Started on: 4-2-1996
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 14-2-1996
GR: During 1970-74 I realized several postal actions with contributions of friends and unknown persons in a small frame.
My first involvement with the mail art network goes back to 1974, through my contact with the group "ECART" (Geneva), which had in that time an extensive correspondence exchange with the first mail-networkers (look hereby this old rubber stamp which mentioned 1974 as begin of my "NETWORK" activity).
One of my first participations to an international MA-show was 1975 in your country, organized by G.J. de Rook ("STAMP-ART", Utrecht), followed by several other MA-shows and contacts with artists-editors (R. Rehfeldt / (CONTART) - P. Petasz / (COMMONPRESS) - V. Baroni / (ARTE POSTALE) - A. Banana / (VILE) - J. Juin / (SPHINX) - and so on).
In 1980 I published the commonpress issue no 36 ("IDEA & CO") with 120 participants of 23 countries and with whom I exchanged later (weekly & daily) correspondence, which influenced at least my private life.
RJ: How did mail art influence your private life?
Reply on 29-2-1996
GR: At the beginning of my mail art involvement I received every month about a dozen of postcards, which grew rapidly in the following years to something like 600 mailings yearly (that means every day 2-3 letters).
Participating and answering to some hundreds of mail-invitations brought several time problems for me, I had the choice during a limited time of 2-3 hours the day to develop my own artistic projects or to answer only to other's mail-projects.
With my wife Colette I had a very pleasant private life, but after a time my interest for the mailbox became bigger and bigger. Our 3-persons' house- hold (Colette, the mailbox and I) had some charming aspects, until several difficulties between the mailbox and my wife appeared. So, a strange day I went with Colette on one hand and the mailbox on the other hand to a psychiatrist to try to save the rest of our private life. His (Psy) observation could be set in a short statement: - more information your receive, less personal communication you can do, e.g...... quantity is not quality - (the problems between Colette and the mailbox are now resolved). And of course I heard from similar problems of the network, a reason why I asked years later during the first international MA-Congress 86 my mail partners about their experiences in this field (Look under "phone- congress 86" in the catalog-report).
RJ: What was the story behind this MA-congress 86 when you look at it ten years later?
Reply on 19-3-1996
GR: Well, a good question. Ten years later several "network" ideas have changed and the earlier congress-matter has influenced different meetings of mail artists, which were named later "congress-meetings". It was surely one of the biggest mail art events of the eighties (including some 500 participants with 80 sessions in 25 countries). An interesting interpretation about the congress-idea was written under others by Géza Perneczky in his book "THE MAGAZINE NETWORK"; you find other statements and articles about those sessions in some artists' conclusions, newspaper articles and at last in my congress report.
Network-problems in the eighties came through contrary views about mail- communication. For some people an exchange had only to do with a social (political) character in which the "artistical" point was secondary (e.g. : "everybody is an artist"). For some other people an exchange had only to do with a artistical (cultural) character in which the "social" point was secondary (e.g. : "every artwork implicates a social context"). So, I don't know if today these problems are resolved, what I know is that a lot of networkers of the eighties don't participate today to all so-called "MA-Shows". Some of them are definitively "out", others have new occupations with medias like computer-tools, which encloses other artists circuits.
My own idea to initiate such a big undertaking like that congress came through the wish to discuss together with networkers own problems of information / autonomy / cooperation / art context.... (and accumulated time- problems / correspondence-selections / history-interpretations / financial difficulties in relation to mail art). For that reason I produced too a formulary to be answered by the participants (organizers of own sessions). But with all my engagement, printed informations and answerings to hundreds of mailings (including 5 visits to congress sessions in 4 countries) all became a little bit too much for me. My co-partner to this congress-event H.R. Fricker, who I invited to work together with me, didn't help very much. He used the background of that event to circulate his "tourism"-ideas and own printed postage stamps. "Tourism" was never for me a good development of expanded mail art (on one hand through its relation to any "ism", on the other hand through its advertising "mass-tourism", contrary to individual meetings). Of course the "meeting" idea behind Fricker's slogan which he interpreted as "new" couldn't be looked at as such; several networkers, especially Ray Johnson, proposed from the beginning of their mail-communication "meetings". So, at last Fricker got angry with me and our co-working finished in quarrels and fights, a reason why I ended the congress-project alone (most of the congress material was sent to my address).
