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 E.F. Higgins III – USA



TAM 960138



Started on: 16-05-1995

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: 15-9-95

EFH: Thanks for the invite to the interview. I haven’t been doing much international mail art for a number of years, due to the postal rates, & I was spending US$ 700 a year on postage there for a while. To answer your question, I got involved in the mail art network about 1975-’76. At the Univesity of Colorado, I was working with paintings & printmaking, working from “2-D” objects as my models. Posters, Postcards, Play money, Stamps, envelopes, etc. I produced the first sheet of Doo Da art stamps in 1975. Right around that time a visiting artist. Edwin Golik Golikoff, a N.Y. Artist, living in Denver, told me about mail art, Buster Cleveland, Ray Johnson, Anna Banana, etc. I started mailing the stamps, collages etc. around then.

RJ : What were the first reactions of the people you started to mail your works to?

Reply on 5-10-1995

EFH: That would be hard to figure, as I wasn’t there, when they got their mail. Mail art is neither a wrapped gift to a friend at their birthday Party, nor a Rauschenburg, in a show, in a Museum, in a collection, reproduced in an Art Business Magazine, commented about by “Art Critics” etc. etc.

Judging from the responses, from other artists, through the mails, some of my stuff must have interested some to respond. The many different mail artists’ correspondances revealed the miraid various influences affecting these artists. Golikoff used a typewriter, & puns in many of his letters & postcards. Ray Johnson, his grey copies of drawings, gosip, & puns. His surreal puns, sometimes understood. Concrete poetry, newspaper & picture collage, pornography, manifestos, self-documentation, self-historification, self-promotion, were some of the things sent, received, & seen in mail art show catalogues.

One of these things were stamps; on the letters from real countries, artists stamps, & rubber stamps. Due to my background interest, I gravitated to corresponding, with these concerns, to other artists & shows having this as a format or main idea. The 1975 Show of Artist Stamps at Simon Frazier university, B.C., Canada, organized by Jas. W. Fetler, visually introduced me to the world of the following artists from that show: Pat Tavenner, Joel Smith, Donald Evans, Ken Friedman, Robert Watts, Bernd Lobach, Endre Tot, Klaus Burkhardt, Carl Camu, Dieter Roth, George Ashley, & Ad Varney of the Coach House Press.

I was a painter & printmaker, and carried these diciplines into my mail art activity, most notably, Painting Doo Da Stamps. Often these 16″ x 18″ paintings were photographically reduced, and printed as sheets of stamps with the color copier, perforated, & used in mail art. As a printmaker in the traditional methods, the color copier was an explosive discovery to me. No longer did time & money restricted the imagery, edition, distribution etc. To spend 2 hours each pulling an edition of Etchings, tends to discourage mailing off a dozen or so to friends, and push one more into the $ Art Gallery system.

RJ : I can understand the influence of a color copier. Some choose for a large color copy, but it seems you like to reduce your works to even smaller pieces, into artistamps. Why is this artistamp so interesting for you?

Reply on 17-10-1995

EFH: To color copy print from a large un-related artwork, such as a painting, sculpture, etc. , as an edition print seems silly exept as documentation, doing huge injustice to both the original medium & the traditional printing process. Picasso may have done a series of etchings based on his painting “Guernica”, but the prints intrinsic method, process, & look, have more to do with these concerns, than reproducing the painting. He didn’t print 300 color copy prints of a photo of the painting.

When Warhol painted a 12 ft. square “Hammer & Sycle”, “Deaths Head”, or whatever, he probably had a pretty good idea it would “Read” when reproduced, 4 inches by four inches in some art magazine. Hireonimus Bosch probably didn’t have this thought occur to him… check it out. Photography has changed the making of art, & definately Art & Business. Wouldn’t a 12″ x 12″ Warhol have sufficed?

When I paint the Doo Da Stamp Paintings, it is understood by me that they are ment to be used to make stamps. The lettering is there, the 3P or what-ever denomination is there. It isn’t, in most cases, added later. Hence, the painting becomes, what traditionally was known as a rough sketch, ie, a creative work done in the process to achieve the invisioned final “Work”. To delegate painting to this role, “making color copy artstamps”, turns tradition on its head, & really pisses off the Art Gallery system.

If creativity, through a process, isn’t TRANSFORMED BY THAT PROCESS, it is hardly creative in my opinion. A photo, slide, or color copy may be functional, helpful, or useful in describing another artwork, but unless it is transformed, it’s work$job.

ARTISTAMPS, like their traditional cousins, “Govn’t minted miniature prints”, share significant similarities – the main one being, I think, the imagry on them, ie “relating to the people, lands, ideas, nature, accomplishments, celebrations, religions, etc. of the country.” The correspondence carried by the regular stamps, becomes the correspondance, carried by the Artistamps in mail art, that joious dance of the muses amongst us.

How wonderful to have perhaps correspondanced with a guy from the “country” of Gauguin, Cavellini apparently correspondanced with some amazing “countries” to hear him tell it!!!

What kind of artstamps would a “country” of Picasso have produced?, & my!, wouldn’t that have been fun.!!!?

The “COUNTRIES” of TUI-TUI, Blurr, BANANA, TRIANGLE, JOKI, & NETLAND, to name a few, are alive & well!!! By in large, unlike the Govn’t issues, these countries have the continuity of one or two creative beings in charge of the postal issues for many, many years.

