by Chuck Welch
“We network all web-lines of communication celebrating individuality, diversity, and tolerance without oligarchies, arbitrage, or boundaries and walls.” (1)
Between trips from Tufts University to New York City, the subject had been broached. Did mail art exist on the Internet? It was March 1985. The earliest evidence of any recorded interest in surveying mail art presence in cyberspace surfaced in a conversation occurring in New York City when I visited fellow mail artist, John P. Jacob, now Curator of Photography at Smithsonian American Art Museum.
I was pursuing my MFA Degree in Studio Art between 1984-1987 at Boston Museum School/Tufts University, where I also taught Art History courses as a TA. While at the Tufts campus in Medford, I had been accessing information at Wessell Library while writing my first book, Networking Currents: Mail Art Subjects and Issues. Jacob, whose observations initially sparked my interest, stated that he’d checked the Internet many times and was astonished by the absolute void of mail art information. I sought further verification for my manuscript by consulting mail art poet Joachim Frank, a renowned Biomedical Scientist and Adjunct Professor of Biology at the State University of New York, Albany. In 1985, Frank confirmed John P. Jacob’s initial evaluation of mail art’s absence on the Internet. It was at this moment that my interest in mail art and the Internet began. Meanwhile, in 1985, mail art in cyberspace (2) may as well have been Cyberia, Antarctica, or some unexplored world where mail art activities did not exist in any formidable, sustainable way.
My first steps towards digital mail art began with projects using computers and fax machines in the early 1980s. Tracing the existence of these efforts to merge mail art and telecommunication are substantiated by many letters and postcards I’ve archived since 1978. (3) There is no shortage of relational aesthetics and mail art history within these fascinating mail art exchanges, but finding critical information is hard work requiring a penchant for archival archeology. Digging for the origin of mail art in cyberspace began in my basement where nearly 35,000 essays, alternative publications, postcards, correspondences, catalogs, projects, rubber stamps, mail art covers, copier art, posters, and mail art postage were scanned and coded with metadata recorded on computer spreadsheets. I call the mail art cyberspace coding, C.R.A.C.K.E.R.S., a prankish, crackerjack acronym meaning, Correspondence Record and Coding Key for Electronic Response Systems (CRACKERS).
Smoke signals were the first form of coding, perhaps the earliest form of visual communication over long distances. Fire and blankets transmitted news, signaled people to congregate in a common area, or sent to forewarn of impending events. The ancient Greeks used a complex system of sending alphabet codings with torches and smoke signals. Today, the College of Cardinals continue the tradition of selecting a new Pope with smoke signals. Through the ages, tribes, nations, and cultures have communicated by visual message. Indeed, a nation’s society, its art, its values and relationships are transmitted and understood through the study of its messages and what is communicated in them.
In the mid 19th century, coding was transmitted by generating electric currents through wires. It was an American artist and inventor, Samuel F. B. Morse who succeeded on January 6, 1838, by transmitting messages (Morse Code) through two miles of wiring connecting his room and a factory building near Morristown, New Jersey. His code was a series of dots, dashes, and pauses. Over a century later, computers would electronically transmit information with a binary system of two digits (0,1).
Samual Morse’s telegraph was followed in 1843 by another invention known as the “Electric Printing Telegraph,” the world’s first faxing device copyrighted by the Scottish clockmaker, Alexander Bain. The “printing telegraph” grandfathered the first modern fax machines developed and introduced by Xerox Corporation. Ray Johnson, known as the “Father of Mail Art,” was among the first artists to use photocopier technology in his mail art. Although Johnson disliked e-mail, he was known to use the telefacsimile (FAX) machine (4) and he often used phone lines to chat with me and others in his New York Correspondance School. (5)
Telefacsimile machines were first used by mail artists in the early 1980s to transmit digital images for mail art exhibitions with “fax art/mail art” themes. By the end the decade, mail artists began using affordable fax lines available at commercial copier shops. Business fax machines for office use cost $20,000 in 1982, (6) but these extravagant prices dropped during the 1990s as fax machines were affordable for private usage outside of the workplace. Fax machine sales peaked in 1997, but dropped precipitously when private land line phone service declined and cell phones dominated global market share. As the world merged with the web for nearly all of its data needs, fax equipment was integrated with the personal computer and bundled with other multifunctional hardware.
One of the finest conceptual projects to emerge from the mail art era of experimental fax art can be traced to 1994 when the American mail artist and neo-fluxus performance artist Reid Wood, linked mail art, emailart, fax art into an international exchange project called EYE re:CALL. Mail art participants of EYE re:CALL were choreographed by Wood in a sequential exchange modifying a common image by fax. The project instructions called for each mail artist to interact with pre-set times and dates for sending and receiving faxes over international time zones. Xeroxed copies of each participant’s altered image were mailed by post to Reid Wood for assemblage into a documentary book titled EYE re:CALL. Wood was especially interested in seeing how an image changes from person to person as it travels via fax. I included his project as a part of my Networker Telenetlink efforts dating from 1991-1997 to organize events bridging mail art and emailart.
