Mail-Interview with Michael Leigh - A1 (UK)
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THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL LEIGH (A1 Waste Paper)
by RUUD JANSSEN
Started on: 6-11-1994
RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. So far we met twice and have discussed
certain things about mail-art already, but I still forgot to ask you what your
'firm' A1 Waste Paper Co. Ltd. is all about. When did you found it and what
is it all about?
Reply on: 17-11-1994
ML: Well, it was soon after I had chanced upon the mail art network in 1980
at the Artlink International exhibition at the Greenwich Theatre Gallery in
London that I decided I too could have a weird and wonderful nom de plume
that many of my fellow mail artists had contrived for themselves. Also it
would be nice to have a name other than my own to attach all my mail art to
so as to distinguish it from the other art I was doing at that time
(Landscapes and animals in oil on canvas).
I forget just how many names I'd thought up at the beginning but two I
remember were ART ACHES REPOSITORY and the BAD ART
DELIVERY SERVICE. Both remained on the back burner until I chanced
upon a couple of battered rubber stamps at a flea market in London's East
End - both were the address stamps for a defunct (I assume so since they
didn't crop up in the telephone directory at that time) recycling firm called
the A.1.Waste Paper Company Ltd. I couldn't believe my luck - just the name
I had been looking for! Not only did it sound good but could also be
shortened to A.1. and covered all aspects of the recycling ethic I had seen as
a key element in all the networking material that I had used or was going to
use in the future. It also has the happy ability to put itself at the very front
of any address lists made in an alphabetical order!
RJ : This recycling is something I recognize in most mail-art I have seen
from you. Some mail-artists keep all the mail they receive in their "Archive".
Do you have an "Archive" or is almost everything recycled?
Reply on: 26-11-1994
ML: I think most sensible people realize that RECYCLING in everyday life
is very important now if we are to put back something rather than take take
take from the Earths limited resources. In art too this has become more and
more important - not only from a ecological point of view but as a way of
saving valuable time and money.
My "archive" consists mainly of dozens of cardboard boxes from the
supermarket which are stuffed full of old mail in no particular order or
design. I've never been very good at organizing such things and so I'm afraid
if I need something from my "archive" it takes me ages to find! Fourteen
years of correspondence takes up a lot of space so I've been very ruthless
just lately (since Archie was born) - sorting through it all and sending the
stuff we didn't want to Michael Lumb's archive in Ipswich. On a day to day
basis I still recycle envelopes and boring xeroxes get letters written on the
back of them.
RJ : So this 'boring xerox' gets personalized and probably will end up in
someone's elses "archive". Do you think that these "archives" are important
for other people than the mail-artists? Is it possible for a 'non-mail-artist' to
understand that mail-art is more than art sent by mail?
Reply on : 8-12-1994
ML: Archives are important because they contain the history and
development of mail art. Artists can benefit by using their archives in a
constructive manner - making exhibitions from them and showing the work to
outsiders who don't understand what the postal network is about. At the
moment Hazel and I are showing our artwork in conjunction with pieces
from our mail art archive at the WEIDORAMA show in Walsall Museum and
Art Gallery in the West Midlands of England. This exhibition is an attempt
to show how mail art interacts with the other work we do and to show
outsiders just how diverse and multi-disciplined it is. Archives should contain
the best work and ideally made available to other mail artists and interested
parties who wish to see it or part of it or the works of one particular artist
for Commemorative works or book projects etc.
These outside the mail art network will never understand what mail art is
without becoming part of the mail art network. I'm not so sure we should
crusade to make the mail art understandable to those outside its circle.
Those interested enough will discover it for themselves eventually. It's not a
RELIGION to be thrust down peoples throats. One must carry on doing ones
best and hope that others will see for themselves through mail art shows like
WEIRDORAMA just how much fun their is using the postal system as your
RJ : You talk about 'the postal system'. Does this include the new
communication-forms like using FAX and Computer for communication or
isn't this mail-art in your eyes? What are your thoughts about the
TELENETLINK 95 project that Crackerjack Kid started?