If you ever got a letter from someone in a different country, the stamps, & rubber stamp cancellation marks were a wonderful part of getting that letter. Sometimes their correspondence to you reflected the stamp imagery or not. Artistamps on mail art is a BEAUTY!

I have seen wonderful stamps from countries I may never visit – some even with that country’s art I may never see. With artistamps, the ART VISITS YOU, not you visiting the museum! I am not against travel or museums, actually, I love both, but to have these “COUNTRIES” visit YOU, sometimes unexpectedly, is a treat!!!

P.S. During construction work, that I do to make a living, when somebody screws-up, I put two things to them: #1 “There’s 4 things you gotta remember if you want to be a plumber:

(1) “H” stands for hot.
(2) “C” stands for cold.
(3) Friday’s payday,

The other thing I put to them is more insideous. After they’ve escaped a major disaster, for themselves, as well as others on the job, I ask ’em, “HEY! WHO PAYS YOU????? & before they can answer, I yell in their face, “SAFETY PAYS!!!

Not too long ago, here in America, some young kid burned down the house, a trailer actually, having learned fire is lighters & fun from some cartoon character named Bevis & Butthead. And now, to legally sell lighters here in Amreica, they have to be “Child-Proof”. The only swear word or obscenity I ever heard my father utter, in 50 years, was ___________, as he was teaching me power tools when I was, …. oh, maybe 13 or 14 years old, when he nearly cut off his finger.

RJ : Are there other stories of your childhood that have had an impact on your the art you produce nowadays?

Reply on 14-11-1995

EFH: Stories? …?

RJ : Ah…

EFH: Well, there once was a gal from Nantucket…

RJ : Actually, influences…. were there any other significant …

EFH: Oh, … you mean like stuff places, & people?

RJ : Yea.

EFH: I suppose, in everyones’ life, there’s things to remember; if you asked anyone else, they’d say something like, “What?”, even if they knew them very well, when they heard the reply. When I meet people in bars, I tell ’em: “I’m 59 years old.” I think I’ve been doing this for the last 10 years or so.

As a youngster, growing up in a small town outside of Chicago, I had the good luck, or some may say, the “IMPRINTING” (like you see the T.V. show showing you how to have the young condors learn the wild, by eating raw meat from a puppet hand, that looks like a (they suppose) adult), to learn many things.

Probably, if anybody’s still around, from back then, they’d tell you a different story, than what’d you figure from .. say the writings of Jules Verne, Lewis Carrol or Edgar Allen Poe. “So the guy sez to me in a bar in Kankakee, Ill. , he was out of work or something…., ‘apparently this guy breaks into the PICASSO museum … didn’t like a painting, or sumptin’,,,,& PAINTS OVER A PART OF IT!!!!!!!..’ “so the story goes,”;& Picasso himself was in town, or sumptin’….& they get him out there for insurance purposes, you know, to assertain the damage, & whadda think he sez… you know, after looking at it and all…??? ‘I look into the distance, trying to figure what the pablo might have’a said, as I looked him up & down, figuring iz this guy crazy or can he buy me another beer, when he says something….’

You mean that kind of story?

RJ : What’s Picasso say?

EFH: Well, He looked at the “Damage, & pulling at his jaw, said “Not Bad.”

RJ : “Did he actually…”

EFH: “Oh, Not that story…… O.K. , Hello Buster, to assume a painter, Stamp maker, or what-ever didn’t used to have some fun at writing would be to deny Claes Oldenbug & all of Chicago humor.

Here’s the thing: Since RJ asked the question about other stories of my childhood, “that have had an impact… etc….”, I have invented his “dialogue” or return questions. I don’t have a computer or e-mail….& have been corresponding with a young cartoonist that….. He does the drawing. I’ll do the story line. Met ’em on the train from Chicago to GRAND CENTRAL.

So, If RJ decides to run this part of the interview, please understand, we didn’t just send mail to undrstand one short word… Sometimes people talk like that. Ruud, my apologies.

Trying not to get side-tracked, on the interview, but it depends on how you’re traveling, & but, anyway, we all gotta stop for eats, piss & Clear Stars.

THE ASS HOLE MUST THINK HE’S A WRITER Chapter 2 , Hemmings’ typist gor $25. Bucks a page (back then)

Well, enough of my….a….ah….., well, anyway, if this is supposed to be about Artistamps , or mail art, ….here’s a reply from Joel Smith, from Illinois, Illinoise. (One of the best, in my opinion, that makes Art Stamps).

(E.F. Higgins included a copy with a small text about Joel Smith’s Artistamps where is explained shortly how he makes them and motivated why….)

RJ : What do you think is important enough that I should ask you? Don’t start to think too much, just figure out what you think I should know, and than give the answer…….

(After some silence I first received a postcard from E.F. Higgins, and a bit later his answer with in the envelope also some of his new artistamps).

Reply on 4-3-1996

EFH: Art. At some point, in the development of human beings, we noticed our ability to control our bodies. At first this was mostly useful, to survive. & reproduce. At this early stage, was the start of many future developments, that chrystalized for thousands of years, to get to the point of drawing bison on cave walls.

The brain was developing also. Cause & Effect. We get together to chip the flint this way, (the ‘ol guy said so), tie the gut rope, such way on the wood (tree-part), & we stick into the big eatable-thing.