Concerning my questionnaire and other mailed informations, I received nearly thousand letters with some 200 specific answers to my request, of which I selected 76 responses (look at page 30 of my congress report). Naturally you can say it was a very personal selection, because it was ME who questioned, searched and chose the content of the answers, but it was probably also the first time that mail art was discussed by hundreds of participants in a "open & public way". The show was this time not about mail art, the show was about the mail artist. I have to add that these meetings were especially created in a informal way (sometimes like a house-party, sometimes like a festival) and the thematic discussions developed themselves during the meetings. The "decentralized matter" allowed that the independent aspect of the sessions wasn't touched, the result was not the meeting-idea in itself, but the face to face contact of individuals which knew each other before only through mail-exchanges.
RJ: What about the Decentralized Networker Congresses in 1992? Was this just a reproduction of the 1986 congress meetings, or was there a new aspect?
Reply on 4-4-1996
GR: In my eyes the "NC-92" was a copy of the earlier "MAC-86", therefore I haven't participated to that repetition, but I saw that my name was anyway in the 92-list. Of course the NC-92 included not alone mail art but also E-mail communication and it was said that more people participated in the NC-92 than in the MAC-86. Some of those "participants" told me later that they haven't met in reality their partners, like it was done in 1986 (they connected them through postal mail and/or electronic mail). As next, some argued that instead of "discussing future network possibilities" in a decentralized manner, a centralized databank was set up and is now to reach at the University of Iowa (USA).
So, I don't know, it seems that the "new aspect" was an old aspect, a sort of remake in electronic media without new strategies. If I'm interested on collaborative working my first interest goes to the work of my partner (idea / concept / creativity) and only secondly to his E-mail tools. I'm not against communication medias like computer tools and Internet, but the substance of the transmitted message shouldn't be anachronic. To produce a "cyberstamp" in electronic media and send it via Internet through the space is a little bit like a Hong Kong-copy of a Van Gogh Picture. In Internet you don't need stamps & envelopes, it goes without the postal system, to use a stamp (even symbolic) has really nothing to do with that media nor with a networker development. By the way, I remember a statement by Vittore Baroni (printed in REAL CORRESPONDENCE / 92): "... the congresses I've seen simply failed to convey any useful information about the development of such a new networking landscape. The short collective discussions verged once again on MA-topics that have been widely debated in the past - in the 1986 MAC for example....".
RJ: For people outside the network it is quite difficult to find information about mail art. Many books written about mail art are produced by mail artists, published in very small editions and collected/bought by mail artists. Sometimes it seems only mail artists are interested in their history, but not all (newcomers..) are well informed about that. Is this true and should it be changed?
Reply on 22-4-1996
GR: Indeed, that's a basic difficulty, books are essential for the MA-development. But it's also a mistake for newcomers to think that information came up itself (and could be exchanged against a B&W xerox). To understand mail art you need to study the mechanism (and publication links) of that exchange system. Every searched work, book, information in and about mail art can be found individually, through several MA-archives (and/or by writing directly to concerned editors). There are existing lists of special books & magazines which will inform everybody who wants to search. Last week I became from a German museum several demands regarding documents and publication- material of the old DDR. This material couldn't be found elsewhere, that means that my small archive is listed and known for specific research.
We are naturally very far from a "centralized" information (mail art is a decentralized system per se) and diversity is an important factor. So the general problem is not the "limited information", the problem is that a newcomer took his own "reduced" view (or source) as the only information for the whole network, ignoring other books and archive-sources.
I could give you lots of examples where not alone newcomers but "oldies" too, bring their own personal sight as the "complete information" for the network. Do you remember the "CORRESPONDENCE ART" book by Crane & Stofflet, which was part of anger and frustration for several not-mentioned mail artists. My own book documentation "MA-Congress 86", in the hands of perhaps 300 mail artists and several archives (also in museum libraries & bookstores), was not mentioned in the last so-called source book "ETERNAL NETWORK" of Chuck Welch.
Things like that could be changed through inclusion of additional databanks from more networkers or archives. A step in this direction was done for example by Géza Perneczky, who searched -before making his book- not alone in his own big archive, but in several other MA-files. Everybody who wishes to have information about mail art zines & reviews can order this book directly by Perneczky himself (and at least the price isn't higher than in any commercial mass-edition).
RJ: The museum in Schwerin isn't the first museum that wants to exhibit a selection of mail art from various archives of mail artists. Does mail art fit in a 'traditional' museum? What do you think of this development?
Reply on 9-5-1996
GR: The Schwerin museum wasn't the first institution that asked me about MA- documents (during the last years I became requests from various museum- corners in Europe & USA). These demands were mostly bound with specific questions related to archive-documents, less with invitations asking my personal contribution. You have to differentiate between "invitational" MA- shows and "documentary" MA-shows...
