"Rubberstamps combine big variety in small gracefulness." - Henning Mittendorf

Ruud Janssen with Henning Mittendorf

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. This is the updated file on 9 December 1995.

Started on: 24-01-1995

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

Reply on: 2-2-1995 (I)

HM: After having studied and practiced fine arts since 1959 (with interruptions), participated in shows and after having had some personal exhibitions since 1970, I decided to enter the network of mail art, i.e to become a conscious-networker in 1980.

During this year I made holidays for four weeks in the months of July and August together with my wife Angela and our two daughters in the Atelier Artistique International de S‚guret (F). There I got acquainted with various European artists. One of them, the German artist Aloys Ohlmann, introduced me to mail art. In the meantime we made friends with another; our friendship lasts till today.

RJ: What was the reason for you to become a networker. What attracted you in the first place with this thing called mail art?

Reply on: 10-2-1995 (II)

HM: There has been a mixture of reasons, motives and emotions that caused me to get into the network. During my start with "mail art" I only knew this word meaning to me mailing art itself or ideas about art between artists and other creative persons. As an isolated creative person, artist, I was very fascinated by the possibilities opening before my eyes through art- communication and -exchange with other creative persons.

The word "networker" became accessible for me several years later when I dealt a bit with new sciences (among other with the change of paradigms, system- and communication-theory). Then I recognized mail art as a special alternative Fine art's network among all the other networks and alternative networks within the big network called world, cosmos, totality. Then I accepted the net of mail art as my spiritual and emotional home and well of life.

Now networking attracts me especially for three reasons:

  1. It corresponds to the change of paradigms according to new sciences. This change teaches that world is no machine, that there exists no teleology and that one cannot recognize an objective reality. There only exists vagueness that one has to fill with viabilities constructed by cognition and communication, interactions, interconnected with the ones of the fellow-(wo)men, fellow-creatures.

  2. It corresponds to the tendency of establishing alternative networks, i.e.; networks corresponding to the change of paradigms. More and more (wo)men struggle for their own matters by themselves. Concerned persons interconnect themselves to find out the best solution for their problems, viability, by interconnection and change of views and perspectives.

  3. It corresponds to the experiences, especially shocks, artists have got recognizing the commercialization of art and the human catastrophes-productions despite of developed culture, civilization during and after world war II, i.e. killing of people, racism, holocaust, nature-devastation etc. It corresponds to all these experiences and the lessons the artists drew from them. They aim to make art as concerned persons for concerned persons, in a democratic-participative manner, i.e. not for money, but to enrich nature by enrichment of human culture. They aim at constructing fictional ambivalent up to "open" realities as part of everyday-reality, of micro-, meso-and macro-cosmos.

RJ: In the mail art I received from you from the beginning of our exchange until today you always used self-carved stamps. Did you use this media also before you got involved in mail art? What is so fascinating for you in the carved stamp?

Reply on: 23-2-1995 (III)

HM: Before I did mail art I used for making my fine art works several different techniques, especially drawing, painting, air-brushing, etching, pure and mixed, except among other stamping. I started with stamping, mostly using stamps self-carved out of erasers, when I got involved in mail art. Martina and Steffen Giersch, Dresden, former GDR, introduced me to this medium in 1980. Starting with mail art the range of my fine art's techniques enrichened because I got acquainted to some more techniques for my art making like copying, faxing, making and using artistamps, postcards, stickers, and ..... stamps. All these techniques - I think - intensified my art-work, especially strengthened its collaging and "open" character.

I think self-cut rubber stamps are very fascinating, appealing, for the following reasons:

  1. They are powerful miniatures. Rubberstamps combine big variety in small gracefulness. By self-sketching and/or self-cutting the stamps the artist can express him(her)self by unfolding shaping power in respect to all themes on modest space with most insignificant means. Mostly the stamps' images more or less originate from the reciprocal actions between official stamps of bureaucracy (state, firms, etc.), playthings (children's mail), stimulations of the other stampers' work and of other materials, media, as well as of the artist's own fancy and skill, the tensions between one-sided authoritarian ratio, planning, and multidimensional, open, unplanned life and art leading to the altering of official symbols, signs and slogans up to the creation of alternative ones. Stamps are a bit original (design) and a bit mechanical (print) powerful miniatures.

