Started on: 31-3-1995
RJ: Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditionalquestion. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on: 5-4-1995
JdG: The first time I came across mail art was in 1983, when I wasstudying photography and design at AKI (Academy for Arts andIndustry). One of my teachers was Bart Boumans, who at the time wasvery active in the mail art circuit. He gave me a list of addresses inJapan: I was doing some 'research' on Japanese calligraphy, and Ineeded the addresses for information. Among those who replied werepeople like Shozo Shimamoto and Ryosuke Cohen and voila: there it allbegan....
RJ: What do you remember about the first contacts with mail artists?
Reply on: 12-4-1995
JdG: Do you mean contacts through the mail or in person? Anyway, onBart Boumans' address-list was also Byron Black, who was then living inBangkok, Thailand. He wrote to tell me he was not preoccupied withcalligraphy at all so he could not provide me with information on thatsubject, but he would like to exchange mail just the same. The firstaudio-cassette came from him, and in 1984 he sent me a video tape thatI still show anyone who wants to see it. Until today I never met him inperson, although I would love to.
The first mail artists I DID meet in person was Barry Edgar Pilcher....who responded to my first-project-ever. In 1987 my daughter Esther andI went to see him and his family in their beautiful green valley in Wales.This meeting was an experience I will remember and cherish for the restof my life.
RJ: Well, I meant the contacts through mail, but it is interesting thatyou start talking about meeting mail-artists in person. How important ismeeting compared to writing to a mail artist?
Reply on: 28-4-1995
JdG: I am not sure if it is really important, but I think it is at least veryexciting to meet a mail artist in person, it always turns out to be a quitedifferent event than you expected it to be. Before you meet someone inperson you have a certain idea of that man or woman: you only knowhim or her through the mail: from letters, photographs, sometimes youknow a voice from audio tapes. After a 'close encounter of the personalkind' you find the image you have of that person is totally differentfrom 'the real thing', and the mail you exchange with that personusually changes: it might get more personal, or it might even stop (afterI met Pat Fish in april 1993 - or was it 1992 - I never heard from heragain....)
RJ: Again you mention the audio tape. Because we already exchangedlots of audio-cassettes I know that you like this medium. What is sospecial about the audio tape that makes you use it?
Reply on: 2-5-1995
JdG: Audio-tapes can bring an extra dimension into the act ofexchanging mail. To hear someone's voice on tape is one thing, but it isalso very good to hear all the different sound collages that peoplemake, sounds from the place they live in, pieces of radio-programs,poetry, music: Barry Pilcher is a musician, and since we first started toexchange tapes he has sent me lots of exciting examples of his own workand the work of musicians he admires.
During the performance I did with Jos‚ Vanden Broucke in 1989 (forthe mail art project 'transport, transit, junctions') we used a 30 minutetape with a collage from our collection of mail artists' audiotapes wereceived over the years: it is still one of my favorites!
And furthermore I think there is a lot more information you can put onan audiotape than in a written letter.....
RJ: The project 'transport, transit, junctions', what was it about?
Reply on: 13-5-1995
JdG: Transport/transit, junctions was a mail art project that I did forthe Palthehuis in Oldenzaal: the works I received (more than 300) wereshown there in december 1989/january 1990. The idea behind it wasthat in/near Oldenzaal traffic junctions come together, and at the timea large transport site was built in the industrial area (of courseeveryone was free to make his or her own interpretation on the theme,but there were still a lot of cars and trucks driving through myletterbox).
A part of the show were contributions from children, which wasparticularly fun: I introduced the project to them during a few lessonswhere I (tried to) explain about mail art (showing work and letting themwrite to mail-artists). Each one of the four classes (from four differentschools) made works for the show.
I would have loved to send everybody a detailed, full color catalogue,but the money I got from the municipality of Oldenzaal was not halfenough to cover all the costs, so I had to keep it cheap.... only a xeroxedbooklet with colored cover. Expensive enough though.... But nevermind, you know very well what it's like, there is never enough moneybut you always manage, somehow....