Personally I think a "invitational" MA-show would probably better fit in his marginal character outside of a museum, a "documentary" MA-exhibition, addressed to a larger public would fit in a museum (a museum is a cultural public place, which should show all facetted of contemporary art-informations, even alternative or unknown ones). A MA-show in a museum should be curated & organized by someone who knows well the MA-community (the Schwerin museum will give an overview about a MA-period of the old GDR- regime, curated by an ancient MA-member, Guy Schraenen, and prepared with help of GDR-artists, Birger Jesch u.o.).
If several artists said years ago that mail art "must get out of its ghetto", then of course museum institutions can't be excluded - it has a logic. Counting all the museum-shows of the last years (PTT-museums & Country Museums), which included mail art I want to know which mailer hasn't participated in his life to a museum-show? (I saw always big participants-lists).... the first MA- shows under the trade-mark "CORRESPONDENCE ART" started in museums like the Whitney Museum N.Y., the Joslyn Museum Omaha, or the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. My own first solo-show 1975, related to marginal media (rubber-stamps / xerox / flyers / S-8 films / small offset) was held in a museum and became through this "official" space another impact for the audience.
RJ: Most mail artists connect your name with the magazine CLINCH. What was the concept of this magazine?
Reply on 24-5-1996
GR: The concept of CLINCH was bound with the wish to have a self-made assembling-magazine, cheap in its production-costs, simple and complicate at the same time, open to everybody and every world-conception, -including contributing artists from the whole globe. A relatively strong conceptualized idea developed itself through the small stamp-size of the contributed originals (stickers/stamps).
CLINCH was founded as "alternative" art paper, was looked as "exchanged" proposition, mailed as "marginalized" information, exposed as "visualized" archive, and collected as "historified" MA-fragment by hundreds of participants. The magazine included in his 10 issues from 1983-88 (foundation 1982) some 400 participants, of which nearly 100 mailers contributed with own sticker-originals (it circulated also outside of the network in libraries and book archives).
Collecting, organizing & glueing all single stickers in each issue gave a lot of time-problems, which could only be resolved during nights (partly with the help of Colette). Together 25,000 originals were pasted with their glueing substance of auto-adhesive, water-glueing, or hand-sticking basis.
CLINCH brought such different individuals in company like "MA-kings" (Ray Johnson and G.A. Cavellini), "poetry-writers" (Dick Higgins or Richard Kostelanetz), "MAG-inventors" (Pawl Petasz or Vittore Baroni), "stamp- editors" (Anna Banana or György Galántai), "book-producers" (Ulises Carrión or Jürgen O. Olbrich), "poetry-performers" (Julien Blaine or Guillermo Deisler), "archive-conceptionalists" (Guy Bleus or Géza Perneczky), "social fighters" (Lon Spiegelman or Clemente Padin), "realism-painters" (Carlo Pittore or Leonard Duch), "myth-constructors" (Istvan Kantor or Al Ackerman), and so on.... impossible to mention them all. CLINCH was an overlapping "mixed media" product with interdisciplinary weight of eighties MA- development (the projected theme of each issue was going from visual poetry to random material, in which originals at a sticker basis became special values). Some contributed works focused directly on the medium as source of information and meaning. Every participant received a copy free for himself, another part was exchanged with publications of the network, a third part was sold (which paid a little bit the distribution-costs, never the production- costs). Naturally my aim was not to make money, but to spread information and receive "other" publication-material in exchange.... and that aim was plenty fulfilled.
During the years a lot of articles were written about this magazine, Guy Bleus organized last year a retrospective exhibition of CLINCH in Belgium. If CLINCH was open during 5 years to everybody, I invited and chose in my other self-made editions (OUT-PRESS) only artists which worked similar to my own art-conception, or had at least experience in such network development.
RJ: When you 'sum up' the different individuals that participated to your CLINCH (like "poetry-writers" or archive-conceptualists"), I wonder in which group you would place yourself. What is special in your art-conception?
Reply on 17-6-1996
GR: Firstly, I hope you don't regard my description of MA-individuals as "categorized" group separated in art-disciplines (myth-constructors or MA- stars can't be categorized under disciplines). If I have mentioned them, than by illustrating their diversity, each of them is searching and experimenting his own way of seeing or thinking which isn't always clear in the beginning.....
Mixed media is for me one overlapping small media-concept in which disciplines are used in a simultaneous way (the media-tool itself can be either a rubberstamp or a soundtape). The weight lays on the creative act of using cheap media in a direct and simple context with multiple reflections. Besides mixed media exists intermedia (another field, largely explained by Dick Higgins in his interview with you), and it exists multimedia (which would fit better with the use of electronic media).
