Sunday, May 28, 2006

Mail-Interview with Anna Banana (Canada).

This interview was done in 1995 by Ruud Janssen.


Started on: 3-12-1994

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: 7-1-1995

AB : This is one of those questions I've answered so many times, I thought everyone knew by now! Anyway, for the record, here goes. In 1971, I was living outside the small town of Sooke, on Vancouver Island. In an attempt to connect with some creative people, I declared myself the Town Fool of Victoria, capital of the province of British Colombia, some 36 miles from where I was living. That turned out to be an uphill climb, and in an effort to communicate with the populace of Victoria, I started publishing the Banana Rag. I delivered copies of this newsletter by hand to a number of public schools in the Victoria area, and while I was at it, I mailed copies to some of my artist friends in Vancouver.
The response from the schools was varied, and in some instances, I was invited into the schools to do activities with the students. One of my friends in Vancouver who was then a member of the Image Bank collective, responded with a copy of the Image Bank Request List. This little 2-page flyer brought the first information I had that there was, in fact, a network. It was a list of names and addresses of artists, and the sorts of images they wanted to receive; lips, clouds, 50's cars, that sort of thing.
I went through my stack of old clip magazines and put together an envelope for each of the perhaps 20 artists listed, and mailed them out, with a copy of the Banana Rag, and a note stating that I was interested in receiving ANYTHING to do with bananas; images, news stories, jokes, music, whatever, as long as it had a reference to bananas. Within 2 or 3 weeks, my mail-box came alive, and here I had the sort of enthusiasm and response I was missing elsewhere in my life. Amongst the bananas, there were samples of the others' work, invitations to projects, etc., and before I knew it, I was HOOKED.
In the course of the next year and a half, I responded to all the mail I received, participated in all projects I heard about, and expanded the number of artists I was exchanging with to perhaps 100. When I left Sooke, it was to go on the road, to meet my correspondents, and decide where I would live next. I intended to drive across Canada, down the eastern USA, across the southern states, and up to the West Coast. However,the van I bought to make this trip in turned out to be a lemon, and my start was delayed for 6 months. When I did leave Canada in May of 1973, I went south into Washington, Oregon and California. In the Bay Area, I met with all 12 of my mail art connections, and decided pretty quickly that that was the place for me to live.
However since I had written to all my correspondents that I was heading their way, I went on with the trip for another 2 months, after which, I realized a number of things:

1 The USA is huge, and driving across it more time consuming than I had figured.
2 Driving alone across vast stretches of the continent was not all that much fun.
3 Most of my correspondents were men, and most of them had wives or lovers who, while they tolerated my visit, were none too enthused about it.
4 In San Francisco, I had met my future husband, and I knew that was where I wanted to live. I decided to quit the mega-trip, and headed back to San Francisco at the end of August, where I settled down for the next 8 years, getting even more committed to mail art with the publication of VILE magazine, which I began in 1974.

RJ : This extensive answer arises a lot of questions in me, but I have to settle for one now. Some mail-artists have a private life besides their mail-art life, but in your case it seems that your private life and your mail-art world got completely integrated. I remember the issue VILE (#8, 1983), and it looked like your life and your art were the same at that moment. Some photo's of you and Bill Gaglione indicate the same. Am I right?

Reply on : 18-4-1995

AB : During those years with Bill, we were both very involved with mail art and performance art, and there was very little time for anything else (except the everyday jobs/work we did to support that activity which took up the majority of our time! We just don't write about that stuff.), so I suppose you are right, at that moment, my life and art were very integrated. What isn't apparent from that view you had of us from VILE #8, is that we both DID have jobs or paying work that is never spoken about in the context of the magazine.The humdrum work that just about everyone has to do to pay the bills. Bill had a variety of jobs over the year, and after working in a print shop, and for a weekly newspaper, I started my own graphic design and production company, Banana Productions, which is how I earned the money to publish VILE and the Banana Rag.

Certainly our performing, publishing and mail-art activities did NOT pay our rent, or put food on the table, and we both spent a good deal of our time at those money-earning activities in order to SUPPORT our mail art, publishing and performance work. Further, we both had friends and activities that were not related to art, but our social life was within a circle of art-related friends, and many of my friends in San Francisco were persons with whom I had exchanged mail-art before I went there.

RJ : Why did the VILE magazine stop? What was your next step?

Reply on : 9-5-1995

AB : It cost too much to produce and mail. It took too much time and there were other things I wanted to do. I felt hemmed in by the need to "do the next issue." Bill wanted to take it in directions that weren't consistent with my initial concept of it. My relationship with Bill was falling apart. I was tired of the vile focus, and felt it wasn't an appropriate publication in which to air other sides of my perceptions and activities. I'd "been there, done that," and it was time to move along, do something else.

At the beginning of our cross Canada tour of 1980, we were offered a sublet on an apartment in Vancouver. We had been evicted from our apartment in San Francisco the month before we left, and had put all our things in storage. We decided to take the sublet and move to Vancouver - a MAJOR change. That never happened. I moved and he stayed.

Arriving in Vancouver in late January 1981, I was like a fish out of water. I didn't know at that point that Bill would not be coming up, but I was still feeling very displaced. All my close friends were in San Francisco, and the situation I moved into wasn't quite what I had imagined it to be. In late February I went back to SF to do a final performance with Bill, one we had scheduled before the trip. At that time it became clear that he wouldn't be moving to Canada.

During those first two years in Canada, I tried to quit mail art. I did only one issue of the Banana Rag, in 1981, and I almost let the mail accumulate, unanswered. Early in 1982, I convinced the local TV station to host my 10th anniversary April Fool's Day event; the Going Bananas Fashion Contest. I applied for a grant to create the new performance work, Why Banana? and in the fall of '82, toured it across Canada and the USA. After that, I applied for funding to produce About Vile, so that I could bring VILE to an official conclusion, use the materials that people had sent for it, and wrap up that period of my life. (my years in San Francisco '73-'81).

Once I had published About VILE (in 1983), the natural place to distribute it was the network. Once I started distributing it, of course, the responses started flowing in.... and I got caught up again in sending and receiving mail. I altered the format and focus of the Banana Rag, making it more a mail-art information/forum, than the strictly banana content of the earlier editions. I had overspent the budget to print About VILE, and ended up with a debt, no money, no job, and no commercial contacts in Vancouver. The printers wanted the balance due, and I approached them with the proposition; give me a job, and I'll pay what I owe. I was hired and worked there for two years, learning the ins and outs of full-color printing, doing paste-up and camera work, and a lot of in-house design.

In 1984, I was back in San Francisco for the Inter Dada '84 events, and spent 3 weeks working with my friend Victoria Kirkby on a performance, In the Red, which we presented in that festival. In '85 I did a performance art workshop with art students in Calgary. We worked with the material from "in the Red," producing a new work, In the Red, In the Black. In '85, I quit the producing job, and free-lanced my design services, both to the printer, and to other clients and connections I had begun to develop. I continued printing and sending the Banana Rag, and in the fall of '86, I did a second tour of Europe, this one solo.

RJ : At the moment you are very active with artistamps. When did you start with those? What is so fascinating about them?

Reply on : 3-6-1995

AB : I did my first artistamp in response to an invitation by Ed Varney in the mid-70's. He reproduced a number of my stamps on one of his many "anthology sheets." The first ones I did were in B&W, and he printed them in black and red. Then somewhere around '76 or '77, Eleanor Kent, who was a neighbor of mine in San Francisco, got a Color Xerox machine in her home, and invited me to come and work with it. I produced my first two editions on that machine, along with many other collages and postcards, and Eleanor introduced me to Jeff Errick of Ephemera, which produced buttons, postcards and stamps. He allowed me to go and perforate my stamps there, in trade for copies of each edition. I believe it was also during that period (late 70's) that Ed Higgins did his Nudes on Stamps book, producing sheets of artistamps from nude portraits of mail artists. On the cover of each issue, he stuck the stamp of the person to whom he was sending the catalogue.

While all of this whetted my appetite for the stamp format, it wasn't until I moved back to Vancouver, and started working at Intermedia Press, that I really got the BUG for stamps. I saw the editions Varney had produced, and found myself wanting that quality of reproduction and that quantity of stamps so that I could really USE them, not just trade sheets. Through my job at Intermedia, I learned the technology necessary to produce full color, photo offset editions, however I didn't put this into practice right away.

My initial editions done in Vancouver, were reproduced using Color Xerox, and these dated from 1984, when I had an artist in residence on Long Island, NY, and had the time and resources to experiment with the medium. I also did a series that year commemorating the Inter-Dada '84 Festival. The originals of these editions were still collages, as were my 15-sheet Euro-Tour Commemorative edition which I did in 1987 after my '86 European trip. For these editions, however, I utilized the brand new Canon Laser color copier, and was very impressed with the results. However, these were still pretty pricey to produce, and that's when I started doing the figuring necessary to cost out a full-color printed edition. I circulated this information in 1987, and in 1988 produced the first two editions of International Art Post. There are 16 editions of these in print to date, and considerably more of my own, limited editions, for which I still utilize the Canon Laser copier. (Full colour printing is still too costly to use for all my own editions).

There are many aspects of artistamps that engage my attention. I think the first thing that grabs me about them, is that they parody of an official currency/medium of exchange. People still do double-takes when looking at an envelope with artistamps on them. Because they look so REAL, the question always comes up, "are they real/legal?" , "Can I mail a letter with these?" I like this aspect, because it startles people, and makes them question what IS real. Since I have a healthy disrespect for most government agencies, this is very satisfying.

Another side of this aspect is that of putting ones own subject priorities on a stamp, claiming or assuming power, or the trapping of power, and again, demonstrating that often appearances are deceiving.

