THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JULIA TANT. 80
Started on 11-10-1997
RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on 27-10-1997
JT : I first got involved about 1990. My friend Stefan Szelkun sent me a letter (we were not friends at this point) which had various rubber stamps on it. I really liked this way of communicating and when I wrote back to him about the contents of his letter, I asked him where did he get the rubber stamp from.
He didn't really tell me the answer, I think I recall he said something like, "You get them around" which I didn't know what that meant. He did also say something about how you could make them yourself, but he didn't elaborate on that.
Later though he introduced me to a friend of his called Don Jarvis / Dawn Redwood, and Don invited me to a bookfare in Victoria. At the fare there was the Mail Art Crowd and Heigndesign-Stempelspass. I immediately looked for any rubber stamps that appealed to me and since I was doing art work about Marilyn Monrou at that time, I was instantly drawn to a rubber stamp they had of Marilyn. Naturally I bougt it and I haven't looked back since.
I think it was through Dawn sending me invites from people in other countries that I then began branching out doing other aspects of mail art, such as contributing to specific projects. For a while I did one after another but then I had to resume concentrating on my other art work so I couldn't engage in so many projects but I have continued always to use my rubber stamps and to add bits and pieces to all my mail.
I can't see myself ever giving up now and I am about to join in the project of the Renegade Library in Canada who are doing a project about Mail Art Books. I've got a little second hand photo frames book that I am going to turn into my own creative book contribution to Canada.
I hope this sufficiently answers your question. I will lastly say that I became sufficiently interested in mail art very quickly so that I attended at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, a lecture by John Held Jr. , that was to tell us about the history of Mail Art. I was such a new comer to mail art that I was feeling very keen and interested and wanting to learn about it a lot. I felt very quickly disappointed though at this lecture because John Held Jr. gave the impression that most mail artists were men, and I didn't want to feel a lone woman doing mail art with mostly all men.\
I challenged him about it to find out if it was mere prejudice on his part or if it really was nearly all men that did mail art, as I just didn't feel that that would be the case.
The answer he gave was so chauvinistic that I figured it had to be his prejudice so I set about trying to make contact with other women mail artists too.
I now have a good cross section of people I communicate with and hopefully these years later John Held Jr. has overcome his prejudice and communicates with women mail artists too, so that we can now be included in his history of mail art it / when he does any other lectures about it. We woman mail artists as you know Ruud, are definately out there!
RJ : Yes I know Julia, lucky enough there are a lot of interesting woman mail artists out there. Somehow though you aren't the only woman who writes about the fact that sometimes this part of the mail art network is not fully presented in lectures , documentations and even publications. When I count the number of male and female, it always seems that there are less female artists named. Also in my own mail-interview project I noticed this. What are reasons for the fact that there seem to be more male mail-artists then female? Or isn't this the case at all?
next answer on 8-11-1997
JT: Dear Ruud, I will do my best to answer your latest question about why there seem to be more male artists than female artists.
This question needs to be approached in quite a number of different ways.
First, I don't actually know whether there are as many or less or even more women mail artists than men because I don't actually approach the situation in that way, and besides I've not done a world head count on that. What I feel is that it is irrelevant as to the actual numbers of each unless you are doing some specific survey about that. What is important though is that however many women are involved in mail art, they should be acknowledged made visible. In fact the fewer there are the more important it is not to leave them out, not to exclude them because that makes them a rare breed, and rare breeds are usually taken special care of.
I don't believe though that we are that rare, I do think we are made to seem as if we are, or certainly have been.
Then there is the situation that if you give the impression that an organisation or group activity is mainly made up of men, many women have no interest in it, or don't join in because they feel excluded even before they would get to the stage of wanting to join. So, in other words, if you convey a group is mostly males then you perpetuate women excluding themselves, but not for the reason of not really wanting to be involved.
A week ago, I wrote to a TV Channel about the fact that a vote being taken as to who should be the new Mayor for London did not have any women that we could vote for. Later I got a phone call from the Producer. He said I had been the only person (woman) to write in about it and had noted that no one in the audience raised that question.
I then explained to him that that didn't surprise me but it had nothing to do with women "being their own worst enemies" by not questioning that situation. Women are so used to being in situations where there are no women, that they've grown up with it from birth.
