Posted: July 10, 2013 in book review, fluxus, mailart, Uncategorized, visual poetry

Yoko Ono has ‘name recognition’, though many people don’t know that she is still very active today doing installations/performance works aside from the ‘bed-in’ w/John Lennon…and she was a performance/conceptual artist before she even met John Lennon. Then there is George Maciunas and Ray Johnson and Ken Friedman and Alison Knowles (Alison was married to Dick Higgins, also a Fluxus person and a wonderful writer) and Larry Miller (Maciunas, Johnson, and Higgins are deceased). My husband and I heard Dick Higgins read his poetry in Cleveland OH and saw Alison Knowles do performance art in Miami FL, and I saw Joseph Bueys give one of his famous chalkboard lectures in the early 70’s. In recent years we have participated in Fluxus gallery events in Chicago and NYC and St. Louis organized by Keith Buchholz. At a St. Louis MO gallery event, Larry Miller had a table (staffed by two volunteer interns in bowler hats) for people to register their DNA and then receive a stamped certificate of authenticity. That may have been part of the inspiration for a “FOOT IN MOUTH” score I performed in Chicago IL, Roanoke VA, and St. Louis this year, though the props I found in my father’s house (as we readied it for sale I acquired a his black house-call bag and a box of tongue depressors) – had much to do with it.
DaDa-ists and surrealists and Italian Futurists were a few of the predecessors of the historical Maciunas Fluxus crowd and the John Cage crowd and ‘happenings’ scene (aka Alan Kaprow and Nam June Paik). Many experimental writers in Latin American and ALL OVER are doing some fascinating multi-media works today. Visual poetry, fluxus, mailart, video, digital collages, dance/performance events, sound art: All and more are intertwined & hard to label and categorize. It is best to just let it FLOW and blossom as inter-media. The mail art network has helped combine words and visual media, which began with a simple cut & paste collage on a postcard, but today includes the use of computer software to manipulate or layer text & image &sometimes sound, dance, or moving images to achieve a static image or a video document, and so help the spread of visual poetry.
In my own personal experience, I met my poet spouse through mailart in the late 70’s and we’ve influenced each other. My art background and collaborative efforts with him caused him to focus more on the visual poetry angle of writing and to explore color, and his involvement with words (and I’ve worked to help him publish experimental poets and writers since I retired from my day job and so have been influenced by that community) influenced me to include words and phrases in my visual art more often and to create abstract paintings of made-up glyphs and text based visual poems. Our ‘sounds’ are text/poetry based, though we both have trained classically on musical instruments & tune into a myriad of eclectic recordings, which John collects. We both have an interest in sound art as well, which our sons have taken up as practicing musicians and performers. I’ve written my own ‘songs’ and fluxus scores that have that John Cage-inspired sense of compositional play, and recently have downloaded and played with free (WavePad Sound Editor via WWW) sound-editing software to compose a short piece for an audio project by longtime mailartist, Rod Summers.
RE: FREE vs. making money. The idea is that it’s more ALL INCLUSIVE because it is available to more people if it’s FREE. But there are individuals and institutions who want to archive/collect other people’s mailart and are willing to pay for it. Sometimes mailartists sell their mailart or fluxus collections (or sections) to those collectors. I guess anything 30 years or older becomes collectible if someone’s willing to pay for it, right? Purchasers are exercising their freedom to do whatever they want with their money. Artists DO spend money on their materials, transportation, advertising their projects, POSTAGE, etc. so if they just happen to get re-imbursed on some small part of their documented activity or archive, then why would anyone want to complain about that? For instance, many Indie bands travel the country and perform in private homes or an underground network of venues, and try to sell copies of their CD’s to make back a little gas money. Small press publishers rarely earn back their expenses or time-invested but do it for the LOVE of fine art and writing and to support that communities’ experimental works. Luna Bisonte Prods started a publish-on-demand site at but we haven’t sold many books. The same has been said by Ginny Lloyd of her own Lulu publishing site. But at least we don’t have to lay out the money for a 500 copy run at one shot now or have boxes of books sitting taking up room because we can’t sell them. Red Fox Press is an example of success in the field of publishing visual poetry, fluxus, etc. but Antic Ham and Francis Van Maele work hard going to book fairs and are more ‘hands on’ with their physical press then LBP ever was.
The spirit of ‘play’ in Fluxus is like mailart in that it has no motive to achieve ‘commercial value’. That’s not to say that no one ever charges for ‘performances’ or Fluxus ‘objects’ or perhaps publish/sell documentation of it via artistamp sheets, audio/video CDs, books (all kinds) or perhaps requests a fee for expenses incurred when organizing collaborative projects for which participants eventually receive a document or collaborative book. I’ve participated in a few collaborative book or box projects where I’ve paid shipping expenses plus a bit more and recently an Anna Banana commemorative stampsheet project for deceased mailartist, Patricia Tavenner, for which she requested a fee.
As artists we all have to use our own judgment where ‘fee requests’ are concerned — and consider where our priorities lie. I don’t enjoy paying ’hanging fees’ to galleries or fees to submit digital art images or poetry for ‘competitions’ which may, or may not end up getting published or accepted for exhibition and only AFTER passing some watered-down value-judgment based on a committee. That part of the ‘institutionalized’ art system can be very discouraging and can completely zap one’s creative output/energy. “ART IS TO ENJOY” per our network friend, Bernd Reichert. CLICK HERE for his website. So use your mailart and fluxus activities to feed your creativity, not to market yourself.
A very wise teacher at the Mpls. College of Art & Design (Herb Greka) warned my foundation art class to keep fine art in perspective as an advocation, rather than as a vocation. The majority of artists, actors, writers simply ARE NOT going to manage day to day living expenses without becoming a “crafts” person first, which usually involves compromising one’s ‘fine art’ values in order to ‘produce a marketable object’. If you want to make a paycheck, become a graphic artist or work at an insurance company like I did for decades before I was able to retire. Here is a quote from Michael Lumb’s book – found on p.126 of a free downloadable PDF – found at…”Mailart places value on the quality of the relationship between networkers and the greater understanding of human nature (mediated by the mailart), rather than placing value on the material object/s that is/are exchanged.” He goes on to mention the value of creative inspiration that is received from the exchange by the participants, which can feed the participant’s individual creative practices that might produce material objects/performance events/publications, etc.


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