  2. They are as art on a mass basis useful for real democratic-participative art. Primarily stamp prints of mail artists are no official "high level" art ("Hochkunst" - whatever that may be) produced as a single, unique art works to be sold as expensive goods on the art-market to collectors, respectively speculators. They rather are a poor and cheap art form multiplied to carry their short stylized, standardized up to unpersonal, stereotyped expressions as simple and quick as possible widespread into a broader public, especially whithin the mail art network, to let them work on a larger scale in the net and beyond that. So far the rubberstamp prints as art on a mass basis are useful for real democratic-participative art from concerned artists and creative people for concerned artists and creative people. Besides that stamps and their prints can be used - and I do so- in "high level art" too, not least to demonstrate the reciprocal effects between mail art and itself.

  3. They effect movement and improve cognitions. The gliding along stamp prints, that are repeated, put in a row, turned around, fading, interconnected with other stamp prints or other media etc., of one color or multicoloured (by means of one's eyes and brains) causes despite the short static standardized forms and expressions of the prints, movements and intensifies cognitions, i.e. it strengthens the effects of the very art work. Stamps stirr respectively express intellectual and emotional, conscious and non-concious, verbal and non-verbal forms of self-observation, cognitions, within (wo)men in a simple, cheap, but effective way.

  4. They create open (free) interaction and communication. Rubberstamps want to be printed on different things and materials like wood, bodies, cloth, paper (documents, envelopes, postcards, artistamps, books, boxes), etc. They want to be united with other techniques and media of the same artist or of other ones, in short to be used as collaging material for every thinkable purpose. They do have an inviting, asking, answering, signalizing, informing etc. dialogical character evoking reciprocal effects up to creating viability. They give impulses for participative dialoges within the single art-work itself up to the democratic dialogues within the network of mail art and beyond that. Stamps thus become a symbol of free borders transgressing interaction and communication fictionalizing, parodizing, criticizing, antiacting etc. against the so called realities, certainties of societies, especially of their ideologies, and thus pointing at the vagueness, openness of reality.

  5. They contribute to create viable human i.e. ecological and oecumenical, ethics. As non-commercial wide-spread art pieces of concerned (mail) artists for other concerned (mail) artists aiming at an interconnected view, perspective, through progress of communication uniting the various artists' cognitions (variety, freedom) to find out contextual viabilities for a human living together with all fellow-(wo)men, all fellow-creatures, (unity, order) even little stamp prints do help to create valid human, i.e. ecological and oecumenical, ethics and viabilities. As well the most humble and smallest thing, sign, expression can get as chaos-theory does show, respectively the paradigmshift, a bearing within instable networks, which state the societies of our globe with all their catastrophes' productions do have reached by now. As a part of (wo)men's creativity small self-cut rubberstamps are not only beautiful, but even effective. They do transgress the special functions of official stamps of states, firms, etc. interpreting society's processes in the interest of the ruling elites by breaking them open, to express more: a higher form of sociability saying and demonstrating at the same time that all can become a matter of communication, a matter of art, of communication as art.

  6. They contribute to create viability above the abyss of unperceivable reality. Rubberstamp prints like all art works at their best are means to participate in art's communication-processes that are running together with all other communications-processes into the big process called world's, totality's process, i.e. life, evolution, creating viability by cognition and communication of (wo)men above the abyss of unperceivable reality, always anew.

Single rubberstamp prints on the one hand symbolize the wall up and isolation of the dynamical creativity by standardization and predomination, static pattern, order, of stampprints. On the other hand they symbolize creativity if used in an alternative way, especially to compose them in a sort of box-of-bricks-system with other stamps or art materials to a new whole, unit, as fanciful combination, metamorphosis, enigma, assemblage of beauty and shocks, as living unknown out of the -perhaps necrophile - known, as larger lifeful participative growing structures combining elements, that have been existing lonely, isolated, dominating before. This use of rubber stamps demonstrates that at first there is interest in open mixture and interchange of the mixed, viable. At second it shows too that there is interest in birth or death of unique individualities too, as provisional results and challenges of and in evolution's processes.