Reply on : 28-12-1994
ML: I'm afraid I must admit that FAX and computer art doesn't really fit
into my idea of Mail Art - it's not something I'm interested in. If you can't
stick a stamp on it and post it, then it's not really Mail Art. It's a different
medium and should be called something else. I don't know anything about
Crackerjack Kid's TELENETLINK project.
RJ : Well, let's stick to the communication-form with postage-stamps. The
postage-stamp plays an important part in mail-art. In your work I've noticed
the use of rubber stamped postage-stamps. Is there any special reason for
Reply on : 7-1-1995
ML: I like anything to do with postage stamps and rubber stamps. So it
seemed natural for me to combine the two. They are quick to apply to
envelopes and one can knock out sheets for projects and such like quite
easily without having to spend ages fiddling around with a xerox machine.
Also you can use those tiny collage elements that don't fit into any other
format. I seem to collect hundreds of these and so that's why I have so many
designs for rubber-stamp postage stamps that have as yet to be turned into
RJ : Another wonderful rubber stamp I noticed on one of your envelopes is
'ADDITIONAL ARTWORK BY ARCHIE LEIGH-JONES'. Is Archie
growing up to be a mail-artist raised by two other mail-artists? To ask the
question more specific: How does the mail-art that fills your days affect the
raising of Archie?
Reply on : 18-01-1995
ML: Well, we like to think that Archie will come to appreciate the finer
points of mail art and alternative culture in general through his seeing us
work and play with all this stuff. Hopefully he'll find it useful in future years
and maybe find a little network of his own to explore. At the moment he is
only two and a bit so his attention span is short - a few scribbly envelopes
and he's off with a toot toot train or his cars! Children tend to go against the
wishes of their parents so I expect Archie will see our interest in mail art as
his poor putty parents wasting a lot of time that could be spent on Game Boy
RJ : So; why are you wasting so much time on this mail art. Why do you
spend so much money on this 'strange' hobby? What brings mail art to you
that you keep on doing it?
Reply on : 27-1-1995
ML: Good Question! I really feel I'm not wasting time, after all, I spend
more time sleeping then I do mail art! Mail is just as relaxing and
therapeutic I think as sleeping, but unlike sleep I have something to show for
it at the end of the day! We just had a 2 day mail strike here in London and I
realized how much I missed the post when it didn't arrive - I started to get
withdrawal symptoms! Yes, mail art is a drug! The more you do - the more
you need! I'm a hopeless case I suppose.
RJ : Yes, you are a hopeless case (never argue with a drug-addict...). But to
feed your addiction I'll ask another question so you get some mail. On your
envelope you used your new stamp in memory of RAY JOHNSON, who
suddenly died two weeks ago ("If it wasn't for Ray Johnson, this work
wouldn't exist, mail art pioneer 1927-1995). It seems Ray was an addict too.
He kept sending mail till he took his own life. I know of more mail-artists
from the first years who are still active. What would be the essence of this
mail art that it is so addictive. What is your view?
Reply on : 4-2-1995
ML: It's hard to say why Mail Art is so addictive. Some people seem to kick
the habit quite easily, like smoking, they just go on to something less
addictive but just as costly - like sucking mints or herbal remedies like
slippery elm grass or fever few.
The essence of mail is really the response you get from your sendings. If
nobody replied then it would be quite easy to give up I guess. Luckily (or
not!) I keep getting back stuff - flopping on my doormat every morning and it
seems churlish not to reply.
A reporter came from a national newspaper recently to interview me and to
find out what all this networking and mail art was about. I found it very hard
to tell him exactly what it was that got me se excited and what still keeps me
at it some 14-15 years later. It's communication I suppose and feeling part of
a fellowship that knows no boundaries.
