JCM THE MUSEUM LIBRARY
"I want to keep mail art as a totally guilt free, joyous aspect of my life." - arto posto

Ruud Janssen with arto posto

TAM Mail-Interview Project

(WWW Version)


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

AP: Can't tell exactly when I started mailing art. It was with an artist friend who had moved to California, Susan Petelik, and she always added art to her envelopes, letters, etc., tucked art inside. She inspired me to do the same, and I started sending back to her in like manner, than to other friends. That was during the late 1960s. I wasn't actually aware of the international mail art movement as such until about eight to ten years ago. (So many of us were doing mail art without having a name for it. Still are many such people. I bump into them all the time.) That was when I sent to my first mail art call, and I haven't stopped sending since. It's gotten to be a serious addiction. Chuck Welch asked me just a little over a year ago about how much mail per year I send and receive and I had no idea. Had never counted. However, because of his question, I started numbering outgoing pieces with a numbering stamp on February 23, 1994. As of today, a little over a year later, I have sent at least 1716. (I sometimes forget to use that numbering stamp on outgoing mail art.) I may have first seen mention of mail art in the Rubber Stamp Album by Joni K. Miller and Lowry Thompson in, first published in 1978 and still in print here in the U.S.A. It inspired me to get involved with rubber stamping and to subscribe to Rubberstampmadness, now a very slick magazine catering more to mainstream rubber stampers than to mail artist types, I think.

When living in Minneapolis, Minnesota about eight to ten years ago, I took a workshop at the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts on mail art. It was done in conjunction with the Walker Art Center, a wonderful contemporary art museum there. We modified text by - draft, can't remember famous artists' name now, type set on an old press - added our modifications and art to it, then mailed it all over the world to a list of mail artists that Scott Helms had, asking these artists to modify our modifications and mail them back to the Walker museum. The returned pieces were bound into a book that is now in their collection, and the Walker gave each participant a photocopy of the book, and had a wee party when we got back together to see the results. As a result of that, we started a rubber stamp/mail art group in Minneapolis, and it is still going strong, I think. The Bag Lady, whom I introduced to mail art and invited to that wee party, still lives in Minneapolis and participates in that group, and is coming to spend a week with me, to make art and play on the computer, in just a couple of weeks. And so the networking goes. I have since lived in St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; and now in Atlanta. In each of these cities I have formed groups that meet periodically to talk mail art, and have had mail artist visitors and house guests from all over the world, some of whom I had never met in person before, but knew through the mails, coming through or to each city. Part of this is due to my active involvement on Prodigy, then on America Online, two commercial computer bulletin boards on which there is active talk about and resulting exchanges of mail art which I initiated. My internet address is artoposto@aol.com. Ask away if you have additional interview questions.

RJ: Could you tell a bit more about how you got into using the computer for communication. When did it start and when did you enter the internet?