Years ago I gave up object making, as it produced too many bulky products that then had to be stored, framed, shipped, etc., all of which took up a lot of room and money. If you put $200 worth of materials and $500 worth of your time into a work, it wasn't easy to just give it away, and so one felt obliged to take care of there products. I felt there was already too much "stuff" in the world, and I didn't want to be producing more, especially of things that would tie me down, in terms of mobility, space, and resources. I gave up object making to become the Town Fool of Victoria, creating public events, interactions, and doing mail art.

The beauty of stamp art is that it doesn't take up a lot of room, doesn't require exotic equipment and supplies (other than a pin-hole perforator!). One doesn't have to have a huge studio in which to work. One can experiment with different medium without a big cost factor. One can produce a large body of work, and keep it all in one simple box on the shelf, or in an album. One can produce additional copies of an edition as they are required, rather than having to do a huge run all at once. One can send single sheets, or a whole show around the world without great expense, trade with other stamp makers, and produce limited editions at a relatively moderate cost.

Furthermore, they have a USE. They are not just for matting and framing, but torn up and put on envelopes, they become a colorful and provocative elements on a mail-art piece. One can make a statement with a stamp, in a very limited space. I LOVE THEM!

RJ : Because you are active in mail art for such a long time, you must have received a lot of mail art too. Did you keep it all? How would you describe 'your archive'

Reply on 28-07-1995

AB : Yes, I kept everything except for chain letters, which I either destroyed, or when I was feeling particularly patient, sent back to sender with a note explaining that I do not consider this form of communication in any way art, or even mail art. I think they are tyrannical and unimaginative, and I have NEVER responded to any of them as requested.

If I had only one word to describe my archive, it would be "humongous," or perhaps more accurately, "comprehensive." Being a "paper addict," and an "image junkie," I treasured the mail I received from the very beginning. When I left Canada in May of '73, driving in a Dodge van which I had modified to be my home, I carried with me my mail art archive which consisted of 2 boxes of material. When I took up residence in San Francisco in August of '73, one of my first purchases was a file cabinet. During my 8 years in San Francisco, the collection grew by leaps and bounds, partly because I was publishing VILE magazine, and everyone in the network then was anxious to have their works documented by having them reproduced in the magazine. I also continued publishing the BANANA RAG during that period, and that also drew numerous mailings from the network.

When I left San Francisco in 1981, I had 40 boxes of archival material shipped to me in Vancouver. While perhaps a third of that was books, at least half of them related to mail-art shows and projects, and a good many were "network 'zines." For the most part, I have filed the books, periodicals and catalogues separate from the letters and mailings, to make access to them easier. In the absence of a catalogue of the archive, this isn't the most satisfactory solution, since any time I wanted to refer to a particular artist, I couldn't go to just one place in the system to get a complete picture of their activity. I also streamed out postcards, as their own category, and in more recent years, have separated the artistamp sheets from the rest of the materials. The advantage of this system, of course, is that if I want to present a talk about postcards, artistamps, or books and 'zines, I don't have to go ploughing through all fifty boxes of material to find what I want. Maybe someday I'll get around to cataloguing it all, but having recently sold and catalogued 400 pieces to the National Postal Museum of Canada, I don't think that'll be any time soon. Cataloguing is a tedious and time consuming activity which I can't afford to do at this point. That's all for now, over and out-

RJ : It seems that the Postal Museums are very interested in mail art these last years. What are the plans of the Canadian Postal Museum with your collection?

Reply on 17-8-1995

AB : First I'd like to clarify for your readers, that the NPM has only 400 pieces of mail art from my archive; a very small sampling from my 23-year-accumulation. I think the postal museums have taken an interest in mail-art, as they are loosing their primary position in the world of communication due to phone, FAX and e-mail. While stamp collectors will no doubt continue to treasure the little bits of paper the post offices of the world issue, fewer and fewer people resort to the post office when they wish to communicate. And of course, with telephones, fewer people write letters than they did in times past, so where are they going to turn for new support and interest? Mail-art fills the bill very nicely. It's interesting, lively, international, visual, playful, creative, and relatively cheap, as art goes... and ANYONE can do it!

The National Postal Museum of Canada has not been very forthcoming about their plans for this collection. The most I know, is that they will use it for educational purposes, and to that end, will probably mount exhibitions from it, and offer workshops in their little gallery within the Museum of Civilization. They have spoken to me about a second mail-art exhibition which would focus on artistamps. The dates mentioned are well in the future, and from my experience in negotiating with them, it will be some time before anything conclusive will come out of these talks. They did suggest that they would like me to be the guest artist when this exhibit does come about, and of course I said I would be most interested. However, I'm not holding my breath about this one... the NPM is part of the large bureaucratic structure of the National Museum, and as such, decisions take a very long time. I will certainly keep you posted on developments.

RJ : Especially the last decade a lot of publications have been written about mail art (mostly by male mail artists). Is it always true what is written down?

Reply on 8-9-1995

AB : That's a biggie! What is the TRUTH? People have been searching for that one for centuries. I believe to a larger extent, people write what they BELIEVE to be true, but none of us is objective, and we all have our histories, friends, experiences which filter our perceptions. Further, no one individual can tell the "whole story" of mail art, because no one individual has all the contacts - it's NOT a finite system. An outsider researches the phenomena would never be able to cover the whole picture, because while mail art is not a finite system, it is also a changing one. People are constantly discovering the phenomena and starting exchanges while others quit and go on to other forms of expression. If it were made extinct, by say, the termination of the international mail system, THEN, perhaps, someone could do a complete picture of it, but even then, it is unlike that one researcher could unearth all the persons involved and review all the work that has been exchanged. Nor do I think it important that every work and every practitioner get a mention.

The whole point of mail art has been to be involved in a creative, expressive PROCESS of exchange, between two or more parties. You send out, and you get back. You have an audience that responds. If they don't respond, you don't send to them any more. This is the nature od mail art, and it can be represented by describing the types of materials exchanged, and the persons one knows of who make these exchanges. But this isn't the same as a history of mail art, and I rather doubt we will ever read one that is completely satisfactory to our own perception of the story, because it will not reflect our view of the thing.

For example, in an essay introducing a bibliography of mail art that sounds like the complete history when you read it, unless you happened to be active during the periods described, and your contribution to the process doesn't get mentioned. This is the situation I found myself in with that essay. I was very active in the 70's, publishing both the Banana Rag and VILE Magazine. I felt both were focal points in the network, and know that many persons contributed material to VILE in the hopes of being published. I felt that VILE was THE show-place of the network during the period of its publication (74-81), yet I nor VILE got a mention in that essay. What was written was "true," but incomplete, yet that essay will be quoted as "the story of mail art."

That essay was published in a mail art show catalogue a couple of years before it appeared in the bibliography. I wrote to the author and asked why I and my contribution to the network were omitted. He didn't respond to the question at first, and when he eventually did, he really didn't give any reason. Then he published it, unchanged, in the bibliography. I was outraged. He was well aware of my work, and of VILE, yet he decided not to mention it. I reviewed the bibliography in Umbrella, questioning this omission. However, the book is published, and in circulation. It won't be changed. It has authority. It is a massive work and very well done. Why did he choose to exclude me from that essay? I don't know.

In May of '94, he and I were both at the mail art congress in Quebec city. I asked him again, in person, why he had omitted me from that essay, and why he had refused to alter the piece when I raised the issue. He said he just wrote what came to mind when he was writing, and that he never changes a piece once it is written. So, from his perspective, my work in recording the network during the 70's was not important. Who can argue with what another considers important? The problem is, that what is written sounds like the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, when in fact, there is a considerable amount of opinion being expressed about the truth, in both what is said, and in what is omitted.

I can't comment on a lot of the other publications on mail art that have come out, as I haven't had the time to read them all. However, I'm sure similar situations exists, and the contributions of many others, often women, have been overlooked, or disregarded in the great move now afoot, to record the history of mail art.

I think that, generally speaking, each person who writes about mail art attempts to tell "the true story." As readers, we have to remember that each person must and will tell it from their own perspective; with all their likes and dislikes, opinions, priorities, and experiences between them and the phenomena we've come to know as mail art.

RJ:Well, in a way I am looking for this "true story" and am currently doing these mail-interviews where I don't edit the answers as much as possible. I already sent you some interviews. Any reaction to the last one I sent you?

Reply on 8-9-1995

AB:I am enjoying reading the interviews, and found the current one you sent, arto posto's to be quite stimulating. I was interested to note her making a distinction between the original mail art network, and the rubber-stamp net being spawned by Rubberstampmadness. I've been watching RSM's development for some time, and note that many of the advertisers are running CONTESTS to get readers to send in artworks, with PRIZES offered for the best work! This is NOT in the mail art tradition, nor is all the "how-to/techniques" articles that are run in RSM. What I see happening there, is the gentrification of mail art, ie. the "taming of the shrew."

Since RSM is basically a commercial magazine, with enormous amounts of advertising which represents a lot of money changing hands over the purchase of rubber stamps, supplies, papers, etc. all related to THE CRAFT of rubber-stamping, naturally, the results are more predictable. The focus in this rubber-stamp movement - moving into main stream America - is decorative, rather than revolutionary. This focus on craft and technique produces "pretty" art-works, but entirely misses the CONTENT with which mail art rubber stamping began; ie. the usurping of an initially business technology (the rubber stamp) for the expression of radical, anti-established, anti-consumerist sentiment.

I find it amusing and ironic that mail art, which while radical and critical in outlook, was always about inclusive; anyone can do it - everyone has something to say, everyone's work is to be of equal value, etc. etc. etc. , is now being watered down by this great rubber-stamp connection to mail-stream America via RSM. In place of discussion of political, economical, human rights or artistic philosophies, we now find techniques and how-to articles flooding the pages. Criticism of the status quo has definitely taken the back seat, if it has not been left behind all together.

