"Mail Art is a drug! The more you do - the more you need!" - Michael Leigh

Ruud Janssen with Michael Leigh

TAM Mail-Interview Project

(WWW Version)

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

Started on: 6-11-1994

RJ: Welcome to this mail-interview. So far we met twice and have discussed certain things about mail-art already, but I still forgot to ask you what your 'firm' A.1. Waste Paper Co. Ltd. is all about. When did you found it and what is it all about?

Reply on: 17-11-1994

ML: Well, it was soon after I had chanced upon the mail art network in 1980 at the Artlink International exhibition at the Greenwich Theatre Gallery in London that I decided I too could have a weird and wonderful nom de plume that many of my fellow mail artists had contrived for themselves. Also it would be nice to have a name other than my own to attach all my mail art to so as to distinguish it from the other art I was doing at that time (Landscapes and animals in oil on canvas).

I forget just how many names I'd thought up at the beginning but two I remember were ART ACHES REPOSITORY and the BAD ART DELIVERY SERVICE. Both remained on the back burner until I chanced upon a couple of battered rubber stamps at a flea market in London's East End - both were the address stamps for a defunct (I assume so since they didn't crop up in the telephone directory at that time) recycling firm called the A.1. Waste Paper Company Ltd. I couldn't believe my luck - just the name I had been looking for! Not only did it sound good but could also be shortened to A.1. and covered all aspects of the recycling ethic I had seen as a key element in all the networking material that I had used or was going to use in the future. It also has the happy ability to put itself at the very front of any address lists made in an alphabetical order!

RJ: This recycling is something I recognize in most mail-art I have seen from you. Some mail-artists keep all the mail they receive in their "Archive". Do you have an "Archive" or is almost everything recycled?

Reply on: 26-11-1994

ML: I think most sensible people realize that RECYCLING in everyday life is very important now if we are to put back something rather than take take take from the Earths limited resources. In art too this has become more and more important - not only from a ecological point of view but as a way of saving valuable time and money.

My "archive" consists mainly of dozens of cardboard boxes from the supermarket which are stuffed full of old mail in no particular order or design. I've never been very good at organizing such things and so I'm afraid if I need something from my "archive" it takes me ages to find! Fourteen years of correspondence takes up a lot of space so I've been very ruthless just lately (since Archie was born) - sorting through it all and sending thes tuff we didn't want to Michael Lumb's archive in Ipswich. On a day to day basis I still recycle envelopes and boring xeroxes get letters written on the back of them.

RJ: So this 'boring xerox' gets personalized and probably will end up in someone's elses "archive". Do you think that these "archives" are important for other people than the mail-artists? Is it possible for a 'non-mail-artist' to understand that mail-art is more than art sent by mail?

Reply on: 8-12-1994

ML: Archives are important because they contain the history and development of mail art. Artists can benefit by using their archives in a constructive manner - making exhibitions from them and showing the work too utsiders who don't understand what the postal network is about. At the moment Hazel and I are showing our artwork in conjunction with pieces from our mail art archive at the WEIDORAMA show in Walsall Museum and Art Gallery in the West Midlands of England. This exhibition is an attempt to show how mail art interacts with the other work we do and to show outsiders just how diverse and multi-disciplined it is. Archives should contain the best work and ideally made available to other mail artists and interested parties who wish to see it or part of it or the works of one particular artist for Commemorative works or book projects etc.

These outside the mail art network will never understand what mail art is without becoming part of the mail art network. I'm not so sure we should crusade to make the mail art understandable to those outside its circle. Those interested enough will discover it for themselves eventually. It's not a RELIGION to be thrust down peoples throats. One must carry on doing ones best and hope that others will see for themselves through mail art shows like WEIRDORAMA just how much fun their is using the postal system as your artistic medium.

RJ: You talk about 'the postal system'. Does this include the new communication-forms like using FAX and Computer for communication or isn't this mail-art in your eyes? What are your thoughts about the TELENETLINK 95 project that Crackerjack Kid started?