The art-piece as collage becomes open, free. There doesn't exist any more a central perspective that leads the onlooker through the work, but an accumulation of partial perspectives that lead to bewilderment of the onlooker, if (s)he doesn't use his (her) cognitions and communications to get an interconnected view of viability. Within open collages including rubberstamp-prints, genesis, i.e. the composing and the growing apart, the union and the separation, is determined from totality and the numerous, the whole and its individuals. The process is ruled by a sort of ecological and oecumenical, i.e. symmetrical, powers balancing principle. Above all stands freedom (variety) for love (unity). All stamp-prints within the collaged work do represent the other too, quite different and alien, and as the other, together with the other, forming the whole.

Even if stampart becomes more mainstream I am not concerned that its popularity will discredit more serious rubberstamp artists. Rather its popularity can be used to make this art, art at all, more democratic. Whether a stampprint has effect or not depends on the fact if it is a dense expression or not, more decoration or more concerned interfering in life's processes. New techniques (like for instance photography) never have set aside in principle older ones (for instance painting). The invention of new techniques has caused differentiation only. The challenge for the stampers will be to demonstrate the topicality of their stamping within the future.

Especially all these aspects formed by the spirit of Fine art's networking form the background of my working as an artist with self-cut eraserstamps.

RJ: The communication with the help of computers is growing rapidly. It seems this has grown into an even bigger network (INTERNET, Bulletin Board Services, Fax-lines) than the mail art network. At the moment the two networks are touching each other because some mail artist (like myself) are a part of both networks. Will mail art survive in the computerworld of the future or will the traditional mail be there for many years to come?

Reply On: 11-03-1995 (IV)

HM: Men (men in the following always means women too) improve their interaction, communication and understanding between their selves, their autonomous cognitions, to find a common horizon for living together, i.e. for constructing a human holistic reality by operational consensi, among other things by differing out and evolving various media for direct and indirect communication.

Today the most effective communication-media are the electronic ones using the computers. The electronic media and appliances extend man's normal common presence in an unexpected manner transgressing the mesocosmos, i.e. the world of the middle, "slow", dimensions, that man is able to perceive without artificial expedients, to the world of velocity, speed, i.e. the microcosmos, macrocosmos and the fictions' cosmos, the dimensions of which man is able to perceive only by expedients.

Todays electronic audio-visual mass-media for instance free (or seem to free?) man from abstract distance-keeping linearly thinking of writing and lead back by communicative interconnection and interaction like a revenge of sensuality "to a world of organic multidimensional sensuality". On the other hand all electronic media lead to the strange and abstract sphere of theoretical knowledge and understanding mediated by symbols, words, numbers etc. and belong to the "universal space" of the "unbound spirit", i.e. loosened from embodiment. They procure man with total omni-presence, i.e. global presence as "new time", and with omnipotence, global-efficacy as "new creativity".

Constantly more developed, more effective media of speaking, tones, writing and of pictures' expression lead to always more complex knowledge's organization and to pushes of achievements that on the other hand cause more advanced media, like for instance today's electronic media including computers, newest ways of data processing and transfer, steering's and control engineering interconnected through global networks of electronic memory's and satellites' technology. Selforganisation and accelerating changes fastening their speed and thus cause explosions of media, knowledge, technology and of results, products, of more developed media and so on and so on.

At that modern "information's society" differs out, evolves, three big spheres of communication:

  1. Mass-communication for "social prices", for instance TV, is the first sphere. In fact that is no real communication, but a public means of spreading informations and ideas indirectly and onesidedly, by one side as firm sender, to an anonymous dispersed audience, the members of which are not perceptible and effective for each other. Feedback comes into existence only by detours, like by reader's letters or by viewing notes.