I was also interested in arto posto's comments about how she hasn't time to keep up with all the contacts she gets, let alone deal with all the responses she gets from the internet. That's why I have avoided the internet - I am already overwhelmed by the amount of mail I get, and I can't imagine trying to keep up with more. I am definitely NOT a mail-art crusader, nor do I approve of persons setting themselves up as mail-art experts, and doing workshops to teach others techniques, passing out mailing lists, etc. There are already too many people exchanging to be able to keep up with it all, without going out and beating the bushes to get more recruits.

The funny thing is, Vittore Baroni, Guy Bleus and other earlier mail artists (myself included) all started out attempting to contact EVERYONE in the network, then after a few years, realized that the more people one contacted, the heavier the burden of reply became. In the beginning, it was great fun to get lots of new contacts, but there seems to come a turning point, when the load gets too heavy, both in terms of one's time and $$$, when it is no longer possible to respond to everyone who sends you mail.... that response becomes a burden rather than a joy. Myself, Baroni and Bleus have all written on this point, and it appears that Baroni has pretty much dropped out of networking, and I have curtailed my mailings to fewer people, and very few shows, aside from Artistamp News to which individuals must subscribe, or I can't possibly afford to continue the contact. Bleus appears to be continuing to attempt to be there for everyone, and I wonder how long he will last at it.

RJ : Should the "earlier mail artists" , as you call them, learn the newcomers what mail art is about, or should they find it out for themselves?

Reply on 26-9-1995

AB : I don't see it as the role of 'earlier mail artists" to instruct newcomers to the field. This is a free playing field, and one of the joys of it was the lack of rules - except, of course, rules were made up and issued - in some cases, almost as demands. This network is evolving, as it always has, since Johnson's first mailings, since the FLUXUS artists first mailings. In those days (1960's and 70's), it was perpetrated by artists who celebrated their being outside the "real art world." ...but who were none-the-less, big time players in that world. Those initial players were critical of the status quo on many levels; from the tightly focussed elitism of the Art World, to the "american way of life," (ie. consumption).

FILE magazine in the early 70's brought a whole other community of artists into contact with each other, and these were the artists who carried the ball after 1974. These were still persons who perceived themselves as artists, but ones who enjoyed their "outsider" status; artists who didn't get shows in commercial galleries, or anywhere else, and who celebrated their discontent with very dada sorts of artworks. The network became their showplace, and their disaffected attitudes and criticisms of main-stream America were exchanged via the mail; then, more frequently through the late 70's and 80's, were exhibited in mail art shows. The one-to-one exchanges were replaced by growing numbers of mail art exhibits and projects to which one could send one's work, and get one's name in a catalogue. Witness the show listings in Global Mail, if there is any question about this.

In the past five years or so, a number of practitioners (Michael Jacobs, John Held, Peter Küstermann, for example) seem to have become crusaders, and with an almost religious zeal, go about giving workshops to "get everyone to join in," rather than simply continuing to explore and enjoy their existing contacts. Providing information about the network seems OK to me - if people "get it," and want to participate, fine, one has facilitated that connection. However, these workshops in techniques seem self-serving in that, in the guise of "spreading the word," the motivation behind them is either to get paid the fee for doing the workshop, or to sell products; rubber stamps, supplies and equipment - which is a long way from the original critical stance of those engaged in mail art.

All that said, I must come back to your question and say I don't believe there are any valid "shoulds," in mail art. Mail art is an ever-changing, evolving networking practice, and it is futile to attempt to tell anyone how they "should" do it. For me, it is not as interesting to exchange with persons who focus on how-to/techniques, or concern about producing decorative, saleable greeting cards and the like, as with those whose focus is a critique of the society in which we live. However, if people are getting their creative juices flowing doing these things, then BRAVO. Carry on, do it, enjoy it, send it out and let the network evolve! This is still far superior to spending one's time in front of the tube, and I applaud it.

Maybe this is a good point to end? Unless you have some more provocative questions.... Go Bananas!

RJ : Yes, I think it is a good moment to end this interview. But even after ending the interview, I will keep asking questions now and then....! Thank you for this interview.

Mail-Interview with Tim Mancusi (USA)

by Ruud Janssen

Started on 25-3-1996

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 12-4-1996

TM : My involvement with mail art began directly and abruptly in February, 1969. I was 18 years old and a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. As an assignment in my Environmental Arts Class our teacher, Stephen Kaltenbach asked us "to find out who Ray Johnson is and get involved with his art". At the time Ray was represented at the Feigen Gallery which was a subway ride away from class. I remember being really impressed with his collages which were embellished with cursive text done with a crow guill pen loaded with India ink. He would also distress the surface of his collages with sandpaper. At that time I believe Ray had just moved from his Suffolk Street address in N.Y. to his Glen Cove address on Long Island, about 20 minutes from my home town.

I remember telling Stephen Kaltenbach at the end of the school year in May '69 that I was really glad he gave us this assignment and that I believed it would continue after the semester was over. Little did I know that it would continue for 26 years until Ray's death in january 1995. Or that it would put me in touch with hundreds of artists around the world and be the reason I'm currently involved with a career in rubber stamps.

RJ : More students besides you got the same assignment. Did they became all active mail artists? If not, why did you?

Reply on 29-4-1996

TM : As far as I can tell, almost all of the students in my class probably stopped corresponding with Ray after the Spring semester ended. Although there must have been more, I know of only one student, Mike Mahoney who kept involved in mail art for a few years.

In fact one evening in June, 1972 Mike, Bill Gaglione and myself visited Ray at the Pink House in Locust Valley. Why I continued corresponding while most students faded away is probably simply the odds. I loved the process and I loved Ray's drawings, plus it was fun.

RJ : How did you get involved with rubber stamps?

TM : Once again, I can trace my interest in rubber stamps to Ray Johnson. He would often add to his mailings with a stamped expression, usually a one line pun referring to someone he knew in the art world. These stamps were typeset (almost always in 12pt. Helvetica) and stamped in red, blue or purple. What I liked about them was that "stamped" look - uneven coverage, a little blurry, perfectly imperfect.

After I moved from Levittown, N.Y. to San Francisco, I worked with my cousin, Bill Gaglione in an art supply store. Across the street was Patrick's Office Supply store. It was there, that Bill and I had our first rubber stamps made. (The stamp division at Patrick's was run by Bob Grimes, who years later, would be made famous by Leavenworth Jackson). In June 1970, I had Patrick's make 3 different images of clouds I had drawn into rubber stamps. Soon after I drew 2 more, the man on the moon and the planet Saturn for Hervé Fischer's early anthology of international stamp art. It waas a precursor of an industry yet to come.

In 1979 a friend, Joel Rossman, bought a small vulcanizer and we all started making stamps like crazy. This collaboration among Joel, Bill and myself led to the publication of STAMP ART which was a compilation of rubber stamped artwork mailed to contributors. The legacy of STAMP ART is that it led directly to the formation of 2 of the world's most successful rubber stamp manufacturers - Gaglione's Stamp Francisco, and the company I work for, Rossman's Personal Stamp Exchange.

RJ : Your move to San Francisco, the Bay Area, I also bring in connection to the "Bay Area Dadaists". What happened there?

Reply on 1-6-1996

TM : What happened in San Francisco was a convergence of creative energy in a place and time that discouraged limitations. The sky was the limit. With an affinity for dadaism, not just as a period of art but as a way of living Bill, myself and other artist friends, (in particular Steve Caravello, Charles Chickadel and Monte Cazazza) used the City as a backdrop for our numerous activities. We would mail and/or hand out invitations to strangers in the street to come to our gallery openings, group photo's, performances, parties and other events. Anyone who asked us "What's mail art?" soon found themselves corresponding with Ray Johnson, The Northwest Mounted Valise, General Idea, The Western Front and other mail artists throughout Europe and Central America.

Mail art was exploding at the time and we found it easier to keep up with it all by having our collages, statements and drawings printed in small runs of 50 or 100 copies. We were the originators of what Ant Farm called "Quikcopy Art" and we stretched the limits of paper plate printing technology.

Through the years, various artists would visit the Bay Area and join in the art-making. For example, Anna Banana came down from Canada in 1973, stayed, married Bill and contributed immensely throughout the 70's to the Bay Area Dada Scene. The people, the events, the happenings, in retrospect are almost too numerous to record in such an interview as this. I could go on for pages but I'll end it here so you can ask another question.

RJ : What is the story about the Weekly Breeder? Do you know how it got started, and can you tell me what it "was all about".....

Reply on 17-6-1996

(Together with Tim Mancusi's answer he sent me 3 original copies of the Weekly Breeder to illustrate in full detail what the magazine was all about. The magazines were also meant as a gift to the TAM-Archive! Thanks Tim!)

TM : The "New York Correspondence School Weekly Breeder" as it was originally called was started by Ken Friedman in 1970 or '71. Keep in mind that the name "New York Correspondence School" was invented by Ray Johnson as a pun on the "New York School" which referred to that group of painters living and showing in New York during the 50's. Ray Johnson knew these artists and also experimented early in his career with abstract expressionism. So as the concept of mail art was coalescing Ray probably thought it would be funny to stick the word "correspondence" (or sometimes "corresondance") in the middle of New York School to give what he was doing both an identity and validity. There was always an underlying "tongue-in-cheek" aspect to his motives.

Current art scholars consider Johnson's art to be the numerous collages he made and showed mainly at the Feigen Gallery in New York City. His invention of mail art is still considered by the powers that be in the art world as an interesting sideline but not a true art movement. And I'm sure Ray was aware of that at the time. So he was just having fun with this thing that he knew was both very powerful but also invisible. At least this is my theory on how and why Ray identified his postal endeavors as "The New York Correspondence School" and it explains half of the Weekly Breeder's name.

