Mail art by Ruud Janssen (Breda, Netherlands)
We are thrilled to present a new installment of a three-part blog series featuring new work released in early 2015 by artist, mail art scholar/historian and IUOMA founder Ruud Janssen. The envelopes for these mailings have been especially powerful (and Ruud Janssen is already renowned in the Eternal Network for his envelope art). Others in this series and related items can be found documented online elsewhere too. The envelope (above) announces a consistent theme that runs through these recent mailings: technology, humanity, and the future. The related topic of digital vs. hard copy communication and the future has a very specific relevance to mail artists and is likely to generate heated discussions among the artists whenever the subject is raised.
Note that Ruud Janssen’s envelope also includes an IUOMA-5089 stamp, marking participation in Moan Lisa’s (Iowa, USA) Post Mail Art Movement:
Moan Lisa is incredibly prolific, circulating large amounts of work through the postal system and via the digital realm. While not clearly defined to our knowledge, the Post Mail Art Movement seems to suggest a new order for correspondence art and the network integrating snail mail and the digital realm. Perhaps it is an extension of Dick Higgins’ Intermedia concept.
The contents of the envelope continue and extends the technology, humanity and the future theme with another poster-size print of Ruud Janssen’s recent work using computer technology motifs. This one is entitled “diode dance.” Text is freely integrated with the visual arts elements reminiscent of Ben Vautier’s celebrated communications. As in Part I, the scale of the print could not be captured by my printer, so I had to copy it in two pieces, which does not do much for continuity:
In response to Ruud Janssen’s question: Blogging and maintaining an online presence (aka screwing around with friends on the internet) does indeed consume much of the limited time we can commit to mail art. We have made our view on the digital vs. snail mail dichotomy clear in a number of venues, a subject that can send some individuals into convulsions.
First, we refer to a statement Ray Johnson made in an interview with John Held Jr. in the 1970s. Ray Johnson said: “Mail-art is not about the postal system.” We take this to mean mail-art is about a network of like-minded people exchanging ideas and art not about preserving and worshipping any particular conduit of communication, such as the postal system. We believe mail art today is a hybrid activity involving both online activity and use of the postal system. (Other networking activities might include phone calls and meet-ups.) We encourage this hybrid strategy.
But we do not advocate abandoning the postal system altogether or discontinuing hard copy archives. For us, mail art does not simply become email art. We have had interesting, back channel discussions with a number of veteran mail artists who are very concerned that the potential for artistic freedom that the internet once promised is fading and could well disappear as we now know it. The more paranoid recommend keeping hard copies of everything as those who rely on data storage solely could awaken one day to find all their holdings have simply vanished. Thus, contemporary mail art involves participation in several different paths of communication and storage simultaneously. Adaptability and flexibility are essential.
We admire the romantic notion of mail artists who have gone “off the grid” and only communicate with a closed network “on the ground.” This has the underground feel of the old network, the outlaw appeal. In reality, and we can think of a few artists we admire who have unplugged, this approach is limiting and excludes the artist from many opportunities for innovation.
What we fear most is a notion of mail art that makes a fetish of the mailbox, worship of an obsolete or dying technology. Luddite is the worst possible expression to describe this tendency. This viewpoint could make mail art the kind of activity that involves dressing up in costumes and pretending to live in the past (usually a past that never really existed). This is akin to people who travel on weekends to parks where there are log huts and – in costume – they do demonstrate things like how to make candles or clip goats, whatever. Something like that is cool and maybe useful, but it doesn’t capture the spirit of mail art. Mail art should not be about recreating an activity that most people do not do any more. Mail art has always been about blazing new trails.
We are not too concerned about mail art changing, and it is. We would be more concerned if it were not changing or, in a sense, moving backward, drawing within itself. Any vital and dynamic cultural practice evolves, experiences disruptions and displays continuities. Mail art appears healthy precisely because it is changing and, we believe, adapting.
So that is our response to Ruud Janssen’s interesting question. Here is another view of “diode dance”:
“diode dance” – image courtesy of Ruud Janssen
Many thanks to Ruud Janssen for this wonderful work, and stay tuned for Part III.