Mail-Interview with Jenny Soup (USA)
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JENNY SOUP
Started on: 7-3-1995
RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on: 2-5-95
JS : I first got involved with mail art and the network back in 1987. I was living in San Francisco at the time, going to Art School. I was introduced to the addicting world of mail
art by my boyfriend at that time, and thus the enigmatic Gagliones, the wacky and wonderful Radio Free Dada, the ever present (and past and future) John Held Jr., and others. I was
instantaneously sucked into the network with full devotion. I have always enjoyed art and correspondence/ writing, and mail art became a perfect way to blend the two. Good friends were made through mail art, wonderful ideas were exchanged and a lot of stamps were used....
RJ : What kind of ideas (wonderful ideas as you mention them) do you mean. Can you give some examples?
Reply on 22-5-1995
(Together with her next answer Jenny Soup sent me her new poetry-booklet "SORROW'S VELVET GARDEN , Corridors of Madness Publishers, Studia City, CA , USA.)
JS : I couldn't do justice in talking about all the wonderful ideas that spawned from the mail art medium and from my personal history in corresponding with many great artists. Though justice will not be served.... I will relay a few. When I first started receiving mail art, I took great notice, not only in what was within the envelopes I received, but also the envelopes themselves. This sparked a passion in me, and for a few years, I adorned envelopes with the greatest of time and
care. Maybe a simple "hello" would be written on a slip of paper within, but the real Art lay on the envelope itself. I would spend hours on one envelope, collaging, painting and fully decorating each piece. It was a real joy. Now I don't find the same pleasure in doing the Art on the envelopes, though occasionally I will succumb to the urge to do so. The past envelope decorating, eventually led to my color collage Artwork, which has been shown in Galleries here in Los Angeles, the East Coast, and Germany. And along the same lines, the color collages led to my creating full size oil paintings of the same images. How beautiful the lines of progression.
Now, I find the greatest of pleasure in the letter writing, and the written correspondence among those in the network. Though this limits the number of people I correspond with. I enjoy it so much and it adds immeasurably to my life. It is through the letter writing that I enjoy sharing and receiving personal ideas from artists around the world. Within the last couple of years, I have had the most wonderful of opportunities to meet a few of those people, including yourself Ruud, which I find a great pleasure and it adds to the depth of all the correspondence with such people.
Another example would be in the realm of "Projects". Through the mail I have seen and heard of so many different projects, some fascinating, some very simple, yet all have the possibility of influencing an idea I may have at the time. Sometimes it can help solve a problem, or be a catalyst to take an art piece to another level. A wonderful part of all this has been the introduction to a combined effort in a single idea. A great influence are the "Mail Art Shows", in
how many people contribute to one thing. The collaboration effort is a glorious thing. One singular person does not take all the credit, or a "First Place" of sorts. Each contributor
is as important as the other.
When I started my Poetry and Art Magazine "in remembrance", I incorporated this idea; to have others contribute to the Magazine, that it wasn't all one person, that it was the
efforts and talents of many that would make it so succesful.
I hope I have conveyed a few examples of how much mail art has effected (infected) my life, and how ideas have formed and grown through this medium.
RJ : Could you tell a bit more about your magazine "in remembrance". When did you start it? How do you select the work you include in your magazine?
Reply on 27-6-1995
JS : I started my magazine "in remembrance" while in San Francisco. It was around 1987 & at the time, in art school, I was working on extremely large paintings, more like tapestries. These paintings took a lot of time, energy and materials. The work was physically and mentally exhausting to complete. The paintings involved a heavy use of collage and different textures, and each one incorporated the use of language. Through, and because of these paintings, "in
remembrance" evolved. My magazine became a small, simple way to express the same ideas as in my paintings. These ideas could then reach more people because of the accesability
through the mail, which I was discovering through the mail art network.
I have always enjoyed Poetry and language. Ever since I was a young child, I can remember writing poems and short stories. The enjoyment from writing and from reading other works has
been a large part of my life, always. I carried this love into my magazine. As the magazine reached more people, in turn, more people would write to me about it. They would send in
their work, poems, art, ideas and comments on what they thought of the magazine. All of this helped shape the magazine and helped it to evolve.
