Sunday, March 06, 2005

Mail-Interview with Ray Johnson


(WWW Version)

This is the TEXT-VERSION of the two answers Ray give as part of my interview-project. I am still collecting all kind of information about Ray Johnson (before and/or after his suicide on 13-1-1995). In the furure I hope to publish a booklet about this research.

Started on: 4-11-1994

RUUD: Welcome to this mail-interview. A lot of mail-artists have stopped with sending out their mail into the network, but you seem to keep it up even till today. Is it true that mail-art is more then art, that it is a way of living your life? (please put your answer on paper any length you choose....)

Reply on: 11-11-1994

(Ray's answer was written on the original invitation to the project. He reacted to one specific word on the invitation, the word 'LENGTH', and he decided which length the answer would be...)
RAY: O.K. I choose 14¬ Inch length. Another answer - Dear Lamonte Young, Happydeath day. Please send second question.

(The next question was in the length Ray wanted, and to make it more difficult for him, I typed the next question on dark-red paper on which I indicated the length he choose with a golden pen. Ray wrote again his answer on this paper and returned it to me.)

RUUD: With this length of 14¬ Inch the depth of my questions will change (for better or worse, I don't know....) What kind of color would you like my questions to be? Not todark a color for this second question I hope.

Reply on: 21-11-1994

RAY: THE MNO QP (mirror view) kind. What about Mimsy Star? She got pinched in the astor bar.

RUUD: Was it a mistake that she got pinched. Was she supposed to be punched. Does she like PUNCH at all?

(Because of the long silence I wondered if the third question arrived, and I sent a letter to Ray to ask him what was happened. I found out a few days later he had committed suicide on January 13th. 1995, a Friday).

Reproduced with the permission ofTAM

Further reproduction without the written consent of Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.

Mail-artist: Ray Johnson (1927-1995)
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen - TAM, P.O.Box 10388, 5000 JJ Tilburg, HOLLAND

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Mail-Interview with Dick Higgins

(by Ruud Janssen - NL)

(In the years 1994 till 2001 Ruud Janssen interviewed several artists by different communication-forms. This is interview #43 with Dick Higgins. The Interview took place like a correspondence where both traveled and also used different media like typewriters, computers, handwritten letters and e-mails. 3 Years after the Interview Dick Higgins died of a Heart attack. A short article and CV can be found at the bottom of the interview, published in the New York Times. This Interview is reproduced by Fluxus Heidelberg Center with the permission of TAM-Publications - Netherlands. The dates that questions and answers are? sent/received are mentioned to make the time-line visible)

(c)2003 - FHC 0304

Started on: 4-6-1995

Ruud Janssen : 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: 3-7-1995

Dick Higgins: Dear Senior Janssen - I got involved in the mail-art network in July 1959 shortly after I met Ray Johnson in June. He sent me a marzipan frog, a wooden fork and three small letters in wood, which I correctly misunderstood. I sent him some wild mushrooms which I had gathered, and they arrived at his place on Dover Street just before they decomposed.

RJ : Was this mail-art in the beginning just fun & games or was there more to it?

Reply on 27-7-1995

(Together with his answer Dick Higgins sent me his large, 46 pages long, Bio/Bibliography and a contribution to my Rubberstamp Archive, a stamp-sheet with some of his old and new stamps printed on)

DH: Indeed it was fun to communicate with Ray. But it was a new kind of fun. I had never encountered anyone who could somehow jell my fluid experiences of the time when I was doing visual poetry (thus the letters), food and conceptual utility (perhaps I had shown him my "Useful Stanzas" which I wrote about then. But what had he left out? Nature - thus my sending of the wild mushrooms, collecting and studying which was an ongoing interest (I was working on them with John Cage, an important friend of Ray's as of mine).

As for rubber stamps, in 1960 when Fluxus was a-forming my home was in New York at 423 Broadway on the corner with Canal Street and my studio was at 359 Canal Street a few blocks away. Canal Street was known for its surplus dealers (some are still there) including stationers, and one could buy rubber stamps there for almost nothing - and we did! I had already made some rubber stamps through Henri Berez, a legendary rubber maker on Sixth Avenue, long gone but he was the first I knew who could make photographic rubber stamps - Berez made a magnesium, then a Bakelite and finally the rubber stamp, And I blocked the magnesiums and used them for printing as well. I had stamps of musical notation symbols made and also of my calligraphies, etc. At an auction in 1966 when he moved to Europe I also bought Fluxartist George Brecht's rubber stamps (mostly of animals) which he used starting ca. 1960; I used those to make a bookwork of my own, From the Earliest Days of Fluxus (I Guess), which I think is in the Silverman Collection. Others of my rubber stamps are in the Archiv Sohm and perhaps Hermann Braun or Erik Andersch have some, I am not sure. I think there was an article on Fluxus rubber stamps in Lightworks - that must be listed in John Held Jr's Mail Art: an Annotated Bibliography (Mettuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991) and/or in Jon Hendricks's Fluxus Codex (New York: Abrams, ca. 1992). I also composed some music using rubber stamps, notably Emmett Williams's ar/L'orecchio di Emmett Williams (Cavriago: Pari & Dispari, 1978).

?#060;/span>That's about all I can add to the rubber stamp thing at this time. It would be much more efficient for us if I send you my Bio/Bibliography which has facts that need not be endlessly repeated, so I am doing that under separate cover. The curious type face I used on that is one which I designed and named for Fluxmail Artist Ken "Kenster" Friedman, "Kenster."

RJ : Your Bio/Bibliography is quite impressive. The sentence on the first page: "I find I never feel quite complete unless I'm doing all the arts -- visual, musical and literary. I guess that's why I developed the term 'intermedia' , to cover my works that fall conceptually between these" , indicates you are always focussing on all kinds of media to express yourself. Which place has mail-art in this?

Reply on : 4-8-1995 , 29 degrees Celsius and about 85% relative humidity

(Together with his answer Dick Higgins sent me a poster with title "SOME POETRY INTERMEDIA" explaining metapoetries or how poetry is connected to many other art-forms. Published by Richard C. Higgins, 1976 , New York, USA)

DH : Yes, I am a "polyartist" - Kostelanetz's term for an artist who works in more than one medium, and some of these media themselves have meaningful gradations between them. Visual poetry lies between visual art and poetry, sound poetry lies between music and poetry, etc. But between almost any art and non-art media other intermedia are possible. What lies between theater and life, for instance? Between music and philosophy? In poetry I got into this in my "Some Poetry Intermedia" poster essay. If we take any art as a medium and the postal system as a medium, then mail art is the intermedium between these -
postal poetry, postal music, mail-art [visual variety], etc.

Some of these are more capable than others of the subversive function which I value in mail art - it bypasses the gallery world and the marketplace, so it becomes somehow immune to censorship. If used aggressively it can make a reactionary politician's life Hell. And it is not yet played out yet. For instance, while Fax art has no special characteristics (it is like monochromatic regular mail, "snail mail") what is e-mail art? Can't it subvert the rich folks' machines? Ruin their modems? Yet even that is a commonplace, once one has considered it. Little artists can do it. Its power is inherent in its medium. I can tell you stories of how the Poles of Klodsko tortured an East German bureaucrat who has banned a Mail art show in (then) East Berlin. I happened to be visiting there at the time and was involved in this.

But let's think about more positive areas. Please tell me about the spiritual aspects of mail art. How do you see that?

RJ : Yes, a nice try to end an answer with a question to me. I will send you some 'thoughts about mail-art' for you to read, but in this interview I would like to focus on YOUR thoughts and knowledge. I am in no hurry, so I would like to hear that story of how the Poles of Klodsko tortured this East German bureaucrat who banned this mail art show in East Berlin.....

Reply on 17-8-1995

DH : (today in 1843 Herman Melville signed abroad the frigate 'United States,' this began the journey that led to 'White-Jacket')

It must have been about 1988 and I was traveling through Poland, reading and performing with a friend, the critic and scholar Piotr Rypson. Our travels brought us to Klodsko down in the beak of Galicia to where a group of unofficial Polish artist had gathered to discuss what to do since the Mail Art Conference which Robert Rehfeldt had organized in East Berlin had, at the last moment, been canceled by some bureaucrat. It was a final and irrevocable decision the bureaucrat had made, finalized by his official rubber stamp besides his signature.

This was a great disappointment to these artists who had very little opportunity to meet personally with each other, especially across international borders, and to exchange ideas. However these artists were Poles, from the land of the liberum votum , and they had six hundred years experience at protesting. They made a list of things to do. Having access to some things in America which were problematic in Poland, I was asked to have four exact facsimiles of the bureaucrat's rubber stamp made up and to send one to each of four addresses I was given, one was an official one in the Department of Agriculture in the DDR and the other three were in Poland. I was also asked to buy some homosexual and some Trotskyite magazines in the USA, to send them one at a time to the bureaucrat and, if possible, to subscribe in his name to these things. I did these things and also I appointed the bureaucrat an honorary member of my Institute for Creative Misunderstanding and sent an announcement of his appointment to Neues Deutschland, the main communist newspaper of the DDR.

For a few weeks it seemed as if nothing had happened. But then I received a long letter from Robert Rehfeldt in English (usually he wrote me in German) lecturing me on what a terrible thing it was to try to force a person to accept art work which he did not like. And a few weeks after that I received a post card from Rehfeldt auf deutsch saying "Fine - keep it up [mach weiter]."

In this story we can see the usefulness for using the mails on the positive side for keeping spirits up and for keeping contact with those one does not see, on the sometimes-necessary negative side for creating powerful statements which must have caused great problems for this bureaucrat. I have no idea who these people were to whom I sent the rubber stamps, but I can imagine that they were forging the bureaucrat's signature onto all sorts of capricious papers and causing great consternation within official circles of the DDR. For me this story tells well one of the main uses of Mail Art.

Perhaps it also suggests why Mail Art taken out of context can sometimes be such a bore. It has no particular formal value or novelty, especially when one has (as I have) been doing it for nearly forty years, so that mere documentation seems tendentious and egotistic. Would you want to only read about a great painting of the past? Wouldn't you rather see it and then, perhaps, read about it? Making good Mail Art is like making a souffl?- the timing is very very critical. Who wants to be told about a decade old souffl? And documenting the matter is not nearly so interesting as receiving and consuming it at precisely the right moment - with the right people too, I might add. It is an art of the utmost immediacy.

RJ : What was the reason for creating your "Institute for Creative Misunderstanding"?