Interest in mail art electronic zines, a.k.a. ‘e-zines,’ digital stamps, fax, and networking projects arrived slowly during the 1980s because few mail artists had computers for initiating online activities. In those days, the first telecommunication mail art projects began with landline phones and modems. Among these sporadic early experiments that are on record appears an October 1980 art transmission taking place in Recife and São Paulo, Brazil, between mail artist Paulo Bruscky and Roberto Sandoval in São Paulo. Bruscky, the father of Brazilian mail art, understood the value of distributing and broadcasting communication by mail, zines, newspaper ads, telephone, fax, copier machines, and computers. Elsewhere in Latin America, Mexican poet, mail artist, and scholar, Mauricio Guerrero published a booklet, “Artefax: Un Reporte,” documenting an exhibition of Fax Art held in Mexico City at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, November 1989. (7) Alejandro Flain and Jorge Echenique sent invitations in December 1991 from Montevideo, Uruguay promoting their international mail art show project, Art by Computer. Flain and Echenique’s exhibition objectives aspired “to communicate, to interchange, and to promote personal meetings between those whose work goes with this expressive area.” (8) Uruguayan mail artist and poet Clemente Padin posted two essays over the Internet; “Network and the Artist’s Role” (February 1995) and “Network in Latin America” (June 1995), the latter published in Netshaker Online. (9) While telefacsimile technology was available for mail art experimentation in Latin America and elsewhere, limited access and costly computer hardware were commonplace during the 1980s.
In 1984, pARTiciFAX project was organized in Canada by Lisa Sellyeh, Peter Sepp, and Mary Misner. It was an exceptional event allowing for free public usage of expensive Burroughs Dex-3200 facsimile equipment provided by Oceanic Communications Corporation Inc. pARTiciFAX established telefacsimile nodes at four Canadian sites, including Grimsby Public Library in Grimsby, Ontario, C.A.T. Gallery in Toronto, Forest City Gallery, London Ontario, and Artculture Resource Centers Information Garden at Future Pod. A corporation granted funding for the project during September 3-9, 1984, when San Francisco InterDADA Festival established connections.
Ginny Lloyd, Terrance McMahon, Lisa Sellyeh, and Peter Sepp created a pARTiciFAX facsimile node adjacent to the InterDADA mail art exhibition. InterDada, organized by Terrance McMahon and Ginny Lloyd, was the largest gathering ever of mail artists in the US. I participated twice in pARTiciFAX; the first transmission occurred in June 1984 when Michael Bidner invited me to fax a drawing created on-site at his London, Ontario, pARTiciFAX node located at Forest Street Gallery. He was curating ARTISTAMPEX exhibition at Forest Street Gallery while simultaneously hosting a pARTiciFAX transmission site in another room near the gallery entrance. On August 22, 1984, two weeks before InterDada Festival, Mike Bidner and I dispatched a mail art correspondence to the pARTiciFAX node at InterDADA.
Fax transmissions flummoxed mail artists in Europe in the 1980s. In 1990, Vittore Baroni, Italian mail art publisher of Arte Postale! wrote a letter describing Italy’s lack of public access to technology necessary for facsimile exchange by modem and phone. Switch packet Internet access was still five years into the future when Baroni wrote. “Fax and computer-links are great advancements when they are available, and maybe in the U.S., it’s easy as water for the man in the street. Here, to send a fax to my friend Piermario (Cianni), I had to try four times in different places. The people at the post offices didn’t even know how to run the machine, and I am not going to spend a thousand dollars on it until at least five of my Italian friends have one!” (10) There was a phrase describing Baroni’s justifiable frustration with high tech info gaps existing between mail art and telematic art in the 1980s; Mail artists called it “the information ghetto.” (11)
Mail artists in the 1980s complained of an information ghetto, but few of them were living in Africa four decades ago when a quarter billion people lived without an electric grid. Mail artists and telematic artists communicated in a digital information age, and while many complained about the affordability of technology, they also lived in a world of privilege. As in Africa, falling through the net also occurred frequently in Latin America during the 1980s. PCs were nearly nonexistent, except for Chile, whose free-market reforms erased trade barriers allowing telecommunications technology to roam freely. In 1995, in Chile, computer sales were $20 million, or 3.3 PCs installed for every hundred people. In Venezuela and Brazil, only one in a hundred people owned a PC. By comparison, thirty people per one hundred owned computers in the U.S. (12)
Parallel Networks: Mail Art and Net Art
In 1986, I found two separate art networks, analog and digital, neither acknowledging the other with projects that would deepen the significance of global art and communication. As I began wondering how that could be, Madelyn “Honoria” Starbuck, creator of the first Internet opera, sent an email suggesting the possibility that prejudice existed in the telematic and mail art communities:
“When I try to describe one network to a networker in the other network I’ve found some prejudice regarding both communication mediums: mail artists tend to view computer communications as uninteresting, flat, expensive and very limiting as a means of expression. And electronic network users commonly see mail art as hopelessly old fashioned, slow, hard work, and lacking in the textual content. Often Internet citizens conclude that mail art is somehow like a chain letter.”(13)
The “prejudices” that Starbuck described in 1993 were not in evidence during the 1991-1992 São Paulo Biennale Reflux Project. When I introduced Telenetlink Project to Artur Matuck’s global Reflux Project, there was another mail art project proposal that was acted upon by participants in each of the twenty-four nodes located on five continents. Sarah Vaughan’s Wrap, Unwrap proposed “an exchange of parcels between the nodes.” (14) Vaughn directed each node to send at least one parcel to every other node. When nodes received the boxes, a note instructed them to simultaneously open each package as part of a 24-hour planetary happening. Vaughan called it 24 Hours Live Around the World. The parcel could include objects, texts, photos, cassettes, or videotapes, auctioned with the proceeds sent to world causes such as AIDS or Amnesty International.