AP: Ruud, I started using computer bulletin boards at the same time I started using a Mac regularly, in 1986. I connected to local bulletin boards in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Didn't know a soul who owned a Mac. Learned lots about how to use them through the help of people on those local boards. Those boards were run by Sysops who did it for the pleasure of it. They weren't commercial boards. When Prodigy came out in the U.S., I signed on and that was were I first started talking with others on-line about mail art, and the movement. Hmmm. When was that? 1990 or 1991. We started with a small group of women, mostly women, talking about rubber stamping. I think there were just about twelve of us. They were already exchanging their stamped art, many had been for many, many years, but I was the only one, as I remember, who was involved in the mail art movement internationally, in sending to mail art calls (as opposed to rubber stamping stores contests). Within less than two years we had 400 people that we knew of discussing rubber stamping and mail art and book making and related areas. Lots of people are "lurkers," so who knows actually how many of us there were reading that board. I did an article on the Prodigy stampers for Rubberstampmaddness (a national publication very popular in the U.S. among rubber stampers - slick paper, color, thick. It carries mail art calls.) I also did an "on-line class" on mail art, and a "by mail class" on mail art. It is hard to explain the difference to those who have never participated in the network between mainstream rubber stamp exchanges and the more quirky type of stuff one so often receive in the mail art network. These "classes" were my attempt to share with the interested people on-line some of the differences - no jury, no fees, less complex work (generally), what artistamps were, what documentation was, how one got involved, matching up people with like interests, how to issue your own mail art calls, what some reference sources were (Correspondence Art, for instance), where to see mail art archives, etc., etc. Public posts and learning and sharing techniques and developing intimate friendships were (are) very common on Prodigy, as they are on America Online, the service I am currently using. (I have also been on E-world, CompuServe, and GEnie - all commercial services in the U.S.) Prodigy used to NOT charge by the minute or the hours. You just paid a monthly fee, and you could use it all you wanted to. They grew so fast - got millions of subscribers - then changed their policy to a basic fee for "x" number of hours, then a per minute charge after that. Many of us jumped ship when that happened. AOL is more user friendly to Mac users, I think, so I switched over to AOL a couple of years ago. When AOL got Internet access (still limited, not total, I think), I started thrashing about a bit in those waters - never became a surfer. Won't, either, because I don't want to spend my time on bbs. Already have too many contacts, too many delicious things to do online, too many questions coming to me. Want to play with my Mac more. Make more mail art. Snail mail more art. (In the past year I sent almost 1700 pieces of snail mail.) I much prefer the kinds of relationships that I have developed on Prodigy and AOL to those via the Internet thus far. Internet messages seem to be sent out with carbon copies to lots of people. Less intimate friendships have developed. Public threads don't seem as interesting to me. Subscribing to things brings in treatises. I love getting Global Mail Electric, though. It's super. Still, there is something lovelier, to me, in the hard copy version. Most people I have met on the Internet have no experience with commercial bbs and really don't know much about them and the very warm friendships that develop. Such fun to watch people's public posts and decide "I want to KNOW that person. I like the way she thinks. I like how she shares information so freely." Does that happen for you on the Internet in public posts, too?

Well, I'm off with favorite husband to dinner, so will dash. Hope you don't have to pay to receive this long reply to your short question. Fun to contact you on-line.

Hugs,arto posto (note lower case - I'm not "Arto Posto"; AOL won't let me use lower case initial "a" for arto, but all my other mail to you, I think, has been "arto posto")

RJ: For me, the E-mail only seem to have a few advantages (like speed of sending and the fact that you can transfer the texts you get easily), but the snail-mail is still my favorite. I see your wonderful & colorful envelopes (also done by computer) and wondered why you like this computer-work so much?

AP: Ruud, I discovered computers after being in a very bad auto accident that makes handwriting and doing many things by hand painful for me. Keyboarding and working on the computer is not. I think that is, in part, why I do so much of my mail art by computer. Another is that I am endlessly fascinated by the amazing things that can be done with a powerful Macintosh and PostScript printers. I have always loved the beauty of type and bought an IBM Selectric typewriter because one could change fonts and do variable spacing. This was about twenty years ago, though I first used a Selectric when they first came out, around 1957. Hard to believe it now, but back in the 1970s that TYPEWRITER cost about $1,000. At the time I felt very guilty about being so self-indulgent as I had no business use for the machine, just a love of seeing the print come out so elegantly on the page. I was writing poetry, and it was right after my accident, and I loved the LOOK of what I was writing so much more as it came from that typewriter. So glad now I did that. It has led to my giving myself permission to buy a DecMate II dedicated word processor and daisy wheel printer to write a book, then, upon seeing what the Mac could do, to buy increasingly powerful Macs. Now you can buy an entry level Mac for less than $1,000. Amazing, when you think about it - twenty years later something so much more powerful and versatile at the same price.

It is owning Macs that gave me the courage to switch from writing to playing with images. And it is playing with them that led me into the mail art movement as I wanted to share my computer experiments with others and to get back stuff others were creating on theirs. It took a long time to connect with many who were actually using computers, as you are, in mail art, but meanwhile I have had my mailbox museums fill with art created in so many different ways and enjoy the variety. I also think that my use of my computer and printers has led some others with computers to want to make more use of them in their mail art, particularly women I have met on-line who were primarily rubber stampers. Many had never thought of using their computers to do art and are now happily creating artistamps, wee books, etc. using their computers.

