who say to organize a mail art show and then start to use entrance-fees and ask for money for catalogues ; try to ‘con’ people in the mail art network. What do you think of “mail art and money don’t mix”? I know it’s not an easy question to answer.

DH : Money and mail art? Money and Fluxus? Mixing? You are right, I can’t answer that one easily. Certainly if somebody got into mail art (or Fluxus) as a means of advancing his or her career- “Gee,” says the dork, “ya gotta get inta as many shows as possible, I was in thirty-two last year and here’s the catalogs to prove it,” -he or she would swiftly learn that is not what the field is for. Rather, its purpose is to combat alienation, and that is only in some respects an economic problem. Mail art has tremendous disruptive potential (and even some constructive social potential), as I described in my story about Polish mail artists and the East German bureaucrat. And it has great community-building power – even my hypothetical dork can say” “Wow, I got friends all over, from Argentina to Tooneesia.” But I must make a confession: I have probably seen forty or fifty actual exhibitions of mail art, and NOT ONE OF THEM was interesting to see. There were good things in each of them of course, but the effect of looking at them was weak. Why? Because they did not reflect the function – they always treated the sendings as final artifacts (sometimes ranked according to the prestige of the artist). But mail art pieces are virtually never final artifacts – they are conveyors of a process of rethinking, community-building and psychological and intellectual extension. Thus it is, I think, a distortion to think, of mail art as a commercial commodity of any kind. Because it is typically modest in scale usually and it is usually technically simple, the finest piece may come from the greenest, newest or the least skilled artist. There is no rank in mail art so long as the artist thinks and sees clearly.
Nevertheless, the issue of money is one which must be faces. Lack of it can ruin your capability for making mail art, for one thing. When the heat is gone and you can’t afford to go to the doctor, it is very hard to focus on making this collage to send away, even though one knows that do so would bring great satisfaction and comfort. Yet the mail art itself is not usually salable, and nobody gets a career in mail art. One is free to be capricious, as I was circa twenty-odd years ago when I spent two months corresponding only with people whose last names began with M. It is not, then, so much that mail art and money do not mix but that mail art simply cannot be used to produce money, at least not directly, – which is not to say that one mail artist cannot help another. Obviously we can and do. I remember when Geoffrey Cook, a San Francisco mail artist, undertook a campaign through the mail art circuit to free Clemente Padín, the Uruguayan mail artist (among other things) who had been jailed by the military junta for subversion. It worked. And many is the mail artist who, wanting to see his or her correspondent, finds some money somewhere to help defray travel costs and such-like.

With Fluxus, the issue is different. Fluxart has in common with mail art its primary function as a conveyor of meaning and impact. But Fluxworks are not usually mail art and do not usually depend on a network of recepients. Some are enormously large. Some take large amounts of time to construct, some are expensive to build and so on. Given this, issues of professionalism arise which are not appropriate to mail art. If I insist on making my Fluxart amateur and to support myself by other means, I may not be able to realize my piece. I am thus forced at a certain point in my evolution to attempt to live form my art, since anything else would be a distraction. I must commercialize the un-commercializable in order to extend it to its maximum potential. What an irony! It is, I fancy (having been in Korea but not Japan), like the expensive tranquillity of a Zen temple in contrast to the maniacal frenzy of Japanes commercial life outside it. Peace becomes so expensive one might imagine it is a luxury, which I hope it is not. So one is compelled to support it.

The difference is, I think, that commercial art supports the world of commodity; Fluxus and other serious art of their sort draws on the world of commerce for its sustenance but its aim lies elsewhere – it points in other directions, not at the prestige of the artist as such (once someone once tried to swap, for a book by Gertrude Stein which he wanted, two cookies which Stein had baked, then about twenty-two years before) and certainly not at his or her ego in any personal sense (John Cage musing at the hill behind his then home, “I don’t think I have done anything remarkable, anything which that rock out there could not do if it were active”). One must take one’s work seriously, must follow its demands and be an obedient servant to them: nobody else will, right? If the demands are great and require that one wear a shirt and tie and go light people’s cigars, then out of storage come the shirt and tie and out comes the cigar-lighter. That is what we must do. But we do not belong to the world of cigars; we are only visitors there. It is a liminal experience, like the shaman visiting the world of evil spirits. We can even be amused by the process. Anyway, that’s my opinion.

RJ : Some mail artists say that the mail art network is more active than before. Others say that mail art is history because almost all the possibilities of the traditional mail have been explored, and that all the things that are happening now in mail art, are reproductions of things that happened before. Is mail art a finished chapter?

(Santayana born today (1863) and Jane Austin too (1775)

DH : Well, I think both sides are right. Mail Art is more active than before if more people are doing it. Of course, for those of us whose interest in exploration I am glad they are doing it even though I see no need to do it AS SUCH myself. Mail Art is [only?] history if all the possibilities have been explored yes, if one’s job is to explore things only formally. Of course I love history without it I never know what not to do. For me this last assumption is therefore right so far as it goes, but it does not go very far. Why should we assume that doing something once means it need not be done again? That is what I call the “virgin attitude,” fine for people who are hung up on sleeping with virgins but a dreadful idea if it is really love that you want. Aren’t you glad that Monet painted more than one haystack or waterlily painting? Don’t you have a food recipe which you would hate to change? A “finished chapter?” That has even more problematic assumptions.

After all, a chapter in a book (including the Book of Life) involves reading, and the best books invite reading more than once. Isn’t reading as creative as writing?

Mail Art is, in my opinion, not a single form. I am not much of a taxonomist someone else can decide how many forms it is, can classify and sort it out. What I know and have said in this interview is that Function precipitates Form. So long as new uses for Mail Art can appear, new forms are likely to arise. Just for instance e mail letters and magazines are relatively new. The ways we can use them have not fully revealed themselves. The politics of this world are as fouled up as ever; perhaps there are mail art methods (including e mail methods) which can be used to help straighten things out or at least point to the problems in a startling or striking way. No, I think mail art may be history it has been with us at least since Rimbaud’s burnt letters but only a Dan Quail (a proverbially obtuse right wing politician here) would say, as he did in 1989, that “History is Over!” And as long as there are people artists living alone here and there, confronted by problems (professional, formal, human or social), Mail Art is likely to have a role to play in helping to alleviate those problems. What we must not do is allow ourselves to take ourselves too seriously tendentiousness is a natural health hazard for the mail artist. The freshness and unpredictability of the medium are part of why, if mail art works at all, it really does. Just as we must always reinvent ourselves, according to whatever situations we find ourselves in, we must always reinvent our arts. And that includes mail art.

RJ : Well, this is a wonderful moment to end this interview. I want to thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts.


mail-interview with Daniel Plunkett – USA


41 – unfinished

Started on: 19-05-1995

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 7-10-1995 (internet)

DP : Ruud ‑ I thought I had sent this off already, but looks like I didn’t. Anyway ‑ I started becoming involved in mailart via cassette trading during the late 70’s. After the punk explosion there were lots of people trading tape letters, compilations, music, sounds etc. on tape. And from this network I started to receive news about mailart shows etc. So one day I just sort of started into it all, not knowing what I was getting in for! Each week would bring in new mail, artwork, and contacts which has continued today. I was already a big letter writer and wrote to several “pen pals” already, and to me mail art was great as I could now write people that were interested in some of the same things as I was, plus it was always exciting to see what arrived in the mail. Ok, well that is a brief answer anyway!

RJ : Most people know you from you magazine N D. When did you start that and what is the magazine about?

Reply on 10-10-1995 (internet)

DP : The first issue of N D appeared in 1982. At first it was planned that artists, musicians, etc would each send in a page of artwork or information. The first issue was mostly that; different pages of artwork from various networkers. Then beginning with N D 2, I did a couple of interviews (one with filmmaker Kurt Kren) and included those, along with a few reviews of magazines and audio releases. The magazine started out as a contact resource for mailart shows, audio projects and addresses.

Each issue has been the same kind of format with interviews, and then as much information and reviews as possible. So basically it started out as a networker tool, and still is, but probably now there is more focus on the interviews and trying to provide a history behind some of the artists.

I started the magazine with a lot of the ethics and rules that have been on‑going withing the mailart world, by that I mean I would mention every thing that was sent in, everyone would receive a copy etc. But now, that has proved impossible, otherwise each issue of N D would be 2500 pages! We still cover a large majority of what we get in the mail (cassettes, shows, etc) but we simply dont have the time or room to mention it all.

Plus there are other excellent resoures such as Global Mail and Factsheet Five that are exhaustive in what they cover.

RJ : Is almost all the mail art you do connected to your magazine N D, or did you organize some other projects too?

Reply on 17-10-1995 (internet)

DP : Well, more and more over the years the mail art I do is connected with N D. Either by mailing the magazine to shows, or using the magazine to cover interviews and articles on mailart. The lines get pretty blurred anyway, it all becomes one on‑going project. We did organize a show a few years back called “Undercurrents” which was a month long exhibition at a local museum. This was an exhibit of over 1000 cassette tapes from around the world, and we organized it in many ways like a mailart show. We tried to present a rough histoy of the cassette network since the 70’s and we also had guest speakers (John Held Jr, and Robin James) and artists who performed during the event. So although we focused on the cassette medium ‑ we tried to connect it to the larger networker activity going on too. Other projects we have done have been a couple of exhibitions of visual artists, performance art exhibition and events, and several concerts of touring musicians and groups.

RJ : Why and when did you start to use the e-mail for your communication?

Reply on 15-7-96 (e-mail)

DP : I started using email a little over 2 years ago now. I had been introduced to it before, but always sort of avoided it ‑ just what I needed was more mail! But actually it has worked out well. More and more people that I know have email accounts and it is a quick and cheap way to stay in touch. Also it has been interesting to see people discover all of this kind of underground activity via the net. People that would never really come across this world unless they wrote letters, found a magazine at a shop, etc.

So anyway, I just started using email once I finally felt “oh well, what the hell” and have slowly jumped into it. Of course, Michael Northam should be given credit for giving me the push to get the nd.org site set up and also he is the one who has designed the N D webpages.

RJ : You new N D #20 is about to come out. How does the process go of finishing one issue? Is there a fixed concept or is every new magazine a completely different undertaking?

Address mail-artist:

Daniel Plunkett – ND
P.O.Box 4144
AUSTIN , TX 78765

mail-interview with Clive Phillpot – UK



Started on 26-05-1997

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 28-8-97

CP : Dear Ruud: I guess I got involved in 1972 when I started writing a column in Studio International , the London art magazine. I was supposed to review things that nobody else reviewed – like exhibition catalogues , magazines , artist books , etc.

In the first column I mentioned Thomas Albright’s two articles on ‘Correspondence Art’ in Rolling Stone , also in 1972.

Slowly, in 1972 + 1973, I began to hear from the L.A. Artists’Publication , File Magazine , the Fluxshoe people , the Bay Area Dadaist / Dadaland , Ecart , and received mail art pieces as well as publications from them…….

RJ : Was this also the moment you started to consider yourself a ‘mail artist’?

reply on 10-9-1997

CP : Aha! Mail artist! I don’t think that I have ever consider myself a mail artist. I have corresponded with many mail artists, but usually about mail art. Though now & again I would correspond with something other than the regular letter. (I have responded to a few calls for mail art exhibitions…..)

The closest I might have come to this desciption might be as a sparring partner for Ray Johnson, mostly in the late eighties + early nineties. He kind of nudged me into mail art responses to his mail art.

RJ : The term ‘sparring partner’ is interesting. What kind of ‘punches’ did Ray send to you?

next answer on 22-9-1997

CP : Given your reaction, perhaps a boxing metaphor was not exactly right. What I had in mind by ‘sparring partner’ was along the lines of a champion needing lesser lights to keep him sharp and in shape – even if they couldn’t keep up with him over ten rounds. Sometimes , in sparring with Ray, I might raise my game to his level – other times not.

RJ : Maybe my question wasn’t specific enough either, With ‘punches’ I was actually asking for maybe a few examples of some ‘correspondances’ you had with Ray.

next answer on 1-11-1997

CP : OK, here’s one where I came off quite well. At some point, on the phone, Ray asked me if I knew who Anna May Wong was? Perhaps he had included an image of her in a mailing? I said I had no idea. He told me she was a 30’s (?) movie star.

After that Ray would refer to her – in mailings , or in conversation – because of my ignorance.

Then a while later, in 1992, he sent me a mailing of a bunny head with the words Anna May Shun in it, plus the question: “Who is Anna May Shun?”

I let the question run round my head for a day or two, then responded with a sheet on which I stuck a xerox of a photo of Chou-En Lai – with some additions – and the phrase: “Anna May Shun is the half-sister of Chou-En Gum!”

In the next mail I got a sheet with two bunny heads + a self-photo of Ray. The heads said: Judy Garland (upside down!) and Chou-En Gum! There was also a note telling me to call him about this. When I did, I asked him why he had put Chou-En Gum with Judy Garland? He said it was because Judy Garland’s real name (or her sister’s?) was Frances Gumm!!!

RJ : Ray was always interested in the names of movie stars and played a lot with names and images. Do you know where the use of the ‘bunny’ originated from?

next answer on 19-11-1997

(With the written answer Clive Phillpot sent a copy of the text he wrote for the catalog of Ray Johnson’s exhibition at the Goldie Paley Gallery at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia – Pennsylvania in 1991 , which contains a very good list of principal sources).

CP : No, I can’t remember Ray ever explaining their origins. In one sense , they just grew. When I was working on the catalog of Ray’s 1991 exhibition in Philadelphia, I assembled an evolutionary chart – derived from the letters in the 1976 North Carolina Museum publication.

He did tell me once that when he signed a letter with a bunny head, it was a self-portrait. But when others drew his bunny-heads, they became their self-portraits.

Then there was another shift at the end of the eighties, when the black scared-looking-bunny-heads began to include people’s names within their outlines. These heads have now become a kind of Ray Johnson icon.

RJ : In the beginning of the interview you mentioned that in 1972 you started with reviewing artists’ books. At the moment you are even lecturing about artists’ books. What is so fascinating about this form of art?

next answer on 1-12-1997

CP : The other worlds that books contain are fascinating – these worlds can be conjured up through words or images or both. And sometimes such books are visual, or verbi-visual, works of art.

The idea that some books can be hand-held movies also appeals to me, as well as the book as a random-access artwork.

Thinking about books as art in the context of mail art , I would say that their similar non-institutionalization is also appealing. For me, the multiple – usually printed – artists’ books are most interesting because they are conceived to be disseminated to a wide audience. Also books printed in editions can slip into bookstores very easily, but surprise people browsing because of their often unusual content.

RJ : You were the Director of the Library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where there are lots of artist’s books as well. Do they also have a mail art collection?

next answer on 17-12-1997

CP : Yeah – that’s right. I had the pleasure of buying the Franklin Furnace artist book collection just before I left the USA and leaving it to be merged with the one I built from 1977-1994.

As for mail art in the library, there is some. For example, there are a few pieces from Ray Johnson that go back a bit. (He wrote to many of the curators over the years, and some of them passed pages, etc. , on to the library). But on the whole there is not a lot particularly because I thought it more appropriate for the library to be collecting documentation (as well as multiple art , like artists’ books).

So I bought a fair number of catalogues of mail art exhibitions, plus a lot of artist magazines, some of which were related to mail art. Of course, Ray Johnson managed to subvert all this :-

We had worked together on a little book during 1986-88 which was published by the Nassau County Museum in Long Island. After this, when I was writing a piece about him for the Philadelphia exhibition, he suggested that he create a book which would be made up of 26 parts (chapters?) , each of 26 pages, + that he would send me a few pages at a time through the mail.

In due course this is what happened – in 1990. Before the book petered out in the summer, I received about 50 pages at the library – of “A Book About Modern Art” – plus some short sequels.

This book is quite unique – so it went against my normal policy for mail art + for artists’ books! Trust Ray to be different.

RJ : I think that – unlike Fluxus – mail art is still quite unknown in the “official” art world. Is this true and will it stay like that?

next answer on 11-2-1998

CP : Yes, I am sure it is – in the official sense. But, on the other hand, Ray – who I keep coming back to (as my exemplar) – sent his mailings to so many critics , curators , directors & trustees of museums, that even if they could not recognize it , they experienced mail art.

I think that mail art will surface in museum exhibitions occasionally. When Ray gets the big retrospective that he deserves, surely mail art will become visible then?

But we must not forget that even as far back as 1970 , mail art was featured in a major museum , the Whitney Museum of Modern Art , thanks to Ray and to Marcia Tucker!

Perhaps a more important question is whether the acceptance of mail art by the “official” art world would be a good thing or a bad thing? Is mail art not more intersting as a personal expression in a guerilla relationship with museums? Museum shows might coopt mail art? Kill it?

RJ : Yes, you might be right there. I must confess that when I visited mail art exhibitions in galleries or museums (especially the postal museums DO exhibit nowadays) I was always more interested in the visitors (sometimes only mail artists….) than in the exhibited mail art. Did you also meet some of the mail artists you were in correspondence with?

(It took some time before I heard from Clive again, so I sent him another copy of the question. It turned out he had moved to another address)

next answer on 24-11-1998

CP : Yes, I did. Inevitably most were from New York and the East Coast; people such as Buster Cleveland, Carlo Pittore, and Crackerjack Kid, but also FaGaGaGa, Steve Perkins, and John Held. Plus artists from abroad such as Ulises Carrion.

Then there are all the fluxus artists. I have met most of them – except for three of the best, George Maciunas, George Brecht and Robert Filliou.

And one time, 1992 I think, I kinda hosted a congress that started at the Museum of Modern Art and finished at the Hilton Hotel in mid-town Manhattan, especially for Angela and Peter Netmail.

RJ : You mention both Fluxus-artists and Mail-Artists. Is the connection really that strong as some Mail-Artists like to make it?

next answer on 04-01-1999

(with the answer Clive Phillpot sent me a brochure of the exhibition “Artist/Author Contemporary Artists’Books” , an exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts at several locations during 1998 and 1999 in the USA. In the brochure there was a text by Clive Phillpot: “A Concise History Of Artists’ Books”. Together with Cornelia Lauf he curated the exhibition).

CP : Well, when I think of Fluxus I don’t think of Mail-Art (except perhaps for the stamps of Georg Maciunas and Bob Watts), but when I think of Mail-Art I do think of Robert Filliou and George Brecht, of correspondence, and of their origination of the idea of “The Eternal Network” in 1968.

The postal system was vital to Fluxus as the principal means for distributing their art, but I don’t think that this means that they necessarily created Mail-Art. Fluxus is much more relevant to the histories of the multiple and performance. However, I think that Ben Vautier’s ‘Postman’s Choice’ postcard is a Mail-Art classic.

RJ : Are there more “Mail-Art classics” you remember right now?

next answer on 2-2-1999

CP : One that I think of as a classic, was something from Ray Johnson to me. I would guess that it wasn’t the first – or last – time that he used the idea, but, as ever, he responded specifically to the occasion.

In 1987 Ray asked me to join him is documenting a performance that he had done at the Nassau County Museum just outside New York. He told me about the event, showed me photos, and suggested that I ask him some questions. later I did just this, and sent him some questions in the mail. He responded subsequently with what seemed to me to be nonsensical answers. I had to admit to him on the phone that I didn’t understand his response.

The next thing that happened was that I got a piece of paper folded like a kid’s airplane in an envelope from Ray. On unfolding the plane, I found that it was a photocopy from a book on Picasso’s work. Ray had underlined odd passages, thereby revealing to me the origins of his mysterious answers. (Though not exactly what he had meant by them.)

Then a week or so later I got a letter in the mail that had been sent to “Monsieur Picasso” at an address in Paris. It was inscribed “inconnu” and stamped “return to sender” (in French). The reason why I got it – since I never sent a letter to Picasso, even when he was alive – was that the return address in the top left corner of the envelope was MINE!

I guess it’s an old trick. But a neat one. A letter sent from Long Island had been sent on a long journey via Paris to me in New York, thanks to the efficiency of the post office, and the kindness of the people now living at Picasso’s old address.

