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. This is the updated file on 9 december 1995.
Started on: 3-12-1994
RJ: Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on: 7-1-1995
AB: This is one of those questions I've answered so many times, I thought everyone knew by now! Anyway, for the record, here goes. In 1971, I was living outside the small town of Sooke, on Vancouver Island. In an attempt to connect with some creative people, I declared myself the Town Fool of Victoria, capital of the province of British Colombia, some 36 miles from where I was living. That turned out to be an uphill climb, and in an effort to communicate with the populace of Victoria, I started publishing the Banana Rag. I delivered copies of this newsletter by hand to a number of public schools in the Victoria area, and while I was at it, I mailed copies to some of my artist friends in Vancouver.
The response from the schools was varied, and in some instances, I was invited into the schools to do activities with the students. One of my friends in Vancouver who was then a member of the Image Bank collective, responded with a copy of the Image Bank Request List. This little 2-page flyer brought the first information I had that there was, in fact, a network. It was a list of names and addresses of artists, and the sorts of images they wanted to receive; lips, clouds, 50's cars, that sort of thing. I went through my stack of old clip magazines and put together an envelope for each of the perhaps 20 artists listed, and mailed them out, with a copy of the Banana Rag, and a note stating that I was interested in receiving ANYTHING to do with bananas; images, news stories, jokes, music, whatever, as long as it had a reference to bananas. Within 2 or 3 weeks, my mail-box came alive, and here I had the sort of enthusiasm and response I was missing elsewhere in my life. Amongst the bananas, there were samples of the others' work, invitations to projects, etc., and before I knew it, I was HOOKED.
In the course of the next year and a half, I responded to all the mail I received, participated in all projects I heard about, and expanded the number of artists I was exchanging with to perhaps 100. When I left Sooke, it was to go on the road, to meet my correspondents, and decide where I would live next. I intended to drive across Canada, down the eastern USA, across the southern states, and up to the West Coast. However, the van I bought to make this trip in turned out to be a lemon, and my start was delayed for 6 months. When I did leave Canada in May of 1973, I went south into Washington, Oregon and California. In the Bay Area, I met with all 12 of my mail art connections, and decided pretty quickly that was the place for me to live.
However since I had written to all my correspondents that I was heading their way, I went on with the trip for another 2 months, after which, I realized a number of things:
- The USA is huge, and driving across it more time consuming than I had figured.
- Driving alone across vast stretches of the continent was not all that much fun.
- Most of my correspondents were men, and most of them had wives or lovers who, while they tolerated my visit, were none too enthused about it.
- In San Francisco, I had met my future husband, and I knew that was where I wanted to live. I decided to quit the mega-trip, and headed back to San Francisco at the end of August, where I settled down for the next 8 years, getting even more committed to mail art with the publication of VILE magazine, which I began in 1974.
RJ: This extensive answer arises a lot of questions in me, but I have to settle for one now. Some mail-artists have a private life besides their mail-art life, but in your case it seems that your private life and your mail-art world got completely integrated. I remember the issue VILE (#8, 1983), and it looked like your life and your art were the same at that moment. Some photo's of you and Bill Gaglione indicate the same. Am I right?
Reply on : 18-4-1995
AB: During those years with Bill, we were both very involved with mail art and performance art, and there was very little time for anything else (exceptthe everyday jobs/work we did to support that activity which took up the majority of our time! We just don't write about that stuff.), so I suppose you are right, at that moment, my life and art were very integrated. What isn't apparent from that view you had of us from VILE #8, is that we both DID have jobs or paying work that is never spoken about in the context of the magazine. The humdrum work that just about everyone has to do to pay the bills. Bill had a variety of jobs over the year, and after working in a printshop, and for a weekly newspaper, I started my own graphic design and production company, Banana Productions, which is how I earned the money to publish VILE and the Banana Rag.
Certainly our performing, publishing and mail-art activities did NOT pay our rent, or put food on the table, and we both spent a good deal of our time at those money-earning activities in order to SUPPORT our mail art, publishing and performance work. Further, we both had friends and activities that were not related to art, but our social life was within a circle of art-related friends, and many of my friends in San Francisco were persons with whom I had exchanged mail-art before I went there.
RJ: Why did the VILE magazine stop? What was your next step?
Reply on : 9-5-1995
AB: It cost too much to produce and mail. It took too much time and there were other things I wanted to do. I felt hemmed in by the need to "do the next issue." Bill wanted to take it in directions that weren't consistent with my initial concept of it. My relationship with Bill was falling apart. I was tired of the vile focus, and felt it wasn't an appropriate publication in which to air other sides of my perceptions and activities. I'd "been there, done that," and it was time to move along, do something else.
