"The artist is obliged to consider whatever technology is available." - Rod Summers

Ruud Janssen with Rod Summers - VEC

TAM Mail-Interview Project

(WWW Version)

This interview was completed 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: 18-11-1994

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

Reply on: 9-12-1994

RS: Dear Ruud, this is the answer to the first question in your mail- interview project:

I began involvement in the mail-art movement in either late 1973 or early 1974, it's quite difficult to be more precise as I destroyed my mail-art archive as part of a performance in De Appel in Amsterdam in 1977. The performance was documented on video tape.

Why did I destroy my collection? I began mail art activity to collect material for a project I undertook whilst a student at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. The project was called 'VEC SECRET BUREAUCRACY' and collected material with the specific aim of eventual performance destruction. Many noted artists participated in the project in full knowledge of what would happen to their work at the end. A little documentation (other than the video) exists including the shredded remains of works destroyed. I began mail-arting again in 1978 because I wanted to launch the VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE......

(together with his answer Rod Summers sent me lots of other info's about his activities).

RJ: When I met you through the mail you were doing the last part of your Exchange project (Tching - The end), so I know how the result looks (hears) like. This VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE was more than the exchange of audio wasn't it? Why did you start it, and why did it end?

(After sending this question to Rod by FAX he tried out my new FAX- software by sending a reaction to my computer. It failed, but the list of errors was a piece of art itself. Rod sent me an E-mail message via Amsterdam to inform me about this, and called it FAXMANIA).

Reply on: 30-12-1994

(Together with his answer Rod Summers sent a diskette with the ASCII-file of the answer and a print-out of the computer-session of the FAX-MANIA at the Digital City in Amsterdam. Also included was a copy of the interview that appeared in the ND magazine.

RS: The VEC EXCHANGE project was launched as a research organ to inform myself what and who else was involved in the Audio Arts movement. But to understand the concept of the project it is firstly necessary to be aware of the fact that I began my personal investigations into recorded soundin 1961, so by the time I decided to launch the exchange project I was wellpracticed in the techniques of recording, mixing, editing and copying.In the late seventies the cassette recorder was becoming more generallyaffordable, and the audio compact cassette was, and still is, standardglobally. I had received a few cassettes from mail-artists in the UK (PaulCarter), the USA (Peter Frank) and Brazil (Leonard Frank-Dutch) and hadrecorded a couple of sound projects with Anna Banana and Bill Gaglionewhilst they were on a visit to Maastricht.

In 1978 I travelled over to Warsaw to perform audio on the invitation ofHenryk Gajewski and Piotr Rypson. I performed two live works there and theperformances were recorded. On my return to Maastricht I assembled thefirst VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE cassette from works received and my ownworks including the two made in Poland. A postcard was made and sent outto the mail-art network, the card informed that the cassette was available inexchange for artists sound works recorded on either cassette or open-reeltape. Reaction was rapid and enthusiastic. A total of 16 exchange cassetteswere made in the period October 1978 to end 1983 and over 2000 copieswere sent out in exchange for audio works.

Full details of the VEC AUDIO EXCHANGE project are to be found in theessential book 'SOUND BY ARTISTS' edited by Dan Lander and MicahLexier and published by Art Metropole in Canada. For the Swedes I amreferenced in the book Ljodkunst by Peter R. Meyer in Stockholm. NDmagazine Nr. 17 of 1993 has an interview with me in reference to my audioart activities.

Why did it end? Well, only the exchange part of the project ended. I stillwork in Audio arts and produce and publish audio cassettes. But the truth isthe project outran my very meager resources, both cassette decks and themaster tape recorder wore out from the excessive use and, as I had/have noincome and get no financial or moral support from any government orinstitution, I was not in a position to replace the dilapidated equipment, thatand just too many of the cassettes that were coming in were of very poorquality, most amateurish, home-music.

There was one other factor that led to the demise of the audio exchangeproject.... In 1983 I bought my first little computer, a ZX81, and started touse that in the production of my mail-art. By the end on '83 the little hardcopy books I was producing on the computers tiny 1 pin printer were beingreproduced in books and catalogues of artist books.

I still regularly receive cassettes from around the globe and I'm still sendingout cassettes though mostly my own works. My last full production, thecassette 'Church of the Fragile Treecreeper', has just been published in thestates by ND magazine of Austin Texas. I regularly work on audio worksfrom other artists such as the Icelander Magnus Palsson. In September ('94)I produced a work with the students of the State Art College in ReykjavikIceland, and at present I am working on a new production for myself which isan extended conceptual song. After that I am going to produce an international literary cassette, and after that a cassette of poetry andnatural sound recordings. In this year of '94 I have managed to replaceseveral equipment items and (should I be able to work out how to finance it)I am considering reopening the exchange project.

