JCM THE MUSEUM LIBRARY
"Mail-art is as much a finding as a searching process." - Robin Corzier

Ruud Janssen with Robin Crozier

TAM Mail-Interview Project

(WWW Version)


Started on: 2-11-1994

RJ: Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network? Do you have this MEMORY for me?

Reply on: 21-11-1994

RC: If my memory serves me well.... I had been interested in Surrealism since being a student in the fifties. In the sixties I discovered a bookseller with a catalogue listing and number of surrealistic publications some of which I purchased. The catalogue also listed publications from Something Else Press (ed. Dick Higgins).

I already knew about developments in New York in the sixties but this was the first time I had been able to buy books on/by John Cage, Ray Johnson, Merl Cunningham, Daniel Spoerri, Dick Higgins, George Brecht, Robert Filliou, etc... apart from a few I had found in London. From the same press there was also the Great Bear Pamphlet series. These publications introduced me to intermedia and provided me with new perspectives but I still had the problem of finding out how to get into and be part of this new world instead of just reading about it at a distance.

I had also been interested in concrete and visual poetry and towards the end of the sixties I began to make some publications of my own. But where to send them? However, in 1970 a magazine called 'Pages' was published in England. It only came out in Winter 1970, Spring 1971 and in 1972 (three issues then folded owing to financial problems. It was dedicated to promoting the avant-garde and included works etc. by some of those I had met through Something Else but also by numerous other creators from Europe and elsewhere that were sometimes new to me.

But what was most interesting was the information section listing publications, magazines, artists, events etc. with contact addresses. So I was able to begin sending my publications out to establish contacts providing me with more contacts and so on. Soon after this a more commercial magazine 'Art and Artists' published an article about Robert Filliou. In it he said he was going to have an exhibition at the Stedelijke Museum in Amsterdam and was asking people to send him material that he will include in the show.

What an opportunity! So I sent him a number of little packs of this and that for him to include in works or make into works or distribute as he wished.

G.J. de Rook visited the show and he and Robert Filliou made up pages from some of my sendings which de Rook then included in a publication he was putting together called 'Bloknoot'. So, from early 1972, slowly but surely, I became involved in the 'Eternal Network' (Filliou) which had been christened 'Mail Art' in 1971 by Jean-Marc Poinsot who had organized the envoi action at the Paris Biennale. And then the snowball began to roll......

RJ: This 'snowball' has rolled a long time already. Has the mail-art network changed a lot or is it in essence still the same?

Reply on: 24-01-1995

RC: No, I don't think the network has changed a lot except in its continuing growth in size. Of course, since the early days there has been more writing about and comment upon the network, sometimes attempts to codify or clarify it, essays about what it might be and critical comments about its directions, quality and so on. So -to a degree- it has become something that people can stand back from and view as an entity. It is also increasingly collected into museums and archives so I suppose its getting quite old. I've also noticed that now items from the network are beginning to appear in catalogues as saleable commodities. Those dealers aren't in the network as far as I know but naturally this notion would go against the spirit of the network. Another observation. At one time there was a rapid growth in mail art emanating from oppressive regimes - South America, Eastern Europe, etc. These 'cold wars' are now largely relaxed and so I've noticed a rapid decrease in mail art from these areas. This may have something to do with my own involvement but I wonder what has happened to the mail artists in the former East Germany now the element of subversion and protest has been removed. For myself and my own activity, when I first began in the seventies then I was into all kinds of things, organizing shows, projects, publications, almost like the joys of spring and a fascination with new toys.

"Somebody out there loves me" was a wonderful feeling. I wouldn't say I had quite reached Autumn yet but I've tuned in on certain activities that are more particular to myself rather than try and do everything all the time. But I still can't resist collecting all those items that come through my letterbox into my archive. I'm always greedy for more

Oh, and another thing. Snail Mail -which used to be mail art before the appearance of more recent technologies- is being ended by these technologies. However, I suppose, I must betray my status as something of an 'eminence grouse' in the network by stating that I still prefer handwriting to typing and the original to the multiple. The personal touch. 'My touch is the touch of a woman' said Ewa Partum to me through the mail and when I met her she gave me a red rose. Lovely.