At the beginning of our cross Canada tour of 1980, we were offered a sublet on an apartment in Vancouver. We had been evicted from our apartment in San Francisco the month before we left, and had put all our things in storage. We decided to take the sublet and move to Vancouver - a MAJOR change. That never happened. I moved and he stayed.
Arriving in Vancouver in late January 1981, I was like a fish out of water. I didn't know at that point that Bill would not be coming up, but I was still feeling very displaced. All my close friends were in San Francisco, and the situation I moved into wasn't quite what I had imagined it to be. In late February I went back to SF to do a final performance with Bill, one we had scheduled before the trip. At that time it became clear that he wouldn't be moving to Canada.
During those first two years in Canada, I tried to quit mail art. I did only one issue of the Banana Rag, in 1981, and I almost let the mail accumulate, unanswered. Early in 1982, I convinced the local TV station to host my 10th anniversary April Fool's Day event; the Going Bananas Fashion Contest. I applied for a grant to create the new performance work, Why Banana? and in the fall of '82, toured it across Canada and the USA. After that, I applied for funding to produce About Vile, so that I could bring VILE to an official conclusion, use the materials that people had sent for it, and wrap up that period of my life. (my years in San Francisco '73-'81).
Once I had published About VILE (in 1983), the natural place to distribute it was the network. Once I started distributing it, of course, the responses started flowing in.... and I got caught up again in sending and receiving mail. I altered the format and focus of the Banana Rag, making it more a mail-art information/forum, than the strictly banana content of the earlier editions. I had overspent the budget to print About VILE, and ended upwith a debt, no money, no job, and no commercial contacts in Vancouver. The printers wanted the balance due, and I approached them with the proposition; give me a job, and I'll pay what I owe. I was hired and worked there for two years, learning the ins and outs of full-color printing, doing paste-up and camera work, and a lot of in-house design.
In 1984, I was back in San Francisco for the Inter Dada '84 events, and spent 3 weeks working with my friend Victoria Kirkby on a performance, In the Red, which we presented in that festival. In '85 I did a performance art workshop with art students in Calgary. We worked with the material from "in the Red," producing a new work, In the Red, In the Black. In '85, I quit the producing job, and free-lanced my design services, both to the printer, and to other clients and connections I had begun to develop. I continued printing and sending the Banana Rag, and in the fall of '86, I did a second tour of Europe, this one solo.
RJ: At the moment you are very active with artistamps. When did you start with those? What is so fascinating about them?
Reply on : 3-6-1995
AB: I did my first artistamp in response to an invitation by Ed Varney in the mid-70's. He reproduced a number of my stamps on one of his many "anthology sheets." The first ones I did were in B&W, and he printed them in black and red. Then somewhere around '76 or '77, Eleanor Kent, who was a neighbor of mine in San Francisco, got a Color Xerox machine in her home, and invited me to come and work with it. I produced my first two editions on that machine, along with many other collages and postcards, and Eleanor introduced me to Jeff Errick of Ephemera, which produced buttons, postcards and stamps. He allowed me to go and perforate my stamps there, in trade for copies of each edition. I believe it was also during that period (late 70's) that Ed Higgins did his Nudes on Stamps book, producing sheets of artistamps from nude portraits of mail artists. On the cover of each issue, he stuck the stamp of the person to whom he was sending the catalogue.
While all of this whetted my appetite for the stamp format, it wasn't until I moved back to Vancouver, and started working at Intermedia Press, that I really got the BUG for stamps. I saw the editions Varney had produced, and found myself wanting that quality of reproduction and that quantity of stamps so that I could really USE them, not just trade sheets. Through my job at Intermedia, I learned the technology necessary to produce full color, photo offset editions, however I didn't put this into practice right away.
My initial editions done in Vancouver, were reproduced using Color Xerox, and these dated from 1984, when I had an artist in residence on Long Island, NY, and had the time and resources to experiment with the medium. I also did a series that year commemorating the Inter-Dada '84 Festival. The originals of these editions were still collages, as were my 15-sheet Euro-Tour Commemorative edition which I did in 1987 after my '86 European trip. For these editions, however, I utilized the brand new Canon Laser color copier, and was very impressed with the results. However, these were still pretty pricey to produce, and that's when I started doing the figuring necessary to cost out a full-color printed edition. I circulated this information in 1987, and in 1988 produced the first two editions of International Art Post. There are 16 editions of these in print to date, and considerably more of my own, limited editions, for which I still utilize the Canon Laser copier. (Full colour printing is still too costly to use for all my own editions).