I took into consideration all of the submissions I received for "in remembrance". I included those which personally affected me, those which emotionally moved me. In this
selection process, a family started. The result of this "family" , was a group of artists who shared the same "visions" and thoughts as I and as I achieved in "in remembrance". The magazine has the feel of haunting beauty. It researches the loveliness that is found in many different
areas, by many different means. Many of the works I receive by mail, don't fit the themes, or feel of "in remembrance", and it is hard to turn down these works. Just because they don't
fit in the realm of "in remembrance", does not mean they are not strong pieces. Because I choose not to use them doesn't mean they are not good, or worthy of being published. But that
is the job of an editor. To choose what completes and complements the original intentions of the project. It's not always easy, but it is neccessary. I want to keep "in remembrance" true to itself, and this is the only way to do that.
RJ : How large is the network you have discovered so far?
Reply on 6-8-1995
JS : The full size of my correspondence is in the hundreds, though it's not a completely consistant network. There will be steady lines of communication for a period of time, and then
months without. This depends on factors in my life whoever I am writing to/with. Sometimes I've been wrapped up in a project that will take me out of circulation for months! Same
with the other person(s). When I was in Europe last year, though I kept writing to close friends, when I returned 5 months later I had a box full of mail with many letters saying, "where are you? Why haven't we heard from you?". Or sometimes, even years later, I'll receive a letter from someone I lost contact with, and they'll have written about what kept them out of circulation for so long. My network also changes and reforms itself. People send me artwork and write, its all so ephemeral. I doubt I would ever have the energy to accumulate and organize all the addresses of people I've corresponded with over the years. All of it is stored in boxes
I do enjoy the variety of the experience of correpondence, though. That I can have contact with a network of people around the world, is truly an exciting realization.
RJ :Is there a difference in the mail-art here in Europe and in the USA?
Reply on 33-8-95
JS :I think there is a difference in art of all senses, in Europe than in the USA. There is a greater involvement and respect for art, in Europe. Children are raised to believe there is an importance of art in daily living, they are surrounded by it. Or so I observed,in my travels through
Europe and during my stay in Paris for 5 months. I was delighted to see very young children in the museums, drawing on paper, on the floor, from great masterpieces of Picasso, Matisse, and others. Art seems to be everywhere in Europe. From money to stamps to phonecards, to bus stops, murals, galleries, great gardens and architecture. As an artist, I can see the beauty of much of America, but it is very different. There is less of a general social appreciation for 'art'.
As far as mail art goes. I believe there is such a connection in the network, that any differences fade. Sometimes it seems that European mail artists are much more consistant in their
correspondence. Not that us Americans are "flakes" per se, or are we? Just kidding. I feel the mail art network, at least the core of folks I correspond with, are of the same breed,
that we all find each other because we are different from everyone else.
RJ :I know you sometimes do work with a computer. Do you also use it for your art? And for communication?
Reply on 26-9-1995
JS :I use my computer for many things. It's for letters, poetry, writing and artwork. Though in my artwork, I am still very "hands-on." I will use the computer to outline a design
or for exact measurements in boxes/lines/type, but for the rest, I love to draw by hand. I'll take what I started on the computer and finish the drawing with ink, pencil, paint,
whatever. And with my paintings, I never use the computer for anything! The image goes from my mind straight to the canvas - no "middle man"!
I do enjoy the computer, don't get me wrong, and I see wonderful artwork come from such electronic means. But I still respect the "old-fashioned" method when I see art that's been
drawn/painted by hand, I feel there's a more "human" aspect to it. Same with letters but when it is hand written, there's more of a connection with the person, the human-ness of the
act of writing.
I think computers have seperated us from much of our "humanness" of our relationship with "nature", and lean us toward the "artificial". In no way do I believe computers are "bad"
or technology is "evil", but there is a good balance between science & nature if we keep our heads together.