28 years old, was OLD. GrandPaw,…..maybe.

And so they persevered. These Humanoids. With their brain growing, their skills developing, & & The strongest leader, always led. But, DRAWING the sticking on the wall!!!! WOW What is that?

Apparently, or maybe, the early OLD, (previously BIG STRONG) learned how to run a crew & explain, in whatever “language” they had back then, how to get the food, & not get dead, on account of getting hooked on one of those nasty tusks.

Survival instincts have thousands of years over religions, Philosophy, & Art. Somewhere in there, as we tribes got bigger, needing a sort of Organization, Heireicy happened again. And what do you suppose they used as an argument:? “Doesn’t matter, BOB, you usta be good on the hunt, These drawings, & (& I admit) along with these guys decide you don’t know what you’re doing.” …. & besides,……

Did that cave drawer get amazed at his or her DRAWING, or do you suppose it was a survival instinct? And today, Here in 1996, I wonder who’s doing what for what reason.

Back to you R.J.

RJ : What are YOU doing EFH? (to make it easy, what did you do today?)

(On 12-3-1996 I received an envelope from E.F. Higgins with in it two artistamps with an envelope on them with the text “Artist Creative, Originator, Genius, Hommage a Ray – Mail Art”. No letter was included, and the envelope the artistamps were sent in was one of the special stamped envelopes I normally use to send my answers/questions in. The envelope was decorated in the typical style of Higgins with artistamps and rubberstamps.)

RJ : How way you correspondance with Ray?

Reply on 30-3-1996

EFH: Kennedy had been shot. I may have been young, but I wasn’t old. Yesterday I thought of askingpeople that write me to send me a batch of stickers or address labels because it seems to take so long to walk around & look up their addresses, after figuring where I put it.

The knees ain’t what they used to be. Like most 59 year old men, other than the normal regrets, Ray’s Death bothered me. Kennedy’s death bothered me in a younger way…Then. I was 25 when my 21 year old brother died, of the bends, working on a oil-rig off Bankock. The T.V. says americans go there to get young sex, & maybe get AIDS. This was before that. & thats that. This is what?

Somewhere in there Bukowski refused to bowl with the Midgets, & I howled it last saturday in SOHO, N.Y.C., where all the Art Galleries have turned into womens shoe shops, and Harry was good news: two things: Couple thou for one of his big Paintings, & the other guy traded him a Jean Michael Basquait…. Buster ‘n I used to lend him a buck now & then years ago, when we would sit out on the corner of West-Broadway & Spring St,’s & he was spray painting his poetry.

I have been reading up on computers. Wow! The best way to bowl is get some salad, beers, warm weather, & try your best as you remember saturday mornings in the midwest in the junior bowling league. Remember the bigness of the place. Head high pin-ball machines. DON’T DROP IT! & don’t touch those! swimming lessons. The Balanger Brothers stealing those maybe same balls years later to drop them on cemi’s… off the overpass. I-94.. Or maybe it was ol 66. Joliet, Illinois inmates make liecense Plates for the cars. No state has anything about bowling on their Liescence Plates. What does it say on the plates of the country of Doo Da? It’s a small country

(Here was printed the stamp of Higgins mentioning: “The country of DooDa is 12 feet in any direction from where Higgins is, at any given time.”)

& then the girls get there, bringing out the salad, as we’re drinking beer, turning over the hamburgers, the new one hours later, sang a better Hank than Hank Williams. & No she wasn’t wearing a poka dot dress, but when I went into the kitchen, to see how she’d do on the ice-cube thing, they had the T.V. on, & I noticed how the guys that got strikes, had a Right handed kind of glove, & aimed at the right side of the lane way down there, & they gave it a right handed twist, so’s it would look like it’s almost ginna get in the gutter, & then would come back, & BOOM!!! hit the #1 ball at about 5:23 (O’Clock)

I don’t know where to begin. Fortunately, thats taken care of. Many stories have the average person. But how to end it? I for one don’t believe for a minute, Ray jumped into that River. But as we say in Hollywood, But will it make Mney$$$????????

If this interview (to the reader) seems a bit disjointed, it’s because the obstinanstance of mailed Q. & A through the mails: When the Galantois where here, we goofed around with a power tool called a “Router”. We had great fun drawing on wood with this machine. What it does, this machine, is carve into wood, at 32,000 R.P.M. to facilitate WOOD Prints, on such, usuallly non-traditional materials as Plywood. Man!, you can ink it up with a hard rubber roller, & Print on anything, & I wonder if it will wear out faster than them Copper Plates that Rembrandt worked on.

Back when I was in Highschool, I had a Professor, by the name of Dr. Eastwood, encouraged me in the creative writing, since then, I’ve more gone into the Visuals, than the writing.

(Perhaps it shows!)

Creativity is a wondermunt!… It should definately be encouraged. The IDEA is not a few, well distributed images or Poems, to Fakely tell somebody, that they’re better than anybody else.

OK Here’s the Story:

” Diego Rievera, Esher, & Wan Gris walk into this bar in Kankakee, Illinois, (U.S.A.), they have cartoons playing on the T.V.. Diego Rievera brought with him a $100.00 painting of some sort of a Gun-fight, he’d got at the antique shop. Esher was trying to buy schnopps for the bar, as I put in Two bucks worth of Hank on the Juke, trying to remember where I put the Halstead line…..

