"Colour has its own existence, it possesses a beauty of its own." - M. Greenfield

Ruud Janssen with Mark Greenfield

TAM Mail-Interview Project

(WWW Version)

Started on: 6-4-1995

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: 26-04-95

MG: I began in the seventies corresponding with various friends. At that time I was an art student, much of what was discussed was about art, many times including examples, sometimes illustrating the envelope. However it was not until the late eighties that I read an article in one of the art magazines I was subscribing to, about 'mail art' and took part in a 'mail art' project. Since then I've taken part in many others, ran projects myself and extended my 'network' greatly. There are numerous reasons why I take part in mail art.

Firstly the need to communicate with other art minded people and a general need to communicate. The stimulus provided by mail art is another important factor. For example I enjoy exploring and discovering of one does 'A' what happens to 'B' and so forth. It is a 'living' art, it also makes use of new media and I see much potential for mail art.

RJ: Could you tell a bit more about the first projects you have done.

How did they come about and what were they about?

Reply on : 11-05-1995

MG: The first mail art project I organized was disappointing because it relied on another person, who later told me they hated the work, did not follow the instructions, and therefore the response was exceedingly poor. However I've recently totally revamped this project and am changing this disappointment into a success. As it is presently ongoing I can't tell you much about this project as it would effect the outcome.

My second project was called the Umbrella Project. The idea was inspired by Christo Javacheff's Umbrella Project and I invited artists to send art as a response to his project. Would people know about Christo's project? Staged in USA and japan, other countries could hear/see this project only by mass media communication, TV, Newspaper , and radio. How successful would this be? Would people for example in the (then) USSR hear of this project? Hopefully I honoured my part of the agreement by sending out the documentation to all participants. At the time of the project I had a lot of interest from external parties, promising this and that, I even gave a nearly hour long interview to The Guardian Newspaper, an important major newspaper in Great Britain.

As you are probably aware, in the USA Lori Kevil-Mathews was tragically killed when high winds blew a Christo Umbrella across a road crushing her against a boulder. Christo closed the project early out of respect for the victim. In Japan Massaki Nakamura was killed while trying to remove a closed Christo Umbrella, the cranes arm touching a 65.000 Volt high tension wire. Obviously all the external parties interest in my project fairly disappeared totally.

My next project was the 'Y' project. A lot of my art has spoken about war. Mail art did not seem to be talking about the ongoing war in Yugoslavia. I wrote to every Yugoslavian mail artist address I could find. To provoke a response I supplied a poem by B. Webster that I titled Yugoslavia. I asked the artists to comment on and contribute any views about the poem. The outcome was seven replies, these were of different view points and the seven were sufficient for me to publish a small booklet titled Y. Most projects seem to end at the documentation, but this was not the case with 'Y'. I sent the booklet to all participants and other Yugoslavian artists, the rest I sent to other mail artists in various parts of the world. The resulting correspondence was exceptional, the subject could not be ignored. It has been suggested to me by one Serbian artist that its time to do another 'Y'. As yet the first one has definitely not finished!

Mail art projects are only a very small fraction of what I consider my mail art activities. By far the most important factor to me is the regular communication between certain artists. The term 'project' seems to only mean the invite and response projects. A lot of my ideas are experiments with mail art. For example I would not class my LA BOHÔME ART xeroxzine as a mail art 'project'

RJ: Tell me more about the ideas that you call 'experiments with mail art'.

Reply on : 26-5-1995

MG: In mail art we already have the tried, tested, and almost traditional format of the mail art project, and we have many mail art traits which we accept as standard, but I believe mail art is still very young, its full potential no where realized. It is only by experimenting that we can try to discover the potential of a new art language.

It is a complex subject for me to discuss what actually is an artists 'drive' to discover. Perhaps its to do with modern arts freedom and I'm trying to ascertain if there are boundaries. There is also a form of discovery which is a kind of learning adventure for ourself just for enjoyment. Maybe I'm trying to find the most effective use of art possible. The list of motives is probably inexhaustible, whatever the reason, the drive to discover does exist within and the only way to satisfy this desire to make new discoveries is by experimentation.

RJ: You seem to be quite fond of the "Please add to and return" principle. What is the reason for that?

Reply on: 8-6-1995

MG: Both the add & pass and the add & return have produced some excellent results. However a lot of the add & pass pieces get lost in the network. A mail artist who has added to several of my add & pass booklets may be frustrated if they have never received anything from me in return, but the ONLY reason I have not sent the artist anything is because I have not had any of the add & pass pieces with their art on returned to me. With the add & return principle it is between two individuals, if one decides not to add to, the other artist knows where the art is, can ask why or decide to let the other artist keep the piece, and so forth.

The add and pass seem to take a long time to reach the final participant and be returned. With add & return normally the piece is passed fairly quickly between two individuals. I enjoy the idea of one or more artist collaborating together on one piece of art, the result is nearly always exciting.

RJ: How do you feel about chain-letters? Do you participate in them too?