Ken Friedman was a teenager when he became interested in the activities of the international group of artists known as Fluxus, who had their heydays mainly in the early 60's. Ken identified with the Fluxus artists and formed Fluxus West which was not any real organisation or group. It was just him. Ken was eventually turned on to what Ray was doing probably via Fluxus artists. Dick Higgins, Both Fluxus and the NYCS shared the commonality of a Zen sensibility and it was in that spirit that Ken started printing and mailing out his single sheet "NYCS Weekly Breeder". (The Weekly Breeder part of the title is a take off on the "Weekly Reader" which was a current affairs newsletter distributed to American public school children). It was also a way for Ken to align himself with Ray's increasing populariry. So Ken published about 10 of these sheets and actually mailed them out every week. In 1971, for whatever reason he asked Stu Horn in Cherry Hill, New Jersey if he would continue to put it out. Stu, an excellent mail artist who corresponded as "The Northwest Mounted Valise" added an extra page or two and continued publishing it for another 6 months or so. The NYCS Weekly Breeder at that time looked like a page from a dadaist scrapbook. Mainly short, absurd articles and weird pictures taken from the daily newspaper and collaged together. Similar to the type of xeroxed pages Ray might enclose in his envelopes, just more structured. When Stu decided to travel to Europe for the summer he wrote and asked me if I would continue to publish the Breeder. I was thrilled and jumped on the oppotunity.

I put out our first issue in May of 1972. It was 2 pages with a staple in the upper left hand corner. We printed 200 copies and mailed them out to whoever was on mine and Gaglione's combined list. Because we split the printing costs we each got half of what remained after mailing. And of course Bill was assistant editor. That issue was the first time we referred to ourselves as "the Bay Area Dadaists". The second issue was 6 pages long with 2 staples on the left side. The staples were significant because now it was becoming a "zine". Our third issue was about 15 pages. Each issue got bigger and more expensive to print. It was no longer weekly and months would go by between issues.

The weekly Breeder gave me an opportunity to merge my interests in dada and mail art with my skills in graphic arts. I could draw like an underground cartoonist, do interesting designs with type and lettering, make Max Ernst-type collages all while poking fun at politics and religion. We would also invite other artists to contribute a page or two like Lowell Darling, Robert Cumming, Futzie Nutzle, Bill Griffith, Jeff Berner, Monte Cazazza, General Idea, etc. And, of course Ray would occasionally send a page. We would print, collate and bind the issues at our expense and mail them out free to contributors and newcomers. One of my favorite issues was from May, 1973 (although dated 1953 just to be dada). I did the lettering for the headmast, Steve Caravello did the collage on the cover and Gaglione did about 20 pages of great collages for the guts. It takes hours just to absorb that one issue.

So, there were 3 basic Eras to the Weekly Breeder. Ken Friedman's, Stu Horn's, and the Bay Area Dadaists'. I believe our version was the first true dadazine and influenced other mail artists to publish their own. There have been somewhat similar publications and other commercially published books and magazines, not to mention Grant funded periodicals but the Breeder was self-published, limited to 200 copies and always free. We put out a total of 7 issues over a 2 and a half year period. I'm sure most of those copies are now lost or sleeping in land fills.

RJ : It is fun to look back at things, but how is the mail art network nowadays? Is it still fun being a mail artist?

Reply on 13-7-1996

TM : It is more fun than ever. Obviously, I wish I could still mail stuff to Ray but the fact that the network exists at all is a testament to his vision and diligence. And for me, merely continuing in mail art acts as a tribute to him. Today there are more kinds of mail art than there was in the late 60's and early 70's. I correspond with many people who consider themselves mail artists (which they are) but who have never heard of Ray Johnson. These are the decorative envelope and postcard people who populate the pages of RUBBERSTAMPMADNESS. Their mail art is centered around rubber stamps. There are some really fantastic artists of this genre, people like janet Hofacker, Rusty Clark, Toby Galinkin, etc. Not to mention the hand-carved eraser crowd which is a whole other catagory. Then there's the more traditional type of mail artists like Adda Dada, Mike Dyar, Buster Cleveland and Rocola. And, of course hundreds of others. Another offshoot of mail art is the incredible production of artistamps (Perforation is Power). The boundaries between the various styles of mail art can get blurry and thats one of its pluses. I do not compare one type of mail art as being better than another although I believe all current forms evolved from the New York Correspondence School.

Obviously, as an employee of PSX (Personal Stamp Exchange) I owe a lot to the decorative card and envelope group of mail artists. But I also like the more conceptual or process-oriented "add on and mail to...." type of correspondence. I especially love those daring people who try to mail postcards and envelopes with counterfeit postage just to see if they can get away with it. I recently received a small disposable camera (with the film built in) from La Toan Vinh in Montreal. It was originally sent out by ex posto facto in Texas with one rule: take a picture of your mail box, repackageit and mail it out to someone else. I sent it off to Graffiti Grafix. Eventually after the film runs out it will be mailed back to ex posto facto. The whole process will probably take 2 years and involve about 24 people - not to mention the actual photographs. Now that's mail art!

In the late 1970's I found myself getting bored with the mail I was receiving. It was slowly being dominated by a lot of minimal-effort, obscure and impersonal photocopied sheets, slapped together with what seemed to be a "just get it out" mentality. In retrospect I see this as a result of the continuing growth of mail art at that time. It was starting to get watered down by people who saw the excitement in it but thought it necessary to reach everybody on every list. There was a lot of "chain-mail art" at the time which I refused to answer. One of the things that I have always liked about mail art is that anyone could do it. I have often encouraged my non-artist friends to take a chance with the network to see what happens, to see where it might lead. But by 1979 after a full decade of activity, my enthusiasm was waning. It had become more of a chore. So, exept for my occasional piece to ray, Bill or Rocola or a camera-ready page mailed to a zine, I was not an active mail artist during the 1980's. I followed my employer, PSX from San Francisco up to Petaluma in 1983 which made it inconvenient to continue to do things with Bill. As a result I never attended any of the Congresses and kept on making art right on through that Art Strike. I was simply unaware of it.

Many months or years would go by inbetween visits with Bill and darlene. It wasn't untill Jan. , 1992 when my brother and I had dinner with them in the city that I would begin to get back seriously into mail art. At that dinner I mentioned that it would be 20 years in May since we put out our first Weekly Breeder. I suggested that we publish a Special 20th Anniversary issue and asked Bill to invite whomever he thought might enjoy contributing to it. From that list of Bill's coupled with the remnants of my own list evolved my current list of correspondents. Plus those people that are always suggesting that I send something to someone they enjoy corresponding with. And the network continues to widen. Since 1992 I have answered every piece of mail sent to me. I absolutely love the fact that when I come home from work there waiting in my mailbox could be something from someone new that will blow my mind. And that my response back to them will start an escalating volley that will lead to a place neither of us knows and might even involve other creative people. Mail art is truely a unique experience the nature of which most people will never know.

Ah, but then there is the Internet. Which is basically digital mail art and no less valid than Ray's traditional form. Its physical and tactile limitations are offset by its immediacy and awesome pervasiveness. I recently bought a MAC computer and have installed some graphic applications. Along with a color ink jet printer I have found it to be an incredible efficient tool for generating mail art. It lends itself to personalization and is still something that I can stick in an envelope and send off into that old fashioned postal system. I intend to purchase a modem eventually mainly to download software upgrades but not as my main source of mail. Obviously E-mail and home sites will replace the mailbox and probably the telephone in the next century but I hope that takes awhile. First class mail will probably go first leaving Third class and Express services as the most lucrative for the Postal Services. So, instead of me mailing you an actual print from a hand carved stamp of M.B. Corbett you would download that image from the print I had scanned and placed in your web site. No longer would your copy be a unique, one of a kind print. Instead it would be digitally identical to everyone else's varying only by your printers settings.

When I first got into mail art a postage stamp was .08c (US). Today its .32c. Tomorrow it will be on my phone bill. It is with the knowledge that our grandchildern may never experience licking a stamp that I gleefully keep up this tradition.
RJ : Well, how could you know that on the day I received your answer, I just had started with my own web site, and that all the interviews that are finished are now online thanks to the help of Jas W. Felter in Canada. But like you, I still prefer the paper-work and at the same time am open to the new developments. When I first met you, you had this exhibition in Hagen, Germany, with your larger artworks where you included the rubber stamping as well. The small rubber stamp is too small for you?

Reply on 31-8-96

TM : It's not that the typical commercial rubber stamp is too small for me, it's just that I have always realized other potential uses of the act of rubber stamping. A rubber stamp transfers ink onto paper. Being someone who likes to draw and paint I knew that I could use that basic concept to make images that hadn't been done before. The large stamped pieces that I exhibited at the Stempel Mekka in hagen (Germany) in September 1994 represent a combination of the various mediums that I enjoy exploring; drawing, painting and print-making all under the umbrella of rubber stamps. But the birth of those pieces began at that very same dinner with Bill and Darlene in january 1992 when I asked Bill if I could exhibit at his Stamp Art Gallery. The show was eventually scheduled for July 1993. So, with the opportunity provided by Bill to exhibit and the means to make the type of rubber stamps I had in mind provided by PSX I set out to produce about 20 large pieces of rubber stamp art.