My own mixed work includes small media-concepts which could be partly realized only through collaboration with invited artists using themselves small media (choosing to collaborate means to negotiate the use of time, effort and materials that are available). To explain these processes hereby some examples:
- In 3 months I will perform a sound-poetry collaboration in Geneva together with 5 invited networkers (J.O. Olbrich / Rod Summers / Guy Bleus / Fernando Aguiar / Robin Crozier) at the "Festival de Genéve / POESIES SONORES". The projected transmission includes several communication- instruments (telephone / fax & others) ; besides the media-tools things like "cooperation" / "time" / "moment" / "interval" will play an important role. The mixed project will create a situation in which every participant is responsible and simultaneous depending of collaborators work.....
- A year ago I organized & performed an event called "DIRECT" with 5 invited artists ("THE NOMADS") where we used during 8 days & nights found objects to produce a book-object and a film (35-mm). Parallel to that there was an artistamp-show with hundred participants (catalog).
- In 1994 the PTT-Museum Bern invited me (together with H.R. Fricker and M.V. Stirnemann) to collaborate to a documentary MA-Show, there I performed a short telephone-transmission with 8 artists from 8 countries (without knowing before what will happen, which call-interventions will produce, and what they want me to do......
- Similar actions & performances with inclusion of small media and a reduced number of participants were realized through me years before (the french television "CANAL PLUS" broadcasted a sort of overview about the international MA-network-communication, enclosing a documentary street action of mine from 1975). It was a personal performance in a public park of Geneva, implicating the "head-multiplication" of the cultural minister of that time, different media-support became instructions authorizing multiple interpretations.......
- To complete my concept I produced between 1976-86 a very small message-paper ("POSTPRODUCT") which was partly sent through marginal transportation channels like swimming bottles / tram-ways / train-wagons / paper-flyers / folded paper-airplanes / and so on. (of course, only a part of all "flyers" came to their destination and indicated addresses). The point of mixed media departures involves "everyday objects & actions" - parallel to these events & performances several artists were invited to contribute their media-originals to my edition OUT-PRESS.....
In the beginning of the eighties I tried to create another therm for my mixed media concept, I called it "CO-ART" (COncept / COntacts / COoperation / COrrespondence / COmmunication /COpyart / and so on.) So to your question "what is special in my art-conception" is the inclusion of different media-tools under different circumstances with different artists presence -and that differs drastically from the traditional form of mail art in which the influence of participants to the aim-strategy of the project is reduced to one medium and to one distance.
Only through personal contact and media-collaboration can you discover the social and human aspects of your partner (hardly through his mailings). From a visual point of view: my symmetrical "lines" which I often used in my picture- concepts could be looked partly as metaphor for "communication-lines" (telephone-lines / letter-lines / transportation-lines), partly as aesthetical form similar to minimal art, partly as ironical use in relation to prefabricated industrial products.....
RJ: Over the years that you were active in mail art you also used a lot of rubber stamps. What is a rubber stamp for you?
Reply on 29-6-1996
GR: An artist rubber stamp is for me a small visual media-signal, quickly utilizable, cheap in its production-costs and easy to transport - practical in all senses. Through its endless & overprint possibilities the stamp refer to a repetition- code containing personal message fragments. Prints are easy to reproduce, to combine and to mail them around the world (there is no other miniaturized artist medium which could be directly multiplicated on such small surfaces). Networkers stamps includes a communication vocabulary of our daily life which is immediately comprehensible.
I used rubberstamps since the end of the sixties and stamped one of my first R into my passport between official customs stamps of different countries ( R = Ruch / Rubber / Registrated - official meaning: R = Refused. My passport of the sixties was full of exotic custom rubberstamps from Europe and Orient, where I had traveled, hitchhiked, walked and lived during some time.
As you know, in two weeks (July) the "STAMP ART GALLERY" in San Francisco by Bill Gaglione will exhibit a big part of my rubber stamps and will produce a catalog "LIVING ROOM EXHIBITION". (With your own "TAM- RUBBER STAMP ARCHIVE" you have probably a good overview about a lot of networker's stamps from the last 15 years - also mine).
The first overview about rubberstamps (since the sixties) were given through book-publications like Herve Fischer's "ART & COMMUNICATION MARGINALE" (Paris/1974). The second volume of this book with some hundred new rubberstamping artists was printed & assembled years later through "ECART" in Geneva, but never bound and therefore never distributed. Other catalogs from that time are "STAMP ART" (G.J. de Rook / Amsterdam 1976) and "TIMBRES & TAMPONS D'ARTISTES" (Cabinet des Estampes / Geneva, 1976) .... followed by a lot of different rubberstamp shows & publications.
RJ: Again I notice in your answer that you are quite fascinated in the use of letters and their meanings (like the R you mentioned now). Is there a specific reason for that?