Impenetrable walls have been built to differentiate colors in the mail art rainbow. For example, Luddite sensibilities in mail art existed in the 1990s, as did attitudes favoring handcrafted mail art over conceptualism. I found that the digital culture between 1990-1995 encouraged open narratives allowing for many diverse storylines. Interactivity was a critical objective that embraced artistic ideas and political activism. Telematic artist Anna Couey said it best in her Reflux Network Project, “Communications Across Borders, “ It blurred boundaries between artist and audience, creating space for multiple voices, including people who didn’t consider themselves artists, to make meaning. It opens up questions related to the power of voice: who is allowed to speak and who must listen.” (15) Couey’s premise of mail art as a communitarian, non-hierarchical network of free-exchange matches mail art’s aesthetics of interactivity. On October 16, 1991, I wrote an essay repeating Couey’s title, “Communication Across Borders,” comparing the telematic and mail art communities, a text that Couey posted over the Internet on Usenet Newsgroup, alt.artcom:
“We share much in common! As an intermedia mail artist now involved in Tele-communications Art, I find remarkable similarities in both our worlds. Mail and Telecommunications artists network as they
- cut through social-cultural-political hierarchies;
- establish local-global communities;
- recognize communication is a process aesthetic linking art and life;
- explore and expand the communication process;
- encourage democratic access to free information; and
- deconstruct the traditional borders between art, science, and religion. If I were to find an ‘ideal network’ as Couey states, in terms of access, participation, information, connectivity, etc., I would envision interconnecting our two worlds.” (16)
The Greek telematic artist, researcher, MIT Mitropoulos is a notable example of someone who interconnected mail art with net art in his 1989 Line of the Horizon Project. His project includes three levels of complex interactions involving mail art performance, interactive video installation, and geopolitical art. While I was creating the first virtual reality art museum at Dartmouth College’s Kiewit Computation Center, another interactive project, The Electric Postcard, was being constructed in late 1994 by Media Arts and Sciences doctoral candidate, Judith Donath at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. The site went online in December 1994, dispersed 10-20 messages a day and within two years, Donath, an unknown entity in the international mail art network, circulated nearly 1.7 million messages on postcards. (17) Postcard images were mailed and delivered simply by choosing cards, writing a message, filling in a recipient’s email address, and sending it off. Recipients were automatically notified by email that their card and claim number was waiting to be submitted at the “pick-up window.”
Mail Art Bulletin Board Systems
During the late 1980s, a handful of Belgian, Dutch, and American mail artists began experimenting with Bulletin Board Systems, a.k.a. BBS. Predating the World Wide Web, Bulletin Board Systems were the earliest online communities that shared topics, files, and other text-based items. Charles Francois, a Belgian mail art networker, pioneered the creation of mail art’s first non-profit, home-based BBS. Between 1988-1989 Francois also programmed digital images, movies, and texts that he placed on floppy disks distributed through snail mail exchanges.
Charles Francois had the technological and creative skill sets to create a tailor-made mail art BBS. Apple Macintosh employed him as a professional Training Manager during the 1980s. (18) He also had a sense of humor when he adopted a ‘rat’ named ‘Mr. Network’ for the logo of his mail art teleconferencing BBS. Francois’ frantic rodent doubled as R.A.T., an acronym for Renouveau Apostolique Telematique (Research in Art and Telecommunication). R.A.T.’s a.k.a. RATOS.
While planning mail art’s first Bulletin Board System, Francois realized that an extensive search would have to be conducted to find mail artists with computers. Such an effort had been made four years earlier (July 1985), when Rod Summers, an ex-patriot British mail artist living in Holland, issued a survey project titled Mail Art Computer Central Address Bank. (MACCAC).” The list was promised to be ready by October 1985, but later in the year Summers notified mail artists that his MACCAC project had been cancelled and that he was leaving mail art to concentrate on “Audio Art & New Poetry.” (19)
Charles Francois reasoned that if enough parties responded, he could cobble together a teleconference site from many locations on several continents. A survey questionnaire was posted to hundreds of international mail artists asking them to mail their responses by April 30, 1989. (20) I participated in the mail art telecommunications survey and returned Charles Francois’s questionnaire with a cartoon drawing of R.A.T. poking his nose through a cheese monitor. I informed Francois that I had a MAC II with 1 megabyte RAM purchased in February 1989.
On May 23, 1989, Charles Francois created a List of Apple Networkers for Communication Art. Francois’ register of mail art Apple users was compiled from artists’ responses to his international questionnaire posted two months earlier. Only a handful of the mail artists who responded were interested in social networking via BBS. In fact, more of the responders were using their computers and printers to experiment with digital illustration for mail art catalogs, stamps, artists books and prints. This observation is based on a spreadsheet that Francois had updated on August 1, 1989, (21) and by my own correspondences with eighteen mail artists who participated in Francois’ survey. Francois’ sheet, Networking By Using the Computer includes the names of 45 artists compiled with the help of two collaborators, Dutch mail artist Ruud Janssen, and the late Polish editor of Commonpress, Pawel Petasz.
Among the forty-five artists on Francois’ list only half of them owned two different versions of MacIntosh computers. The number of mail artist participants dwindled to seven who owned modems capable of telecommunication with RATOS. Of the American mail artists with computers, only four had modems. Five American mail artists had Macs without modems. A month after the report arrived, I purchased an Everex, 2,400 baud modem for $180.00 at Dartmouth College expressly to join Francois’ RATOS . (22)
Charles Francois’s RATOS BBS convened with experimental trials beginning in May 1989. On May 31, 1989, Dutch mail artist Ruud Janssen connected with Charles Francois on RATOS, and they discussed the subject of Mail-Art communication. The RATOS BBS tests were exchanges between two Mac computers wired to modems with basic Hayes command set for 300 baud. A second session occurred on August 30, 1989, because there were echo problems with Francois’ first session. In the middle of September 1989, an exulting Francois conducted a successful test run with Belgian mail artist/archivist Guy Bleus and Dutch mail artist, Ruud Janssen. Francois titled this transmission, The First International Rat Show by Telecomputing!(23)
In 1989, Charles Francois mailed an informational text titled, How to Connect to RATOS. It was quickly followed by a more finely tuned version, How to Get More From RATOS. By August 1, 1989, Francois combined data by Dutch mail artist Ruud Janssen (24) and Polish mail artist Pawel Petasz to create a spreadsheet titled Networking by Using the Computer.
