Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Thoughts on the Summer Makings Process


I’ve been productive this summer. Normally I wake up around eight o’clock and put on the coffee. I watch twenty minutes of online videos, have a couple cups of coffee, and go upstairs to work. This year getting things done is made easier by the inclusion of an air-conditioner. I don’t have to work upstairs until it gets too hot then move downstairs. Around lunchtime I eat, and then head back to whatever I was doing. Sometimes I set up the tables in the backyard to paint books. This means that I have production going in all floors of the homestead. I make collages upstairs and then go to the main floor where I make transfers and let things dry out, then I’m in the backyard to put on another layer of paint. I try and do this until about three o’clock in the afternoon when Misty gets home. In a good day I end having a solid six hours of creative activity. 



I've made 77 collages so far this summer, this is three of those. 
When I’m working during the day, I tend to leave less creative minded tasks for the evening. If Misty has to go to work the next day, I don’t want to be too loud so I try and scan things in the evenings, or put addresses on envelopes, or anything that keeps me from moving around too much. This period lasts from about 10 pm until 12 or maybe 1 o’clock in the morning.

My goal this summer has been to use as few of pieces of material as possible. I’ve been avoiding doing the assault on the eyes type of collages where every inch of the card is filled with color. Mainly I’ve been making collages out of transfers I do in the kitchen sink. Like usual these transfers are made from old magazines that I’ve collected over the years. The older the better since the paper and the image separates unlike with new magazines that don’t work out all that well. The less obtrusive collages are done in three different sizes, small bingo cards, slightly bigger than 5x7 ones, and collages on large watercolor paper. The latter of which I add spray-paint to give the composition a little more movement. As I move through the process, I use all of the random pieces of tape leftover from the transfers. When I start this process, the images are clear and big and clean, by the end of it I have lots of little scraps that clutter things up more. In the morning I can get through a nice pile of these and then in the evenings I tape them up and then scan them. I scan all the collages! The next day I might put them in envelopes with some other items and in a week they’re gone.

Because I’m working on things more than I ever have, I have a lot of items laying around upstairs. Not wanting to hold onto these things forever I’ve noticed that the packages I’ve made are getting fatter. I’m putting a lot more into a single mailing than I ever have, this goes for what I send out of the country as well. Most weekly trips to the post office are floating around 50 dollars.

One of the things that I pad out my packages with are the add and passes and broadsides. Before I left work for the summer, I made sure to make a nice pile of these, quickly. I generally put a few in each package depending on the size of the collage. To me the “main event” is always the collage with the other things tossed into justify the exorbitant cost of shipping. Might as well throw in a couple of add and passes if I’m making a package. The problem is that the general tenor in mail-art is to get annoyed with add and passes. Somehow, I’m seen as only making add and passes, which is far from the truth. I don’t even like them all that much. The other day someone wrote on the front of an envelope in a condescending tone, “Thanks for not sending add and passes, as usual.” I send as many collages as I do add and passes but no one seems to remember, or comment on those. Use the paper to make something else, why be so annoyed? I never comment on what anyone sends. Either way, that initial printed pile is starting to dwindle as I mix old add and passes and broadsides with new collages. I won’t be back at the nice printers until August. The digital to be printed” pile is growing, which means I’m not going to use any of the old images started in a little over a month. 

A broadside made from pieces left on the work table. This one is waiting to be printed. 
Yesterday I was reading a book about Robert Rauschenberg. He was given advice from Leo Castelli to save one in four paintings he made. Obviously, I’m not that good, so I don’t need to save one in four collages. For the first ten years of making things I rarely saved anything, like nothing at all. I mailed out everything! Only in the past year have I started to collect the collages that I really like, maybe one in ten or maybe one in fifteen. I put these in small binders so I can flip through them, at best they might be good reminders of what I’ve done, or ideas when I’m in a rut. This goes from the smaller ones on bingo cards to the bigger ones I put on watercolor paper and save in artist portfolios. In the back of my mind the bigger ones I’m saving for a show that’ll never happen. No one is interested in buying things, so it seems silly to try and sell them…but I have them.

The images from the photo shoot that Daniel and I did a couple months back have started to take on their own life. First, I made things from those images, but now those images are coming back to me in new contexts. They’re getting further divorced from their initial creation, which to me, is the best part of it. Someone used one of those images on the front of an envelope recently. I then scanned that image and I’m starting to use it as a jumping off point for new collages. Hopefully that image will appear elsewhere, and it’ll get altered again and again. 
The photo shoot images moving further away from their initial creation. 

I’m obsessed with making those spray-painted children’s board books. My thoughts have jumped all around with them. At first, I thought they were interesting and unique by themselves. I then made so many of them that I started to get bored with the finished result. There’s only so much you can do with stencils, spray-paint, and acrylic, I initially sent them around with the specific idea for people to add and pass them, which always returns very little results. If you tell people to add and pass them, they’ll never go anywhere. I then gave instructions that people could save them, that they were a finished thing and well…I never saw those again either. A couple have come back but dozens are still floating around. I’ve come to the realization that I just like making them, so I’m going to continue. Occasionally, a pattern will emerge that I find new and excited, which is rare, though. I just enjoy making them. Since they take weeks to complete, because I must wait days for pages to dry, I mail them in large groups. I have no idea if anyone enjoys the completed process. There’s six packaged and waiting to go right now.



Scans of some of the board books. 
And lastly, I’ve been slightly focused on cleaning up my area. Outside of summer break I don’t have much time to create so spending that time going through things is a waste of time. If I have an hour, I need to use that hour as best I can. I’ve been tossing things I can’t find any immediate use for. I’m especially focusing on tossing things that I haven’t used in years, or even ever. I know there’s things up there that I could find a use for, I just don’t want to wait for that day to come. I worry that the collection of random shit will get so out of hand that I won’t have any space to move so I’m preemptively thinning things out. 1960’s Life Magazines will always be key to the collection, Post Magazine is fine too, but Look Magazine is best.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Danny Ferguson Made Me a Model For an Hour

Periodically I’ve posted things about wanting a photographer for a photoshoot. I’ve done it online where information generally gets washed away. While a couple folks have made attempts at connecting me with photographers, nothing came of it. I know a couple great photographers but I didn’t feel comfortable asking for a favor. If someone wanted to do it, I thought they’d raise their hand. No one did for six months.

The focus of the photoshoot was me. I wanted a lot of photos of myself in different positions that I could use in artwork. The idea was to store these images and then bring them out in different contexts. It wasn’t an idea driven by vanity, it was a project driven by practicality. I can make fun of myself (which I don’t mind doing) but I can’t make fun of others. If I put myself into random scenarios printed off on pieces of cardstock or colored paper, I don’t think folks would get mad. If I took someone else’s visage, and made a critical comment about it, someone could lose the overall focus of the critique or general stupid gesture. Let’s face it, most of what I create is stupid gestures. I feel like I can make fun of myself, but I can’t make fun of others. And yes some folks might think I’m trying to promote myself (I’m not, but visibility is real) but I don’t really care. Look at me, I’m a fat almost forty-year-old, seeing me as a model is pretty funny by itself. I mean I never trained as a “teen model” but I’m one now. Fat models unite! It’s been too long that pretty people are the only ones that have been in Sears clothing ads. Down with attractive models!
Out of the blue I get a Facebook message from Danny Ferguson (photographer / tattoo artist / extremely handsome person) saying that he wanted to help me with my project. Honestly, I don’t know Danny that well. Most of what I know about him has been expressed through Andy M. and his many hetero-lifemate-love declarations. Since its Winston-Salem, and there’s about 100 weirdoes circling around one another, we both kind of know each other even if we’ve never really hung out.