Reply on 28-08-96
GR: Sorry for the long time to wait at my answer. I was a whole month away from Geneva (in South-France) and another month I had to work for a special occasion here in Geneva......
Yes, of course alphabetical codes, abbreviations and letter fragments are playing an important role in my work - so, look at that "A" to you "Q" : In every word can be a semantic content and a similarity to fragments of other words (in the same or other languages). In a visual poem the word has not only verbal function but signify a state which can be unfolded, can be a new compound, or can bring a visual image through an alphabetic composition. Abbreviations help to underline the fragmentaric sense of "A to BE", filled with new possibilities of exploring a "WOR(L)D". "EYE" (I) was always interested how letters or short words could function in a double or triple sense with different determinations.
In the beginning of the eighties single letters like "N" (from "N-tity" = entity) were sent from several mailers, demonstrating their involvement as "N"-guild (N-ETWORK N-TITY). Other mailers used the word "ON" and his rotation "NO" for their short and limited answer to a participation-project. Another letter-sign on envelopes was "W" (from "W-ork), coming from his returned rotation "M" (M-ail). So, a sunny day I built with these 3 letters "N", "O", "W" a rubberstamp which could be read in all directions: "MON NOM: WON NOW". Only insiders could really understand why and from who these words turned off "NOW" with 2 significations in english and 2 other significations in french (Do it "NOW", than you have "WON"your name).
An older visual poem of me was built with the simple word "ART" in 4 languages (in every language-version the same word "ART" became a single letter-addition or a letter-rotation). The english version were read: "TART / RAT / TAR", the french version: "ARA / RATA / RAT", the German version: "RAT / TAT / RAR", the italian version: "TARA / RATA / ARA"......... together 12 different points of views in 4 languages by a 3 letter-combination).
In general "experimental" poetry begins there, where the letter has lost his normal verbal function, but could be decoded simultaneous in relation to another signification. Today we are living in an age of communication-speed in which abbreviations or hint-signals are used as quick transmission- vocabulary, why not integrate them into sound or visual poetry? .... You have not only to READ, you have also to THINK about their fragmental signification, a sort of pulsing life reflection. "OR" is in english a way for alternative (see "either"), the same "OR" means in french "GOLD" and in a phonetic understanding "OR" (OHR) means in German "EAR" - you can always play with another function of the same word. During the cultural "festival of Geneva" 1993 (POESIE SONORES) I worked & collaborated with Ward Tietz in a co-piece of alphabetical code- deciphering. We had small and big letter-objects (for example an "A" two meter high, or an "H" which I used as stilts by going with them on the stage). We cooperated, created, played and read that piece in several mixed materials, through flags the content was partly transmitted in a semaphoric way...... Coding - Decoding - Co ..... De.....
RJ: You mention that "......Today we are living in an age of communication-speed" and I guess you also mean the FAX and the E-mail. I know you have worked with the FAX-machines. What do you think of the E-mail and the use of Internet?
Reply on 14-10-1996
GR: Telephone / Fax / Internet are diffusion (transportation-) tools, Photocopy / Audiotape / Computer printer are reproduction -tools. Sometimes they are used together, sometimes they are integrated in one computer system, altogether they are looked as electronic medias. Diffusion and reproduction are separate through their destination of "distribution" and "product" (a copy- art product isn't automatically linked to be mailed after his printing). So, we have to reflect about what (diffusion or product) we speak.
The idea, the function and the result of E-mail are very different to postal art (and of course people which use only E-mail are often never in contact with the MA-network). Several mailers - like you too - told me that computer-mail is sometimes boring (no hand touched paper / no smell / no 3-D project / no special stamps, stickers or rubber stamps).
The other side of E-mail is of course the speed of the DIRECT-transmission and through Internet the elusion of high postal rates. But for whom (?).... only for people who have themselves such fax or computer tools with access to Internet (you can forget practically 90% of the third world, they haven't got access to that technology), also most european artists (mailers) are today not equipped with own computers.
The question is now, do you prefer to communicate with a small group of computer freaks or with a larger group of individuals (?). Depends the content of your message on transmission-speed (?). Can E-mail replace the substance of human contacts (?) --- look back to the big differences of the MA-congress 1986 (personal meetings) and the congress 1992 (computer- connections). Who needs more mailings, more contacts, more networkers, more speed and more technology (?).
Everybody knows that we are living in an age of information & communication in which computer-tools play a very important part, but our role - the role of an artist - is to question the media-percussion in our society. The "highways of information" are full of cliches which are bound with products of technology, and cliches which are bound with the distribution of such products. Communication-speed is one thing, how to look at it or to react against it is a complete other thing.... Independence and a certain liberty brought me during my MA-engagement to choose small reproduction-tools like the photocopy machine or the rubberstamp, daily diffusion-tools like the letter or telephone.