I was very amused by Ray’s manoeuvre. But the final piece of my story took me several more weeks to unravel.

Some time later I looked again at the xerox from the Picasso book. Then the penny dropped. The work illustrated was a cubist work of 1912 entitled “The Letter”. But even through the fragmented plane of the painting I was able to make out that the painted letter was addressed to “Monsieur Picasso” at the very same address to which Ray had despatched his letter for me!

I am so glad I got to know Ray.

RJ : Did you save the items you received from Ray or are they in some kind of archive?

(Clive Phillpot’s answer came after a few months because he was in New York, to give a lecture on artist books at the New York Public Library.)

next answer on 18-5-1999

CP : Yes, I have saved everything Ray sent me, from 1981 to late 1994 a few months before his suicide. They are part of my own archives. I also have notes of his phone calls over many years – I still need to transcribe and expand these…..

As well as sending things to me personally he also sent a few things to me especially for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, with specific instructions that they were for the Library collections. He even asked me to send him letters confirming that these pieces were safely in the Museum. The principal piece was the Book About Modern Art, which was made up of several mailings of three or four sheets each.

RJ : You mentioned your Archives. What do they look like?

next answer on 23-5-1999

CP : Well, I guess they look much like other people’s , you know lots of files. As for their contents and arrangements, I imagine that they too are not very different from other people’s solutions.

There is a section on my writing comprising typescripts and photocopies (plus all the eventual books, catalogs and magazines in my library). There are many files of correspondence with artists, and about art. Also artist files – which include announcements of exhibitions, press releases, cuttings and reproductions of articles, essays, etc. There are also some specific files on artist books, and about book artists. And as well as these art-related files there are some others on miscellaneous things, and correspondence from friends and relatives. And if you really want the nitty-gritty of their organization, I think most of these are organized by name and/or by date. (There are only so many ways to skin a cat.)

I suppose that I should add that I have discs that archive most of what I have written on the computer, plus some email messages.

RJ : Yes, that computer. Do you like working with computers?

next answer on 31-8-1999

CP : I like working with some computers. At home I have an old Macintosh; I really enjoy the simplicity and logic of its software. But at work I have a Windows-based PC. Ugh! I find it amazing that this cluncky software rules the world. Business has won out over technology.

Much as I enjoy computers, the thing that has really changed the way I work – and maybe think – is word-processing. In fact word-processing helps one to write more like one thinks. I can hardly believe that I once used a typewriter with carbonpaper, witeout, etc.

And almost as important as that facility is email. When I moved back to England I felt so cut off for the few months it took me to settle down, and before I set up email again. When one has friends – and work opportunities – in many countries, email is unsurpassed for keeping in touch, though there are still times when letter writing is important.

RJ : How did you become so interested in letter writing? Is it just connected to your work in which you communicate with so many different people worldwide, or is it the other way round? (So that you got interested in communicating worldwide through letter writing)

(It might look like a strange question, but I wonder because in my case I learned through my father -at the age of 7- the thrills of communications worldwide and because of doing the same stumbled onto the mail-art network)

(answer on 9-10-1999)

CP : I guess I always wrote letters to friends and relatives whom I couldn’t see regularly. Similarly when I moved to New York in 1977 the simplest way to keep in touch with people overseas, and across the USA, (since email was not an option) was through letters.
When I moved back to England I left a lot of friends in the USA, so letterwriting continues, and not just to the USA, plus a great deal more email.

Finally I think I quite enjoy the time one gives to thinking about a communication when writing letters, and to shaping the language of the communication. Since telephone, for example, is a medium for talking, this is a very different kind of exercise.

(because of a break in the whole mail-interview project, the next question only went out a long time later. Giving an extra time-dimension to this interview).

RJ : Was there anything I forgot to ask you?

(answer on 4-3-2001)

CP : Yes, you didn’t ask me about Solong

RJ : What would you like to tell about Solong?

(answer on 10-3-2001)

CP : So long it’s been good to know you! Thanks for the interview, I hope it will be useful. Cheers. Clive.

RJ : Thanks for the interview as well. The readers will judge if it is useful. I sure did enjoy it.

Address interviewed person:

3 Pevensey Avenue
New Southgate

Address interviewer:

Ruud Janssen
P.O. box 1055
4801 BB  Breda


mail-interview with Clemente padin – Uruguay




Started on: 3-12-1994

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: 31-12-1994

CP : My first experiences in Mail Art date from 1967 when with my latin-american friends Edgardo Antonio Vigo, Guillermo Deisler and Dámaso Ogaz we started to exchange our reviews : Diagonal Cero, Ediciones Mimbre , La Pata de Palo & Los Huevos del Plata (Diagonal Zero , Osier Editions , Leg of Wood and The Eggs of the Silver ) and our mail-art works. The Uruguayan review OVUM 10 published 6 post-cards with my visual poems in 1969. Later, in 1974, during the Uruguayan military dictatorship, I organized the First Latin-American Mail Art Exposition documented at the Gallery U, in Montevideo and I was editing the second epoch of OVUM, about which Géza Perneczky says: “The periodical and private publications that had midwifed in the birth of the network ( File of Canada, the American Weekly Breeder and Mail Order Art , Poland’s NET , Padin’s OVUM , etc ) displayed, to different degrees, motives that emphasizes the need for social contacts or were based on more commercial interests.” (A Halo, 1991, p.232). After the history continues…

(Clemente Padin typed his answer and made under the text a collage with some artistamps with texts like “Junio 1973” , “Zona Militar” , “Ay” )

RJ : The mail-art I have seen from you mostly has a political meaning as well. Did mail art have an effect on the political situation?

Reply on : 21-01-1995
CP : I am not sure but in my personal case the answer is: YES! You know, I was imprisoned for the Uruguayan dictatorship the 25th August, 1977 for my opposition to the military government. An edition of rubber-stamps and false mail-stamps denouncing the suppression of human rights and the death, torture and disappearance of many people opposite to the regimen led my incarceration and the sentence by four years for “transgression that hurt the moral and reputation of the army”. Also, for organizing the Counter-Biennal in front of the latinoamarican section of the X Biennal of Paris, France, curated by the Director of the Fine Arts Museum of Uruguay, in the fall on 1977. But an intense and supported mobilization of hundred and hundred of artists in the whole world freed me after only two years and three months!

Mail art (and the network) could have effect in the social-political situation because it is a product of the human work and reflects and reproduces the social relations. Like artistic product is specificly art, with a value in the market interchangeable by money (in our concept the value is high but the price or its expression in money is contemptible for the merchants). Like product of communication, mail art is inseparable part of the social production and it can not leave to express the reality but symbolically. Thus, mail art is a subliminal form of social conscience and an instrument of knowledge (like science). So, also, it can be a tool of change (or status’s legitimation) and transformation (or retrocession).

RJ : You call mail art ‘an instrument of knowledge’. After so many years of doing mail art, how would you describe the things you learned from the network? What does the network bring that you could not have learned in any other way?

Reply on : 14-2-1995
CP : First, it is an instrument of knowledge of myself. And the others. After, there are many things that you can learn by personal experience through networking. Network (and art) discovers dark and secret zones of our spirit an existence. Also, it brought us to understand the entangled of our present world. By means of networking we have learned what things like solidarity and true friendship are. Sometimes we can question and change indesirable reality. Only by networking the people know all the possibilities of the new instruments of communication that technology have putted in their hands. On the other side, art and network have discussed and anticipated the scientific knowledges like impressionists that discovered the corpuscular nature of light. It happens because artists that experiment with artistical supports or new instruments of communication also discover its structure and physical properties.

RJ : Can you give some examples of ‘new instruments of communication’ that you have worked with?

(On February 23th Clemente sent out his first E-mail message, which I read on February 25th. It was not an text-answer, but in a way an answer to my last question. Clemente has entered the Internet too. I sent him an E-mail reply to confirm arrival of his message and wrote to him that he could sent his next answer by E-mail too.

Reply on : 11-3-1995

CP : By a side the new instruments of communication work like tools of inscription: pencil, brush, chisel, etc. By other side they use different supports like paper, frame, painting, wood, books, etc. Now for the inscripts we use the scanner of the P.C. and like support of the Facsimile or the P.C. sconce or the modem. Before we use air or sea mail for communication between us. Now, we use the electronic space. Before we sent objects, post-cards, envelopes, letters, DIN A4, etc. Now we transmit electronic impulses and, in the near future, R-laser.

We know that the works are altered by the medium, because each medium has its own in-put and out-put, id est, its own codes of entrance and exit, included its own channel of transmission. All these items integrate the form of expression that determinate the form of contents inevitably. If you obtain a competent expression to a peculiar content, using the new instruments of communication, perhaps you gain an artistical message. Personally I have used fax and through a job-friend I’m trying to use E-mail. Also “new instruments of communication” involve all the last discoveries of the graphic industries.

RJ : Can you tell me a bit more about your first experiences with E-mail. To make the question more concrete I will send this question by E-mail and by the traditional mail on the same day.

Reply on : 2-4-1995 (by Internet) , 4-4-1995 (by snail-mail)
CP : A friend, from AEBU, is an associate of a database called “Chasque” and he consents the use of his e-mail to me. Finally, February 23th 1995, I did my first e-mail communication to Chuck Welch, Fagagaga, Reid Wood, Harry Polkinhorn and you. After Ashley Parker Owens sent me the e-mail directory from Global Mail. I also connected with Abelardo Mena from de Banco de Ideas Z de Cuba. In Uruguay there are only three e-mail services connected with Internet: the Republic University; URUPAC, a public institution belongs to the official telephonic service and RED CHASQUE (“chasque” is the ancien and primitive communication system between the latino american first people) depending of the private institution: the Third World Institute.

The first communication by Internet in Uruguay was the August 23th 1994, to the SECIU (Informatic Centre Service of the Republic University). You see, we are too young! The costs for transmission in minimum between 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and for nothing between 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. A Kilobyte received costs one cent and each kilobyte sent costs five cents of a dollar, but you must add the cost of the CHASQUE subscription. The first world sells us the computer technology, but also the rules of its use.

RJ : In 1986 you and others proposed the constitution of a Universal Federation of Mail Artists (see MA-Congress 86, edited by G. Ruch, page 50). Some years later I invented the International Union of Mail-Artists, as a fake union in which everybody could take his own role (see IUOMA-magazine, june 1991). Do you think that there should be some real organization for mail-artists or would it undermine the whole game of mail-art in which there are no written rules?

Reply on : 9-5-1995 (internet)

CP: The Institutions are born when they are necessary. Mail Art doesn’t need Federations or Syndicates for to act but the mail artists need institutions in particular situations of their lives.
Near 1986, almost all Latino america went out of dictatorships and we need to defend our rights. The unity of people was essential for to consolidate the reconquered liberty. Our Universal Federation of Mail Artists was defined itself “by the principle of freedom, justice and social solidarity” and was pronounced for “the respect of the human rights and for economy political according to the social interest”. Also it proposed lines programmatic action for to defend the interests of the mail artists in front of private and public institutions. Like you have said, Mail Art doesn’t need rules and, if you read the text in MA Congress 86, our proposal didn’t impose ones. Only it just joined efforts to struggle for our dignity, first like humans and second like artists.

RJ : Currently you are very busy with the mail-art project: “Jose Marti: 100th Anniversary” with an exposition for AEBU. Why did you start this project?

Reply on 11-6-1995 (E-mail) 15-06-1995 (snail-mail)

CP: If you see, all my mail art projects regard these considerations: join the people to struggle for their rights and demand situations political economics that permit us a peaceful life. It is the case of the “Jose Martu, 100 Anniversary”. He died liberating his country, Cuba, and he died raising the flags of solidarity and equality between men. Those are not only words. He really sacrificed his life for our rights. Not only he struggled against the spanish and north-american colonialism but, also for the elemental human rights, like to love, to eat, to work, to sleep, to be restored to health, to have two square meters of land for to be buried on, to have a roof … don’t have to struggle for the food with the rats like more of the half of the latino-american population. Jose Marti is not dead and never will he rest while there was anybody hungry on the world.

RJ : Is the project a succes? Did the mail-artists who contributed to the project understand what it was about?

Reply on 28-7-1995
CP : Almost all networkers that have participated in the Martí’s homage have understood his thought. For many people to convoke a mail art show over José Martí was a surprise and also an anachronism because the network don’t exalt the individualism neither the official history (always placed in hands of those who have the power). But to talk about Martí is not to talk about the past or the individual person but the heroic fighting for the liberty and dignity of the peoples, like him, 100 years old before.

To talk about Martí is not to talk about Cuba or “Our America” (as he called America Latina) but the whole world, there where there is an outcast or a starving man for bread and justice. I have rather chosen to evoke his gigantic figure in these critical instances for his small mother country and people, arbitrarily and unilaterally blockaded since decades by the largest economic and military power of all the times, as well as in these instances of sharp crises in our Latin America, where underdevelopment and neo-liberalism oblige to more than a half of our population to infraconsume and hungry.

I like his maxim “Doing is the better way of saying”, leaving to the rhetoric of words and symbols its mere role of being the frame of the action. During all his life Martí proclaimed his humanist thought and cultivated the essential values of life: equality, dignity and fortitude before difficulties, the total offering to just causes, love to his people and liberty, thirst of justice that admits no bribery. And network has understood it in this way, supporting this initiative in a great number with the participation of 315 networkers from 38 countries.

RJ : How do the Postal Offices in Uruguay look at mail-art nowadays. Is it different compared to the times you started?

Reply on 20-8-1995

CP : Yes, it is different. In 1967, when I started with mail art and when I was editing “Los Huevos del Plata”, generational uruguayan review, the post was costly. Nowadays, it is the same as in the countries of the First World. Also, we have the SAL service, more cheap but slow. I have a post office box that costs US$ 40,- each year.
In jail I knew the President of the Postal Union. He told me that in the Uruguayan Post Office there are always police investigators (civil policemen). He was imprisoned ten years under dictatorship because he was the employers representative (!). Now, I do not know if there are investigators but we know that the repressive apparatus from dictatorship was not removed in Uruguay.

RJ : In all the years you have been active in mail art you must have received a lot. Do you keep it all? How does your archive look like?

Reply on 13-9-1995

(by separate mail I received the beautiful catalog of the Marti’s exhibition with a large list of all the participants and some samples of contributions)

CP : In fact my first archive was formed by visual poetry since 1967. Remember that the visual poetry exhibitions in Latino American (that we called “New Poetry”) first were shown in Argentina by Edgardo Antonio Vigo in 1967, and after, in Uruguay, in 1968 by me. All these works from more than 400 poets (fonics, visuals, process-poets, etc.) were exhibited in the “Exhaustive International New Poetry Exposition”, at the Gallery U in Montevideo, Uruguay, 1972. After I packed it for an exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum of Santiago, Chile, directed by Nemesio Antúnez.

The ten wood-boxes with all the works were sent to the Chilean Embassy in Montevideo, in September 1973. But one month later, there was the Pinochet’s state-stroke and I couldn’t return to the Chilean Embassy because we had our own dictatorship in Uruguay and I was afraid for my freedom. So I lost my visual poetry archive. After my first mail art show in the exterior (the “Image Bank Post Card Show”, Vancouver, Canada, 1971, and the well known “Omaha Flow Systems”, Omaha, USA, 1973, by Ken Friedman) I began to organize the “Festival de la Postal Creativa” (“Creative Post-Card Festival”) in 1974 and I re-organized my archive. But, when I was imprisoned by Uruguayan dictatorship in 1977 I lost 20 suitcases with all the works and correspondence; letters and cards from Beuys, Ulrichs, Higgins, Friedman, Albrecht/D, Blaine, Carrión, Sarenco, Groh, Gappmayrs, Tilson, Dowd, Deisler, Zabala, Vigo, Ben, Garnier, Moineau, Filliou, Urban, Xerra, Jandl, Plant, Atchley, Davi, Det Hompson, Crozier, Nannuci, Miccini, Spatola, Gerz, Nichol, Arias-Misson, Kooman, Meltzer, Ockerse, Cook, Toth, Beltrametti, Ehrenberg, Varney, etc., etc.
After that, from 1983, whet I was re-born to art and life, I organized the “May 1st., Workers-Day” at AEBU, Montevideo and many other shows about freedom to Chile, Panamá, Paraguay, Nicaragua, against apartheid and United States Interventions, etc. All these exhibitions were donated to the social institutes that had sponsored them, like the “Uruguayan Association for Mandela’s Freedom”, etc. par example, the José Martí: 100th Anniversary” that I curated in this year was donated to the “Americans’ House” of Cuba, because José Martí was the Cuban National Hero. And so…..

Now, I am cataloguing and placing anything that I receive. My archive is stored in suitcases and is available for viewing and studying to all people. Also, I’m preparing slides and documentation for my periodical statements and conferences. In the future, I wait till somebody transforms my archive in a Latino American Networking Space for to preserve the memory of these years, so much rich and actives.

RJ : After so many years of doing mail art, do you see any changes that have appeared in the network over the years?

Reply on 1-11-95

CP : Sure! Mail never stops, always it is transforming. First, the beginning with Ray Johnson in the mid. 1960s with the sendings to his friends and the foundation of the New York Correspondence School. After the apparition of the first lists of mail artists by the action of Ken Friedman and others. The political and social situation of countries of the Third World and East Europe propitiate the birth of the network like an artistical resource for to surpass the isolation and the institutional arbitrariness through communication and interactivity toward freedom and dignified life. This part was studied exhaustively by Géza Perneczky in his book “A Haló”. We read: “Accordingly, the network started to expend around the year 1972 through the almost simultaneous emergence of the Image Bank in Canada, the File magazine and other pioneering experiments with international lists of addresses that involved the Polish Koksal Gallery, a couple of Czech artists and Clemente Padin of Uruguay.”
More later the new media increase extraordinarily the connections and the participants in network was more and more. Also the fall of the Berlin’s wall and the incorporation of new countries in mail art did that, today, there are hundreds and hundreds of exhibitions each year and the networkers sum thousands and thousands in all the world.

Now, we assit to the inclusion of the fax and e-mail increasing the interactivity between networkers and, also, to the growing mercantilization and institutionalization of the mail art. Money and mail art don’t mix: precisely, the force of the network lies in this norm. The theme is to maintain art in the area of use, and not in the area of the market or change. By now network only has value. It has not a price with search for profit or lucre, out of its social function like the market art.

RJ : I have noticed that some mail artists that are in the network for a longer time, build their own “correspondence school” and don’t always react to newcomers who try to contact them. One reason is of course time and money, but another is that they get tired of explaining again and again the concept of mail art and rather just play the game with old friends. Do you ever get tired of explaining what mail art is all about?

Reply on 27-12-1995

CP : (here, a memento for my old chilean friend, Guillermo Deisler, who died the fall of October 1995 in Halle, Germany).

No, I am not tired of explaining to all what is mail art and networking, especially to newcomers. They have in their hands the future of these forms of communication. The change and the transformation of the Network are absolutely necessaries to preserve the principles of the eternal communication. When the network stops, it dies and dissapears. For the newcomers, I have edited a small booklet about latino american mail art with exhaustive notes about mail art’s characteristics and I am answering all the correspondence that I receive (the money only does speed up or slow down that process).
So, it is impossible I can build my own “correspondence school” though I have my old friends, naturally, like Edgardo Antonio Vigo, Graciela Gutiérrez, Brusky, César Espinosa, Klaus Groh, The Barbot’s, John Held, Bill Gaglione, Geoffrey Cook, Blaine, Hamann, Polkinhorn, Braumuller, Hoffberg and many others.

RJ : The last networker we lost was Guillermo Deisler, as you mentioned. I also heard this news earlier from Birger Jesch in Germany. Did you know Guillermo for a long period? How will you remember him?

Reply on 6-2-1996

CP : Yes, I knew Willy postly from 1967 when we interchanged our publications “Ediciones Mimbre” and “Los Huevos del Plata” and our incipient mail art. Personally, I met him in 1971 during the “International Expo of Propositions to Realize”, in the CAYC, Art and Communication Centre, conducted by Jorge Glusberg. The event was curated by Edgardo Antonio Vigo. From that moment we were friends for ever. Guillermo was professor at the Visual Arts Department of the Chilean University in Antofagasta, a northerly city. During the state-stroke by Pinochet and the Chilean Army, in 1973, Will and his family had to escape quickly from their mother country. After a stay in Paris, with Julien Blaine, they established at Plovdiv, a Bulgarian city and, later they mover to Halle, Germany, where he died in fall, October 1995.