RJ: You also did a mail art show in Hengelo connected to Containersdidn't you? What was this all about?
Reply on: 19-5-1995
JdG: 'Container Con Amor' was an art manifestation that took place inthe summer of 1988 (seven years ago already! Time flies!). Large sea-containers were placed on a square in the center of Hengelo, and in/onand around them several artists showed their work. Some used thecontainer as exhibition space, others made an artwork of the containeritself. The mail art project I did for the show was also called 'ContainerCon Amore', and everything I received was shown inside one of thecontainers. Because of the unusual way of showing art the show wasVERY successful (many visitors, many articles in the press), and themail art-container was crowded with people during the ten days the'iron village' stayed there.
RJ: Did you notice any changes in the mail art network in the last 10years?
Reply on 10-6-1995
JdG: The past 10 years... I must admit that I have jumped in and out ofthe m.a. circuit over the past five years... there were long periods oftime where I didn't contribute to any project or whatever: from time totime I even neglected the contacts with people who are especially dearto me (all this due to various circumstances; job, money, moving (again)and a hundred other things.... all bad excuses, I presume).
But the first thing that comes to my mind are political changes, whichled to more mail to and from eastern european countries (and sadenough less or no mail at all from former Yugoslavia). Furthermore Ihave noticed that there seems to be more 'junk' mail going around.... asif more and more people take the easy way, send a quick xerox andthat's it.
And then there are the new media, electronic- and fax mail: myself Iprefer the good old 'snail mail' (as you call it), but - as I have access toa fax machine at the place where I work - I did contribute to a few faxprojects.
RJ: At the moment you are working on a new project. Can you tell a bitmore about the idea behind it.
Reply on 28-6-1995
JdG: The mail art project is part of a larger project called 'DuivelsPrentenboek' (Devil's Picturebook), which was started on April 24th1995 by four women: Anir Witt, Claudia Heinermann, Josje EeftinckSchattenkerk and myself. The central theme is the four women inplaying cards, and each one of us will take an aspect and work on it.
My part is a mail art project (my first since 1989...!): I invited 52 femaleartists to portrait themselves as a playing card Queen.... and after awhile, when people - like yourself Ruud - started asking questions aboutthe what's and why's, I decided to invite 52 MALE artists as well....might be interesting to see how they respond to this. At least theyrespond instantaneously: the Male invitations were sent out severalweeks later than the Female invitations, and I already received moremale than female works. Maybe the reason for this is that women aremore careful in what they want to send and take more time to createsomething special? I don't know, really.
52 weeks after we started the cards project (in April 1996) this wholething will result in a mutual exhibition. In this stage we are still lookingfor a suitable exhibition space: there are one or two places we have inmind, and we are thinking of a church: might be an interesting place, asopposed to a profane subject as this.
In September we have an appointment in Amsterdam with ArnoSinselmeijer, who is a collector of playing cards, and who told us thereis at least one game that he knows of where the Queen has the highestvalue: an American game from the 1960's, called 'The Queen is High'.And so you learn every day......
RJ: Is there a difference in the male and female players in the mail-artnetwork?
Reply on 28-7-1995
JdG: Well, there is definitely a difference in the number of male andfemale mailers. There are MUCH more men involved than there arewomen. This is a fact, and I don't really know why that is. It is obviousthat men are over-participated in all aspects of society, whether it isarts, or politics, or business, or sports, or whatever. But are there anyessential differences? Do YOU think there are any?
One thing that I find rather annoying is the fact that the mail I receivefrom male networkers (some, not all!) sometimes tends to be a bitambiguous. Like this guy I never heard of who wrote me to say he saw aphoto of my daughter Esther and thought she was very pretty. Yes, Iknow she is, so what! These kind of things have nothing to do with why Idecided to be a part of the mail art circuit. This irritates me a lot.