Reply on 26-8-95 (Apollinaire born today)

(Besides his answer Dick Higgins also sent his poem "Inventions to make")

DH : Kara Ruud, For years I was struck by how little one understands of how one's work will be perceived by others. We can prescribe how others will see it at risk of discouraging them. Duchamp, when anyone would ask "does your piece mean this or that...?" would smile and usually say "yes," no matter how absurd the question. The impressionists thought they were dealing with light; we see their contribution is one of design along the way towards abstraction. The Jena Romantic poets of Germany saw themselves as applying the philosophies of Kant and Plato to their writings, but we see it as reviving the baroque and providing a healthy restorative emotional depth to their poetry which had often been lacking in the work of the previous generation. The same is true of Percy B. Shelley who knew his Plato well (and translated passages of Plato from Greek into English), but who in poems like "Lift not the painted veil" or "The sensitive plant" moves Plato's ideas into areas which Plato never intended to create a new entity of art-as-concealment. Harold Bloom, a famous academic critic in the USA, was, in the 1970's in books like The anxiety of influence, stressing the role of recent art as cannibalizing and deriving from earlier art. I was not satisfied with Bloom's models and preferred to extend them and misinterpret them myself along hermeneutic lines using a Gadamerian model; this you will find in a linear fashion in my book Horizons (1983) and in the forthcoming "Intermedia: Modernism since postmodernism" (1996). But a linear presentation does not satisfy me either; it does not usually offer grounds for projection into new areas and it focuses too much on the specifics of my own ratiocinations. To broaden my perspective I conceived of a community of artists and thinkers who could take conceptual models and, with good will (my assumption, like Kant's in his ethics), transform these models ?evoking not simply intellectual discourse but humor or lyrical effects which would otherwise not be possible. This is, of course, my Institute of Creative Misunderstanding. Into it I put a number of people with whom I was in touch who seemed to be transforming earlier models into new and necessary paradigms. I tried to organize a meeting of the institute, but could not get funding for it and realized that it might well be unnecessary anyway. I still use that Institute as a conceptual paradigm when necessary.

So I would not describe the Institute for Creative Misunderstanding as a "fake institute," as you did, so much as an abstract entity and process of existence which creates a paradigm of community of like-minded people by its very name and mentioning. Are you a member of the Institute, Ruud? Perhaps you are - it is not really up to me to say if you have correctly misunderstood it in your heart of hearts.

RJ : Who is to say if I am a member? But I sure like all those institutes and organizations that there are in the network. You spoke of the intention to organize a meeting. In the years 1986 and 1992 there were lots of organized meetings in the form of congresses. Is it important for (mail-) artists to meet in person?

Reply on 5-9-1995 (Cage born -1912)

DH : (laughing) Who's to say if you are a member? Why the group secretary, of course - whoever that is. Perhaps I am acting secretary and I say you are a member. Anyway, to be serious, the question of meetings is not answerable, I think, except in specific contexts. The events planned at Klodsko could not have been planned without the people being together; but at other times it would seem unnecessarily pretentious to bring them together - frustrating even, since most mail artists are poor and they would have to spend money to be present. At times this would be justified, but if it were simply a matter of pride or of establishing a place in some pecking order, well that would not be good.

Think of a camp fire. Shadowy figures are in conversation, laughing and talking; what they say makes sense mostly among themselves. A stranger wanders in and listens. The stranger understands almost nothing - to him what is said is all but meaningleess - and the part which he understands seems trivial to him. The stranger has two options: he can stay and learn why what is being said is necessary, or he can go away and suggest that all such campfires are silly and should be ignored or banned. Mail art is like that. I go to shows, and the work is arranged not by conversation but according to a curator’s skills of the past, as if these were drawings by Goya. But they aren't. Their meaning is more private, often contained in the facts and conditions of their existence more than in the art traditions to which they seem to belong. The show therefore doesn't work. Few do. But a show arranged chronologically of the exchanges among some specific circle mail artists - that would have a greater chance for an outsider to learn the language and love the medium. Wouldn't you like to see a show of the complete exchanges between, say, San Francisco's Anna Banana*1 and Irene Dogmatic (if there ever was such an exchange) than the 65th International Scramble of Mail Artists presented by the Commune di Bric- -Bracchio (Big catalog with lots and lots of names, but all works become the property of the Archivo di Bric- -Bracchio).

?#060;/span>*1 of course Anna has since moved to her native Vancouver, and I haven't heard of Irene Dogmatic in many a year)

Chance encounters among mail artists, meetings among small groups - oh yes, those are quite wonderful. But I don't usually see the point in large gatherings of mail artists. Actually, there haven't been many of them - thank goodness. Berlin would have been an exception, methinks.

As e'er- Dick (laughing) (Dicks signiture was placed here as a smiling face)

RJ : What is the first 'chance encounter' (as you call them) that comes up in your mind when I ask for a memory about such an event?

Reply on 18-9-1995

DH : By "chance encounters" I mean those meetings which could not have been anticipated or which take place on the spur of the moment. In on Wednesday I arrange to meet you the following Tuesday at 7:30
and if I am unable to sleep Monday night because of faxes from Europe arriving all night long Monday night and the cat is ill on Tuesday so that I must waste half the day at the veterinarian's office, you and I will have a very different kind of meeting from the situation of my meeting you in the post office and the two of us going to spend a few hours together talking things over, or if I say: "Look: I cooked too much food, please come over and help me eat it."

We have all had such meeting, no? Those meetings are the most productive, I think. Few mail artists (or any artists) can really control their own time, their own schedule. Only the rich can do that, if anyone
can. We are mostly poor and must depend on the schedules of others. But there are days when this is not true - days when it works perfectly to see someone. Ray Johnson was a master of this - he would call, "I am with (whoever), we're down the street from you. Can we come see you?" If yes - great. If not, one never felt locked into the situation.

That is how I never met Yves Klein. One night, perhaps in 1961, at 11:15 Ray phoned me from down the street and said that Yves Klein was with him and would like to meet me. I said I'd like to meet him too but I was in bed and it was a week-day. I had to go to work the next day. We agreed that I should meet Yves Klein the next time he came to new York. It didn't happen; Klein died instead.

?#060;/span>It is also how I met Alison Knowles, - Ray Johnson and Dorothy Podber and myself had dinner in Chinatown in New York and then they took me to Alison's loft nearby. I had met her briefly before that, but this time we got to talk a little. That was thirty-six years ago, and Alison and I are still together.

And so it goes -

RJ : Yes, and also the forms of communication are proceeding. To my surprise I noticed on your 'letterhead' that you have an e-mail address too. Are you now exploring the possibilities of the internet as well?

Reply on 20-10-1995 (sent on 11-10 from Milano Italy)

(Dick Higgins handwritten answer came from Milano, Italy, where he is preparing a retrospective show of his work.)

DH : Yes, "exploring" is the only possible word, since the internet is constantly changing. You can "know" yesterday's internet, but today's always contains new variables.

In the world of computers, most of the "information" is irrelevant, even to those who put it there. Few of us bother to download clever graphics since advertising has made us numb to those. I only download graphics if the text which I see really seems to need them. I need them no more than I need to watch show-offy gymnastic displays, divers or pianists who play Franz Liszt while blindfolded and balancing champagne glasses on their head. What I like on the "net" are three things:

1) Making contact with people whose contributions to the internet shows interest similar to my own. Far from being alienating, as others have said of the web and internet, I find this element a very positive and community-building factor. For instance, I enjoyed meeting on the internet a guy whom I'd met three years ago, a visual poet named Kenny Goldsmith, and had not seen since. Now he does "Kenny's page " -
< so /~kennyg/index.html> - where he creates links to anything in the new arts which excites him. It was like looking into someone else's library - a revelation, and one which I could use. It led me to meet him again in person, a real delight.

2) I cannot afford to buy the books I once could. But often I can download and print out things to read before going to bed. For an author, what a way to get one's work and ideas around! Why wait two
years for your book to appear, for your article to come out in some magazine which nobody can afford? Put it on the net and it is potentially part of the dialogue in your area of interest. Further, it tells
me not only what people are interested in, but what is going on - a John Cage conference , which interested me, was fully described on the net for instance - and it gives me access to everything from dictionaries, indexes and lists of words, people and events. I suppose a saboteur could list false information, and of course commercial interests can tell me about their stuff, but this only
sharpers my skeptical abilities - I can avoid their garbage with no more effect than on a commercial television set. I suspect the internet is a blow to the effectiveness of normal advertising.

3) As someone whose favorite art, books and literature are seldom commercially viable, I am happy to see how the internet actually favors the smaller organizations and media. If I access a big publisher's pages with ten thousands titles, I stop and quit almost at once - it takes too long. But a small publisher's page is often worth a glance. Further, the phenomenon of links gives an element of three - dimensionality to the internet. A book sounds interesting. I click on it and I see a few pages of it. This is like browsing in a wonderful book store. A good example is the pages for Avec, a small avant-garde
magazine and book publisher in California. I found it through a link on the Grist pages - < >. It's designed by the editor of Witz , a new arts newsletter (address: ). Perfect. Another good one is Joe de Marco's pages < > - full of fluxus things and theater. All this suggests new forms of distribution, which has always been a
problem for small publishers. If you can safely transmit credit information to an address on the internet, then, if you live in a small village as I do, it is as if you lived in a large city with an incredible book
store near you. Because of links, I do not see how big corporations can commercialize all this. My computer is black and white, I have no money to invest in their corporations, and their rubbish is easily avoided. Thanks to the internet, the damber kind of popular culture will probably begin to lose its strangle-hold on people's attention. Of course it will take time and other developments too, but the internet rips off the conservatives' three-piece suits, remakes them and gives them to us in a better form.

RJ : It seems like publishing is very important for you. In mail art a lot has been written about the boek "The Paper Snake" by Ray Johnson, which you published with Something Else Press. What was the story
behind this specific book?

reply on 27-10-1995 (internet)

DH: There is no doubt in my mind that Ray Johnson was one of the most valuable artists I've ever known. He was a master of the "tricky little Paul Klee-ish collage," as he modestly dismissed them; most of his
work of the late 1950's was collages in 8 1/2 x 11 format-roughly corresponding to the European A3. That was a time when Abstract Expressionism ("Tachisme") ruled the roost in America, and art was
supposed to swagger, lack humor, be big and important-looking. Johnson had rejected this long before, had, in the 1950's, made hundreds or thousand of postcard-size collages using popular imagery,
had also made big collages and then cut them up, sewn them together into chains, had buried the critic Suzi Gablik in a small mountain of them (alas, only temporarily), had printed various ingenious little
booklets and sent them off into the world, and, since there was no appropriate gallery for his work, had now taken to sending his collages out-along with assemblages in parcel post form. For example, a few days after I had startled Ray by throwing my alarm clock out the window, he sent me a box containing a marzipan frog, a broken clock and a pair of chopsticks, calling shortly thereafter to suggest that we go to Chinatown for dinner.

