Friday, April 16, 2010

The Mail Art Community in Europe: a first hand view (written for Umbrella Magazine - 1982)


Editor's note: GInny Lloyd last July began a trek through
the United States and Europe. First in Cleveland, she produced
artwork and lectured on copy art, under the auspices
of the Image Resource Center. Then in New York City, she
met other mail artists and collaborated with them on some
film and audio works, but the goal was Europe, which she
visited for the next three months. The following is her report
for Umbrella.


I stayed with Bill and Dorothy Wells in London. Dorothy
had organized and shown a mail art exhibit in 1981 and had
also spent several months in Los Angeles. She is best known
in the mail art network for her color Xerox postcards, either
sewn or pinned and collaged. Bill was working on pieces for
his next paper show and inspired me to make several of my
own, something 1 had not done for several years.

I then bussed up to Leeds to visit Michael Scott, whose
wit, information on the network, art and sense of play were
a non-stop delight. He even went on a jog with me one
evening. His inventiveness with words, rubber stamps and
images are always welcome in his mail art. Just seeing his
bathroom door decorated with Players cards is worth the
long bus ride.

Heading west, I then visited Hay-on-Wye, Wales, the town
with the largest bookstore in the world. In fact, the whole
town is one big bookstore. If you are a collector of books
and like to pour over stacks and stacks, this is the place for
you. This also happened to be the area my father's ancestors
lived, making my presence here doubly important.


I had been advised that I would love Amsterdam and my informant was on target. Ullses Carrion of Other Books and So Archive and , Aart van Barneveld of the now closed Stempelplaats were my gracious hosts, while I worked on various projects at both spaces. During my evening breaks, I met with Claudio Goulart, Flavio, Maya and Ronald Wegman, all participants in the mail art network.

The collection at Stempelplaats was unbelievable to see:
rubber stamps from all over the world, some carved by artists
whose names I recognized, the artists' rubber stamp
books and the published catalogues of the exhibitions held
in the gallery made the October closing of this space a great
loss. At the Other Books & So Archive, I was able to pour
over files and files of catalogued documentation of artists'
activities, artists' books, mail art, sound tapes and magazines.
After days of visual overload, I realized it would be impossible for me to see everything. I did more research on my return to Amsterdam, but did not completely go through every file
that interested me.

Amsterdam is full of artists who are respected workers, making
valuable contributions to society. I found the Dutch
very responsive and interested in the lectures, demonstrations
and information I was presenting. They wanted to know
about art in the United States, especially on the West Coast.
Most had been exposed to artwork from New York (I found
this to be generally true throughout Europe) and were
very curious about me as well.

While in Maastricht, I visited V.E.C. headquarters and Rod
Summers. Rod has compiled an extensive audio art exchange
project, working closely with Tom Winter. The audio exchange
archives provided much to listen to and his creative
management of the material was exciting to share. The archives
on mail art and years of correspondence with artists
all over the world was well cataloged. His record keeping is
impeccable. I was able to work on some audio with Rod,
Tom, Bass (another VEC assistant) and Lizbett (Rod's wife).
Their approach to audio was both educational and certainly
stretched my audio perceptions. Rod is also an excellent
writer and shared with me several of his published pieces.
His ability to weave a story is fascinating and will hold your
attention for hours.


Off to Kassel, West Germany, the second country where the native language was not English. Not speaking any other language fluently other than my own version of English, knowing only rudimentary French and Spanish, I was beginning to experience culture shock more than ever. It started In England built up in Amsterdam, where the average Dutch citizen speaks several languages fluently.

Throughout my tour, l used my wits, intuition and nose to get around. I became adept at being able to spot someone who would be able to understand at least a little English, from a distance.

In Kassel, I lived and worked on projects at Kunoldstrasse
34, run by Jurgen Olbrich. Kunoldstrasse 34 Is a unique
space In that many projects utilizing the building and surrounding
area are installations that artists actually live with.
Jurgen seems to have never-ending energy, creating the most
wonderful experimental Xerox books I have ever seen, many
one-of-a-kind. He has an extensive archive and collection
documenting projects held in the art/living space, as well as
archives of mail art and correspondence projects.

Travelling from Kassel to Berlin through East Germany was
very interesting. I have never been so close to the Communism
I had been taught to fear and loathe. You can see where
capitalism ends at the border, feeling the tension level rise
among the passengers on the train. Basic tourist behavior
is certainly not tolerated here. And you are promptly reminded
by your compartment companions not to pull out the
camera for snapshots. I know I could never live there. The
restrictions on movement would not work well with my basic
nature. I was very glad to arrive in Berlin.