In my first public opportunity, at the beginning of the V Biennal International of Visual/Experimental Poetry, curated by César Espinosa in Mexico City, from 10th to 20th of January, 1996, I performed an homage to Guillermo, with a lecture of his poems and tales about our friendship ( I recorded when Guillermo sent me Bulgarian official stamps that I bought in Montevideo for financing the “OVUM’s” mail). I ended my performance, called “Willy, for ever…” showing the video of “Memorial America Latina” (Philadelphia, Penn, U.S.A., 1989) where it is possible to read, in the portals which closes the cemetery-memorial: “They have not died, they are sleeping and dreaming with the freedom”. Like Guillermo now.
I am organizing two events in homage to Willy. First: a great exposition at The Chilean University with his works, in the fall of 1996. I am asking the network to send me works, letters, postcards, or anything that is related to him. All the works will be donated to the Chilean University, and documentation will be sent to all. And second: a mail art show “Guillermo Deisler, our friend…”, without restrictions (no jury, no return, no size-limits), documentation to all. The deadline for this will be October 30th 1996. Contributions to both projects can be sent to my mailing address.

RJ : Well, I guess the interview is coming to an end. Anything you would like to say while you have the chance?

Reply on 4-3-1996

CP : Sure. Now, we assist to the globalization of the culture of the First World and the greater expansion of the transnational capitalism. This is meaning that our old cultures of the Third World are dissapearing because they are not equipped to defend themselves. If the tolerance before the multiplicity of focuses and expression possibilities as well as respect to the personality of the “others” through pluralism (social, politic, economic, ethnic, religions, cultural, sexual, etc.) are the irrenounce bases of network, then here is a contradiction between networking that aspires to the universality of communication and the small communities, indefensive and fragiles in front of satellites, computers and modem technology. We know that this signifies the expansion of a commercial culture (Coke, McDonalds, Disneylands, etc.) and not most communication and understanding between peoples. Marketing doesn’t care who you are or what your culture is like, because it wants to make everything everywhere the same for its good business. How could we resolve this contradiction.

RJ : Well, maybe someone out in the network can comment on that. Time to finish the interview so others can read your views as well. I would like to thank you for you time to do this interview, and I wish you good luck with all your activities.
Address mail-artist:

Clemente Padin,
Casilla de C. Central 1211,
11000 Montevideo,

E-mail : juanra@chasque.apc.org

Phone : 560885
Fax : 959417

mail-interview with Chuck Welch – USA

Mail-interview with Chuck Welch
(Crackerjack Kid)

About the interviewed artist:

Chuck Welch has been a leading practitioner of mail art since 1978. His first book : “Networking Currents,” (1986) is a pioneering text about mail art subjects and issues. Last year he edited mail art’s first “ezine” “Netshaker On-Line”. Currently, Welch’s Eternal Network Mail Art Anthology is being published by University of Calgary Press. Copies are available.

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

CW :My first exposure to mail art and subsequent participation is linked to the historic “Omaha Flows System” held at Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska and curated by Fluxus artist Ken Friedman. So my evolvement began in April 1973, but at the time I didn’t know that this major exhibition was the precedent for all mail art shows that followed. My active involvement in mail art occurred in 1978 when I began corresponding under the nom de plume of crackerjack kid. I chose that pseudonym because crackerjack is a well-known American phrase and is also a candied popcorn which contains a surprise in every box. I turned the candy box phrase to suit my own mail art objectives, “to place a surprise in every mailbox.”

In a paragraph I can best describe how I’ve come full circle in my mail art interest. My initial attraction to mail art is difficult to analyze. I must be crazy because I spend about $1,600 each year on postage, enough to buy a new powerMac computer. Who says mail art isn’t expensive? But the mail art form fascinated me not because of the media, but because the message is what bonds us all in a global community. You see, mail art crosses borders between individuals, nations and cultures and makes your mailbox a central grounding space for the merging of art and life. At its best mail art is open, honest, democratic and collaborative. At its worst mail art is selfish, petty, factionalistic and clubish. Historically, mail art has traveled an intermedia course that diminished distances between communication forms as divergent and different as copier machines and telecommunication. As the international post declines will mail art too? I think not! The spirit of mail art is already transforming as the ethereal, eternal network in cyberspace-what I’ve termed in my 1991 telenetlink neologism, “emailart”.

RJ :It seems that at the moment two networks, that have existed beside each other for many years, are gradually being influenced by each other. What can the Internet mean to mail-art and visa-versa?

CW :I developed the idea of Telenetlink in 1991 to explore how the on line internet and mail art communities might interconnect. That process is still evolving primarily through my widespread distribution of contact lists, but if mail art is a house and internet is the street, both forms will link in private homes and public spaces. In North America even the homeless have access to Internet through countless public libraries. The story is quite different in Europe where governments and industries must decentralize to join Internet. This means letting go of control, de regulating authority. Some experts say Europe is four years behind North America in understanding the potential of internet and Japan is almost without a clue. An interesting historical link exists between the internet and mail art and that occurred when pioneering mail artists quit the mailstream in the mid 1970s and created the first on line artists networks. Today, there are thousands more on line artists in North America than there are mail artists. Both communities will become acquainted and merge through Telenetlink. Then we’ll begin to understand what both communities will become to one another.

RJ :For me the internet with the E-mail and speed is still different compared to the mail art network because of the digital form. Digital art is just a fragment of the total art that is produced. Some say that the Internet is just another way of communication besides the traditional mail-,fax-, telex- and phone-networks. What is this potential of the internet in your eyes compared to the other networks I mentioned?

CW:To network or knotwork, that is the question. The message (emailart) and messenger (networker) are the medium, not cyberspace or snail mail. The emailartist is an invisible messenger who breathes the ether of cyberspace. The aesthetic of form in cyberspace is formlessness. Form is fluxed forever: time, speed, and distance are distorted, fragmented, diffused, and shattered. And, as if this induced anxiety isn’t enough, we can expect our notions of a virtual reality will continually change as technology transforms the tools at hand.

When you talk about cyberspace being primarily a digital experience, I would point out that Internet carries sounds, visual images, and motion through software like Macromind Director. Internet then, IS MAIL, IS FAX, IS TELEX, IS SOUND, IS MOTION, IS VISUAL IMAGE all wrapped together through the existing telephonic technology such as fiber optics.

Is this better than what traditional mail art offers? It isn’t a question of what’s better. Perhaps it is a choice, or preference we make based on what we already know. Cyberspace isn’t paradise, but neither is mail art. Both have major pitfalls and both share problems of community, of censorship, of systems regulating, controlling, and centralizing authority. Mail art networkers have grappled with these issues long before cyberspace came along. How can our experiences help shape and form new communication spaces? I think mail artists have much to offer as does cyberspace. Both forms will merge in the streets of networking. This is the inevitable future of mail art, whether mail artists like it or not.

RJ :One of the things you do on the internet is your magazine Netshaker, which I received through the net from you too. Does the concept from a e-zine differ a lot from the zines we know in mail-art? Does the e-zine bring new possiblities (or problems) besides the speed of sending?

CW:If concept includes the objective of building on line communities, encouraging collaboration, debate, presenting projects, etc., then my “Netshaker On Line” is almost identical to the snail mail version of “Netshaker.”. But as a networking tool, “Netshaker On Line has a much greater potential for reaching an enormous international on line audience with speed and with little expense.

In discussing “ezines” I want to clarify that this term is an invention of my own, an abbreviated form of “electronic zine.” Prior to “Netshaker On Line” there were no mail art zines on Internet, only formal “magazines” such as Art Com and Post Modern Culture. Part of the challenge of the Networker Telenetlink has been to lead the way in pointing out possibilities. The definition of mail art “ezines” will evolve as other mail artists experiment with the form. For now, it is important to start the idea of “ezines” moving. Now, I see that Mark Bloch and Guy Bleus have made their zines available over Internet. Vittore Baroni wrote last week that he would be going on line next Fall, so it is possible that his “Arte Postale” will go on line too.

Ezines are primarily text based rather than visual, but this doesn’t mean I can’t replicate visual images as seen in mail art zines. Graphics can be scanned, compressed, and transmitted over internet by GIF, an acronym for Graphics Interchange Format. How can you move a graphic image over the network?

Pictures can be shipped as ASCII text, but the recipient must have software on their own computer to put it in shape. Downloading visual images can be a boring, consuming process if you’ve got a slow modem, say 2,400 bps. rather than 19,000 bps. Plus visual images consume a lot of space on disks and computers. If your personal computer is directly linked to a mainframe, computer speed isn’t an issue. But quite a few artists like me are connected to mainframes with modems, and this is a problem because I can tie up my phone lines for one or two hours downloading a single photograph. These access problems will be solved as fiber optic technology evolves.

I think it would be a mistake to think that the ezine should function in the fashion that hands on mail art zines do. Mail art zines combine sound, vision, and touch with tangible form. Even the smell of fresh off set print has an appealing sensation that is first hand, and not simulated. Remember, I am a papermaker, a craftsperson who likes to work by hand. It’s ludicrous to think of taking a computer monitor to bed like you can a mail art zine.

Mail art zines appeal directly to our senses and there is nothing simulated or compromised in the interaction. So I think it would be foolish to expect the ezine to replicate this experience. But you must remember that mail art zines will not compete with the virtual reality of an electronic zine a magazine that can stimulate the senses with mixed media techniques combining sound, vision, and motion. I can present, for instance, an ezine snapshot to my readers of a group mail art portrait taken at Katz’s Deli in NYC. Readers can click any mail artist in the portrait and hear the actual voice of that person speaking. Or with buttons mixed with text, readers could click a button for a video clip of Carlo Pittore eating salami. The interactive play could be hilariously interactive, even inviting the reader to add on, splice in all kinds of outrageous information. Ezines will be entirely interactive forms available on internet listservs, the World Wide Web or newsgroups.

RJ :Yes, I know it is all technically possible, the things that you mention. But the computer-tools that the mail-artists have at hand normally aren’t up to it. An example is the TAM-Bulletin I tried to upload to the DDS-Unix server. I then found out that it doesn’t accept ‘extended ASCII-signs like : üüüéééééüüüüéé±ëéè (when you read this question, you will see what the computer has done to the signs), so on Internet I even have less possibilities at the moment compared to the BBS-services that I am used to work with. I still get this feeling that with Internet I’m back to basics as far as the E-mail is concerned. Internet surely needs some artists to change it. Maybe you can tell me a bit about the Telenetlink ’95? How is it going so far?

(As I expected the “üüüéééééüüüüéé±ëéè” -part of my e-mail got distorted into other signs during the internet-communication. Because of the EDI-protocols the extended ASCII-signs aren’t understandable for all participating hosts yet.)

CW :It’s a shame that you’re stuck with archaic protocol. Artists aren’t needed to change it, European politicians and businesses will be the ones to open the gates to Internet. As I’m writing this, European deregulation of telecommunication industries is ever nearer with preparation for full deregulation by 1998. French Telecom and Deutsche Telekom are planning an alliance with Sprint, a major U.S. long distance carrier. Italy’s Societa Finanziaria Telefonica per Azioni, otherwise known as STET, began talks with IBM last month (February 1995) in an alliance that could offer global internet connections to Europe. In the alliance with I.B.M. STET would provide specialized skills like transmission and switching. STET is also in the middle of a five billion dollar program to upgrade its lines with fiber glass cable technology needed for interactive television. This forthcoming deregulation in European communications is comparable to U.S. deregulation of the Bell System in the 1980s.

It isn’t true that American mail artists lack necessary computer tools to participate in Internet. Your statement relates more to European mail artists than here, but exceptions definitely include Guy Bleus and Charles François. As far as basic e mail goes, H.R. Fricker, and Clemente Padin have joined the Telenetlink and today Jim Felter from Vancouver, British Columbia sent his first email Telenetlink message to me. Many mail artists are finally coming online partly because the Telenetlink has helped create a cyberspace community that has spread the original emailart lists since early 1991. Just got email today from Judith Hoffberg, Robert Ashworth, and Ramcell, all online mail artists. My current Telenetlink Emailart Directory lists over 200 participants. Albeit controversial, the Telenetlink has challenged the larger snail mail art community with a call for direct interaction rather than more congress talk.

RJ :O.K. , lets talk about your book that just has come out. Tell a bit about the concept of it, and how it differs from your previous book.

CW :Neither “Networking Currents” (1986) or Eternal Network: A Mail Art Anthology (1995) are scholarly histories of mail art, although EN was published by a university press and “Networking Currents” was self published by me. I am known in and outside of the network as a mail artist and not an art historian. Moreover, my purpose for editing EN wasn’t to add to previous historical surveys of mail art.

In “Networking Currents” I discussed mail art subjects and issues with a pioneering focus upon the concept of networking and networkers. I have been told by some academic scholars that “Eternal Network Mail Art Anthology” is much akin to Robert Motherwell’s “Dada Painters & Poets.” That is, the EN anthology is more of an illustrated philosophy of mail art than a history book.

I think it’s unfortunate that few major mail art books have surfaced in recent years. John Held’s “Mail Art Bibliography” is a librarian’s tool to accessing rare mail art sources. Winnes, Wohlrab, Jesch and Huber have recently produced “Mail Art Szene DDR 1975 1990,” a focused book about mail art behind the Berlin Wall. And Peter R. Meyer recently co edited a marvelous catalogue/book “Mailed Art in Uppsala: Choosing Your Partner.” But all of these books including my own edition have been written by active mail art “insiders.” This can be interpreted as a boon or bane depending on one’s viewpoint about what constitutes “authoritative texts.” It is possible that EN will be an important sourcebook that will open doors to others where doors were once locked shut.

RJ :Besides the Telenetlink and your books you also used to make beautiful artistamps and handmade books. Do you still have time for that?

CW:Yes, in fact I collaborated from 1992 94 in person and by mail with Marilyn Rosenberg, David Cole, and Sheril Cunning in the creation of “Spring Garden Mail Art Installation Bookwork”. 32 signatures were made with my handmade paper as a support for painting, drawing, printmaking, collage, and readymade objects. All four of us worked on all aspects of the bookwork , first in a workshop at my home and then for a year through the mail. Our installation will be on display at the University of Nebraska’s Museum of Nebraska Art through September of this year.

Two months ago my handmade paper artworks (artistamps, etchings, and engravings) were displayed at Adirondack Community College in Queensbury, NY. I’ve been invited to exhibit my bookworks at Boise State University in November 1995 and also in Scarborough, New York.

I prefer creating artwork by hand and now that my period of writing about mail art is over for awhile, I intend to focus more on handmade paper artistamps and/or painting and sculpture. My M.F.A. degree work was in studio art at Boston Museum School and my creations were whimsical stamp machines, three dimensional handmade paper stampworks and paper pulp paintings. I don’t have a lot of room now for large work so I expect I’ll scale down to stampworks again. I have a handmade paper mill in my studio and some small presses for making intaglio prints.

RJ :It is funny you mention the fact that you don’t have a lot of room. Maybe this is the result of keeping all the mail-art you get. How is you ‘archive’ organized?

CW:Yes, my archive takes up a lot of space on shelves, in cabinets, in bookcases, and fileboxes. Having an organized archive has saved me hours of time searching for materials, but what hours I’ve saved have been spent organizing the Eternal Network Archive and I’ve been doing such with a Hypercard database for over three years now. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but the price has been a tremendous amount of time and energy.

I have sections of my archive devoted to Mail Art Projects, 3 D objects, Mail Art Catalogues, Zines, Books, audio cassettes, posters, T Shirts, Videos, Artistamps (The International Register of Artistamps), The Networker Databank, and Fluxus related materials. Files from 1978 1991 include numerous materials collected from old correspondences with over 300 mail artists from fifty countries. Those materials sit in eight large fileboxes and in a crammed closet I haven’t reached yet.

From 1991 to present I’ve assembled 145 catalogued folders, each folder representing a week of mail art. All of the items in these stuffed folders are recorded by the day, month, and year each arrived, ie materials arriving on May Day 1995 are tagged 050195. The database reflects this number and the last name of each sender. In an instant I can scan my files and tell you what mail I received on any day of the year, or I can reveal how much interaction I’ve had with other network friends.

Why do I do it? As a child I was a compulsive stamp collector. I loved making books, saving correspondences and drawings. I’ve always been a packrat and I know many other mail artists with the same proclivity. But collecting isn’t my passion! I collect mail art because have an abiding belief that what we and our network mail art friends are doing is important art in the age we live in. That is, to give our works is a radical act. Nobody else in the mainstream does that because if they did it would undermine the entire commodity art system. I don’t create mail art to collect it. My biggest love is giving my work to others and collaborating with other artists.

I stay on top of nearly all the mail art I get, so I’m never behind on the cataloguing. Last year I catalogued 1,500 pieces of mail art and I mailed out that much too. Sounds like lots, but I know of other mail artists who are more prolific that I. I spend too much money on mail art.

Somewhere along the line I’ll decide to quit doing this librarian’s work. I’m an artist and this is my first love, not bookkeeping. So if it gets to be too much, I’ll stop. I’ll know when that time comes. My publisher tells me that in the creation of “Eternal Network Mail Art Anthology” they amassed a huge collection of ephemera, more than any other publication they’ve ever produced.

From the investigations I’ve made about mail art archives, I’m certain that the Eternal Network Archive is the largest private catalogued mail art collection in the United States. The Networker Databank (in duplicate) collection alone includes over 2,000 networker congress items donated to the University of Iowa’s Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts Archive, plus records mailed to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

Because my space is limited, I’m selective about what I receive. I’m not very interested in picked over, rejected items that would have found their way into someone’s garbage bin. I do save, however, all mail art catalogues, videos, zines and artistamps that are donated to the Eternal Network Archive.

RJ :How do you archive your electronic Mail? Do you just extract the ASCII-part and save this or do you also collect all the ‘bits and bytes’ that come along with it?

CW:The electronic mail is filed (ASCII) on disk in chronological order by day, month, year, similar to the way I archive all my traditional mail art copy.

RJ :You say you do save all mail art catalogues. What kind of catalogues do you like the most?

CW:I like them all, really, but I certainly appreciate those with some effort and originality beyond the usual listing of names and addresses. Guy Bleus creates some of the most eloquent, beautiful mail art documentation in the network. His recent “In Memory of Ray Johnson” is a beautiful, lyrical work. Gianni Broi’s “La Posta in Gioco” (1990) is one of the most beautiful mail art show catalogues ever made, perhaps rivaled by Peter R. Meyer’s “Mailed Art in Uppsala” (1994). Andrej Tisma has a proclivity for creating wonderful mail art show documents too. His “Nature Gives” International Mail Art Exhibition Catalogue is a case in point.

I have about 300 mail art catalogues in the Eternal Network Archive. But there are another 300 mail art project documents too, and I like these as well, if not better than the exhibition catalogues. Some of the projects I’ve grown to love over the years are Pawel Petasz’ works, Edguardo Vigo’s international stamp projects, and more recently Rea Nikonova’s superb “Double” assembling projects. I love Mail Art Assemblings like Pascal Lenoir’s “Mani Art,” Baroni’s “Arte Postale,” M.B. Corbett’s “Tensetendoned,” Dirk Frohlich’s Buchlabor assemblings, Bruno Pomney’s “Lola Fish” also and many others.

RJ :Sometimes an organizer of a mail-art show makes a beautiful catalog and then offers it for sale to the participants. You surely know Lon Spiegelman’s views in the 80-ies, that “Mail art & money don’t mix”. What are your views? How are things in the 90-ies?

CW:The death of Ray Johnson, January 13th, 1995 has proven that mail art and money make a nice honey pot. Ray’s early letters and postcards can go for $300,00 a piece. In the last 3 years as many as five dealers have been selling mail art archival materials. It is mail artists who sell the archives so I think Spiegelman’s ism is hardly a mail art altruism. A myth, perhaps.