Computers are a marvel, they're fabulous, and I see a lot of potential for their use, beyond what we have now. But for now, I'll just use mine as I do for work & play. And I will still
be in awe at the work of a human hand, whether it be digging in the dirt of a garden or a child finger-painting, or a drawing of Mary Cassatt, or a surgeon at work, or someone
typing at a computer.
RJ : Where do you find your inspiration for your art?
Reply on 10-11-1995
(With her new answer Jenny Soup included a set of 4 photo's of her paintings ans also an announcement of her newest "in remembrance #14 which is ready and can be ordered)
JS :The word "inspiration" is so fleeting & ephemeral, to me. I try to find ideas for my artwork, in a multitude of places. Most of my paintings are done out of necessity to create. Of
course, many of my ideas first come from my head, from memory or fantasy & go directly to canvas. Sometimes I look through old photographs to get ideas & some image will jump out at me.
I am not a consistant painter. I lack discipline in this sense. I think much of painting is this discipline... combined with "inspiration". I will go through periods where I'll paint
for weeks straight, one painting after another, and then months of nothing at all!
I believe that everything is worth painting. From a piece of fruit, to the human face, to flowers, fantasy or everyday life. It all "inspires" me to create, yet I'll paint whatever I feel "in the mood" to paint!
RJ :Lets go back to the mail art. Globally there are two different attitudes towards the mail art people get. Some want to keep everything and start to create their own "archive"
while others rather like to pass on the things they receive and recycle most of the things the get from the network. What do you do?
Reply on 3-1-1996
JS :Well, I'm the third attitude! I tend to pick and choose
what I keep and what I pass on. I used to keep literally
everything, but as space ran out and box after box got full, I
began to reconsider keeping everything.
Whenever I receive two of the same things I will pass on one
to someone else. If I receive an abundance from one person, I
tend to pass on a few pieces. But mostly I will keep what I
receive - especially when I see that a lot of time & energy
has been put into making it. Often times I will receive
"trash" in the mail, seems people will just rip up a piece of
paper or what not, put it in an envelope and pass it on as
"mail art". I often don't keep it and frankly, I don't pass it
on either. I am not trying to be "elitist" by saying that,
because I'm not one to judge what is or is not mail art. I
just tend to save the items I receive that I see time and
I have great respect for those who save and archive the mail
art they receive. You, Gaglione, John Held Jr., and others,
are providing a great service to all of us by documenting and
preserving such a unique communication and genre.
RJ :Well, I'm flattered by such comment. I know that there are
many more mail artists that archive a lot of what they
receive, and the biggest archive is without doubt that of Guy
Bleus in Belgium. Is documenting really that important? Do you
document all your art activities (for instance, do you keep a
list of all the mail you send out)?
Reply on 21-2-1996
JS :Forgive my initial exclusion in not listing one of the
greatest Archivists, Guy Bleus. Where was my mind?
Your question "Is documentation really that important?" brings
up a variety of emotions and thoughts. I learned many years
ago in Art School, from various sources the
phrase...."Documentation is everything". whether a
performance, a painting or an impact of a piece of work. And
this can be advantageous for the Artist in many circumstances.
And for historical value, documentation is a great aid in
preserving a "happening" or a piece or body of work.
But now, 10 years after I was told "Documentation is
everything", I don't believe it. On the other hand of the
documentation coin, I see it as a great restraint. Such
importance is placed on the past, on what has alrady happened.
It seems ironic to me, that mail art, such an ephemeral,
temporary art form, always in transition and a state of flux,
is held in boxes, and files, and forced into an archival
When I first started out in mail art, I did document a great
deal of what I received and what I sent out. I would
photograph decorated envelopes I made, and keep folders full
of xeroxed artworks I mailed out. After awhile, I questioned
why I was doing all this documenting. Why was I saving the
remnants and shadows of my sendings? I took on a different
view, and lived in the sending and receiving, not the delicate
perservation. When its sent, it's gone. Though I do have a
great deal of trouble throwing things away, to this day. Never
thrown out a letter. It all goes into boxes, largely
marked....MAIL, and thats it. I enjoy the now, and not in
reviewing and filing what's in the boxes. So.... why do I hang
on to the box? Who knows, maybe one day soon, I will build a
giant catapult and send each box off into space, one by one,
with a big bang! Or bury each box deep in the ground, to be
discovered by archeologists hundreds of years from now. And
whatever I choose to do with these boxes of mail, the bigger
question is, "Will I document the act of what I do with them?"