Francois’ data, combined with my 1991 Emailart Directory, (25) and Networker Databank reveal a snapshot of global mail art computer activity between 1989-1992. In 1995, Rod Summers issued Lamers Progress, a 34 page record of text exchanges prior to Europe’s connection to the World Wide Web. Summers retrieved evidence of internet emailart by linking with USENET Newsgroups and in doing so found several mail artists, Florian Cramer, Ruud Janssen, Brad Brace, Andy Best and myself – all footprints of mail art’s early Internet activities.
In the Fall of 1989, Charles Francois launched his experimental RATOS BBS Network with two Americans, Mark Bloch and me. The shortlist of collaborators included two Europeans, Ruud Janssen (Holland) and Guy Bleus (Belgium). Francois’s first operation manuals and updates arrived by snail mail. He organized the log-in protocol in an easy-to-understand numerical sequence. With sporadic bursts of activity, we transmitted over RATOS between 1989-1992. Throughout 1990, we exchanged several drafts on an essay Francois was writing for my anthologypublished by the University of Calgary Press. While preparing these sessions, I recall stringing 20 feet of wire from a telephone outlet in a room down the hallway near the studio where I’d set up my Everex 1,200 baud modem and MAC II. Connecting high tech hardware in 1989 was often like hardwiring two coconuts together on Gilligan’s Island!
Reasons for circuit switching digital data by a landline phone proved tedious compared to packet switching over the Internet by way of Dartmouth’s mainframe at Kiewit Computation Center. (26) European phone companies had not yet de-regulated their infrastructure, and this hampered teleconferencing via RATOS BBS. The European Community’s road to telecommunications was a bumpy ride until they finally busted the national monopolies known as Postal Telegraph and Telecommunications Administrations. Before then, PTT’s had a stranglehold over telecommunication transmissions. Each country had its own PTT, and none of them were compatible because of equipment types and monopoly restrictions. (27) I recollect the never-ending wait for a dial-in connection to the RATOS BBS over serial phone lines / coaxial cable. Strange coded beeping noises, pauses, and whistles formed alien-like tunes that burst out of the dial-up modem box, a sound heard and explained at www.youtube.com/watch?v=abapFJN6glo.
RATOS BBS played an important part during the 1992 Networker Congress Year when Charles Francois, Ruud Janssen, Guy Bleus, and I collaborated in a real-time “Congress Chat Room” that was part of a linked live event at a performance art space in Liege, Belgium and my home in the rural woods near Lebanon, New Hampshire. I was hosting 22 mail art networkers at my congress event, The Netshaker Harmonic Divergence. On March 19 and March 21, 1992, I recorded several more Internet transmissions on a video later transferred to VCR cassettes, which Guy Bleus viewed the following year in Wellen, Belgium. Bleus remarked, “It was exciting to see how the computer-fever looked like at the other end of the line.” (28) Paul and Cyndi Summers, Marilyn R. Rosenberg, Sheril Cunning, Deena DuBois, Fernand Barbot, Miriam Sharon, and I composed an improvised poetry rap, which I tapped on the keyboard in real-time performance. Simultaneously, net shaking performance dancers were rocking at Nord eSpace 251 Nord in Liege, Belgium. Several live transmissions, each approximately ten minutes in length, are seen in The Netshaker Harmonic Divergence VHS Video Documentary. (29)
The RATOS-Telenetlink Congress exchanges, organized between Charles Francois and me, included transmissions from Guy Bleus in Wellen, Belgium, Ruud Janssen, Tilburg, Holland, and Chris “Inexistent” Straetling, Antwerp, Belgium. Bleus opened the Netshaker Telenetlink with a comparison between Fax projects by phone during the 1980s and modem projects of the 1990s. His concluding remark concerned the inability to transmit smell through cyberspace, “A shortcoming of electronic communication via modems, fax machines, telephones, etc. is the absence of transmitted scents (perfumes). There are simply and solely the odors of our own equipment.” (30) I discovered a larger drawback beyond my inability to smell Bleus’ perfumes oozing out of my computer. I encountered a glitch when my MACII, overloaded by files, refused to obey a “save data” command, which resulted in the loss of several minutes of an improvisational netshaker poetry jam in which the computer jammed too. Charles Francois reported, “CJK (CrackerJack Kid) sent a long poetry piece that eSpace 251 Nord interrupted because the evening meal was getting cold upstairs.” (31)
Early home-based, non-commercial, live performances over the Internet were amateur, unapologetic productions. While the events may have been unpolished, they were also fresh and spontaneous slices of life. RATOS BBS and my Telenetlink Project had merged in an unpredictable “metanet” (32) moment, especially when the Hanover, New Hampshire post office sent a postcard notification that had changed my permanent address to Lebanon, New Hampshire. Magic often happens most inexplicably.