On the first weekend in February '95 I will be doing a performance in DenBosch and sound will almost certainly be an element of that performance.

RJ: You mention that in 1983 you started using the computer in your workfor audio. What else is interesting enough for you to use the computer for?

Reply on: 12-1-1995

RS: Actually I didn't use the computer in audio mode until I bought theAcorn BBC model B which had the most sophisticated sounding voicesynthesizer. That was in 1985 I think. I bought it with money I earnedteaching audio art in Oslo.

These days the computer and I have a stable and yet still developingrelationship, My Amiga 4000 helps me write, draw, paint, develop newgraphic images from drawings paintings or photos. Probably it's mainfunction is as a tool in the production of my visual poetry which I print outusing an ink jet printer and then disseminate through the mail-art network.Using this technique of combining computer graphics and text as 'desk-toppublishing' distributed through the network has brought me in contact withfine accomplished poets.

It is interesting to note that the computer has still not made any significantimpact on mail-art and is still very much an under-used tool. This reluctanceis almost certainly due to the awful user interface employed by earlycomputers, and if that theory is true the general adoption of the W.I.M.P.interface should result in an increased artistic/poetic use of the computer ona home-user level over the next three years.

I've used the computer in so many projects already it would need a databaseto list them all! I also realize there are infinite other possibilities to use thiscomputer creatively, such as robotics, image generation from mathematicalformulae, interactive (hah!) projects whatever, but I use the computer torealize my ideas rather than realizing my ideas to employ the computer.

RJ: Last year Crackerjack Kid tried to start the TELENETLINK 95 project.I'm not sure if it really started or not. Only few mail-artists in Europe havean E-mail address. You and me are a few of them. What do you think thatthis digital communication will bring to the creative people?

Reply on: 10-2-1995

RS: Until the bottle-neck traffic jams on the access routes to the digitalhighway are cleared by increasing the number of nodes and lines to the user,the whole concept of E-network and Email is a joke. It usually takes me fouror five days before I achieve access to my node which is in Amsterdam! Nonot a lot of fun to be had there yet, my vote still goes to fax it's fun, fine,now I have a fax/modem and free from subscriptions, at least for the timebeing...

(Ruud, I wrote a much longer and almost clever text but lost it entirelytiredly trying to make a copy, so this will have to suffice. r.s.)

RJ: ......lost it entirely. That is what is typical of the electroniccommunication-forms, especially E-mail and internet. The things I see on myscreen I mostly want to have on paper too. This digital format seemssometimes so unreal to me. Guy Bleus soon will start his electronicAdministration Center. Can art really be put into the bits and bytes, or shallit always be the sea of possibilities between the zero and one?

Reply on: 24-2-1995

(Together with the diskette we use for exchanging the ascii-version of ourtext Rod Summers also included a printed version of the interview so farprinted with green ink on white paper. Unfortunately I couldn't read theascii-file with my processor (a data-error) so I had to retype Rod's answer. Itold him this by E-mail and sent the next question on disk with a print-out invery-small sized letters and on yellow paper)

RS: Art is subject to continuous evolutionary processes because the humananimal and it's thought development is inseparable from the time in which itexists. [Mail art is an element of contemporary art activity. In the beginningit developed from conceptual art but the activity very quickly outgrew it'sfounding principles and became an amorphic exercise in globalcommunication with strong supra-political dithered.] Therefore the artist isobliged to consider whatever technology is available in the pursuit of his orher creativity. We live in the birth-pang age of computers, artists mustconsider how the computer fits into the artistic toolkit. I didn't throw awaymy pastel crayons, camera and tape recorders when I became busy withcomputers and I still buy ink for my fountain-pen and refills for the twodifferent sorts of roller-ball pens and three sizes of propelling pencils I use,

I'm very dependant now, fortunately I can't foresee a world where computersare going to be superceded. After all with this beige box I can both createand communicate and then simultaneously! What we decide to do with thecomputer and the electronic highway at this moment will determine how thecomputer develops as a tool for artists of the future. I listen to BBC worldservice on the radio and have a monitor with CNN on constantly (with thesound turned off), I am an unrepentant information junky.

Hardcopy will always be a desirable outcome of artistic computer usage (seethe excellent initiative 'Prints van Oranje' by the dynamic Dutch/Belgianartist group of the same name (They have a section on the BBS Art DocComm)). When the computer is as established in the average household, assay television is currently, then the concept of sending/selling sets ofsequenced graphics for home monitor (dare I say wall-sized art monitors?)display of computer art becomes a feasibility.

E-mail IS already taking a large percentage of traditional postal methods,and there are supposedly four and a half million new users each month. GuyBleus Eadmin Center is up and running if one considers the third edition ofhis magazine is already circulating the net.