These rubber stamp "paintings" were made in the following manner; I started with a series of small rubber stamps that I cut out of various dot and line patterns from LetronaÔ sheets from LetrasetÔ. These were in circular, square and triangular shapes ranging in size from 1 square inch to 5 square inches. I used these stamps in combination with extensive masking techniques the way an airbrush artist might. I would draw in pencil a light picture of a scene I had in mind and mask off parts of the background and foreground to build up color. I used light-fast fabric inks exclusively so that the pieces would not fade when exposed to light over time. I wanted to go beyond the mere "scene-making" that can be accomplished with a tree stamp here and a cow stamp there. For the average stamp user stuff like that is fun but for me it became rudamentary around 1971. So, even though I used small rubber stamps I knew that by combining the airbrush masking techniques with my knowledge of halftones and color that I could make very large paintings. The paintings were large but the stamps were actually small.

When Diana Arsenau and Wolfgang Hein of HEINDESIGN were in the Bay Area in July 1993, they visited PSX and also saw my exhibit at the Stamp Art Gallery. They asked me if I would show at their Stempel Mekka the following year in Hagen. I added 5 new pieces for the Stempel Mekka show. These were on wood and even larger than the previous years paintings. That trip to Germany, where I met you and Elke Freed and Siggi Wille and Tom Nelson and so many others will always be a special memory.

RJ : Yes, those first stempel-Mekka's were really a pleasure to be at. Just today, as I write this next question, the 5th Stempel Mekka is taking place in Hagen now. It has grown into a large international event with lots of stamp firms and is now located at a place inside a museum (with an original exhibition with stamp-cards to go with it). But the commercial aspect has taken over a lot of the Stempel Mekka. The same goes for the larger rubber stamp magazines (like RubberstampMadness and National Stampagraphic) which have become more commercial glossy zines instead of meeting points for creative people/artist. What do you think of this development?

Reply on 21-9-1996

TM : This is a very complex question. But my years in the industry make me as qualified as anyone to answer it. It was 1970 when I had those 3 cloud drawings made into stamps. I remember when Joel Rossman bought his first small vulcanizer in 1979 and a couple of years later we delivered our first shipment of cable car stamps (worth about $ 25,°°) to Woolworth's in San Francisco. We walked out of there simply ecstatic. So today it is absolutely amazing for me to walk through our current factory and say "good morning" to an employee who wasn't even born when I was mailing postcards of my stamped clouds to Ray Johnson, Richard C., May Wilson, et al.

But the commercialization of the rubber stamp industry was inevitable. And its potential wasn't realized by me or Gaglione or Personal Stamp Exchange. The first true rubber stamp companies were All Night Media, Hero Arts and Rubberstampede. What I do find significant is that all the major companies are located in the Bay Area. That rubber stamps became commercial is in and of itself value neutral. If I may get a little political, let me say that I prefer capatalism over socialism as long as its "capitalism with a human face". But I remember when brand names used to be sewn on the inside of clothing - not on the outside. I'm more upset by the commecialization of sporting events than I am of the rubber stamp industry. I don't want to see corporate logos on baseball and football uniforms like I see on European and latin American Soccer uniforms. But, I'm sure before too long I'll be cheering on the Intel 49ers rather than the San Francisco 49ers.

Not only was the commercialization inevitable but also beneficial. Just taking PSX as an example I can attest to the fact that over the past 15 years we have employed probably over 1,000 people which has enabled about 100 people to purchase new automobiles and a couple of dozen people to move from renting to buying their homes. Think about the subsequent ripple effect of those activities on other industries. And its all centered around the act of rubber stamping which is a fun and good and basic activity. There are worse things to fret about.
And concerning publications such as Rubberstampmadness and national Stampagraphic, I don't lament the over abundance of advertising. I have some early RSMs from around 1980 when Lowry Thompson was editor. Those early issues were definetly more mail art oriented and more fun than current issues but I am still impressed with the skillful management of that magazine by the current editor, Rubberta Sterling and her husband. They've helped promote the industry and have also created many jobs, I'm sure in the Corvallis area. And their classified section is still a great meeting place for rubber stamp pen pals (although not as hip a crowd as one might find in Global Mail). I personally like National Stampagraphic if only because they had the gumption to publish John Held Jr.'s tribute to Ray Johnson after his death. RSM only mentioned him obliquely and I doubt if they understand or appreciate that aspect of traditional mail art. But that's okay. They all serve their purpose.

In the mid 1980s we used to wonder "when's the bubble going to burst?" It may someday but not for awhile, I think. Rubber stamps are now a mainstay of the gift, craft and stationery industry. Remember that in the 19th century the greeting card industry grew out of something that was very personal and hand made. Cards used to be made by regular folks and were part of Folk art. Now there is Hallmark and here in the late 20th century they worry about loosing some business because people use rubber stamps to make their own cards. It's ironic. The thing about the rubber stamp industry is that almost anyone can start their own business. Not anyone can start their own car company or decide to start manufacturing refregerators. So there will always be new, small companies coming into the industry and pushing the older, bigger companies into more precision marketing and efficient assembly.

RJ : You seem to enjoy carving the portraits of ather people, and I am happy to receive the prints of the results. How do you choose "the subjects" and why do you use rubber (on this large size) instead of e.g. wood or linoleum?

Reply on 30-10-1996

(During my travel to San Francisco / California in October/November 1996, one of the people I visited was Tim Mancusi in Rohnert Park. The first day I was there Tim handed me the next question which he had typed and printed with his computer. I took the answer with me and am retyping it in Tilburg. Because we had lots of other things to discuss besides this interview, I sent the next question end of November from the Netherlands. It was very nice indead to meet Tim for a second time!)

TM : The "subjects" I choose for my hand-carved portraits are usually my friends and fellow mail artists. Occasionally someone will ask me to carve a portrait of a relative, usually a child and, of course I willocassionally ask the people. I ask the people I correspond with to send me a photo of themselves so I can "immortalize them in rubber". And I do this as a means to motivate myself to make art. One of the problems I've always had as an artist is in motivation. There is never any lack of ideas - I have more ideas for all kinds of art than I'll ever have time to complete. But I will always finish the art that I promise to make for others. In other words, I have no problem breaking a commitment to myself but not a commitment to anyone else. Once I promise someone that I will carve their portrait there is no doubt that I will complete it. I would have done one of you but your own hand-carved portrait is so good that I doubt if I could improve on it.

I carve in rubber simply because I want these prints to come under the catagory of "Rubber Stamp Prints". It's a technicality. And once I adhere the carved rubber onto a block of wood it becomes a true rubber stamp. A few of the prints I displayed at the Stempel Mekka were so large that they probably should have been carved in wood or linoleum. In my opinion, one of the things that distinguishes a rubber stamp print from a traditional linoleum or wood block print is that the stamp is held in the hand and stamped on to paper. Traditional printmaking is usually done in an opposite fashion - the carved block is placed on a table and the paper is layed over it and, with the aid of a precise mechanical device comes in contact with the block.

I intend in the future to buy a small press that would enable me to make large, multi-color prints from linoleum. (But then they could never be considered as "Stamp Art" which I feel still needs to be legitimized as a valid form of art.) One of the disappointing aspects of the type of rubber I currently use is that the surface deteriorates when inked with solvent based inks which, over time ruins the edge of the line. There are some good permanent, water-based inks that have recently been released by the various ink manufacturers. I have often thought back to the slicon type of rubber that you experimented with and showed me in Hagen. I believe it had a more resilent surface than the rubber I carve in.

RJ : Funny you mention that carved portrait of me that I use on my post. I was carved my Joy E. McManus from Texas, USA who did that one for me years ago as a surprise-present for me. Yes, she did a good job, and I always like to use that stamp. The stamp is a symbol on its own now.....

Another question. You have been doing mail art for a long time now, but haven't kept all the mail art you got in. What eventually will happen with the mail art that is circullating around the globe?

reply on 5-1-1997

(together with his answer Tim sent reprints of photo's he took of me while I was visiting him in Rohnert Part, November 1996. Also some artworks which mostly are portraits of (mail-) artists he knows).

TM : That's a difficult question to answer. I don't think anyone really knows what will happen to all that mail art although I can give you anecdotal examples of what has happened to some mail art. Back in my early days I sent out some really neat pieces that I remember were quite good. I would be shocked, and flattered to find out that even one receipient of that mail thought enough of it to save it. Over the years, as time and mailings accumulate some people started saving their mail, putting it in boxes, recording what came in and what went out. It became, for some a thing to do - perfectly suited for humans' natural organization tendencies. And, with the advent of personal computers, what was starting to get unruly became more manageable. Computers could enable mail artists to keep more precise records of mail art activity. No one knows that better than you.

Ironically, the most important force in creating an awareness of the need to archive mail art came from Ray Johnson's suicide in January, 1995. And, with the Walker Museum's "Spirit of Fluxus" exhibition that toured internationally a couple of years ago it isn't that wild to imagine that mail art, as an off-shoot (or "distant-cousin") of Fluxus activity might be worthy to students of modern art of a deeper examination. If that interest can be generated then all those boxes of mail art that a lot of people have stashed in closets, attics and garages will become the main source of exploration and assimilation. I know, for example that Patricia Tavenner of Oakland, California has saved almost all of the mail art she has received since the early 1970's. Maybe you saw some during your stay with her this past Autumn.

Sometime around 1977 after about 8 years of accumulating mail from all over the world (and with the previously descibed boredom setting in) I wound up donating a few hundred pieces of mail to the Oakland Museum. If I remember it correctly, Rick Solloway got me in touch with Michael Bell who was working at the Museum at the time. I gave him a foot locker filled with envelopes and small-press publications, and most of my Ray Johnson mail which I now regret. I kept about 20 or 25 pieces from Ray that were particularly personal. Those pieces of mail, along with a few boxes of other ephemera were later sold to Stephen Lieber (who previously had bought Jeff Berner's collection of Fluxus Art and then sold it to the Walker in Minneapolis). It was Gaglione who got me in touch with Lieber in May, 1992 while we were putting together the 20th Anniversary issue of The NYCS Weekly Breeder. Stephen was mainly interested in Ray's early mail art up until 1975. I find it interesting that Lieber considers Ray's mailings after 1975 to be of less significance. In a way it truly defines a Golden Age.