But Ray could write too. He was always interested in theater and performance, had picked up many ideas from the days when he and his friend Richard Lippold lived downtown in New York City on Monroe Street on the floor below John Cage (all of them friends also from Black Mountain College), and he wrote and sent out innumerable playlets, poems, prose constructions, etc.

I saw Ray around town for several months before I met him, which was at a 1959 concert where I asked him if he were Jasper Johns. "No," he said, "I'm Ray Johnson," we got to talking and soon to walking and not long afterwards to visiting. Years later, when I met Jasper Johns, in order to complete the symmetry, I asked him if he were Ray Johnson. I expected him to say, "You know I'm not-why do you ask?" Instead he said, acidly: "No." And he walked away.

Something Else Press was founded on the spur of the moment. First I did my book "Jefferson's Birthday/Postface" (1964). But before the thing was even printed, I decided the next book should be a
cross-section of the things Ray had sent me over the previous six years. So, having little room at my own place, I packed them all into two suitcases, visited my mother and spread everything out on her dining
table. I sorted the book into piles-performance pieces, poems, collages, things to be typeset, thing to be reproduced in Ray's writing-taking care to include at least some of each category. I knew the book would be hard to sell, so I didn't want to make it a Big Important Book; I chose the format of a children's book, set the texts in a smallish size of Cloister Bold (an old-fashioned Venetian face), decided on using two
colors to simulate four (which I could not have afforded), and then laid out the pages in a way which I felt would invite the reader to experience Ray's pieces as I did on receiving them. Ray, who had at first been displeased by the project, perhaps feeling it would lock him into a format too much, become very enthusiastic as the project developed. Where at first he had refused to title the book, later he called it "The Paper Snake" after a collage and print he had made. He also wanted the price to be "$3.47," for reasons I have never known (prices of that sort were always $3.48 or $3.98). And when, one winter day in 1966, the book was being bound by a New York City binder, I took Ray over to the bindery to see it being cased in (when the covers are attached to the book). By then he was delighted and wrote me one of the few formal letters ever received from him thanking me for doing it.

As for its reception, the book was a puzzler to even the most sophisticated readers at the time. Even someone who was a regular correspondent of Ray's, Stanton Kreider, wrote me an outraged letter saying what a silly book it was. Such people usually felt that Ray's mailings were and should remain ephemera. There were almost no reviews, but one did appear in Art Voices, one of the most scorching reviews I have ever seen, complaining the book was precious and completely trivial, a pleasure to an in-group. These letters and reviews are now in the Archiv Sohm in Stuttgart, where you can pursue them for yourself if you like.

RJ : It is good that you keep mentioning the places where things can be found, if I do or don't pursue, now somebody else might do it too. There are a lot of archives in the world. Besides the 'official' archives there are also the private collections that most (mail-) artists have built up. Are there still things that you collect?

Reply on 29-10-95 (internet)

DH : I feel overwhelmed by THINGS at my home. My letters are one of the main things I have done in this life, and I try to keep copies of each letter I send; but there is no space to save them. For years now my files have been going away - to the Archiv Sohm, for about 1972 to 1989 to the Jean Brown Archive, and from then till now the Getty Center in Santa Monica, California.

I don't think it makes sense for a private individual to have a closed archive if such a person is going to present a face to the world. I have read that Yoko Ono founded Fluxus, and I have seen that quoted as a
fact many times. One critic or student picks up errors from the one before. I don't know where that "fact" came from. Yoko is a good. modest person; she was a friend of ours and she had done pieces which are very much part of the older Fluxus repertoire. But she was not present on that November day of 1961 when Maciunas proposed to a group of us that we do a magazine to be called "Fluxus" and that we do performances of the pieces in the magazine; nor was she in Wiesbaden in September 1962 when we did those performances and the press began calling us "Die Fluxus Leute" - the Fluxus people. So while she, for instance, was surely one of the original Fluxus people, she did not found Fluxus. Well, if I am going to assert this, it is important that the documents of the time be available somewhere besides in my own files. Too, my writings are complex and full of allusions; this is not to create mysteries but to enrich the fabric and draw on reality. It can be useful therefore that my files be open to anyone who needs them, and this would be impossible if the files were here in my church.

Then there are other collections: from 1977 to 1991 I collected things related to Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), - apart from a passage in Plato's Phaedrus, Bruno's "De imaginum, signorum et idearum Compositione" (1593) has the earliest discussion I know of intermedia - but when Charlie Doria's translation of this work came out (which I edited and annotated) I sold off all the Bruno materials I had. From 1968 to 1990 (about) I collected patterns poetry-old visual poetry from before 1900 - but that too has gone away, most of it anyway. I have collected almost all of the books written, designed by or associated with Merle Armitage (1893-1975), a great modernist book designer, and my biography of him, "Merle Armitage and the Modern Book", is due out with David Godine next year. I will then sell that collection too. Perhaps it was a good experience acquiring these things, but that part is over now. Other collections have been given away. I collected a tremendous amount of sound poetry and information on it, meaning to do a book on the subject. But there was never money to do the book right. Perhaps that collection also should depart. There is too much art work by myself here in the church in which I live and work - it gets damaged because it cannot be stored properly. I would like to move to a smaller place, since I do not need and cannot afford this big one, and if that happens more things also go away.

There are some phonograph records, tapes and CD's too - too many to keep track of, some going baack to my teen years when I used to spend the money I earned by baby-sitting on records of John Cage, Henry
Cowell, G”esta Nystroem, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, Anton Webern and such-like. I suppose the only books which are also tools and (for me) reference work-books on design or artistic crafts (orchestration,
for instance), Fluxbooks and Fluxcatalogs (I need to check my facts), books and magazines in which I am included (so I can tell where such- and-such a piece first was printed). As for objects, I care about my
mother's dishes and one table, but that is about all - the rest can go.

No, I am a temporary collector - as Gertrude Stein said of her visitors, she liked to see them come, but she also liked to see them go. I will acquire things when they are needed, but I need to unload them too. I have no right to own art, even by friends, because I cannot take care of it properly. It too must go. This church is dark with things, things, things - and maybe somebody else, somebody younger that I, might like to have them.

RJ : Why do you live in a church?

Reply on 4-11-1995 (internet)

DH : I live in this church because, when I moved to this area from Vermont (where I had lived almost fourteen years, off and on, up near the Quebec border) I bought a house, garage and church complex. It
had been "defrocked" by the Roman Catholic Church in 1974, its consecration taken away and the cross and bell removed, and it was sold to a couple who wanted it to become an antique shop. However there
was no drive-by traffic so they found that would not work. But nobody wanted to buy it from them. So I got it at a good price, as they say. My plan was to live in the house- a modest parsonage,- for my wife Alison Knowles to use the garage (where we set up a photo darkroom to be shared), and for myself to use the church as my own studio. For this it was fine.

But in 1985 when my finances began to collapse-with the decline in the US art world, the rise of our Radical Right and neo-Christian coalition, and with the Fluxus syndrome among exhibitors and collectors, I had to rent out the house to survive and to move into the church. It is a nice space, well suited to be a studio, but it is dark in the winter and is quite gloomy and expensive to heat. It has no doors so nobody is separated from anything else that is going on. There are virtually no doors to close, so there is no privacy. Sometimes I think I will go mad here.?Maybe I have. I would love to move, but like the previous owners I would find it hard to sell and in any case I have no money to move. Next winter I may have to do without heat here most of the time unless things look up. It is a curious environment for an artist.

I often refer to this "Fluxus syndrome." It is my term for a problem that I face. It goes like this. A gallerist, critic or exhibitor tells me "I like your work. I know you are a Fluxus artist." Then they see more of my
work and they compare it to the work of George Maciunas, whom they take to be the leader of Fluxus instead of its namer and, in his own preferred term, "Chairman" of Fluxus. They note that there are
differences and they say to me: "But that work is not Fluxus. Do you have any Fluxus work?" I say yes,-and I show work from the early sixties through late seventies. It still does not resemble the work of Maciunas.
It isn't usually even fun and games, which is what the public thinks of as Fluxus. So I am marginalized in Fluxus shows, or I am left out of other collections because "This is not a Fluxus gallery/museum show/collection." The problem is all but unavoidable, and in vain can one point out that if Fluxus is important, it is because of its focus on intermedia, that Maciunas recognized this repeatedly, that he knew perfectly well that there was room in Fluxus for work which did not resemble his at all. If one says anything like this in public, it is taken to be a disloyalty to George or some kind of in-fighting for prestige. I have sometimes been tempted to show my work under a false name in order to escape this syndrome altogether. But even that sounds as if I were ashamed of my Fluxus past, which I am not, even though it is not awfully relevant to my work since the late seventies. Also I still feel affinities to some of my Fluxus colleagues, though the work of others has, in my opinion, become repetitious crap. Many of my Fluxfriends could do with a little more self-criticism, in my opinion. Fluxus also has its share of hangers-on, people who were utterly marginal to the group and who kept their distance during the years when Fluxus had not acquired its present and perhaps false public image, but who are now all too willing to con their way into the list and to enter their colors for the next tournament.

RJ : This story about "Fluxus syndrome," is quite interesting when I compare it to mail art. There is the difference that in mail art most artist try to avoid the traditional art-world, and there is even the phrase "mail art and money don't mix" by Lon Spiegelman, that is used by others too. There are on the other hand also artists who say to organize a mail art show and then start to use entrance-fees and ask for money for catalogues ; try to 'con' people in the mail art network. What do you think of "mail art and money don't mix"? I know it's not an easy question to answer.

Reply on 11-11-1995 (internet)

DH : Money and mail art? Money and Fluxus? Mixing? You are right, I can't answer that one easily. Certainly if somebody got into mail art (or Fluxus) as a means of advancing his or her career- "Gee," says the dork, "ya gotta get inta as many shows as possible, I was in thirty-two last year and here's the catalogs to prove it," -he or she would swiftly learn that is not what the field is for. Rather, its purpose is to combat?alienation, and that is only in some respects an economic problem. Mail art has tremendous disruptive potential (and even some constructive social potential), as I described in my story about Polish mail artists and the East German bureaucrat. And it has great community-building power - even my hypothetical dork can say" "Wow, I got friends all over, from Argentina to Tunisia." But I must make a confession: I have probably seen forty or fifty actual exhibitions of mail art, and NOT ONE OF THEM was interesting to see. There were good things in each of them of course, but the effect of looking at them was weak. Why? Because they did not reflect the function - they always treated the sendings as final artifacts (sometimes ranked according to the prestige of the artist). But mail art pieces are virtually never final artifacts - they are conveyors of a process of rethinking, community-building and psychological and intellectual extension. Thus it is, I think, a distortion to think, of mail art as a commercial commodity of any kind. Because it is typically modest in scale usually and it is usually technically simple, the finest piece may come from the greenest, newest or the least skilled artist. There is no rank in mail art so long as the artist thinks and sees clearly.