Berlin seemed, upon first impression, like the European
New York. The American influence is everywhere with a
curious mixture of buildings that have never been restored
after the war, traffic rushing through the streets and an
overall gloom and dismal grayness that is ever-present. The
city is throbbing with excitement every moment of the day
and night. A continual center of political activity, Berlin
on the same day had a demonstration against the Haig visit
and a demonstration in support of the squatters.

My introduction to Berlin was with a friend, Doris "Boris"
Berman, whose "photo actions'* should not be missed If you
ever have the opportunity to participate or attend one. She
acted as an excellent and invaluable translator for my excursions
and adventures in this exciting city. It was here in Berlin
that the phrase "it is a small world'* came to life when I
ran into a good friend from San Francisco on the U-bahn
one evening.

Political activists are serious here. The front line between the Russian and U.S. military might is personified in the existence of the Berlin Wall. The best graffiti in the world can be seen on the Wall. Artists are continually transforming the messages and slogans, while many original works of art are painted directly onto the wall. Some of the most curious
train rides I have ever had on a subway system were on the S-bahn, the East Berlin subway system. Taking the train to the East Berlin sector and transferring back to the West Berlin
sector can provide a peek into the life across the wall
For me, the direction in my artwork and the German aesthetic values overlap quite frequently. There is a very healthy interest in correspondence art, performance art, Xerox, video, bookworks, and anything that is new and American. The best music in the world can be heard everywhere here. It was with relief that I heard the newest German rock musk and tasted their fine beer.

In Frankfurt, I had the best experience in any bar in Europe.
Here, there was a cave lit by candles, in a huge communal
room with long wooden tables. Everyone sat together at
the tables enjoying an experience much like a Viking tribe.
I happened to be in Frankfurt for the Buchmesse, the annual
book and publishing fair that is impeccably organized and

The fair is primarily a trade fare wjth publishers from all
over the world represented. The most exciting part for me
was the section that housed the artists' books and publications.
Business was the primary activity of the week, and
artists' publishers and artists' presses had an opportunity to
meet with each other and view each others' wares. There
were many social activities and lectures on artists' books
held during that week at the university. Richard Kostelanetz
was on hand to present the works he has developed during
a German government-sponsored grant, the DAAD. Annabelle
Levitt (Tod Jorgensen's store is located at her store
front on Mott Street), was asssistlng John Armleder of Ecart
Books. I later visited them and the Von Furstenbergs briefly
in Geneva, Switzerland. Ecart Books have many hard-to-find
publications. The artist or collector searching for a particular
issue or title should write to them.

While in Frankfurt, I had the opportunity to visit the
studio of artists working with copy art. Hermann Hess and
Bernard Maurer collaborate on paintings derived from originals
made on a copy machine. I also saw the best Polaroid
works I have ever seen at their studio.

In Stuttgart, Angelika Schmidt was collecting the artwork
for her upcoming photobooth issue of Common Press. I had
the opportunity to get a sneak preview when I visited her.
It should be another excellent book by Angelika. She has
been a participant in the mail art network for several years
now, and she has a very organized archive and record of this
activity. All during my tour I was impressed by the collections
and care the artists shared in keeping their archives.
Hans Sohm and I had a chance to meet briefly, and he provided
many insights from the perspective of a collector. He
has what is considered to be the most extensive collection of
Fluxus materials.

A great surprise was meeting up with Henryk Gajewski of
Warsaw. We had tried to connect in three countries and had
missed each other. Neither of us knew we would be in
Stuttgart during this time. Henryk was lecturing and presenting
his film of Polish Punk Rock and his tapes of Chinese
Punk Rock music. A warm and fun-loving man, I pray he
is all right after the recent political unrest in Poland.

I did visit East Berlin briefly with Ruth and Robert Rehfeldt.
They too have an extensive archive and pulled out
works and names that were new for me. They were very gracious
hosts and were glad to have news about friends and
events in the West. While I was there, we did a short performance
together and documented this event while making lots
of laughter and noise. It was quite an ordeal getting into East
Berlin and fortunately it was smooth sailing coming out.
Ruth and Robert appreciate the correspondence they receive
from their friends in the West. It is a vital link between them
and the rest of the world. It was with this meeting that I saw
in action how powerful this network is and can be in all of
our lives. Mail art can make a difference.


With regret I left Berlin for Paris. Paris seems like the largest
outdoor museum in the world. Now I can understand why
during World War II everyone who had experienced Paris
wanted to save Paris from the effects of the war. The French
have an elegance and style that is not matched anywhere.
The food is a sensual treat for your taste-buds.