I met Danny at his studio off of Sixth Street. The two of us talked a little bit about what I wanted, and we were off. When I think about the whole process, I feel like I should have been more self-conscious. I feel like I should have been nervous but I wasn’t. Getting paid to stand in front of a crowd of unhappy people and force them to do work that you judge must have something to do with it. I feel nothing when I’m in front of a class. It might also help that Danny was easygoing and professional, I could tell that he’d done this many times. He could have talked me into taking my pants off if he wanted me to but I don’t know what he would have done with those pictures.
The shoot only took about an hour. I tried to get as many possess as possible just so I could drop them into any context. It was painless and fun. After the shoot I went into his other room where he shot a quick portrait, which is part of his ongoing series. I’ve seen quite a few of these online and they look amazing. This made me a little nervous since most of his former portraits were static and serious in tone. I can’t do that. I make faces at the camera. Even the beautifully silly (and now married) Charlie Johnson struck a stoic pose. Burns embraced the power of the fight-jacket in his picture. His other subjects looked like Civil War generals dressed in contemporary clothing and I look like Nick Nolte about to say “Oh hell” to something I mildly disapprove of. I’m actually showing teeth! I wasn’t meant for the serious portrait.



A few of the sweet shots.
A week later he sent me a message saying the pictures were ready. I went back to his studio and he gave me a thumb drive of about 300 images (oh boy) in multiple formats. I went home and immediately started playing around with them.

My creative work often happens in two places. Upstairs, which is mostly on the weekends and on random computers throughout the week. I make analog collages upstairs. From there I take the scans of those collages to make into add and passes, broadsides, and various things. Most of the latter occurs when I can’t get upstairs. Upstairs time is precious. At work I can find an hour here and there to recharge my batteries and make something in between grading essays. I can do this because I can take those digitized materials anywhere and assemble them on a computer. This process has become even more involved because I now use my phone to create silly things. I work on my phone at home while I’m watching 30 Rock or Seinfeld episodes for the hundredth time. Most of this creations are basically memes, sent as personalized responses or things used in my mail art. At best I’m making digital collages on my phone. Every second of the day will be used!


Broadsides using the images.

So much thanks goes to Danny Ferguson, his amazing generosity and his immense talent. The spirit of punk rock lives. You can find Danny at his two different Instagram accounts, @inspector_kemp for tattooing and @a_star_noir for photography.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Jon Foster 10 Years of Mail-Art / Jon Held 50 Years of Mail Art

I’ve sent about 50 copies (maybe more) of my 10 Years in mail-art letter. A few more have probably seen it online through my blog. Five or six mail-artists have sent me handwritten comments (some as a piece of art) on what I wrote, most positive. Since the reason for writing the letter was to start a conversation, it was nice to see that people were interacting with my words. John Held Jr. wrote / riffed on everything I wrote. I was overwhelmed and immensely appreciative that he had done this. His responses were a lot more eloquent than mine, a lot more informative, often answering my questions. His comments were so helpful that I decided to add them here. Held’s work is in italics. If you feel so inclined, you can add your own comments to these, either in response to what I wrote or what John Held Jr. wrote. I might collect these into a zine down the line.

Jon Foster
10 Years of Mail-Art
Jon Held
50 Years of Mail Art

When I was digging on the IUOMA webpage, I noticed that I started sending mail-art (officially…does that make sense?) ten years ago. Sending mail-art has been a slowly evolving thing for me. Something I initially did sporadically began to take over more of my creative and not so creative time. The speed of the metaphorical mail-art ball rolling down hill has gained a lot of momentum in the past ten years. I can’t see the ball slowing down anytime soon. For no reason I decided to list and briefly describe some of the things I’ve learned about mail-art in my first ten years. Some of these things are utterly unimportant while others are genuine points of fascination. You’ll disagree, you’re supposed to.

I’m really glad Jon took the time to put together his thoughts on Mail Art on the anniversary of his ten years as a practitioner. I have admired his energy for a long time. I wrote him a heartfelt letter expressing my admiration, concluding that I saw in him a reflection of my younger self; passionate about the medium with the ability to see a project through to completion, a capacity to involve others and make the medium accessible. In short, I came to view Jon as a trustworthy yet self-depreciating spokesperson for a post-millennial generation of Mail Artists

Please share the things you’ve learned.

Here we go…

Warning. I am not an authority on mail-art, I simply make it. I have no point in creating this list other than eliciting discussion or a mild smirk. No one’s going to move me up the list of important mail-artists, that list was lost years ago. I’m probably not talking about you and if I am, what does it matter. I hold no PHD in mail-art, fluxus, dada, or any of the other super out there art movements you profess to love.

Well, as I said, Jon tends to be self depreciating…I never think there are better or worse, important or unimportant Mail Artists. The network is lateral not hierarchical. I take that as a given. There are only more and less active participants, and I lean towards admiration of those who stay active in Mail Art over a sustained period of time. They are important only in being exemplary. Take for example Ryosuke Cohen, who has tended his Brain Cell project for 40 years. Ryosuke is important for what he conveys to emerging Mail Artist, who may benefit from witnessing a committed artist creating a successful alternative path counter intuitive to commercial success and mainstay recognition.

No one likes add and passes but everyone makes them. For the first few years I never knew what to do with add and passes. Mostly I kept them in the envelopes, rarely adding anything to them and never moving them on. A decade later and I make a lot of them, mostly at work, and mainly because I can create them anywhere and then print them later. They’re a way for me to be creative when I’m sitting at the computer far away from my paper toys at home.  Some mail-artists have an aversion to add and passes like they have an aversion to the plague. I completely get this impulse. I get too many of them myself. Somehow I’m known as an “add and pass guy” even though I don’t care for them all that much. I’m going to keep the 4 x 4 Add and Pass going for years to come, make it a consistent thing to see how it naturally changes over time.

 In my beginning years of Mail Art (1976), Ray Johnson would write me with the admonition to “add and pass” an enclosure to another person. This threw me into a dizzy, because every missive from Johnson was precious to me. It was like an acid-test. Do you fully want to participate in the process, or not? Can you be trusted? Are you spiritually or commercially motivated? It was troubling to me, but I finally worked out a solution to my satisfaction. Perhaps as a result, I don't care very much for “add or pass” works, as well. They put undue pressure on the receiver to heed the instruction of the sender. On the other hand, they attempt to establish community in Mail Art, which I hold as a primary tenant of the medium. These days, I very rarely respond to an “add and pass.” I’m primarily an archivist these days, and I’ve resolved that it’s more important for me to collect than distribute these traces of network activity.    