RJ: This 'being greedy for more mail' is for most mail-artists the reason to keep on sending out mail-art. But you probably also have the problem that you have to select what you are able to answer. Obviously you've chosen for the personal mail as a priority. Am I right?

Reply on: 8-3-1995

RC: To begin with, when one begins to become part of the network one is surprised and happy to receive anything but gradually, as the volume increases, selection occurs. My pet hate is chain letters that go straight into the bin. Does anyone respond to them? Next in line are these photocopied sheets asking you to add something and send them on to someone else. I suppose I do send these on but don't add to them myself - just in case else wants to. Just to keep the network ticking over. As for individual artists I tend to respond more quickly to those who send me something personal rather than those who send out masses of bland photocopies. Of course photocopies have their place, mostly in publications but are not particularly exiting as a personal greeting. And then there is the question of gender.

Being male, I am naturally drawn to respond to female advances (although this statement may not apply to everyone) as there is some kind of sexual fission involved. But, again, why are there more male than female artists in the network? Don't ask me. I've no idea whilst on the subject of response, I generally don't reply to exhibition requests unless they come to me directly.

So, yes, as you say, its 'personal mail as a priority'. But then there's the question of whether 'personal' through the mail is better or more than 'personal' through meeting people directly.

RJ: In 1986 there was the 'Tourism'-year and later on in 1992 there was the DNC-congress year. Did you participate in those or did you meet mail-artists on an individual basis? Maybe tell a few memories of some meetings you had and what it taught you?

Reply on: 11-5-1995

RC: I did not participate in the Tourism year of 1986 or the congress year of 1992. On the whole I like to meet people through the mail. I suppose I see the network as a device for not having to meet people. However, over the years I have met a number of networkers..... In no particular order (of time or merit). Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione came to Sunderland to give some Futurist performances and talk to the students at the college (now University) where I teach. They were on a whirlwind tour of Europe (if this is England it must be Monday - or vice versa) and were highly organized.

Anna spent a lot of the time making works of art. Bill seemed rather tired.

Emilio Morandi also visited me in Sunderland with his wife and son. They were on a tour of the British isles looking at standing stones and stone civiles. They were very friendly and brought me an enormous ice-cream for my birthday. I visited Neils Lomholt in Hou, Denmark. He was working in a school for handicapped young people and invited several artists over a few months to work with the pupils. I was able to use ideas of communication evolved from mail art to get in touch and receive a response from the young people in spite of physical and language barriers. David Zack had been there just before me and I met him when I arrived. He left the next day but I gained the impression of a chaotic, generous vital person who had been most simpatico with all the young people. Another time I visited Poland and met Andrej and Ewa Partam and a number of other Polish mail artists and artists. Ewa gave me a red rose ("my touch is the touch of a woman"). At that time Poland was still very much part of the regime of "our big friend" (Russia) so I experienced numerous examples of repression at first hand. I stayed with Ulises Carrion for about a week in his flat in Amsterdam. I had an exhibition in Stempelplaats, a stamp art gallery at the time. What an energetic person. Through him I went to see Peter Van Beveren and many others associated with the network. I have been in contact with Jos‚ Van den Broucke for a long time now. He sometimes comes to Sunderland for a few days and we are in touch on the phone. He is very easy to be with and we have lots of fun looking for Wanda together. I also met a number of British mail artists when I gave a fluxus lecture at the Tate Gallery last year.

RJ: Who is Wanda?

Reply on: 22-5-1995

RC: The original Wanda first appeared many years ago in a publication of mine called 'Draw More Ducks'. She was sitting on a sofa pointing a revolver at an advancing gander. This may have alluded to Leda and the Swan. Later I successively reduced this image when trying out a new photocopier. The images were incorporated into a unique book which I titled "Wanda Wanders". It was at this point that Wanda first assumed an identity. Her wanders began with a text which I evolved from a corporate novel I had been working on. The novel began in a modern art gallery. I continued the text incorporating extracts and fragments from my memo(random) project. The search for Wanda then began in earnest as characteristics, types, positions, associations and criteria became more firmly established. I began a 'Wanda Notebook' and included in it found texts and writing evolving from sightings, imaginary meetings and collaborative writing. I also collected found images and collated, collaged and manipulated them to form a web of illusion and allusion in an attempt to define, fix and record some of her fleeting characteristics.