Written interviews to Creative Genieuses tend to look like this in print.

RJ : Any more news about the country of DOO DA? Do they use firecrackers there?

Reply on 1-6-1996

EFH: Dear RJ: When I was a child, there was a Museum called the “Knight”. It was somewhere in Chicago & had a pile of chains, stacked up out in front. The size of the links were about 3 feet, and this was from the Civil War era, used, they said or remembered them saying, “Used to shut the port of Charleston…. had it across the RIVER!!!… no ships could come in or out!”

Inside were neat suits of armor, & miniture little diarammas, similar to what you might see at the N.Y.C. Museums’ of Natural history, depicting say something, like… eskimo villages, or early American Indians in their Long-Houses, with part of the little roofs cut away so you could see in, except these diaramas showed people impaled on sharpened trunk-roots on living trees…. & as I remember, the scale was about the same, but I was smaller back then, & only seen the Teddy Roosevelt/Indian statue after I got there.

But I disgress, ….You asked about Doo Da, & If we use firecrackers here.

Firecrackers, traditionally are used to CELEBRATE. The spirit of Independence & all that. Gunpowder, attributed to being invented by the Chinese, before Marco Polo went there, was modifided within the last century to give off more of a silver Bang, than a KA-BOOM, when used in the aformentioned, “Firecrackers”.

The “KA-BOOM” fork in the road has certantly been traveled by not only them guys inventing “C-4”, Clamore, &assorted other Big Booms, but apparently the Uni-Bomber, several major Govn’ts, & a whole host of greedy “El Ka-Boomers!!!” This is not “FIRECRACKERS”, as we have come to know & love the celebration. Thomas Pane, or the guy that wrote the other things other than Gullivers Travels, …what was his name…? 1 Tom Jefferson. Or maybe you were 12 years old, & you had a friend, name of Jonnie Vance, with a brother that was astationed down in Georgia, & you made a list, & saved up your Paper-route money to get some Lady-Fingers, Bottle-Rockets, & some “16’s”.

I was 14, she was 13. I told her I’d been shot in a gang war. It was at Chicago beach. I still had the bandage on my right arm, & couldn’t get it wet….. I peeked the white, plastic to show her the 32 black stitches & she was duely impressed. She had the most beautiful Blue-Green eyes & not so bad looking in her swim-suit, that I’d seen in days!!!!! (Hard Drive on the Typing fingers today after, once again, becoming,… THE TILE MAN)!!!!!

When the Doctor stitched me up, he asked “Doorknob?”. “Empty CO2” I said.

“Gorgonzola!!!” I initially said, looking at the Blue Cheese Brand Firecracker Painting. stacked against the Perforator, “Stilton!!!” I thought loudly to myself, somewhat pleased.

“When we were kids,” the doc said, “we used to do doorknobs.”

Later, I found out that, he & his gang were making firecrackers, out of matchheads. (Look it up on the Internet). But I swear to you, the guy I talked to, kinda kreepy, Ya know? come to my Painting Show at the “X OXO” Gallery, didn’t get the idea from me….. Hells Bells, ……Midwest farmers been making trout ponds for years…. WATER IN, WATER OUT.

“The Stream Runs Trou!” (Ray Kelly & the Rivington School)

I’ve been doing this stuff for years long enough, to respect, when it says on the lable, “THIN SET-MORTER MIX”. (¼ contains PORTLAND CEMENT) I try not to use my hands that are rapidly turning into gravel-scoops, as the mixer-things. I left the hand lotion on the job day before yesterday, & was amazed it wasn’t home, after a prefuntctory clean-up. I told them, if they want to use some you’re welcome, but, I’m taking it home, ’cause yesterday, I missed it.

I am working this job to save up money to get a computer. All winter I didn’t feel like painting, I didn’t deal much cards, I was as they say HIBERNATING. The guy I’m working for, ‘s 26….he said he’d been watching T.V. all winter & ……

We’re working on 42nd St/10-11th sts. Avenues. I’m supposed to be there tomorrow in 3 hours. If they fire me, who they gonna get?

It’s the Theatre district, Film. (Till this job, haven’t been there in years…..& WOW…. will ya look at what they’re trying to do! “What’d he say?”

THE IDEA BEING CELEBRATION of the use of Firecrackers in the country of Doo Da. Something for the kids… Legal! Ah, but it’s all now well so compartmentalized. “AH, don’t worry about that!…Let the experts handle it. Like Dan Rather experting on the NEWS? Like Phil Donahue experting on United Statesers too much fat time, & interest in Perversions? “Look,” I’m gonna say to my kids someday, I hope, “That’s horsemanure… the reason it don’t smell’s they eat grain. Mix it with that leaf stuff. (& later) Now this batch is what the tomatoes eat!….got that? Put a batch of it in that old tire, set it in a sunny place, & we’re gonna grow some of the best tasting tomatoes (with appologies to Dan Quale) you ever had.”

Celebration is not every night. When rare becomes normal, then what do they want. Travelers would bring back strange & un-usual things. Probably from indigenous peoples & some of their stuff or/the food.
With mail art, in the Raw, artists are exposed to these images, ideas, & thoughts poems directly. If we can’t, do you think the Normal can? & lets get the ambassadors not appointed by political connections or contributions, but… hey, we are the ambassadors! SEND WHAT YOU WANT.! People without a culture are more apt to….