There’s a real division between mail-artists and those perceived as “crafters.” Maybe this is something that’s been addressed out in the open…I don’t know. If a self-proclaimed mail-artist (not all) gets a whiff of a craft like vibe there is an immediate and silly rift that’s opened. The perception is that people who craft aren’t mail-artists, and mail-artists aren’t crafters.

Mail Art used to be an avant-garde activity –one ahead of it’s time- when Johnson popularized letter writing as an art in the 1950s, and it’s appeal became readily apparent to adventuresome artists of the era, including those in Gutai and Fluxus. The very act of mailing art bypassing the gallery and museum establishment was a cultural and political act. Cultural in that it created an international   alternative network, which gave vent to the exchange of art free from commercial consideration. Political in that it allowed Eastern European and South American artists practicing under repressive governments to vent in an uncensored community. All this to conclude, that in the formative years of Mail Art there was a conscious effort to stretch the limits of art prevalent at the time and move it in a new direction where cooperation and not competition was commonplace.

I don’t see that as the driving force of our current era. The goal of those early Mail Art pioneers has been accomplished. Has not the Internet become the new Eternal Network? E-mail has developed as our our new digital missive, capable of conveying attachments and enclosures. There are lots of postal terms that jumped into the digital pool, just as Mail Artists, many of them active in the field for thirty or forty years, have leapt into Facebook.

So, in a way, the battle has been won. It’s just that many Millennials don't realize there was a battle at all. And that’s where the craft thing comes in. I insist that Mail Art is, or at least was, a movement, like Gutai and Fluxus…or Impressionism, because it was a self-conscious community of artists engaged in a common effort. That’s why I capitalize Mail Art. I don't see it as a medium, which like painting, watercolor and sculpture, are uncapitalized. I understand that many don't see it that way. The community is now too defused to sustain global community, as it once did. There have always been networks within networks, but now there are networks within countries, or within certain communities, like visual poetry, collage, artistamp and rubber stamp producers that don't interact with one another. The focus is on the object, not the motive, and that I believe is the difference that divides.    

Not enough people use color paper. I love color. I use color paper. People make things in color so why not use color paper.

Europe has bigger paper than the U.S. This is not an issue, not one that matters at all. Bigger European paper annoys me because of my interest in organization mainly because the paper won’t fit on the plastic sheets I’ve already purchased. If I buy new plastic sheets to protect the paper then I’ll need to buy new folders to put them in. To me, someone who likes things nice and neat, this is an utter idiotic nightmare.

I’ll pass on the color paper issue. Each to his own. But let’s not blame the Europeans for the difference in paper size. After all, we Americans are the one’s going against the grain in our insistence to disregard the global metric standard. I must admit it’s a bit of a pain boxing Mail Art in legal rather than standard form, which takes up needed space. However, I find this only mildly problematic, as most foreign exchanges are comfortably ensconced in envelopes that neatly tuck in file folders, into which they are sorted for storage.

I’m impatient in life but patient in mail-art. I’ll randomly receive a postcard or a letter from someone on the other side of the earth. It’ll take me a few weeks to make a mark in my book and then another few weeks to mail a response. When I mail collaborative books out to folks I have no timetable of when they should come back.  Rarely do they come back anyway. Nothing is ever urgent. This approach is the exact opposite of every minute of my waking life. Every minute of my day is broken into an hour block, or a twenty minute block, or five minute block. With mail-art it’ll happen when it happens.

 This is such an important life lesson. The lessons learned from our Mail Art activities can carry over and improve our personal life. The fact that Jon has learned it so early, speaks well for him. I started in art many years ago to change myself. Modeling myself after alchemists of yore, I sought not only the creation of a masterwork, but a concurrent inner transformation. In brief, I believe the act of creation, has outward and inward consequences. My mother called me, “Mr. Instant Gratification,” and she had every right to. When I want it, I want it now. My first forays into art - simple black and white lines in pen and ink - were intended to slow me down, taking me out of temporal life, focusing on the creation of a work over multiple months. I’m still impatient, but I have learned much from my life in Mail Art. Foremost is never expect anything in return and be happy with what you receive. I have many correspondents who write back immediately, and some who resurface after many years. It’s all part of the magic. Those are blessed who sit and wait…and don’t expect too much.

New mail-artists want to know the second you received their mail. Folks new to the game have a slight worry to their approach. I don’t think I’ve ever received a message of concern about a piece sent from someone who’s made mail-art for a while. Not that they don’t care about their creations, it might simply be the lack of preciousness related to the creation. Some things just don’t arrive and you have to get used to that.

I think I’ve covered this in the above. I try to be patient with correspondents new to Mail Art. First off, I always respond. I remember my own early years in the field and my disappointment in not hearing back from someone I admired. But mostly, I did hear back, and that was encouraging. You always have to remember that you can never fully understand a particular person’s circumstances on any given day, so don’t even try to understand why this or that item of Mail Art arrives late or not at all. I interviewed Lawrence Ferlinghetti (it's the poet’s 100th birthday today as I write this), who told me he would sometimes publish a book and never hear anything about it again - no reviews, never mentioned in conversation, as if evaporated. If that can happen to Ferlinghetti, it can happen to you. The trick is not to let it show you down when it happens. 

 Mail-art O.G.’s tend to test the newbies. In my first few years of sending, I only thought of this as a theory. The longer you’re involved the more people know you and the more lists you end up on. Because of this you get a mild reputation as being one of the “mail-art tent poles.” While I’m not the first, second, third, or even fourth generation of mail-artists, I get it. So often you send to folks that quickly disappear. While it’s bad mojo, I often send these folks broadsides or add and passes as my first bit of communication-something easy for me to make. On the second time around they’ll get a collage. I have no way of knowing this is what the OG’s automatically do, but I feel like it happened to me, and I feel like I do it as well. It takes time to build trust.

It does take time to build trust, but I assume that if a person who I don't know gets in touch with me, I owe him or her the respect of a response. Often times, I never hear from the person again. It may have just been a Mail Art trial run, or they may not have liked my response. That’s their business. I’m too busy with the next correspondent eliciting my attention. I think Jon is overthinking his response to newbies. I never think of my works as precious, so I don't dole them out to this one or that one. I usually have a pile of mail in front of me to respond to, and I rubber stamp the envelopes all the same way, enclose a similar stampsheet, zine, or news item…and a personal letter. The missive can be a quick thank you, or an extended personal conversation with an old correspondent. That’s the trust thing. But as to blessing some with this, while other mere mortals get that, I mean, you send what you think is appropriate. It’s a community and not a caste system.

The cities don’t seem to be the places where mail-art gets made. San Francisco is a big city with a lot of mail-artists, but it doesn’t seem proportionate. I would figure I’d get more stuff from NYC or LA but that isn’t the case. It seems the country tends to produce more mail-artists than the densely populated cities. Maybe it’s the space needed or resources, I don’t know, but mail-art doesn’t feel like a “city thing.”