Reply on 28-6-1995

MG: Chain letters cause great distress particularly to the very young and the elderly, and I have personally witnessed this suffering, so there is obviously no way I would want to get involved with anything remotely associated with chain letters.

When chain mail art letters (cmal) first started they were just an extension of mail art, and as I was new to mail art at that time I posted them on in the way suggested, but even then I was a bit concerned with the obvious relation to chain letters. When threats started appearing on the cmal, then I no longer took part. All threats ended in my special bin and from then on I took no further part in any cmal, with or without threats. A lot I would return to the person who sent them with a note saying I was not interested in cmal.

I was surprised to find my name was already added to some of the lists on cmal and someone had even photocopied my rubber stamp on to one.

I don't understand the relevance of sending me cmal with my name already on, probably the sender was so busy bulk xeroxing they did not bother to read what they were sending.

The craze of cmal however seems to have almost died out. At the height of the craze every other piece of mail seemed to contain a cmal invite, now it is extremely rare for me to receive any cmal.

It is possible that the reason cmal have now decreased to such an extent is because it doesn't seem to work, as I said my name was on a number of cmal yet I've never had one piece of mail art due to cmal as far as I'm aware.

RJ: You also like to use the copier for another kind of work you do, the collages with one or more colors that you then copy (in one-color of full-color) in a little edition, then sign and number them. What is the idea about these works. They sometimes look like puzzles and are wonderful to look at......

Reply on 28-7-1995

MG: I love colour. Colour has its own existence, it possesses a beauty of its own. Colour is part of our world. I find the colourful presentation of magazines, comics, posters, and advertising exciting. I adore the colours and imagery of food packaging etc. Neon signs, television, film etc. all these are exciting. Most are things which inspire pop artists, I love Pop art. A lot of pop artists based their art on cheap mass produced products. My collages are made in a similar way to how some pop artists made their collages. However perhaps my main difference to the pop artists presentation of their work is that I change my collages back into cheap mass produced product. I could easily produce a xerox off in thousands, and they are fairly cheap. However another element I add to my art is to number the pieces, which then states although this could be a cheap mass produced product it is actually only available in a limited number, and at that, only a very small number.

RJ: You always undersign your letters with M. or M. Greenfield; never your first name. What is the reason for that?

Reply on : 15-8-1995

MG: An unusual question! I do not remember signing M. Greenfield on any mail art letters. The only reason I use just M is for ultimate informal!

At one time I did use M. Greenfield in all projects and did not give out my first name or any personal details. When I first got involved with mail art there were quite a lot of persons using pseudonyms, some using the name of an object as a name. One of the qualities of mail art is it is not necessary for the receiver to know any personal details of the sender. The sender does not also need to know any personal details of the person they are sending to. The amount of personal details you give out is a matter of 'choice' for each individual mail artist, like I said this can be none. This should avoid any discriminations. There should be no discrimination in mail art. However perhaps it is far less discrimination when you know the full personal details of the mail artists and the receiver or sender still decides to have no discrimination.

I discovered too many people know my first name for it to continue being a secret, and after consideration it did not appear relevant to keep it secret.

RJ: You say that it is a matter of 'choice' for each individual mail artist how much personal details they are sending out. For me it depends on the receiver how much personal details I send out because it is a two- way communication. So if I receive personal information, I normally also send out personal information. Your choice seems to be not to send out that many personal details (although I noticed some changes over the years). Is it possible to send out even 'no' personal information?

Doesn't the art you send out show a lot of personal details for the receiver?

Reply on 31-8-1995

MG: This all depends on your definition of personal details. My art does communicate a kind of personal details to a certain extent. You can tell from my art what appeals and interests me, sometimes my personal viewpoint on a subject can be strongly expressed. I suppose it is possible to psychoanalyze a piece of art. You could predict what an artists personality is like from what colours they use, 'how' the artist 'creates', their technique and style.

I can not tell from a piece of art (apart from a few exceptions" whether the artist is married or not, whether they have children, what religion they are, what political party they vote for, and other similar kinds of details, which were the personal details I was trying to discuss in my previous answer.

You mention that for you it is a two way communication. Although most of my mail art is a two way communication, a large amount of my mail art does not fit into the description and limits of just two way communication. I do not particularly like restrictive statements about mail art.

RJ: I didn't say that mail art is a two way communication. I was only talking about why and when I send out personal details to some of my mail art contacts. But somehow I must admit that this kind of mail art has gotten the overhand and is more important for me than the taking part in mail art projects. How is this for you. Do you take part in all the mail art projects you receive, or do you select in answering all that enters your P.O.Box?

Reply on 14-9-1995

MG: Due to a recent event this is a good question to follow on from the previous two. I have received an invite to do art work for a project supporting a political party. I am vehemently opposed to the political party involved and there is no way I would do anything in anyway to support them. So as another statement to add to your questions about personal details. I would add that although I would not hate anyone because of their beliefs, this does not mean I support or believe the same. I might even strongly disagree with those beliefs.