The 'Wanda Notebooks' began to assume the nature of a work in its own right. Fragments of the texts and photocopies of the images were mailed out into the network with requests for people to send me information about Wanda. I began to receive documentation which I incorporate into the notebooks and keep in separate file. And so the Wanda saga spreads and grows and develops. Wanda is a figment a fragment of the imagination. I see her reflected in windows but when I turn she is gone. I see her in my mind's eye. The perfume of Wanda passing in the street. She breaths on the mirror.

She writes her name on the mirror. Her name fades. In the modern art gallery. Wanda crosses her legs. Wanda uncrosses her legs. Two prints. The receptionist. Wanda travels in a taxi going nowhere but pretending to be everywhere. She is lost in the wrong city. In a small hotel for lost times. Her imprint on the duvet. A faint warmth on the pillow. She speeds past in her fast car. Her legs at the correct angle. Her white blouse. Her black skirt. Her dark tights. Her black stiletto shoes. But this is only one version. There are many more. She sits on the sofa smoothing down her skirt. She dreams sequences. She dreams seas. Sees dreams. "The mirror in this room are made of glass eyes" said Wanda. She walks out and strains the memory as she leaves the room. Her heels click in the corridor. A memory. The dead swan.

Without light who needs darkness. Wanda drinks a glass of white wine. She is a performance of Wanda. She observes herself in the mirror. She reflects upon herself. A prototype of Wanda. How many Wanda's are there? Wanda reads a text about Wanda not realizing that she is Wanda.

I was sitting opposite Wanda on a train. Her bright red lips and dark fringe stood out from her pale face. As we sped along she looked out of the window. I could see her reflection in the windows. The rushing landscape became reflected on her face like a film projected onto the pale canvas of her skin. She dissolved and reappeared in a confusion of strobe lightning caused by the sun shining through irregular densities of passing clusters of trees. The flickering Wanda in the window reflected my mind's eye while I observed the young woman who might have been Wanda, but wasn't. Behind glass, in the office. Her dark hair. White blouse. Black skirt. Legs outlined sharply against the immaculate gray carpet. Black high heeled shoes leaving a faint indentation in the pile. She performs her rituals at the keyboard behind the glass. Nimble delicate fingers. Her blouse is open revealing the white lace edging of an undergarment nestling against pale brown skin.

Appendant. A gold cross on a slender drain. The transaction completed she places the papers in the tray under the glass partition and our little fingers touch momentarily. A flicker of a smile like the brief illumination of a distant island as passing clouds filter the searchlight sun. Or was it simply an imperfection in the glass. A perfection through imperfection. In the supermarket the legs seen from the side had no volume. Seen from the back or the front they took on degrees of definition according to the light source.

As the focus of attention they virtually assumed a life of their own as the person to whom they belonged was not Wanda but they were Wanda. Indeed they would have been mirror images of the same leg or two from an unlimited edition set in motion independently of one another and only occasionally appearing to have the aspect of two different legs as she paused to consider the items on display occasionally leaning slightly to inspect an item more closely. Leaning caused an imbalance and a different function for each leg as more weight was placed on one than the other. One became active the other passive. They therefor developed (to a degree) individual characteristics for an instant before reverting to the same would.

