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BY RUUD JANSSEN
THIS IS THE 14TH "THOUGHTS" THAT I WRITE. IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE OTHER ARTICLES, JUST SEND ME A NOTE MENTIONING WHICH ARTICLE (- S) YOU ARE MISSING AND SOME IRC'S FOR THE COSTS FOR MAILING THE ARTICLES. THIS 14TH ARTICLE DEALS WITH HOW I EXPERIENCE MAIL ART NOWADAYS........
ISSM : TAM960154
Well, not an easy question, but I must say that since I started in 1980 the changes have been enormous. To mention a few:
The internet has taken over a part of the communication
A lot of mail artists started with the electronic communication. Reasons are sometimes: keeping up with time, it is cheaper, is is faster, the digital new experience is exiting, the possibility of tranferring digital information, the information is accesible for everybody, e-mail is better for the environment (less paper), etc. etc.
I don't agree with some of those reasons. I use the internet as well. The e-mail is quick and cheap. But only because I have a free account, and I already have the computer and phone at home and at my work-place. For my work I have to deal with computers a lot as well (and have been doing so for about 20 years now ; I started with the punch-hole cards you know) and work now with the newest Pentium-PC and multimedia. But the mail art still has a place in my heart. I enjoy the paper, the paint, the ink, the stamping and postage stamps. And of course the time to collect the mail, to sit behind a desk to answer it.
With e-mail I always feel the rush to answer things. With the pages I put on the internet I know that everybody can access them, but there are millions of pages out there, and who is interested in all that info.....? My pages don't contain many visuals, mostly text. A good reason for that is that I want to keep the things quick and easy. A lot of really beautiful homepages of networkers are a joy for the eye, but it takes minutes to get it all at your computer. Time is money, especially when the phone-bill has to be paid. My home-bills the last months got too big, and all the visuals I saw on the internet couldn't compete with e.g. one single postcard with acrylpaint (thanks Joy) that I have still on my wall. Yes, I like the traditional arts, and like to practice them as well. It brings the balance in my life, and I believe that this balance in ones life is very important.
The mail artists from the beginning start to die
It might seem a strange thing, but it influences the mail art a lot. Museums start to get more and more interested in the mail art, and even this summer (1996) two large exhibitions were held (the Postal Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the Schwerin Museum in Germany. Of course both museums start with their own collection of mail art, just like a lot of other museums. The problem is that they never get the personal mail art that people collect in their own archives. That will be (mostly) hidden until some more mail artists have died.
The death of Ray Johnson is still alive in the net. Projects about him, his images, his jokes, they are still alive. Also projects about Guillermo Deisler, and in the Schwerin Museum lots of info on Robert Rehfeldt. It is all history. History starts when the people it is about can't react to it anymore. The data is tranformed into one story, but all living try to influence this story.
Mail artists have stopped
Nothing special of course. If mail art isn't interesting, then the mail artist should stop. It is only a pitty that mostly the mail artist that used to send out good work tend to stop. They are a bit sad about the quality of some of the mail art that they have been getting. I must say I agree about this quality-thing. I know that I myself don't always send out good things. It is the result of too many mailings I used to react to. Nowadays I limit myself enormously. I answer maybe 40% or less of the snail-mail I get in. I rather send out a good reply most of the time, then just 'keep the contact going'. A nice example was the recent month August. I was away to Germany for two weeks, and when I returned the usual pile of mail was waiting (about 14 x 10 = 140 pieces of mail ; yes, I still get about 10 items a day in the P.O.Box, and I recently got a larger P.O.Box that can deal with that very well).
Of this 140 pieces I selected the items that were related to my mail-interview project. About 15 items, and of course those things get priority. The rest of the mail I went through to see if there were interesting things to answer. About 50 pieces didn't say me anything, so they went in the box "still to answer". Maybe I will never get to those pieces of mail since I tend to not react to mail that says me nothing. Don't get mad at me for that. It is my choice, and if you think that every piece of mail you get deserves an answer, well, good luck to you.
Every vacation-time I have it goes like this, and I realize that a lot of the current mail artists just send out something (often quickly made without any real message) in the hope to get a surprise answer. Well, of course it sometimes works.
Yes, mail artists that have stopped, and whose mail I miss is easy to list. Lon Spiegelman's mail, the audiocassettes from James Hill with his wonderful music. Viktor Pawel with his lively reports from Germany. Of course I could go on with this list. These three I just mention because maybe some mail artists out there don't even know their names. A well heard thing, that mail artists that start in the network don't know the history of the network. Of course it is o.k. to invent the wheel all new again. But to patent the new discovered idea as ones own invention is a bit silly. Mail art is a learning proces, and if you hold on to that proces, you will evolve through the mail art network.
Mail artists who want to claim their part of the network.
I won't mention names. But some mail artists want to achive some place in the art history through the mail art network. They send out the strangest things, and document all they send out. Also send things to museums and archives to make sure that the mail art they send out will be there when the history-writers start to write the history.
There is of course nothing against that. But I know myself that the best mail art I have received I just can't give away or send away. Mail art always has been a personal experience for me. Yes, I collect a lot of the things I receive, and also I just through away a lot of the things I receive that don't mean anything to me. The TAM- Archive is the result of this planned collecting, and only the things that aren;t interesting to me anymore I will pass on to others.
So if someone sends me a rubber stamp and tells me I can only use it and have to pass it on within a month, I might break the instruction and will keep it for longer. The fun of the mail art network is that everybody can make his/her own rules, and that the others can see if they will accept these rules or not.
The traditional rules of the mail art project, all accepted, exhibited, and catalog to all. Everybody knowes these rules, and the good projects follow these rules. But If someone in the network has a good reason to ignore these rules, that is o.k. by me as well. The reason determines what I think of this. If someone doesn only projects to collect a lot of mail art, he will surely get not that much from me since I believe in the idea of exchange (the more energy go send into the network, the more you will receive back....). But if the reason is a 'good' one that I can fully understand, it might even trigger me to intensify the contact.
In the last years I have noticed that some of the mail-exchanges I have, have evolved above the mail art concept. It is an exchange between close friends. Exchange of words, exchange of thoughts, exchange of emothions & feelings, exchange of larger artworks and other stuff. A privat exchange just between two correpondents, and although it comes close to mail art, nobody else probably gets to see these exchanges since they are private and not exhibited nor documented.
In a way I am back to where I started when I was really young. I started with correspondence as a child about 30 years ago. The mail art network is still important to me though. It gives me new impulses and makes it possible to meet new people through the post. But I fear it is also that I am becoming a bit older. I value the contacts I have build up over the years, and I treasure the mail from the old and sometimes new friends. That is probably the reason that I don't react anymore to a simple postcard or a bunch of xeroxes in my P.O.Box. My time is there for the people that are really sharing something with me.
Well, this text turned out different as how I intended it to be. I will see how to publish it. Probably I will send it to some of my mail art friends, and I will see if they understand what I tried to say with this text.
Ruud Janssen - TAM
date of printing : December 22, 1996
there are also secret thoughts published on this site.......
Reproduction of this text is allowed provided that the text isn't changed, source is mentioned, and a copy of the magazine where the text is included in, is sent to TAM / P.O.Box 10388 / 5000 JJ Tilburg / NETHERLANDS.
updated version: 25-6-1997