Nevertheless, the issue of money is one which must be faced. Lack of it can ruin your capability for making mail art, for one thing. When the heat is gone and you can't afford to go to the doctor, it is very hard to focus on making this collage to send away, even though one knows that do so would bring great satisfaction and comfort. Yet the mail art itself is not usually salable, and nobody gets a career in mail art. One is free to be capricious, as I was circa twenty-odd years ago when I spent two months corresponding only with people whose last names began with M. It is not, then, so much that mail art and money do not mix but that mail art simply cannot be used to produce money, at least not directly, - which is not to say that one mail artist cannot help another. Obviously we can and do. I remember when Geoffrey Cook, a San Francisco mail artist, undertook a campaign through the mail art circuit to free Clemente Padin, the Uruguayan mail artist (among other things) who had been jailed by the military junta for subversion. It worked. And many is the mail artist who, wanting to see his or her correspondent, finds some money somewhere to help defray travel costs and such-like.

With Fluxus, the issue is different. Fluxart has in common with mail art its primary function as a conveyor of meaning and impact. But Fluxworks are not usually mail art and do not usually depend on a network of recepients. Some are enormously large. Some take large amounts of time to construct, some are expensive to build and so on. Given this, issues of professionalism arise which are not appropriate to mail art. If I insist on making my Fluxart amateur and to support myself by other means, I may not be able to realize my piece. I am thus forced at a certain point in my evolution to attempt to live form my art, since anything else would be a distraction. I must commercialize the uncommercializable in order to extend it to its maximum potential. What an irony! It is, I fancy (having been in Korea but not Japan), like the expensive tranquility of a Zen temple in contrast to the maniacal frenzy of Japanese commercial life outside it. Peace becomes so expensive one might imagine it is a luxury, which I hope it is not. So one is compelled to support it.
The difference is, I think, that commercial art supports the world of commodity; Fluxus and other serious art of their sort draws on the world of commerce for its sustenance but its aim lies elsewhere ? it points in other directions, not at the prestige of the artist as such (once someone once tried to swap, for a book by Gertrude Stein which he wanted, two cookies which Stein had baked, then about twenty-two years before) and certainly not at his or her ego in any personal sense (John Cage musing at the hill behind his then home, "I don't think I have done anything remarkable, anything which that rock out there could not do if it were active"). One must take one's work seriously, must follow its demands and be an obedient servant to them: nobody else will, right? If the demands are great and require that one wear a shirt and tie and go light people's cigars, then out of storage come the shirt and tie and out comes the cigar-lighter. That is what we must do. But we do not belong to the world of cigars; we are only visitors there. It is a liminal experience, like the shaman visiting the world of evil spirits. We can even be amused by the process. Anyway, that's my opinion.

RJ : Some mail artists say that the mail art network is more active than before. Others say that mail art is history because almost all the possibilities of the traditional mail have been explored, and that all the things that are happening now in mail art, are reproductions of things that happened before. Is mail art a finished chapter?

Reply on 16 December, 1995

(Santayana born today (1863) and Jane Austin too (1775)

DH : Well, I think both sides are right. Mail Art is more active than before if more people are doing it. Of course, for those of us whose interest in exploration I am glad they are doing it even though I see no
need to do it AS SUCH myself. Mail Art is [only?] history if all the possibilities have been explored - yes, if one's job is to explore things only formally. Of course I love history - without it I never know what
not to do. For me this last assumption is therefore right so far as it goes, but it does not go very far. Why should we assume that doing something once means it need not be done again? That is what I call the
"virgin attitude," fine for people who are hung up on sleeping with virgins but a dreadful idea if it is really love that you want. Aren't you glad that Monet painted more than one haystack or waterlily painting? Don't you have a food recipe which you would hate to change? A "finished chapter?" That has even more problematic assumptions.

?#060;/span>After all, a chapter in a book (including the Book of Life) involves reading, and the best books invite reading more than once. Isn't reading as creative as writing?

?#060;/span>Mail Art is, in my opinion, not a single form. I am not much of a taxonomist-someone else can decide how many forms it is, can classify and sort it out. What I know and have said in this interview is that Function precipitates Form. So long as new uses for Mail Art can appear, new forms are likely to arise. Just for instance-e-mail letters and magazines are relatively new. The ways we can use them have not
fully revealed themselves. The politics of this world are as fouled up as ever; perhaps there are mail art methods (including e-mail methods) which can be used to help straighten things out or at least point to the problems in a startling or striking way. No, I think mail art may be history - it has been with us at least since Rimbaud's burnt letters ?but only a Dan Quail (a proverbially obtuse right-wing politician here)
would say, as he did in 1989, that "History is Over!" And as long as there are people-artists-living alone here and there, confronted by problems (professional, formal, human or social), Mail Art is likely to have a role to play in helping to alleviate those problems.?What we must not do is allow ourselves to take ourselves too seriously-tendentiousness is a natural health hazard for the mail artist. The freshness and unpredictability of the medium are part of why, if mail art works at all, it really does. Just as we must always reinvent ourselves, according to whatever situations we find ourselves in, we must always reinvent our arts. And that includes mail art.

RJ : Well, this is a wonderful moment to end this interview. I want to thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts.


From: miekal and < >
To: “Ruud Janssen?< >
Date: Sat, 31 Oct 1998 21:23:28 +0000
Subject: FLUXLIST: [Fwd: Dick Higgins, Fluxus Co‑Founder, Dies]

Dick was a sometime contributor here, witty, generous and courageously outrageous ‑‑ online and in performance, this his finale:

“Thus Higgins' musical composition "Dangerous Music No. 17" of 1963 consisted of Higgins' wife, the poet Alison?Knowles, shaving his head. "Dangerous Music No. 2,"?which Higgins had performed on Sunday at the colloquium? in Quebec City, involved screaming as loudly as possible for as long as possible.?#060;o:p>

The New York Times
October 31, 1998.

Dick Higgins, 60, Innovator in the 1960s Avant‑Garde

By Roberta Smith

Dick Higgins, a writer, poet, artist, composer and publisher who was a seminal figure in Happenings and the concrete poetry movement and a co‑founder of the anti‑authoritarian Fluxus movement in the early 1960s, died on Sunday while visiting Quebec City. He was 60 and lived in New York City and in Barrytown, N.Y. The cause of death was a heart attack, his family said. He was staying at a private home in Quebec City while attending a colloquium on "Art Action, 1958‑1998" at a performance space named Le Lieu.

Higgins, who invented the term "intermedia," had a long list of achievements, most of which he enumerated in a carefully maintained curriculum vitae that ran to 47 pages. Its table of contents listed such headings as Visual Art, Movies and Videotapes, Music and Sound Art and "Selected Discussions of Dick?Higgins," one category of which was "articles, or interesting reviews."? The bibliography reflected a polymorphic involvement with language, literature and books. It included books of theoretical essays, plays, poems, word scores, musical scores, graphic music notions and performance piece instructions. Titles could be strange: "foew&ombwhnw," a 1969 book of essays, is an acronym for "freaked out electronic wizard and other marvelous bartenders who have no wings."

This volume was a characteristic combination of the traditional and the iconoclastic: while its pages featured columns of word scores, visual poetry and essays that ran vertically from spread to spread, the volume was bound like a prayer book, in leather, with a ribbon bookmark.?Most of Higgins' books were published by companies that he founded, funded and ran himself, the best known being Something Else Press. During its brief life span (1964‑1975) it published books and pamphlets by avant‑garde writers and artists of several generations, including Gertrude Stein, Richard Hulsenbeck, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Emmett Williams, Claes Oldenburg, the Futurist painter Luigi Russolo and the 17th‑century poet George Herbert, whose pattern poems Higgins considered a precedent for concrete poetry.

As his books were extremely well made and Higgins was prone to order reprintings on the slightest excuse, many Something Else titles are still in print. Higgins was born in 1938 in Cambridge, England, the son of a wealthy family that owned Wooster Press Steel in Wooster, Mass. He was educated at several New England boarding schools, attended Yale University and received a bachelor's degree in English from Columbia University in 1960.

He also studied at the Manhattan School of Printing, attended John Cage's influential course on music composition at the New School and studied with the avant‑garde composer Henry Cowell. By the late 1950s, Higgins was working for a book manufacturer while immersing himself in the flourishing New York art scene, where the increasing dissolution of boundaries between traditional art media fit his sensibility. He was interested in anything that was new and within a short time seemed to know nearly everyone moving in that direction. With Allan Kaprow and others he planned and performed in the first Happenings. With George Macunius, he established the loosely knit group known as Fluxus, which accepted any activity as art and played fast and loose with definitions.

Thus Higgins' musical composition "Dangerous Music No. 17" of 1963 consisted of Higgins' wife, the poet Alison Knowles, shaving his head. "Dangerous Music No. 2," which Higgins had performed on Sunday at the colloquium in Quebec City, involved screaming as loudly as possible for as long as possible. In 1966, Higgins' essay "Intermedia" ‑‑ published in the first issue of the Something Else Newsletter ‑‑ drew on his experiences with Happenings, Fluxus, concrete poetry and performance art. It formulated the concept of works of art that combined different forms?‑‑ film and dance, painting and sculpture ‑‑ that are today often referred to as multimedia installation art.

In addition to Ms. Knowles, whom he married in 1960, divorced in 1970 and remarried in 1984, Higgins is survived by their twin daughters, Hannah, of Chicago and Jessica, of New York; a sister, Lisa Null of Washington; a granddaughter, and his stepfather, Nicholas Doman of New York.

Mail-Interview with Jonathan Stangroom


Started on: 4-2-1996

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

Reply on 2-3-1996

JS : Thank you for the invitation to your interview. I've been aware of mail art since my art school days, in the early seventies. I liked the ideas of collaboration and networking (although I doubt that they called it that back then). I liked that it occured outside the mainstream art the elusive underground. Unfortunately, I didn't have an address to mail to! That's not entirely true. In 1972 or so, under the pseudonym "The Guardians of Good Taste of North America," in collaboration with Liz Hardy a mail box/safe deposit box was reserved in a Canadian project conducted by Image Bank (I may be wrong about the sponsor).

To my knowledge nothing was ever deposited in this box and apart from the confirmation of our box reservation, no mail was generated. I continued to send creative mail (outside of the network) throughout the 70's and into the 80's. On returning to the states after a year in India (where the mail became an even greater force in my life) my ex-wife put me in touch with Kate Lanxner (whom I think once interviewed you, dear Ruud). She, in turn, introduced me to RUBBERSTAMPMADNESS as a source for mail art possibilities. Here, I found an entrance to the network. At this time I was experimenting with the copy machines at my brother's printing shop and produced artworks for Lancillotto Bellini's "The Artist's Family." Other early (for me) projects that I participated in were Jenny de Groot's "Transport/Transportation" and Pascal Lenoir's "Mani Art."