It's also a reason why I stopped sending out selfportraits that showmore than my hands or my feet.... or myself fully dressed. Somehow myselfportraits get misunderstood and I receive all kinds of junk in return.Not from those I made it for, but from people who saw a photosomewhere in a catalogue or whatever, and thought they needed tocontact me. These things have made me very careful with what I send.
Is this an answer to your question???
RJ: Yes of course it is. After doing lots of years mail-art I thinkeverybody starts to get 'junk-mail' because there are always newcomerswho are reaching out for new contacts. Do you still answer all the mailyou get?
Reply on 9-9-1995
JdG: No, I don't. I hardly answer any mail that is not personal: a xerox,or a request ('send your work!') when there is no personal notewhatsoever, and I answer none of the junkmail I receive. I answer ALLletters/cassettes/objects/collages I receive...... o.k. it might take sometime, but eventually I DO answer! Ofcourse, most of the mail Iexchange is with people I have been in touch with for a long time andwho have become good friends: we keep in touch, even when it is onlyonce or twice a year.... that happens, you know!
RJ: Do you still have time for photography?
Reply on 23-9-1995
JdG: I really wish I had more time to do whatever...!! I still have to putup my darkroom again.... meanwhile I use a friend's darkroom wheneverI have to print, but these days, with little Anne who needs all myattention, it is hard to find a minute or two.... Don't get me wrong,being busy with this little lady is wonderful and very rewarding: I amnot complaining! But I always keep thinking that SOME day (whenAnne goes to school maybe?) I will have more time to go on withphotography.
Just yesterday I finished a work for a group-exhibition which starts nextOctober: it is a small installation called 'personal history' and itconsists of ten small bottles filled with pieces of the industriallandscape photo's I used to make. It looks quite good, and also a bitsad, like ending another chapter....
It's good to be part of the mail art networks: there is always timebetween things to answer mail or make a collage or send a cassetteletter. Or answer your questions in this interview...
RJ: Yes, and I am glad you take the time to answer all those questionsI ask you. I remember that when I visited you, you had this organizedarchive at the Boekeloseweg, with the boxes for the audio-cassettes, thecollections of individual exchanges with mail artists, etc. How does yourarchive look nowadays?
Reply on 29-09-95
JdG: Well, I don't have the place at Boekeloseweg anymore and Imoved everything to this place, and now the 'archive' is here and thereand everywhere, some of it stowed away in closets, some of it onshelves, some of it in boxes.
After all the times I moved from one place to another it's hard not toloose track of all the mail art stuff: it is all there somewhere, but evenwhen I DO try to keep it all as clear as possible: when I am looking forsomething specific it takes quite some time to find it.... but in the end Ifind it!
The contributions from the projects I did have their own place, and sodo the audio and video cassettes, the publications about mail art as wellas the mail from the people I correspond with regularly.
I think, over all, my 'archive' is quite organized in it's own way. I'drather use another word, 'archive' sounds a bit like century-old layers ofdust and colorless men in faded-brown-suits-with-elbows-shining-through, It is more a collection of mail, of art, and everything betweenit.
RJ: The newest thing in communication is the use of computers and theinternet. I myself am exploring in a critical way this "e-mail" (see alsothe enclosed concept article I wrote). What are your views when itcomes to the use of computers?
Reply on 10-10-1995
(All the answers I got from Jenny de Groot so far were made on thecomputer she uses at her workplace. Besides these answers she normallyalso includes a small note for our personal correspondence).
JdG: First of all... speaking of computers.... this is the first answer Iwrite with a pen, because the place where I work moved to Almelo lastweek, so I can't use the printer right now......
Back to your question: When you mean using computers merely toexchange images and/or texts with other computers I must say that it isnot the way I want to be working. I want to be able to open an envelopeto see what was sent to me, instead of starting up a computer. Also Ifind it important to reach as many people as possible, including thosewho do not have access to computers....
Using a computer to create a work of art is something else, it is anotherway to express yourself, like you do when you make a painting or aphotograph, but it is still very new.... compare it with the early days ofphotography: it is a new medium that will be more and more accepted asa tool in a creative process. It is obvious that you can't just ignorecomputers and computer art anymore, and I think there are veryinteresting developments going on that are very much worth ourattention.