I did have a chance to attend the opening of the FIACS the
French contemporary art exhibition that is an annual event.
I was generally disappointed in what I saw. All over Europe
it was known that the best contemporary art is being made
in the United States. The consensus of opinion was that our
artwork in progress is the most innovative and most advanced
in the world.

Lillian Vlncy of the Lara Vincy Gallery was extremely
supportive and helpful while I was in Paris, Her gallery is the
most interesting of all of the galleries I visited there. She is
very interested and knowledgeable about what is taking place
in the French mail art network, as well as in correspondence
art in general.

I visited several artists in Lyon, a very active
area for artists involved with contemporary art. I was treated
there, as everywhere, like royalty. A guest of the Art Adventure
space, Lieux de Relations, run by Aubanel and Christian
Van der Borght, I was introduced to the art community in
Lyon. Working in performance, video, copy art, photography
and installations, the artists had an excitement around them
that is not present in Paris. Lyon does not have the years of
tradition and art history that Paris has, making it easier to
break new ground.

While in France and Germany, I had the opportunity to spend time with one of the most prolific writers on contemporary art that is working in France today, Michel Giroud. He recently was involved with a new book
about French and German Dada movements in the 20s and
30s. A very knowledgeable man who is known by just about
everyone I met, he is a wealth of information on the subject
of contemporary art in Europe today.


My first impression of Italy when I stepped off the train was
that Fellini was not so much a genius, as a documentarian of
the Italian way of life. I felt I was living in the "film" while
in Italy. I had hoped to meet Plinio Mesciulam and see the
Mohammed archive, but I was disappointed to hear he had to
go to Rome on business.

Vittore Baroni offered to be my translator during my visit
in Italy, and was absolutely charming. He invited me to travel
to Arte Studio in Ponte Nossa, Bergamo, to do a performance
and to stay with Emilio and Franca Morandi. Arte Studio is located in a village in the mountains and is home to some of the most friendly people I have ever met. Bass, of VEC in Maastricht, was there for a week as artist-in-residence and was presenting a project and performance with Baroni
We all trekked into Bergamo to view an exhibit of experimental
works in an old church. It was so refreshing to be able
to walk into an art show and be able to touch, walk on and
be a participant in the art exhibits, along with the fascination
of the building itself.

On the way back to Forte dei Marmi, Vittore and I stopped
to spend a few days with Cavellini, where we again did a performance.
Cavellini showed us his extensive archives of mail he has received from so many artists. I believe he has the largest mail art mailing list of anyone. He also has an extensive collection of Pop Art artists. And he let us pour over the immense collection of his original pieces. His books do not do justice to his own original works. They are fabulous! His home is beautiful and is a treasure for the lover of carved wood. He has become more serious since the last time I saw him in California, asking about specific artists he had met during Inter-Dada 80 and of their activities. Ken Damay showed the film Cavellini in California to me, and we reminisced
about old times.


I entered Poland on a Leningrad-bound train, full of Polish
people who had been in the west and were returning. I was
the only American and became a bit of a sideshow for those
who had never seen a real live American before. Most were
returning because of the rising political tension and bringing
all of the items they could afford and carry. There were decreasing
amounts of food, laundry detergent, good tobacco, coffee, etc. You were considered rich if you had Western possessions and clothes. My friends had to rise in the morning in order to stand in line at 5 a.m. just to get a meager hunk of bread or radishes or apples.

What I could not understand was
the presence of a beautiful, rich land and the fat cows with
the meager diet provided by the government. The Russians
were apparently taking the best of the products for themselves.
Solidaridad was voting on the latest offer made by the
government and Gdansk was blocked in many sectors to prevent
sightseers and supporters from entering the union grounds.

The weather was warmer than I had expected, and
Pawel Petasz took me on an outing to see the Baltic Sea, enjoy Polish pizza and beer, and to photograph the downtown area of Gdansk. He predicted, as well as his comrades, that the opportunity for me to visit Poland was going to cease any day now, but I would have some valuable documentation of the city, lifestyle and political mood. Lack of money was not a problem for the average Pole. Having something
to spend it on was the problem. The rising political
tension was present everywhere. Talk of the Russian tanks moving into Gdansk and other key cities was common. Pawel's health and artwork were suffering under these stresses.

The Common Press Project, one of the best correspondence
projects directed by Pawel, was becoming more difficult for
him to continue. Censorship was delaying the mails. When I
prepared several pieces of mail art to send from Poland, he
easily edited out the ones that would be censored.