Italian painter Paolo Barrile invited mail artists to submit work to his “Earth Age Plastic Age” project and is now asking these participants to help pay for the catalogue book. I think that’s a cheap shot, paying for one’s book on the backs of those who submitted artwork that will be used. That’s not how I produced Eternal Network. All essayists received free copies. Eventually, those who sent artwork will get copies too. And it is very costly, we have given away nearly 20% of the edition!!! Maybe this is why so few publishers take on mail art books.

Barrile wrote to me that, “I haven’t any publisher, any sponsor, bank, collector, gallery behind me. He claimed a thousand reasons, including his high blood pressure, for not being able to afford publishing. My question is simple, why didn’t Barrile just be honest in the beginning and tell mail artists they wouldn’t get a free copy in X-change for their work. Honesty can be respected but Barrile went about it all wrong. He is as bad as the art system that juries artists by slide, charging them to help finance the show, and then rejecting their work. I hate this form of chicanery and it is a big reason why I left the art system years ago!

RJ :During this interview you managed to get you own homepages on the Internet and started the EMMA. In my eyes the homepages are a strange step in mail art. The sender is preparing something, but then the receiver has to reach out and get the homepages himself. The sending of information/graphics/etc. isn’t automatically there in homepages. The homepages look like a cybergallery but with a completely different access-level for all. What is the function of homepages for email-art?

CW:Ruud, I don’t know how many homepages you’ve browsed on the World Wide Web, but I will have to tell you from my experience that the sending of information/graphics etc. IS there on World Wide Web homepages IF the homepage creator provides for such access. Conceptually, EMMA pokes fun at the idea of museums, and since she is an electronic museum there is certainly more to her than looking at a cybergallery.

Home pages are powerful, interactive pages utilizing hypertext tags. Homepages on the World Wide Web require addresses as in traditional snail mail art. The World Wide Web homepage address is known as a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Without a URL there can be no homepage. As in snailmail, the address is the art. Placing a homepage on the Web is also like posting a message except the website can also be an interactive mailbox whereby viewers are given a window to create and transmit email to the website artist. In one sense you could call a website mail art’s new hyper media post office where the community can once again gather to exchange ideas, debate, gossip, greet one another, and co create on visual and textual art projects. Sight and sound are now possible points for real time interaction on internet websites. Websites will be wonderful mail art resource centers for community access in the global village.

I’ve created a cyberspace Artistamp Gallery as one of the rooms in EMMA and there I’ve posted an invitation to participate in “Cyberstamps,” mail art’s first exhibition on the World Wide Web. Artoposto has sent a stamp encoded as a GIF which I’ve decoded and placed in the Artistamp Gallery. Cyberstamps can be created on or offline, so I’m inviting all mail artists to contribute to the exhibition. It’s a great way to have your artwork shown to a huge international online audience. So send your stamps to Cyberstamps, PO Box 370, Etna, NH 03750, or as GIFS via email to Cathryn.L.Welch@dartmouth.edu. Deadline will be November 1, 1995. Oh yes, not having a computer isn’t an excuse for not entering!

Increasingly, you’ll be finding mail artists without computers gaining access to internet through those who do there’s the inherent generosity and goodwill among mail artists that will generate that possibility. The Electronic Museum of Mail Art, the first World Wide Web site entirely devoted to mail art in cyberspace, will be a forum, gallery space, and meeting place for all mail artists. At this early stage, I’ve used my website to help interconnect website artists, unix artists, and commercial internet servers. Current postings in the Emailart Directory alert online artists to the existing cyberspace (internet) community of mail artists (numbering about 200). My mail art website has since March, incited other online mail artists such as GeORge Brett to revamp their websites to include mail art. Mark Bloch just went online May 1, and James Warren Felter, a well known artistamp curator, phoned last week to say he would be placing a homepage on the web next month. Mario Lara, longstanding California mail artist, sent email today notifying me of his new online address. There are scores of North American mail artists linking to the internet every day. I think Telenetlink has been a good motivator for progressive mail artists who have taken up the Telenetlink challenges. It has created a great deal of controversy, especially as related in Gianni Broi’s new edition “Alternative Creativity and Human Values: Free Dogs in the Galaxy.” In that book, Broi comments that “the Telenetlink project by Chuck Welch can be defined as ‘accelerated conversion.'” Mail art in cybespace has broadened the horizons of what it means to be a mail art networker.”

RJ :I’m also very much interested in statistics. Could you tell me how much E-mail, snail-mail & visitors to your homepages you got in June. Which percentage of the mail did you answer or will you finally be able to answer?

(Besides this e-mail Chuck also sent a snail-mail with a sample-list of the e-mail he receives)

CW:Like you, I get a lot of junk emailart. I’d say roughly the same amount of worthless, thoughtless junk I get in the postal mailstream. I just don’t have time to answer anything that doesn’t show creative initiative, curiosity, or genuine person to person warmth and interaction. I love getting correspondence art, but so few send it. So what do I do with stuff I can’t or won’t answer? I put it in the trash can by my desk or the trash can icon on my PC.

How many visit me via email as a result of the Electronic Museum of Mail Art on the World Wide Web? There’s a way to tell at Dartmouth College, but I haven’t had time to check. When I arranged a website at Arleen Schloss’ May 20th exhibition at A’s Gallery (SoHo, NYC), “Hommage to Ray Johnson.” Judith Hoffberg emailed me that she helped many in attendance access my website “Tribute to Ray Johnson.” This emailart exhibition is still posted on the World Wide Web at the Emailart Gallery: http://mmm.dartmouth.edu/pages/user/cjkid/EmailartGallery.

Back to your question. I’d say I get ten emailart messages a day. Many contacts are in response to my website, my mail art edition “Eternal Network,” or to my own queries in cyberspace. In comparison, I get about six or seven pieces of snail mail each day. Today I got eight pieces of snail mail, half from Europe. I gotta tell ya, I can’t continue to pay the current postage rates. Just last week the United States Postal System hiked their overseas airmail rates from 50 cents per half oz. to 60 cents. Rates to Canada changed from 40 cents per half oz. to 46 cents. The cost of a postcard to Canada jumped up 25% from 30 cents a card to 40 cents. This makes my emailart a very competitive second choice to mail art.

Hey, I’ve got a new “Netshaker Online” ready for you. The current issue is about Clemente Padin’s work bringing Telenetlink to South America. Maybe I’ll have that issue to you by tonight. Just read your “Mail Interview With Rod Summers” and found one of your questions rather strange. You stated, “Last year Crackerjack Kid tried to start the TELENETLINK 95 project. I”m not sure if it really started or not. I was surprised by the question because obviously during the months that have elapsed in this interview, you’ve known all about Telenetlink. You have told me and written many times in your publications that you are a participant in the Networker Telenetlink 95. Are you, and if so, how are you helping to bring the Telenetlink concepts to the European mail art community? Also, when are you going to send me a “cyberstamp” GIF for Mail Art’s first online mail art exhibition?

RJ :Well, I will answer you questions by separate mail, but here is my next question for you. I know that some mail-artists sold or traded their mail-art archive to the postal museums. Do you think this is a good thing to do?

CW:I hadn’t heard about mail art archives purchased by postal museums. What parties are you referring to? Without knowing the names or reasons for those mail artists who are selling/trading their personal archives, I can’t make a judgment as to whether such activities are good or bad.

I suppose there isn’t much I can do if you wanted to destroy your own archive. There have been mail artists who have performed such acts. I once had a girlfriend I wrote to while I served in Vietnam. When I came home we dated awhile and months later broke up. Then years later I asked if she would xerox certain of my letters containing poems and drawings. She replied that her ex husband in a fit of jealousy burned every letter I ever mailed. I was outraged and felt that an old sacred bond had been violated by a stranger. Don’t you think that letters and art are gifts of the heart?

I guess there’s always the risk that some mail artists are not above ripping your heart out. Ray Johnson called last year complaining that other mail artists were selling his postcards for up to $300.00 each. He said, “They can’t do that, I want to stop it from happening.” I said, “You have two choices, 1) start placing copyright notices with each work, or 2) stop mailing art” What is left of mail art when it becomes a copyright? Where is the cutting edge at that point?

You have the right to sell my “gifts” if that is your objective, but anyone doing such is going to have trouble maintaining connections in the network. As you know, word gets out fast in the network. Of course, if you drop out of the network, what others think may not matter to you at all. I know a lot of mail artists who feel they have earned the right to sell their archives. Most everything in an archive was acquired through a great amount of personal cost in time, energy and finances. I’m certain, for example, there are some mail artists who are holding their archives like an IRA retirement account.

RJ :What will be the future of your archive?

CW:I have given away The Networker Databank to the University of Iowa’s “Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts Archive” but I will continue to maintain the Eternal Network Archive as long as I’m involved in mail art. At present it is the largest catalogued mail art archive in North America. As such, I hope it will become an important center for study and research to anyone interested in the role of the networker.

RJ :Well, I guess it’s now time to end this interview. Maybe there is something I forgot to ask you?

CW:Hey Ruud, you’ve got so many questions and I’ve got to go change the triplet’s diapers. I s’pose that’s a good enough reason to end the talk. Good luck with all your other interviews in netland and I hope other mail artists will appreciate the hard work you’re doing. I do. See you in the mailstreams (cyberspace & mail artdom).

RJ :Thanks for the interview!

mail-interview with Birger Jesch – DDR


Started on: 6-3-95

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: 20-3-1995

BJ : In the end of 1979 I began with mail art exchange. I did projects like “TARGET GUN PROJECT” with exhibition in February in Dresden and several other places. “PLEASE STAMP FOR ME” (on going project) with exhibition in 1982 in Dresden together with the “COLLECTIVE COLLAGES”. Further more: “IST ALLES NOCH BEIM ALTEN?”, with exhibition in Dresden (1983), “LIVE WITHOUT FORCE” (Homage to Wilhelm Reich) exhibition Summer 1983 in Dresden, “THE DARKSIDE OF YOUR MOONFACES” with exhibition in 1989 in Saßnitz, and “YOUR FAVORITE PORNOGRAPHY” (Commonpress 100) with exhibition in 1990 in Weimar and Halle.

For the East-German autonomous peace movement I gave mail art of my archive for several exhibitions in church’s (1981-1986). My address has changed (Dresden-Volkmannsdorf-Blankenhain). Abroad tourism to several other mail-artists and I had meetings at DNC 1986 (Praha and East-Berlin) and DNC 1992 (ZOO Antwerpen and Berlin). I was co-author on the book “MAIL ART SZENNE DDR 1975-1990” (Berlin 1994).

RJ : Has your mail-art changed a lot since the breaking down of the wall?

Reply on : 26-5-1995

(Because of language-problems Birger Jesh answers in the German language to my English questions, and I translate the answers into English language).

BJ : Since the vanishing of the DDR (East-Germany) into the structure of the ‘Bundesrepublic Deutschland’ (Germany) also the conditions for mail art have changed. There are economical forces like the raising of the rates of a postcard inside Europe from 10 Pfennig to 80 Pfennig, and outside Europe from 0,25 to 2,00 Mark (not counting the extra for airmail!) That makes it obvious that only well paid teachers from Germany are active in mail art. It is the reason why the once very active DDR – Mail art net almost broke down completely. The ones who remain must be real addicts!

The for DDR mail artists once typical political photo-words / collages as protest are not necessary anymore and are now done by Political parties which publish their views openly. Also there are now suddenly all technical possibilities like the copier and even the computer.

I probably won’t try to keep up with the possibilities of the E-mail network. The principle of the collage in the art since seven decades, will become more stereotype and standard. I wish to maintain in my mail a bit of my “handwriting”. In all mediums and artforms I see plenty of space to work in with the traditional forms.

RJ : You probably are a real mail art addict, because you started a new mail art project called ‘Gazetta’. Could you tell a bit more about it?

Reply on 24-6-1995

BJ : I was already thinking about “Gazetta” for many years. In the DDR, to which people from the western foreign countries couldn’t send their newspapers, it would have been impossible.. I remember that once for such a project (for the German-speaking countries) , in the year 1987 or 1988 I sent to Henning Mittendorf in Frankfurt/M an invitation with the copies for a newspaper project with the request to copy and pass on. He never received this package!

So finally I can realize my project and I am very curious how creative the participants will work on their newspaper. The exhibition during the 96′ Folk-Festival in the picturesque small city Rudolstadt, near the Saale, is also very exiting. First, because the thousands of visitors of the festival suddenly will be confronted with mail art. And also, because since the end of the DDR, the only small ‘Kulturbundgalerie’ in the city had to shut down and there are very little possibilities to exhibit.

The project will also be shown in the well-known Museum “Schwerin” , together with a larger exhibition about mail art (archive-material). The four initiators of the book “Mail Art Scene DDR” , Wohlrab, Eigendorf, Winnes and Jesch, will make the concept for this exhibition. And so we hope, that a deserved retrospective will be shown there.

RJ : Can you give me some more examples of censorship in the old DDR?

Reply on 9-9-1995

(After East-Germany was integrated with West-Germany and became one country, the documents of the Stasi, the State-security of East-Germany, were made available for research to the people it concerned. Birger Jesh therefore can tell about the things he found out).

BJ : I have now copies of the papers from the Ministery of Statesecurity (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit) and kan read which mail art activities were observed in particular. Is is very clear that in the 80-ies the normal artistic exchange wasn’t controlled. L’art pour l’art wasn’t interesting for the censors, when it didn’t attract to much attention openly. It were the themes of the alternative movement in Europe that were the aim of the officials.

Especially with the political themes like “Target-gun-project” and “live without force” (a homage to W. Reich) there were officials folowing the project. Also sympathy with “Solidarnosz” was looked at as a Stalinistic enemyview.

The ex-DDR Galarist and mail artist Jürgen Scheinebraden got for his project “Solidarity for Solidarnosz”, that he did after his move to West-Germany (BRD), also two contributions from the DDR – from Jürgen Gottschalk and me. This I can read from the official papers – also that the documentation consisted of a cassette I know now. The local chief of the SED, Modrow, got a copy about this event.

My first postcard-action was the sending of ca. 150 postcards (Photoprints of destroyed Dresden with a warning against the neutron-bomb). The Stasi recorded on 13-2-1980 precisely 73 postcards. All is documented in writing.

On 7-8-1982 till August 1983 I was on the “Postfahndungsliste”, so in this period every piece of post addressed to me was invested by the State-security office (Stasi).

In October 1982 I was interregated and the Stasi showed me confiscated postal pieces addressed to me. I was asked to give explenations and they told me: “Mail art is forbidden,” and I had to pay a fine of 500 Mark. In the same way they treated the Dresdener mail artist Steffen Giersch, and he became a fine of over 300 Mark. The plan of the Officials was, through different fines, to make the Dresdener mail artists mistrust each other. In the official documents I also found three postcards I sent out but that never got to the addressee. Another thing I found was a postcard I mailed in the year 1983, which I passed on again (after 11 year) to Ryosuke Cohen in Japan.

RJ : You have been active in mail art now for many years. Have you maintained in contact with the same mail artists as you started with? (I especially mean the ones from abroad).

Reply on 11-10-1995

(Besides his answer -in German Language- Birger Jesch also sent me the newsletter about his latest project GAZETTE, where he tells about the number of participants and mentions the first exhibition that will be held in July 1996).

BJ : This is a delicate subject! As you know, I have problems with other languages. At school we didn’t learn English but Russian language in the former East-Germany. Therefore I had the most intense contacts with German-speaking mail artists like: Volker Hamann, Aloy Ohlmann, Henning Mittendorf, Julia Barczyk (D), Martin Krist (A), H.R. Fricker (CH), Arthur Berkoff (Ne) and Gudrun Albasser (F). With these, in certain periods real intens correspondences, there were also personal exchanges which go further than the art-exchange. I regret it very much that I don’t have the energy to take an english language-course, so I can communicate with other interesting people in a more intense way.

After 10 year of work in the Network in 1990 I looked through my archive for the mail artists I came in contact with in the beginning. They were Lon Spiegelman, Pawel Petasz, Hendryk Bzdok, Robert Rehfeld, Robbert Filliou and Damaso Ogaz. With these last three names it becomes clear. The first generation of mail artists is saying goodbye. There are also others who I was in contact with, Mike Bidner, Joseph Beuys, Ulises Carrion, Achim Weigelt (Wermòve), Karsten Matthes, Slavko Matkovic and Michael Scott. The great historical figures G.A. Cavellini and Ray Johnson never answered my mail. Also there was the news of the death of loved ones. Lon Spiegelman mourned a long time for his dear wife Linda. In this year the mothers of José Oliveira and Dawn Redwood died. These messages show the need for trust and human compassion. Now Guillermo Deisler is diagnosed with the illness cancer, and I can’t find the right words to comfort him

That is how life goes. When I look outside the window when I write, I look at the cemitary accross the street. My contacts I usualy intensify with a project. I always invite the current contacts I have for the project and also try to participate in their projects. That gives a constant exchange with Vittore Baroni, Guy Bleus, Pawel Petasz, Ruud Janssen, Keith Bates, Guttorm Nordø, Ryosuke Cohen and G. Galantai. But always I tried to find new names to find new ways of expression for my projects. For the project “GAZETTA” I mailed invitations to 657 addresses, and 190 replies came back. This moderat feedback is maybe also the result of the expanding comminication-possibilities – in the quarterly published magazine &”GLOBAL MAIL” alone there are hundreds of informations about projects.

In the passing of the years the M.A. scene had several national highpoints. In the beginning of the 80-ies there was in the ex-DDR the most strength. From Italy there are from time to time unimportant xeroxes. Belgium has grown. In Denmark the names of the participants have changed and in Holland I miss some participants who were once quite active.

Many friends aren’t active in the mail art network – much energy was being used and one has to be a real addict to maintain active for many years. I have the catalogue “International ….. Fool” (1980) from the group “Le point d’Ironie” (Jaques Juin, Horus, T. Tillier) lying in front of me, and count the names of European participants. From the 89 mail artists only 22 are still active.

RJ : In the last years the use of computers in mail art has grown. What do you think of this development?

Reply on 12-11-95

BJ : First I have to tell you, that between our latest correspondence, in the middle of October, Guillermo Deisler died. The unvoluntairy departing in the network. In the beginning of the 80-ies he wrote me from Plovdiv (Bulgary) “Ich fühle mich hier fremd – ein Indianer im Paprikaland.” (I feel strange here – like an Indian in the land of Paprika’s”

But now to your question. Because of the generation I grew up with, I have difficulties with the world of keys, commands and pixels on a screen. I do however have respect for the possibilities they bring. For instance, today it is not necessary to make the layout of texts by hand when you have the textprocessor. A lot of expensive equipment is needed though to get a good result, and a constant need for energy (electricity).

Should I make fun of the possibilities that the “Techno-Freaks” tell us about? When comes the question how I think of the possibilities to do performances in space with the use of Spaceships? The futurists had their world-war!!

Human beings have – without technical means – a specific set of tools for observation. Different when compared to sharks, ants or even bats. I feel sometimes a bit alienated by the inflation of images and signals the technical means offer us.

A funny example of the expanding possibilities to express oneself is the Computer generated mediative 3D images. And so, also this medium will get its place in art history. But it will get the same place as the sculptor and the photographer.

Ruud, Maybe it is interesting to know how the culture of making assembling zines has developed in the ex-DDR?

RJ : Yes, it would be interesting. Tell me about it…..

Reply on 26-1-1996

BJ : In the former DDR there were no official publishing possibilities for artists and writers because of the state censorship. The printing houses were not alowed to print texts from writers that

(Answers by Birger Jesch came in German language and were translated by Ruud Janssen into the English language).

because of language problems I decided to make the interview completely in German Language.

Address mail-artist:

Friedhofstr. 15


Start 6-3-95

(The original question was written in english language, and Birger Jesh’s answer was a brochure which contained the english text that is printed after the first question. Because Birger can express himself best in german language I tried at first to translate his answers. This proved to be too difficult, and the result is now that the interview is published first in german language).