The documentation from these yielded some of my dearest and most consistant contacts. I have to admit that in the beginning I didn't have a clue what was expected from me (that's the way I thought). I was a bit shy about it. Once I was into the network the mail came and I've been involved since.

Alternative answer : 1987-88

RJ : Do you know now what is expected from you?

JS : I suppose I know that nothing specific is expected. In those early days I hadn't seen much mail art and didn't know what it looked like. It is often said that to understand mail art one has to participate.... until I became involved I didn't realize the possibilities or understand the breadth of the network.

Although, I decided early on to use my real name rather than hide behind a pseudonym, I considered my early mail art to be quite seperate from my painting and other artwork. Over the years this seperation has all but disappeared and I've embraced many of the anti-art establishment concepts that I've encountered in the network. I am no longer so keen to sell my artwork and have become rather particular about how it is presented. (This may be a result of my close work with galleries and art consultants). I've learned that money is not the only gauge of value.... the exchange, the gift is equally enriching. In the meantime my work has matured. My involvement in the network has coincided with my development as a copier artist, original copies being the bulk of the mail art that I send. I also send stampings, collages and the occasional drawing or painting.... usually with a chatty letter. I sometimes create works to address the theme of a particular project (this is expected) but more often than not I already have something lying around that is appopriate.

There is still the odd piece of mail that comes in that I don't understand! Documentation is another story.... decent documentation of a project is not only expected but required. At this point, I've been involved long enough to not have to worry about what's expected from me.... I work to send quality artwork..... I expect the same.

RJ : You mention your development as a copier artist. One might think that it is just a quick way to make an original by putting something on the xerox-machine. How do you go about when you want to make an "original copy"?

Reply on 26-4-1996

JS : I don't see anything wrong with making art quickly.... athough my work isn't produced quite as fast as it might seem. I use the copy machine as both a camera (photo) and a printing device (copy). It's another tool that the artist can create with. My work generally employs "direct imaging" that is, I place real, three-dimensional objects on the platen to create a tableau. I rarely make editions of given prints as I'm constantly refining the composition. The objects are sometimes manipulated during the course of the copying process to incorporate aspects of time and movement.... these copies are always unique.

Sometimes I approach the machine with a specific image in mind and bring the appropriate materials (I often use the supermarket as my art supply store). Other times I work with whatever is lying about.... always looking for objects that you're "not supposed" to put on a copy machine. Every new object is an experiment with the limited depth of field. The methods of working are different for the different machines that I use. The color machine makes six passes in the photo mode to make an image, allowing for manipulation between colors. I often create the background colors directly on the machine. Placing and removing a white sheet of paper at the proper intervals during the copying process can produce a specific color. The black and white machine makes only one pass, which allows for bolder movements of the subject. Another machine that I use has four seperate cartridges that print one color at a time. Both this and the black and white machine allow you to send a copy back through the machine for overprinting. Working in this manner takes knowledge of the machine and practice. One has to work with the rhythm of the machine.

I've collaborated with other copier artists (most notably, Reed Altemus and M. Greenfield) and enjoy that process very much. My brothers have a printing business and for a while they had a store that offered copying servives... I could use their machines as I liked. Important, as I doubt that I would get a good response if I handed a fish over the counter to a technician. It took some time before I felt that I knew what I was doing. When they dismantled the store I bought a black & white machine from them (not working atthe moment)... they kept the color machine which I still travel to use. The color machine is now housed in a shop that is shared by the printing press and my father's woodworking tools (he's a wood carver)... there's a wealth of materials here. The "ORIGINAL" and "COPY" stamps that I use were found in an office supply store and seemed appropriate after a discussion with András Voith. Although we call the images that are made on a photocopier copies, I don't consider my work to be copies in the sense of reproduction... the copy is the original.

RJ : You just finished one of your mail art projects. How many have you done so far and what was this last one about?

Reply on 24-6-1996

JS : I'm far from finished....the latest project is "The found Sketchbook". I sent a call asking for found drawings, sketches or doodles. The response was pretty good, just over 100 participants. Some fine work....of course, my favorites are the truly found pieces. Tire marks, footprints and grit adding to the authenticity. They came from the street, peoples cupboards, trash bins....I even received several complete sketchbooks! I plan to create the documentation in the form of a real sketchbook....spiral bound at the top, etc. The work on this has been going exceedingly slow due to financial and personal will get done. There is also the possibilty of me trying to find a space for an exhibition of the work....but the catalogue has to be made first.

My first real project was the "Found Photo Album". During 1991 I asked for found photographs and produced an album including at least one photo from each of the 140+ participants. These too, were found in many ways "from found in the street to found in an underwater camera on the beach, from people's cupboards to errors from the processors" and there was a great wealth of subject matter. There was no exhibition and the whole project was conducted through the mail. A successful and very satisfying endeavor. I've heard that college instructors actually use it as an example!

During 1992-93 I had a call out on the theme of Multiculturalism and in June of 1993 mounted an exhibition at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston (which has a large multicultural student body). An interesting and varied show that introduced me to several now regular correspondents. One terrific result of this exhibition was that Angela & Peter Netmail used the documentation to contact and meet Wahyuni Kamah in Indonesia, inviting her to a stamp-carving workshop. Networking at it's finest.

Conducting a decent mail art project is expensive and time consuming. Postage alone (both for calls and sending out the documentaton) can easily be a couple hundred dollars. Printing is expensive even though my brothers give me a break and I do most of the repetitive, labor-intensive tasks. Good documentation is essential, though.... and I've found it worth the effort.

RJ : It seems that both in your copy art and in your projects you like to use the found objects or stimulate other artists to go and look for items that they can find somewhere out there. Did you ever think of the reason why you choose these 'found' items.....?

reply on 24-7-1996

JS : The "Found Photo Album" was prompted by R.K. Courtney, of Iowa City, who was collecting found notes for an as yet unrealised project. I had sent him some photos that I had found, telling him how much I enjoyed finding them. He suggested that I put out a call and do something with it. I did.

I, of course, was aware of Duchamp's use of the found object as well as Rauschenberg's and others. During the course of this first project I also became acquainted with Bern Porter's use of "founds". My enthusiasm for the found item is a bit different though. I'm interested in the deliberately made image that's not intended to be a work of art... but which, by it's very existance, is as valid as any museum piece. Real art by real people. The fact that we don't know the authors of most of this material or its original intent doesn't alter the aesthetic response. Presented in a formal manner (either in book form or as framed pieces on a wall) the items are no different than any other artwork. The Found Photo Album is as interesting as any family album when we try to discover the meaning of the events photographed. The Found Sketchbook should provide a similar experience to that of looking through any collection of drawings as we respond to the quality of line, composition, etc.

I don't think of the objects that I use in my copier work to be "found". Even if I'm using items at hand.... they're carefully selected for content and visual strength. Banal items, yes... but I think that I'm working in a Dada/Fluxus mode that gives equal weight to all objects/subjects.... "anti-aesthetic", Reed Altemus calls it.... I'm not sure that I agree with him. Regardless, the objects are considered before I use them and not randomly chosen.

RJ : This expression "I'm working in a Dada/Fluxus mode....." is quite interesting. What does Dada and Fluxus mean to you?

reply on 18-9-1996

JS : Both Dada and Fluxus are quite well documented art movements. Dada evolved as a reaction to the First World War and was based on the premise that the war had made aesthetic values meaningless. Considered and chosen utilitarian objects were instilled with the same value as "fine art" objects. Fluxus occured during the early sixties, and pushed the ideas of Dada a bit farther. Everyday activities were orchestrated to become works of art, proclaiming that everyone is an artist and narrowing the gap between art and life. The focus was social rather than aesthetic. Working outside of the "official" art world they challenged the "art as commodity" norm. This is a very basic description of two art movements that confronted very complex issues.

So, when I state that "I think that I'm working in a Dada/Fluxus mode...." all I really mean is that I'm using the commonplace object as the subject of my artwork, using what's at hand. I'm making art from everyday life in the belief that these simple objects / subjects require contemplation and offer numerous interpretations. Art is a reaction to being human and ultimately it doesn't matter what I put on the machine to photocopy.... it's the fact that I'm doing it that's important.

RJ : Thanks for this short explanation. The envelopes I receive from you are always quite recognizable. The handstamped address is always there. Any specific reason for this typical use of rubber stamps?

Reply on 9-10-1996

(Together with Jonathan's answer he sent 58 color copy-art works, which will be included in the final printed version of the interview as an example of his work)

JS : When I started out I tried to collage all of the addresses.... this quickly became too time consuming. I acquired this great rubber stamp alphabet and found that the scale was perfect for the 6"x9" envelopes that I use (the envelope is just the right size to send an 11"x17" photocopy with two folds). The activity of stamping the envelopes is a pleasant respite from my other endeavors. I do tend to use consistant formats and this is one of them. Being easily recognizable doesn't hurt, but at this point it's as much a habit as anything. Lately, I've been thinking that the addresses are looking rather dull. The yellow envelopes that I used to use are no longer available.... the white ones seem stark. I may experiment with some kind of background. but the rubber stamping will continue. (I'm still looking for a set of numbers that matches the smaller alphabet that I have).

RJ : Over the years you must have received lots of mail art. Do you keep all you receive? How does your 'archive' look like?

Reply on 18-11-1996

JS : I just spent twenty minutes looking for your question....this may give you an idea about the state of things around here. It's a bit embarrassing. Yes, I keep most everything that comes in. Unfortunately, I'm a very sloppy archivist. Before I moved to this house everything was pretty much under control. I had a file cabinet close at hand and periodically things would be put in order. Upon moving the file cabinet ended up in the attic (where my new studio is slowly nearing completion) and I've been working in a 6x9 foot room for the past two years. A token attempt was made at bringing a small file box in, to deal with my more active correspondents. It didn't really help and has recently been sent to the attic in anticipation of my move upstairs. At the moment, as I sit at the computer, on the desk to my left is a 5 inch stack of supposedly current mail.... a little excavation reveals an old Global mail, Greenfield's interview booklet and a picture of an ex-wife's kids from years ago. Next is the computer festooned with unpaid bills and photographs atop the monitor and various calls for artwork and other ephemera tucked beneath the keyboard. As we look right there's an ashtray, a pile of rubber stamps and ink pads, my checkbook, photographs and a hole puncher. At the far end is another stack of mail, photocopies, potential collage debris and a 1988 Michelin guide to Great Britain. On the floor under the desk, starting at the right, as a pile of stuff that the cat knocked over while making a nest, jig-saw puzzles and other collage material, boxes containing mail art compilation zines, under my feet is another box of rubber stamps and to my left is a stack of atlases and a waste basket with collage material balanced on top. There are shelves that hold mail art books, computer manuals and various office supplies. A stool holds a big stack of photocopies and a book about Fluxus. In back of me are several wallpaper sample books, empty frames and boxes. It's worse than it sounds. Barely room to move. Soon this should change. The studios upstairs is almost ready.... a little more taping, trim out the window and doors and paint it. I'll move my piles of stuff up, organizing on the way. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep things in order.... that's the plan. Oh yeah, there are several boxes upstairs containing the "Multiculturalism" show. One of these days I have to put it back together and ship it off to someone who's doing a better job at this.