RJ :Well, at least you should invite some other mail artists
for such an occasion.....! There is another side to
documentation of course. The people who don't know anything
about mail art normally want to know about what has been going
on and what it is all about. The only sources nowadays are the
mail artists themselves and (if they keep any) their archives.
The books about mail art mostly are written by mail artists,
and non-participants just don't seem to understand what mail
art is all about. How would you reply to a person that asks
about your "mail art" when you know he/she doesn't know what
it is about?
Reply on 16-3-1996
JS :I agree with your point about the documentation - that's
why I mentioned that it does have historical value. Much of
history is based upon such preserved remnants of an era, or
genre of subculture. Of course the other side of that coin is
that what "we" base history on, is a very small portion of the
overall scene. Historically - the archives that are being kept
and written about and looked at, are only a percentage of the
overall picture. Usually "history" comes out very one sided &
biased. Are the "big names" in mail art, that every one notes,
and writes about, are they giving an acurate account of the
mail art scene, entirely? I don't know, I'm just throwing out
the question. And do people within the scene include or
exclude certain people at a whim, when they choose?
From my experiences and observations, I notice the 'cliques'
in mail art, the closed circles that are very difficult to
enter. I wonder if this will affect the historical
representation of mail art. Mail art hasn't truely hit the
mainstream of society, so few people do know what it's about.
The popularity of rubber stamps & art made from them did open
up a lot of people into the mail art realm, that weren't aware
of it before. Many of my friends over the years have admired
the mail I receive and ask about it. They see the decorated
envelopes, rubberstamp art, xeroxed stuff inside or whatever,
and they are very intriged. They think it's wonderful & ask
what it is all about. The easiest response is that its art
that gets about through the mail. Big art, small art, xeroxed,
painted, written, anything goes. And like a chain letter, once
you've sent out a few pieces your name and address are picked
up and the network process kicks in. You'll always have
someone to send things to, and you'll always be receiving
I would be so interested in the observations of non-mail-art
participants. I would almost be more interested in reading
that, than a book written by a mail artist. Hmmmm. A good
theme for a mail art show?
RJ :This is probably an essential point, this last remark.
Mail art is still for the people that participate in the
network. Others who get to see it, haven't gone through the
process of networking, and only see the piece of mail as a
final result. Exhibiting mail art in a museum or a gallery is
therefore always quite difficult. And maybe it isn't even
necesarry at all. Maybe your theme for a mail art show is
interesting. Ask someone in your surroundings to observe the
mail artist for a specific time, and make a report........
Hmmmm. Actually, I kind of stopped with doing those
'traditional' mail art shows, where you ask the 'network' to
send in their works to a specific theme. How about you?
Reply on 13-4-1996
JS :I honestly do about 3 to 4 Mail Art shows per year. For a
long time I did every show I heard about, and for awhile it
was fun and interesting. I like the general idea of rounding
up a variety of perspectives on a singular subject, but I feel
the mail art show falls short of what it's potential could be.
For example, a call comes through the mail for works on the
theme of... Whatever. Maybe it's a trendy theme, such as a
certain war that exists, and everyone is really against this
war and the violence, and all the work submitted reflects
their views on this. All this artwork is sent to one person,
who types up the contributors names on a list, puts together a
nice booklet and sends them back to those who sent in the
work. This seems like a very small, closed circle. Even if the
work is shown in a gallery or library or other venue, people
come in and look at the work, agree or disagree with the
issues set forth, and then they go home. If we can all get
together on some level to express our ideas, as in this
example, for instance being against a certain war, then let us
use all this energy to make a change, make situations better.
