JCM THE MUSEUM LIBRARY
"Mail Art is a drug! The more you do - the more you need!" - Michael Leigh

Ruud Janssen with Michael Leigh

TAM Mail-Interview Project

(WWW Version)


This interview was conducted in 1995. It ispossible to spread this information to others, but for publications you willhave to get permission from TAM and the interviewed person! Enjoy readingthis interview.

Started on: 6-11-1994

RJ: Welcome to this mail-interview. So far we met twice and have discussedcertain things about mail-art already, but I still forgot to ask you what your'firm' A.1. Waste Paper Co. Ltd. is all about. When did you found it and whatis it all about?

Reply on: 17-11-1994

ML: Well, it was soon after I had chanced upon the mail art network in 1980at the Artlink International exhibition at the Greenwich Theatre Gallery in London that I decided I too could have a weird and wonderful nom de plumethat many of my fellow mail artists had contrived for themselves. Also itwould be nice to have a name other than my own to attach all my mail art toso as to distinguish it from the other art I was doing at that time(Landscapes and animals in oil on canvas).

I forget just how many names I'd thought up at the beginning but two Iremember were ART ACHES REPOSITORY and the BAD ARTDELIVERY SERVICE. Both remained on the back burner until I chancedupon a couple of battered rubber stamps at a flea market in London's EastEnd - both were the address stamps for a defunct (I assume so since theydidn't crop up in the telephone directory at that time) recycling firm calledthe A.1.Waste Paper Company Ltd. I couldn't believe my luck - just the nameI had been looking for! Not only did it sound good but could also beshortened to A.1. and covered all aspects of the recycling ethic I had seen asa key element in all the networking material that I had used or was going touse in the future. It also has the happy ability to put itself at the very frontof any address lists made in an alphabetical order!

RJ: This recycling is something I recognize in most mail-art I have seenfrom you. Some mail-artists keep all the mail they receive in their "Archive".Do you have an "Archive" or is almost everything recycled?

Reply on: 26-11-1994

ML: I think most sensible people realize that RECYCLING in everyday lifeis very important now if we are to put back something rather than take taketake from the Earths limited resources. In art too this has become more andmore important - not only from a ecological point of view but as a way ofsaving valuable time and money.

My "archive" consists mainly of dozens of cardboard boxes from thesupermarket which are stuffed full of old mail in no particular order ordesign. I've never been very good at organizing such things and so I'm afraidif I need something from my "archive" it takes me ages to find! Fourteenyears of correspondence takes up a lot of space so I've been very ruthlessjust lately (since Archie was born) - sorting through it all and sending thestuff we didn't want to Michael Lumb's archive in Ipswich. On a day to daybasis I still recycle envelopes and boring xeroxes get letters written on theback of them.

RJ: So this 'boring xerox' gets personalized and probably will end up insomeone's elses "archive". Do you think that these "archives" are importantfor other people than the mail-artists? Is it possible for a 'non-mail-artist' tounderstand that mail-art is more than art sent by mail?

Reply on: 8-12-1994

ML: Archives are important because they contain the history anddevelopment of mail art. Artists can benefit by using their archives in aconstructive manner - making exhibitions from them and showing the work tooutsiders who don't understand what the postal network is about. At themoment Hazel and I are showing our artwork in conjunction with piecesfrom our mail art archive at the WEIDORAMA show in Walsall Museum andArt Gallery in the West Midlands of England. This exhibition is an attemptto show how mail art interacts with the other work we do and to showoutsiders just how diverse and multi-disciplined it is. Archives should containthe best work and ideally made available to other mail artists and interestedparties who wish to see it or part of it or the works of one particular artistfor Commemorative works or book projects etc.

These outside the mail art network will never understand what mail art iswithout becoming part of the mail art network. I'm not so sure we shouldcrusade to make the mail art understandable to those outside its circle.Those interested enough will discover it for themselves eventually. It's not aRELIGION to be thrust down peoples throats. One must carry on doing onesbest and hope that others will see for themselves through mail art shows likeWEIRDORAMA just how much fun their is using the postal system as yourartistic medium.