The Mail Art community in San Francisco has thinned out in recent years. In the early 1970s it was a hotbed of activity, alive with the antics of Bay Area Dada. Nowadays, San Francisco has its fair share of Mail Artists, as does New York City, but the vast majority of Mail Artists operate away from the City Center. When I came of age as an artist in 1970s Utica, New York, a dying mill town in Central New York State, I was invigorated by learning about Mail Art. I had no other friends who were as devoted to contemporary art as I was. It was lonely. But I found a way to reach out to others across geographical, cultural, linguistic and political divides to come in contact with other like minded artists that preferred operating away from the mainstream and were active in forming an alternative means to express and communicate with one another. Let’s face it, art is a cult with its own terminology and group believes. You have to search far and wide to find like-minded spirits. In the larger cities, artists can find a multitude of other artists. These urban artists don't have the driving need to connect, as those in the hinterlands must to keep abreast of current happenings in the field. I have always enjoyed the hunt. Foraging abroad for correspondents has broadened me, more so perhaps, then the sophisticated market-driven unban artist, who doesn’t look beyond his front porch.

Mail-artists are old.  I think the biggest problem facing the community is that most of the members and almost all of the figurative leaders, (spokespeople?) are older. Being creative and making great work has no age requirement, but for the health of this whole thing I wonder if we aren’t doing enough to encourage younger folks who’ll push it forward. In a decentralized community this work (I’m sure it happens) goes unnoticed.

Mail Artist are old. I was in my 20s when I started, and I persisted in the field. It became a part of me. Who I was. Who I am. If you have the affliction, as many do in Mail Art, it’s hard to tear yourself away from some folks that have seen you through the decades. That’s why we hang around. It’s an Art Thing, and it’s a Life Thing. In Mail Art, the curtain between Art and Life has been torn asunder. But there is always new growth. Alongside the New York Correspondence School of Ray Johnson came the Eternal Network of Robert Filliou, who foresaw that in an era of information overload, no one person could fully grasp the situation, and that a group effort was needed in truly informed creation. This correspondence community was composed of those coming and going, a core group remaining to impart the past to those entering. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy that has endured. Mail Art has proved Eternal…at least it has survived the Internet. Seems stronger then ever, with more information about it then ever spread in digital form. Attracting new adherents doesn’t seem a problem. With the spread of information about Mail Art on the Internet, more people will take it in different directions, unseen by most, using the postal system in creative ways that currently elude us.

Brazilians are motivated. I set up this silly blog to have an easy to find database for mail-artists’ addresses. (https://mailmesomethingart.blogspot.com) The folks that jumped on the opportunity were overwhelmingly from Brazil. I began to look through my book and noticed page after page contained addresses from Brazil. Hell yeah Brazil, send that shit.

Brazil has been active in Mail Art for a long time, and is only getting more active because some of the pioneers in Brazilian Mail Art, notably Paulo Bruscky, are enjoying attention from museums internationally. An examination of Braziallian Mail Art could be particularly interesting in contrasting mail Art practice in the former times of repressive government and a more tolerant current political climate. It’s interesting that you single out Brazil as a particularly active country engaged in Mail Art, as I’ve always found Italy to be a major player in the field. The United States in the past as been by far the largest contributor to international Mail Art, but now with networks within networks, the true size of the correspondence community is all but unknowable. 

Where are the Chinese? If I play armchair diplomat here, I can guess why the Chinese aren’t present but that doesn’t seem to be the whole story. It could be the lack of a proper ambassador that’s keeping them from joining en mass? VPN’s exist. Tons of Chinese have cash to use on things like stamps and UHU glue sticks. While I’ve thought about looking into this more, it seems like a useless endeavor all by myself. If I’m basically pissing into the wind with most of my projects, I imagine sending a few cards to select art museums and groups in China would be utterly useless. Who can we send over to rally the paper cutting troops?

This problem is not addressed often enough. Not only in the matter of Chinese participation, but with cross-cultural communication in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa. Sporadic attempts have been made to open these countries to Mail Art, mostly by Europeans or Americans that have been based in these areas. The Internet has opened these areas more than previously, but I see very little penetration. That is worrisome for a movement that touts an international or global network of artists. Mail Art was a pathfinder in cross cultural communication and collaboration, but lacks the interaction of a large section of the planet in becoming a truly worldwide community. There was a situation like this in earlier days of Mail Art when the Soviet Union was still in power. Little interaction between Eastern European and Russian artist was occurring, nevermind between Russian and Western. Surprisingly, in the later decades of Soviet rule, Eastern Europe enjoyed a healthy climate for Mail Art and correspondence flowed freely between American, Western and Eastern European Mail Artists. In the late 1980s, cracks in the Soviet correspondence curtain appeared, begun by Yugoslavian artists who began receiving work from Russian artists for their periodicals. Once their addresses were listed alongside European and American contributors, they became highly desired correspondents. Like samizdat publications, Mail Art became clandestinely disseminated both domestically and abroad, assisted by stringent international postal regulations requiring free access. Today we see inklings of Turkish and Malaysian Mail Art. We are a thermometer of global politics, just as previously Mail Art was a harbinger of the Internet.

Unsolicited mail-art rarely gets answered. I know I know…the idea of the gift is often central to mail-art even if that gift is mystifying and incoherent. While I like this idea of the gift and subscribe to this idea (mostly) I can only support it so far. This past year I got a PO BOX just so I could send items that might feel like an intrusion for the average person. Nothing offensive, nothing bad, just maybe a little too random for most folks. My favorite activity was to send mail-art to a whole building in Chicago. A couple friends who’d been there earlier in the year loved the building, made the suggestion. I sent to everyone in the building. I got nothing back. I sent to art museums all over the country and to ones just across town, nothing. I sent on the behalf of friends and to people who said they were interested in making things, nothing. I set up a “school” of N.C. mail-artists, sent out three or four times to the twelve people who said they were interested, but never saw any work produced. The invisibility does kill me sometimes. While I’m trying to help motivate people, stimulate conversation, and simply say hello…stamps are fucking expensive. The only pieces of unsolicited mail I sent that someone responded to came from a person I super admire at Dischord Records. His work was great. I continued to send to him (we’re talking about Ian, here) after getting that card in the mail. A one percent response rate isn’t that bad, right. I know many more looked at the mail for a while completely dumbfounded. I should have put a camera on the outside of the letter.

Ferlinghetti’s remarks, at the end of our interview, as he signs a book for me, bears repeating:

“We’ll I’m glad you have this one [The Secret Meaning of Things, New Directions, 1966]. You know, it’s surprising. You publish a book of poetry and it’s like dropping it off a cliff and waiting for the echo. I’ve published some books of poetry and never heard a word, didn’t get any reviews, and no one ever said anything to me about the book. Really.”