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

Antwort: 20-3-1995

(Birger’s answer was a short note written on his brochure ‘Gazette’, and stated: “my answer is short like my english” with an arrow to the answer).

BJ : In the end of 1979 I began with mail art exchange. I did projects like “TARGET GUN PROJECT” with exhibition in February in Dresden and several other places. “PLEASE STAMP FOR ME” (on going project) with exhibition in 1982 in Dresden together with the “COLLECTIVE COLLAGES”. Further more: “IST ALLES NOCH BEIM ALTEN?”, with exhibition in Dresden (1983), “LIVE WITHOUT FORCE” (Homage to Wilhelm Reich) exhibition Summer 1983 in Dresden, “THE DARKSIDE OF YOUR MOONFACES” with exhibition in 1989 in Saßnitz, and “YOUR FAVORITE PORNOGRAPHY” (Commonpress 100) with exhibition in 1990 in Weimar and Halle.

For the East-German autonomous peace movement I gave mail art of my archive for several exhibitions in church’s (1981-1986). My address has changed (Dresden-Volkmannsdorf-Blankenhain). Abroad tourism to several other mail-artists and I had meetings at DNC 1986 (Praha and East-Berlin) and DNC 1992 (ZOO Antwerpen and Berlin). I was co-author on the book “MAIL ART SZENNE DDR 1975-1990” (Berlin 1994).

RJ : Ist deine Mailart sehr verändert seit die Mauer weg ist?

Antwort: 26-5-1995

BJ : Seit dem Verschwinden der Ex-DDR im Gefüge der Bundesrepublik Deutschland haben sich auch die Bedingungen für Mail Art geändert. Es zeigen sich ökonomische Zwänge für Mail-Artisten, für die das Briefporto von 10 Pfennig auf 80 Pfennig, für eine Inland-Postkarte stieg. Die Übersee-Postkarte ohne Luftpost-zuschlag erhöhte sich von 0,25 auf 2,00 Mark. So wird jetzt verständlich warum vor allem gutverdienente Lehrer in Deutschland Mail Art betreiben.

Das ist ein Grund, warum das einstige recht aktive DDR Mail Art Netz ziemlich zusammenbrach. Wer jetzt noch übrig bleibt ist suchtgefährdet!

Die für DDR Mail Artisten einst typische politischen Foto-Schrift Montagen sind als Samisdat-Erzeugnisse überflüssig und werden jetzt von Parteien und Politischen Gruppen abgedeckt und publiziert.

Auch stehen jetzt plötzlich alle technische Entwicklungen zur Verfügung, vom Kopiergerät bis zum Computer. Für mich wird es wohl kein Hinterherschwimmen im E-Mail Netz geben. Das Prinzip Collage für die Kunst im 20 Jahrhundert, wird im E-Mail Network immer stereotyper und gleichformiger. Ich versuche in meiner Post noch ein Rest “Handschrift” zu bewahren. In allen Medien/Künsten sehe ich auch innerhalb traditioneller Formen noch eine Menge Räume zum arbeiten.

RJ : Du bist ja vielleicht richtig “süchtig”, weil du angefangen hast mit einem neuen Mail Art project GAZETTA. Kanst du etwas mehr darüber erzählen?

Antwort: 24-6-1995

BJ : Die Idee für “Gazetta” hatte ich schon seit vielen Jahren im Kopf. In der DDR, in die man aus dem westlichenAusland keine Zeitungen senden durfte, war das unmöglich. Ich erinnere mich, einen Entwurf für solch ein Project (für den deutschsprachigen Raum), im Jahre 1987 oder 1988 an Henning Mittendorf nach Frankfurt/M. zum Kopieren geschickt zu haben.

Er hat diesen Brief nie erhalten! Jetzt endlich kann ich das Project realisieren und ich bin sehr gespannt, wie kreativ die Teilnehmer mit ihrer Zeitung umgehen.

Die Ausstellung während des 96 ‘er Folk-Festivals in der malerisch gelegenen Kleinstadt Rudolstadt, an der Saale, empfinde ich als besonderen Reiz. Zum einen, weil tausende Besucher des Festivals plötzlich mit Mail Art konfrontiert werden – und auch, weil seit dem Ende der DDR, die einzige Kleine Kulturbundgalerie der Stadt schließen mußte und ein Defizit an Möglichkeiten für Ausstellungen bestand.

Das Project wird auch noch im renommierten Museum Schwerin gezeigt, in dem eine große Ausstellung über Mail Art (Archivmaterial) stattfindet. Die Aktivisten des Buches “MAIL ART SZENE DDR” Wohlrab, Winnes, Jesch, unterstützen dieser Ausstellung – und so hoffen wir, daß eine mediumgerechte Retrospektive zu sehen sein wird.

RJ : Kannst du noch einige Beispiele geben von Zensur in der ehemahligen DDR?

Antwort 9-9-1995

(After East-Germany was integrated with West-Germany and became one country, the documents of the Stasi, the State-security of East-Germany, were made available for research to the people it concerned. Birger Jesh therefore can tell about the things he found out).

BJ : Beispiele für Zensur? Ich habe mir jetzt einmal die Aktenkopien aus dem Ministerium für Staatssicherheit genommen und kann da nachlesen, welche Mail Art Aktivitäten besonders beobachtet wurden:

Es ist vollkommen klar, daß in den Achtziger Jahren nicht mehr der normale Künstlerische Austausch verfolgt wurde. “L’art pour l’art” hat die Zensoren Kalt gelassen – wenn damit nicht in der Öffentlichkeit überproportional Wind gemacht wurde. Es waren die Themen der alternativen Bewegungen in Europa, die den Behörden nahe gingen. So hatte ich auch genau bei den politischen Themen target-gun-project und live without force (Homage W. Reich) meine Beobachter. Auch wurden Symphatien für Solidarnosz mit stalinistischem Feindbild bedacht.

Der Ex-DDR Galerist und Mailartist Jürgen Schweinebraden bekam zu seinem Project “Solidarität für Solidarnosc”, daß er nach seiner Umsiedlung in der BRD, ausschrieb – auch 2 Beitrage aus der DDR – von Jürgen Gottschalk und mir. Das Kann ich in der Akte nachlesen – auch daß als Dokumentation eine Kasette erschien – weiß ich jetzt. Der Bezirkschef der SED, Modrow bekam von diesem Vorgang 1981 eine Abschrift.

Meine erste Postkartenaktion war das Versenden von ca. 150 Postkarten (Fotoabzüge des zerstörten Dresdens mit einer Warnung vor der Neutronenbombe). Die Stasi registrierte am 13.2 1980 genau 73 Karten. Es ist alles notiert.

Am 7.8.92 bis August 1983 war ich in der Postfahndungsliste eingetragen. In diesem Zeitraum wurde also jegliche Post der Staatssicherheit zur Kontrolle vorgelegt.

Im Oktober 1982 wurde ich vernommen und beschlagnahmte Postsendungen vorgelegt. Ich sollte eine Erklärung zu den Motiven geben und mir wurde gesagt “Mail Art sei verboten”. Ich mußte eine Strafe über 500,- Mark bezahlen. Der genauso behandelte Dresdener Mail Artisten Steffen Giesch bekam eine Strafe über 300,- Mark.

Der Plan der perfiden Behörde war, durch unterschiedliches Strafmaß, Mißtrauen in die Dresdener Mail Art Szene zu bringen. In den Akten fand ich auch drei Karten, die von mir abgeschickt wurden und nie ankamen. Auch ein Fotokarte aus dem Jahr 1983, die ich voriges Jahr (11 Jahr später) nocheinmal an Ryosuke Cohen abschickte.

RJ : Du bist schon sehr lange aktiv mit Mail Art. Bist du jetzt noch im Kontakt mit den gleichen Mailartisten wie am Anfang (Ich meine vor allem die ausländischen Kontakte).

Antwort 11-10-1995

(Besides his answer -in German Language- Birger Jesch also sent me the newsletter about his latest project GAZETTE, where he tells about the number of participants and mentions the first exhibition that will be held in July 1996).

BJ : Du legst den Finger auf die Wunde! Wie Du weißt, habe ich Probleme mit anderen Sprachen. In der Schule haben wir damals Kein Englisch sondern Russisch gelernt. Darum hatte ich meine intensivsten Kontakte nur mit deutschsprechenden Mailartisten: Volker Hamann, Aloy Ohlmann, Henning Mittendorf, Julia Barczyk (D), Martin Krist (A), H.R. Fricker (CH), Arthur Berkoff (NL) und Gudrun Albasser (F). Bei diesen, in bestimmten Zeiträumen, recht intensiven Korrespondenzen waren auch immer persönliche Dinge enthalten – weit über den Kunstaustausch hinaus. Ich bedauere sehr, nicht die Energie für einen Englisch Kursus zu haben, um auch mit anderen interesanten Leuten intensiver zu kommunizieren.

Nach 10 Jahre Arbeit im Netzwerk hatte ich 1990 im Archiv nachgeschaut mit wem ich zuerst in Kontakt Kam. Es waren Lon Spiegelman, Pawel Petasz, Hendryk Bzdok, Robert Rehfeld, Robert Filliou und Damaso Ogaz. Bei den letzten drei Namen wird eine Tendenz bewußt! Die erste Generation Networker verabschiedet sich. Es sind auch noch andere nicht mehr da, mit denen ich Kontakt hatte: Mike Bidner, Joseph Beuys, Ulises Carion, Achim Weigelt (Wermöve), Karsten Matthes, Slavko Matkovic und Michael Scott. Die größten historischen Gestallten G.A. Cavellini und Ray Johnson antworteten mir nie. Auch sind Nachrichten gekommen vom Tod geliebter Menschen. Lon Spiegelman trauerte lang um seine geliebte Frau Linda. In diesem Jahr starben die Mütter von Jose Oliviera und Dawn Redwood. Diese Mitteilungen zeigen ein Bedürfnis nach Vertrauen und menschlicher Solidarität. Jetzt ist Guillermo Deisler Krebskrank – und ich finde nicht die richtige Worte zur Ermutigung.

So ist der Gang des Lebens. Wenn ich beim Schreiben aus dem Fenster sehe, blicke ich über den gegenüberliegenden Friedhof.

Meine Kontakte erneuere ich eigentlich durch Projekte. Ich habe immer die beständigen Partner wieder eingeladen und verscuche auch an deren Projekten teilzunehmen. So gibt er einen Kontinuierlichen Austausch mit Vittore Baroni, Guy Bleus, Pawel Petasz, Ruud Janssen, Keith Bates, Guttorm Nordø, Ryosuke Cohen und G. Galantai.

Aber immer habe ich auch versucht, neue Namen aufzuspüren um mit neuen Ausdrucksformen meine Projekte zu bereicheren. Für “Gazetta” schrieb ich 657 Adressen an – 190 Antworten Kamen. Dieses mäßige Feedback ist vielleicht auch zum Teil auf die erweiterten Kommunikationsmöglichkeiten zurücksuführen – allein im quartal erscheinen in GLOBAL MAIL hunderte informationen zu Projekten.

Im laufe der Jahre hatte die M.A. Szene unterschiedliche nationale Schwerpunkte. So war in der Ex-DDR Anfang der Achziger Jahre die meiste Kraft. Aus Italiën Kommen zur Seit viele belanglosen Kopien. Belgiën ist stark geworden. In Dänmark haben sich die Namen geändert und in Holland fehlen auch einige Leute, die einmal viel Wind machten.

Es sind viele Freunde nich mehr aktiv im Mail Art Netwerk – viel Energie würde verbraucht und man muß schon süchtig sein um mehrere Jahre durchzuhalten.

Ich habe den Katalog “Internat……Fool” (1980) der Gruppe Le Point d’Ironie (Jaques Juin, Horus, T. Tillier) vor mir liegen und zähle die namen der europäischen Teilnehmer. Von den 89 Mail Artisten sind noch 22 aktiv.

RJ : In den letzten Jahren hat den Gebrauch von Computer zugenommen. Was denkst Du von diese Entwicklung?

Antwort 12-11-95

BJ : Zu Beginn die Nachricht, daß zwichen unseren Briefe, Mitte Oktober, Guillermo Deisler verstorben ist. Der unfreiwillige Nomade im Netzwerk.

Anfang der Achtziger schrieb er mir aus Plovdiv (Bulgarien): “Ich fühle mich hier fremd – ein Indianer im Paprikaland”.

Nun zu Deiner Frage. Generations bedingt habe ich Schwierigkeiten mit der Welt der tasten, Befehle und Lichtpunkte. Ich habe aber Respect vor den Möglichkeiten. So gäbe es heute Z.B. Keine Sinn, statt dem Schriftprogramm Abreibebuchstaben zur Herstellung eines Textes zu verwenden…. Es ist allerdings eine Menge teuer Technik notwendig um überzeugende Ergebnisse ze erzielen. Zusätzlich permanente Energiezufuhr.

Soll ich den Größenwahn der Technik-Freaks parodiezen? Wann Kommt die Frage – wie ich die neue Möglichkeiten einschätze, im Kosmos mit Raumschiffen Performance aufzuführen? Die Futuristen hatten ihren Weltkrieg!!

Menschen habe ohne Technische Hilfmittel einen spezifischen Wakrnehmungsbereich – einen anderen als Haie, Ameisen oder Fledermäuse. Ich fühle mich meiner Gattung entfremdet durch eine Inflation der Bilder und Signale.

Ein angenehmes Beispiel der Ausdruckserweiterung durch Arbeit mit dem Computer sehe ich in den mediativen 3-D Bildern. Und so wird auch dieses Medium seinen festen Platz in der Kunstgeschichte bekommen. Aber eben gleichberechtigt heben Steinmetz und Fotograf.

Ruud, ich mache den Vorschlag zu einer neuen Frage: Mochtest Du wissen wie sich in der Ex-DDR die Kultur der Assembling Magazines entwickelt hat?

RJ : Ja, das wäre interesant…….

Antwort : 26-1-1996

(Die antwort von Birger Jesch bestand aus einer Text der er bereitz geschrieben hatte fur eine Dokumatation einer Katalog).

BJ : In der ehemaligen DDR gab es für Künstler und Autoren jenseits der staatlichen Zensur keine Publikationsmöglichkeiten. Der Verlage durften keine Texte von Autoren drucken, die eine Ästhetik del “spätbürgerlichen Dekadenz” vertraten, sowie autonome Ausdrucksformen suchten.

Ein Ergebnis dieser Reglementierung war Ende der Siebziger Jahre die Produktion von Text/Graphik Mappen und Künstlerbüchern. In gleicher künstlericher Technik wie die Graphiker wurden auch die gedichte und kurzen Texte gekratzt, geschnitten und gezeichnet und dann als Hochdruck, Tiefdruck, Siebdruck oder Lithographie vervielfältigt. Bis zu einer Auflage von 99 Exemplare brauchte man keine Druckgenehmigung.

Seit Beginn der Achtziger probierte sich die jüngere Künstler-generation zunehmend auch in multimedialen Formen aus. Anläßlich von Ausstellungseröffnungen, Jazzkonzerten, Atelierfesten und selbst in Kirchen wurden kollektive Arbeiten vorgestellt. Performance mit Dichterlesung, Improvisierter Musik, Tanz, Action-Painting, 8mmFilm.

Aus diesen Gruppen heraus entstanden die ersten autonomen Publikationen der DDR. In Dresden edetierte 1981 der Dichter und Gitarrist der “Musikbrigade”, Lothar Fiedler das erste Assembled Magazine “Und”.

Gleich den nachfolgenden Magazine anderer Herausgeber versammelte jedes Heft Text und Bildbeiträge verschiedener Autoren auf A-4 Format. Alle Möglichkeiten der Reproduktion wurden benutzt. Texte wurden oft nur mit Durchschlagpapier oder fotographishen Abzügen vervielfältigt. Ab Mitte der Achziger gab er einzelne illegale Kopiermöglichkeiten mit Xerox. Die Magazine wurden handgebunden und die Umschläge zu jeder neuen Ausgabe graphisch neu gestaltet.

Bis zum Verbot von “Und” im Januar 1984 , kamen 15 Nummern in einer Auflage von 15 Stück heraus. Ingesamt wurden nur zwei Magazine von der Geheumpolizie verboten. Eine Vielzahl von ähnlichen Produktionen wurde nur beobachtet und in ihrer Ventilfunktion systemstützend eingeschätzt. Einige Mitherausgeber wurden nach der Öffnung der Geheimdienstakten selbst als Spitzel entlarvt.

Das gewachsene Selbstbewußtsein des künstlerischen Untergrunds ermöglichte im Juni 1986 in der Ostberliner Samariterkirche eine Ausstellung der autonomen Publikationen. Die Magazine hießen: Anschlag , Ariadnefabrik, Bizarre Städte, Caligo , Clochart , Entwerter-Oder , Galeere , Glasnot , Herzattacke , Koma Kino , Liane, Messitsch , Mikado , 1Mose2,25 , Öffnungszeit , Reizwolf , Schaden , Sno’boy , Spinne , Und , U.s.w. , Verwendung , Zweite Person.

Als einzige frühe Zeitschrift überlebte “Entwerter/Oder” das Ende der DDR. Die gefallenen Grenzen ermöglichen seitdem auch die Mitarbeit internationalen Autoren.

RJ : In diesem moment hat die Ausstellung im Museum Schwerin angefangen. Wie ist es geworden?

antwort am 1-2-1997

(Zusammen mit das Antwort schickte Birger mir 5 Bilder vor die Austellung in das Staatliche Museum in Schwerin)

BJ: Es ist eine interessante Retrospektive geworden – museal aufbereitet aber aufgelockert von der wilden Hänger des Worker Paradis Projects durch Kees Francke.

Er ist übrigens ein Rückfalltäter nach jahren der Verweigerung. Die Projecktleiterin Kornelia Röder, welche ein Jahr die Ausstellung und den zweisprachigen Katalog vorbereitete, erzählte mir daß nie zuvor zoviel intensive Arbeit für eine Ausstellung nötig war. Für uns archivierende Mail Artisten ist das bakannt. Auch hat sich wiedereinmal bestätigt daß jede Ex-Undergrund Kultur für Macht und Geldinteressen korumpierbar ist. Zunehmend betrachten Mail Artisten welchen zu Sammlern wurden, ihr Archiv als Kapital.

Eine kleine Episode der Vorbereitungengsphase soll nicht unerwähnt bleiben: Für das Interview mit ehemaligen DDR Aktivisten trafen wir uns in Berlin bei Lutz Wohlrab. Dort wurde uns offenbart, daß Schwerin das Projekt nunmehr unter den Titel “Kunst Medium Post” stellen wollte, was bei uns zu heftigen Gegenargumenten führte. Beim späteren Biertrinken in einer Kneipe wurde spontan ein Brief in dem wir unsere weitere Mitarbeit von verwenden des Terminus MAIL ART im Ausstellungstitel abhängig machten. Wochen später bekamen wir eine beleidigte und beleidigente Antwort der Direktorin, welcher wiederum Gegenreaktionen provozierte. Letztlich hat sich gezeigt das Ausstellungsmacher un Mail Artisten ihre verletzten Eitelkeiten für den Erfolg der Ausstellung opferten. Trotzdem wäre es für mich unmöglich gewesen mit dem angedachten Ausstellungstitel zu leben.

Zur Finisage fand ein Kongress statt, z dem auch osteuropäische Klassiker wie Balint Szombaty und Piotr Rypson eingeladen waren. Für Interessanten werde ich noch den Dokumentationsteil des Kataloges ergänzen und ausdrucken, vielleicht wird diese abgeschlossene Zeit der Mail Art in Osteuropa irgendwann richtig vollständig.

Im Herbst 1997 wird in berlin im Deutschen Historischen Museum eine Ausstellung “Boheme und Diktatur in der DDR 1970-1990” gezeigt. Dort sol auch Mail Art als Beispiel Dresdens vor allem unter politischen Aspekten dargestellt werder.