Echo, The Well, and Mail Art Forums BBS’
Echo & Panscan: Before Amazon, The World Wide Web, or Facebook, New York City’s Echo BBS thrived. In 1990, Echo started as a humble endeavor. Investing her entire life savings of $20,000, Tracy Horn, a former Mobil Corporation telecommunication analyst, operated the Echo BBS from her fifth-floor walk-up apartment. Horn’s project became the locus for teleconferencing about her interests and problems with this comfortable home-based setting, ranging from what she had for supper and who she dated. Her idea snowballed in New York City, and at its prime, Echo became a virtual community of 2,000 members populated by media types; writers, artists, and musicians called Echoids. Nearly half of Echo’s online community were women at a time when the vast majority of those surfing the net were men. (33)
Tracy Horn’s Echo embraced a cornucopia of existential topics. Like most bulletin board services, discussion groups followed a hierarchy of broad topics, or ‘conferences’ (Health, Culture, Pets, Love), broken into ‘items.’ Echo BBS in NYC seemed like a natural space for a wide-ranging topic like mail art. In July 1990, mail art networker Mark Bloch joined Echo and hosted Panscan. (34) Panscan Echoids posted hundreds of subjects for discussion, including one long-lasting debate about the National Endowment of the Arts and censorship, which Bloch said: “logged hundreds of responses in days.” Bloch observed that “few mail artists have had the means to stick around and dialogue over Panscan on mail art.” (35)
Much to Mark Bloch’s credit, introducing mail art to New York City’s first online social network was a bold step forward, but describing mail art online must have been incredibly frustrating. The legendary mail artist Ray Johnson would never seek online community by text alone. Texting Ray Johnson’s “How To Draw A Bunny” is like teaching online blind contour drawing without a visual aid. BBS’ were always awkward to navigate. Echo, for example, had no way to support sound, images, or video. Sarah Newman wrote in The Atlantic Magazine Online: “In the intervening decades, Echo has never changed its primitive interface. To navigate within it, you can’t just click on links, but have to type in Echo- type in Echo-specific commands: j cen; l a m; sh 123. You don’t access it in your browser, but through a telnet client, a program that allows you to access the command line interface of another computer. It doesn’t even have colors. It’s text-only, and even editing text is a time-consuming pain in the ass.” (36)
The Well (Whole Earth ‘Lectric Review): Did mail art chat rooms exist on San Francisco’s The Well between 1986-1990? There is no record that I could find. Chat rooms were guided by hosts on The Well, much like Mark Bloch’s Panscan conference room on Echo. Unlike Echo, however, The Well had over 5,000 subscribers, over twice as many users accounts as Echo had in 1990. The Well profited because they started a San Francisco Grateful Deadheads conference which gave them a large financial boost. Perhaps it was too early to expect the public to chat about their mail? What could be sexy about postage stamps, and what did “mail art” really mean, male artists? The Well’s founders, Stewart and Larry Brilliant, wanted a virtual community that dialogued with The Whole Earth Review writers and readers. (37)
When The Well gained access to the Internet on January 1, 1992, their membership doubled, and their storage base doubled to 30GB. (38) In 1993, Ashley Parker Owens posted “Global Mail Info Sheets,” a brief advertising sampler to entice web surfers to subscribe to Global Mail, a large zine packed with mail art show and project listings. She called her zine “a tool that can be used to crack out the secrets of mail art and networking.” (39)
The late mail artist Eleanor Kent interacted over ACEN through her association with a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit group known as YLEM: Artists Using Science and Technology. YLEM, established in 1981, included a monthly journal and hosted a public forum in 1986 over ACEN, linked to The Well. Another notable California mail artist, Pat Tavenner, served in 1991 with Eleanor Kent on YLEM’s Board of Directors. The purpose of their international organization was to explore uncharted areas where the arts and sciences intersect. Posting over The Well, Eleanor Kent participated in Judy Malloy’s 1991 database project, Making Art Online. The notice by Kent encourages Reflux Network Project participants to interact with YLEM members to “learn of new meetings, parties, exhibits, studio critiques, retorts, as well as ask questions and get answers about tech-art ideas, equipment, and philosophy.” Unfortunately, there is no mention by YLEM of mail art as part of an “uncharted area” where mail art and the Internet might intersect. Still, my Telenetlink Project appeared on the same page as an invitation to interact during the 16th Sáo Paulo Bienale. Regrettably, I missed an opportunity to interconnect YLEM and Telenetlink. Although my intentions stated, “I want to bridge worlds,” (40) I failed to connect with Eleanor Kent, even though we knew each other and exchanged mail art postage stamps in 1988.
ACEN was also known as Art Com Electronic Network. In the spring of 1986, telematic artist Fred Truck placed ACEN on a large multi-user computer with which he interfaced with the Well. ACEN became the first contemporary arts organization to publish its magazine electronically under the Art Com Electronic Network title. It was a gathering place in 1986 where telecommunications art projects, conceptual art, and other art subjects thrived, but there is no record of mail art discussions that I could find. (41)
Before Art Com Electronic Network transitioned from a Bulletin Board Service to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the early 1990s, it was one of the initial sites where commercial traffic was allowed. Among the most intriguing facts about Art Com Electronic Network’s BBS is that the founder, Carl Loeffler, was an active mail artist in the 1970s. He opened San Francisco’s La Mamelle Arts Center in 1975, establishing it as a top alternative exhibition and performance space where mail art events occurred. He edited and published under La Mamelle’s Contemporary Arts Press, releasing two essential sourcebooks; Performance Anthology (1980) and Correspondence Art (1984). In 1976, Loeffler organized the International Rubber Stamp Exhibition held in San Francisco at La Mamelle Arts Center. (42)
In the late 1980s, another mail art pioneer, Fred Truck, programmed the Art Com Electronic Network in Sausalito, CA, while he transmitted from Des Moines. Both Loeffler and Truck staged experimental video and transcontinental satellite performance events in 1977. They moved on towards larger, important telecommunication and technology projects during the 1980s and 1990s. However, Fred Truck and Judy Malloy offered essential information and advice during the initial launching of my 1991-1996 Telenetlink Project.