I would not consider taking part in a project where they ask for money.

A recent example of this is a french artist invited me to take part in his project expecting you to pay to be in a type of booklet that he is arranging.

I now also do not take part in projects by total newcomers who just send a B+W xerox flyer inviting me to take part in their project and this is the only mailing I've ever had from them.

Certainly, I'm now quite selective about which projects I take part in and this answer is by no means a full and comprehensive list of the numerous reasons why I might not take part in a project.

I am now extremely 'aware' of the amount of loss of art which I've sent out to various projects so I'm now much more careful what I send to.

Having run several projects myself I think one of the main mistakes newcomers make is that they do not set any finance aside for return documentation etc. Even putting together some very basic documentation and return postage I find the cost can be crippling. The cost of sending anything much heavier than a couple of postcards to the USA is ridiculously high, and normally one can expect to get a very good response from the USA. I presume this is similar for newcomers in the USA who find it very expensive to reply to us in Europe, hence probably the reason why I loose so much to USA newcomers (?)

A lot of newcomers send out flyers in which the theme and details are very wide in what you can send and often the deadline is very long so they're probably going to get a very high response which could be very expensive to reply to.

I would like to add that if anyone has taken part in any of my projects and not received any reply please write to me so I can find out why this happened and I will send the relevant documentation.

RJ: It is funny to hear that you think 'you loose your mail art' when there is no reply or documentation. I know of wonderful projects with wonderful exhibitions where the documentation never got finished because of different reasons. In my eyes the project then is a success.

We aren't taking part in a project to get a wonderful documentation only are we? Also the most beautiful documentations I have are mostly from newcomers. I guess everybody has a different view about mail art.

I have published my views already often. You seem to have not done so in the last years (and this interview will be a nice change). Do you like the mail art statements other mail artists write? How important are words in mail art?

Reply on 4-10-1995

MG: It is insulting having known me for so many years that you could even think that I could possibly do mail art just for the documentation.

However, I do not know of any 'wonderful projects with wonderful exhibitions' where there is no documentation. How could I? If these people take my art and do not even bother to send any return. They do not even have the decency to send a postcard acknowledging receipt of my art let alone communicate anything about the project or exhibition itself.

I suppose your argument could be that you with all your traveling have visited a number of these non documented projects, but even if this is your argument not all projects flyers state when the exhibition is and where.

Oh, just in case you are still in the insulting mood, perhaps I had better state that I do not just do mail art for the exhibition. It is not necessary for a mail art project to have an exhibition. In your 'Thoughts about mail art', you yourself state (and I do agree with these statements) "There will always be a balance between what you send and receive. The more energy you send into the network to mail artists, the more energy they will share with you." So you are a really great person to talk about not expecting a return. A bit hypocritical!

Another important factor is what I consider to be documentation. For me to discover what a 'wonderful project and wonderful exhibition' it was, the organizer would have to communicate this with me in some way. The lowest cost form of communication is probably mail, so if the person writes acknowledging receipt of my art and tells me how 'wonderful' etc. then really I would class this as the extreme minimum of documentation. However I would not like anyone to read this and think that it is normal, it is an exception to normal, it is poor documentation but it is far better than receiving nothing in return.

Although I do not just do mail art for the documentation I suppose I was lucky that the first mail art projects I took part in sent some excellent documentation. I would probably found it very off putting if their returns had been poor and may have been completely put off taking part in future projects.

I strongly disagree about the most beautiful documentations being mainly from newcomers. The best documentation normally is from good artists or someone with a genuine interest in art, it does not matter whether they are a newcomer or a mail art old timer.

To the final part of your question. Words are another tool available to the mail artist, of course they can be very important. The only problem is with writing about mail art many people try to write something resembling a "manifesto" and in trying to do this end up writing a complete load of garbage. Ever heard of the expression 'drowning in pretentious drivel?' The majority of articles written about mail art are pretentious drivel.

I'm also always extremely suspicious about the reasons for these people writing texts about mail art, most of the time the 'reasons' have little to do with mail art.

RJ : I guess you are now trying to insult me because I have written a lot of texts about mail-art in the last years. But in this interview it is not the place to fully explain why I write about mail art. Writing ABOUT mail art has nothing to do practicing mail art, but both fit together. The same goes for the mail art I make for a project, the exhibition, and third: the documentation. They fit together but yet they are different things. After I mailed my piece of mail art for a project the action from my part ends. A mail art project is a process, and sometimes the process is stopped because of reasons that are not controllable for the organizer. Well, I felt I had to react to your answer with some personal thoughts, but for the interview I rather ask you a completely new question. You mention 'The lowest cost form of communication is probably mail', but there is a new communication form: e-mail. I can send out 5 e-mail letters to the USA for the costs of one single air-mail letter of 20 gram. It seems in USA a lot of networkers have entered the internet's e-mail. What are your views about this communication-form?

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