Now that Ray Johnson is no longer with us - it seems an ideal time to take
stock of what has gone on in the past 40 years, since the early days of the
New York Correspondance School of Art, and re-affirm our commitment to
the mail art ethic and its concerns. But hopefully not in a boring, pretentious
and crusty way but something more in the spirit of play from which it was
RJ : It sounds beautiful, what you say, but how will it be in reality? What is
the future for the network in your eyes?
Reply on : 10-2-1995
ML: Who can say what tomorrow may bring? I don't have a crystal ball - I
wish I had! The network is an organic, growing, shrinking, changing thing -
full of surprises! Hopefully it will draw new recruits from different
backgrounds, cultures and talents. It does that already of course but perhaps
the future will broaden this spectrum even more. It is up to the networkers
who already enjoy this wonderful world of art exchange to use their influence
in a positive way - to find more time to do mail art, to expand its horizons, to
open up new tracks of perception, to glory in its ubiquitousness, unravel the
strings of pure art that connect us all!
RJ : In the recent years galleries and even museums are becoming more and
more interested in the mail art that some 'famous' artists made and are
trying to get this 'art' in their collection or are trying to get works for loan
for a future exhibition. Will mail art become traditional art when things go
on like this?
Reply on : 20-2-1995
ML: I don't think mail art will ever become "traditional" as you call it, simply
because its so hard to define. The occasions when galleries or museums
express interest in mail art are few & far between - they cannot cope with
the anarchic elements in it, or the idea that its based on mutual exchange &
RJ : We have discussed the subject 'Archives' before. If a mail-artist decides
to keep an archive (which normally happens when he decides to keep the
nice things he gets by mail), what should happen with it after his death? I
know of the archive of Ulises Carrion which was sold and plundered for work
of 'famous' artists? Any idea what should happen to the archive of Ray
Reply on : 28-2-1995
ML: Ofcourse its a shame that archives fall into the "wrong" hands and get
plundered, but what can you do? Maybe artists should make provision for
their work and archives when they are still alive and have some control over
what happens to all of it when they die.
I would like to see Ray Johnson's archive kept intact ofcourse, in a museum
or library somewhere but I won't loose sleep if it doesn't. Afterall its the art
that happens now which is important, not the boxes of old dusty stuff-
crumbling away in some gloomy mausoleum!
RJ : Your new project (A1 Waste Cassette Co.) has also a typical recycling-
aspect. You write that you will use the cassettes people send to you for
recording the final result. In this way you keep your own archive very small
indeed. How is the new project going? Can you tell a bit more about it?
Reply on : 6-3-1995
ML: This new project was inspired by Morgan Fisher's "MINIATURES"
project of a few years ago. His was nothing to do with the mail art network
but it had a similar easy going attitude and commitment and the
documentation within the LP sleeve was very like a mail art show
documentation, or a sort you'd get if only people had the funds to pay for it!
I did a cassette project a couple of years ago where I asked for songs on a
particular theme. This THEMATIC TAPE EXCHANGE went on for several
months. 90 or so participants from 8 countries got involved. Everyone got
another tape back from the list I sent out - they could choose whatever music
This time the idea is that contributions must be no longer than a minute so
that I can squeeze 60 or so tracks onto one tape when I come to compile it in
June. The reason I opted to send back the tapes I'd been sent was to
eliminate any people who like to send cheap or very short tapes. This way
they only have themselves to blame for the rubbish they get back! Most
people so far have sent good quality tapes and so it makes my task somewhat
easier. The theme of the project is POSTAGE and people can interpret this
in anyway they like whether its a song, jingle, poem, rant or spoken word. So
far the spoken word seems the most popular but I'm hoping for a few songs
and music to break up the verbiage before the deadline on the 20th June
RJ : Well, I guess it is time to end this interview. Maybe there is something
more you would like to say?
Reply on : 14-3-1995
ML: Just that it was nice being interviewed this way - your questions helped
me think about my work and try to articulate some of my thoughts - hard to
do, but fun! Thanks!
RJ : Thanks for the interview!
Ended on : 14-3-1995