Mail Art Messageboard BBS, Hamburg, Germany: In late 1995, mail art networker and publisher Hans Braumüller acquired his first computer in Hamburg. In that city, he met Klaus Rupp, a.k.a. Merlin, and together they became involved “in Bulletin board systems on the commercial services provider onenet.com.” (43) In 1998 both artists moved the BBS Mail Art Messageboard to their Internet domain Mail Art Forums at crosses.net. First, they started with one board but soon created a special one for Mail Art Calls only. Three other Boards for Mail Art were available in German, Spanish, and French. Today, the Mail Art Forums are archived online. Braumüller’s current crossover project is at artistmatter.crosses.net.
Telenetlink Project: Origins
The World Wide Web was two years away in 1989 when Charles Francois, Mark Bloch, Guy Bleus, Ruud Janssen, Rod Summers, and I played with a dedicated mail art BBS. Our equipment, by today’s standards, was primitive and expensive. Direct access to the Internet in the US was through academic institutions, scientific research centers, The Well, or ACEN. In 1988, I moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, a fortuitous move to an Ivy League campus that since 1984 had created a computer network, the first in the nation to wire students and faculty to 2,600 ports in more than thirty buildings. (44)
Hewlett-Packard and Digital Equipment Corporation started marketing “Dartmouth-like” computing time-sharing systems. A Kiewit Center report boasted that “it seems safe to conclude that perhaps millions of students in the United States … have learned computing Dartmouth style.” (45) By January 1991, Dartmouth replaced their phone line network, which operated at a mere 19,200 bits-per-second, to one Mbps high-speed Internet access via coaxial cable lines. (46) The time was perfect to launch my global Telenetlink Project.
Dartmouth, with the help of an NSF grant, went live on the Internet in 1988. Dartmouth researchers and faculty had access to 20,000 computers worldwide and directly connected to the John von Neumann Center Supercomputer at Princeton over JVNC Net. Off-campus users at Dartmouth College could also access services, “including e-mail, high-speed file transfer, and log on to a remote computer. “Dartmouth used the term “Blitzmail” for their Macintosh interfaces, icons, mail forwarding, return receipts, enclosures, etc. When I purchased my first Mac II computer at Dartmouth College in February 1989, I was teleconferencing off campus at night and frequenting the Kiewit Computation Center during the day. At Kiewit, I studied HyperText Transfer Protocol, learned how to create web pages in the fall of 1994, and constructed The Electronic Museum of Mail Art between January and March 1995.
Outside of academia, Service Providers like CompuServe had a cult following of computer nerds, “It was the Google of the ‘80s.” Other online services like AOL and Prodigy were parallel worlds to the Internet during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dial-up modems were frustratingly slow and expensive. By 1994, Internet web browsers like Mosaic, Netscape, and Internet Explorer were killing off the best of what early Internet Providers could offer. While email, instant messaging, gaming, online forums, news delivery service, conference rooms, and file download libraries were Service Providers’ offerings, critics called the ASCII-based interfaces unattractive and crude.
Among the early commercial online service IPs, a rubber stamp community of artists appeared over the Prodigy Bulletin Board Service. The late mail art networker Dorothy Patrick Harris mentioned in correspondence that the Prodigy BBS group, primarily women, numbered over four hundred rubber stampers. Harris said that she introduced the subject of mail art and got some interested and involved, although most, according to Harris, were interested in rubber-stamping as a craft form. (47) (48)
Harris was an ardent activist for women’s rights and affirmative social justice networking, and she played a welcome central role as a Telenetlink Project Facilitator. She wrote in November 1993:
“I’m thrilled that I finally know how my address would read on the Internet if I continued with AOL. I hadn’t intended to start getting educated about this Internet business until sometime next year, but you have inspired me to try to become a bit more familiar right away. In the past, I have tended to look upon BBS as a tool to learn more, read others’ posts, ask questions online, etc. I tend to prefer public forums. However, it might be worth an online connection just for the e-mail aspect with regard to net-workers.” (49)
The Internet on university and college campuses was a fast, digital superhighway whizzing alongside the analog world of mail art. Telenetlink Project envisioned mail art as “emailart,” a global tool beginning with text-related email messaging, building network interactions, creating conceptual projects, ezines, and participating in telematic activities. Altering images and posting them for other exchange occurred as the World Wide Web emerged. When I launched Telenetlink Project in 1991, the Internet was a virtual world of over twelve million people networking from 1.7 million computers in over 135 nations, including the former Soviet Union.
From 1991-1996, I posted Telenetlink invitations, announcements, projects, and essays about mail art to online journals and electronic zines. Among these numerous postings, Madelyn Starbuck and I wrote an experimental Neoist text in December 1992, “Introducing Mail Art: A Karen Elliot Interview With Crackerjack Kid and Honoria.” Our Telenetlink collaborative interview appeared in the January 1993 online issue of Postmodern Culture. (50)
After the conception of Telenetlink in late 1990, I gradually realized I would need the help of many other mail artists and telematic artists before I could effectively launch the project. So, I began seeking mail art Telenetlink Facilitators who would participate in Telenetlink Project events and create their own respective networking communities’ projects. Telenetlink Facilitators were: Pete Hatfield, Geraldo Yépiz, Bob Gale, John Fowler, Reed Altemus, Matt Hogan, Madelyn Starbuck, Karl Young, Ashley Parker Owens, Jukka Lehmus, Greg Little, Ennio Paluzzi, Jonathan Giles, George Brett, Don Milliken, Jennifer Huebert, Wayne Droznin, Neil Degney, Keith DeMendonca, Ruggero Maggi, Gianni Broi, Jeff Mann, Reid Wood, Jan DeSirey, Chris Dodge, Graciela Marx, Clemente Padin, Rea Nikonova, Bandes Dessinee, Paul Summers, and Pete Fischer. My facilitators and I circulated Telenetlink Project updates to alt.artcom, rec.arts.fine, The Well, and Artbase, the Minneapolis Bulletin Board Service.
