JCM THE MUSEUM LIBRARY
"The beauty of stamp art is that it doesn't take up a lot of room." - Anna Banana

Ruud Janssen with Anna Banana

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. This is the updated file on 9 december 1995.

Started on: 3-12-1994

RJ: Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditionalquestion. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?

Reply on: 7-1-1995

AB: This is one of those questions I've answered so many times, I thoughteveryone knew by now! Anyway, for the record, here goes. In 1971, I wasliving outside the small town of Sooke, on Vancouver Island. In an attemptto connect with some creative people, I declared myself the Town Fool ofVictoria, capital of the province of British Colombia, some 36 miles fromwhere I was living. That turned out to be an uphill climb, and in an effort tocommunicate with the populace of Victoria, I started publishing the BananaRag. I delivered copies of this newsletter by hand to a number of publicschools in the Victoria area, and while I was at it, I mailed copies to some ofmy artist friends in Vancouver.

The response from the schools was varied, and in some instances, I wasinvited into the schools to do activities with the students. One of my friendsin Vancouver who was then a member of the Image Bank collective,responded with a copy of the Image Bank Request List. This little 2-pageflyer brought the first information I had that there was, in fact, a network. Itwas a list of names and addresses of artists, and the sorts of images theywanted to receive; lips, clouds, 50's cars, that sort of thing.I went through my stack of old clip magazines and put together an envelopefor each of the perhaps 20 artists listed, and mailed them out, with a copy ofthe Banana Rag, and a note stating that I was interested in receivingANYTHING to do with bananas; images, news stories, jokes, music,whatever, as long as it had a reference to bananas. Within 2 or 3 weeks, mymail-box came alive, and here I had the sort of enthusiasm and response Iwas missing elsewhere in my life. Amongst the bananas, there were samplesof the others' work, invitations to projects, etc., and before I knew it, I wasHOOKED.

In the course of the next year and a half, I responded to all the mail Ireceived, participated in all projects I heard about, and expanded thenumber of artists I was exchanging with to perhaps 100. When I left Sooke, itwas to go on the road, to meet my correspondents, and decide where I wouldlive next. I intended to drive across Canada, down the eastern USA, acrossthe southern states, and up to the West Coast. However,the van I bought tomake this trip in turned out to be a lemon, and my start was delayed for 6months. When I did leave Canada in May of 1973, I went south intoWashington, Oregon and California. In the Bay Area, I met with all 12 of mymail art connections, and decided pretty quickly that was the place forme to live.

However since I had written to all my correspondents that I was headingtheir way, I went on with the trip for another 2 months, after which, Irealized a number of things:

  1. The USA is huge, and driving across it more time consuming than I had figured.
  2. Driving alone across vast stretches of the continent was not all that much un.
  3. Most of my correspondents were men, and most of them had wives or lovers who, while they tolerated my visit, were none too enthused about it.
  4. In San Francisco, I had met my future husband, and I knew that was where I wanted to live. I decided to quit the mega-trip, and headed back to San Francisco at the end of August, where I settled down for the next 8 years, getting even more committed to mail art with the publication of VILE magazine, which I began in 1974.

RJ: This extensive answer arises a lot of questions in me, but I have to settlefor one now. Some mail-artists have a private life besides their mail-art life,but in your case it seems that your private life and your mail-art world gotcompletely integrated. I remember the issue VILE (#8, 1983), and it lookedlike your life and your art were the same at that moment. Some photo's ofyou and Bill Gaglione indicate the same. Am I right?

Reply on : 18-4-1995

AB: During those years with Bill, we were both very involved with mail artand performance art, and there was very little time for anything else (exceptthe everyday jobs/work we did to support that activity which took up themajority of our time! We just don't write about that stuff.), so I suppose youare right, at that moment, my life and art were very integrated. What isn'tapparent from that view you had of us from VILE #8, is that we both DIDhave jobs or paying work that is never spoken about in the context of themagazine.The humdrum work that just about everyone has to do to pay thebills. Bill had a variety of jobs over the year, and after working in a printshop, and for a weekly newspaper, I started my own graphic design andproduction company, Banana Productions, which is how I earned the moneyto publish VILE and the Banana Rag.

Certainly our performing, publishing and mail-art activities did NOT pay ourrent, or put food on the table, and we both spent a good deal of our time atthose money-earning activities in order to SUPPORT our mail art, publishingand performance work. Further, we both had friends and activities that werenot related to art, but our social life was within a circle of art-relatedfriends, and many of my friends in San Francisco were persons with whom Ihad exchanged mail-art before I went there.

RJ: Why did the VILE magazine stop? What was your next step?