Ruud, how long you wanna go on with this thing? This kid I met on the train from Chicago, I’m working on the second “Mc” detective thing, sent him 7 pages, & we haven’t got him to Australia yet, but he called today, saying maybe it’s O.K. If the comic book goes a little long…… Said it was probably right he didn’t send the 50 Bucks till I finished the story, but he just got out of school, & was starting on the picture part.

RJ : O.K. I can understand the hint. I will rap up this interview now and see how it would fit in a printed booklet. Unless there was something I really frogot to ask you?

reply on 23-8-1996

EFH: How about “How’s the Fishin’?” Just got back from my cousins wedding out west & saw batches of Kids, all related to me, went to a day of Poderosa Ranch & Trout fishing. Kids are great. My Hat’s off to Pawel Petaz, C.T. Chew, Ed Varney, Pat Beilman, Anna banana & All the rest of ’em (stamp artists) that keep at it in the face of this wonderment. That’s the Art.

Address mail-artist:

153 LUDLOW Apt.#6
New York , NY 10002-2229

© illustrations by E.F. Higgins III

mail-interview with Dobrica Kamperelic – Yugoslavia


Image (819)

Started on: 3-11-1994

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

Reply on: 29-11-1994

DK : Dear Ruud, if I remind well, my friend Darko Rošulj, visual-poet, literary critic, technical editor in publishing house NOLIT (where I’m working too) gave me in 1978 some m.a. invitations and introduced me with some interesting art-people/alter-artists…. Than, I’ve started to collaborate in/with WEST-EAST, international association for concrete and visual poetry, I found many addresses from alter-artists all over the world and became a mail-artist that time. My first (collective) project/exhibition has been in 1981 at Beograd’s Town Library (where I’ve been working 1976/1977) and was named “ARS AS IDEA”. After this project I’ve been real mail-artist with many m.a. projects, contacts, full-relationships (meetings) etc.. etc..

RJ : Most mail-artists know you best by your magazine “OPEN WORLD” of which you are now preparing Nr. 82. In spite of the economical boycott and crisis situation in Yugoslavia you still managed to keep on publishing this magazine. How important is this magazine for you, and how important is this magazine for the m.a. network?

Reply on : 20-3-1995

(Due to the WAR-situation in Yugoslavia the second question never arrived in Beograd. I found this out when I wrote to Dobrica again and asked him again for his second answer. Dobrica then wrote me that the letter was lost, but he send an open answer that follows up his first answer. I used this reply as his second answer)
DK : When I started with international art-communication in the far seventies, as collaborator of WEST-EAST international association for concrete + visual poetry, I did my best for international understanding and art cooperation, broaden my mind. I’ve done over 20 mail art projects (exhibits, performances, art-actions, radio-network projects, feed-back card projects etc.) and more then 60 foreign guests (performers, mail artists or just artists) from Japan, Holland, Canada, Italy, Germany, Belgium, USA, Switzerland, Norway, Hungary…. Of course, many, many meetings with (former) YU mail artists, cooperative projects under UN sanctions, isolated, frustrated…. And I’m still incarnation of an OPEN WORLD(SIC!) = the title of my m.a. magazine from 1985 (just ten years ago I started with it). Nowadays, in a sense let down, nothing special happened in the network: we/networkers couldn’t change this (walking) fuckin’ world of rich countries (very few) and many, many poor people in Asia, Africa, South America, Europe…. Art institutions are still closed, usually, for mail art. Naughty artists who make it couldn’t explain the essence of it… The most part of people couldn’t understand what we are doing and what we want to do. This is not just clear, better is – communication art and/or network.

As a member of two art associations (fine artists and writers) in my country I have sometimes problems with my mail art activity (its silly activity as my friends/artists and writers understood it). I’ve spent very much money in the passed 15 years…. Why am I still in the mail art network? Well,, because I’m still a dreamer, I’m still believing in OPEN WORLD, I prefer friendship, I like the exchange of good art ideas (materials is usually poor!) and energy…. I’m an utopist, that’s a fact.

Oh, its determined by time and money (any m.a. engagement) into stuffy situation of art-market and “serious” art. Bearing this in mind, I’ll make new bigger mail art projects…. and I am dreaming about a network world trip (just dreaming)… If I’ll realize it I’ll make a new book and finish my activity, probably.

RJ : Even during this war-time in Yugoslavia you continued with you mail-art and did some wonderful projects. Could you tell a bit more about that?