If Ferlinghetti can get through rejection, so should you or I. Anything you put out before the public is a crapshoot, and sometimes no one knows you’re throwing. The trick is to keep pitching, because perhaps someone someday will notice, making the whole endeavor worthwhile. Meanwhile, I applaud your creative approach to extending the absurdity of Mail art to others. Your apartment mail bombardment scheme was especially striking, because it is eerily similar to an old Fluxus stunt pulled off in Community Czechoslovakia by Milan Knizck in the 1960s. I remember you were trying to recruit a North Carolina Correspondence School on Facebook. Such a noble effort (really). People like to receive mail, but have trouble sending mail. For some reason, it intimidates many. They aren’t in the habit of writing, and it becomes something put off and then forgotten. There aren’t a lot of consistent Mail Artists in the world, because it entails incorporating the activity into your daily lifestyle. Like exercise. It doesn’t really improve you, if you don't adopt it as a lifestyle regime. That’s bothersome for most.  

Every “civilian” is intrigued by the phrase “mail-art.” When someone mentions in mixed company that you make mail-art, a certain group of people perk up. It’s novel enough for people to want to ask about, but never clear enough for people to stay interested through a two minute conversation. If they’re being polite I just tell them I “make postcards” and then mail them to strangers. If they look interested I’ll dive deeper which will almost illicit a blank expression within seconds. I tell them to give me their address and I’ll demonstrate what I mean. I mail them something and inevitably get no response. I’d rather spend 50 cent on sending them something they don’t care about then having to lecture for three minutes to wondering eyes.

I love the word civilian in regard to those outside the field. I often use it myself, and the fact that Jon uses it as well only draws me closer to him in solidarity. For those of us in the trenches, slogging through global correspondence on a steady basis, we can only feel estranged from others that fail to carry the burden (time, postage, storage) we are laden with. Invariably, whenever I comment that I’m a Mail Artist, I have to follow with “m a i l artist, not m a l e artist.” That’s where the confusion begins, but it’s only a beginning. People just don't seem to get it, because I fear, one rarely writes letters anymore. It seems so anachronistic. Rather then promise to write them, I usually hand them my card and tell them to write me and I’ll respond. That usually weeds out those that are confused or uninterested and signals those that are curious enough to get involved.

Mail artists need to get over their infatuation with Ray Johnson. Yes, Ray Johnson is important but we don’t need to keep copying him. The infatuation with his work is great to ignite the spark (that’s what happened to me when I watched How to Draw a Bunny) but we have to move away from it. Cultivating your own perspective is a must. Less bunnies more belt sanders.

I began to write about Mail Art, because in the 1970s, hardly anyone else was. The steady drumbeat then was Johnson, Johnson…Johnson. I was an admirer, a correspondent, and had met and interviewed him, but I also saw the field as broader than just his involvement. I also met George Maciunas, and I recognized the importance of Fluxus, so I began to throw that into the historical mix I was developing. But it was not to diminish Johnson, who I still have the greatest respect for. He remains an artist’s artist, who set me on a fifty-year path. Usually, as an artist matures, he tends to kill off his heroes in an attempt to supersede the master. One moves forward with the weight of giants on their shoulders. But I’ve never seen the necessity to slough off Johnson. He owns a unique place in the field’s history, which cannot be denied. But by all means, put him in perspective, take from him what you will, and progress forward. We sit on the shoulders of giants in the beginning, and as we mature as artist, we jump off and run on ahead, our ambition outstriping our gratitude.  

I still don’t know what Fluxus means. Mail-artists tend to wean themselves off of Ray Johnson by continually printing / shouting Fluxus over and over again. I still don’t know what it means even after reading a couple books about some of its more famous proponents. I know it involves hats of some kind.

One of my main correspondents in the 1980s and 1990s was Japanese Mail Artist, Shozo Shimamoto. In the mid 1950s, he was a member of the Gutai art group from the Osaka area, which has come to be recognized as a formidable presence in the art of their time. But there had been little written about the group in English, and it still remained a mystery to me. It was not until years later (2011) that an important book was published by Ming Tiampo, Gutai: Decentering Modernism, when I finally “got it.” All good things come to those who wait, and the answer is usually found at an appropriate stage in one’s development. Fluxus has many facets to recommend it as an area of study. It was a diverse group geographically that required correspondence between far-flung members. It was within Fluxus that artist postage stamps were first consistently issued as an art form. Conceptual postcards were developed (Vautier’s “Postman’s Choice”). Rubber stamps rose above the level of childhood play toys, to become the carriers of ideas. The problem with understanding Fluxus, is that it has been muddied by contrasting theories arguing that the movement was either a historical art movement, or an ongoing art attitude. The ongoing use of the term Fluxus in contemporary activity sullies the reputation of the original, exaggerating the importance of those who banter about the name as currently avant-garde to bolster their own importance. Yes, Fluxus was avant-garde…but seventy years ago. Those who tout Fluxus as contemporary are doomed to repeat the past, and they do so at the expense of making Fluxus seem frivolous. I have to bear some responsibility for the wearing of hats in the name of Fluxus, since Gaglione and I performed as the Fake Picabia Brothers wearing derbies to replicate a Macuinas trademark, and that has carried over to retro practitioners. Fluxus was often silly, but there was something more behind it…a strategy to democratize elitist art. Neo-Fluxus is just silly.          

It’s great to put a face to the name. While communication through the network is expected, the point even, there’s only so much you can learn from cryptic messages, rubber stamps, and short salutations. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a few folks I’ve corresponded with. I’ve met György Galántai in Hungary, Katerina Nikoultsou and Chorianopoulou Maria in Greece, Allan Bealy in New Orleans, and Richard C. at various storage units in Thomasville and Charlotte North Carolina. In Charlotte I got to meet Marla Kittler when we dug through Richard’s archives. In saying hello their artwork makes more sense, their mythology a little easier to understand. I hope to add more to this list.

I have always thought of Mail Art as a community, and there is no better way to test the proposition than to confront those with whom one has been corresponding. Meeting one’s correspondents is a good way to test the strength of the network. This was occurring as early as the 1970s, when Dana Atchely began delivering his assembling, “Space Atlas,” to contributors across the United States by van. Meeting one’s correspondence became more memorable in 1986 when Swiss artists Fricker and Rüch convened a Decentralized Worldwide Networker Congress, cajoling Mail Artists to meet, discuss the state of Mail art and report their conclusions to the organizers, who then issued a final Congress statement. It can be seen as an early form of digital “crowdsourcing.” The floodgates opened and meeting correspondents became another component of the networking experience. German Mail Artist Peter Küstermann, became a traveling Networker Postman delivery mail from correspondent to correspondent. I have taken it upon myself to meet many of my correspondents. Sometimes the venture leads to new and exciting developments, and sometimes to leads to a dead end. It’s important to test one’s community. Mail Art is not a dream. It’s a reality. One way to make it genuine is progressing beyond correspondence to actual corresponding.  

Confusion equals art, I guess. I’ve been brainstorming things throughout the week, just writing whatever came to my mind. “Confusion equals art” is something I wrote even if I’m not sure what it means. It feels profound but I doubt it is. I have nothing to follow up with.