Reply on: 28-12-1994

ML: I'm afraid I must admit that FAX and computer art doesn't really fit into my idea of Mail Art - it's not something I'm interested in. If you can't stick a stamp on it and post it, then it's not really Mail Art. It's a different medium and should be called something else. I don't know anything about Crackerjack Kid's TELENETLINK project.

RJ: Well, let's stick to the communication-form with postage-stamps. The postage-stamp plays an important part in mail-art. In your work I've noticed the use of rubber stamped postage-stamps. Is there any special reason for that?

Reply on: 7-1-1995

ML: I like anything to do with postage stamps and rubber stamps. So it seemed natural for me to combine the two. They are quick to apply to envelopes and one can knock out sheets for projects and such like quite easily without having to spend ages fiddling around with a xerox machine. Also you can use those tiny collage elements that don't fit into any other format. I seem to collect hundreds of these and so that's why I have so many designs for rubber-stamp postage stamps that have as yet to be turned into rubber dies.

RJ: Another wonderful rubber stamp I noticed on one of your envelopes is 'ADDITIONAL ARTWORK BY ARCHIE LEIGH-JONES'. Is Archie growing up to be a mail-artist raised by two other mail-artists? To ask the question more specific: How does the mail-art that fills your days affect the raising of Archie?

Reply on: 18-01-1995

ML: Well, we like to think that Archie will come to appreciate the finer points of mail art and alternative culture in general through his seeing us work and play with all this stuff. Hopefully he'll find it useful in future years and maybe find a little network of his own to explore. At the moment he is only two and a bit so his attention span is short - a few scribbly envelopes and he's off with a toot toot train or his cars! Children tend to go against the wishes of their parents so I expect Archie will see our interest in mail art as his poor putty parents wasting a lot of time that could be spent on Game Boyor Cartoons.

RJ: So; why are you wasting so much time on this mail art. Why do you spend so much money on this 'strange' hobby? What brings mail art to you that you keep on doing it?

Reply on: 27-1-1995

ML: Good Question! I really feel I'm not wasting time, after all, I spend more time sleeping then I do mail art! Mail is just as relaxing and therapeutic I think as sleeping, but unlike sleep I have something to show for it at the end of the day! We just had a 2 day mail strike here in London and I realized how much I missed the post when it didn't arrive - I started to get withdrawal symptoms! Yes, mail art is a drug! The more you do - the more you need! I'm a hopeless case I suppose.

RJ: Yes, you are a hopeless case (never argue with a drug-addict...). But to feed your addiction I'll ask another question so you get some mail. On your envelope you used your new stamp in memory of RAY JOHNSON, who suddenly died two weeks ago ("If it wasn't for Ray Johnson, this work wouldn't exist, mail art pioneer 1927-1995). It seems Ray was an addict too. He kept sending mail till he took his own life. I know of more mail-artists from the first years who are still active. What would be the essence of this mail art that it is so addictive. What is your view?

Reply on: 4-2-1995

ML: It's hard to say why Mail Art is so addictive. Some people seem to kick the habit quite easily, like smoking, they just go on to something less addictive but just as costly - like sucking mints or herbal remedies like slippery elm grass or fever few.

The essence of mail is really the response you get from your sendings. If nobody replied then it would be quite easy to give up I guess. Luckily (or not!) I keep getting back stuff - flopping on my doormat every morning and it seems churlish not to reply.

A reporter came from a national newspaper recently to interview me and to find out what all this networking and mail art was about. I found it very hard to tell him exactly what it was that got me se excited and what still keeps meat it some 14-15 years later. It's communication I suppose and feeling part of a fellowship that knows no boundaries.

Now that Ray Johnson is no longer with us - it seems an ideal time to take stock of what has gone on in the past 40 years, since the early days of the New York Correspondance School of Art, and re-affirm our commitment to the mail art ethic and its concerns. But hopefully not in a boring, pretentious and crusty way but something more in the spirit of play from which it was born.