Reply on : 11-4-1995
DK : Thanks. Yes, I did. Out of spite, since 1991 , summer (when Bob Kirkman from Chico/California was my guest) war-time in former Yugoslavia still exists, I did several projects…. 1991/1992. I made 5 solo exhibitions and over 20 performances, installations and rest-actions. In 1992 I also published the book “Art as communication”. In 1993 , under strong embargo situation and UN sanctions v.s. Yugoslavia and fuckin’ blockade, when my existence was in danger, I made next multimedia-art projects (not strict m.a. , but it included m.a. too): “INTERRELATIONSHIPS” , “FLYING-ART OPEN WORLD SHOW” and “BACK THE SMILE ON FACES”. All those international exhibitions + multimedia-art programs (performances, installations, video-art etc.) I realized in extreme hard times. I became a member of ULUS (Serbian Fine Artists Assoc. – section for Expanded Art Media) and UKS (Serbian Writers Assoc.) and my projects (not me!) got some money from the Government of Serbia-Secretary for Culture….. But, it was enough only for travel-pay of our guests (Andrej Tišma, Nenad Bogdanovi, Jaroslav Supek…. mail-artists/networkers), for petrol (in my “FLYING-UP” project) very expensive 1993, for some poor documentation etc. Especially, “FLYING-UP” projects, realized at Museum of Modern Art, was original and special in that time, but…. 1994. I curated “ARTISTS’ FREE ZONES” projects at NUBS gallery and help next exhibitions by prof. Kun Nam Baik (Korea), Almeido M,E, Sousa and MANDRAGORA assoc. (Portugal), prof. Shozo Shimamoto, famous Japanese artist, John Held Jr. (USA) , AU group from Japan…. So, my international art-cooperation never stopped. Since 1991, I had some guests: Bob Kirkman, Angela + Peter Küstermann (Germany), Livia Cases (Italy) and John Held Jr. (USA). Those are all my guests in the past five years. Before war-time I have had more then 50 guests from Japan, USA, Holland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Hungary, Belgium, etc. My last trip out of Yugoslavia was in 1987 (Italy and Germany). I haven’t enough money for travel, nowadays visa for travelling out of YU is a problem too… but also I haven’t had calls from my friends as before the war-time. And art-cooperation with artists from Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia…. stopped. Yes, we try to renew it (some nice signals are coming from Slovenia and Macedonia) and we have some cooperation with Serbian artists from Banja Luka (Bosnia/Republika Srpska).

So, on the whole, I’m living hard in abnormal situation and my art activity is REALLY the way/solution to stay myself/normal and as modus vivendi – to exist!

RJ : There is now also a new magazine called ARTEFACT, in which you do the mail-art section. What is the idea behind this new magazine?

Reply on : 25-4-1995

DK : Yes, but let me explain something about ARTEFACT. Firstly, I’m editor for Expanded Art Media (this is the title of my Section at Serbian Fine Artists Assoc.) and owners+directors are : Dragan Pavlov (sometimes networker and founder/owner of DEDALUS publishing/small-house), general-editor, Boris Vukovi (who comes from Australia), art director+designer, Pedja Krsmanovi, technical editor/computer etc. and some young people + editors.

ARTEFACT is NOT a typical m.a. zine. ARTEFACT is a magazine for different art/media: literature, film, theatre, music, design….. expanded media (installations, performances, video-art, visual poetry, etc.) including mail-art too. Also its an international art review on 56 pages, not so luxus, but, you can see, on very good paper and with good design. But in Beograd City and Yugoslavia, we have some very good art magazines, such as there are: “NEW MOMENT” , “ETERNA”, “FINE-ART LIFE” , GOLDEN EYE” , “PROJECT-A/r/T” , “BEORAMA”…. compared with ARTFORUM, FLASH ART, HIGH PERFORMANCE, ART in AMERICA etc.

Basic idea of ARTEFACT is to draw attention with real alter-art news and get to know art-people here with alternative artists all over the world (so this magazine is in English too). But also give a chance to artists who haven’t a chance for affirmation into the “big” and famous art-magazines or at exclusive artspaces….. We started with ARTEFACT in January 1995. We have three promotions at nice artspaces with exhibitions (you participated, dear Ruud, too), performances video-art…. and also we introduced the magazine on TV programs, in newspapers, on radio, etc. So, a good start, but we need money and support of artists and real art-lovers all over the world just now!
RJ : The cultural boycott against your country was lifted months ago. Can you already notice any changes? I know from Chuck Welch (Crackerjack Kid) that he is still unable to send you his new book “Eternal Network” from the USA to Yugoslavia just by mail. It was returned to him last month!

Reply on : 16-5-1995

(Together with his answer Dobrica sent his new issue of the ‘Open World magazine’ , number 84)

DK : Just fine question! I’ll be happy when this boycott really stops. At this moment it still exists. Yes, Andrej Tišma told me how Crackerjack Kid’s new book sent to him, me, etc. didn’t arrive but was returned to the USA. But I hope “Artefact’ magazine will travel lucky from Yugoslavia to the USA (to Crackerjack Kid)…. and I can tell you, dear Ruud, how I have had the worst experiences in international art-cooperation and art-communication after 1992. June, after the UN sanctions to YU: firstly many lies about my country and serbian people circulate since 1992. Through the m.a. network too. Than several times I didn’t receive art-materials (or just letters) from my friends/artists. PTT communication with Croatia stopped since 1992, there was a temporary stop with Canada and some other countries too. The booklet ‘OPEN WORLD’ by Steve Perkins (package with 50 issues) I never received it back from him.

But , listen… Bob Kirkman from Chico (USA) wrote me in 1992 how my exhibition there isn’t possible because no artspace would accept anything from Serbian artists and I’m cosmopolit firstly! Bob Kirkman was my guest in july 1991 and made a performance (together with me and miss Jasmina Tabak) at Happy Gallery – Students Cult. Centre in Beograd City + exhibition of small art-objects. That time I gave him art-material from me and he promised an exhibition in the USA….. John Held Jr. made a OPEN WORLD show at his MODERN REALISM gallery in 1993. You too at the TAM Gallery, and I’m really happy and thankful to both of you!