Now, there is some controversy centered around the ethicalness of selling mail art. I was unaware of this controversy at the time, having just gotten back into mail art but in retrospect I don't think that would have stopped me. It's a personal decision and I'm glad I did it. I was surprised by what Lieber offered me and decided the time was right. For years I had, from apartment to apartment moved all these dusty, old boxes of mail art - occasionally questioning why. And suddenly, here's this collector who not only is going to pay me for my archiving deligence but will, in all liklehood promote and help legitamize mail art. And that will benifit everyone.

I sometimes become weary of those mail art purists who look down their noses at others who sell their collections. During the 3 year period between when I sold the majority of my collection and Ray's death I continued to send and to receive mail from him. He was fully aware of what I had done and never expressed to me any consternation. In fact I believe our best exchanges were during this period. And, besides it's nice to recoup some of the money I had spent over all those years. Not to mention the time spent making a lot of great, little, one of a kind pieces designed to blow the minds of a single recipient.

So, I guess you can break down the eventual fate of all these pieces of mail into the following catagories:

- Some mail art is archived and put away in boxes.
- Some mail art is organized in exhibitions and either enjoyed or not understood by its observers.
- Some mail art is thrown away.
- Some mail art is lost and may turn up later.
- Some mail art is destroyed (as was the case in the mid 1970s with the Italian Postal System).
- Some mail art is added on to by other mail artists and kept going in the network.
- Some mail art is framed and displayed on the walls of certain individuals.
- Some mail art is never opened and some is never answered.

My hope is that enough will be saved so that future generations will know that this was and continues to be an exciting, expressive endeavor that gives people joy in both its giving and receiving.

RJ : Most of the catagories you mentioned are quite logical. I only wondered about the part "as was the case in the mid 1970s with the Italian Postal System". Since I only started with mail art in 1980, I wonder if you could tell me a bit more about that. The history of mail art isn't always easy to find in books yet........

answer on 22-3-1997

TM : In 1975 Bill Gaglione, Anna Banana and myself had met Arturo Swartz at a dinner in San Francisco. Arturo owned a gallery in Milan, Italy where he exhibited dadaist and Fluxus art. In 1976 Bill had the idea to schedule a show for Anna Banana at Arturo's gallery unbeknownst to him. Bill designed a phoney poster announcing the exhibit (called "Hosannah Banana") and mailed it out soliciting mail art at the gallery's address. Arturo was not phased by Bill's unsanctioned exhibition and welcomed the contributions. But, Bill was later informed by Arturo that the show unfortunately coincided with a labor strike by Italian postal workers. During the strike mail was not delivered and continued to pile up. After a few months most of that mail, both domestic and international was destroyed.

Also, I can tell you for a fact that, during the Vietnam War years of the late 1960s and early 1970s Federal officials in the U.S.A. routinely collected and opened any mail to certain destinations that had any political messages on the envelope or just looked weird to them. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that, at one time a file was kept on me (and other mail artists) by the F.B.I. based on my envelopes of that time.

RJ : Do you like to 'provoke' the system with your (mail-) art?

next answer on 19-4-1997

TM : If, by the word "system" you mean the postal system then, yes I like to provoke them. But one of the definitions of provoke means "to anger" and I certainly wouldn't want to do that. But I do like to bemuse them. It is a tenuous relationship we mail artists have with the postal system. We want to push the limits of the process of mail delivery but not to the point of making it so difficult that we impede this process. That would be self defeating.

I am constantly amazed at some of the mail that shows up in my mailbox since it is sometimes near impossible to find the actual address. I worked for the U.S. Postal System in 1970 and I can tell you that all they want from us is to see a clear written address. In the U.S. the Post Office consists of mail handlers and mail carriers. It is the job of the mail handlers to get the mail to that point in the system where the mail carriers can sort the mail for delivery along their route. We all know where the address and return address should appear on an envelope and any deviation from that begins to annoy them. I, personally try not to make it hard to deliver my mail. I want it there as fast as possible. But, if I am going to provoke the Postal System I want it to be in a non-vicious, conceptual way.

Some of the most extreme examples of this were the exchanges I had a couple of years ago with Graffiti Grafix and Bianca Jarvis, a teenager who goes by the name of "Mysterious X". In fact, in my last telephone conversation with ray Johnson he told me that Bianca had mailed him a Hostess® "SnowballÔ" which, for those who may not know is a commercially baked type of cupcake. She simply wrote his address on the package, stuck some stamps on it and sent it across the country, as is exposed to the system. I think she was 13 at the time. Graffiti Grafix once mailed me an artificial banana and I mailed her back an artificial cucumber. We had several fruit and vegetable mailings for awhile. All of them unpackaged. I once sent her a stenciled portrait of herself spray-painted on plywood. It was 2ft. by 3ft. and I wanted it to be a gigantic postcard. When I took it into the Post Office the clerck behind the counter said "Don't you want to package this first?" I said "No, that would be missing the point." (you don't package a postcard). "But it might get damaged" she said. "Yes, it might" I replied. The next day it arrived without a problem.

I once mailed her a postcard that consited of nineteen 1 cent stamps (a postcard was 19 cents at the time). I placed them on a card rows high and 4 columns wide. In the center, in small but clear print was her address contained within the dimensions of a single stamp.

One of my pieces to her was a postcard that consisted of a clear, see-through piece of thin plastic. All that was on it was my return address, her address (both written with a laundry marker) and a stamp. Bill gaglione did this 25 years earlier for his first wife, Linda. It is very dada to pay for postage so that you can send nothing. What does the letter carrier think as he delivers a clear piece of mail with no apparent message? It is pure process.

As a preliminary act to answering this question you posed I recently sent you a postcard that had a small envelope glued to one side of it. On the other side was your address and in the message portion it said "This postcard is really a letter". When you turn over the card and open the envelope inside is a letter that says "This letter is really a postcard". So, in actuality I was able to send you a letter, but at the postcard rate. To me this is very provocative and I consider it to be one of my best conceptual mail art pieces.

RJ : Yes, that postcard (or was it a letter?) arrived at my address without any problems, and I liked it a lot too. Sometimes with the large amount of mail I get in, I do miss the humor in the mail, and I notice that for you this is still an essential part. This humor normally develops best in one-to-one mail-contacts that are built up over the years, where mail-art contacts become close friends. Do you experience this as well?

answer on 3-7-1997

(With his answer Tim sent me a copy of the "Earaser Carvers Quarterly" #4, a special edition with the portraiture of Tim Mancusi. Also a copy of the "National Stampagraphic" Volume XV , Number 3 , Spring 1997 , in which a special about Tim's portrait-stamps , and two prints of his most recent carvings of "The Sticker Dude" - Joel S. Cohen and Buz Blurr).

TM : Yes, humor is a strong aspect to my art and sometimes my approach to life. It is an inherent part of my personality and I think it is why I'm drawn to dada and Surrealism. Ray Johnson could not have brought about modern mail art without humor. It is a wry, ironic, zen type of humor and when one can occassionally capture it in an envelope to send along to a friend or stranger that's a special event. The three main components of mail art that I have observed over the years seem to be humor first with politics and sex tied for seconds.
What I find interesting is that it doesn't always take that long to establish a comfortable rapport through the mail. I have corresponded with all types of people - kids, adults, men, women, straight and gay. And since many mail artists often use "nick names" you initially have no information at all about the person on the other end. Humor can be a great way to broaden the kind of mail art you send and receive. But, because that humor is in the form of correspondence and you are not there in person to add something subtle via body language or a facial expression, the ironic point you were hoping to make may be misinterpreted. I had this problem a couple of years ago with Mallory, the Moadster of Fresno (California), and as a result we no longer exchange mail. Which is sad because her stuff was great. And she's an excellent eraser carver, too. (Now that I think about it, maybe I'll mail her something this week!) You talk about becoming close friends - in one of Mallory's last letters to me she mentioned that she had met her (then) current boyfriend through mail art. That has to be the ultimate satisfaction of answering mail; to actually establish a real relationship with someone. Of course as in any relationship a close proximity helps.

Sometimes I'll correspond with someone for awhile and then I get a postcard or a letter and they'll mention that they'll be visiting the bay area in the near future and we finally meet. Last September I met Sugar Irmer from Berlin and this October I'll be meeting Toby Galinkin from North Carolina. And, as you know its fun to show them around.

RJ : Yes, I sure remember the time in beginning November of last year, where you even took two half days off from your work, to show me the sunny sides of Norther California and introduced me to Jeff Berner. Time sure flies, and this interview is now going on for more then a year. So, I guess it is time to come to an end. Normally I ask if I forgot to ask you something. So, did I?

reply on 28-7-1997

TM : No, I don't believe so. And I am very appreciative of the fact that the questions you asked gave me the opportunity to record my early memories of mail art, dadazines and rubber stamps. And also to express my opinions. Thanks for your deligence and especially for posting this interview on the internet.

RJ : Thanks for your time and energy as well Tim!

Mail-Interview with Michael Lumb


Started on: 24-11-1994

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: 02-12-1994

ML : Hope I pass your test with my answer! It is, of course, an extract from the thesis. Tomorrow I will see my tutor & find-out whether I have to re-write everything - I sincerely hope not!!

(Michael Lumb sent the text "MAIL-ART, A PERSONAL INTRODUCTION", which you will find as an appendix to this interview. It tells about how Michael got involved in the Mail-Art network and what his first projects were).

RJ : A mail-interview is not a test, but if you see it like that I must say you passed perfectly with this long answer. You are now working quite some time on this thesis, and the research you are doing is the main reason why I started this interview with you. Can you tell me first the main reason why you are writing this thesis? Is it just for graduating, or is there more to it?