If I used very sporadically Fax and other diffusion technologies then because I had a short (paid) possibility through institutions to communicate with those instruments. At home I haven't any Fax or E-mail tool (but I have a telephone, a small photocopy-machine, an old Macintosh without access to Internet & CD-ROM).... and I have to add that in all my public events - in contrast to my MA-exchanges - telephone & fax played only a role for the speed during the time-limited spectacle (otherwise the public couldn't follow what happened). Background of these events are not to underline the importance of contemporary communication-tools, but on the contrary to question them and the often praised "media-consumer" ideology in an ironic way.
In the past it was said that somebody who writes postcards wouldn't be automatically a MA-artist, today we can say that somebody who uses Internet wouldn't be automatically an E-mail artist. Conclusion: it is not the medium alone which makes someone to an artist, it is the concept behind (how & why) which someone brings to choose his medium (....and that's a life-conception).
RJ: Some older mail artists say that mail art nowadays is just a repetition of what happened in the 70's and 80's, and that mail art in the 90's isn't interesting at all. What do you think?
Reply on 31-1-1997
GR: Of course mail art only as mailing-system is surely no longer interesting, look back to my statements about that matter and my publication "THE RISK" (by the way this question was hot discussed years ago during the "BIG MAC" 1986). Personally I reduced end of the eighties drastically my MA- communication and stayed since then in contact with a limited group of individuals with whom I had something in common.
Mail art is not an art-form or style in itself, but an artistical communication- structure which invites you to take part in it with new collaborative art- processes. These processes depend not of technological tools or computers (they can - the don't must), they depend on real "cooperation", "group- thinking" and similar "information-knowledge" from participants about the subject which will be developed together.
The word "Mail-Art" is today used for everything and nothing (I saw in some so-called "documentary" MA-catalogues printed declarations from people who have never participated to the MA-network). So is the word "Mail-Art" today really used in his original sense (?). For me that was one reason why I called developed cooperations on a mail-basis "CO-ART" (the co-operative co-ncept in co-llaboration has more importance than the mailed envelope).
The first number of my magazine CLINCH featured a "CO-WORK" diagram, described under others by Géza Perneczky in his book "MAGAZINE NETWORK" :
"....a parallelogramme whose sides were meant to represent relationships between correspondence partners. The diagonal stood for 'communication energy' which increased between partners in direct ratio to time & space. In other words, this diagram was meant to illustrate something else than just the traditional relationship between the 'sender' and 'receiver' . It featured numerous receivers, who then became senders in the next step. On the other hand, the diagram highlighted not the components of their direct relationships, but instead their 'vectors' or 'force', i.e. the amount of 'total communication' present in the formula. This force exceeded the personal contacts between the partners, since it represented their 'collective projection'..... "
RJ: Well, this interview has gone now for over one year. What do you think of the result so far of this project?
Reply on 10-5-1997
GR: The whole interview-concept with different participants is a brilliant idea and in straight line as continuation of discussions developed during the congress-sessions 1986. For me personally your interview is my fourth interview and the largest one over the last 10 years (not included some tape- recorded interviews of me from which I never saw the result).
The various thoughts of different interviewed people, you sent me, are very interesting (even if I don't always agree with all personal declarations). I saw under others that the propagated "computerized future" of MA devides your interviewed artists (globally there are links between Mail-art / E-mail & Internet , but real MAIL has to do with distance-concepts formalized through stamps, rubberstamps and other self-made material, produced by senders / receivers / PTT-offices.....)
The last interview-booklet of Ken Friedman, you sent me, is a demonstration to see how difficult it is to generalize the whole Mail-art field. I totally agree with Ken's statement about Internet:
".....There is no need for mail-art on the Internet. The net is a different kind of medium. It needs play, ideas and exchange, it doesn't need mail-art. People who see the Internet as an arena for mail-art are missing the point. Information technology has opened old fields to entirely new approaches....."
Other MA-interpretations of him are more difficult to eat:
"......The mail-art network is insular internalized, self centered, there is little understanding of history and culture, even little knowledge about history of mail-art....only a handful of mail-art writers make sense to outside scholars, you can count them on your fingers - Chuck Welch, Mike Crane, Judith Hoffberg, Anna Banana, John Held Jr., John Jacob ....... The Fluxus- writers knew their own history well, and many have been broadly conversant in general culture, culture theory and art- history. This makes a qualitative difference between fluxus and mail art, few mail artists know their own history well, they tend to oppose historical writing and thinking, they are often anti- experimental and judgemental about intellectual issues....."
