Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Showing Off

Mail art is based, among other things, on so-called 'gift culture.' In other words, most mail artists refuse the commercial side of art and prefer instead to send each other their own creations as gifts - which, admittedly, is not a difficult thing to do as our exchanges are based on friendship, not money or interest.

Speaking of friends, the t-shirt in the photo was sent to me by my dear amigo Joan Puig aka John Mountain from Barcelona. JOMO is a relatively recent addition to the mail art network, but he is very well regarded for the quality of his correspondence and his intellectual and artistic works. Actually he is not widely known, for the simple reason that he prefers to cultivate a small personal network of close friends whom he likes to spoil with unique gifts. Like this very limited production t-shirt that features his latest obsession: finding a new paradigm shift to save the world of (mail) art from its current condition. I don't really know how to contribute to his mad quest, but at the very least I can show off his precious gift.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Love Is a Hot Gun

As zine makers never tire to state, making a zine is in itself an awesome thing, and every person who takes the time to write, put together and share his or her creation with other people deserves to be praised. This said, it’s also true that too many zines are not all that interesting. Between poorly chosen subjects, navel-gazing perziners, and just plain bad writers, I sometimes wonder why I waste my time reading so-so stuff instead of a good book. Luckily once in a while I discover something truly different that manages to both entertain and inform. American Gun Culture Report goes even beyond that, as editor Ross Eliot tackles a controversial subject in an original, thought-provoking way. The subject, of course, is gun control; the role firearms play within society and culture; and how they relate to power, violence, and politics. More importantly, Ross wants to show that not all gun owners are your stereotypical supporters of the status quo or racist paranoiacs. As he writes in the premiere issue of AGCR, “there should be no contradiction between advocating for human rights as well as gun rights.” (To get the idea, you only have to check his web site out and have a look at the photo gallery, featuring a seemingly out of place bunch of gays, Goths, and other strangely clothed people at a shooting range in Portland).
I was born and raised in Italy, and Europe has been for years an anti-gun environment. My father was a police officer, and in my family we all knew where he kept his pistol, but the place was strictly off-limits and I never even dreamed of touching it. For the last 16 years, then, I have lived in Japan, a country where firearm ownership is severely restricted. They put you in prison even if you own a modified toy gun. Indeed, the general opinion here is that the strict national laws must be thanked for the very low rate of violent deaths. With such a background, you can imagine the attitude with which I approached this zine (let’s say “open but skeptical”). Also, I keep thinking that the USA is in many respects an extreme country with extreme social conditions, and what can be considered acceptable and even necessary for people living there – “we have a moral right and responsibility to defend ourselves and our families against harm” (Wild West style) – is a little out of place in our countries. But Ross really does a very fine job of balancing all the different points of views. Another thing I noticed is that in the span of three issues, he has somewhat expanded the scope of AGCR from a strictly-gun-talk zine to a place where social and political issues are thoroughly explored. And of course there is the writing: AGCR currently boasts some of the most interesting, articulate, wickedly funny writers in zinedom. And no, Ross didn’t have to point a gun to my head to make me write such a good review. Order AGCR and find for yourself.

American Gun Culture Report
Issues #1-3, $3.00, $10.00 for a 4-issue subscription, 52 pages www.myspace.com/agcr308
editor@americangunculturereport.com http://www.americangunculturereport.com/

Friday, August 22, 2008

Back to the Roots

I’m a hardcore townie and could never live in the countryside, let alone engage in such activities as gardening or growing my own vegetables. This of course does not mean that I don’t enjoy reading about people who lead that kind of life and more generally embrace a more sustainable lifestyle. I actually envy them because I’m conscious that they are fundamentally right and it is people like me who are ruining our dead old planet.