RJ: You talk about 'the postal system'. Does this include the newcommunication-forms like using FAX and Computer for communication orisn't this mail-art in your eyes? What are your thoughts about theTELENETLINK 95 project that Crackerjack Kid started?

Reply on: 28-12-1994

ML: I'm afraid I must admit that FAX and computer art doesn't really fitinto my idea of Mail Art - it's not something I'm interested in. If you can'tstick a stamp on it and post it, then it's not really Mail Art. It's a differentmedium and should be called something else. I don't know anything aboutCrackerjack Kid's TELENETLINK project.

RJ: Well, let's stick to the communication-form with postage-stamps. Thepostage-stamp plays an important part in mail-art. In your work I've noticedthe use of rubber stamped postage-stamps. Is there any special reason forthat?

Reply on: 7-1-1995

ML: I like anything to do with postage stamps and rubber stamps. So itseemed natural for me to combine the two. They are quick to apply toenvelopes and one can knock out sheets for projects and such like quiteeasily without having to spend ages fiddling around with a xerox machine.Also you can use those tiny collage elements that don't fit into any otherformat. I seem to collect hundreds of these and so that's why I have so manydesigns for rubber-stamp postage stamps that have as yet to be turned intorubber dies.

RJ: Another wonderful rubber stamp I noticed on one of your envelopes is'ADDITIONAL ARTWORK BY ARCHIE LEIGH-JONES'. Is Archiegrowing up to be a mail-artist raised by two other mail-artists? To ask thequestion more specific: How does the mail-art that fills your days affect theraising of Archie?

Reply on: 18-01-1995

ML: Well, we like to think that Archie will come to appreciate the finerpoints of mail art and alternative culture in general through his seeing uswork and play with all this stuff. Hopefully he'll find it useful in future yearsand maybe find a little network of his own to explore. At the moment he isonly two and a bit so his attention span is short - a few scribbly envelopesand he's off with a toot toot train or his cars! Children tend to go against thewishes of their parents so I expect Archie will see our interest in mail art ashis poor putty parents wasting a lot of time that could be spent on Game Boyor Cartoons.

RJ: So; why are you wasting so much time on this mail art. Why do youspend so much money on this 'strange' hobby? What brings mail art to youthat you keep on doing it?

Reply on: 27-1-1995

ML: Good Question! I really feel I'm not wasting time, after all, I spendmore time sleeping then I do mail art! Mail is just as relaxing andtherapeutic I think as sleeping, but unlike sleep I have something to show forit at the end of the day! We just had a 2 day mail strike here in London and Irealized how much I missed the post when it didn't arrive - I started to getwithdrawal symptoms! Yes, mail art is a drug! The more you do - the moreyou need! I'm a hopeless case I suppose.

RJ: Yes, you are a hopeless case (never argue with a drug-addict...). But tofeed your addiction I'll ask another question so you get some mail. On yourenvelope you used your new stamp in memory of RAY JOHNSON, whosuddenly died two weeks ago ("If it wasn't for Ray Johnson, this workwouldn't exist, mail art pioneer 1927-1995). It seems Ray was an addict too.He kept sending mail till he took his own life. I know of more mail-artistsfrom the first years who are still active. What would be the essence of thismail art that it is so addictive. What is your view?

Reply on: 4-2-1995

ML: It's hard to say why Mail Art is so addictive. Some people seem to kickthe habit quite easily, like smoking, they just go on to something lessaddictive but just as costly - like sucking mints or herbal remedies likeslippery elm grass or fever few.

The essence of mail is really the response you get from your sendings. Ifnobody replied then it would be quite easy to give up I guess. Luckily (ornot!) I keep getting back stuff - flopping on my doormat every morning and itseems churlish not to reply.

A reporter came from a national newspaper recently to interview me and tofind out what all this networking and mail art was about. I found it very hardto tell him exactly what it was that got me se excited and what still keeps meat it some 14-15 years later. It's communication I suppose and feeling part ofa fellowship that knows no boundaries.

Now that Ray Johnson is no longer with us - it seems an ideal time to takestock of what has gone on in the past 40 years, since the early days of theNew York Correspondance School of Art, and re-affirm our commitment tothe mail art ethic and its concerns. But hopefully not in a boring, pretentiousand crusty way but something more in the spirit of play from which it wasborn.