Telenetlink & The Sáo Paulo Biennale Reflux Project (1991)
The Reflux Network Project was an art telecommunication event and learning environment for decentralized interchange. It was directed and produced by Dr. Artur and Maria Matuck for the Studio for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Melon University. Dr. Artur Matuck, a teacher of Communications, Media Arts and Literature at Universidade de São Paulo since 1984, introduced The Reflux Project at the 21st Biennial of São Paulo from September to December 1991. (51) Matuck’s Reflux was a progressive experiment interconnecting twenty-four on-site nodes located in university art departments, art research sites, and private internet addresses. Reflux Project aimed to “install a decentralized interchange of aesthetic discourses through telecommunication networks. (52) Refluxoperates as an open system, an architecture of interconnected channels allowing full participation for each creative team.” (53)
While Telenetlink operated throughout the Reflux Network Project, it attracted four important, influential telecommunication artists; Carl Loeffler, Fred Truck, Judy Malloy, and Anna Couey. Dr. Artur Matuck invited Carl Loeffler, founder of Art Com Lectronic Network (ACLN), to join the Reflux Network node at Carnegie Mellon University. There he interacted with Telenetlink Project by posting my information over Art Com Lectronic Network. Online mail art and telematic art had finally merged as Net Art. Anna Couey and Judy Malloy were also active contributors on ACEN (Art Com Lectronic Network), established by Carl Loeffler and Fred Truck in 1986. Malloy and Couey represented two U.S. Reflux nodes: ArtCom, San Francisco, and ISAST-Internacional Society for the Arts, Sciences, and Technology, Berkeley.
During Reflux, Judy Malloy invited me to participate in an online issue of FineArt Forum, and Anna Couey, Editor of Art Com, asked me to be a guest editor for the November 1991 issue of Art Com Magazine. (54) (55)
Judy Malloy’s contribution to Reflux Network Project included an ongoing narrative whereby artists, writers, and Internet advocates provided their ideas and experiences in an electronic document called “Making Art Online.” Malloy wanted to create “an electronic document that would record the early history of Internet systems and could be continually written to and displayed.” (56) Her collaborative paper about online creativity included music, commentary, projects, poetry, manuscripts, and published posts. In addition, project reports appear in which I introduced emailart with an observation, “This message is my medium.” “Making Art Online” went electronic in January 1994 “as one of the first web-based works of computer-mediated information narrative and is preserved online in Telematics Timeline, Walker Art Center’s 2001 record of artists who explored the global communications network. (57)
Telenetlink Project and Mail Art Congressing
The digital telematic world had arrived by 1990, whether mail artists embraced it or not. Meanwhile, they continued their love affair of trading stamps and letters, traveling to congresses together as ‘tourists,’ having fun performing and socializing. Then, in 1992, a kind of ‘mail art telematic embrace’ occurred. Swiss mail art networkers H.R. Fricker and the late Peter W. Kaufmann were sending a mail art call for Decentralized World-Wide Networker Congresses, identical to the international congresses in 1986 but with one significant difference. Mail artists were looking to expand dialogue with alternative parallel networks like the underground publishing culture of zines and comics, the DIY music cassette culture, the techno worlds of fax, BBS’, and the Internet. It was a realization among progressive mail art activists that their “handmade world” could also be a network gateway to a larger orbit of new forms. “Mail Art Congresses,” were now replaced by “Networker Congresses.” By the end of the 1992 Decentralized World-Wide Networker Congress year, over 250 congresses convened, the largest global gatherings in the history of mail art.
Mail art congresses first took place in 1986, the year that Roy Ascott organized Planetary Network, an international, digital telecommunications project. Ascott’s Planetary Network, dwarfed by the sheer scope and scale of H.R. Fricker and Günther Ruch’s successful 1986 Mail Art Congresses, missed an opportunity to join hands with analog networking. What profound effect would Ascott’s Planetary Network have accomplished if it had merged in 1986 with the Mail Art Congress? Could both these analog and digital worlds have worked together towards common objectives? Sadly, these global projects lost the opportunity to merge in 1986, and both the analog network and digital world carried on independent of each other. In 1991, I made plans with H.R. Fricker to connect Telenetlink Project with the Decentralized World-Wide Networker Congress. I accomplished my Telenetlink objective by joining the analog mail art world with the global digital community during the 1991-1992 Säo Paulo Biennale’s Reflux Project.(58)
While Reflux Network Project took place and the Decentralized World-Wide Networker Congress convened, war was breaking out in the Balkans. Paradoxically, a wartime mail art congress took place February 29, 1992 in a front line trench where Serbian mail artists Nenad Bogdanovic, Aleksandar Jovanović and Sándor Gogolják organized a networker congress near Petrovo Solo in Baranya. Afterwards, the networker congress continued in Odžaci at the house of Nenad Bogdanovic. The Balkan anti-war congresses and performance art events began with a formal declaration, the Deblockade of Creativity issued in Karlovci, September 1-3, 1992. Organized by Andrej Tisma, the Deblockade included denunciations against the UN Imposed Embargo of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Andrej Tisma, Jaroslav Supek, Dobrika Kamperelić and other Serbian mail art pacifists called for breaking the UN Embargo with a proposal asking mail artists to travel and protest inside Yugoslavia. This broader call for action during the 1992 networker congress year became something more than a casual mail art tourist trip across borders to congress. How much would mail artists risk networking for peace by traveling to Serbia at a time when the US was most enthusiastic about using offensive air operations against Serbs. (59) Some mail artists journeyed to Serbia, but my own situation precluded travel, so I chose, instead, to metanet by using the Internet to congress without tourism.