RJ : Das Post Museum in Berlin hat zur zeit auch eine Ausstellung mit Mail Art. Leider bekam ich die einladung der eröffnung erst die tag vor anfang in meine Briefkasten so das ich nicht dabei sein köntte. Hast du die Ausstellung gesehen? Ist es gut das die europäische Post Museums diese projekte machen?

Address mail-artist:

Friedhofstr. 15

mail-interview with Bern Porter – USA



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 12-9-1995

BP : I invented mail art, November 11. 1913

RJ : Why November 11th 1913? What happened on that day that you decided to start to send out mail art?

Reply on 19-10-1995

BP : Sitting together on the floor of his 8×8 foot apartment east side New York I asked Ray: “What are you doing?” He answered: “Being myself.”

(the next question to Bern Porter I wrote with pencil on a two-color blue silk-screen printing of Ray Johnson)

RJ : Ray answered “Being myself”. So, who was Ray? I would like to know.

Reply on 20-3-1996

BP : I asked Ray: “What are you doing?” He answered: “Being myself, average weight, average height, non drinking, non smoking, daily on the uproad to survival.”

I maintain at a library here “The Bern Porter Collection of Contemporary Letters” and wish to have the complete set of everything you have ever done. Advise cost delivered to me U.S.A. B.P U.S. Dollars in bankcheck form.

RJ : “Everything I ever have done?” That is difficult. Because all the mail art I sent out isn’t mine anymore. All I produce is sent out into the network and I only have spare issues of magazines and copies of some pieces of mail. Everything I received and kept so far, that is something I have. Are all the letters you get (like e.g. this one) going to be part of “The Bern Porter Collection of Contemporary Letters”, or is is just a “part of your life” that forms this collection? Just currious, what is in the collection?

Address mail-artist:

22 Salmond Road,
BELFAST , ME 04915

mail-interview with Ayah Okwabi – Ghana



Started on 15-10-1995

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 2-11-1995

AO : Dear Ruud, thanks for the invitation to participate in your mail-interview project. I got involved in mail art in 1979 when Volker Hamann introduced me to his Anthropological Art Project. Anthro-Art was Volker’s idea of linking Anthropology to Art. Later I suggested a meeting of mail artists involved in the AnthroArt network to work on a community-based workcamp project in a village in Ghana. The project was to take place under the auspices of the Volun¬tary Workcamps Association of Ghana (VOLU) which has been organizing international workcamps in the rural areas of Ghana since 1956.

Volker tried to get as many mail artists as possible to visit Ghana but finally he was the only artist who arrived in the Summer of 1985 for the project. Ayah Okwabi (AO) and Volker Hamann (VH) met in Accra on 21 July 1985.

The shows in Ghana (the first mail art and correspondence art shows in Black Africa) connected people in different networks such as MAIL ART, THE FOURTH WORLD and as well as different institutions (Ghana Institute of Journalism, Mfantsiman Secondary School, Ghana United Nations Students and Youth Association) plus Volunteers from Europe, U.S.A. and Ghana in a workcamp to construct a school classroom block at Saltpond in the Central region of Ghana.

Some of the contributions for the show were concepts of projects to be realised in Ghana. Although they were among the most attractive contributions, they were inappropriate because of their intellectual nature or needed technical equipment which was unavailable to us (sometimes we had neither electricity nor water) or they were politically inappropriate.
The contributions were presented in different sections – Apartheid, Tokokoe Project (where the exhibition was to take place initially but was changed later), peace and politics, mail art publications, mail art, networking addresses and announced shows.

The headmistress of Mfantsiman Secondary School, Mrs. Asiedu, formally declared the exhibition dubbed “Ghana Show” opened. She stressed the role of mail art in promoting international understanding among peoples of the world. This is particularly important in Ghana where mass media is inadequate and mail is often the only available medium for international correspondence.

At the Ghana United Nations Students and Youth Association convention, the show took on a political meaning because issues of apartheid in South Africa and independence for Nambia, which was by then a colony, were being discussed at the meeting.

Finally VH gave a performance at the Ghana Institute of Journalism in Accra, about new media in relation to journalism. We also visited St Georges Castle in Elmina which was the former centre for the export of Slaves to America.

RJ : How difficult is it to be a mail artist in Ghana?

Reply on 18-11-1995

AO : I have difficulties getting people interested in mail art because of the rising costs of international mail and the fact that there are no financial benefits to be derived by participants from Africa.
Of course the economic situation is tough and one has no alternative but to engage activities that would yield concrete economic benefits. Besides, most post offices that work are concentrated in the urban centres which implies that people who live in the rural areas or villages where postal services are either very slow or non-existent don’t have the possibility to engage in the network. People in my country Ghana find mail art exciting when they understand it. However, it has not been easy to communicate in writing to explain how the network operates in the mass media such as magazines and newspapers. Recently, an article I wrote about ‘the Eternal Network’ published by Chuck Welch for a weekly newspaper was finally rejected because the editor found it ‘difficult to appreciate.’

I started a personal magazine called ‘GongGong’ in which I publis¬hed some mail art articles and announcements but financial difficulties compelled me to stop after just two editions. Indeed, the tradition of self-publishing which has contributed to the growth of mail art in Europe and USA is non-existent in Africa.

RJ : Is mail art and networking just a luxury or does it bring something essential?

Reply on 8-12-1995

AO : Mail art brings something interesting for one to do and observe. It opens up possibilities to know and meet artists through networking. When I started mail art with Volker Hamann, I didn’t imagine that I would meet him in person but, six years after we started communicating in 1979, we met in Accra in July/August 1985.

On my return visit to Germany, in 1990, I also met Henning Mittendorf. I think the mail art network is able to promote mutual interacti¬on among people over long distances from diverse cultures which is quite unique. Mail art networking provides a channel for ones creative potential to be realised.

Practising mail art enables one to communicate at a distance with friends who would otherwise be out of touch. Sometimes, mail shatters the isolation I feel here in Accra where I can find few people to share ideas with about the network. Of course, mail art can be described as a luxury because the body does not need it like water or food or air to survive. However, it stimulates the spiritual aspects of the personality and a feeling that we have a community of friends we can always rely on not on the basis of our physical appearance or money but because we share common ideas and interests.
Individuals will come and go but the network lives forever! This means we may lose contact with individual artists but we can always make fresh contacts and make new friends provided we continue staying in touch with the network.

Mail art is a supererogatory activity. Its not absolutely required of the person but is done for the sake of greater artistic perfection.
RJ : Besides the “common ideas and interests”, as you say, most mail artists have also their specific ideas about what they want to use the network for, a goal they want to realize. What’s yours?

Reply on 2-1-1996

AO : For me, the network is like a mirror in which I can get people to focus on the current issues and challenges facing the world in general and Africa in particular. Some of the themes of my projects in the past, such as “Africa Arise/Food for the hungry” provide concrete examples. “Africa Arise” focused on the issue of apart-heid in South Africa and how it can be eradicated. “Food for the hungry” addressed the food problem which is still a problem in some African countries either because of poor weather conditions, civil war or ineffective government policies.

“Population” has also been a theme of one of my projects because the issue of a rapidly growing population and how to provide for the needs of more people is a burning issue that faces many African States today. My latest project with the theme “End Racism/Ethnic hatred” is a problem that has global dimensions. What can we do as mail artists to change the thinking of racists?

I feel a personal resposibility to promote awareness of the chal¬lenges, or social problems that people face. Once the necessary awareness has been created, we can begin to think of possible solutions.

In addition, the network serves as a channel for exchanging visits with fellow mail artists scattered around the globe. After making contact via surface mail or other media, my ultimate aim is to meet in person with artists in my sub-network and get to know them better. I am aware as an African artist of the expense of travelling by air to Europe or U.S.A. or South America but it is one dream that I cherish very much. I hope that I would be able to meet in person with you in the near future.

RJ : Well, that is something the future will tell. I’m sure it will be interes¬ting to meet for both of us, but for now the questions and answers have to travel by mail. A new thing in networking and communication is the use of e-mail. Although in the USA and Europe already lots of people use the internet, this communication-form isn’t that common or even available in Africa. Because some networkers now start to focus more and more on this new ‘gadget’ this might mean more isolation for Africa. What do you think?

(With my next question I also sent Ayah some articles about my experiences and thoughts in connection to telecommunication and internet).

Reply on 19-1-1996

AO : Basically, computers are beyond the means of the average person in my country, Ghana. Besides, even when one has a computer it costs 100 dollars a month to have access to internet which means that it is only companies who make a good profit can afford this facility. Given that mail art and money do not mix, it would be im¬possible for me to get on the internet.

The increasing isolation of Africa as a result of the emergence of the information superhighway has been the topic of some confe¬rences held by infomation experts here in Africa. The so-called information revolution is only being experienced in isolated pockets in Ghana.

Regarding telecommunication, I hardly use the telephone for mail art. The only time I received a call from abroad was when Chuck Welch called me from the United States in relation to the mail art Anthology known as “The Eternal Network.”

I get the feeling from the number of calls you have on e-mail that I must be missing a lot of the action going on in the internet, I send and receive only surface mail for now. Sometimes the quality of surface mail I received is unsatisfactory. Some mail artists simply send you a black and white Xerox with a line of greeting which sounds rather shallow. Meanwhile, I wonder how you are able to finance your huge financial bill using the internet and sending out 100 or 150 pieces of mail a month?

RJ : Ah, a question for me? Actually the e-mail isn’t that costly here in Holland if you know the ways. I teach informatics, and the e-mail address I have is a free one. I don’t have to pay for anything else than the phonecosts, and therefore I can easlily send out 10 large e-mails for the same costs as a simple air-mail letter to the United States or so. As for financing 100 to 150 pieces of mail each month, I do have a paid job besides all my art activities, live relati¬vely small (and therefore cheap) and don’t have a family to feed. I hope this answers your question a bit. I guess that the money one can spend on the mail one sends out, depends also on the country one lives in. With the minimal month-salary here in Holland one can send out about 1500 letters abroad (if one didn’t need money to live and eat that is…..). So actually I don’t spend that much on mail most of the time. How is the situation in Ghana? How are the postal costs in regard to the average month-salary, and do the living-costs allow people to even spend money on mail (art). I gu¬ess here lies a good reason why there are so little mail artists in Africa. Am I right?

Reply on 16-2-1996

AO : Regarding the postage expenses the situation here is quite different. Most people spend more than 50% of their income on basic needs such as food and then rent and bringing up their family takes up the rest. On the average salary of 100,000 cedis one can send about 330 letters to Europe from here in a month. Given that there are hardly any mail artists in Africa who are really actively engaged, most of my correspondence is with Europeans, Americans or Latin Americans. Letters to the Americas are more expen¬sive.

It is true that because of difficult economic circumstances, most people here cannot afford to send mail (art) just for the fun of it. People send mail for concrete benefits and consider mail art fanci¬ful and not worth spending time on. I have no family yet and stay with my parents so I can manage to send mail art but not as much as I would like to.

RJ : I have noticed that especially in rich countries, the mail artists tend to send out sometimes quite strange things. The quality of the mail seems to get less, and the quantity gets larger. It results in chain-letters, add-to xeroxes, or just large quantities of xeroxes. This kind of mail art you probably also received. What do you think of them?

Reply on 12-3-1996

AO : Chain-letters, add-to xeroxes or just large quantities of xeroxes are simply boring and unimpressive. They reveal absolutely nothing about the interests or motivations of the senders. Most of the con¬tributions I have received for my “End Racism/Ethnic Hatred Show,” are of this type. Just imagine having the obligation to prepare a catalogue about an exhibition to be organized for this pro¬ject and sending it in exchange to people who simply cut some pages from a magazine or send an irrelevant black and white xerox as a contribution to a show! Mail art coming from industrialised, rich countries needs to be of a high standard and a good example to encourage more people in Ghana and Africa in general to parti¬cipate in the network.

RJ : Of course the mail artists living in a rich country don’t have to be rich. But I understand the difference all to well. The xerox here in Holland is something very cheap, it costs only 10 cents (10% of the postage costs of a letter air-mail inside Europe). Also you can get free postcards at many places with some kind of advertising on it, so something like that here is even free. I guess the reason some mail artists send such things to certain mail art shows is just that “they want to be included” and hope for a nice catalog. They don’t always realize that by sending poor quality, the organizer of the mail art show isn’t that much encouraged to make a good docu¬mentation, and this is some kind of vicious circle that makes the documentations of the last years I am in mail art quite poor (with some wonderful exceptions of course of mail artists who have found good sponsors). How important is the documentation of a mail art project in your eyes?

Reply on 30-3-1996

AO : Documentation has to be done in a detailed way to make it interesting. To do so one must have received good quality mail art. It is easy to send a ready made black and white xerox or postcard to a show. However, when one gets a reasoned response one is inspi¬red or motivated to give back documentation that senders are happy to receive.

A catalogue with texts, articles, photos and listings takes time and money to prepare. Stuff that is ready at hand and quick to send is hardly the right material. Documentation promotes fresh contacts and networking among artists in the mail art (network). This ena¬bles us to prepare organised information on mail art to show pe¬ople who know nothing about mail art.

The question is how do you finance it? For me even after producti¬on of the documentation, the fact that most mail artists are in EUROPE or AMERICA means additional mailing expenses. One way out is robbing Peter to pay Paul or make the money elsewhere and use it to finance networking.

RJ : Yes, most mail artists live in Europe of America. As a person living in Europe I see the difference in mail art between the mail I receive from outside Europe compared to the mail I get from inside Euro¬pe. Do you notice any difference too or is it just my perception?

Reply on 15-4-1996

AO : There is a great deal of difference between mail art from Africa in relation to what comes from Europe or America regarding technology. Snail mail, the handmade and handwriting is typical for mail art from Africa. E-mail, Fax or computers are available here, but these are mostly owned by institutions and individuals who do not understand mail art. It is easy for me to gain access to a friends computer if I use it to publish books which I sell and pay back something for using the computer, but he would consider it a waste of time and electricity if I use the computer to prepare documentation for a mail art project which brings no money to his pocket. Often I get no response when I try to contact mail art addresses in Africa which are very few indeed!

RJ : Is there also a difference from the mail art you receive from Europe compared to mail art from America?

Reply on 9-5-1996

AO : It is really difficult to make a clear distinction between European and American mail art. Both regions make use of high technology equipment more often. However it would appear that I receive more mail art magazines/publications from the United States than Europe. Also, generally, it is easier for me to decode handwriting from Europe than from the U.S. My favorite correspondents can be found on both continents.

Mail artists are best assessed on the basis of individual quality of their work. The only softcopy material in the form of three recorded cassettes of radio programmes about the history of Indians and the coming of colonialists and settlers to the United States for my “End Racism / Ethnic hatred” project came from San Francisco in Cali¬fornia. This contribution displays a clear understanding of the sub¬ject of racism in one part of the world which has revealed new things about the history of the United States to me.

RJ : The history in connection to mail art is also interesting. The last years a lot has been written on the subject of mail art. Do you think is is important for mail artist to know about their roots?

(Ayah sent in a print of his rubberstamp “Global Better Life”, and it was the first rubber stamp print I received from Ghana. It is the 69th country from where I received contributions to the TAM Rubberstamp Archive. As a thanks I sent Ayah the newest infoletter about the archive and also the newest published interview)

Reply on 30-5-1996

(Between the sending of the previous question and the receiving of Ayah’s answer the city Accra was in the news because of the refugees from Liberia who fled from Liberia on a large boat and were stranded in the harbor of Accra, Ghana).

AO : The publications you sent were quite revealing. The TAM Rubber Stamp Archive is much larger then I thought. I was impressed to hear about Rubber Stamp companies as participants in your project. Can you please send info about some rubber stamp companies?

To your question. Much has been written about mail art. So doing a project that reminds us of our roots brings meaning into the action. I look around me and to my personal experience to get themes for my projects. However, your roots alone should not always be the basis for the themes you chose for projects. There are several topics for mail art projects that may have absolutely nothing to do with where we come from.

Imagination and creativity play quite an important role in the net¬work. This explains the great variety of themes and artistic projects in the network.

RJ : Accra was on the news…. how are things there? The first rubber stamp from Ghana for the Archive came from you (thank you!). How easy or difficult was it for you to get this stamp made and what is “Global Better Life”?

Reply on 28-6-1996

(Together with his new answer Ayah sent me the originals of his END RACISM / ETHNIC HATRED which I will print through TAM-Publications)

AO : The arrival of a Nigerian freighter, Bulk challenge at the Ghanaian port of Takoradi on May 14th with 3,000 Liberian refugees fleeing factional fighting among the war lords underlines the relevance of the theme of my current project, “End Racism / Ethnic Hatred”. Earlier on the refugees had been refused entry by the Cote d’Ivore authorities which illustrates the fact that the idea of political asylum has come under increasing strain in both the developed and developing world. Already 750,000 Liberians have fled their country as a result of the six-year old civil war which has been the result of ethnic hatred among Librerians. Ethnic conflicts should be the concern of all because their consequences are bound to affect outsiders one way or the other.

For example, many soldiers from Ghana and other West African countries have lost their lives in peacekeeping duties in Liberia. Also, the Ghanaian government and people have been making sacrifices to contain several Liberia refugees who have entered the country.

Global Better Life is an organisation whose main objective is to bring about a better life for all before the end of the century. I have registered the organization with the registrar General’s Department as a publishing, advertising and public relations company. In mail art I am using Global Better Life as a pseudonym or name which I can use in the network in addition to my normal identity. I have been fascinated by the use of names in mail art like ANTHROART by Volker Hamann, POSTAL ART NETWORK (PAN) or TAM.

It was not easy to get a rubber stamp because I don’t have the ability or the materials to make one. I designed one which was made for me at about SIX thousand cedis or approximately five United States dollars. That is quite a lot of money in local terms.

RJ : In your catalogue of your project “End Racism/Ethnic Hatred”, I read that you already arranged two exhibitions with the contributions. How were the reactions?

Reply on 27-7-1996

AO : Most visitors to the two exhibitions who were mostly young people found the contributions really fascinating and would like to partici¬pate in the network. One lady wanted to know how she was going to finance video or audio cassettes that she would like to send artists in other parts of the world. People wanted to know how the network operates. I tried to explain but some did not really under¬stand. Indeed, it is not easy to explain mail art to some beginners.

Above all, the atmosphere at the exhibition was businesslike but detached some of the comments were: “does this postcard reflect the theme of the exhibition or is it just an artwork?” or “Oh, thats an appropriate description!” And so on.

(Again Africa is in the news with the Coup that has taken place in Burundi).

RJ : Well, I guess it is time to end this interview now. Maybe I forgot to ask you something?

reply on 23-8-1996

AO : My comment on the recent coup in Burundi, where a Tutsi by name Major Pierre Buyoya, former head of State has taken over from Sylvester Ntinbantunganya, a Hutu, underlines the fact that the competition between the two ethnic groups, comprising Hutu’s and Tutsi’s is going to continue for some time. That is really a pity. Sanctions are now being applied against the new regime to return the country to democracy. Time will tell whether this approach will be succesful.

Well, all good things have an end. I think it has been a great honour and privilege having this conversation with you. Your effort to create a bridge between Africa and the global mail art network is surely commendable. Keep it up. With warm greetings, Ayah.

RJ : I want to thank you too for your time and energy during this interview Ayah. I sure hope that more Europeans and Americans realize that the world is a bit larger than ones own continent, and that we all live on the same planet. My best wishes to you too, and we’ll sure keep in contact!

Address mail-artist:

Box 6055
GHANA (Africa)

mail-interview with arto posto – USA


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

AP:Can’t tell exactly when I started mailing art. It was with an artist friend
who had moved to California, Susan Petelik, and she always added art to her
envelopes, letters, etc., tucked art inside. She inspired me to do the same,
and I started sending back to her in like manner, than to other friends. That
was during the late 1960s. I wasn’t actually aware of the international mail
art movement as such until about eight to ten years ago. (So many of us were
doing mail art without having a name for it. Still are many such people. I
bump into them all the time.) That was when I sent to my first mail art call,
and I haven’t stopped sending since. It’s gotten to be a serious addiction.
Chuck Welch asked me just a little over a year ago about how much mail per
year I send and receive and I had no idea. Had never counted. However,
because of his question, I started numbering outgoing pieces with a
numbering stamp on February 23, 1994. As of today, a little over a year later,
I have sent at least 1716. (I sometimes forget to use that numbering stamp
on outgoing mail art.) I may have first seen mention of mail art in the
Rubber Stamp Album by Joni K. Miller and Lowry Thompson in, first
published in 1978 and still in print here in the U.S.A. It inspired me to get
involved with rubber stamping and to subscribe to Rubberstampmadness,
now a very slick magazine catering more to mainstream rubber stampers than
to mail artist types, I think.