RJ: It sounds beautiful, what you say, but how will it be in reality? What isthe future for the network in your eyes?

Reply on: 10-2-1995

ML: Who can say what tomorrow may bring? I don't have a crystal ball - Iwish I had! The network is an organic, growing, shrinking, changing thing -full of surprises! Hopefully it will draw new recruits from differentbackgrounds, cultures and talents. It does that already of course but perhapsthe future will broaden this spectrum even more. It is up to the networkerswho already enjoy this wonderful world of art exchange to use their influencein a positive way - to find more time to do mail art, to expand its horizons, toopen up new tracks of perception, to glory in its ubiquitousness, unravel thestrings of pure art that connect us all!

RJ: In the recent years galleries and even museums are becoming more andmore interested in the mail art that some 'famous' artists made and aretrying to get this 'art' in their collection or are trying to get works for loanfor a future exhibition. Will mail art become traditional art when things goon like this?

Reply on: 20-2-1995

ML: I don't think mail art will ever become "traditional" as you call it, simplybecause its so hard to define. The occasions when galleries or museumsexpress interest in mail art are few & far between - they cannot cope withthe anarchic elements in it, or the idea that its based on mutual exchange &co-operation.

RJ: We have discussed the subject 'Archives' before. If a mail-artist decidesto keep an archive (which normally happens when he decides to keep thenice things he gets by mail), what should happen with it after his death? Iknow of the archive of Ulises Carrion which was sold and plundered for workof 'famous' artists? Any idea what should happen to the archive of RayJohnson?

Reply on: 28-2-1995

ML: Ofcourse its a shame that archives fall into the "wrong" hands and getplundered, but what can you do? Maybe artists should make provision fortheir work and archives when they are still alive and have some control overwhat happens to all of it when they die.

I would like to see Ray Johnson's archive kept intact ofcourse, in a museumor library somewhere but I won't loose sleep if it doesn't. Afterall its the artthat happens now which is important, not the boxes of old dusty stuff-crumbling away in some gloomy mausoleum!

RJ: Your new project (A1 Waste Cassette Co.) has also a typical recycling-aspect. You write that you will use the cassettes people send to you forrecording the final result. In this way you keep your own archive very smallindeed. How is the new project going? Can you tell a bit more about it?

Reply on: 6-3-1995

ML: This new project was inspired by Morgan Fisher's "MINIATURES"project of a few years ago. His was nothing to do with the mail art networkbut it had a similar easy going attitude and commitment and thedocumentation within the LP sleeve was very like a mail art showdocumentation, or a sort you'd get if only people had the funds to pay for it!

I did a cassette project a couple of years ago where I asked for songs on aparticular theme. This THEMATIC TAPE EXCHANGE went on for severalmonths. 90 or so participants from 8 countries got involved. Everyone gotanother tape back from the list I sent out - they could choose whatever musicthey liked.

This time the idea is that contributions must be no longer than a minute sothat I can squeeze 60 or so tracks onto one tape when I come to compile it inJune. The reason I opted to send back the tapes I'd been sent was toeliminate any people who like to send cheap or very short tapes. This waythey only have themselves to blame for the rubbish they get back! Mostpeople so far have sent good quality tapes and so it makes my task somewhateasier. The theme of the project is POSTAGE and people can interpret thisin anyway they like whether its a song, jingle, poem, rant or spoken word. Sofar the spoken word seems the most popular but I'm hoping for a few songsand music to break up the verbiage before the deadline on the 20th June1995.

RJ: Well, I guess it is time to end this interview. Maybe there is somethingmore you would like to say?

Reply on: 14-3-1995

ML: Just that it was nice being interviewed this way - your questions helpedme think about my work and try to articulate some of my thoughts - hard todo, but fun! Thanks!

RJ: Thanks for the interview!

Ended on: 14-3-1995

- END -


Reproduced with the permission of
TAM
Further reproduction without the written consent of
Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.

Mail-artist: Michael Leigh, P.O.Box 10388, 7 Lambeth Walk, London SE11 6DX, England

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

E-mail Ruud Janssen

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