 I’ve got a few things to follow up on…As an emerging artist, working with video art the time in my capacity as a public librarian, I ran across a quote by (sometimes Fluxus) artist Nam June Paik, who when asked, “What exactly are your principles,” replied, “Actually, I have no principles. I go where the empty spaces are.” In an interview, I described the importance this had on my future outlook as an artist:

I was a young artist and I was struggling to find myself. How could I advance the course of art? How was I going to make a difference? I thought it necessary to come up with a philosophy or set of principles that would push the art of my time forward. I was 22. How could I come up with these principles? How was I going to knock the socks off the art establishment? There was just no way, but that’s what you do when you’re young. You ask questions, as if there are answers.

Then along comes Nam June Paik who says that he doesn’t have any principles, and he just goes where there’s empty spaces – and my life was a complete open space – empty place – at that period in my life, so that’s where I went – towards the open spaces. When I first found out about Mail Art, it wasn’t established practice, but I picked up on it right away, because I knew it was the place – it was the empty space that I could pour myself into.

I believe my “empty space” is your “confusion.” I think if you discover there’s no singular path in art; that it occurs everywhere and nowhere, that it’s fleeting and elusive and confusing to contemplate. That’s probably a good thing. No set expectations. No rules to follow. Meaning and no meaning. Ray Johnson dwelled on the nothing. But conversely, there is a something. Walking the path between them is confusing, empty…and profoundl.

 There’s a real division between mail-artists and those that call themselves “collagists. Theirs a pecking order, it goes from crafters to mail-artists to collagists. People who call themselves collagists only seem to dabble in mail-art, but mail-artists often make collages. I was once told that “mail art is ephemera” and while I agree with that, so are the creations made by collagists. The only different might be the quality of paper they put their collage on, and whether or not they’re “serious” enough to sell it. When there’s so little at stake, I guess people want to make sure their perspective is given enough space. Maybe the difference is just ambition.

There used to be (perhaps still is) a division within rubber stamp art aficionados between “cute” and “weird.” Most Mail Art fell into the weird category. The two didn’t communicate well with one another, and there were always magazine letters to the editor touting this or that position. Two separate camps using the same medium. The same is true of collage artists. One camp is in the fine art realm, the other tending toward alternative art. there are to different motivations at work. The commercial camp wants to make a living, or a name, in art. The other team knows that this is a pipedream, that if sales occur, they are fleeting, and once prominence obtained, meaningless. Ambition can be found on either side – one always wants to outfox the mortal coil. The difference is motivation: cooperation or competition, fame or fortune, communication or solitary endeavor, studio art or global mailstream, contribution or commerce…cute or weird.  

Richard Canard’s example has guided me. The second or third person that ever sent me a piece of mail-art was Richard. He was encouraging and kind from the start when he didn’t need to be. For four or five years I didn’t make anything that was worthy of praise. Over time I learned that he was born in the same county as me in North Carolina. We had coffee one day. A few times I’ve helped him do a little rearranging at his storage units in North Carolina. Once he dropped off stuff at my house in Winston-Salem without ringing the doorbell. (I always try to not get caught when delivering to friends front doors). He gave me a lot of his old artworks as well as materials and most importantly, insight. He’d tell stories about this person or that person, what he did at SECCA, and a lot about his process of making things. He assumed you knew a lot and engaged you. In looking at his posts on the IUOMA site, I’ve noticed he’s extended that kindness and insight to everyone he interacts with and he sends to everyone. He sends to the new folks that have just started and those that have been around since the 70’s. He’s humble and kind and genuinely interested in the creative world around him. He’s my mail-art mentor.

You were lucky to find richard. He was one of my first correspondents, as well. Ray Johnson must have drawn my attention to him. He was a huge and early Johnson supporter, putting on, Correspondence: An Exhibition of the Letters of Ray Johnson, at the North Carolina Museum of Art in 1976.

He sent mainly postcards back then, as he does still. I put together an exhibition of his “Poetry Postcards” at my Modern Realism Gallery in Dallas sometime in the 1980s. I’m a great admirer of his work and respect him as much as anyone in the field…for his work, longevity, and character. You must have done something right in a past life to draw the attention and friendship of richard. Treasure the privilege.

There are too many nicknames, it’s confusing! I have a small list of human names (maybe an alias) and the nicknames that go with them in my neatly organized address book. More than once I’ve noticed I’ve sent things to a human name only to confirm it was a nickname months later. I bombed them with the same stuff for months.  I’ve got an alias now so I’m part of the problem too.

For the sake of privacy, certain correspondents like to cover their tracks by using a post office box to disguise their living arrangements and personal life. Femail artists may want conceal their gender to deflect unwanted sexual attention, or just to level the playing field in a male dominated field. Artist who model their postal routines after bureaucratic entities, such as the Guy Bleus Administration Centre 42.292 in Belgium, both satirize and acknowledge institutional conservatism. Canadian and Lower East Side graffitist Richard Hambleton’s R. Dick Trace It alias, adds an additional layer of confusion/mystery to an enigmatic laden artist. So, there are many reasons to develop an alternative persona in Mail Art. It usually sorts itself out, the correspondent dropping pretense, if the artist sticks around long enough. 

The most distinctive mail-artists are the ones I can identify just by looking at their work while it’s sitting in my mail-box. My mailbox has a metal flap at the top. Whenever the postal carrier drops the mail in, they usually shut the flap.  Whey they don’t I can see the very top of the envelopes when I unlock my door. If I can tell who the mail is just by the very tip of the letter then that person is onto something.

John Cage always asserted that having a style limited one’s ability to grasp things outside their normal range. And that’s true, witness my fondness for “empty spaces” and going beyond the known. But it’s very difficult to shrug off time worn practice, creating a series of works that look similar. Sometimes this is unconscious. And sometimes it’s very difficult to recognize style at all, until you receive a multitude of works from a singular artist over time. When gathered together in an archive, one witnesses the overarching design of the artist, as no individual piece can. But your right, some people have created their very own distinctive look…if only by using the same stationary over and over again (for example, Ryosuke Cohen’s Brain Cell). A postcard by Padin, a sticker ridden envelope by the Sticker Dude, a painted one by Ruud Janssen, a stampsheet by Darlene Altschul, poetry by John Bennett. All unmistakable.  

There are a lot of inactive mail-artists that love getting mail without reciprocating. “Get as good as you receive” I’ve been told, but I’ve also noticed a lot of folks with names that pop up over and over again that rarely send mail out, or at least not to me. Often these folks are the most vocal proponents for mail-art. I guess if you get to a certain plateau you can only send to select folks and still have a lot of new items in your mailbox. From my list of about four or five people (it’s a small list) I try and mail something once a year to provoke a response. Year after year I get nothing back. A few of these names are cheerleaders for this whole thing, active commentators.