When living in Minneapolis, Minnesota about eight to ten years ago, I took a
workshop at the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts on mail art. It was done
in conjunction with the Walker Art Center, a wonderful contemporary art
museum there. We modified text by – draft, can’t remember famous artists’
name now, type set on an old press – added our modifications and art to it,
then mailed it all over the world to a list of mail artists that Scott Helms
had, asking these artists to modify our modifications and mail them back to
the Walker museum. The returned pieces were bound into a book that is now
in their collection, and the Walker gave each participant a photocopy of the
book, and had a wee party when we got back together to see the results. As a
result of that, we started a rubber stamp/mail art group in Minneapolis, and
it is still going strong, I think. The Bag Lady, whom I introduced to mail art
and invited to that wee party, still lives in Minneapolis and participates in
that group, and is coming to spend a week with me, to make art and play on
the computer, in just a couple of weeks. And so the networking goes. I have
since lived in St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; and now in Atlanta. In
each of these cities I have formed groups that meet periodically to talk mail
art, and have had mail artist visitors and house guests from all over the
world, some of whom I had never met in person before, but knew through the
mails, coming through or to each city. Part of this is due to my active
involvement on Prodigy, then on America Online, two commercial computer
bulletin boards on which there is active talk about and resulting exchanges of
mail art which I initiated. My internet address is artoposto@aol.com. Ask
away if you have additional interview questions.

RJ :Could you tell a bit more about how you got into using the computer for
communication. When did it start and when did you enter the internet?

AP:Ruud, I started using computer bulletin boards at the same time I started
using a Mac regularly, in 1986. I connected to local bulletin boards in
Minneapolis, Minnesota. Didn’t know a soul who owned a Mac. Learned lots
about how to use them through the help of people on those local boards.
Those boards were run by Sysops who did it for the pleasure of it. They
weren’t commercial boards. When Prodigy came out in the U.S., I signed on
and that was were I first started talking with others on-line about mail art,
and the movement. Hmmm. When was that? 1990 or 1991. We started with a
small group of women, mostly women, talking about rubber stamping. I think
there were just about twelve of us. They were already exchanging their
stamped art, many had been for many, many years, but I was the only one, as
I remember, who was involved in the mail art movement internationally, in
sending to mail art calls (as opposed to rubber stamping stores contests).
Within less than two years we had 400 people that we knew of discussing
rubber stamping and mail art and book making and related areas. Lots of
people are “lurkers,” so who knows actually how many of us there were
reading that board. I did an article on the Prodigy stampers for
Rubberstampmaddness (a national publication very popular in the U.S.
among rubber stampers – slick paper, color, thick. It carries mail art calls.) I
also did an “on-line class” on mail art, and a “by mail class” on mail art. It is
hard to explain the difference to those who have never participated in the
network between mainstream rubber stamp exchanges and the more quirky
type of stuff one so often receive in the mail art network. These “classes”
were my attempt to share with the interested people on-line some of the
differences – no jury, no fees, less complex work (generally), what artistamps
were, what documentation was, how one got involved, matching up people
with like interests, how to issue your own mail art calls, what some reference
sources were (Correspondence Art, for instance), where to see mail art
archives, etc., etc. Public posts and learning and sharing techniques and
developing intimate friendships were (are) very common on Prodigy, as they
are on America Online, the service I am currently using. (I have also been on
E-world, CompuServe, and GEnie – all commercial services in the U.S.)
Prodigy used to NOT charge by the minute or the hours. You just paid a
monthly fee, and you could use it all you wanted to. They grew so fast – got
millions of subscribers – then changed their policy to a basic fee for “x”
number of hours, then a per minute charge after that. Many of us jumped
ship when that happened. AOL is more user friendly to Mac users, I think, so
I switched over to AOL a couple of years ago. When AOL got Internet access
(still limited, not total, I think), I started thrashing about a bit in those
waters – never became a surfer. Won’t, either, because I don’t want to spend
my time on bbs. Already have too many contacts, too many delicious things
to do online, too many questions coming to me. Want to play with my Mac
more. Make more mail art. Snail mail more art. (In the past year I sent
almost 1700 pieces of snail mail.) I much prefer the kinds of relationships
that I have developed on Prodigy and AOL to those via the Internet thus far.
Internet messages seem to be sent out with carbon copies to lots of people.
Less intimate friendships have developed. Public threads don’t seem as
interesting to me. Subscribing to things brings in treatises. I love getting
Global Mail Electric, though. It’s super. Still, there is something lovelier, to
me, in the hard copy version. Most people I have met on the Internet have
no experience with commercial bbs and really don’t know much about them
and the very warm friendships that develop. Such fun to watch people’s
public posts and decide “I want to KNOW that person. I like the way she
thinks. I like how she shares information so freely.” Does that happen for you
on the Internet in public posts, too?

Well, I’m off with favorite husband to dinner, so will dash. Hope you don’t
have to pay to receive this long reply to your short question. Fun to contact
you on-line.

Hugs,arto posto (note lower case – I’m not “Arto Posto”; AOL won’t let me
use lower case initial “a” for arto, but all my other mail to you, I think, has
been “arto posto”)

RJ :For me, the E-mail only seem to have a few advantages (like speed of
sending and the fact that you can transfer the texts you get easily), but the
snail-mail is still my favorite. I see your wonderful & colorful envelopes (also
done by computer) and wondered why you like this computer-work so much?

ap :Ruud, I discovered computers after being in a very bad auto accident
that makes handwriting and doing many things by hand painful for me.
Keyboarding and working on the computer is not. I think that is, in part, why
I do so much of my mail art by computer. Another is that I am endlessly
fascinated by the amazing things that can be done with a powerful Macintosh
and PostScript printers. I have always loved the beauty of type and bought an
IBM Selectric typewriter because one could change fonts and do variable
spacing. This was about twenty years ago, though I first used a Selectric when
they first came out, around 1957. Hard to believe it now, but back in the
1970s that TYPEWRITER cost about $1,000. At the time I felt very guilty
about being so self-indulgent as I had no business use for the machine, just a
love of seeing the print come out so elegantly on the page. I was writing
poetry, and it was right after my accident, and I loved the LOOK of what I
was writing so much more as it came from that typewriter. So glad now I did
that. It has led to my giving myself permission to buy a DecMate II dedicated
word processor and daisy wheel printer to write a book, then, upon seeing
what the Mac could do, to buy increasingly powerful Macs. Now you can buy
an entry level Mac for less than $1,000. Amazing, when you think about it –
twenty years later something so much more powerful and versatile at the
same price.

It is owning Macs that gave me the courage to switch from writing to playing
with images. And it is playing with them that led me into the mail art
movement as I wanted to share my computer experiments with others and to
get back stuff others were creating on theirs. It took a long time to connect
with many who were actually using computers, as you are, in mail art, but
meanwhile I have had my mailbox museums fill with art created in so many
different ways and enjoy the variety. I also think that my use of my computer
and printers has led some others with computers to want to make more use
of them in their mail art, particularly women I have met on-line who were
primarily rubber stampers. Many had never thought of using their computers
to do art and are now happily creating artistamps, wee books, etc. using their

Because my husband bought a color thermal wax printer for his business, and
I teach him how to use all new computer equipment and install all the
software, I was exposed to the wonderful possibilities of color printing and
got one of my own to use in my mail art. And since the thermal wax would
print on only special paper, have since bought a PostScript inkjet so I can
print on textured papers and envelopes. LEARNING has always been one of
the major pleasures in my life, and now that I am physically unable to trot
off to universities to take courses for the joy of it, learning new computer
programs and new ways to use my printers has provided substitute joys. I
have about 300 megs on my hard drive, and almost all of it is software. (I
keep stuff I create on removable disks.) These programs have provided years
of learning experiences. Also, it is great to be able to go back and print out
some piece of mail art I created several years ago when it is apropos to some
call or interest of a new networker I have been exposed to. It also helps me
treat mail art as a process, not a product, a process of learning,
experimenting, trying new things, and sharing them with others.

I, like you, view e-mail and on-line bulletin board exchanges primarily as a
way to get to know people better, to connect with others in the mail art
movement, and to introduce new people to the idea of this great back and
forth of mailed art.

RJ :What do you tell a newcomer about mail-art to get them interested? Do
you think you can succeed in telling what mail-art is to a non-mailartist?

(Ruud, here’s my response to your last question. Because of my disability, I
can’t go back to see if I have repeated myself endlessly, so will trust you to
edit out anything that is repetitious or totally boring. Have the feeling I may
have covered much of this in answering previous interview questions.)

ap:Ruud, I find it much more difficult to TELL someone what mail art is
than to show it to them. For that reason I got the idea of boxing up dozens of
pieces I had had up on my huge bulletin boards and routing it to those who
had expressed interested in seeing what mail art is all about. Thus far
twenty-seven women requested to be added to the list, and the box of mail
art is currently making its way around the U.S. As each person gets the box,
she posts enthusiastically on the computer bulletin board America Online.
This arouses additional interest, and more people e-mail me to ask that they,
too, get a chance to see the box of mail art. Several years ago I did a similar
thing with ‘zines. Another routed mailing was of documentation. With local
people, I invite them into my home to see the mail art archives. I make the
same offer to those interested in mail art who will be visiting Atlanta on
business or vacation. Because my net is wide, there is such variety in the
work I receive that almost everyone falls in love with the work of a number
of mail artists whose work they see, and they want to start exchanges
immediately. It is great fun to me to see whose work appeals to whom.

Since we have an active group of rubber stampers, paper makers, book
makers, collage enthusiasts, painters, etc., all exchanging sources of supplies,
new techniques, art enthusiasms, etc., on-line, when I post mail art calls,
there are always questions about what a “mail art call” is, and I respond on
the public boards about traditions behind these calls. Some get very excited
about art shows with no juries, no commercial impetus. They want to know
what “documentation” is. They are excited about the prospect of
international exchanges. Some want to initiate exchanges with me and learn
more about mail art that way. The idea of art as “process” tempts some – to
get away from the idea of preciousness and perfection tempts. Others have
never heard of the idea that THINGS can be mailed, things that are not
enclosed in boxes, but mailed naked, like the life preserver I just received
the other day.

Some rubber stamp store owners in other cities have asked to have my mail
art calls to display in their stores. Just the past year both my Empty
Envelope call and the Abuse call shows have been on display. Some want to
issue their own mail art calls and ask about how to go about this and how to
do documentation. I’ve sent two boxes of wee books I have received in mail
art exchanges to Franklin Stein of National Stampagraphic as he learned
about wee books on-line, and wanted to do articles about them in his
publication. The word about mail art exchanges get spread that way, too. I’ve
shared with him names of wee book makers who might be willing to write
such articles for his magazine.

I also tell them about Dada and Fluxus and suggest books they can read to
learn more about mail art. I send reprints of articles on the subject from
various magazines or pass on copies of essays written by mail artists on the
subject. Zines appeal to some, and I either pass on some I have received or
give them names and addresses of sources. Some see mail art in quantity for
the first time by going to a mail art show in their area that they have heard
about on the boards. Some get lured into the movement because they have
read about artistamps on the board or want to see sheets of them, and once
seeing them try a sheet themselves. I offer names and addresses of other
mail artists whose work seems of the type that might particularly interest
someone who has sent her first piece to me and want to get more involved. I
tell them where archives are located if there are such treasure sources in the
cities they live in. I matchmake on-line by telling those new to the board of
others on the board with similar interests. There is a hunger among some to
finally connect with others who will exchange with them, enthuse over what
they do, share ideas. Many are women who have been doing mail art, sending
it to friends and relatives for years, but have never received anything back.
To suddenly find a whole network of people all around the world who love
doing something similar boggles their minds, makes them feel less “odd,”
increases their daily joy as they eagerly go to the mailbox. And, of course,
once we have a whole network on-line of people who ARE mail artists, who
begin participating in the movement, I back off and let THEM explain
documentation, mail art calls, ‘zines, artistamps, mail art shows, how to
connect with others, etc. I’m at this point now with my participation on
America Online, as I was on Prodigy several years ago. My e-mail has gotten
so heavy that I seldom have time to read the public boards anymore or to
post on them. Others have taken over to spread the word to newcomers. The
net widens. And I sit back and increase the DEPTH and intimacy of my
exchanges with the network I have already developed as a result of on-line
participation. Those newer to the movement who are wanting to widen their
participation and share their knowledge and enthusiasm do more of the
posting in the Mail Art, Artistamps, Wee Books folders on America Online. I
stay in touch with those on other services, including the Internet and pass on
to them mail art calls, etc.

I really do think computer bulletin boards can serve as a great impetus to
luring people into the movement, but I, like you, continue to prefer the snail
mail exchanges. A downside for me for this participation has been that my
network is now much too wide to be kept up with. I am always behind in
responding to received mail art. Hundreds see one’s posts on a computer
bulletin board and one’s net can expand so rapidly that it is impossible to
keep up. Too much mail art? I used to think that would be impossible. I’m at
the point now where I feel somewhat overwhelmed. This can lead to burnout,
I think, so I am reevaluating my participation in the movement. I want to
keep mail art as a totally guilt free, joyous aspect of my life. HOW to do this
and yet respond to all the new people who send to me is something I have
not yet worked out. I wonder how others’ participation has evolved over the
years, what changes they have made in the way they are active in the mail art
movement. Perhaps you have interviewed mail artists who have talked with
you about this issue?

RJ :Well, how others have dealt with that, you will have to read in the other
interviews. You seem to be very productive when it comes to Arti-stamps.
How do you design them? Do you always use the computer for your art?

(Besides the E-mail version I sent arto posto also a snail-version together
with Michael Leigh’s interview. Together with my questions I normally send
some other text to, the normal correspondence besides the interview.
Sometimes the interview and the private correspondence mingle, and this
happens here too. So the next answer from arto posto is put down here
completely as it arrived via internet:)

Date: Mon, 1 May 1995 06:48:16 -0400
From: Artoposto@aol.com
To: tam@dds.nl
Subject: Re: next question

ap :Ruud, just accidentally sent reply to your other e-mail address, and am
repeating it to the tam address as I think previous message sent to the other
did not reach you.

I would like to see you include your P.S. to me on the subject of managing
participation on the movement as I think it is honest and open and would be
of interest to others. I’m repeating it below so you can include it if you will.

RJ: P.S. I don’t answer all the mail I receive. For the snail mail I probably
answer 50% or less, and the computer-messages I get, I answer about 30% or
so. I only answer the things that are interesting for me to react. I don’t feel
obliged to answer the mail I get. I know that most ‘older’ mail-artists work
that way. If you want their attention, then you have to send them something
to ‘trigger’ them to react. I discovered that years ago, and since then I
became in contact with some very interesting persons who make wonderful
art. Also I only send my larger art to people like that (an example: I just
received a large oil painting on wood from America, and in return I sent a
large 12-color silkscreen print. But this is not really mail-art, but the
exchange of art. Besides a mail-artists I make the traditional ‘art’ too)

The next question: You seem to be very productive when it comes to
Arti-stamps. How do you design them? Do you always use the computer for
your art?

ap: Yes, for reasons I’ve previously discussed in this interview, now I almost
always use my computer for my work. I no longer paint or sculpt or do fiber
art. Unlike you, I do not make “larger art” or do or exchange art other than
mail art.

I am, indeed, very productive of artistamps having made dozens and dozens
of sheets in the last couple of years. Did three new sheets just this week. Not
sure I understand your question about HOW I design them. Could you tell
me more about what you want to know about that?

P.S. Received your snail mailing and the two interviews. Quite fascinating.
I’ve exchanged with A-1 over the years and love Michael’s and Hazel’s senses
of humor and stuff I received from them though I am less a recycler than he,
and Rudi Rubberoid and Ian Gunn some of the others in this
genre. Participated in A-1’s Thematic Tape Exchange a couple of years ago,
but I’m not really into video or cassette tape exchanges. I prefer hard copy
image exchanges, I guess. ML’s comment that “Archives should contain the
best work” (page A-4) borders on something which seems anti-mail art to me
– isn’t it “jurying”? When I sent a box of my archives to Crackerjack, he wrote
back asking if he could recycle some of the stuff that was less interesting to
him – a similar idea, I think, but I replied that I wanted the archive intact, or
he could send the stuff he didn’t want back to me as I think to get a true feel
for what mail art is all about, one needs to see the whole range, not just what
a particular person particularly likes. And, again, what has appealed to me
about the movement is the non-judgmental aspects of it – the hanging of ALL
work sent, etc. When I document I also try to include all images if I am going
to include any. This would be impossible, of course, if one were to get
hundreds of pieces. That’s why I went to documenting for every ten pieces
received in my most recent calls on abuse. It was a way for me NOT to “jury”
or “present only the ‘best’ in the documentation, but to still be able to afford
to send documentation to all with all people’s work shown in documentation.
Each person will handle her participation in the movement in her own way,
and that is as it should be, in my opinion. I bring up these issues only as
things to think about…not as RIGHTS and WRONGS. I like it that mail art
really does not have hard and fast “rules.” I do, at times, though, feel that
there are subsections of the movement that function as old boy’s networks
where the same people’s work is commented upon, depicted in
documentation, written about in publications, etc. again and again and again.
This seems a bit like repetition of the very reason mail art got started –
wasn’t it protest against museums and galleries and art magazines showing
only insiders work, pre-judging, etc. that led to the idea of mail art
networking in the first place? The basic tenants of the movement also make
me uncomfortable about “government grants” to do shows, travel, etc., as it is
associated with the movement. Personally I like to stick with the “no money
exchanges hands” aspects, the exchange of art outside of connections with
funding agencies, etc. I see this trend towards sponsored travel, sponsored
shows, selecting specific pieces from one’s archives to display, offering ‘zines
for sale, asking others to help with costs, etc. as a veering off from the
essence of the spirit of the mail art movement into another realm. I can
certainly understand that there are practical reasons WHY it occurs. It’s just
not a part of the movement that appeals to me, nor one I personally care to
get involved with.

You have a government sponsored bulletin board, so obviously you feel
differently. I would be interested in your thoughts on this subject. Warm
hugs, arto posto

RJ :It seems your P.S. is as interesting as mine. Although I would like to
answer it would make the interview a discussion and that wasn’t the
intention. If you want my views then you should interview me maybe? In
your P.S. you made mention of your newest project. Could you tell a bit more
about that?

ap :For about the past year I have had ongoing mail art calls on the topics of
spousal/partner abuse and child abuse. To date there have been 108
submissions, mostly from women, but some from men as well, I’m happy to
say. Have received really powerful, touching work! Thus far the show has
been up for two months in northern Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin and
was just shown the other day at a big rubber stamp convention in California.
In September and October of 1995 it will be displayed in Michigan. I’m
hoping the show on this important social issue will travel for a couple of
years. In the past couple of days I have sent follow-up documentation to all
participants, telling them where the show has been and will be mounted. This
is in addition to the small book documentations I do for every ten
participants. I did the follow-up so that those who were wishing to expand
their mail art network would have additional names of people with similar
social concerns, and to let them know where the show would be in case they
might be able to see the whole body of work.

There has been discussion on the electronic bulletin board that I am on
recently in the Mail Art folder about documentation. Some posted that they
had submitted pieces to calls over a year ago, but had never received
promised documentation. (I was amazed to learn that so many others
actually keep track of when they send to shows and when they receive
documentation.) I felt a bit uncomfortable about their unhappiness as I
frequently post calls and some send to their first calls in their lives as a
result of these posts and I can well remember how eagerly I looked forward
to receiving my first few pieces of documentation years ago. I responded to
the posts that STUFF few pieces of documentation years ago. I responded to
the posts that STUFF happens in life, and that perhaps some who intended
to do documentation found themselves unable to do so. I also heard from
some snail mail mail art networkers over the past year that they are getting
disillusioned about sending to mail art shows and not receiving promised
documentation. Since I send to lots of calls and don’t keep track of who
documents and who doesn’t, I have no feel for how often this happens. I do
think it is of interest that several people apparently feel a change is going on
in the network in this area.