The previous week one programme, the only programme I've ever seen , had only women on it but it wasn't a programme about specifically women, when of course if the programme is all women that is expected. This was just a regular programme. After the programme many men wrote in and complained! Now they did this because they are totally unuse to a programme that does not include any men.
Ironically when you consider all the millions of programmes that leave out women and do not expect any women to consider that out of order , the one time when all women were on a programme the men found that too much.
So you can see from this that there is a lot of prejudice going on and a lot of accepting the status quo. In some ways of course women do have more equality but in other ways, since the seventies and due to the 18 year reign here of the Tory Party led by sadly a woman who did not like other women, (thats not unusual either) many younger women are being so exploited nowadays and they don't even know it. Tey certainly aren't into direct action about it as we were in the seventies and I still am in the 90s.
So, I was not at all surprised that I was the only women raising the fact that here we are going into the millenium with the same old values as we've had for so long.
As far as I'm concerned the involvement of women in mail art is not about how many of us there are, but that we are seen to be involved and that there should be interest on the part of men and other women as to what our contribution is.
Women generally do live different lives from men, even in the world of greater equality, and that will one way and another be reflected in our contribution to the world of mail art. The world of mail art should value and appreciate that and be thankful to have it.
I hope this answers your question fully, if not do let me know Ruud and I'll take it up.
RJ : Yes, it is clear, and maybe some other mail artists (male or female) should write about this subject as well. But lets focus also on the work you do in mail art. Besides taking part in mail art projects you also arranged some yourself. What was your last project about?
next answer on 27-11-1997
(because of a break I took the retyping and next question only were done on April 22nd 1998 , a 5 month break)
JT : Dear Ruud, Thank you for your latest interesting question but before I answer it I would like to say a bit more in answer to your last question of the less visibility of female mail artists, because I feel I should also have said that another couple of relevant aspects for women , is that in general, in a big general way in fact, it is women who take mayor responsibility domestically in relationships and that takes up a big part of womens lives, especially when there are children involved. Women also have less money and mail art can become costly, especially when you get into the field of computer mail art , and writing books about mail art.
Now onto your latest question.....
My latest mail art project has culminated into a show, which was exhibited at our local library in Blixton originally and then tranferred to another library , and in the new year will transfer to a third library. It is also on the internet, under Pink ink, Newart. The mail art show was put together, under the name of Cooltan Arts, which is a group of artists I am involved with.
Cooltan does not currently have a base (any premises) so creating a mail art show seemed like a good idea because we could bring it together at home. Another artist Joanna Spitinan , was the main source of the collaboration, and I don't believe I could have put the show together without her , because she has computer skills, which I don't.
We wrote to about 500 people world wide and received about 250 responses. I was particularly pleased to have involved children in this project, and am surprised that the mail art network doesn't seem to have much reference to children in it. The childrens work was so succesful that I have since done two more mail art projects with children. One was from Italy, and was a direct request to children to make fantastic animals - and the children did!
The latest is a snall project by Martha Althison, of Beckenham , London. The childrens work for this was outstanding and in terms of creativity , is , in my view , superior quality to the work done by the adult for this show, so we adults can learn a lot from them!
When I gave the mail art workshops for children, I accompained the practical art practice, with a session giving the children the chance to tell me all their thoughts about art and artists. One group ranged from age 2 years to 11 years , and the variety of ages improved the quality of the group, since the very young ones , looked to the older children for inspiration. So the Cooltan international mail art show is an art show of children and adults work together, which is very unusual.
I hope this answers your question adequately. I am writing this freehand as I am facilitating at Cooltran latest show, which is in a big space provided to us by Texo Stores. It is a space as large as a supermarket at the Elephant and Castle , London , and is called the PAYROLL SHOW. Some mail artists sent in some work, so this hangs in the show with all the other art.
One Japanese artist has made a kind of swirly snake from 1,500 match boxes, and the snakes tail is made all spikey with burnt matches.
Later I will send you a photograph of the show , when my film is developed.
So for now , I send you best wishes, Julia
RJ : Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. You seem to be always that active in the artworld. What gives you the energy to keep on doing that work?
3 Kestrel Avenue,
Herne Hill - London