 I sent you a letter and didn’t receive a response until four months later I received your 10 Years in Mail-Art. Do I hold a grudge?...no. I discussed the idea of never expecting anything in return. You have to live by the creed and die by it. Who knows why these people don’t write back? They’re out of it. It’s getting too expensive for them. Maybe they only have a list of four or five people they correspond with…and you’re not on it. Family has finally come first. They don’t do add & pass, mail art shows, or assemblings. There’s no end to the reasons that restrict one’s correspondence. Mail art is an art of no rules, but if there was one, it would be, “To get mail, you have to send mail.” It’s really as simple as that. Never expect someone to contact you out-of-the-blue. Nice when it happens, but unlikely. You need to stimulate a response if you are entering into a network by putting out a lot of signals. Messages in a bottle. But by all means, impose on those unlikely to mind that you have done so. Granted, I have my limits. If I had the courage to do so, I’d write Jasper Johns. But what good would it do? He has no idea where I’m coming from, and I have no idea where he’s at. It’s a no win situation for both of us, so I don’t initiate it. You have to remember that some of these “active commentators” you cite, may have an active correspondence with literally hundreds of artists around the world. It’s difficult to respond to that amount of people in the individual fashion that a continuing personal relationship requires. It’s not as easy as blasting out an email with an attachment to 200 of your closest friends. This is analog, my friend. Here’s a little trick: I always respond to a handwritten or typed letter from a new correspondent. If you’re only enclosing an add & pass in an envelope, with a photocopied this or that, without any accompanying personalization, expecting it to be acted upon…I am hesitant to respond. I usually do anyway, but with a grimace.

The USPS has made it difficult to send packages out of the country. Prices for US postage goes up all the time. Just this week (starting January 28th 2019) domestic stamps went from 50 cents to 55. Not terrible, much better than most of the rest of the world. International stamp prices are still at 1.15, which isn’t bad either. Packages are out of fucking control. Every time I make add and pass books or something similar, I have to send the smaller ones overseas. A six page board book costs about ten dollars to send out of the country. While I still do this sometimes, I have to limit what I send and package things as lightly as possible. Because of the pricing I end up sending less adventurous mail out of the country.

I share your pain. I live on air, and increasing postal rates makes it hard to breath. Never mind the packages. I’ve curtailed most of them. Letters abroad are well over a dollar these days. Even the friggin’ postcards. It’s just not cheap anymore, and that’s why it gets harder and harder to maintain a large international network. Corresponding domestically, and not internationally, is an easy choice to make when the cost is so high. And anyway, you can go back and forth with another artist from another country for free on the Internet. Mail Art anticipated the Internet, but it did not anticipate that it would become a disruptive agent pricing one out of the field. Mail Artists are the taxi drivers of the Internet’s rideshare. 

Definitive statements about mail-art are met with sturdy resistance. Don’t write about mail-art, don’t talk about mail-art, and don’t have a sense of humor about mail-art…unless you’re sending mail-art, then you have to. Say nothing that might implicate you in the understanding of sending or receiving art through the mail.

I really appreciate these sentiments, because I’ve been dealing and wondering about them for forty years. Mail Art has a long history of being written about. I wrote a 500 page book on the subject (Mail Art: An Annotated Bibliography). At first, it was mainly mainstream yet unorthodox art critics writing about Ray Johnson and his activities. William Wilson became a big supporter of Johnson in the 1960s and became the go-to writer in the field. In the early 1970s, Canadian art collective General Idea began the publication of FILE, which opened the floodgates to Mail Artists commentating on their practice. Much writing occurred in exhibition catalogs, which were becoming popular in the late 1970s & 80s (see my other book, International Artist Cooperation, Mail Art Shows, 1970 – 1985). Most of it was pat-you-on-the-back stuff. Never too critical. There were exceptions, of course. With no one from the mainstream paying attention, Mail Artists took it upon themselves to form their own history. As par, this met with some resistance, as the democratic nature of the medium dissuaded amateur historians from naming names at the expense of another. Mail Art celebrity was not only a dirty word; it was unspeakably pornographic. And one did write about Mail Art, they quickly disappeared, driven from the fold by angry dissent. Part of being a non-fiction writer is being able to bear the slings and arrows of those left out of the narrative. All “definitive statements” regarding Mail art, should be met with resistance. Because there is no definitive statement. I have always found that when one attempts to describe Mail Art, they are invariably describing their own interest in the field.

Microsoft Paint is enough for me. While I don’t use too many digital tools I do use Paint. I’ve tried the others and they seem too hard. I like Paint, it’s easy and trashy and barebones like my postcards and broadsides. The early punk kids making flyers for house shows didn’t have a lot of tools so why do I need them?

As far as graphics go, I’m analog, not digital. Punk kids had paper, scissors, glue and a knack for finding cheap or free places to photocopy. Throw in a rubber stamp or two, and I’m set. 

I’ve only stopped sending to one person on principal. Whatever people create I’m happy to receive, that’s them, that’s their creation. It was the mildly shady behavior that bothered me. I’d mail something relatively expensive for a project and then they’d tell me they didn’t want to do it anymore. This happened twice in quick succession. I stopped sending things to them.

I’ve rarely stopped sending on principal. I stop, because others stop sending to me. I reply to what comes in. That’s enough to keep me occupied. What I object to (on principal) are current mail art calls wanting your physical art work for exhibition, and in return, post your contribution on the Internet. If nothing else, it shows very little commitment on the part of the organizer in comparison to former curators of yore, who had to secure a venue, send out invitations, install a show, and produce a free catalog sent to participants. Current digital practice is disruptive – cheaper, more efficient – but lacking warmth, which limits my participation. This is old people talk, only because I’ve seen such beautiful documentation produced in the past, which doesn’t happen anymore, and I miss it. If organizers of exhibitions want your physical work, they should produce physical documentation. If it’s a purely digital show (contributed digitally, acknowledged digitally), so be it for those who know no better.

Mexican addresses are long. Nothing more to say about this.

Japanese addresses are long. They insist on street address, city, county (prefecture), region (which most don’t require), country, and zip code.

The proclamations of mail-arts death are numerous. Someone seems to make this statement frequently; something to the effect that mail-art is dead or has recently died. Every now and again you’ll see a post saying that it’s been dead for some time and even give the date it left this earth. Who cares? The proclamations always come from people that want things to stay the same as when they first encountered them.  Of course it’s changed, of course it’s morphed in order to keep people excited in it but that doesn’t mean that it’s dead. How could something die that has no proper tether to any ideology? It if dies it then could easily be resurrected with some glue sticks, bits of found paper, and a stamp.

They didn’t nickname Mail Art the Eternal Network for nothing. Mail Art was more than a postal possibility, it was a cultural strategy that linked an international brotherhood of artists forsaking commercial reward and mainstream attention. There was always someone stopping (or dying) and someone newly entering the field, a core group remaining to impart what went on before. I couldn’t agree more with Jon on that Mail Art is in flux. That’s not a bad thing, it's a creative process of continual renewal. Artists are rarely understood by “civilians” and have come to rely on associated artists linked by post and the Internet. When a practitioner of Mail Art announces that Mail Art is dead, the self-reflexive proclamation is often a cry for help, subconsciously asking the network for a good reason to continue.