RJ : Do you think that keeping all this mail art is an important part of mail art? What normally happens is that only the 'good' things are kept in a collection, and that the 'bad' things are thrown away. What is your opinion?

reply on 10-1-1997

JS : Good question. I don't know. Obviously, I want to keep the work of my favorite correspondents. I'm not sure that I'm the one to judge what's 'good' or 'bad' . Most of the mail that I get is sent with a sincerity that transcends 'good' or 'bad' . There are pieces that I don't respond to.... keep them or not.... it's a dilemma. Today I received two postcards among the mail. One was from a regular corresponondent from Indonesia.... an address change with a note saying that she enjoys my mail (I'm remiss). The other was from Holland.... telling me that the sender was back into the network. Will I save them? Probably. They illustrate part of the process. That might be important. Can I find them? Maybe not. Mark Greenfield says he recycles all of his mail, adding that he keeps all my letters.... I can't be the only one that he saves. Robin Crozier saves every bit of mail art that he receives... it's a remarkable collection.... has he thrown things away? Probably. You'd never know it. Maybe that's one of the reasons that I keep all this stuff. If I didn't, there would be no record of what happened. Is that important? I don't know. I do refer to it all from time to time.... just to see what I've been up to. Sure, I throw things away... they sit around for a while before I do it. Calls for work that I never got around to doing.... other odd bits and scraps that I don't understand eventually get tossed. My personal network is fairly small and I value most everything that I receive, therefore I save it. I have no specific plans for this collection. When it comes time, I hope that I can find a suitable home for it.... it provides a good study of one small corner of our network.

RJ : You mention two english mail artists in your answer and I know you recently visited England as well. How different is meeting a mail artist compaired to writing to a mail artist?

next answer on 19-4-1997

(Stangroom's answer came from West-London, England)

JS : It's great to meet these people that I've been corresponding and collaborating with. I'm not sure what the differences are...... obviously you're connecting in a different format. I suppose there are certain apprehensions and a kind of curiosity in anticipation of a meeting. For the most part I've known the mail artists that I've met for a long time through the mail. We've known each other well before meeting in person. There aren't many surprises.I recognized Greenfield, as he waited on the steps of the Tate, by his rubberstamp self-portrait! There are some exeptions. I had not been in contact with Peter & Angela Netmail when they came through in 1992. I was enlisted to drive them from Boston up to Carlo Pittore's in Maine. They were delightful and I had the privilege to witness an over the top post office performance as Peter franked some 200 artist stamps surrepetitously while doing other postal business. We chatted mail art gossip for the whole ride. We still have very little mail contact.

Another exception would be András Voith of Hungary. We'd been corresponding for some time, though we hadn't traded many personal details. In 1993 he hosted an exhibition of my copier work and I traveled to Debrecen to attend the opening and do a copier performance. I really had no idea who I'd be meeting. He turned out to be half my age, but ever so capable. It was a terrific opening and a fine visit. He took great care of me. Since then he has visited me in the States, unfortunately I wasn't able to spend the time with him that he had spent with me in Hungary. We're still good friends, although the mail has fallen off during the past year.

This one on one kind of personal meeting is different than meeting in groups. I've been involved in a handful of group meetings at Crackerjack Kid's , Carlo Pittore's and at Printed Matter in New York. With a group the energy is spread through out the crowd...not that these meetings are less significant than the one on one, but these usually have more structure and the interaction is less intense. (Of course, this is the case whether it be mail artists or some other similarly focused group.)

Mail art, by its nature is a social activity....and to me, meeting with these people is a natural development. Maybe I'm lucky.... I haven't met a bad one yet!

RJ : To my surprise your answer came from London (England) this time. Any mail-art meetings this time? Have you experienced something 'typically Britisch' while you were there?

next answer on 2-10-1997

JS : You examine your mail very closely...good! (I guessed that you did). The last question was answered and enveloped here at home, then mailed from London on a recent trip that I made with my father. He had spent some time there as a kid but hadn't been back to England since 1941.... I'd been over a couple of times last year and he became interested in returning. I had a free companion ticket thanks to American Express and Virgin Atlantic and off we went.

Yes, I had a 'typically' Britisch experience this trip, as we did a lot of the tourist thing.... changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace...... pigeons on Trafalgar Aquare.... that sort of thing. We did visit for an hour or so with Michael Leigh and spent the better half of a day with David Dellafiora who also introduced us to Patricia Collins and Peter Liversidge. I wasn't able to visit with Robin Crozier, but did phone him.... he's adjusting to retirement from his teaching job. All, great people and devoted mail artists.

Dad and I get along fine, but we'd never spent that kind of time alone together.... ever. It was also Dad's first flight! We've got different interests but seem to be able to accommodate each other. I was delighted when a guard at the National Gallery came over to reprimand Dad for getting too close to a painting.... he'd been enthusiastically gesturing and poiting as he described how he liked the piece (a skating scene from the Netherlands!). He's also participated in his first mail art project.... something that Peter Liverslidge is working on. No special "male bonding" took place.... we did not tell each other dark secrets nor make up for past differences. We just went on holiday and dealt with the issues at hand.

So the trip was a success, Dad got to visit some of his old haunts (we found the house where he'd lived in 1936) and got to catch up with my friends.

RJ : When people get in touch with mail art and start to be a mail artists it is in the beginning just like a 'small hobby'. For some the mail art then takes over more and more of their lives , also their social lives. In how far is you mail art integrated with your daily life?

(since the next answer took some time I resent the question again. Only years later I refound Stangroom’s e-mail address and sent him the complete interview again with the latest question. I told him I am finishing up the mail-interview project)

Next answer on 23-3-2001

JS : To start with I have never considered mail art to be a “hobby”. The term implies an activity that is done for relaxation…. something that kills time. From the beginning mail art has been much more important than that for me. I’m an artist…. That defines me and the artwork that I produce for the mail is every bit as considered as my painting and other art activities. My contacts have become true friends, both those that I’ve met and those that I haven’t. I consider them to be collegues on the same level as the artists that I work and socialize with daily. Maybe more so since we work in the same realm.

Years later-

Thank you, Ruud for e-mailing me in regard to finishing this project. The above part of the reply to your last question has been in my computer since 1998!

Since that time I’ve moved house twice… the first move had me camped out in a friends painting studio for a year. I was quite depressed and did very little mail-art, keeping in touch with only a very few of my contacts. In September of 1998 I again visited the UK, assisting with the installation of my friend, Robert Richfield’s photography exhibition in Scarborough. I again met with the Croziers and WACK, who was living in David Dellafiora’s old flat (Dellafiora had by then moved to Australia).

In January of 1999 Reed Altemus and I journeyed down to New York to see the Ray Johnson retrospective at the Whitney and to attend the opening of the Bay Area Dadaists show at Printed Matter where I again met Buz Blurr, John Held Jr., Picasso Gaglione, Mark Bloch, Mel and Mark Corroto among others.

For the next year I did very little mail-art. In October of 1999 I again moved to a new flat…. A bit more civilized than the painting studio. I slowly began working my way back into the mail-art network. I’m still not as active as I was in my heyday, but I am making new contacts, reestablishing old ties and sending to projects. Thank you again for prodding me to complete this interview.

RJ : Thanks for this answer! I myself also had some changes oin my life and therefore am finishing of this project. Thanks for the complete interview. Now others can read it as well.

Address mail-artist:

243 School St. #1
Somerville, MA 02145

Adres interviewer :

Ruud Janssen
P.O.Box 103885000 JJ Tilburg

Mail-Interview with Edgardo Antonio Vigo

Ruud Janssen withEdgardo-Antonio Vigo (1923-1997)
TAM Mail-Interview Project
(WWW Version)


After a long correspondence with Edgardo Antonio Vigo since 1983 it was only natural to invite him in June 1995 for my mail-interview. The interview was almost finished, and on August 28th 1997 I sent him the last question. Later I found out he had died on November 4th 1997, after suffering from a long painful disease. During the interview there were always two letters we exchanged. One for the interview, and one personal letter. This is how more interviews go, the personal letters besides the 'public' interview questions.
Because I want to show with the booklet-version what kind of artists I am interviewing I normally include illustrations of artifacts that came to me during the interview-process. For Vigo's interview I waited some time before I could bring myself to the task of proof-reading the texts and do the layout for the booklet-version. It isn't easy loosing a friend and then publish the last words you received from him. The online-version will contain the text of the interview - as usual - and will be put online with the help of Jas W. Felter (Canada). For the booklet-version I have decided to include both the answers and questions as well as the personal correspondence. This will show you obviously what kind of man Vigo was, and how these last years of his life went.
Besides the interview & the personal correspondence during it the booklet will contain some appendixes as well. A text written by Clemente Padin (translated into English for you and available online already, a letter from Ana Maria Gualtiera (she has the task as 'holder' of the collection of Vigo's work & mail-art and wants to exhibit the collection in Argentina. She can be reached at the same P.O. Box that Vigo used, and she works for the 'Fundaci¢n Centro de Artes Visuales)