Enter Dan Murphy and Trace Ramsey, two nice guys who like to get their hands dirty and rant about their life choices. Dan describes himself as a “gentleman farmer” (“but just because it sounds cool,” he adds) and his zine The Juniper as 1) the journal of a budding horticulturist; 2) a flippant response to the Man’s agenda; and 3) a heartfelt attempt at knocking some sense into society. The two issues I have (#9 and #10) are rather slim but they are very worth reading. In issue #9, for example, he writes about his experience working as the assistant farm manager of an organic farm near the University of Idaho. What I like the most, though, is Dan’s attitude, his down-to-earth approach and especially the lack of preaching. He is the first one to admit his faults and all the things he could do more or better, and in doing this he helped me feel more comfortable with my own contradictions.

Even Trace is actively engaged in supporting local and organic farms. He has been putting out his zine Quitter since 2005. After publishing five issues, he has decided to collect the whole lot into a 40-page hand-made book and he was kind enough to send me copy #35 (I know because each copy is numbered). The object itself is a little jewel, with a great color cover and color and b/w illustrations throughout. And then there’s the writing, of course. Put it simply, I believe that the best writing is the kind that 1) manages to be engaging regardless of the subject; 2) makes me think; and most of all 3) makes me feel like I want to take highlighter and pen and cover the pages with comments and orange marks. Quitter managed to do all these things.
Trace writes what he calls creative non fiction, and through the years has developed the ability to put common words together in original combinations. He manages to be sophisticated in a natural, unassuming way. At the same time, he anchors his rants with stories taken from his memories. Sometimes he will write something like “I was born with an extra pair of ribs” and the reader (or at least a dumb reader, such as myself) will search for hidden meanings until he realizes that is the plain truth. Apart from the autobiographical notes, the common theme that returns in all the five issues is Trace’s decision to “quit” the kind of world that humankind has turned into a huge pile of garbage. Quitting a job he hates and translates into “someone else’s hopes and mortgage and car payments;” quitting unconscious consumption; temporarily quitting the civilized world in order to live for three months in “solitary confinement” in a forest and study the breeding habits of a small songbird… What he will not quit is fighting to “preserve the history of (…) an idea that would often be considered irrelevant by the dominant culture,” and writing “for an audience that is resilient in its opposition of being taken for granted.” What can you ask more from a zine?

Back to Dan, he publishes another zine, Elephant Mess, that couldn’t be more different from The Juniper. I’ve got issue #19 that is supposed to be a kind of celebration (it is subtitled “Nice Things – The Ten Year Anniversary”) but the general mood is rather gloomy. As much as The Juniper is a call to go out and do stuff, this one is the occasion to explore darker places. It’s all about things that hurt, old wounds that never heal, and longing for solitude. As Dan himself admits, “I enjoy the reactions I receive when I routinely embody pessimism.” Luckily Dan doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously, and the overall effect is often amusing. Another major difference is the writing: The Juniper’s plain, direct style is replaced here by a more convoluted prose, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Even though Dan thinks he often sounds like an imbecile, I found this a rewarding reading experience. If you want to know 101 more things about Dan, you can have a look at his blog (listed below).

The Juniper and Elephant Mess
$2 each, Dan Murphy, P.O. Box 3154, Moskow, ID 83843, USA, juniperjournal@hotmail.com , http://juniperbug.blogspot.com/

$15 plus shipping. Trace Ramsey, 160 A. W. Buckner Rd, Siler City, NC 27344, USA, localrevolt@hotmail.com , http://www.goodlucknotdying.com/

Thursday, July 03, 2008

My Zines Reviewed

Well yes, sometimes you review, sometimes you get reviewed. This is what other publications think about my zines. In case you are interested, all of them are still available - for less than you folks pay your government to destroy the environment, kill other people and organise silly useless summits.