Use our voices in channels that can cause an affect on a given
I am not implying, in any way, that Art has no power, in fact
it can be a very powerful tool and medium to affect the
masses. But it must be directed to do so, and done
efficiently. An incestuous mail art show is not using all that
creative power efficiently. If a mail art show was arranged on
the subject of war or child abuse or even trees, instead of
sending all the work to just one mail artist, have everyone
send something to a figure in a position to do something about
it. Send all the tree mail art, and why we are sending it, to
the person or people in charge of our national parks or
government officials who can pass stricter environmental laws.
If the issue is war then send all the works to the government
officials initiating and perpetuating the war. Use this
marvelous creative energy to DO SOMETHING, not just fatten
ourselves in the glutenous files of mail art and show
documentations. I see all of us falling short of what we are
capable of doing, of what can be done along the same lines of
the mail art show, but it really meaning something.
To further this point, if I was involved (involuntarily) in
the war around Bosnia and I heard of someone putting together
a mail art show about the war, and thought of all the money
and energy and time to mail it all out, collect, document,
etc., and all the energy of those sending work to someone
somewhere in another country most likely, I would be so
utterly offended. I would think and say to myself, "So what?
My family was just killed by gunfire, what do I care of
artwork in a file, and names of contributors on a list. I
could die tomorrow because of this war." Instead of mailing a
xeroxed art piece to another mail artist, I write letters to
In the large scheme of things, what is the big deal of a mail
art show? I believe the mail art show and the mail art scene
need to evolve. They need to evolve for many reasons, to
continue their existence, to create importance, and to keep up
with evolving mail artists.
RJ :How did YOU evolve through mail art? What did mail art
teach you when you look back at almost ten years of being a
Reply on 28-5-1996
JS :When you learn and experience a great deal, you
automatically evolve (or devolve). I learned a great deal from
mail art itself, as well as individual people in the network.
Mail art was such an unusual medium at the time, for me. I had
always been a "letter-writer" by nature, I do a lot of
writing, poetry, stories, journals, etc. But the "mail" became
an incredible outlet once I discovered mail art, not just a
pen-pal thing anymore. I learned by observance, and
experimentation that "anything goes!". It was scary, yet
releasing feeling. I began to "push the envelope" pardon the
pun), and this testing of the boundaries naturally reflected
into my Artwork, my paintings and collages. Mail art taught me
to express and try new things, not to be scared if they didn't
work out completely, that the journey and the action, the
"performance", so to speak, was the real essence. There was no
real success or failure, it was not a black and white world.
At the time it was all gray, and all open for discovery and
exploration. I danced in the realms of Dada and Fluxus, began
to appreciate Performance Art, and pretty much the Art of
I am so thankful for what I have experienced through mail art.
The people I met and exchanged with. The personal aspect I
experience in mail art, is the real appeal for me. The artwork
received and exchanged is wonderful, but for me it is the
people and their lives that I grow fond of, that I wish to
stay in touch with, with or without the realm of mail art.
There was a real transition through the years for me. At first
I was absorbed by the Artwork, what I received, what I sent
out, and then over the years it became the people. The lives
of those I exchange work and letters with, held so much more
importance than the work. In that holds the key to how I have
evolved in mail art.
RJ :Well maybe this is a nice moment to end the interview, or
is there something I forgot to ask you?
Reply on 27-6-1996
(together with Jenny Soup's answer she sent me a copy of her newest "In
JS :I would like to say how very much I have enjoyed doing
this interview with you. What a tremendous project. In looking
back, it has almost taken a year to complete! Your questions
set a lot of thoughts into motion, about mail art and life! I
had a great time thinking about and answering your questions.
I hope your readers enjoy our correspondence, too. Thanks
RJ : Thank you too for this interview Jenny!
CA 91604 - USA
Ruud Janssen - TAM
4801 BB - BREDA
e-mail : email@example.com