Reply on : 12-12-1994

ML : Thanks. Glad I passed, perhaps I see all of life as a test! Your next question is perhaps personal though I think I quite like the distance/personal/warmth relationship. My reasons are perhaps boring to mail-artists. Firstly I feel that there is no existing thorough history and current survey/assessment/critical appraisal and I wanted to write it. Secondly my institution is putting pressure on staff to improve their qualifications and this seemed to be an ideal opportunity to combine the two and get professional guidance with research methods and writing techniques. I hope eventually to get the support of my institution to publish the book & produce an exhibition of examples plus a 'teaching pack' video.

RJ : Could a thesis on mail-art be written by somebody who isn't doing mail-art, and could a thesis about mail-art be understood by somebody who isn't participating in the mail-art network?

Reply on : 23-12-94

ML : Complex. Define a thesis! - Lets take it to be a PhD (100.000 words) thesis. The simple answer to both questions must of course be yes. I must also assume that you mean a thesis of minimum 'Pass' quality. A great deal of a thesis is demonstrating the ability to produce a cogent argument. The subject matter should be written by someone with real enthusiasm for the material and this, in the case of mail art must mean a networker of some years experience. If it is 'properly' written it should easily be understood by anyone but there is no substitute for first-hand experience in everything/anything.

RJ : Let's go back to mail-art. Most mail-artists know of the starting and Ray Johnson's role in this. But mail-art itself is changing over the years very rapidly. The new change is the E-mail services. Will this new communication form take over the traditional mail and also the mail-art?

Reply on : 4-1-1995

ML : My impression is that most mail artists do not know of Ray Johnson! However, I would agree that mail art is changing and has changed. I think I would prefer to refer to mail art networking as distinct from a necessarily conceptual (and enquiring) approach to mail art.

Mail art is primarily concerned with communication. E-mail permits the fulfillment of this. It is also important that mail art should be egalitarian, E-mail is a very long way from becoming egalitarian both in its availability and its expense.
This question could perhaps also relate to the future of books, - part of the pleasure of books is being able to read them in bed, on the train, on the beach. Technology will no doubt permit this in time but it will never be able to replace the tactile quality of a book that is also a fundamental pert of the pleasure of mail art. Technology is the way forward for reference material and that also has a part to play in mail art - I would answer this by E-mail if I had access to it for example.

It has been suggested that video (in your home) will replace traditional art. I believe painting; sculpture; photography; printmaking to be dead as vehicles for original creativity. However, the event of going to a gallery still has a function if only active and social (as opposed to unhealthy couch-patato) and single screen video; computer; holography, even virtual reality can not replace the time and travel experience of a multi-media installation.

I therefore see a future that is inclusive rather than exclusive and is therefore pluralistic. The same arguments would seem to me to apply to E-mail and mail art.

As for traditional mail, one might have expected the telephone (in the future the videophone) to have replaced letter writing but again, letter writing can express things that the telephone can not; for example formality. Above all, letter writing is an art, a craft with its individual expressions. This could be carried by E-mail but the personality of the sender in terms of choice of paper, envelopes, handwriting etc. All allow expression that E-mail does not. Further, the lack of immediacy of the letter has advantages as well in terms of consideration of suitable reply. Again, the answer must be in plurality.
RJ : I must say I agree for a large part with your views. Mail art just depends on the tools (paper, pen, computer, stamps, paint, xerox-machine, etc.) the artists has at hand. What tools do you prefer the most in your mail art?

Reply on : 11-1-1995

ML : When you ask me what tools I prefer most in my mail art, I am instantly faced with a problem, because in their use I have no preference for any tools. I do not gain any pleasure at all from making art. For me the pleasure is in developing the idea and having the completed work. If I could, I would have an assistant to produce all my work to my designs. I do not however agree that mail art 'just depends on the tools' and suspect that you were being provocative in writing that. To me the medium is irrelevant, it is the content that is important. I am not clear as to the intentions of your question, it feels as though the question is about my own working habits, and the answer to that would be very long and complex indeed. Superficially, the answer relates to my interest in the working habits of the great British writer, Anthony Burgess who wrote a fugue every morning (he had trained as a composer), I have in many ways approached mail art in the same way, as an exercise in creativity, an adjunct to my other creative work and teaching; an exercise in creativity and communication. It naturally follows that I have frequently used rubber stamps because of their immediacy, given a number of stamps that reflect my thinking and creative areas of interest. I particularly enjoy responding to projects that I have already explored as part of my own work and can respond to the request with a photocopy or copy from an edition of a work produced by me at an earlier time. Whatever, I certainly do not recognize a higherarcy of materials or techniques, it is the level of communication that is important.

RJ : This level of communication is an interesting thing. Communication means that there is an interaction, in this case between the artists. Could you tell what you see as 'levels' in this communication, and is it that some levels have certain consequences for you? Can it become more than 'an exercise in creativity and communication' as you call it?

Reply on : 25-01-1995

ML: For me interaction is of paramount importance. Networking frequently is much more than an exercise, but identification of precisely what it is, is very subjective. The levels of communication refer to the degree to which two people are communicating anything meaningful to one another and ultimately, as you imply the affect that that communication may have on the life of one or both of them. It would be possible to list all the ways in which mail art may give that value added something. This will differ for different people at different times in different places and different situations. Primarily, it must be the global importance of peoples understanding each other more. The importance to the individual is in realizing that she or he is not alone in this world of fears, worries, trials and tribulations. There is no hierarchy of medium, technique or image, purely the way in which the communicated affects the receiver, and this might even dispense with mail art per se and simply be a very personal letter but remains mail art networking because the communication is within the context of the mail art network. This communication does not have to be personal however; the anonymous pass‑on may bring humor, warmth or optimism to the receiver at a critical moment and so becomes effective.

RJ : This diversity in mail art is probably the most interesting aspect of it. Sometimes mail-artists go in a specific direction after 'doing the net' for a while. Others become addicted to this diversity. How is this for you?

Reply on : 4-2-1995

ML: I am not aware of a direction that is affected by the Network and certainly no deliberate decisions. I do however have certain parameters, specifically that I am not in a position to spend much money on mail art and certainly am not in favor of any mail art that asks for money. I do not have much free time and so am not able at the moment to join any project that requires multiple copies.

I enjoy a variety of relationships with different networkers; those who make no pretence at producing mail art any more and simply send letters, those who are in very difficult times (e.g. Bosnia); those with whom I exchange a range of work, (bookarts, postcards, artistamps); those who send lively mail with projects that I can reply to fairly instantly and mostly those with whom I feel a spiritual affinity. I somehow feel that there is an essence to your question that I am missing, something implied about contacts that I am not understanding.

RJ : For me mail art brings new ideas, new contacts, not only 15 years ago, but still today. In a way I am addicted to this diversity that mail art brings. The essence is that this diversity now fits perfectly in my life and for some mail-artists 'doing mail-art' is just a part of their work. So to put the question more precise, has mail-art infiltrated in your life or is it a separate part?

Reply on : 9-2-1995

ML : This is a frighteningly complex and personal question but I will endeavour to answer it. Firstly, I am not at all sure about addictions, in some senses I do become addicted to things but on the other hand I can just as easily reject them and never look back, so I don't really know. I have no plans to stop networking. I am not sure whether addiction implies enjoyment and I am not really sure, if I am honest, what I enjoy and don't enjoy or why I do things. As an example, for about twenty years or more I drank alcohol every single day but three years or so ago I had an enlarged liver and so stopped for a month and now only drink at weekends (normally) but I am aware of trying to find some sort of reward from the alcohol. Perhaps it is like this with mail art, in that I am trying to find some sort of reward. I am a perfectionist and so consequently despise most things that I do and am disappointed by a great deal of that that I see.

To the second part of your question, whilst I am wary of frustrating you, I am not sure that I understand the question. In the sense that you have used it, I am not sure that I know what life is. Every morning, mail art is part of my routine before I go to work and when I return home if I haven't finished everything in the morning. There was a time, when my children were little that I quite literally involved my family in the production of my work, for instance, on a family Sunday walk, we would take my portable white canes and search for a suitable installation place in which to photograph them. But, perhaps this was egocentric. It feels as though the answer, or at least in part lies in my answer to your question about working practices. Attempting another tack, I do sometimes wonder, as a loner and with no one to share my art or interests with whether mail art is not my salvation and that without it I might go mad. I am a Nihilist and so it is difficult to find purpose and as an idealist, all to easy to destroy any proffered proof of purpose or value in life, but perhaps it could be said that mail art keeps me going. What is perhaps difficult for me is to sort out the truth in terms of the reality that I do enjoy some things, and certainly enjoy some mail art that I receive, but have very high ideals and so it is easy to objectively question a lot of the things that give me pleasure. Perhaps one of the advantages of mail art is that you can just get on with it and not think. Whilst I claim to be a Nihilist, I do nevertheless have a very strong need for spirituality, (one of the things that I loved about Poland) and abhor Capitalist Materialism, it is difficult to be optimistic in these times.

I have not commented on your point about new contacts; for me it is my link with other human beings and I suppose for that reason alone, is very important to me but it also feeds my idealism, in that there is always new hope with new networkers to postally‑meet.

I am avoiding the temptation to sum up this response, in a sense it shouldn't be because my answer must be complicate and even difficult and contradictorary.

RJ : Strangely enough the answer fits perfectly to the question, in lots of ways. But lets focus again on the history of mail-art. On your envelope the rubberstamps "40 years of -55-95- mail art" and "Ray Johnson 1927-1995" are mixed together. Do you have any predictions to what will happen to the mail-art network now Ray Johnson has died?