Reply on : 9-5-1995

AB: It cost too much to produce and mail. It took too much time and therewere other things I wanted to do. I felt hemmed in by the need to "do thenext issue." Bill wanted to take it in directions that weren't consistent withmy initial concept of it. My relationship with Bill was falling apart. I wastired of the vile focus, and felt it wasn't an appropriate publication in whichto air other sides of my perceptions and activities. I'd "been there, donethat," and it was time to move along, do something else.

At the beginning of our cross Canada tour of 1980, we were offered a subleton an apartment in Vancouver. We had been evicted from our apartment inSan Francisco the month before we left, and had put all our things instorage. We decided to take the sublet and move to Vancouver - a MAJORchange. That never happened. I moved and he stayed.

Arriving in Vancouver in late January 1981, I was like a fish out of water. Ididn't know at that point that Bill would not be coming up, but I was stillfeeling very displaced. All my close friends were in San Francisco, and thesituation I moved into wasn't quite what I had imagined it to be. In lateFebruary I went back to SF to do a final performance with Bill, one we hadscheduled before the trip. At that time it became clear that he wouldn't bemoving to Canada.

During those first two years in Canada, I tried to quit mail art. I did only oneissue of the Banana Rag, in 1981, and I almost let the mail accumulate,unanswered. Early in 1982, I convinced the local TV station to host my 10thanniversary April Fool's Day event; the Going Bananas Fashion Contest.I applied for a grant to create the new performance work, Why Banana?and in the fall of '82, toured it across Canada and the USA. After that, Iapplied for funding to produce About Vile, so that I could bring VILE toan official conclusion, use the materials that people had sent for it, and wrapup that period of my life. (my years in San Francisco '73-'81).

Once I had published About VILE (in 1983), the natural place to distributeit was the network. Once I started distributing it, of course, the responsesstarted flowing in.... and I got caught up again in sending and receiving mail.I altered the format and focus of the Banana Rag, making it more a mail-art information/forum, than the strictly banana content of the earliereditions. I had overspent the budget to print About VILE, and ended upwith a debt, no money, no job, and no commercial contacts in Vancouver.The printers wanted the balance due, and I approached them with theproposition; give me a job, and I'll pay what I owe. I was hired and workedthere for two years, learning the ins and outs of full-color printing, doingpaste-up and camera work, and a lot of in-house design.

In 1984, I was back in San Francisco for the Inter Dada '84 events, and spent3 weeks working with my friend Victoria Kirkby on a performance, In theRed, which we presented in that festival. In '85 I did a performance artworkshop with art students in Calgary. We worked with the material from "inthe Red," producing a new work, In the Red, In the Black. In '85, I quitthe producing job, and free-lanced my design services, both to the printer,and to other clients and connections I had begun to develop. I continuedprinting and sending the Banana Rag, and in the fall of '86, I did a secondtour of Europe, this one solo.

RJ: At the moment you are very active with artistamps. When did you startwith those? What is so fascinating about them?

Reply on : 3-6-1995

AB: I did my first artistamp in response to an invitation by Ed Varney in themid-70's. He reproduced a number of my stamps on one of his many"anthology sheets." The first ones I did were in B&W, and he printed them inblack and red. Then somewhere around '76 or '77, Eleanor Kent, who was aneighbor of mine in San Francisco, got a Color Xerox machine in her home,and invited me to come and work with it. I produced my first two editions onthat machine, along with many other collages and postcards, and Eleanorintroduced me to Jeff Errick of Ephemera, which produced buttons,postcards and stamps. He allowed me to go and perforate my stamps there,in trade for copies of each edition. I believe it was also during that period(late 70's) that Ed Higgins did his Nudes on Stamps book, producingsheets of artistamps from nude portraits of mail artists. On the cover of eachissue, he stuck the stamp of the person to whom he was sending thecatalogue.

While all of this whetted my appetite for the stamp format, it wasn't until Imoved back to Vancouver, and started working at Intermedia Press, that Ireally got the BUG for stamps. I saw the editions Varney had produced, andfound myself wanting that quality of reproduction and that quantity ofstamps so that I could really USE them, not just trade sheets. Through myjob at Intermedia, I learned the technology necessary to produce full color,photo offset editions, however I didn't put this into practice right away.

My initial editions done in Vancouver, were reproduced using Color Xerox,and these dated from 1984, when I had an artist in residence on Long Island,NY, and had the time and resources to experiment with the medium. I alsodid a series that year commemorating the Inter-Dada '84 Festival. Theoriginals of these editions were still collages, as were my 15-sheet Euro-TourCommemorative edition which I did in 1987 after my '86 European trip. Forthese editions, however, I utilized the brand new Canon Laser color copier,and was very impressed with the results. However, these were still prettypricey to produce, and that's when I started doing the figuring necessary tocost out a full-color printed edition. I circulated this information in 1987,and in 1988 produced the first two editions of International Art Post.There are 16 editions of these in print to date, and considerably more of myown, limited editions, for which I still utilize the Canon Laser copier. (Fullcolour printing is still too costly to use for all my own editions).