Of course the repetitious aspect of the items on display may have influenced the observer into formulating the theory that he was looking at one leg reproducing rather than at two different legs. The theory had naturally been evolved some time after the initial observation of the natural event thus proving that the mind crosses out and dissipates an initially strong sexual attraction. Wanda sent this and...... Your letter was such a pleasure. I am very pleased to meet you. There's so much I want to say. I don't quite know where to start...... Well, let me start by saying that I spent this past week driving back forth to Ohio. As I drove west on the Perma turnspike I wondered about you.... and began to day dream.... about meeting a stranger along the roadway. I imagined meeting him at a picnic area, I caught his eye at the water fountain. We shared a meal of fruit, bread cheese, washed down with wine. A simple picnic among simple roadside picnickers - but somehow we only used the meal as a basis for the fundamental dialogue. As others roadside families climbed back into their cars, we stayed waiting for darkness, waiting for the mantle of night to cloak our true desire. Venus rose, bright against a black velvet sky, signaling that evening had fallen, as we fell on each other....

I drove on & on, imagining how the stranger lifted my skirt to grasp my buttocks and finger the wetness between my tights, I imagined the shudder of yearning, the pounding of a tempted heart. Oh, golly, anyway, I always imagine....

At my dark room I imagined that once I photographed Wanda on a hot summer afternoon. But as you know I never met her. It was just a dream. A negative print of a male desire. She poses in black stockings with her hands behind her head. Her bra undone to reveal tightly stretched breasts. She is quite thin. One can easily determine the anatomy of her abdomen and public region. She poses naked on a sofa. Kneeling with her elbows resting on its back. Her hair cascades over her shoulders. Her ass just out inviting penetration. Her look is candid and cold. She sits on the floor in front of the sofa. Her back leans against the seat. Her elbows are in the seat. Her legs are apart. Her knees are raised. She reveals her vagina inviting penetration.

Perhaps Wanda is somewhere very near to you as you read this. Can you feel her presence. Hurry. Go and look for her. Send her to me. Maybe its too late. She is just out of sight. But not out of mind. Only an impression remains.... her perfume passing in the street. A stain on the memory. Her breath fading on the mirror.

RJ: No, Wanda is not here yet. How much does your search for Wanda influence your mail art? Is mail art also a search for you?

Reply on: 16-6-1995

RC: Well, keep a look out, Ruud, you never know when Wanda may appear when you are least expecting her. I don't think that my search for Wanda influences my mail-art very much. On the contrary, its probably the other way round. I think that for a long time, even before I became involved with mail- art, I was searching for a Wanda but it was only through the events, contacts and structures of mail-art that I began to find ways of objectifying Wanda, of putting her into words and images. She now travels through the network as a personality molded and fashioned by those who document her as well as being an emanation from my mind. I must say I don't quite know what I'm searching for through my involvement with mail-art. Maybe 'search' is not the right word.

I don't know. Maybe its two sides of the same coin. One side is inward looking. A looking into myself and finding ways to present this looking.

Finding ways to combine media which will mirror my complex thought patterns, emotions, obsessions and so on. For a long time I've never thought of myself as being any particular kind of artist. I don't want to wear a label saying painter or sculptor or poet and so on. I just want to produce works whose form and media fit the content whatever that may be. And so the other side of the coin is probably the fact that the mail-art network provides one with all kinds of propositions, challenges and questions to be answered in so many different ways. I suppose that mail-art is as much a finding as a searching process. I also like the idea of working 'with' things, objects, structures, people. Cooperate activities. Recycling. Setting up structures that lead into unknown or unforseen territories. Chance. Serendipity. External events molding directions. I like travelling rather than arriving. Flux. But this is talking about art. In my daily life I'm a creature of habits, of ritual.

But this orderliness no doubt allows my mind freedom to travel in many different directions. I don't have a car. I sometimes say that I wouldn't know where to drive to if I had one. I could drive anywhere. But where? So I get on a train. I know where its taking me and I'm free to look out of the window. The eternal observer. A network of observation.

RJ: Most mail-artists probably know you because of your memory/memorandum-project, where you ask a memory of a specific day from a mail-artists and in return send him/her someone else's memory. What was the reason for starting this project?


Continue with Interview . . .


Mail-artist: Robin Crozier, 5b Tunstall Vale, Sunderland SR2 7HP ENGLAND

Interviewer: Ruud Janssen - TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, NETHERLANDS

E-mail Ruud Janssen

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