Because my husband bought a color thermal wax printer for his business, and I teach him how to use all new computer equipment and install all the software, I was exposed to the wonderful possibilities of color printing and got one of my own to use in my mail art. And since the thermal wax would print on only special paper, have since bought a PostScript inkjet so I can print on textured papers and envelopes. LEARNING has always been one of the major pleasures in my life, and now that I am physically unable to trot off to universities to take courses for the joy of it, learning new computer programs and new ways to use my printers has provided substitute joys. I have about 300 megs on my hard drive, and almost all of it is software. (I keep stuff I create on removable disks.) These programs have provided years of learning experiences. Also, it is great to be able to go back and print out some piece of mail art I created several years ago when it is apropos to some call or interest of a new networker I have been exposed to. It also helps me treat mail art as a process, not a product, a process of learning, experimenting, trying new things, and sharing them with others.

I, like you, view e-mail and on-line bulletin board exchanges primarily as a way to get to know people better, to connect with others in the mail art movement, and to introduce new people to the idea of this great back and forth of mailed art.

RJ: What do you tell a newcomer about mail-art to get them interested? Do you think you can succeed in telling what mail-art is to a non-mailartist?

(Ruud, here's my response to your last question. Because of my disability, I can't go back to see if I have repeated myself endlessly, so will trust you to edit out anything that is repetitious or totally boring. Have the feeling I may have covered much of this in answering previous interview questions.)

AP: Ruud, I find it much more difficult to TELL someone what mail art is than to show it to them. For that reason I got the idea of boxing up dozens of pieces I had had up on my huge bulletin boards and routing it to those who had expressed interested in seeing what mail art is all about. Thus far twenty-seven women requested to be added to the list, and the box of mail art is currently making its way around the U.S. As each person gets the box, she posts enthusiastically on the computer bulletin board America Online. This arouses additional interest, and more people e-mail me to ask that they, too, get a chance to see the box of mail art. Several years ago I did a similar thing with 'zines. Another routed mailing was of documentation. With local people, I invite them into my home to see the mail art archives. I make the same offer to those interested in mail art who will be visiting Atlanta on business or vacation. Because my net is wide, there is such variety in the work I receive that almost everyone falls in love with the work of a number of mail artists whose work they see, and they want to start exchanges immediately. It is great fun to me to see whose work appeals to whom.

Since we have an active group of rubber stampers, paper makers, book makers, collage enthusiasts, painters, etc., all exchanging sources of supplies, new techniques, art enthusiasms, etc., on-line, when I post mail art calls, there are always questions about what a "mail art call" is, and I respond on the public boards about traditions behind these calls. Some get very excited about art shows with no juries, no commercial impetus. They want to know what "documentation" is. They are excited about the prospect of international exchanges. Some want to initiate exchanges with me and learn more about mail art that way. The idea of art as "process" tempts some - to get away from the idea of preciousness and perfection tempts. Others have never heard of the idea that THINGS can be mailed, things that are not enclosed in boxes, but mailed naked, like the life preserver I just received the other day.

Some rubber stamp store owners in other cities have asked to have my mail art calls to display in their stores. Just the past year both my Empty Envelope call and the Abuse call shows have been on display. Some want to issue their own mail art calls and ask about how to go about this and how to do documentation. I've sent two boxes of wee books I have received in mail art exchanges to Franklin Stein of National Stampagraphic as he learned about wee books on-line, and wanted to do articles about them in his publication. The word about mail art exchanges get spread that way, too. I've shared with him names of wee book makers who might be willing to write such articles for his magazine.

I also tell them about Dada and Fluxus and suggest books they can read to learn more about mail art. I send reprints of articles on the subject from various magazines or pass on copies of essays written by mail artists on the subject. Zines appeal to some, and I either pass on some I have received or give them names and addresses of sources. Some see mail art in quantity for the first time by going to a mail art show in their area that they have heard about on the boards. Some get lured into the movement because they have read about artistamps on the board or want to see sheets of them, and once seeing them try a sheet themselves. I offer names and addresses of other mail artists whose work seems of the type that might particularly interest someone who has sent her first piece to me and want to get more involved. I tell them where archives are located if there are such treasure sources in the cities they live in. I matchmake on-line by telling those new to the board of others on the board with similar interests. There is a hunger among some to finally connect with others who will exchange with them, enthuse over what they do, share ideas. Many are women who have been doing mail art, sending it to friends and relatives for years, but have never received anything back. To suddenly find a whole network of people all around the world who love doing something similar boggles their minds, makes them feel less "odd," increases their daily joy as they eagerly the mailbox. And, of course, once we have a whole network on-line of people who ARE mail artists, whobegin participating in the movement, I back off and let THEM explain documentation, mail art calls, 'zines, artistamps, mail art shows, how to connect with others, etc. I'm at this point now with my participation on America Online, as I was on Prodigy several years ago. My e-mail has gotten so heavy that I seldom have time to read the public boards anymore or to post on them. Others have taken over to spread the word to newcomers. The net widens. And I sit back and increase the DEPTH and intimacy of my exchanges with the network I have already developed as a result of on-line participation. Those newer to the movement who are wanting to widen their participation and share their knowledge and enthusiasm do more of the posting in the Mail Art, Artistamps, Wee Books folders on America Online. I stay in touch with those on other services, including the Internet and pass on to them mail art calls, etc.