Reply on : 1-3-1995

ML: I don't really do predictions! However, it does seem to me difficult to imagine what could bring about an end to mail art, now that it has lasted four decades. A possibility of course is that the cost of postage could rise to such an extent that it becomes totally unviable, this seems highly unlikely to me though as I have faith in the need for people to send postcards home when they are on holiday and to send greetings cards. If the cost of postage were to prohibit this, it would also impact on the very lucrative and thriving Greetings Cards industry and this seems unlikely. Furthermore, whilst I am aware that in countries such as Estonia, networkers have already had drastically to reduce their mail art activity because of escalating postal costs, it also seems likely that as the tide of capitalism catches up with them, so also will the Greetings Card industry and a subsequent fall in the cost of postage. We have already debated the possible impact of technology on the future of mail art and to me it would seem that communication of the sort that mail art provides fulfills a basic need in people that in whatever way the world develops will never go away.

RJ : If everybody has a need for communication (which I think is true) then only a few of all people on earth have chosen the mail-art way. Who becomes a mail-artist? Is it all 'pure chance' that one stumbles on the network? If that is so, will the effect of the INTERNET on mail-art be that the mail-art network will grow even more. What do you think?

Reply on : 9-3-1995

ML : Gosh, what a question. This seems to require an exploration of one's own personal faith rather than a belief about mail art. To a degree, those who find‑out about mail art do so through chance but maybe there is a wider controlling force than just chance, I just don't know. Of course many people are aware of mail art but choose not to explore it. Of these no doubt some make the wrong decision for them in that they would enjoy it if they did pursue it. Is there something about the kind of person who is responsive to learning about things like mail art?‑ again I am unsure but it seems possible. Is the mailartist a type of person? If so I would like to identify that type for my thesis, although I am arguing that there is not a typical mailartist.

As for the expansion of the network through INTERNET, it seems highly likely, if only because any new chain of information must increase the numbers from a logical point of view. However, it would be useful in considering this question to be able to assess the affect of for example the mail art column in Artists Newsletter in Britain on the number of mailartists and to predict the rise of the INTERNET and the public that it will reach and by when. So, to summarize, the short answer is yes. A longer debate, based on research that would seem to be impossibly difficult given the nature of the mail art network would however be more interesting.

RJ : Even for two mail-artists is sometimes seems to be difficult to talk about the mail art network and what it is in their eyes. Did you succeed in explaining to your tutor what mail art is all about?

Reply on : 20-3-1995

ML: She hasn't asked me! That in itself is interesting because it suggests that people think they know what mail art is, but we networkers know that it is a very complex thing and one that evolves in ones understanding as one becomes more and more involved with an ever wider network. From the point of view of my thesis, she will judge me on the cogency of my argument so that she will assess whether I appear to have logically and thoroughly described mail art however, as she doesn't know what mail art is, she can only judge the cogency, not the accuracy of my description, always assuming that there is such a thing.

RJ : Well, I must say I am becoming more and more curious about the complete thesis, especially the part in which you will write about the years 1980 and lateron. The books I have seen so far show me obviously that the writers always are writing about their own network, and that every mail-artist has his/her own network in mail-art. Therefore every story will be different and only by knowing lots of stories one can find a common basis that is making us do this mail-art. In my eyes all mail-artists have something special that they are looking for which they can't find in their surroundings. Is this true? If so, what are you looking for?

Reply on: 3-5-1995

ML: Your question suggests others, for instance, how am I going to ensure that I do not simply write a personal account of mail art? Of course I cannot be sure but I will not be setting out to write the 'story' of mail art, rather to identify what it is, where it has come from and how it has evolved. From my vast bibliography, I feel as sure as possible that I will not simply tell my own story.

As for what I am looking for in mail art, I think it relates to my next performance, 'An Attempt At Survival In Alien Circumstances Too'. I think we are in alien circumstances and I am particularly aware, having just returned from New York, that there is a whole world 'out there' and I want to be a part of it. So, I want to try and survive and for that I need to communicate, I want to try and make sense of the world and I want to participate and have some fun. I want there to be serendipity in my life. Mail art seems to me to be the best way to satisfy all those needs especially as it is all things to all men.

RJ : We haven't discussed your performances yet. Could you describe what they are sometimes like?

Reply on : 12-5-1995

ML : I haven't written about them before so I find the question interesting but one that could result in an extremely long essay if I am not careful. The background interests me in that my Mother was a dancer, my paternal Grandfather a priest and my Father a teacher: all what could be perceived to be performance professions. My early thoughts were of being an actor but I changed and did a degree in theatrical design. I then spent five years in television, giving it up to start an arts center. Throughout this time I continued to produce my own work and realized that fine art was what I should be doing full‑time as far as was possible. In May 1968 I wrote my first performance pieces, "The Darkness Concert" these involved dance, music, silence and a cat, as yet they are unperformed. The major part of my work at that time centered around experimental painting but in the early seventies changed to a much more social form of art that took the artist (me) out of the studio and involved other people going about their daily lives and no longer involved paint.

In 1991 I began a series of photoworks using my own body to explore issues that whilst specific to me, I felt had universal application. In the mail art network I produced the work Madonna and Child, asking networkers to send me a Madonna and Child in return I sent it back with my face superimposed on that of the child as well as photo‑copies of those that others had sent me and full documentation of the project. I did not explain that the purpose was for me to try and experience what it would have been like to have been cuddled as a child.

In 1993 I made my first visit to Poznan, Poland where I had two wonderful weeks with no responsibilities at the Summer Academy and produced my first performance video (I had previously produced my first video artwork in 1983) this was a harrowing piece entitled, 'Rebirth' which was an improvised work where by I methodically removed my clothes, laboriously folding them and then, in the foetal position, tied myself up with string until I was in considerable pain, I then released myself, rubber‑stamping my forehead with the word 'Rebirth'. The following year (1994) I returned to Poznan as a visiting professor and made the video‑performance work 'Pathway'. In this I tied chairs to my leg until I was unable to proceed and fell over, finally collapsing under the weight. This work made use of English language in that I tied the chairs to me and that related to family ties, however it is important to state that I deliberately returned to pickup extra chairs, indicating that the ties were of my own volition.

In the winter of 1994 I made a performance in Ipswich, entitled 'Ambition', this was intended to be an 8 hour performance but because of technical problems (the threat of a severed central heating pipe) I had to abandon it after 5 hours. This work consisted of my attempt to produce a construction out of string that would enable me to reach the ceiling. (I was not permitted to make a rope ladder). During this I engaged in debate with the visitors to the performance about the nature of ambition and the pitfalls.

In May 1995 I made my latest performance, this was of 8 hours duration, with no breaks, and consisted of me dressed in black and white with a bowl of water and a bowl of flour, making paste and tearing images out of a vast pile of newspapers and sorting them out into categories and pasting them to the wall, using nothing but my hands. The work, making reference to the important English performance artist, Stuart Brisley, was entitled, 'An attempt at Survival in Alien Circumstances Too.' At the end of the performance, I scattered the remaining flour and water on the large residue of newspapers and emptied the dregs over my head, falling prone over the papers. Throughout the performance I talked in a fairly low volume about the images but communicated with no one.

My next, projected, performance is to be entitled, 'Pressing Engagement' and will consist of me wedged between a column of newspapers and a beam in the roof of the gallery, 10m up in the gallery for two hours, apparently naked. There will be no dialogue.

I did not plan to move into performance but it feels right at the moment, I can't predict the future but it certainly solves the problem of the marketable commodity in a market that I have serious concerns about.

RJ : In the beginning of the interview you said "I see all of life as a test". Is a performance a kind of test for you?

Reply on 22-5-1995 (disk)

ML: Gosh, what a thought, the answer, spontaneously is yes, but also about survival, clearly, by the fact that I still exist, I am a survivor. Fundamentally, I believe that art must communicate, that is why mail art is so wonderful, in that there is guaranteed communication, and I want to share my experiences with other people, hopefully, if they can identify with any of my pain, they might realize that they are not alone. This appears to be moving off the point of your question, I must ask myself, what are the tests that I am setting myself?

To begin with, undertaking a performance is a test in itself. For me everything that I do is judged (not least by my own harsh standards that always finds everything wanting) but also by those outside. So often with a preview people comment on the wine, ask after your family but never comment on the work. It is really good in the network when you receive feedback on something that you have sent, for example I was extremely nervous about my 'birth canal stamps', I was worried that they would be misinterpreted as being pornographic but felt that I had to make them. The feedback was the most positive I have ever received from the most number of people who happened to be predominently women.

'Rebirth' was a very difficult piece, being naked, although there was no 'full frontal' as the work was not about that, but especially revealing so much of my inner self and then sharing the video‑performance afterwards in a very public way. My first eight hour piece, 'Ambition' (which was abandoned for technical reasons after 5 hours) was very much about endurance but nothing compared with my latest eight hour work '...Alien...' which did last for eight hours with no break at all and involved no communication at all.

About eight years ago, I explored a series of drawings which consisted of covering the surface of the drawing paper with candle wax and attempting to draw with a hard pencil which would not take on the wax. I also attempted to draw difficult technical shapes free hand, intuitively. I do seem often to need to make things difficult, partly the Protestant Work Ethic which I was very much brought‑up with but it is also as though it can't be taken seriously unless it has involved considerable struggle. No pain, no gain. Maybe I need to convince myself that I am serious and that my work (I?) am worthwhile. This question has I am afraid resulted in a very egocentric answer.

RJ : Well, your answers are certainly worthwhile. I guess it is time now to end this interview unless there is something I forgot to ask you?

Reply on 28-05-1995

ML : Thank you for your kind comments. I have found the interview very interesting and quite revealing, enabling me to consider a number of personal issues.

RJ : Thank you for the interview and good luck with your thesis!

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