  2. Procuring, making available and mediating an unlimited mass of best quality information for market-prices is the second sphere. Herein communication doesn't take place too

  3. Having ready communication's channels for an "indirect direct" in principle confidential communication for market-prices is the third sphere. It is the place where real communication, i.e. with changing sender and addressee, takes place.

The mail artists, from my point of view better called "alternative fine art's networkers", networkers, according to my definition in the answer to question two, are not confined to the postal system's traditional modes of dispatch, like letter, postcard etc. and the dealing with them. The postal system has been the first network being accessible for everybody in a simple manner and has been used in the name of the new alternative art movement. Today mail artists, networkers, can use all traditional and modern, poor and rich media fitting to their individual purposes, including new electronic media, computers and channels of worldwide technical networks.

At that the use of electronic media creates big dangers. As to the construction of reality by cognition and communication the "blind" use of electronic media, for instance television, contains the risk that the media push themselves between men, that the media become the message, that the media create, simulate, reality, that they overoll cognitive autonomy of man and his communicative competence and that reality can become manipulated or vanishes.

The electronic media cause floods of informations, the mixing of the on principle different, the splintering of one's self- and world-experience, the pressure of time up to its annihilation, they lead to perception's overpowering effects, to parasocial mute relations, to speechlessness, to addiction to the media and their novelties as well as to their amusements. There arises the risk that the individual is deprived of its autonomous synthetic conduct's ability (self-observation, -knowledge, -determination, - description and self-assertion; cognitive autonomy) and of its coordination within the social integrated system (interaction, cooperation; communicative competence). Then the individual runs the risk of becoming a marionette hanging on the historic-ideological string of society's culture, especially of becoming an appendage of the "universal machine" - spiritually alone, without a moral compass, without a sense of direction producing and consuming in a necrophilic way.

There arise deficits of informing, understanding, observation, reflection, power of judgement leading to false decisions and faulty conduct in respect of the whole. Man becomes overcharged for his cognitive and communicative slowness.

As to the commercializing of the very effective electronic information's and communication's systems - except the mass-media - the danger comes into existence that the gap between the rich informed knowing men and the poor uninformed "uncultured" men becomes broader and broader. And the risk arises that the unscrupulous rich individuals use their knowledge for their aims in an egoistic manner taking no regards to its effects violating the whole.

Presupposition of life efficacy of electronic media is that man perceives their special qualities and gets compatible to them. And man has to notice that the various media as standardized interfaces include decisions that he, using traditional media, would make himself. This is a big large field. Presupposition of life efficacy of electronic media is that the individual nevertheless preserves and cultivates its slowness of being, cognitions and communications, interactions etc. of its being, i.e. its social sphere of informing, understanding, oral proceedings, remembering, feelings, traditions and history, its world of commonness. Men have to construct reality socially as a mixed world using parasocial worlds of media of indirect communication and information and above all the social every-day-worlds and their direct experiences. At that they have to interconnect the permanent changes of perspective and alternative perspectives. And this can be realized in an optimum way by networking, for instance as artist, alternative artist, mail artist.

And a part of every-day-worlds, are and will be in future too the traditional means of communication of the postal system, of travelling, meeting, calling by phone etc. They can be controlled better, simpler, than electronic media, especially as face-to-face communication. And some say that some of the traditional media are more intense.

As part of the every-day-world the traditional media of the postal system will stay. Only if the postal system itself raises the prices to an amount that the use of these media become too expensive then they will vanish more and more. The use of the different media depends on the different purposes of the user, artist.

RJ: It seems you like to document the things that you find out. Do you also keep an archive of all the mail art you receive or do you recycle too?

Reply on: 25-3-1995 (V)

HM: Yes, I not only like to communicate by media and messages found, created, sent out by me, but I like to collect and document own and partners' messages and media too. In so far I do like all communication's means that represent quality for me, whatever quality may be. If the means speak to me, influence my cognitions, fascinate me as having - from my point of view - a rich, complex structure in respect to the process of the whole, then they are dense and of quality for me.