Call & Response #1 reviewed by Erin (One Fine Mess)
One thing is for sure: Call & Response is 2004's best English-language zine written by an Italian living in Japan. That's faint praise, so I should add that this engaging debut would stand out whatever the niche. In this issue, Gianni tells of travels, his occupation (teaching Italian to Tokyo-area students), his flair of filching photocopies, and his history in the world of mail art. Don't let the complicated overseas mailing address scare you, my pretties. Call & Response is worth that trip to the post office. [5.5” x 8.5”, $3 or 3 IRCs postpaid worldwide, selective trades (contact first)] jb64jp@yahoo.co.jp

Call & Response #1 reviewed by Doreen King (New Hope International Review http://www.geraldengland.co.uk/revs/)
This booklet has a mail art feel, with the personal, chatty and rather intimatefeel that mail art brings. It is full of short articles and anecdotes of the type that would not be out of place on a low ebb chat show. The artwork is very good

Call & Response #1 reviewed by Sean Stewart (The Zine Rack)
This is a new personal zine from passionate mail artist Gianni Simone. Most of the stories have been previously published in other places, but they still convey a unified, and intriguing, portrait of Gianni. And, as would be expected from a mail artist, the layout and graphics in here are top-notch. The color of the cover stock is really cool, too, and one that I’ve never seen before. And the cover features a color-copied photo of the man himself in India, posing with a four-legged companion. Topics inside range from a diary of photocopy thievery to breakfast in India, and from mail art to insect encounters. Gianni’s writing is expressive and articulate, even in his non-native language of English, which makes his new zine a pleasure to read. I’ll be looking forward to future issues!

Call & Response#2 reviewed by Keith Rosson (Razorcake http://www.razorcake.org/)
This one’s put together by the same guy that does Org{an}ism, and it could almost be considered an accompanying issue of that zine. This one also explores the theme of home and belonging, albeit with a lot more contributors this time around. Simone deserves a high-five for assembling a truly diverse group of contributors here. Standouts are 1.) John Adams’s scary account of being processed into prison—the delousing, the shower, the head-shaving, all the stuff in his pockets placed in an envelope and filed away for his release. 2.) Onjana Yawnghwe’s charming typewritten/hand-drawn history of all the houses she’s lived in throughout her life. 3.) Vincent Voelz’s lengthy story about moving from Minnesota to SF. See, that’s the cool thing about this zine: some of these stories are almost heartbreaking in their depth and sincerity, and some of them just detail trying to find home, trying to belong and feel a part of, in such a kind of average way that it’s so easy to relate to. That’s what makes this thing such a good read—that ability to identify. [$4, 5½” x 8½”, photocopied, 60 pgs]

Call & Response #2 reviewed by Quismada (Xerography Debt http://www.leekinginc.com/xeroxdebt/index.htm http://xerographydebt.blogspot.com/)
This is a collection of some highly talented writers who share their experiences about home. Give credit to zine maestro Gianni Simone for putting together yet another classy publication. Some of these writings will make you cry, others will make you snicker, either way, few people will read the zine without being touched in some way. The writers come from all over the globe and this zine is an open window to their lives. Put that travel book aside and if you're thinking about moving? Consult this zine first.

Call & Response #2 reviewed by Geoff Huth (http://dbqp.blogspot.com/)
Yesterday, I received a copy of the second issue of Call & Response, another zine from Gianni Simone, an Italian who seems to create only English-language zines while living in Japan. As with anything I receive from Gianni, this zine is carefully crafted. In this case, part of that craft is explained by the subtitle of the issue: "at home -- not at home." Gianni asked a number of his correspondents to write about "traveling - living abroad - culture shock - cultural heritage - feeling an outsider in the place where you live - different concepts of 'home.' This zine of Gianni's gives us some insight into others' points of view about home and how those changed over their lives. The visual poet David Baptiste Chirot writes about the concept "Home is where I hang my hat," recounts a non-meeting in Paris with the hat of William Saroyan, and tells us about living overseas and in a transitional home in Milwaukee. A couple of his famous frottage poems (which he calls "rubBEings") bookend his essay. The mailartist Bernd Reichert, whose work is often vispoetic, includes a small multilingual collage as well as the story of an East German self-exiling himself to Belgium after the reunification of Germany. Randall Osborne tells a too-short story of a home broken up and of how both of his names slowly changed on him against his will. Carlos M. Luis, "the great gesture writer of visual poetry," writes about being a Cuban immigrant to America, whose views are anti-Castro yet not in line with the Cuban-American majority.Onjana Yawnghwe tells us about her life in Thailand and the corollary of that life in Vancouver. She tells us a fully verbo-visual story. She draws simple pictures of her homes (often they layouts), types her story around those pictures, and then emends the text by hand. This ends up giving her story a childlike quality that I enjoyed.
But I'm giving away too many of the stories. There are six or seven more. This zine is the first in a long time that brings back to me a whiff of the Factsheet Five era, when my friend Mike Gunderloy served as the central node of a huge network of zines, when my mailbox was always full of some sweet gift from Asia or Europe or North America. (Gianni, for instance, writes the bios of each of his correspondents in this issue, giving the boring author bio some life and relevance.) This zine reminds of the network that once was. But it is mostly about the stories.We hear four stories from visual poets alone in these pages, two stories from people whose fathers were diplomats, two stories that mention tamarinds, as well as stories from Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and both Americas. All of the people we hear from are artists of some kind, but of the type I call invisible artists (because I am one myself). Invisible artists don't make a big splash, don't really become famous, don't make any noticeable money off their art, and sometimes live the usual lives of usual people in unusual ways. There are some great stories in here, simply told, along with a few surprises about the lives of visual poets.
Call & Response is available for $4 or 3 IRCs worldwide. email.

Orga{ni}sm #1 reviewed by Davida Gypsy Breier (Xerography Debt #16)
I've been interested in Japan since becoming friends with a Japanese freelance writer a few years ago. I think about going to visit her in Tokyo one day. It is captivating to read about a place you want to visit, especially through the eyes of someone who lives there, yet who started as an outsider.In addition to Gianni's description of the city, food, and movies, and mass transit, Brant Kresovich (For the Clerisy zine) offers an essay about Jack Seward, Robin Bougie (Cinema Sewer zine) dreams about Japan, and Gigantor has a strange job interview. Recommended.

Orga{ni}sm #2 reviewed by Stephanie Holmes (Xerography Debt #20)
This is a travel and personal zine about the author's life in Japan. It's awonderful blend of essays (one to note is one about the first Western immigrants in Japan) and personal accounts including modern tales of healthcare in Japan, people watching on a train, memories of cultural integration by revisiting the author's stash of personal letters, and interactive lists (report of communication between author and readers) about free things to do and have in the city. Also includes contributions from two of XD's own, Bobby Tran Dale and Brent Kresovich (For the Clerisy zine). Highly recommended

Orga{ni}sm #2 reviewed by Keith Rosson (Razorcake)
Written in English by an Italian currently residing in Japan. The theme of this issue is “first contacts,” and Simone and Orga{ni}sm’s few contributors do a great job sticking with the theme while still keeping things interesting. While the majority of it is centered around Japan (things you can do/get for free, people-watching on the train, a history of immigration to the country, etc.), there’s also a running, almost unspoken undercurrent of just trying to feel at home in a place that is very, very different from what you’re used to. That’s what makes this thing such a captivating read. While there’s nothing explicitly “punk” about this, the writing and content transcends that—it’s a pretty consuming zine, put together by the same guy that does Call And Response. [$4, 5½” x 8½”, copied, 48 pgs.]

Orga{ni}sm #2 reviewed by Caroline (Zine World #25 http://www.undergroundpress.org/ )Color cover with great layout and formatting, well-organized and easily guides the reader into its pages. Many articles about life in Japan from a sociological perspective, written well and often from a wry perspective. Included in this issue is a packet of tissues with the following curse, “Issue #2 comes with a free packet of tissues. The packet cannot be sold separately. Those who will try to sell the tissues for personal gain are going to catch a deadly case of bird flu.” Very good read, well worth the time. jb64jp@yahoo.co.jp [$4 US or 3 IRC’s 44S :30]

Call & Response #3 / Orga{ni}sm #3 reviewed by Lauren Trout (Razorcake)

This split is pretty rad. Orga{ni}sm features personal horror stories and straight facts dealing with the Japanese legal and prison systems, which take the cultural standards of conformity and subordination to extremes. Call & Response publishes firsthand accounts of prison conditions and some broader information related to the problems that plague the prison system in America. This split is remarkable to me because it manages to avoid articles full of anti-prison rhetoric and news about the handful of American political prisoners who have received national attention—topics that have been covered to death in prison-themed literature. This is a great personal zine of well-written contributions from different people who happen to be incarcerated or are interested in sharing information about the prison system. (jb64jp@yahoo.co.jp) [$4 ppd., 5'' x 8'', photocopied w / color cover, 56 pgs.]

Call & Response and Orga{ni}sm reviewed by http://www.syndicateproduct.com/
As mentioned earlier this year, I’ve had a rough time finding zines that aren’t just perzines disguised as reprints of LiveJournal entries. These two zines from an Italian ex-pat living in Japan were a pleasant wake-up call – the writing from Gianni and contributors is just plain interesting to read. He’s also Xerography Debt’s resident mail art expert, and maintains a blog about mail art and zines, Gloomy Sundays. Send $6 for both to Gianni Simone. You’ll receive an artfully decorated envelope with cool stamps!

Call & Response #3 / Orga{ni}sm #3 reviewed by Dann Lennard (Betty Paginated) [This interview was originally slated for publication in Zine World #26 but was sent too late and didn't make it - my fault, not Dann's]

I enjoyed the articles in this split zine that examines prison life in Japan and abroad, even if I’m not sympathetic to many of the sentiments. Yeah, prison life is terrible – I get it. It’s just…well, they’re CRIMINALS and deserve to be in locked up. I can’t feel sorry for the fuckers. Still, I thought the zine was interesting. Life in prison is shit – and it’s fascinating to learn how inmates cope with their daily lives. But, frankly, they got themselves into this mess, so…y’know… jb64jp@yahoo.co.jp [US$4 post-paid worldwide 56S :45]

Call & Response #3 / Orgna{ni}sm #3 reviewed by Emerson Dameron (Zine Thug #12) (to read the whole review: http://www.zinethug.com/)

America has a larger percentage of incarcerated citizens than any other nation on earth. (...) Prison might be the only growth industry we've got left. Yes, there are sociopathic assholes in our midst, and I'd rather not split a cab with them, but America's prison-industrial complex is an out-of-control monster, no one seems to know what most of these people are actually in for, and no one seems to be talking about it in mass earshot. Both sides of this split are devoted to prisoners, pretty much the only American zine writers who have any beeswax calling their shit 'zsamizdat. ' C&R showcases the paint-peeling wit of inmate John Adams and the addictive freestyling of inmate Seth Ferranti. (...) The deceptively precious title Orga {ni }sm reps joint life in should-be-zine-god Gianni Simone's adopted Japanese homeland, complete with goofy illustrations. This issue's pick o' the litter, easy. jb64jp@yahoo.co.jp

Call & Response #3 / Orga{ni}sm #3 reviewed by Blackguard (http://blackguard23.livejournal.com)
How wonderful it was to recently learn about Gianni Simone's zines Orga{ni}sm and Call & Response (thanks to Xerography Debt!). In 1992 Gianni moved from Italy to Japan and has been living there ever since. He is a language teacher, teaching Italian to the Japanese. In 2004 he started up a zine, or two zines (not sure which came first since both are at #3) as a means to share his experiences and opinions of life in Japan. Gianni generously sent me Orga{ni}sm #1 and 2 plus the split Orga{ni}sm #3/Call & Response #3. His covers are very nice, with obvious handmade touches. When I was reading one on the bus I had people giving me curious and envious looks. All they had was a crummy iPod. Inside I read about Gianni's history and explanation of how he came to move to Japan, as well as his involvement with *mail art*. He rides an old streetcar line and documents the journey. Elsewhere he writes about food, like that available at Techno Sushi, a sushi restaurant where they blast deafening techno music to make you eat fast and leave quickly, and Strictly Ramen, a ramen joint ruled by the iron fist of Tokyo's answer to Seinfeld's Soup Nazi. On the grimmer side, his split zine focusses on prison and state-organised punishment of all kinds. Most fascinating in this issue was the details about life in a Japanese prison and the accompanying illustrations by Kazuichi Hanawa, a manga artist who spent time in prison and drew a manga about it. The zine also contains contributions from actual prisoners.
All three zines are fantastic and highly recommended. [Email Gianni at jb64jp@yahoo.co.jp to order copies, he is up for selective trades.]

Call and Response #4 reviewed by Astrogirlzarro, http://astrobabylon.blogspot.com/

A parcel arrived from Japan a few days ago, sent by the zine maestro, Gianni Simone, containing some of his exceptional zines, one of them being Call and Response. The zines were accompanied by a gracious letter written in Gianni’s distinctive handwriting (which resembles Japanese ideographic characters to my eyes) on the back of a photocopied image. Veteran zinesters never fail to amaze me with their proficient use of stationery, printed media, and innovative ideas when it comes to beautifying snail mail. The most ingenious I get is sticking cheap Betty Boop stickers randomly onto drab manila envelopes for my zine mail out. I’m not exactly letting my freak flag fly in the mail art department, but I’m working on it.
Issue four of Call and Response is a (mostly) black and white photocopied collaborative zine. The theme is Windows (as in the peep holes in buildings not the computer operating system). The stories vary in quality and are written by a clutch of zinesters in various stages of their self publishing journey. They attack the theme from different and fascinating angles; no two stories are alike.
Swedish contributor Mikael X Eriksson records some fine insights in his Libraries and Churches Saved My Life piece. He says:

‘there are two places where you can always sit in peace without having to spend any money: libraries and churches.'

It got me thinking about the astrological significance of what he said.
In the birth chart, libraries and churches are institutions traditionally ruled by the twelfth house of what is hidden from the mundane world. The institutions represented by this sector of the chart are not established for profiteering; they are organisations set up to shelter and protect the vulnerable (hostels and halfway houses); heal the sick (hospitals); reform the misfit (prison); educate the curious (universities and libraries); and provide solace to the seeker (churches). Eriksson states that he had a drinking problem and then lived rough. Libraries and churches played a significant part in his survival during this phase. The twelfth house demands that you confront your demons and take responsibility for your recovery within the parameters of these institutions. I think that Eriksson’s piece represents the twelfth house anecdote completely.
He ends his story experiencing true twelfth house divine home sickness:

'I’ve had many addresses in many cities. Never a place to call my home. I’ve come to understand that when I miss home, I miss a place inside myself. A place I’ve never lived in. A place I constantly long for and will probably never find.’

Eriksson, my man, I hope you find want what you’re looking for.
Call and Response also contains other gems written by Gianni himself, Andrew Culture, K Frank Jensen, and a couple of Australian journalists/zinesters, Dann Lennard and Helen Vnuk, who write about the view of Harris Park, a suburb in western Sydney, from their window. The stories are multi-layered, mature, and thoroughly engaging.
To discover more about zine extraordinaire Gianni Simone and his various self publishing projects, check out his blogs Gloomy Sundays at http://gloomy-sundays.blogspot.com/ and A Man Called Horse at http://man-horse.blogspot.com/. They are also good insights into Japan’s zine culture.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A few years ago, while doing some business with the mighty Tokyo-based Wasabi Distro ( http://www.wasabi-distro.com/) I discovered Picaresque, a zine from Australia. I got issues #7 and #9 and I was hooked after reading one page. The idea behind the project is very simple: Brendan Rocks writes his memories, from his childhood to the present. The memories, though, are numbered, and distributed randomly, each one usually being only a few lines long. For example, one issue may start with memory #75, then continue with #102, #13, #28, with the lower numbers representing the older stories. It's a clever enough device, actually quite engaging, but what makes the zine really good is Brendan's writing, his understated sense of humor, and the matter-of-fact approach with which he tells both funny and sad stories.
I recently mailed him at brendanrocks@hotmail.com to check on the zine's status, and Brendan was kind enough to send me his latest issue, #10, that unfortunately seems to be the last one of the series. However he still seems to have plenty of back issues. You'll better get some of them before he runs out of stock.
Brendan Rocks, 17 Mayes St, Stawell, VIC 3380, Australia
I've just got the first two issues of Adam Pasion's Sundogs zine. You'll better check what I wrote about them in my Japan-themed blog http://orga-ni-sm.blogspot.com/ ...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

In the world of contemporary art, everybody only seems interested in talking about marketability, auctions and the rising price of paintings. Long cherished words such as “creativity” and “self-expression” have been replaced by the new catchphrase: “art = investment.” And yet there are still people who reject the dog-eat-dog attitude of most professional artists and emphasize instead the communicative, collaborative aspect of the artistic practice. I’m talking of course of the international mail art network that for almost 50 years has mostly flied under the radar of the art establishment. While in the art world everything seems to have a price, mail artists embrace trading and gift culture. And while the pompous rites of the art with a capital $ are consumed in ever bigger, cathedral-like museums, the mail artists are satisfied with much more modest, intimate spaces. Among them, one of the more peculiar and interesting “places” is the Museum of Temporary Art (MoTA) that you can find… in the living room of Benjamin and Debby Böhm in Tubingen, Germany.

“The idea for the museum was born by chance in 2000,” Benjamin explains, “when I found in a supermarket a 50 x 40 x 10 cm box with 33 small drawers that immediately reminded me of those Fluxus kits from the 60s, and decided to give it to Debby as a birthday present.” Debby suggested they may use it as a “guestbook” – visitors could take something from the box and replace it with something they carried on them. But that was only the first step: Benjamin’s other great love is Dada – the European group of anti-art terrorists who at the beginning of the 20th century turned many traditional artistic assumptions on their head – and their playful, iconoclastic attitude. So he proposed to turn it into a full-fledged museum, with a director (Debby), its logo, rubberstamps and other museum-related paraphernalia.

Then they decided to go global and started posting calls in the Internet, making this an ongoing project. As Benjamin explains, “anybody is invited to send us a contribution – by mail, of course. There are no juries and everything is accepted, in typical mail art fashion. The only condition is that the object cannot be bigger than 4 x 4 x 8 cm – otherwise it wouldn’t fit into the drawer. “Also,” adds Benjamin, “don’t forget to send along the exhibition sheet that everybody can download from the museum’s Web site http://www.museum-of-temporary-art.com/, because the stories behind the objects are as important as the objects themselves.” The MoTA’s collection currently amounts to nearly 800 pieces (they are thinking of organizing a great retrospective exhibition when they reach 1000) and includes both traditional artworks and found objects that remind us of the infamous Marcel Duchamp’s “ready mades.” “Most of the contributions,” Debby points out, “are linked to a memory or a particular occurrence. This gives them a special value, and that is what we love about the whole project.”

The MoTA, of course, can house only 33 exhibits at a time (hence the term “temporary art”). This means that every time a new contribution arrives in the mail, the oldest one is replaced (on the Web site, you can always have a look at what currently is in the museum, together with all the descriptions). So what happens to all the pieces after they have had their 15 minutes of “fame”? Debby reassures us that “we don’t sell them but keep the whole lot in our archive.” Like most people who are active in the mail art network, they are not professional artists (Benjamin is a computer programmer; Debby works for a book publisher). They are into it only because they like it, and the MoTA can be considered a labor of love. They are always open to collaboration and welcome anybody, regardless of his or her artistic skill. To contribute to the project, you only have to send something (you can check out the Web site for inspiration) together with the exhibit sheet (please write in English or German) to the following address: Museum of Temporary Art, c/o Debby Böhm, Lange Gasse 25, 72070 Tübingen, Germany. In exchange you will receive a copy of your exhibit sheet and one of the object your contribution has replaced. Not only that, once every 100 exhibits, they send to all the participants a beautiful full-color catalogue (I just found one in my mail box). All this, of course, is for free, in the best mail art tradition. Have fun!