RJ: It sounds beautiful, what you say, but how will it be in reality? What is the future for the network in your eyes?

Reply on: 10-2-1995

ML: Who can say what tomorrow may bring? I don't have a crystal ball - I wish I had! The network is an organic, growing, shrinking, changing thing - full of surprises! Hopefully it will draw new recruits from different backgrounds, cultures and talents. It does that already of course but perhaps the future will broaden this spectrum even more. It is up to the networkers who already enjoy this wonderful world of art exchange to use their influence in a positive way - to find more time to do mail art, to expand its horizons, to open up new tracks of perception, to glory in its ubiquitousness, unravel the strings of pure art that connect us all!

RJ: In the recent years galleries and even museums are becoming more and more interested in the mail art that some 'famous' artists made and are trying to get this 'art' in their collection or are trying to get works for loan for a future exhibition. Will mail art become traditional art when things go on like this?

Reply on: 20-2-1995

ML: I don't think mail art will ever become "traditional" as you call it, simply because its so hard to define. The occasions when galleries or museums express interest in mail art are few & far between - they cannot cope with the anarchic elements in it, or the idea that its based on mutual exchange & co-operation.

RJ: We have discussed the subject 'Archives' before. If a mail-artist decides to keep an archive (which normally happens when he decides to keep the nice things he gets by mail), what should happen with it after his death? I know of the archive of Ulises Carrion which was sold and plundered for work of 'famous' artists? Any idea what should happen to the archive of Ray Johnson?

Reply on: 28-2-1995

ML: Of course its a shame that archives fall into the "wrong" hands and get plundered, but what can you do? Maybe artists should make provision for their work and archives when they are still alive and have some control over what happens to all of it when they die.

I would like to see Ray Johnson's archive kept intact of course, in a museum or library somewhere but I won't loose sleep if it doesn't. After all its the art that happens now which is important, not the boxes of old dusty stuff-crumbling away in some gloomy mausoleum!

RJ: Your new project (A1 Waste Cassette Co.) has also a typical recycling-aspect. You write that you will use the cassettes people send to you for recording the final result. In this way you keep your own archive very small indeed. How is the new project going? Can you tell a bit more about it?

Reply on: 6-3-1995

ML: This new project was inspired by Morgan Fisher's "MINIATURES" project of a few years ago. His was nothing to do with the mail art network but it had a similar easy going attitude and commitment and the documentation within the LP sleeve was very like a mail art show documentation, or a sort you'd get if only people had the funds to pay for it!

I did a cassette project a couple of years ago where I asked for songs on a particular theme. This THEMATIC TAPE EXCHANGE went on for several months. 90 or so participants from 8 countries got involved. Everyone got another tape back from the list I sent out - they could choose whatever music they liked.

This time the idea is that contributions must be no longer than a minute so that I can squeeze 60 or so tracks onto one tape when I come to compile it in June. The reason I opted to send back the tapes I'd been sent was to eliminate any people who like to send cheap or very short tapes. This way they only have themselves to blame for the rubbish they get back! Most people so far have sent good quality tapes and so it makes my task somewhat easier. The theme of the project is POSTAGE and people can interpret this in anyway they like whether its a song, jingle, poem, rant or spoken word. So far the spoken word seems the most popular but I'm hoping for a few songs and music to break up the verbiage before the deadline on the 20th June 1995.

RJ: Well, I guess it is time to end this interview. Maybe there is something more you would like to say?

Reply on: 14-3-1995

ML: Just that it was nice being interviewed this way - your questions helped me think about my work and try to articulate some of my thoughts - hard to do, but fun! Thanks!

RJ: Thanks for the interview!

Ended on: 14-3-1995

- END -

Reproduced with the permission of
Further reproduction without the written consent of
Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.

Mail-artist: Michael Leigh, P.O.Box 10388, 7 Lambeth Walk, London SE11 6DX, England

Interviewer: Ruud Janssen - TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, NETHERLANDS

E-mail Ruud Janssen

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