After only three months on the network the volume of my incoming E-mail isgreater than I can read!... When I can get through that is (I get about 30/40pieces of regular mail a week, mostly letters these days).

We surf the waves of contemporary cultural initiatives and do not letourselves become swamped with the floods, should I say the inundation, withthe incoming tides of opportunity. Aye Aye!

RJ: In 1986 H.R. Fricker started with his tourism. He tried to move themail-artists from behind their desks and let them travel to meet the otherartist. In 1992 (DNC) even on wider scale mail-artists met. Is the Internetmaking us sit back at home again because we need to react on all theinformation we get through the net......?

Reply on: 7-3-1995

RS: Good question! Yes it's back to the cocoon with the only signs of lifecoming out of the telephone wire. The future watchers would have it that allbusiness will be conducted from the home with perhaps a weekly visit to theoffice. Well let's put a positive spin on it. If I were to switch entirely frombuying stamps to digipost it would save me money which I could use to traveland visit other artists! Hmm? Somehow I don't think so. It's just anothertool, it might make things fractionally cheaper. It's all very well for us toshout of fraternity, but the sheer geographical distances between netcellsdetermines that we stay at home most of the time. Besides that, I'm not sureI want to meet too many mail-artists, some of them probably wear grey socksand were born on a Tuesday afternoon or some similar cultural impedimentwhich is embarrassing to a highly sensitive analogue person like me <\ ;->

RJ: Glad to hear you are an analogue person (\ ;-) and you like smileys too(\:-). So, you don't like to meet too many mail-artists. Tell me a bit aboutyour experiences with meeting mail-artists. Did you meet most in Holland or did you travel to their places to meet them?

(besides the next question I normally also include some kind of letter withsome personal information, about my work, how I use my (old) computer formy mail-art and am thinking about buying a new one. Sometimes the answerto the interview-question and the personal letter are mingled together in theanswer in the interview)

RS: Busy huh Ruud? Tough the old teaching biz? Trouble with aninadequate computer eh Ruud? Finding it difficult to keep up with it all eh?Started to count the days between now and the pension have you Ruud? Youprobably have the 'flu, I know I have.

I'm trying to progress with my new novel but get endless interruptions, so weall have our frustrations. Let's see now, meeting mail artists, um... I getregular visits by many artists who think that mail-art is a stupid waste ofartistic energy and financial resources. Just lately, since the new postalprices were introduced and now that I'm getting more invitations to show myreal work, their statements are beginning to look like common sense.

The list of visiting mail-artists wouldn't be very long. Several visit regularlyso I'll list the ones that have come here more than once, Anna Banana, GuyBleus, *An-Dudek Durer, *Pawel Petasz, *Henryk Gajewski, PeterKustermann (net-mail), Charles François, *Pete Horobin, ***HelgiFridjonsson, *Vittore Baroni, Emilio Morandi, *Tom Winter, *Ever Arts...Well that's those I remember, several of these people (marked*) are matesfar beyond mail-art and we visit each other when we can. The number ofsingle visits made by artists is more difficult to come after, from the States,like Bloch, Held, Gaglione, Homler, then there are the Galantai's fromArtpool in Budapest, Ruedi Schill in Switzerland and H.R. Fricker from thesame land.

Mail artists I have visited or met otherwise... also not a lot, when Ieventually do get to America I will visit such monsters as John M. Bennett inOhio, Geoffrey Cook and the rest of the Californian crew. In Canada AnnaBanana. I'd like to visit Alex Z in the Ukraine and Ryosuke in Japan. When Itravel it is for the purposes of either bird-watching, landscape photographyor geology, mail-artists tend to be thin on the ground in the remote placesmy wife Liesbet and I like to visit.

Several mail-artists I have met are drones without much artistic expressionor energy. Actually that is exactly the same within the art world beyondmail-art now I come to think of it. The experimental poetry scene withinmail-art remains very positive.

Many of the mail art meets I have attended have been downright silly thoughthere have been exceptions. At the last meet I organized, the HEAVENmeeting for DCWWNC, or whatever it was called, my friends, the owners ofthe tearooms provided fine foods and drinks FREE to everyone, all fortyattending here offered hash cake, several took it, many for the first time,four people got so stoned they fell over, one very famous French artist pissedhimself. Now, when people wrote their reports about the event WHICHWAS A STATEMENT ON DRUGS TOURISM, not a single one was braveenough to tell the truth about the event. So my opinion upon the validity ofmail-art as a section of contemporary arts fell dramatically. EveryoneAPART from Guy Bleus totally missed (or deliberately ignored) the point.But then... Guy Bleus is one of very few who has made mail-art into an art.

This summer Liesbet and I are going to visit my old homeland of SouthernEngland and Wales, we will be staying with Magnus Palsson in London for afew days whilst we check out Kew Gardens, whilst there we also intend tocall in on The A.1. Waste Paper Co. and I have already made anappointment with Michael.