RJ: Well, I must say I also still prefer the handwritten letters above thecomputerized ones, but computers do have their advantages. I hopeyour printer is back at your desk now...... Probably the people who workthere with you also see that you produce so many letters. Did you evertry to explain to them what mail art is all about. And if so, did yousucceed?
Reply on 3-11-1995
JdG: Yes, I tried. No I didn't. I think it is too divers: you can't explainthe phenomenon of mail art in just a few sentences, unless people areREALLY interested.... And even then the only way to understand is todive into the network and see for yourself.
Some of my colleagues think I collect stamps, others think I have a lotof pen-pals. Let's leave it at that.
RJ: Did you ever succeed in getting someone so far to "dive into thenetwork?" I remember you once actually did give some mail art lessons,didn't you?
Reply on 22-11-1995
JdG: Yes, I did: this was part of a project called "Art in the classroom"for which I was invited, and I used the opportunity partly for thepreparations for the Transport/Transit/Junctions show. I did fourclasses of mail art for children, at four different schools: theyparticipated in the Transport project, there was a mail art show insidetheir school. I explained about mail art and ofcourse we sent a lot ofmail art as contributions to various projects around the world. It wasfun to do and the kids loved it!
Don't ask me if any of them ever sent mail art afterwards, because Iwouldn't know....
Before I forget, I would like to return to your question concerning theuse of computers: at the moment there is a VERY interesting exhibitionin Enschede on the theme "Obsessions - from Wunderkammer toCyberspace": photographic installations, CD ROM's, videoworks andother multimedia projects. This really gives a good idea of how the newmedia are accepted and used by artists of every background. Go and seeit! (till 26 November).
RJ: That sounds very interesting, but there are only three days left togo..... And tomorrow I have to work in Breda, on Saturday I acomputerfair in Utrecht, and on Sunday there is my mothers birthdayand I would like to visit her then....... It seems you are quite up to datewhen it comes to visiting exhibitions of the many different artforms.Now I think back I remember you often have written me about thosevisits. Are these visits important to you?
Reply on 29-11-1995
JdG: I am interested in almost every art form, and it's always good tokeep up with developments, see what people are doing. Not that I seeeverything - I must say I miss many shows, even when I am invited.Shame on me!
However, the Enschede-based Photo Biennale is something that startedas an idea of one of my teachers at the art academy, in 1984, and sincethat first show (with Dutch and American photographers) I nevermissed an edition. The exhibition I mentioned is this year's edition: theconcept has changed from strictly photography to a wider perspective:(multimedia projects, etc.) I am curious where it will go from here!
One thing is certain: it will never be like "the old days", when I used tohelp with the organization: we spent days and days cleaning glass andframing photographs..... Today's complicated installations are built bythe artists themselves: they know how and where they want everything.
Anyway, you'll have to wait another two years or so, because yesterdaywas your last chance to see it.....!
RJ: Well, to give us both some more time to focus on art, maybe it istime to end this interview..... Unless I have forgotten to ask yousomething?
Reply on 4-12-1995
JdG: I don't know. Have you? Forgotten anything? Let me just mentionthe playing card project again: we found a great exhibition place inTurnhout, Belgium: at the National Museum of the playingcard. I movedthe deadline to April 1996, so people have some more time to send mesomething interesting! There will probably be money from here andthere, so we can make a nice looking catalogue (which will be readynext half of 1996: the show itself will be at the beginning of 1997)
Finally I'd like to say I enjoyed being interviewed by mail, so I couldtake my time and think about my answers: this interview took exactly 8months!! Ok. Ruud, thanks, and see you in the mail!
RJ: Thanks for the interview Jenny!
- END -
Mail-artist: Jenny de Groot, Rudolfstraat 60, 7553 WK Hengelo, NETHERLANDS
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen - TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, NETHERLANDS