I really do think computer bulletin boards can serve as a great impetus to luring people into the movement, but I, like you, continue to prefer the snail mail exchanges. A downside for me for this participation has been that my network is now much too wide to be kept up with. I am always behind in responding to received mail art. Hundreds see one's posts on a computer bulletin board and one's net can expand so rapidly that it is impossible to keep up. Too much mail art? I used to think that would be impossible. I'm at the point now where I feel somewhat overwhelmed. This can lead to burnout, I think, so I am reevaluating my participation in the movement. I want to keep mail art as a totally guilt free, joyous aspect of my life. HOW to do this and yet respond to all the new people who send to me is something I have not yet worked out. I wonder how others' participation has evolved over the years, what changes they have made in the way they are active in the mail art movement. Perhaps you have interviewed mail artists who have talked with you about this issue?

RJ: Well, how others have dealt with that, you will have to read in the other interviews. You seem to be very productive when it comes to Arti-stamps. How do you design them? Do you always use the computer for your art?

(Besides the E-mail version I sent arto posto also a snail-version together with Michael Leigh's interview. Together with my questions I normally send some other text to, the normal correspondence besides the interview. Sometimes the interview and the private correspondence mingle, and this happens here too. So the next answer from arto posto is put down here completely as it arrived via internet: )

Date: Mon, 1 May 1995 06: 48: 16 -0400 From: Artoposto@aol.com To: r.janssen@iuoma.org Subject: Re: next question

AP: Ruud, just accidentally sent reply to your other e-mail address, and am repeating it to the tam address as I think previous message sent to the other did not reach you.

I would like to see you include your P.S. to me on the subject of managing participation on the movement as I think it is honest and open and would be of interest to others. I'm repeating it below so you can include it if you will.

RJ: P.S. I don't answer all the mail I receive. For the snail mail I probably answer 50% or less, and the computer-messages I get, I answer about 30% or so. I only answer the things that are interesting for me to react. I don't feel obliged to answer the mail I get. I know that most 'older' mail-artists work that way. If you want their attention, then you have to send them something to 'trigger' them to react. I discovered that years ago, and since then I became in contact with some very interesting persons who make wonderful art. Also I only send my larger art to people like that (an example: I just received a large oil painting on wood from America, and in return I sent a large 12-color silkscreen print. But this is not really mail-art, but the exchange of art. Besides a mail-artists I make the traditional 'art' too)

The next question: You seem to be very productive when it comes to Arti-stamps. How do you design them? Do you always use the computer for your art?

AP: Yes, for reasons I've previously discussed in this interview, now I almost always use my computer for my work. I no longer paint or sculpt or do fiber art. Unlike you, I do not make "larger art" or do or exchange art other than mail art.

I am, indeed, very productive of artistamps having made dozens and dozens of sheets in the last couple of years. Did three new sheets just this week. Not sure I understand your question about HOW I design them. Could you tell me more about what you want to know about that?