OK that was this bit. A bit strongly influenced by post-influenza infectionprobably but never mind. Incidentally Ruud, if you ever want to visit theVEC you are more than welcome, Best Greetings.

RJ: I notice this interview and our personal correspondance/dence arebeing mingled here, but in a mail-art interview anything is possible. I mustadmit I am tempted to answer all those things with a long letter, and I willdo so, But first the next question. The things that are written down aboutmail-art (referring to your experiences on DCWWWWWWNC, add or deletea few W's) don't always give a good impression of the mail-art. It is reallytrue that everybody has formed his own network that is surrounding him/her.Every personal network is worth documenting, and it is a pity only few ofthose networks are documented good because of the possibilities of the mail-artist. How important is this documenting for you? Should we document atall or should we leave that to others. Is the documenting determiningeventually how people will see mail-art. (Sorry for so much questions atonce, but they just come up at the moment)

Reply on: 26-04-1995

RS: Koowell, we'll use Email for correspondancing and this disc medium forexchange of the interview. Your questions this time refer to:

Documentation of archive materials and the ripples on ones own lake. I havealways considered mail-art a free exchange between consenting artists, acelebration of fraternal communication, an interesting armchair journey. TheVEC Audio Exchange Project 1979-1983 was my contribution to the Mail-ArtNetwork, logical as I'm an audio artist.

Genuine original international projects have been very few and far between.Individual contacts have been welded. I have often used the internationalaspect of mail art to realize personal projects, International mail has anintrinsic value which is exotic, mysterious, even dangerous perhaps? Theseare, as they always have been, fine emotive elements for considerationduring the production of artwork. Documentation of mail art is an art byitself.

The creation of a pseudo-bureaucracy as an art-project when I was a studentat the Jan van Eyck Academy was the How? I became involved in mail-art. I've maintained detailed documentation on three elements of my mail artexperience. But first let me tell you the area where there is absolutely NOdocumentation, postcards and individual items of mail-art are placed inchronological ordered boxes, they are not even sorted out into artist order.

I have perfect analogue triple-cross referred documentation on the audiocassette archive (808 cassettes in the archive). Artists books, catalogues,posters and publications are on a data-base with full and deep searchfacilities.

A cardex system is the way I maintain addresses and I log what I've receivedand dispatched on the same card, so basically I can see everything I'vereceived and what I sent out since 1978.

This documentation is only important to me as it still functions as anelement of the original pseudo-bureaucracy project. For me, only Guy Bleushas IMPORTANT documentation, everything else is absorbed into thearrogant black hole of my anarchistic attitude.

RJ: Do you archive the electronic things too? Do you keep all the E-mailmessages you get, the graphics you made etc.?

Reply on: 6-5-95 (internet) 7-5-95 (disk)

(The diskette was brought to me by John Held Jr. and Bill Gaglione whenthey visited me on 7 & 8 of May after their performance in Paris and theirvisits to Guy Bleus & Rod Summers)

RS: Yes to both questions, Email is saved to disc, archived to another discand sometimes I make a small edition of A5 hard-copy books (LamersProgress) from a session at the emailbox. I keep all the graphics I make onthe computer in uncompressed form on, at the time of writing 14:30,6 May 1995, 60 DD DS floppies. All the images are logged by title and dateof production, disc and directory into a fast and efficient database.

A similar database is used to catalogue the 31 floppies of DTP as visualpoetry, fax art, scripts etc. My computer is blessed with a 260 megabyte harddrive of which 30 megs are graphics or DTP files. Slowly computers becomeinter-compatible in the facility to read each others graphic output. We justrequire a little more patience before communication utopia becomes auniversal reality.

RJ: Lots of specific dates and numbers in your last question. Are thesenumbers important to you?

Reply on 13-6-1995

RS: Numbers, dates and lists have a special significance to the follower ofpoetic reality, like considering the number of bibles hand transcribed beforethe date Gutenburg got his alphabet-block act together and the lists ofdisappearing species littered pages made of disappearing trees. Numbersgive perspective and dimension to historical time and space. We delineatethe greater part of our experience with parameters described in numbers, so,yes, I think you can say numbers are important to me though mathematics isnot the strongest of my suits. [How's your English?]

Magpies can count up to five. The Viking age ended on 25th. September1066. My computer has ten megabytes of memory. The next life is manylifetimes away. I go on holiday on the 19th. June. This was answer numberten.

RJ: Well, these ten questions with the ten answers gave a really nice viewabout your involvements in , and thoughts about mail art. Thank you for theinterview!

- END -

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

Mail-artist: Rod Summers, V.E.C., P.O.Box 1051, 6201 BB Maastricht, NETHERLANDS

phone: +31.43.434939

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

E-mail Ruud Janssen

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