Listen, since 1992 I helped exhibitions by prof. Kun Nam Baik , Manuel Al meida E Sousa + MANDRAGORA group, prof. Shozo Shimamoto, AU group…. besides several group shows / international shows (my projects) at very nice artspaces. So, nothing changed with me and I protected international art-cooperation non-stop.

Mayumi Handa & Shozo Shimamoto helped with exhibition “Embargo Art from Serbia Island” at Tokyo’s METROPOLITAN MUSEUM. This was a show by magazine “CAGE” collaborators. FILIMIR made a 200 meters long canvas in Paris as an anti-embargo-art action (action-painting/street-art action)… Most part of YU Networkers (me too) made various anti-embargo art projects since 1992, but we have had very few invitations for coming out of YU and make art-actions live.
Oh, yes, some friends/artists help me with art-materials (from Spain, Japan, Holland, Italy, USA, Belgium,…..) but some stop with art-communication to me.

Besides that, many YU artists (especially alter-artists) left the country (Katalin Ladik, Marko Stepanov, Pedja Šidjanin, Jusuf Hadifejzovi, Darko Vuli, Zoran Beli, Dragan eravac, etc.) and now live in USA, Holland, Belgium, France, England, Hungary… but, believe it or not, we are doing since 1992 excellent art here and we are very active just in this hard wartime and blockade. It sounds as paradox, but probably it is because our feelings are so strong. And art-spirit!

RJ : What is essential for being a (mail-) artist?

Reply on: 3-6-1995

DK: The old Latin sentence “Ars longa-vita brevis” probably explains the need for art and the essential need to be an artist, to win life and all limits. To be a mail-artist is a question of cosmopolitan feelings, the need for art cooperation, better understanding between different people and cultures…..

But artists’ inner-life, spiritus movens for his activity its a hard question, probably a question for psychologists, art hystorics and sociologists. The fact is that artists see the life different than “normal” people and that they are able to make a fictive life, pictures of life, on special ways. So, what is essential for being an artist is not a simple question.

RJ : When I write to mail-artists in the former (large) Yugoslavia, I always have a problem with talking about the politics behind the war. I sometimes feel I am asked to choose sides, and in a way I think the real truth about the war is difficult to see for all sides (people confronted with the war because they live there, the UN, the people who just sit at home and watch the war on television). Could you help me with explaining what the war is about, and if an artist should get involved with politics? I know it is a difficult question.

Reply on : 20-6-1995

(In the months May and June the problems in Bosnia got larger. Airstrikes of the United Nations in Pale, UN-Hostages taken by the Bosnian Serbs throughout Bosnia. At the moment I receive this answer the last hostages have been released, but the fights around Sarajevo are intensified again because the Bosnian Army now attacks the Bosnian Serbs to break the corridor around Sarajevo).

DK : Yes, it is. But how you can understand all aspects of the war (if I couldn’t?) and essential problems of destruction former Yugoslavia? And who help this horror/bloody war?! First of all, Serbs would like YU unity (NOT ‘big’ SERBIA!) , but rest (Croats, Muslims, Slovenians, Albanians, Macedonians…) wouldn’t like it.
A lovely country destroyed after separation of Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia and we (Serbs and Montenegros) stay in new (small) YU unity. I still feel as Yugoslavian and cosmopolit although the fact that I am a Serb. I need former YU. I need friendship and understanding from ex-YU friends (now our relationships are broken and I am NOT guilty, nothing changed with me, with my feelings!)

Well, central problem, as I understood, is with Serbs out of Serbia. How save those Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia?…. Because most part of Muslims and Croats wouldn’t like Serbs as equal people there. And some Serbs and Croats who accept Alah, different religion from the Turkisch, understand? So, this war is an religion war, war for living spaces (teretories), civil war too. The fear was “Spiritus Movens” for this war.

I am out of actual politics and try to understand this incredible situation on my very special way. I’m a Serb, but also Slovenian, so… as artist I made a lot of things against the war, but also against YU blockade. My installations (named “signals from Balkan ghetto” , “YU blockade-circulus vitiosus” , “Artists’ free zone”….) , performances (“Stepping out from inside” , “Flying-up from Balkan ghetto” , “Get out the dark” , “Destructio unius-generatio alternius”…) , exhibits ( “INTERREALITIONSHIPS” , “FLYING-UP” , “OPNEN WORLD” , “ARTISTS’FREE ZONE” , “BACK THE SMILE ON FACES”….) are full of symbols which explain my feelings into war-situation and YU blockade/embargo. Maybe, you’ll see in the future some of them on video!?

In this fuckin’ war some networkers died/were killed (Keer II/Satan Panonski , Dragan Krii) , some spent some time as YU soldiers (Nenad Boganovi , Aleksandar Jovanovi , Šandor Gogoljak) or Croatian and Bosnian soldiers… I haven’t had news from many friends since 1991. Some left former YU…. So, many things, many bad things happened and we are still frustrated and unhappy. Most part of the YU networkers made excellent performances , shows , installations etc. just during the wartime and its paradox!