1980, fiveteen years ago, when I started with mail art, I intensified my collecting the different and various media of communication by collecting the communication's media of the mail art network - my media and especially the ones I received from my partners.

Visual signs, expressions, media dominate my collection of meanwhile innumerable pieces, all being reciprocal effects of my kind of networking as a rule done by visual means too.

One part of my collection contains documents that I still do use directly for my current networking, like letters, copies of texts and drawings as parts of a running correspondence that I still have to continue, like an invitation for a project, for instance a show or a book, I want to follow etc. This part of my collection that directly is part of my actual networking and art production is strictly speaking my registry.

The other big part of my collection contains documents I received within the network being now remainders of concluded communication's processes that I believe are important for me and the network expressing from my point of view my qualified relation to other networkers. This is my archive in the true sense of the word called by me "HeMiSphere-Archive".

The problem of maintaining a collection, i.e. a registry and an archive, in self-government and self-help obliges in respect to the small own resources to minimize:

My HeMiSphere-Archive consists of two main sections:

  1. The one part contains the documents concerning my bilateral networking contacts that don't anymore belong to my running communication, correspondence. In the beginning I tried to keep this material sorted under the names of the senders according to the character of the different types of media, like letters and pictures, envelopes, postcards, books and magazines, cassettes, records, documentations etc. To minimize the expenditures for the archive I changed the ordering system. Today I keep the material in postal boxes sorted chronically and then according to the size of the documents. Aim is above all to use the space I have in the best way.

  2. The other part of my archive contains all the documents that deal respectively have to do with my personal (own) work and media. These materials are sorted chronically namely in different lines kept in boxes or files, like:

    • personal art theory, like essays
    • personal art works, like poems, statements, drawings, copies, books, prints, artistamps etc.
    • personal shows and personal mail art projects (shows and book), like invitations, newspaper-cuttings, posters, photos etc.
    • personal participations in projects, especially shows, books, artistampsheets, cassettes, like awards, catalogues, posters, lists, newspapers-cuttings and other documentations.

To work with my collection, to activate my registry and especially my archive, for instance for picking out pieces for a show, is not easy, especially for foreigners. The taking documents from my collection, archive, and to arrange it afterwards always is combined with big expenditure of time.

Seldom I recycle the received mail or single mail art pieces. If necessary I make copies.

All in all I am a "born collector" who doesn't like to part from things he likes but who rather likes to keep them. Through collecting and processing documents of the own life mixing with signs of the others's life I believe to create a bit self-duration.

Looking at the pieces of my collection from time to time it becomes a meeting point in spirit with my network partners and their ideas as well as with the other fellow-creatures repeatedly. This creates a bit self-duration by memory and historical sense and deepens the striving for a common horizon of living together by self-finding and self-expressing through daily communication, active networking, supporting the selection of the special, rich, complex, quality out of the ever flowing flood of novelties.

Mail art archives lead to accumulation of art, ideas, techniques, widening of cognition of the "seeing" men, of thinking and feeling, rationalization and emotionalization of knowledge, of a seeing thinking and feeling. Also the superfluous is handed down and the vote-against gets a chance to make itself heard, i.e. the horizon of social correspondence can become burst open. The own thinking, reflection comprises bigger regions and covers bigger sections of time - in slowness and life supporting duration.

The way of growing, evolution, is overlooked, circumscribed, added up, criticized, interpreted. Personal history, history of mail art, history of culture and of society are represented. An open capable of development structure is evolving within cognitive autonomy of the individual, consciousness of history, society, emotion, languages, media, in short: a richer structure of the individual and as reciprocal effect: of society.

RJ: Sometimes these personal archives get destroyed or sold after the mail artist stops with mail art, or when he dies. I know of Ulises Carion's Archive that was sold and plundered for mail from 'famous' artists, I know of mail artists who have sold parts of their collection to enable them to travel or start with something new. What is the future you would like to see for these archives (including yours) and what will probably be the reality?

Continue with Interview . . .

Mail-artist: Henning Mittendorf, P.O.Box 500.365, Frankfurt/Main, Germany D-60393

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

E-mail Ruud Janssen

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