Started on: 15-6-1995
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 27-7-1995
EAV: In the end of 1966 I began contacting some European visual poets - like JULIEN BLAINE and JEAN-FRANCOIS BORY - and we start exchanging works. Among them some postcards including very creative ways to fill in the space that called my attention. For instance postcards which were real creative pieces, specially made for that communication means.
In 1963 I started editing the 'DIAGONAL CERO' magazine in order to publish there information and articles on our international mail exchanging. But much of the time we had to fight against the Postal Mail system in our countries because governments have its rules and we tried to exchange our information and articles.
Envelopes were treated in an unusual manner which causes real battles before administrations control. To my part I did not know about the existence of other mail art groups which were - in a certain way - "institutionalized" as the concrete case of the "NEW YORK CORRESPONDENCE SCHOOL" founded by RAY JOHNSON. later I go on sending my correspondence under the idea of COMMUNICATION FROM FAR - via postal." Using frequently postal cards, seals, envelopes printed in a not conventional way, proposals to be answered by original responses.
RJ: Can you give some examples about these 'fight against the Postal Mail system'?
Reply on 5-9-1995
EAV: One of the most divulged cases was GENESIS P. ORRIDGE's one, in England. He made a series of creative postcards by using 'collage' methods. He cuts out photo's of his country's queen making erotic positions with her pictures. That series is confiscated by the Postal Administration besides a judgement against the author. Defense based its explanations on different positions from some adherents to that international practice. At the end, Orridge was fined more or less severely but not confined in prison as State had solicited for him. Later, Orridge edited the complete trial.
Talking about myself and especially during the 'junta militar' times from 1976 to middle 1983, I suffered an open censorship, not only on that correspondence I received but on those sent away. That period was particularly sad to me. That control comprised destruction of postal correspondence to me of from me, letters containing invitations which got me out of time to participate. In sum a cut contact with mail friends. Once an unusual fact happened. An employee put some postal pieces into my mail box but those would have been at Censorship Committee. He was forced to stop working and he had to accept an early retirement 'by psychological problems'. At present he goes on living in Spain where he had to go because of that uncertain situation. Since then I tried to modify my way of communication and, in plus I wanted to let people in other countries know what had happened here. Also I made a creative stamp to denounce at international level that my eldest son ABEL LUIS had disappeared (up to now we do not know anything about him). The result of those tricks was satisfactory because I was able to tell people in the world about Argentina's dictatorship.
Anyhow, our Postal Services goes on being corrupted. First they had accepted to practice that control on mailing and then to steal or destroy all sorts of postal pieces.
RJ: Well, I'm glad that my previous question DID arrive, and I also hope this question will arrive. How (or why) did you become so interested in visual poetry?
Reply on 7-10-95
EAV: Well, most of my connections were due of my 'DAGONAL CERO' editions. If I had to give a definition of myself I would choose 'VISUAL ANIMAL' or 'VISUAL BEING'.
From this position I always liked to make my editions on new researches, toward creative and different results. Ever I had tendency to visual expression -like a sort of 'visual animal'. To me it was better to see a design than a word. By 1960 I made a series of 'poetical compositions' by using rubber seals from the office where I was an employee. As you can imagine those seals had no poetical inscriptions, but anyhow those compositions let me discover the 'poetical space'.
I mean that it was a kind of liberation from a page as a 'real space', doing free use of it (the page) as support of a poem In plus I did a series of ironical texts where each word (sometimes with an article) formed a long text written in vertical sense and other times, a few words were placed outside that column to add some move for visual composition.
Later I knew other advanced theories - concrete, spacialism, cinetic, process, etc. - and connection with poets like BORY, BLAINE, SARENCO, CHOPIN and many others. It helped me so much that I could form my personal writings - then 'mathematical poetry' starts.
I must say, I did not try to translate in numbers a kind of code to supply words By contrary I wanted to show that, using mathematical writing plus adding figures and shapes of geometry, plus color use - well, it could be able - at visual level - to form poetical projection for a possible reader. Those words I usually choose are taken as a support in a composition and real value is in texts which are put as titles - a sort of signal to introduce the reader.
Nowadays, in spite of certain historical discontinuity in visual poetry, diverse solutions make it possible to clarify and understand such divers changes through that course. Rich oppositions, permanent searches, move this visual poetry. This is just my opinion.
RJ: In your wonderful postcards you use always this thick carton, which you decorate with rubberstamps and other additions. Why this choice of materials?
Reply on 29-11-1995
EAV: I think throughout years of MAIL COMMUNICATION development a proper language has been done, full of creativity and expression.
Postcards, stamps, rubber seals, even envelopes which contain our correspondence, have become 'testimonial statements of this tendency'. For instance to compare a postcard or an envelope having official mail stamps to the ones which have creative ones offer a great, particular difference.
Talking about myself I am certain that envelopes are it selves a space and a surface to be particularly treated. They must be a sort of announce for its content. But sometimes there is contrary result, an opposition between both. On the other hand, I am certain of that creative stamps and seals have allowed a great possibility of renovation into mail communication as it happens in these days and I would like pointing out the struggle against bureaucracy in mail administrations -national and international ones-. This has opened a great field almost without restriction and, in plus, helps to concrete all sorts of proposals and brings rich purposes. Postcards are in endless evolution not only ideological but formal too.
If we remember those modified printed cards and now we compare nowadays cards, well, there is a wide transformation. These, in general carry its own message keeping codes proper to postal rules. The sum of these diverse results have been done main possibilities on postcards, stamps and rubber seals - giving an independent field full of creative expression. In plus it is detachable the diverse intentions into this practice to which I like to add modestly.
RJ: Most participants in the mail art network I know live in Europe and The USA. Only a few from Africa, South America, and Asia. But whenever I participate in a project from South America and get the documentation, I see hundreds of participants from South-American countries (e.g. Brazil). It seems that there are a lot of people in this part of the world that are active in mail art but that they don't reach out to Europe. Is the main reason economics or are there other reasons?
Reply on 9-1-1996
EAV: In Latin America the main problem is an economical one. Especially because of the endless military "coups d'‚tat" there are not accurate plans for material prosperity. So the population cannot afford to go on exchanging correspondence outside. Postal Service costs are high for Latin American people who decide to maintain their mail activity.
To make matter worse, Postal Services in these countries are not a guarantee, there is no insurance against loss. As a result answers become limited to those considerate more important ones. In my case using certified postings which at least put forward a claim against Mail Services, in the case of being able to prove the sent letter did not reach its destination. Referring to latin american mail friends, in general, they do not persist in answering letters for long time, so dialogue stops frequently. In general latin american callings find best reply from American people.
Anyhow I think this is a general matter in the world, I mean compatriots accept to participate in national events preferential. Catalogs show this. One can find those participators just under those conditions but not in the wide network. Talking about my personal experience, well, many years ago, Horacio Zabala and I had held an exhibition. We had to accept some participators proposed by the gallerist for he said convocatory should be "opened" to everybody. But time changes some things and Argetin mail communicators increased in number but because of different reasons. I would like to add another matter, language knowledge even though nowadays English makes it possible to have a wide communication. Finally I have remarked an important infringement of Argentin adherents on diverse catalogs.
RJ: Most mail artists who are active for many years, always get mail from newcomers too. How do you explain mail art to a newcomer?
Reply on 30-1-1996
EAV: As many others I frequently receive requests for information about mail art and how to enter the circuit. Answering I make use of the founding word of mail art, this is "DISTANT COMMUNICATION -postal via". I try to explain - first- the subtle difference between them. Then in general, I send articles photocopied about that matter, the most clear and pedagogical ones. I advise them to make multiples for sending by mail. I add a list of mail friends who use to answer and exchange works frequently, even to the 'new' mail friends. In general I do not get new contacts with them but I receive letters for most information from those who try to understand after having seen an exhibition or writing articles on mail art.
Later I feel satisfied when I see their names on a list or we go on in mailing contact in future and dialogue becomes interesting. During these last two years - 1994/1995 - I have been receiving frequent correspondence from our neighbor country Brazil. I have no doubt about divulgence in the press on this practice. Publications on popular divulgence publish lists of people who answer that correspondence. Myself I do this and feel satisfied. On the other hand I always insist in adding lists of mail friends on catalogs to know their names and addresses. I am certain this method is very effective.
RJ: In 1986 H.R. Fricker started a new thing in mail art with his 'TOURISM' and in 1992, the next step, Decentralized Networking Congresses (DNC), meant that even more mail artists started to meet. What do you think of these steps. Were you active in these large projects?
Reply on 4-3-1996
EAV: I was not in contact with H.R. Fricker in 1986 so I knew about his 'TOURISM' later. But I got this invitation for 'DNC'. Even if it was not the aim of H.R.F. that kind of manifestos push 'the institutionalism" of mail art, which I call 'COMMUNICATION FOR DISTANCE - via postal' Which was born as an alternative face to predominance of art structures over creative manifestations.
Mail circuits started and go on - I think - preferring not traditional places for exhibition - Museums, Galleries, Foundations Also the way to show their works. Not more hierarchies, but an opening proposition to everyone who wants to enter into this way for communication. At first there were altered postcards, mail stamps in transgression to official ones and also creative seals of all kinds. One cannot deny infiltration of mail art into the current and its parallel duration. But I think, as I did take part in both, it exists subtle differences which promote that classic discussion between a genius and a mad.
I assume not to be able to distinguish clearly about this. Anyhow I find a great freedom and permanence of those basic principles of 'DISTANCE COMMUNICATION - via postal'. As an example I can make comment about the constant reception of postal pieces which do not respond necessarily reach artistic level. I think it is impossible to notice those differences, though, as happens on the classic discussion genius and madness, there is a subtle difference only. Meanwhile I find more freedom in mail art - communication from far, by mail as I like to call this. The denomination comes from that big and constant reception of mail pieces which do not respond any aesthetic line but it is full if one observes and pays attention. I think that Art approaches and makes a sort of mimetic with mail works. This was not a common way to enter into the alternative practice between art and mail expressions.
I agree with this bifurcation and variety of responses before an interrogation. Pluralism means richness. In art there are beautiful catalogs and exhibitions have wide promotion opposite to simple messages which sometimes ashame carrying a content really transgressor and look for having its own space not to be wrong classified. I believe that art mixed to mail communication and finally both got insert in art as an expression.
I do not find anything wrong in this bifurcation, by contrary, plurality means richness. On the other hand, instead of beautiful catalogs, art exhibitions well promoted, mail communication becomes a transgressor work, which makes a continual resistance to be classified in a wrong way.
Every time a young participator begins his first steps display great, surprisingly ingenuity breaking out what it is accepted as order and beauty. Maybe, after some time he searches for surpassing his primary works or he goes on following the same structures. Each one is free from making his own choice. Luckily each one can choose, for the moment there is a friendly acceptation.
To my opinion mail art or - as I want to call it 'Distant Communication', should not risk to fall down in doing beautiful, de luxe postings which is not in primary purpose.
I know, we, in the mail art communication have similar problems to artists in general, There are deep, serious deals to carry out. My activity goes on and never has to stop even though I respond or refuse participation as I like. I hope to participate in future as free as always, doing creative works without doing art.