There are many aspects of artistamps that engage my attention. I think thefirst thing that grabs me about them, is that they parody of an officialcurrency/medium of exchange. People still do double-takes when looking atan envelope with artistamps on them. Because they look so REAL, thequestion always comes up, "are they real/legal?" , "Can I mail a letter withthese?" I like this aspect, because it startles people, and makes themquestion what IS real. Since I have a healthy disrespect for most governmentagencies, this is very satisfying.

Another side of this aspect is that of putting ones own subject priorities on astamp, claiming or assuming power, or the trapping of power, and again,demonstrating that often appearances are deceiving.

Years ago I gave up object making, as it produced too many bulky productsthat then had to be stored, framed, shipped, etc., all of which took up a lotof room and money. If you put $200 worth of materials and $500 worth ofyour time into a work, it wasn't easy to just give it away, and so one feltobliged to take care of there products. I felt there was already too much"stuff" in the world, and I didn't want to be producing more, especially ofthings that would tie me down, in terms of mobility, space, and resources. Igave up object making to become the Town Fool of Victoria, creating publicevents, interactions, and doing mail art.

The beauty of stamp art is that it doesn't take up a lot of room, doesn'trequire exotic equipment and supplies (other than a pin-hole perforator!).One doesn't have to have a huge studio in which to work. One canexperiment with different medium without a big cost factor. One can producea large body of work, and keep it all in one simple box on the shelf, or in analbum. One can produce additional copies of an edition as they are required,rather than having to do a huge run all at once. One can send single sheets,or a whole show around the world without great expense, trade with otherstamp makers, and produce limited editions at a relatively moderate cost.

Furthermore, they have a USE. They are not just for matting and framing,but torn up and put on envelopes, they become a colorful and provocativeelements on a mail-art piece. One can make a statement with a stamp, in avery limited space. I LOVE THEM!

RJ: Because you are active in mail art for such a long time, you must havereceived a lot of mail art too. Did you keep it all? How would you describe'your archive'

Reply on 28-07-1995

AB: Yes, I kept everything except for chain letters, which I either destroyed,or when I was feeling particularly patient, sent back to sender with a noteexplaining that I do not consider this form of communication in any way art,or even mail art. I think they are tyrannical and unimaginative, and I haveNEVER responded to any of them as requested.

If I had only one word to describe my archive, it would be "humongous," orperhaps more accurately, "comprehensive." Being a "paper addict," and an"image junkie," I treasured the mail I received from the very beginning.When I left Canada in May of '73, driving in a Dodge van which I hadmodified to be my home, I carried with me my mail art archive whichconsisted of 2 boxes of material. When I took up residence in San Franciscoin August of '73, one of my first purchases was a file cabinet. During my 8years in San Francisco, the collection grew by leaps and bounds, partlybecause I was publishing VILE magazine, and everyone in the network thenwas anxious to have their works documented by having them reproduced inthe magazine. I also continued publishing the BANANA RAG during thatperiod, and that also drew numerous mailings from the network.

When I left San Francisco in 1981, I had 40 boxes of archival materialshipped to me in Vancouver. While perhaps a third of that was books, atleast half of them related to mail-art shows and projects, and a good manywere "network 'zines." For the most part, I have filed the books, periodicalsand catalogues separate from the letters and mailings, to make access tothem easier. In the absence of a catalogue of the archive, this isn't the most satisfactory solution, since any time I wanted to refer to a particular artist, Icouldn't just one place in the system to get a complete picture of theiractivity. I also streamed out postcards, as their own category, and in morerecent years, have separated the artistamp sheets from the rest of thematerials. The advantage of this system, of course, is that if I want to presenta talk about postcards, artistamps, or books and 'zines, I don't have to goploughing through all fifty boxes of material to find what I want. Maybesomeday I'll get around to cataloguing it all, but having recently sold andcatalogued 400 pieces to the National Postal Museum of Canada, I don'tthink that'll be any time soon. Cataloguing is a tedious and time consumingactivity which I can't afford to do at this point. That's all for now, over andout-

RJ: It seems that the Postal Museums are very interested in mail art theselast years. What are the plans of the Canadian Postal Museum with yourcollection?


Continue with Interview . . .


Mail-artist: Anna Banana, P.O.Box 2480, Sechelt B.C., CANADA VON 3A0

Telephone # 00.1.(604) 885-7156 - FAX # 00.1.(604) 885-7183

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

E-mail Ruud Janssen

Interview List . . .
Library Foyer . . .


Visit Café Jas . . .
Museum Entrance . . .


Copyright ©1996-2005 Jas W Felter, all rights reserved.