There are many aspects of artistamps that engage my attention. I think the first thing that grabs me about them, is that they parody of an official currency/medium of exchange. People still do double-takes when looking at an envelope with artistamps on them. Because they look so REAL, the question always comes up, "are they real/legal?" , "Can I mail a letter with these?" I like this aspect, because it startles people, and makes them question what IS real. Since I have a healthy disrespect for most government agencies, this is very satisfying.
Another side of this aspect is that of putting ones own subject priorities on a stamp, claiming or assuming power, or the trapping of power, and again, demonstrating that often appearances are deceiving.
Years ago I gave up object making, as it produced too many bulky products that then had to be stored, framed, shipped, etc., all of which took up a lot of room and money. If you put $200 worth of materials and $500 worth of your time into a work, it wasn't easy to just give it away, and so one felt obliged to take care of there products. I felt there was already too much "stuff" in the world, and I didn't want to be producing more, especially of things that would tie me down, in terms of mobility, space, and resources. I gave up object making to become the Town Fool of Victoria, creating public events, interactions, and doing mail art.
The beauty of stamp art is that it doesn't take up a lot of room, doesn't require exotic equipment and supplies (other than a pin-hole perforator!). One doesn't have to have a huge studio in which to work. One can experiment with different medium without a big cost factor. One can produce a large body of work, and keep it all in one simple box on the shelf, or in an album. One can produce additional copies of an edition as they are required, rather than having to do a huge run all at once. One can send single sheets, or a whole show around the world without great expense, trade with other stamp makers, and produce limited editions at a relatively moderate cost.
Furthermore, they have a USE. They are not just for matting and framing, but torn up and put on envelopes, they become a colorful and provocative elements on a mail-art piece. One can make a statement with a stamp, in a very limited space. I LOVE THEM!
RJ: Because you are active in mail art for such a long time, you must have received a lot of mail art too. Did you keep it all? How would you describe'your archive'
Reply on 28-07-1995
AB: Yes, I kept everything except for chain letters, which I either destroyed, or when I was feeling particularly patient, sent back to sender with a note explaining that I do not consider this form of communication in any way art, or even mail art. I think they are tyrannical and unimaginative, and I have NEVER responded to any of them as requested.
If I had only one word to describe my archive, it would be "humongous," or perhaps more accurately, "comprehensive." Being a "paper addict," and an "image junkie," I treasured the mail I received from the very beginning. When I left Canada in May of '73, driving in a Dodge van which I had modified to be my home, I carried with me my mail art archive which consisted of 2 boxes of material. When I took up residence in San Franciscoin August of '73, one of my first purchases was a file cabinet. During my 8 years in San Francisco, the collection grew by leaps and bounds, partly because I was publishing VILE magazine, and everyone in the network then was anxious to have their works documented by having them reproduced in the magazine. I also continued publishing the BANANA RAG during that period, and that also drew numerous mailings from the network.
When I left San Francisco in 1981, I had 40 boxes of archival material shipped to me in Vancouver. While perhaps a third of that was books, at least half of them related to mail-art shows and projects, and a good many were "network 'zines." For the most part, I have filed the books, periodicals and catalogues separate from the letters and mailings, to make access to them easier. In the absence of a catalogue of the archive, this isn't the most satisfactory solution, since any time I wanted to refer to a particular artist, I couldn't just one place in the system to get a complete picture of their activity. I also streamed out postcards, as their own category, and in more recent years, have separated the artistamp sheets from the rest of the materials. The advantage of this system, of course, is that if I want to present a talk about postcards, artistamps, or books and 'zines, I don't have to go ploughing through all fifty boxes of material to find what I want. Maybe someday I'll get around to cataloguing it all, but having recently sold and catalogued 400 pieces to the National Postal Museum of Canada, I don't think that'll be any time soon. Cataloguing is a tedious and time consuming activity which I can't afford to do at this point. That's all for now, over and out-
RJ: It seems that the Postal Museums are very interested in mail art these last years. What are the plans of the Canadian Postal Museum with your collection?
Continue with Interview . . .
Mail-artist: Anna Banana, P.O.Box 2480, Sechelt B.C., CANADA VON 3A0
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen - TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, NETHERLANDS