I choose and accept to participate in creative invitations but do not accept certain impositions. So I cannot put conditions face to people appreciation towards my work because in this way I would put conditions limiting the judgement of others. Everything must be 'OPENED' to everyone communication.
RJ: You have probably heard of the new network for communication, the Internet, in which computer-users can communicate by phone-lines. In the USA it has taken over a great deal of the normal correspondence, and the same is happening in Europe. However, this communication-tool is not OPEN to everybody, because one needs still a lot of money for the access (computer, phone, modem, etc.) What are your thoughts about this new tool for communication?
Reply on 26-5-1996
EAV: Actual technology invents permanently new ways of communication. For the moment INTERNET is the "boom" but I think, before this can be used by the artists, it will be another system, better, surpassing its possibilities. I am certain, that dramatic situation is due of a technology which progresses in a permanent way. Before analyzing the results, there are other ones, more sophisticated and better
This 'CONSTANT DISPLACEMENT' has brought an evident displeasure, its result are rather ominous for Society. Another sign could be the 'crack' of equilibrium between products and work. Unemployment of workers is an universal problem today. In the question there is already signed the problem about a non 'opened communication' and all those who cannot make use of that. Also costs brought another problem: developed countries will have offered those communication systems before, so Latin-America and others will be behind.
I am not in opposition to Internet, a system to which I adhere theoretically, but I must remark parallel problems. There is still another question more difficult. At least at personal level. Since long I am worried about the problem between 'presentation' and 'representation' into creative area. I think this idea was proposed by Pierre Restany. And I think, once more we are faced to an inquiry. The Internet adds to representative methods, with drawing us from real creative product which is the piece itself. It is possible to transmit an image perfectly, also it gets benefit from a widest divulgence and adding a great number of possibilities for communication. But that 'shown' work will remain its author or it will belong to another one.
Then, to be shorter, if Internet systems cannot find its own expression and from it to codify a creative system, it will go on summing another element more to always searched perfection, in this case, communications.
In this way I try to remarque the differences which I observe but I do not adhere to those who deny today communication ways. The same happened about 'fax' and its success but nowadays it seems obsolete, at least it cannot destroy mail art and others.
Today the computer is considered as a tool for communication. Means offer solution face to the problem of expression but always man makes it possible to find a creative tool. Communication means do not find solution about expressing matters, only man could reach 'CREATIVE FACT' by making use of the impulse, necessary to change a simple fact of communicative tool into a real 'CREATIVE FACT'
RJ: Your mail art always contains some kind of message. What is the most important message that you are trying to get 'into the world' with your mail art?
Reply on 24-7-1996
EAV: I have always done my works free from imposition. My subjects are very heterogeneous and always as a kind of reaction from some exterior actions. In general those that push my interest to express my opinion come from social and political fields. In 'DISTANT COMMUNICATION - via postal' becomes more extensive into these lands because it is possible to add proposals from outside or by third ones.
There is an extraordinary richness and especially in last time very clever subjects appears. After many years in this activity one must surpass some old themes. This challenge has made an interesting encreasement. On the other hand, very few invitations have 'free theme' so people who invite search for very creative answers. Talking about myself I do not limit myself to political or social subjects. I like very much irony in certain habits, the puns which let us make an alteration in certain established concepts. And, finally, some accepted opinions in the land of genuine aesthetic to which I am fond of. I do not send a message, or at least I do not search for it. I like to keep on being irreverent, but I try to go on following those primary postulates of mail communication. Free from hierarchies, be simple in order to maintain a wide range of possibilities for a communication without limits cause of aesthetical or formal ways which could cause a refusal which is not desired.
These thoughts do not deny my consequent position about certain rules, for instance my permanent concern to improve my works. On the other hand, my appreciation for them is not free from my own judgement, by contrary, another is the opinion from other people - conclusion must be different, at personal level.
RJ: A lot of mail artists nowadays (also the newcomers in the mail art network) use the words Dada and Fluxus in their rubber stamps and artworks. What do these words mean to you?
Reply on 3-9-1996
EAV: Based on the origin of "communication from far-postal via" this seems, to me, "natural" it occurs. I do not forget the transgressor character of this tendency in the beginning. Its principles resemble both movements in order to postulate a sort of anti-art. Especially DADA and, in spite of being incorporated as an art institution (let me call it 'official' to make a certain difference between those other intents) and even FLUXUS promote a non systematical rebellion face to most common postulates. I think, DADA and FLUXUS proposed a kind of asystematical postulates face to the most current ones. maybe DADA and FLUXUS begin a new way to aim creative art by basing it in a position.
To do this they started a new way of acting as the result of a new 'comminution' towards society - even if they attack it on purpose. But one must signal a difference of world 'affront' because it was not an act of violence but violence against rules which generated 'the conventional'. This started a 'new fact' specially in DADA since change began from actions which became facts. On parallel it started 'creative facts', impelling fonetics and visual poetry, and 'phonic' ones too. FLUXUS retakes dada spirit cleverly and in spite of coincidences it obtained an 'identity' characteristic.
All those branches, DADA starts, FLUXUS continuity undertake many adherents of 'distant communication', postal via, since they want to detach from all that which is considered art. Once more I refuse the term MAIL ART and retake original one more exact of "DISTANT COMMUNICATION - postal via" since in it there is a strong wish to set apart from what can be considered art. Once more I reject the word POSTAL ART as I tried to explain in this postal report and go on saying "DISTANT COMMUNICATION - postal via". And I find a historical projecting which reaches even nowadays of that "DADA impulse". As Neo-Dadaisme based on American POP ART pioneers and numerous contestarian groups after Second World War. That influence was a sort of revolution never finished. DADA had a short foundation period but it went on living up to now at international level and also in many national ones. Like sea water constantly moving, it comes and goes.
RJ: You dated you letter "La Plata, 26.08.2000-4". What do you expect from the year 2000? Is it the start of something, or the end of something?
Reply on 5-11-1996
EAV There is a popular sentence here, in my country, about the year one is living at present: "THIS IS A YEAR MORE OF LIFE", but there is a reply -more pessimistic- "THIS IS A YEAR LESS" . But referring to the year 2000 obviously this is the beginning of a new mile age. Multiples thoughts emerge to be able to inaugurate this time.
You ask me on '2000-4'. Well, I just mean we must still live four years to reach year 2000. I am telling you that, when we reached year 1990 I began dating my letters '1900-90'. I emphasized the way to read that date. Going on, arriving at 1991 I wrote '1900-90 and 1' or '1900-90 and one'. This way until 1994. Reaching 1995 and nearest year 2,000 a sort of backward account so I wrote that year '2000-5'. This way I try to explain how I arrive at 1996. I did not have the intention to sum or to subtract each new year. The same idea prevail referring to the arrival of the year 2000.
I think, the first decades of that new millennium will be determinant ones. If we take, as previous antecedents what happened in 1900 -XX century- that idea becomes certain since 'Industrial Revolution' - be born end of XIX century - acts as foundational element developing new views in many lands. For instance in creative ones, there is no doubt, the two first decades gave all what was developed through the XX century. New techniques produced a great impact at communicational level - as computation and Internet - ends of XX century. Probably a new language will appear as a codified system at creative level. On this point of view I dare to believe the new millennium is the end of certain things and the birth of another, as a kind of 'CONTINUITY OF DISCONTINUANCE'. I mean, in general people have certain tendency to accept 'WHAT IS THE NEW' - just because that is newest. Even if it has no basis.
RJ: Is it easy to do something NEW in the mail art network when one looks back on everything that has been done already? Is it o.k if new mail artists are repeating things that have been done decades ago?
Reply on 3-2-1997
EAV: All creative manifestation with development, attains what is really NEW. In its full beginning, encreasement and development personal contributions are richer and diverse because open space is infinite. This way, it is possible to observe how much people succeed in innovating the land with their creative messages: In this case about 'DISTANT COMMUNICATION - postal via' . In these days possibilities to change or surprise have become shorter, just in time to time appears someone who manages to do something really new. On the other hand creative tendencies and their lands for participation can limit or not-improvement towards 'the new' .
'COMMUNICATION FROM FAR - postal via' has made apportations about that new tendency, bringing structural changes to make it richer. Since those postal pieces, taken out from context until what was RAY JOHNSON'S institutionalization in 1960, modified postcards, stamps, seals, and unusual materials to be sent by post, all them show a constant encreasement almost until these days. Possibly there is a sort of 'CREATIVE IMPASSE' at present but luckily saved for the constant possibilities that diverse elements bring. As an example - which seems to me more evident and characteristic - I detache hand made 'envelopes'. I observe in them employed materials and their conceptual way to be made, colors and collage of very different elements, in plus their conceptual way of being assembled. Also diagramation in seals and stamps. Many of them bring independent ideas and, recently 'stickers' let us think ideas and are infinite images. Evidently it is easy to find this high degree of rich creativity into a great number of nowadays collections. I do not know if we are on top of this practice possibilities but to my opinion I feel optimistic. We are in close proximity to a new Century and many changes are expected of course. To my opinion communication 'by Mail' should be replaced by other ways and possibly at present we cannot even imagine how communication should be. What technology would be in use for communication by mail.
RJ: Well, as you probably are aware of this mail-interview project also has to do with all the current available communication-forms. Questions travel by mail, electronic mail, personal delivery, fax, anything that is possible at the moment. It seems that the new ways of communication are mostly technical. Someone suggested however that teleportation would be possible in the near future as well. How realistic are the views we have of our future communication?
Reply on 28-8-1997
EAV: First of all I would like to explain to the reader of this interview that, the dialogue maintained to RAY JOHNSON has always been through 'COMMUNICATION FOR FAR - postal via' but referring to the question, I think the amount of diverse ways imagined for the future contain so many ideas that will make possible to suggest not only coherent things but other ones near utopia. So, to predict the future remains open to all kind of propositions based not only on techniques in development but in communication means, also those ones based on 'suppositions'. In the future reality will show right things, mistakes, approximations and so on....
To my opinion, the situation becomes very difficult - as INGMAR BERGMAN said : "as much as man produces and disposes in communication means - too soft - more increases ' PERSONAL INCOMMUNICATION ', this is, one becomes more and more distant from the other. There is no doubt, for us, who need 'DIRECT DIALOGUE' it will be hard to accept all that so complex for understanding that finally expected communication is not reached. This is, one gets more distant from the other one.
For almost all religions a prayer becomes a kind of dialogue between one who supplicates and the divinity listens, this is very touching. But nowadays people must preserve their security so before opening the house door it is necessary to know who is outside. This brings us to certain reced to the other one. Well, today there is a proposal for loving throughout Internet, probably this new sort of communication would bring comprehension of messages, but I insist repeating that mechanical pieces 'cannot cut dialogue from person to person'.
RJ: Well, I guess it is time to end the interview now so others can read about your thoughts as well. Is there anything I forgot to ask?
On November 14th I read the e-mail that is sent to my account. I received an e-mail from Clemente Padin (Uruguay) which he sent on November 6th. In this message the sad news that Edgardo Antonio Vigo died on November 4th 1997. A very sad ending to this interview. I will miss the mail Edgardo always sent to me......
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Reproduced with the permission ofTAMFurther reproduction without the written consent of Ruud Janssen is prohibited.
Mail-artist: Edgardo-Antonio Vigo (1923-1997), Casilla de Correo 264, La Plata, B.A., Argentina
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen - TAM, P.O.Box 10388, 5000 JJ Tilburg, Netherlands

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