So, from what and from whom talks Ken (?), what does Ken know about MY MAIL-CONTACTS and the people with whom I communicate (?). Should I buy a "flux-ticket" from Ken to enter in the "right" MA-circle (?). Mail-art doesn't know any leadership or hierarchic conception, Mail-art literature is not only limited to 6 north-american writers, Fluxus in Mail-art is a fact under several other facts.....
- To the leadership : feedback in that exchange system with other artists depends of receivers answer much more than of senders purpose.
- To the MA-writers : contrary to Ken I would say that "important literature" about Mail-art consists in european literature (a handful of those writers : Géza Perneczky (H/D) / Vittore Baroni (I) / Klaus Groh (D) / Guy Bleus (B) / Ulisses Carrion (MEX/NL) / Manfred Strirnemann (CH) / and others). Then it gives "east-european writers", "latin- american writers" and so on.....
- To the "qualitative differences": if I take Harry Ruhe's documentation "who is who" in "FLUXUS" (1979 / Amsterdam) which mentioned practically all fluxmembers, some of them have sporadically participated to my own MA-projects (besides Ken himself I received mail from such documented fluxpeople like Ben Vautier / Joseph Beuys / Davi det Hompson / Dick Higgins / Marcel Alocco / Dietrich Albrecht / Barbara Moore / Mauricio Nanucci / Tamas Szentjoby and at least Ray Johnson). Also I had during the seventies some short conversations with BEN / BEUYS / FILLIOU and an afternoon with H. SOHM in Stuttgart. Are these (mail) people all "self centered with little knowledge about their history"(?), or because they are (flux)members "they know their own history and are broadly conversant in general culture"(?).
A lot of flux-people - mentioned in Harry Ruhe's documentation - I saw in original (live) in their events / concerts / performances during the seventies & eighties (e.g.: John Cage / Ben Vautier / Joseph Beuys / Milan Knizak / Guiseppe Chiari / Emmet Williams / and so on). I saw also most (probably all) "flux-films" produced by flux-members at special occasions, presented partly through the "american filmakers cooperative" as too through "Ben Vautier" personally.
To illustrate my own involvement with flux-related history I have to go back to the sixties: my first information about "fluxus" came in 1964 through a small bookstore in Stuttgart, the town where I lived and studied graphic-design then. In this bookstore I found by chance some issues of Wolf Vostell's magazine "DECOLLAGE", the number 4 brought a short overview about some flux & happening people (in that time nobody spoke about that movement). A year later Vostell's book documentation "HAPPENINGS" (Rowohlt / 1965) was published (including lots of flux-related pieces) and some months later came Jean-Jacques Lebel's "LE HAPPENING" (Deno‰l / Paris 1966) at the desk. The well known book documentation of H. Szeemann & H. Sohm "HAPPENINGS & FLUXUS" (K”ln / 1970) introduced that movement in museums and the gallery-system.
Well, between the time Colette had made a lecture at the Art school in Basel (1966 / AGS-Basel) about "DIFFERENCES BETWEEN FLUXUS & HAPPENING", in which she used the quoted documents. Some years later (in the earlier seventies) I came in contact with the group "ECART" (Geneva) which run a gallery / bookshop / and printing-room and where I found and bought some books of the legendary "SOMETHING ELSE PRESS" (Dick Higgins). It was the beginning of a fruitful communication-exchange and performance-collaboration with that group, we did together a lot of flux-pieces from partitions of known flux-authors. Parallel to that the first Mail-art shows in Switzerland were presented through ECART (e.g. : ENDRE TOT / DAVID ZACK / ROBIN CROZIER / HERVE FISCHER'S RUBBERSTAMP BOOK / ANNA BANANA'S & BILL GAGLIONE'S PERFORMANCES / and others)
In the same time I founded in Geneva - together with Colette - my own edition "OUT-PRESS" (1973), after having done some self-organized street-actions (this more marginal & small artist-edition published later several collaborating MA-networkers).
So far, influence from fluxus to the earlier Mail-art is a fact that I always underlined (look e.g. my interview with Dobrica Kamperelic 1987) - but fluxus was not the only influence. For example, in the moment I'm preparing a documentary lecture with slides, tapes & video's about SOUND & MAILBOX ("SON & BO×TE POSTALE") to show them here in Geneva during the annual festival. An interesting view to understand how known sound-poets, visual poets and mail-poets participated in the past together in mail-projects, resulting in published records or audio-cassettes. There you can see and hear influence of concrete poetry, lettrism, as too experiments in new wilderness.
Some other influential aspects on the earlier Mascene were described in my "SHORT UNCOMPLETE CHRONOLOGY OF MA" (1980). That chronology had a relatively success and was reprinted by half-dozen of MA-zines & catalogues.
