Mail-Interview with Edgardo Antonio Vigo
TAM Mail-Interview Project
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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......
- END -
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