Ruud, I feel I’ve talked on and on – more than anyone could possibly care to
read, so if you don’t mind, I would like to quit talking about my mail art
involvement and spend more time DOING IT. Thanks for asking me to
participate in your Interview Project, and if I’ve left something out you really
want to know more about, let me know. Also if some other person does
interview you, hope you will send me a copy of that interview.

RJ:Thank you for the interview!

Address mail-artist:

199 14th n.e. / Apt. 2505
GA 30309-3691

E-mail : artoposto@aol.com

address interviewer:

Ruud Janssen – TAM
P.O.Box 1055
4801 BB Breda


e-mail : r.janssen@iuoma.org

mail-interview with Anna Boschi – Italy



Started on: 15-5-1995

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: 19-8-1995

AB : I have been involved in mail art since 1986, when I exhibited my artistic
works in Milano (Italy) – by Centro Lavoro Arte – where I met Ruggero Maggi
who talked to me about mail art and invited me to participate in a project
“DON’T KILL THE ‘PEACE’ WORD”. I took part in that project with pleasure
and when I visited the show (by the way, it was made just in Bologna) I felt
immediately a strong emotion. I realized to be in front of a wonderful
networking circuit. From that moment I have never left off to make mail art.

RJ : How did things develope after participating in this first project, how did you
get in touch with other networkers?

Reply on 25-9-1995

AB : The mail artist MARCO LORENZONI, living at that time near Bologna, sent
to me a beautiful coloured envelope, duly signed and numbered, containing
one elaborate on which I put my intervention and returned it to him. This was
my first personal contact in mail art. Marco said to me he was moving to
another Region and in fact I never had any news from him since.
Successively I participated in the “WINDOW” project by Maria Rosa Simoni,
and also to the “SELFPORTRAIT” project in Ireland, and other mail art
projects in Italy and abroad.

At the beginning I made mail art in small doses, because I wanted to realize
well its meaning. I wrote to some networkers asking more information about
mail art and at once m.a. notes, magazines, fanzines etc. etc. reached me.

RJ : At a certain point you probably thought of doing your own mail art project.
How did you realize your first project?

Reply on 23-10-1995

AB : In 1990 there was the centenary of the GIORGIO MORANDI’s birthday, the
famous artist of Bologna (Italy), sensible interpreter of humble things, as just
the bottles. I wanted to pay hommage to him with the “BOTTLE PROJECT” ,
a mail art project. I received 100 wonderful works (30 real bottles and 70 bi-
dimensional works) from 19 Nations and I organized the exhibition in
Bologna – by KAOS ex MABUSE space. I was very happy for the success of
my first project.

In the catalogue I expressed the connection between mail art and the
bottles: …. MAIL ART as container of different emotion’s states, expressive
potentiality free from markets and system conditions, wish to make and
transmit art, but especially container of sensitive human relations
overcoming any geographical/cultural/ideological frontier…..

…… BOTTLE as container of thoughts, ideas, messages (in fact, in the past,
it was thrown in the sea to send appeals or call for help), but mainly
container of human history, as time symbol……

RJ : Doing a first mail art project is mostly a difficult task. What did you learn from
this first project?

Reply on 1-12-1995

AB : Before I got involved in the mail art network, I attended only the “official”
circuit but, notwithstanding my great passion for the artistic work, I often felt
uneasy, probably caused from the unreasonable competition that originates
false friends, from the personal interests, from the criticism’ conditioning and
discrimination etc. After my first mail art project I immediately realized to be
in human contact and especially freedom. Yes, I learnt this: MAIL ART IS A
FREE ARTIST! And this is not a small thing!

RJ : How large is the network you are in contact with nowadays?

Reply on 24-1-1996

AB : Nowadays I am in contact with a great number of mail artists all over the
world and, like you, I have to select. I am very sorry for it, but it is not
possible for me to write to everybody. So I prefer to stay in touch with the
networkers with whom already exist a “mail art feeling”, a mutual exchange,
a frequent mail and work, friendship etc. etc.

However, often, beginning artists write me asking about mail art and in this
case I send them a little documentation with projects, addresses and other
news, and naturally my contacts augment. Usually, when I organize a mail
art project, I receive works from 25-30 nations (thanks networker friends!!).

RJ : Which mail art project are you working on at the moment?

Reply on 4-3-1996

AB : At the moment, besides several participations to various mail art projects, I
am working on two of my projects: Centenary of the Radio’s invention
together with Lia Garavini of Forlì.

Concerning the MARCONI project. now I am taking care of organizing the
show soon. I received 180 works from 25 Nations and I hope to exhibit them
inside a private “Marconiano” Museum of wonderful old radios. phonographs
and other communication sets.This museum is denomined “THOUSAND
VOICES…. THOUSAND SOUNDS…..” However I am not yet sure to realize
this initiative. In a different way, I shall care for another space.

Regarding instead the PREHISTORY project, the show will be on next
september, just during the XIII Congress of the International Union of
Prehistoric Sciences in Forli’ (8-14th September 1996). Even if there is to do
so much, I am always glad to organize mail art exhibitions, because I think it
is good to make known this international artistic circuit, as fraternity
message, without frontiers and discrimination. Also during the III-rd edition of
September 1995)”, besides many performances and installations made by
the participant networkers, I prepared a mail art show with fragments of the
“Bottle Project” – “1962-1992 – 30 years of M.A. in hommage to RAY
JOHNSON” and “FELLINI” projects, with one installation of envelopes from
all over the world in the centre of the room. It was so much visited and many
young artists asked me how to be involved in this circuit. And thus the mail
art goes….

RJ : How do you explain the mail art network to those new young artists that want
to participate?

Reply on 12-4-1996

AB : I don’t make particular effort, because the exhibition tells by itself. The artists
who feel (as you say: TO FEEL MAIL ART) something different from the
“official” artistic circuit, want to know better this network and ask me
informations about the possibility to come into communication. So, I give
them explanations about mail art projects, with some addresses, notes,
articles, etc., etc.

Many young artists think the mail art is like a chain of postcards and
enveloped, without knowing the real meaning of this circuit, besides the
various ways to interpret mail art.

Personally, I don’t like chain-letters because I find them “very cold”, without
soul, only made to receive an avalanche of works, and I prefer to participate
to mail art projects and write directly to the networkers, privileging the human
contact, the personal acquaintance, the friendship etc. , etc.

RJ : In 1992 there were the Decentralized Networker Congresses (DNC), where
mail artists were encouraged to organize meetings. Were you active in this

Answer on 18-6-1996

AB : Yes, I was active in that period. In April 1992 I organized the show about my
mail art project: “30 YEARS of M.A. in homage to RAY JOHNSON”, in
Bologna (Italy) at “PRIMA PAGINA space”. Baudhuin Simon from Belgium
came to Italy to visit it and during the exhibition we also met Fabio Sassi and
Rosa Biagi of Bologna, and we had one little congress.

At the inauguration were present many other mail artists too (Alberto Rizzi,
Fulgor C. Silvi, Marco Pasian, Giovanni Strada, Nielsen Gavina, etc.)

Successively, Baudhuin Simon (on August 1992) returned to Italy and
together we went to VILLORBA (TV), where Ruggero Maggi and M. Pia
Fanna Roncoroni had organized one big Congress (4 days), very interesting,
with installations, performances and video – meetings, etc. I stayed there 2
days because then I started to SPOLETO (PG) where I redid the show in
homage to RAY JOHNSON, in public space. On October 1992 I took part in
the meeting at the ARTESTUDIO SUMITHRA by Rosetta Berardi in
Ravenna, a whole day with collective works, performances, poetry, etc. Very
beautiful meeting, with friendship and human contacts! I finished the year
(on december 1992) with another show in Milano (Italy) by Avida Dollars
Gallery – always dedicated to Ray Johnson.

RJ : Why do you focus so much on Ray Johnson?

Reply on 24-7-1996

AB : At the beginning I strongly admired this artist who gave life to an artistic
universal networking circuit, beyond every cool, conditioning and restrictive
rule of the “official art”. And in the 1992 DECENTRALIZED CONGRESS
YEAR, I considered dutiful to pay hommage to his (HE)ART, so I dedicated
to him one big mail art project. (Sincerely, today I am very glad to have
celebrated Ray Johnson when he lived!)

Successively, reading about him, I was more and more interested to
understand this artist, so ironic in his art and in the same time so lonely and
private in his life. I’d have wanted to know him personally for better realizing
the extraordinary sensibility of a man able to refuse the personal success (a
thing so rare in the artist!), in behalf of an artistic collective expression,
without celebration, money and honours.

RAY is an interesting and mysterious rebus, like his death. Why 13? Day 13
– Hours 13 – Room 13 !

A great man, with a great art, with a great idea debouching in the
international mail art circuit, but I think also with a great human solitude.
WHY? I often ask myself. Yes, it’s true, I focus on Ray.

RJ : Another great mail artist that is dead for some time is the Italian Cavellini.
What do you think was his role in the mail art network?

reply on 14-10-96

(together with Anna’s answer she sent me two beautiful catalogs of mail art projects she has worked on)

AB : I like very much Cavellini. He was (is) a great artist, but I find hir role in the
network much different in respect to Ray Johnson’s. First of all, I think Ray
gave life to the mail art circuit without being aware of this, through his
choice, nearly oriental, to send small signs, little ironical messages, discreet
provocations, pointing on the commonplace and myth’s absurdity, while
Cavellini utilized mail art to autocelebrate himself, affirming the artist’s

He came from the collectionism, had money and could easily travel round
the world to meet other artists, playing funnily with his performances,
affirming “I am the sole, I am a free genius!” Therefore, I admit to know
superficially Cavellini. I read his book “A GENIUS LIFE” where is descibed
also the funny meeting between him and Ray. Wonderful! However Cavellini
is loved very much from the artists, and I like his work strongly, too, but my
“feeling” is with Ray.

When I payed hommage to Ray Johnson with the mail art project “1962-1992
– 30 YEARS OF MAIL ART”, the american Lon Spiegelman sent me one
poetry dedicated to Cavellini, writing me : “….Anna, don’t forget to hommage
Cavellini!”. In Italy, as you surely know, there is the networker Fausto Paci
called “AMBASCIATORE CAVELLINIANO”; he knew Cavellini personally,
admired strongly this big artist, and now he goes on with Cavellini’s artistic

RJ : You have been active now in mail art for ten years and must have received
lots of stuff. Do you keep all the things that you receive? How does your
‘archive’ look like?

answer on 5-1-1997

AB : My mail art “archive” is in the studio where I paint and I try to keep it in good
order, to consult it with facility at any moment, but receiving so much stuff,
this is not always possible for me! The mail is contained in “gatheres” (in
alphabetical order for italian networkers – for abroad in alphabetical order of
the Nations).

Moreover, when there is more correspondence with one mail artist, I make a
particular “gather” for him. Then I keep the artistamps, the original
postcards, the artistic envelopes in separate books.

Concerning instead my mail art projects, a good deal of mail art works is still
framed, so as they have been exhibited. Yes, I keep all the things I receive,
and now I have also much mail in big boxes to set in order.

Some time ago, a mail artist made the project about circulation (not
preservation) in mail art, a provocation against the private little museums. In
general, I can agree with this concept, but the major part of the works is
dedicated personally, therefore to send them away it seems a “break-
gesture” – without appreciation – so contrary to the mail art soul! In any case,
I participated to that project, doing my proposal, that is to send to some
networkers during the year one portfolio containing mail art works of different
artists, as gift. In this way, I think the sense of the personal ties of friendship

Together with my participation-proposal, I sent my first portfolio, as
Christmas-gift, being December 1995. I didn’t receive an answer, but the
worst is I haven’t had more news from that mail artist! It is impossible to
enter in the head of the people! I didn’t think certainly to hurt him. I though to
suggest a good idea!

RJ : Most mail artists write mainly about all those good things that are happening
in the mail art network. Are there also negative sides to working within the
mail art network?

next answer on 8-4-1997

AB : All beautiful, all beautiful, all beautiful!………. I have strong doubts when I
hear this! Although I love very much mail art and the network, I must
however admit the negative sides concerning the mal artists ‘contradictions’!

Some of them preach the “false purity” in mail art, but really they don’t
practice what they preach! They shout to the scandale when they receive the
catalogue printed and sponsorized, because they say to be out of the mail
art soul, while then they send round the world a big quantity of the xerox
regarding their mail art activity! This is opportunism because they use mail
art to make publicity to themselves, not for community! Instead, the printed
catalogue referring to one mail art project regards all participants!

So, I think they have the straw tail. In my opinion, this is a big fault of the
network: mail art is free art , well , no money in mail art , very well ,
alternative art , well too, but why, if possible naturally, don’t improve the
documentation? Pay attention to the hypocrisy, she is always in wait.

RJ : Well, I fully agree with you on that. I don’t mind at all if someone has a
sponsor who pays for a wonderful catalogue, but I also do appreciate the
small catalogues people make by themselves without any sponsor. These
unwritten rules, like “mail art & money don’t mix” sometimes are mis-
interpreted by mail artists. Maybe we should make the new rule “there are no
rules in mail art”. What do you think Anna?

next answer on 24-6-1997

AB : Yes, wonderful! “No rules in MAIL ART”! I can completely agree with this. I
find it right, because – on the contrary – where is the ‘freedom’ of mail art?
Our mouth is always full of this phrase: “MAIL ART is FREE ART”, but when,
how, where? If the mail artist is always prompt to criticize and misinterprete.

Therefore I think it is important to make the new rule “there are no rules in
mail art” and every networker will decide his/her choice! With his/her

Concerning the sponsor in mail art , to pay a big catalogue, I accept with
pleasure this opportunity, but – like you – I appreciate very much the small
catalogues “hand-made” in xerox, that I receive always with great pleasure. I
appreciate also a simple list of names, and , in particular, I love every thing
sent to me by mail. And just for this “my feeling” regarding the circuit, I find
these limits very ‘stupid’.

Other thing: When I participate to one mail art project, I send my work with
pleasure, without thinking of a catalogue. If this reaches me successfully, I
am glad to receive it and it is always a surprise for me; on the contrary it is
not a problem for me! The important thing is the contact that was there!

RJ : Two new things you started to work on during this interview is the mail-art
magazine “WILD RABBIT NEWS” which you do together with Graziella
Caroni, and I also noticed the new stamp “MAILARTMEETING ARCHIVES”.
What is the story behind those two? Why start another zine, why create
another archive?

next answer on 27-9-1997

AB : The story is very simple. Unfortunately, two important mail-art bulletins
stopped: NET INFORMER of Andrea Ovcinnicoff (Genova) and
TRANSFUSION of Alessandro Ceccotto (Adria). One day, after a long talk
about this situation with Graziella Caroni, we decided with enthusiasm to
give life to the WILD RABBIT NEWS, thinking it could be useful for the mail
art cirsuit. In fact, after the first number, we received demonstration of
interest, request to insert projects and particularly we receive various rabbits
from many networkers and we put them in every number.

Concerning MAIL ART MEETING ARCHIVES, this was already existing, but I
wanted to mention it, and referring to the MAIL ART IN CONTRIAMOCI
meeting, I have chosen MAILARTMEETING Archives. What do you think of
it? I feel it is right for mail art?Therefore the story is very simple, but I ask
you: Why another?

RJ : With the question “Why another” I also was referring to your motivation to
keep on doing this mail art and collecting material. Hasn’t repetition of doing
things started in, or is mail art still a surprise to you every new day again?

(With her answer Anna Boschi sent a photo of a recent meeting of mail-artists in Italy, the
“mailartincontramoci” on 30/31 August 1997 in Castel S. Pietro , and the newest issue of Wild Rabbit News)

AB : Yes, mail art is still a surprise to me every new day again! When the mail
arrives, I am happy and I feel in artistic conversation (through the “RED
WIRE” joining every soul) with friends all over the world. It is wonderful!

For this reason, I like to do every thing about communication and mail art. I
would strongly like to be in the possibility to answer always to old and new
networkers, but my days must be of 48 hours!

I am a painter since many years (structures, recycled and assembled
materials, etc.) and I love my work, but in mail art I find freedom, fraternity,
exchanges , human contacts so much rare in the artistic (and not) universe.
When I shall not more find these sentiments in my mail art, I shall stop, but
always I shall thank the friends of the circuit for that they gave me!

Therefore, in this moment where various bulletins have stopped (also Global
Mail! Do you know? Is it true?) It is a great pleasure for me to give the
“service” to the circuit. In fact, from this month it will start the first number of
the “Mailartmeeting Bulletin” with mail art projects, while Graziella Caroni will
continue “Wild Rabbit News”, with rabbit images, projects, notes etc. soon in
Internet ……AND MAIL ART GOES ………

RJ : Do you think that mail art is a term one can also use for the activities that
mail artists undertaking on the internet?

reply on 4-1-1998

AB : Really, I think the right term for the activities undertaken on the internet is
Electronic Mail Art , because mail art is for me only when there is
transmission by post-box , and internet never will replace the paper poetry,
the colour harmony , the sign strenght. This is MAIL ART! (I think , naturally).

In any case E-mail art is very interesting, important , USEFUL and too much

(With her mail Anna Boschi sent me some magazines. Also another mailing arrived with the newest issues of “Mailartmeeting bulletin” and the documentation of Anna’s project “What do you inspire this house?”. The next question was only sent out middle of March 1998 due to a little break I took – RJ)

RJ : Are you participating in Vittore’s IM98 project? Since it is initiated in Italy I
suspect this will cause a lot of activities in Italy…….

next answer on 7-5-1998

(because of a small break in the interview-process I only retyped the answer on January 16th, and sent the next question on that day. The IM98 project has already come to an end and Vittore probably is working on the documentation right now. In the period between the two questions Anna Boschi has been busy. She has sent me several copies of her
“MAILARTMEETING BULLETIN, and also I received the catalogue of her project “LIBRI
d’ARTISTA e POESIA VISIVA – MAIL ART 4” , a book of 143 pages with illustrations of the
contributions to this project.)

AB : Yes, I received some months ago the invitation to take part in the
Incongruous Meetings during 1998 (IM 98), but I think to continue the
MAILARTINCONTRIAMOCI meeting, because it is already an incongruous
meeting! It can be an intelligent meeting, an intolerant meeting, an
impossible meeting, an insuperable meeting etc. etc. However I suspect too
there will be in Italy a lot of activities. In fact, Emilio Morandi will make the IM
98 on July 20th 1998, just when there is his birthday, the same day of
GIORGIO MORANDI’s birth, the big and international artist “bolognese” (he
was born in Bologna , Italy on July 20th 1890). Do you remember my mail art
project “Bottle project” dated 1990 in homage to him? Did you participate?
Now, I don’t remember. His poetry were the bottles (full of silence, art and
lirism). Emilio Morandi wants to refer to this solitary and great artist, being
born the same day, many years after.

Besides, I am sure other Italian networkers will make an Incongruous
Meeting. But, sincerely, this is a hard year for me, on account of serious
family problems; I shall continue to make mail art and to not break the “red
wire” with the circuit, but with less participation and contacts. However my
heart will be always with you all!

next question sent on 16-1-1999

RJ : I guess it is right time now to end the interview. I understand all to well the
busy periods in ones life since I have one right now as well. Was there
anything I forgot to ask you before we end the interview and publish it?

(together with the last question I sent Anna the complete text of the interview to proofread and some more info’s)

next answer on 15-5-1999

AB : Dear Ruud, I am sending you the corrections of the typing mistakes of your
interview with me. I thank you very much for what you did and for all the
interesting and important documentation you sent me. I like the interview and
I hope you make the book, when you can, naturally.
Address mail-artist:

Via G. Tanari n. 1445/B