But this question is for Darko Vuli, from Sarajevo who lives now in France, or for Ratko Radanovi , from Banja Luka , who is Serbian soldier there in Bosnia.

ps. I prepare a new book “OPEN WORLD CONTEMPORARY-ART STORY” and in this book I will explain many aspects (of art-actions) into wartime….

RJ : A new thing in networking is the use of internet , and the sending of E-mail. In Yugoslavia , during the war-time , not many artists will be able to use this new medium. But, have you thought about the electronic communications? Will the electronic mail-art become more important than the normal mail-art?
Reply on 28-7-1995

(Dobrica’s answer came via Sweden with the help of a friend. By separate mail I also received Dobrica’s latest issue of Open World #85 , with lots of information about meetings and contacts)

DK: Yes, it seems so… But it is nothing fascinating, this is only the question of technology. I’m afraid it could be the future of m.a. communication and I’m an outsider in that case. No, I haven’t computer, fax-machine etc. So, some people from my Section of Expanded Media (Mihailo Risti, prof. dr. Marija Preši) help me sometime with this kind of communication of I use the fax-machine from NOLIT publishing house where I am working.

The same situation is with the rest of the YU mail-artists…. But, 1992, in my project “OPEN WORLD” (international exhibition) I asked networkers to send me fax-messages…. very interesting was the fax-message from Dragan Krii (he died/was killed 1992, latter…) who sent it from Sarajevo, full of political jokes, but also some nazi-symbols etc. about three meters long!

Listen, most important is human-communication and full contacts=meetings! Electronic communication is probably most important for business people and in science or financial/commercial communication….

RJ: In the last years lots of publications have appeared in connection to mail-art. Also you yourself have written a book about it. Are these publications important for the network? Do they always give a good view about what the network is all about?

Reply on 13-8-1995

(Between the receiving of the answer and the sending of the next question the war started again in Croatia. This time the Croatian army attacked the Kraijina-area, the part of Croatia that was occupied by Bosnian Serbs. But which part of land belongs to whom is difficult to say in this former Yugoslavia……)

DK : Yes, I think so… those books are really important (“Correspondence art” by Mike Crane, “Eternal Network” by Crackerjack Kid, etc.) My first book “Art as communication”, in any case, didn’t give the best view what the network is all about, but it gives some special answers about various art poetics (and how communication exists in inter + multimedia), but also open question of NEW AGE and future arts. My new book “OPEN WORLD, OPEN MIND – NEW ART STORY” should be a book with complete answers made by artists (Dr. Klaus Groh, Katalin Ladik, Miroljub Todorovi , Scott Mc Leod, Ruggero Maggi, Dr. Ken Friedman, Ilija Šoški etc.) themselves about their art-poetics and activities (Orbit Art, Performance Art, Signaliosm, Amazonic World, Fluxus, Dance Macabre Actions etc.) given through interviews. Also I’d like to explain what’s happened with the network in the last years, besides rest, with describing the special situation of the YU blockade under UN sanctions and restricted art area (RAA)…

Many periodical publications are important too, your m.a. statements are very important, many rest publications who circulate through the network non-stop….. are “bloody-canals” of the NETWORK and heart (essence) is full communication, personal contacts.

My new book should be all ready at the end of 1995 (the price will be 20 US$ of 30 DM) and published by publishing house “DEDALUS” from Beograd with very fresh stories and illustrations…. You, John Held Jr. Angela+ Peter Küsterman, people from my Section for Expanded Art Media and some rest artists are very important people in my new book!

RJ : Well, I will be looking forward seeing your book, but when it is in Yugoslavian language (like your last book) only few networkers will be able to read the texts you write. Is there any chance you will be publishing some english articles too?

Reply on 25-8-1995

DK : Yes, I’ll be glad to see the book till the end of 1995. Always there is a problem with money, especially here during the UN embargo, extremely hard economical situation, abnormal conditions…. So, my first book was in Serbian (we haven’t a YU language!) language and I’m sorry, I haven’t enough money to pay a translator…. and it was also a question of speed (don’t forget, January 1994, we had an inflation of 350,000,000% !… We’ve been absolutely champion of hyperinflation and prices changed two times during the day!)… But, now I haven’t problem with translation, most part of texts are now in English language and some were published (in English) in magazines like ND , Cage , Artefact, Clinch and Transfusion…

RJ : Especially because of these difficult times I would like to thank you very much for this interview. Good luck with your book!

Address mail-artist:

Dobrica Kamperelic
Ustanicka 152 / VII
11000 – BEOGRAD

Braincell #916 arrived from Japan

2015-06-13 12.04.18

Ryosuke Cohen is doing the Braincell project since 1985. After 30 years he reached this number 916 already and every 10 days he produces a new one. On the IUOMA platform on Ning we trace all the issues and try to get a more complete view of the project. Have a look at:


Because a large part of the network follows the group we know instantly when a new BrainCell has come out and who particpated on it.  Somehow everybody hopes to see number 1000 one of these days.

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-Art from Richard Canard – USA

2015-05-30 16.08.04 2015-05-30 16.08.16 2015-05-30 16.11.18

Incoming mail-art from Richard Canard (USA). Always a puzzle to solve with his mail, and I have started on IUOMA a special group to collect all his mailings worldwide. The IUOMA-Members even do that, so a lot of information you can find on:


I also placed his latests mailing there. Somehow it all fits together, and I hope some researcher one day will devote him/her-selve to that task…..