Mail-art feeds into my thrift store obsession. Before I became super engaged in making mail-art, I had a thrift store addiction.  Mostly I bought various forms of media and the super fashionable threads I wear on my back. It was an obsession but a limited one. Now that I’m constantly looking for materials for all sort of current projects, anything that looks usable ends up coming with me.  I’m at thrift stores three or four times a week. The loot ends up in my car, gets dragged to the foot of my stairs, and then neatly organized into random piles upstairs where I make stuff. Sometimes it gets dragged back downstairs and around to the garage where I paint it, sometimes quickly, and sometimes over a period of weeks. All of it ends up getting placed in piles to be mailed out, and then it goes out, either with a stamp or metered. And then, like clockwork, I go back to the thrift store to start the process all over again.

Artists are hunters and pickers, always obsessed by one thing or another, winding up with way too much of whatever it is they’re tracking down. Then the question becomes: are you a collector or a hoarder? For several years, I was painting, and I’d haunt Goodwill for their frames. Original framing is expensive! I’d take out and replace, or paint over, whatever was in the frame. Eventually, I had a show titled, “Goodwill,” where each the works were priced at the cost I paid form the frame. We’re talking works that were priced at $1.99 or $9. 57. It was a conceptual thrift store thing. 

Cool post-office workers. I know one super cool post-office worker. Every time I end up in her line we chat about the stamps on the front of my packages, what’s inside, and what new things she can expect to see. She’s nice and seems genuinely interested. She recently told me that she accidently overcharged me a dollar and twenty cents on postage from a visit I made weeks before. She saved it, but couldn’t find it. The other two could care less, just more work. The folks who deliver to my mailbox change so often that I don’t have a report with them.

I had a postal clerk take out a magnifying glass the other day to get a closer look at an artistamp on the envelope of outgoing mail (along with official postage). She’s always interested and supportive and especially coos over my rubber stamps. I’ve had postal clerks cancel fake stamps for me. I have less interaction with postal carriers, since I have a mailbox to receive Mail Art. I just get bills at home. I was in Washington, D. C. in the Fall of 2018, and I met the Director of the National Postal Museum. He didn’t know jack about Mail Art, but I did my best to inform him, sending him some mail when I returned home. I support the postal workers! Sometimes, they support you.      

Popping up in a show is always a nice surprise. Rarely do I remember sending stuff for shows. I send it and forget it. I almost always avoid the ones with themes since I can never think of anything clever enough. Months later, after everything has been scanned and shared and people have looked at things, I’ll get a notice. My name will be in a long list of mail-artists, mostly as a tag on Facebook. I inevitably think to myself, “Oh yeah, I sent them something.” The show in Ukraine in that small windowless concrete barn was the coolest.

The lag time between sending a piece of work to a show and receiving documentation, is usually so long that it doesn’t pay to keep track of it. I know some who do, writing on the (paper) invitation the date they send off their contribution, and checking it off if and when acknowledgement arrives. I’ve made my thoughts on digital Mail Art shows clear earlier. I don’t send attachments to them, and I’m not impressed by the documentation. But when a nice printed catalog is produced, I take notice. On my resume, I list group shows, including Mail Art exhibitions that produce accompanying catalogs. All other shows that I never hear back from, or merely sending a postcard thanking you for your participation, or worse yet, notifying you that your work has been posted on the Internet (with or without ever being exhibited in public), counts as unwarranted exercise.   

 People love telling me ways I can monetize my work. 90% of everything I’ve made in the past ten years I’ve mailed away. Once in a while I’ll have things that I don’t mind selling. Sometimes I’ll put specific prices on collages / prints/ or canvases but most of the time I let the person decide their price. Trying too hard to make money takes away from the precious time I have to create. If I wanted to be a businessman I wouldn’t have started in this direction in the first place. I just don’t want to spend time trying to sell things; all my attempts to sell are half-hearted. My goal is to create and share. If I can make money to fund other projects, then I’ll go for it…with fleeting energy.

Amen.

That pointing hand rubberstamp is overused. You know that one? Yeah, you do…its overused!

But classic evoking the postal thing…

Not having physical evidence of years spent making terrible things is wonderful. It took me a long time to make something I thought was interesting. I didn’t go to art school. I didn’t draw things in notebooks when I was a kid. Any technique I have I randomly stumbled across it. I have no art making vocabulary. The tape-rip-method happened by accident one day. Making transfers in the sink happened the same way, by accident. Years of terrible mail-art is sitting in someone else’s house, thankfully.

I’ve never taken a studio art lesson in my life (except for high school, where like gym, I liked it for giving me a break from other classes). I took one introductory art history class in college. My earliest art wasn’t produced to be seen by anyone but me, done only to see what it felt like to be an artist by testing the waters. I did show a work here or there in an exhibit or two, only because I thought that’s what artists do. Mail Art came to me by accident. Seems like most things happen to me by accident, synchronicity, or fate. I still have works I did from those early years. I look at them as signposts along the trail. All my early Mail Art is dispersed, none of it likely to surface. There is no such thing as terrible Mail Art, because it’s a process, not an object, and the more you participate, you can only improve yourself and the work.

Mail-art is my punk rock. Punk rock is all about the creator’s noise and their passion they put behind it. Punk rock is about building community and finding a way to be creative while doing it, which to me, is the most exciting aspect of mail-art.

Punk is definitely a good starting point for Mail Art activity. It’s DIY music, just as Mail Art is DIY art. As you point out, it’s about finding compatible community, feeling part of a group, and creating with and learning from one another. My entry point was doing archival work for the Oneida Community, which was one of many intentional religious communities (Shakers, Mormons, Brotherhood of the New Life) located in Upstate New York in the mid 19th century. After a period of time, a Mansion House was built for the community housing some 300 men, women and children. I had unlimited access to their printing history, and spent a number of years archiving, lecturing, and exhibiting their history. Then I found out about Mail Art. Oneida Community was built through potential candidates keeping in touch with community leaders by correspondence and receiving Community newspapers. When I found out about Mail Art, I put it all together: a healthy interest and historical knowledge in intentional communities, with a contemporary manifestation of global cultural interconnection, which I could both afford and use as an outlet for my creativity. My friendship with Ray Johnson was based on this. At the heart of his practice, Ray was utopian; a community builder through correspondence, expanded by his New York Correspondence School meetings, and his silhouette portraits, to name but a few methods he employed in forming community. I not only corresponded with artists from Russia, Cuba, Uruguay, Yugoslavia, Estonia, Japan, Korea…but I met them, forged friendships, found that persons from various cultures could overlap, and wondered if Mail Art could serve as a model and example of cultural diversity employed by “civilians” as well as artists. To some extent, all this has been born out by the Internet – the great connector.

And that’s all I know.

We should do this again ten years from now.

 

Thoughts on the Summer Makings Process

I’ve been productive this summer. Normally I wake up around eight o’clock and put on the coffee. I watch twenty minutes of online videos,...