P.S. Received your snail mailing and the two interviews. Quite fascinating. I've exchanged with A-1 over the years and love Michael's and Hazel's senses of humor and stuff I received from them though I am less a recycler than he, and Rudi Rubberoid and Ian Gunn some of the others in this genre. Participated in A-1's Thematic Tape Exchange a couple of years ago, but I'm not really into video or cassette tape exchanges. I prefer hard copy image exchanges, I guess. ML's comment that "Archives should contain the best work" (page A-4) borders on something which seems anti-mail art to me - isn't it "jurying"? When I sent a box of my archives to Crackerjack, he wrote back asking if he could recycle some of the stuff that was less interesting to him - a similar idea, I think, but I replied that I wanted the archive intact, or he could send the stuff he didn't want back to me as I think to get a true feel for what mail art is all about, one needs to see the whole range, not just what a particular person particularly likes. And, again, what has appealed to me about the movement is the non-judgmental aspects of it - the hanging of ALL work sent, etc. When I document I also try to include all images if I am going to include any. This would be impossible, of course, if one were to get hundreds of pieces. That's why I went to documenting for every ten pieces received in my most recent calls on abuse. It was a way for me NOT to "jury" or "present only the 'best' in the documentation, but to still be able to afford to send documentation to all with all people's work shown in documentation. Each person will handle her participation in the movement in her own way, and that is as it should be, in my opinion. I bring up these issues only as things to think about...not as RIGHTS and WRONGS. I like it that mail art really does not have hard and fast "rules." I do, at times, though, feel that there are subsections of the movement that function as old boy's networks where the same people's work is commented upon, depicted in documentation, written about in publications, etc. again and again and again. This seems a bit like repetition of the very reason mail art got started - wasn't it protest against museums and galleries and art magazines showing only insiders work, pre-judging, etc. that led to the idea of mail art networking in the first place? The basic tenants of the movement also make me uncomfortable about "government grants" to do shows, travel, etc., as it is associated with the movement. Personally I like to stick with the "no money exchanges hands" aspects, the exchange of art outside of connections with funding agencies, etc. I see this trend towards sponsored travel, sponsored shows, selecting specific pieces from one's archives to display, offering 'zines for sale, asking others to help with costs, etc. as a veering off from the essence of the spirit of the mail art movement into another realm. I can certainly understand that there are practical reasons WHY it occurs. It's just not a part of the movement that appeals to me, nor one I personally care to get involved with.

You have a government sponsored bulletin board, so obviously you feel differently. I would be interested in your thoughts on this subject. Warm hugs, arto posto

RJ: It seems your P.S. is as interesting as mine. Although I would like to answer it would make the interview a discussion and that wasn't the intention. If you want my views then you should interview me maybe? In your P.S. you made mention of your newest project. Could you tell a bit more about that?

AP: For about the past year I have had ongoing mail art calls on the topics of spousal/partner abuse and child abuse. To date there have been 108 submissions, mostly from women, but some from men as well, I'm happy to say. Have received really powerful, touching work! Thus far the show has been up for two months in northern Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was just shown the other day at a big rubber stamp convention in California. In September and October of 1995 it will be displayed in Michigan. I'm hoping the show on this important social issue will travel for a couple of years. In the past couple of days I have sent follow-up documentation to all participants, telling them where the show has been and will be mounted. This is in addition to the small book documentations I do for every ten participants. I did the follow-up so that those who were wishing to expand their mail art network would have additional names of people with similar social concerns, and to let them know where the show would be in case they might be able to see the whole body of work.

There has been discussion on the electronic bulletin board that I am on recently in the Mail Art folder about documentation. Some posted that they had submitted pieces to calls over a year ago, but had never received promised documentation. (I was amazed to learn that so many others actually keep track of when they send to shows and when they receive documentation.) I felt a bit uncomfortable about their unhappiness as I frequently post calls and some send to their first calls in their lives as a result of these posts and I can well remember how eagerly I looked forward to receiving my first few pieces of documentation years ago. I responded to the posts that STUFF few pieces of documentation years ago. I responded to the posts that STUFF happens in life, and that perhaps some who intended to do documentation found themselves unable to do so. I also heard from some snail mail mail art networkers over the past year that they are getting disillusioned about sending to mail art shows and not receiving promised documentation. Since I send to lots of calls and don't keep track of who documents and who doesn't, I have no feel for how often this happens. I do think it is of interest that several people apparently feel a change is going on in the network in this area.

Ruud, I feel I've talked on and on - more than anyone could possibly care to read, so if you don't mind, I would like to quit talking about my mail art involvement and spend more time DOING IT. Thanks for asking me to participate in your Interview Project, and if I've left something out you really want to know more about, let me know. Also if some other person does interview you, hope you will send me a copy of that interview.

RJ: Thank you for the interview!

- END -


Reproduced with the permission of
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Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.

Mail-artist: arto posto, 199 14th n.e. / Apt. 2505, Atlanta, GA, USA 30309-3691

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

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