Leaving Poland was much more difficult than entering. The trains
had been cancelled to the West, and I was stuck as I transferred
in Poznan. Thanks to the help and assistance of a
Polish agricultural student who spoke English (the Polish
youth speak very good English), I was able to get to East
Berlin after much delay and a very frightening ordeal. My
visa had run out. The Polish officials could not understand why an American woman travelling alone, who neither spoke Polish or German or Russian would be coming from Gdansk during the Solidaridad unrest.

The Polish people are very special  They are the warmest,
friendliest and most loving (on a basic human level) that I
have ever encountered. Everyone on the trains and in the
towns would go out of their way to assist me, many times
missing train connections they should have caught, etc. They
always did these kindnesses from the goodness of their
hearts, because they enjoy giving. No one wanted anything
in return. I feel tears running down my cheeks thinking
about the fate of the Poles right now. Poland and her people
touched me in a very special way that gave me hope for humanity.
We should all treat each other with such love.

Poland is like a fairy tale land to see. It is quaint and beautiful, as if time had stood still before World War II. Ask any Westerner that has been to Poland, and they will tell you the same about Poland and her people.


Johan van Geluwe of the Museum of Museums was my host
upon my return from Poland. I was treated with luxurious
cooking, a beautiful, warm room and the delightful company
of his mother. Johan, an architect, has taken this interest in
architecture and combined it into a mail art project. His archive
is overwhelming to behold. He may have to build a
wing or a new home soon if it continues to expand.

We were to attend the Mail Artist Encounter held at the ICC in Antwerp, organized by Guy Schraenen. So soon after my arrival, we were off to Antwerp. Guy and Anne Schraenen had done a remarkable job putting together an extensive exhibition of many of the correspondence projects that have occurred over the past decade. They also displayed the works that had arrived for Guy's Libellus magazine project. Needless
to say there was so much work to be seen it took me
several days to see it all. And the work that went into the hanging, installations and organizing was phenomenal.

While viewing the works you were treated to slide presentations
and to audio projects. Everyone was madly trading
work and addresses, rubberstamping, presenting actions, photographing,
greeting each other, discussing projects, past, present
and future. Guy was filming the event for posterity. Tables
with the rubber stamps from Stempelplaats were available
for use. A black and white copier was in another corner
to make art works immediately and the atmosphere was very,
very festive.

Some of the peoplei who were there were Aart van Barneveld, Ulises Carrion, Niels Lomholt, Christian van der Borght, Tomasz Schulz, Guy Bleus, Bart Boumans, Michel Giroud, Rod Summers and Tom Winter (who together did a beautiful sound performance), Henk Fakkeldij, Pier Van Dijk, Robert Joseph, Ko de Jonge, Danny Devos, Gabrielle Donder-Langer, Clemens Jongma, Ka-Mail, Valcarcel Medina, Alburquerque Mendes, Hetty Huisman, Wulle Konsumkunst, Jonas
Wille, Sonia Van Der Burg, P.Nieuwenhuysen, Peter Paalvast, Ria Pacouee, Rolf Sehuber, Eric Van Der Wai, Anniemie Van Kerckhoven, Am Van Oosten, Kees, Jonas Wille, Metallic Avau, Christine Balmier, Luc DeLeu, Lucia Del Sasso, Ron Huiskamp and many others.


The mail art network does work. I was received by artists everywhere who had heard of my tour. Many times they would be in touch with another artist I planned to see, and would send invitations for visits via the mail. Some of the artists I had corresponded with previously; some not. That made no difference, for each artist was eager to hear news about mail artists I knew in the U.S.A., about previous visits to artists in Europe, to meet me and to show me their archives/projects. I completed many projects in collaboration with each artist (either working together or by the inspiration we each shared). Baroni and I did the largest mailing of one-of-a-kind postcards that I had ever done in one day.

I found color copy machines all over Western Europe; Xerox
6500's and Canon. Color machines were treated like some
mysterious technological wonder that could only be touched
by a "trained" operator making this no artist's tool. Black
and white copiers were abundant everywhere—some of the
best I have ever seen. And the most innovative self-service
copy shops are located in Germany. If you are into photo-
booths, they are everywhere in Western Europe, with a lot
more choices of format and styles in the black and white
version than in the United States.

—Ginny Lloyd
P.O.Box 1343
San Francisco, CA 94101.

All the photos in this article have been taken by Ginny Lloyd.

UMBRELLA was a bimonthly newsletter of art news, reviews and art information concerning artists' publications and artists' books. UMBRELLA was published by Umbrella Associates, P.O. Box 3692, Giendale, CA 91201 USA issued in January, March, May, September and November.

Copyright©1982 by Umbrella Associates All rights reserved.
Full rights retained by the author.

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