In 1981 it was Vittore Baroni who printed the chronology at the cover of "ARTE POSTALE! No 19", and sent to several A.P. - readers (under others to Ray Johnson, who reacted weeks later by mailing me a "FAN-CLUB" letter, insisting directly to one point of that "chronology"). It was my first contact with Ray going over a 5-6 years period.
O.K., after discharging my flux-constipation - overbearing history is difficult to digest - I can entrust you that sometimes my criticism is very near to Ken's one: qualitative differences are often not between flux-artists & mail-artists, qualitative differences are often between (mail) artists & (mail) artists......
Back to your question of "THE RESULT OF THESE INTERVIEWS": They will stay as clarification & overview about different (sometimes contrary) standpoints, which are bound together in the "historicity" of Mail-art..... Thank you for your help & hard work to realize this network-puzzle.
RJ: I guess it is time now to end the interview. Thank you for your time and energy too. Now let others read the words that are produced, or did I forget to ask you something?
Reply on 10-5-1997
GR: It was a pleasure to answer to your "Q's", big thanks for the reflection- massage. Of course it would give much more to tell but we are at the end of our conversation, perhaps only a short post-script to the begin of my ART- COMMUNICATION :
The sixties were a over boarding creative time with revolutionizing culture & society changements, including new art-forms (besides fluxus it gave pop-art / minimal-art / land-art / street-art / sound-poetry /photo-realism and distance- concepts in form of "correspondence-art"), that all in front of a background of student revolts / anti-Vietnam war-protests / hippie-movements / world ecological reflections......
In this "hot" time of society-innovations I undertook as student some larger trips to get out of "traditional" life-problems, to smell fresh air, stimulated by chance, adventure, exploring unknown countries, free life, essays of survive without consume and testing alternative communication & travel- forms (that all without having any money). My venturous trips with the most cheap transport-tools (hitch-hiking / trekking) brought me to countries like Turkey / Syria / Jordanie (3 months) / to Sicily (6 months) / to Greece (3 months) / to France and different stays in Scandinavia / Spain / Holland / as Jougoslavia too. There I learned a lot of communication without using language, of trips without maps, road signs without roads, the risky entering of passing rail boggie-wagons, repetition-music from railroad tracks, smells of strange perfumes, miles & miles with truck-trailers, alp crossing in snow 3000 meter high, of do-it yourself directions with donkeys & camels, sleeping in train-wagons, on sand or by inhabitants..... The only relics of these trips were customs-stamps in my passport and some over painted postcards, mailed to family & friends (all other stayed ephedra, archived in my memory or the memories of persons I had met).
This earlier colourful maze of world-exploration influenced later my perception of ART-COMMUNICATION, by using cheap do-it yourself material, coin-wrapped photocopies, publicity-trash at street-corners, road- signs in my picture-concepts, telephone-performances with unknown persons, over-painting of newspaper headlines, numbering of repetitions code, parking places instead of gallery places, street-actions in a non-verbal, visual communication structure (some older S-8 films of these actions were shown to several occasions)........
Later in the eighties I coupled my travels with visits of correspondence- partners (e.g. : in Jougoslavia - Kamperelic / Tisma / Sindic, in Italy - Maggi / Baroni / Morandi, in Hungary Galantai, in Germany - Olbrich / Schnyder/Hainke, in New York - Bloch/Kostelanetz/Gerlovins, in Belgium - Bleus/De Boever/Francois.... and so on.... During the congress-sessions 1986 I saw probably some hundred different MA-artists and I became visits from over 20 networkers (to name only those who have slept in my house: R. Meade (USA) / C. Stake (CDN) / J.Olbrich (D) / M. Bloch (USA) / A. Schnyder (D) / M. Pawson (UK) / H.R.Fricker (CH) / J.N. Laszlo (F) / M.Stirnemann (CH) / B. Hetlovana (PL) ...... 600 names of correspondence-partners were listed in my "MA-Congress '86", with 900-1000 persons from the whole world (60 countries) I had a correspondence-exchange, together I received something like 8000-9000 mailings - to much to can go deeper in real communication-exchange (therefor my reason to reduce Mail-art to those with a common-background).
For me MA was only one of my different ART-COMMUNICATIONS, but even than it was partly a full time job.
Ruud, if you will come one time to Geneva - please, not as "tourist" - you are always welcome at home.... there we could communicate and discuss several points which are not mentioned here,
RJ: Well, that is a very kind invitation. I do tend to meet mail artists every year since I travel a lot, so I might be in Switzerland one of these days.....Thanks for the interview Günther!
Mail-artist: Günther Ruch, 315 Route de Peney, 1242 Genéve, Peney,
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen - TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda,