Sunday, March 15, 2009

In Memory of a New Friend

In 1998 I met through the post German mail artist Johannes Musholf. We happened to have a friend in common (not a rare thing in our Network), Ivan Zemtsov from Russia. As our names were different versions of the English 'John' I came up with the idea of forming a collaborative group whose name was supposed to be The Three Johns (anybody remembers the British new wave band of the '80s?). Sadly Johannes suddenly died in 1999. As a tribute to him I've uploaded the last thing he sent me before passing away. Johannes was fond of telling stories, and that was one of the things I liked the most about him.

Tourism (2)

I should have posted this one several months ago, but as the more faithful followers of this blog know all too well, I'm constantly fighting my chronic laziness.
This said, I still remember with great fondness the nice meeting I had with fellow mail artists Antic Ham (South Korea), Francis Van Maele (Luxemburg, now living in Ireland) and Keiichi Nakamura (Japan).

Our rendez vous took place in Shin Okubo, an area near Shinjuku that's famous for being a sort of Little Korea, full of Korean restaurants, Korean shops, etc. Francis was afraid that Ham would be homesick away from her country and found a hotel in this area. Ah, the joys of traveling!... The main event took place in a Korean seedy eatery where we had the only possible kind of mail art congress: We got drunk.
Japan post

I think I have mentioned before how wonderful the postal service in Japan is. They will deliver the goods no matter what, and will even apologise for something they haven't done in the first place. Here are a couple of examples, respectively coming from the US (slightly broken envelope) and Serbia (flood- or typhoon-altered envelope)

The second envelope contained Dobrica Kamperelic's long-running zine Open World. As you can see, the zine itself got a nice treatment that added some colour to its usually b/w design.

Now, THIS is a mail art catalogue

Once upon a time, paper ruled mail art. People wrote letters (imagine that), didn’t know what a computer was, and all the project documentation was in paper form, ranging from simple lists of participants to thick catalogues. Nowadays most people opt for posting all the works in a blog, mainly because it’s less labor intensive and definitely cheaper. Still, once in a whole I come across an old school doc, and the zine that Mujinga produced for his project Utopia is very well worth mentioning.

Inside you will find a brief description of the works he received, the usual list of contributors and, most importantly, a discussion on what mail art is and an interesting piece on how and why he embarked in this project, including the problems he encountered and the lessons he learned. All in all it’s a very useful primer for people who are thinking about doing the same thing, or are interested in the subject, and even includes a handy list of mail art-related web sites.
$2/Digest/20 pgs
Mujinga/Edward, 1 Delves Cottages, Church Hill, Ringmer, Lewes BN8 5JY, UK or

Madagascar!!! (the real thing)

If you are a paper fetishist like me, you’ll better get Well, Here We All Are!
Stories from Madagascar, Land of Golden Cows
before Sailor runs out of copies. You’ll get a heavy cardstock cover (mine was a nice brown that shines and twinkle under the light) and even the inside pages were copied on high quality paper. The whole combo is then kept together with a thick black rubber band that I find very appropriate, because I may be wrong but I imagine that this stuff would be easier to find in Madagascar than staples.

Then you open the zine and you are transported into this alien land where life is much different from so called civilized countries. Sailor spent one month on the island, visiting her friend who was working as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Alternating typewritten and handwritten texts with photos and quirky & cute drawings, she tells about life in Madagascar, its people, customs, food, language, etc. It’s the next best thing to actually boarding a plane and seeing it for yourself. Recommended.
$3.50 or selected trades (email first) /Digest/64 pgs
Sailor Holobaugh, 4 Valley View Ave, Takoma Park, MD 20912

I must admit that my first impression of this zine wasn’t very positive. First of all, the cover was a confusing jumble. Even the many comics (they comprise about half the zine) looked rather crude. Also, I’ve never been too much into punk, and the prospect of reading endless interviews with unknown musicians wasn’t very appealing. Then I actually began to read the zine and I realized how wrong I was. Anto is a master interviewer, and his two long conversations with Irish peace and social activist Caoimhe Butterfly (11 pgs) and Deko Dachau (13 pgs) (“probably the most well known of Irish punk rockers”) are engaging and informative. I learned quite a lot about the evolution of the local music and zine scenes (the piece on Dachau even features many covers of historical Irish punk zines). What really won me out, though, were the comics. I’ve never quite seen something like this: They are a curious but ultimately beautiful mix of detailed landscapes and backgrounds and roughly drawn people who look more like caricatures. I can’t wait to get the next issue and see how Anto’s and brother Eugene’s surreal time travel ends. This monster issue is round up by zine reviews and an interesting Spanish revolution tour of Barcelona. Please gimme more!
$3 or 3 euros /Digest/112 pgs

This is a very nice booklet I got last year from Mariano Bellarosa, a new mail art friend from Italy I met through the mighty social network DodoDada ( Mariano's forte are very detailed, somewhat weird drawings. This particualr booklet has very high production values and if you like the genre, you might want to contact him. You will find his profile in DodoDada.

If you are a mail artist, I don't need to explain who is Vittore Baroni. If you don't know him, I guess the easier thing to do is to google him and see for yourself all the things he has done since joining the mail art network in 1977. His zine Arte Postale! has been for 30 years a focal point for all the network's activities.

Unfortunately Vittore has decided to pull the plug on this project: AP! 100, that should be published later this year, will be its last issue.
The cover you see above is AP! 96, a magnificent catalogue Vittore produced last year to document an exhibition devoted to artists' books.
I believe that Vittore still has some back issues left, plus copies of some of his other publications (books, etc.). For a list, you can contact him at:
vittorebaroni (at) alice (dot) it

The book you see below was published last year by German copy-artist Klaus Urbons to document his exhibition/project on xerography.

2008 was the 70th anniversary of the invention of the photocopier, a machine which has played a pivotal role in dramatically expanding what (mail) artists and zine makers can do, and both Klaus and I decided to make a tribute to its inventor, Chester F. Carlson.
My contribution was yet another two-issue set of KAIRAN (#14 +15) that features works by some 90 copy-artists and several articles on the subjects.
A few copies are still available. If interested, please send US$6.00 for the set (or US$4.00 for one issue) to my address.
Greetings from Kanazawa

I always say I love to live in Japan. Actually I should say I love Tokyo. I like big city life, to be precise. This doesn’t mean, of course, that I can’t appreciate the beauty of small cities. One of the places I haven’t visited yet but I’m definitely planning to is Kanazawa, a city on the west coast that is famous for Kenrokuen, considered by the Japanese one of the three best gardens in the whole archipelago. For the time being, I can now travel vicariously to this town thanks to mail artist and master photographer Mark Hammond who has just self-published Kanazawa in Black and White, a delightful collection of his b/w pictures that capture his adopted hometown in all his subdued charm.

Evenly divided according to the four seasons, these beautifully printed photos show you a side of Japan that people living abroad rarely get to see. This is a must for both photography buffs and people who are interested in all things Japanese.
$15 postpaid/Digest/40 pgs.
Mark Hammond, Teramachi 2-11-34, Kanazawa-shi, 921-8033 Ishikawa-ken, Japan

KAIRAN 10 + 11

The visual poem you see below was made by Japanese artist Hiroshi Tanabu who is among the contributors to KAIRAN 10 +11.

This two-issue set is entirely devoted to poetry in the mail art network. It's almost 90 pages full of poetry (word-based, visual, concrete, etc.) and poetry-related articles and interviews.

KAIRAN 10 features:
- a massive ABC by Guido Vermeulen, who introduces many artists who are seldom included in mail art publications.
- a photo-report by Bruno Chiarlone on his postal actions
- an article by Theo Breuer on visual poetry
- a report by Nancy Burr about the NorthWest Concrete/Visual Poetry Exhibition in Seattle
- a piece by Carla Bertola on sound poetry by Italian female artists
- plus poems by Giovanni Malito, Turk LeClair, Monica Ferretti, Marilyn Dammann, Francesco Mandrino, Bernd Reichert, etc.

KAIRAN 11 features:
- interviews with Harry Burrus, Mark Sonnenfeld, David Stone and Francesco Mandrino
- an article by Misako Yarita on concrete and visual poetry in Japan
- a piece by Keiichi Nakamura on collaboration in poetry and art
- opinions by Geof Huth, Michael Peters, and Michael Basinski on visual poetry
- plus tons of poems by Reed Altemus, Ficus Strangulensis, Jim Leftwitch, Jesse Glass, Jr, Willi Melnikhov, Laura Ryder, Pete Spence, etc.

A few copies are still available. If interested, please send US$ 6.00 or 5 euro for the nice pair (US$ 4.00 or 3 euro for a single issue) (well-concealed cash) or a good trade (you know what I mean) to:

Gianni Simone
3-3-23 Nagatsuta
226-0027 Kanagawa-ken

And remember that all the back issues are still available: in particular,
- #3 is partly devoted to the historical TRAX networking project
- #4 is devoted to mail art in former Yugoslavia
- #5 is a homage to Robin Crozier ("the most famous unknown artist in the world")
- #6 focuses on art & money
- #7 is devoted to mail art in Latin America
- #8 is about femail artists
- #9 contains a huge annotated index of mail art publications

Many of these issues also feature rubberstamp art, stickers, and artistamps.

Order today some of these great zines, so you don't have to go all the way to the MOMA in New York, the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo or the Staatliches Museum in Schwerin, Germany to read them.
Fun in the UK

I have almost all the issues of this zine. This should be enough to tell you how much I like it. This is your typical punk zine, with lots of columns, zine and music reviews, and assorted articles, but as usual, the writing makes the difference, and the gang behind Beat Motel can write as well as anybody, beginning with boss Andrew Culture and his scatologically fantastic sense of humor. Or maybe I should say humour: I’m a sucker for British English – even though I’ve recently got so used to the American version that I often have to check my dictionary, or directly mail Andrew for directions.

[Beat Motel]

Issue #8 is an 80-page, 69,400-word monster featuring 18 columnists discussing the idea of ‘country’ and ‘nationalism,’, 67 zine reviews, 142 CD reviews, 10 live reviews, and a truckload of foul words. The new issue #9 is the "sex/procreation issue" so don't tell me I didn't warn you.
The indefatigable Mr. Culture is also at the helm of Corndog Distro. Check out his web site and you will find more British zine delight.
2 pounds or $3 or 3 euros postpaid/Digest/52-80 pgs
Andrew Culture, PO Box 773, Ipswich, Suffolk IP1 9FT, UK
A Rad Lad

One of the best artists and illustrators I've had the pleasure to meet since I joined the zine network is a lad from UK named Steve Larder. His zine Rum Lad is a sort of perzine in which Steve talks about his life, his friends, and chronicles his trips around and outside UK. In Issue 4, for instance, Steve goes to Mulheim, Germany, to attend the local zine festival. His art is top notch and I especially love the way he draws urban landscapes and architecture. Rum-Muffel is a collaboration with Isy of Morgenmuffel fame (another great comic zine, by the way); a travelogue detailing their winter trip to a national park.

Steve Larder, Somerset House, Cherry Holt Lane, Sutterton, Boston, Lincs, PE20 2H4, UK.
The Future of Mail Art

The international mail art network has always been divided between those who like to
chronicle and/or analyze what they do and those who only want to make art and correspond with their friends without having to explain how and why they do what they do. Since the beginning, I have belonged to the former group, even though I understand that too much talking sometimes takes the joy out of the mail art experience. I have recently realized, by the way, that the more I write about mail art, the less I seem to actually do it. In this respect, the last two years have been very slow production-wise. But I digress.
Those who like to talk and write about mail art are a rather small group, if compared to the total of practitioners (they are mostly men, by the way. It seems that women could not care less about these endless debates) but they argue constantly, through their articles and by joining newsgroups, mailing lists and message boards on the Internet. Since 1986 they have even organized, every six years, so-called Decentralized Networker Congresses all over Europe and North America, in order to actually meet and discuss things further. Last year the fourth round of such meetings took place, ranging from informal visits to friends and improvised dinners to big festivals with plenty of events and activities. The one organized by Peter Kuestermann and Angela Pahler (a.k.a. the Netmails) in Minden, Germany was particularly important and attracted many people. One of the topics that were discussed in that occasion was “the future of mail art,” or as some of the participants put it, “is mail art getting old?” or worse yet, “is mail art dying?” What seems to be true is that mail artists are getting old - especially the hardcore group that has embraced mail art as a life style. Several of the people who were in Minden wrote me that “you always see the same faces.” They complain that young people are not interested in this old-fashioned way to network and spend all their time in front of a computer screen or pushing frenetically the keys in their cell phones. Other people reply to these complaints that the mail artists themselves are to blame: We don’t do enough to attract outsiders and make them understand and enjoy the pleasures of mail arting.
One of the more vocal critics of this “ghetto mentality” is Belgian networker Luc Fierens. As he wrote in a recent e-mail, “yes, I feel some of the network has become a closed club of blah-blah news groups and private parties. Wake up and open the field!” Always one who backs his words with facts, Fierens and partner Annina Van Sebroeck started in 1999 a workshop for children aged 8 to 11. Working in collaboration with regional integration center Foyer, they gathered a number of elementary school students, especially belonging to socially disadvantaged groups and immigrant families. At the same time, the work done between October 1999 and February 2000 in weekly meetings was linked to the international mail art network, so that the drawings, paintings, collages, stamps, etc. made during those sessions were sent out and exchanged with artists and children abroad. Thanks to the help of another Belgian networker, Guido Vermeulen, they even managed to involve the American “Children’s Art Program” of kidscommons, a children’s museum in Columbus, Indiana. As Fierens says, “Mail art is communication art. The value of communicating prevails over the artistic value and stands above the classical knowledge of language. This is particularly important for children with language problems. Therefore the aim of this project was to offer real opportunities to communicate across all borders.” The experience was so satisfying that it was repeated four years in a row, every time with a different theme: “Living in the Mirror,” “Dance of Life,” Soul Food: Envelope Your World,” and “Play.” Instrumental to the success of the project were Fierens’s efforts to involve public institutions (something other mail artists are usually not very happy to do) such as the Queen Paola Foundation. The finished works were exhibited at the Central Post Office in Brussels, the Museum of Spontaneous Arts, Molenbeek, the gallery of the public library in Etterbeek, and the Ministry of the French Community, Brussels. Of course achieving open and permanent lines of communication between the children themselves remains difficult, especially across international borders, because the extended waiting period causes them to forget about it and dropout. Nevertheless, receiving mail from another part of the world is a great, unforgettable experience that has a positive influence on their creativity and the way they think about other cultures. Once the seeds of communication are planted, they continue to grow and flourish.
Fierens’s workshop has been followed by similar projects in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium (“Maanschim--Exploring the Dark and Clear Side of the Moon,” that was independently curated by the children themselves), in which I had the pleasure to participate (see above image), sometimes with my son Luca. In some cases, the children opted to use the alter-and-return system, by sending out art to people who had previously agreed to collaborate and getting their altered works back a few weeks later.
For more information, tips on how to organize a children’s project, etc. you can contact Luc Fierens: Galgenberg 18, 1982 Weerde BELGIUM.

Cultural Terrorism

This is the back of an envelope I received from David Dellafiora, the indefatigable British networker who for several years has been plotting from Australia.

I confess I felt a little proud when I saw the "security checked" stamp, and that they had actually opened the envelope to verify its contents: To me it was as if officialdom had once again acknowledged mail art's outsider position as art's weird relative who must be kept in check.
Yes I know this is only wishful thinking.
Well, whatever.
Happy New Year!

For some obscure reason, being timely doesn't seem to be among my qualities. Therefore you will forgive me if I show these two fine pieces of mail only now - more than two months after the start of the new year.
As the people who have followed this blog from the start already know, I don't usually show all the mail I get. There are already too many people who do this. I don't think this is the best or even the most interesting way to use a blog, and to tell you the truth, I find such sites a little boring (even though I can see their "educational" value). But I degress.
I'm showing this beautiful greeting card from Ivan Zemtsov because he post it on January 5th, and arrived in Japan a few days ago. Not bad.

Also, I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who send me xmas greetings. Alas, I never do it. I know, I'm a heartless bastard. I don't like xmas and other such festivities, and I'm not interested in celebrating. But I do appreciate your cards, etc. especially when they are as good-looking and witty as the one Keith Bates sent me last year.

Among the others, I'd like to remember Carol Stetser and Dietmar Vollmer who every year come up this new original ways to brighten my mail box.
2,000 Staples

A few months ago I finally used the last few staples left in the box pictured below.

This makes 2,000 staples in nine years. It might not be a record, but in these last nine years my faithful long-arm stapler has helped me publishing 13 issues of KAIRAN - Mail Art Forum, three issues each of Call & Response and Orga{ni}sm plus several one-shot zines, mail art catalogues, etc.
I think I'm allowed to a little celebration, right?