During the Balkan Wars, contact by the Internet was unaffordable and risky for mail artists struggling to survive in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. I had proposed an email connection over the Internet with Svejetlana Mimica in Split, Croatia. Still, in one correspondence, she confided, “Phone lines are cut between Croatia and Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia too. And from abroad we are under listening of the secret police. You must be very silent if you don’t want to be dead.” (60) Direct communication was dangerous, so Svejetlana suggested that I collaborate to convert her mail art zine, “The Light of the He-art” into an electronic version that I would netlink to the Internet. (61) An issue of Svejetlana’s zine was widely released over the Internet as an electronic journal during the Networker Telenetlink Project. I was one month short of establishing a live Internet link with Svejetlana, but the dissolution of the Yugoslav Confederation severed communication networks.
Odds were against establishing Internet links during the early years of the Balkan Wars because personal computers were not widely available. Mail art poet and art critic Andrej Tisma commented that the Internet was not open to Yugoslavian mail artists protesting the UN embargo in the early years of the war. (62) Three months after the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict began in April 1992, the Internet wasn’t easily accessible. Still, a small group of peace activists and computer specialists set up two BBSs and linked them together in July 1992. They called themselves ZaMir (For Peace). ZaMir provided a link between Belgrade and Zagreb, two capitals with centers established by early 1994 in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Ljubljana. ZaMir’s network was small by mail art standards; 375 users lived in Belgrade and 125 in Zagreb. None were active mail art networkers. (63)
Metanet: How Networks Meet
What happens when postage stamps disappear? Mail artists traveled to congresses in 1986 and 1992 without stamps or letters, trusting the recipient is as extraordinary to meet in the flesh as the sender who once reached out from a flat piece of mail. (64) Mail art “Tourism” promoted “traveling in the flesh.” Conversely, mail art and emailart didn’t require any journey. It was mail art “Tourism” that contradicted mail art and emailart; Tourism defeated the idea that mail art could function as an accessible, level playing field for anyone regardless of their geographical isolation in the world. So stamps disappeared with a concept promoting reasons to meet and greet. It was called a mail art congress – whenever two or more mail artists meet, a congress shall take place.
Oddly, some mail art networkers, despite their travel expenses, inferred that mail art tourism and congresses were conjugal, consistent forms, but emailart travel over the internet’s information highway wasn’t. This non-fluxus kind of attitude challenged me to find a method to meet-a-networker from a distance via “real-time” in cyberspace. I saw electronic travel through cyberspace as a viable way to bridge congress meetings, and I issued Telenetlink brochures and flyers calling this method for meeting other nets “met-a-net,” or “metanet.” “I met a networker” was my philosophy and contribution to the 1992 networker congress year, and this strategy culminated in merging two live mail art congresses linking North America with Europe.
I created scores of rubber stamps suggesting that networkers meet ‘spirit-to- spirit,’ but this did not connote the spirituality of patriarchal, anthropocentric, organized religion. I was thinking of Robert Fillion’s designation of an ‘eternal network,’ an all-inclusive phrase acknowledged by many correspondence artists and mail art networkers. In 2015, Theis Vallø Madsen, upon publishing his Ph.D. dissertation about archiving mail art, grasped the essence of this attitude I was expressing in meta-networking:
“Mail art pieces are physical objects, but their materiality – their formal and tactile characteristics – was widely regarded as secondary to the idea of each piece as a vessel for ideas, atmospheres, and spiritual values. The individual piece was first and foremost interesting as part of a more extensive construction of an “Eternal Network” as characterized by Robert Filliou and George Brecht. The pieces were particles in a global community and the artists were “meta-networkers” working to build and maintain the distribution of things and ideas. When passing through the mail art network, the pieces became something more, not merely mail, not merely art.” (65)
La Fête Permanente is meta-networking with infinite spaces; around, through, and within all creations, at all times simultaneously in all parts of the world. When I said, “I meta-networker in spirit,” it was the meaning of art as an infinite manifestation of immaterial intelligence, of art as a conscious part of being. How can distance be mitigated? How can the shape of content be shapeless yet communicate? Mail art in cyberspace offered transport through the world without moving in physical space. As Robert Filliou and George Brecht foresaw in their concept of Fête Permanente, art could be dispersed, a spirit of communion all the time in all parts of the world with no barriers or borders. This attitude is the aesthetic foundation that bonds analog and digital mail art as inclusive and not exclusive.
Robert Filliou understood sentient networks and the pointlessness of centricity, the “point” being irrelevant, peripheral, and unimportant if one is part of a more comprehensive network. I would venture to say that Filliou would have welcomed mail art on the Internet with open arms. Filliou refused to contain art/life or limit meaning. His knowledge of Zen shaped his reality of what is not and what might be. He challenged conformity and advocated “new possibilities for engagement.” (66)
Metanet was an attitude that could mutate or metamorphose from analog to digital to analog again in transitional states of existence. Mail art could “metanet” as a digital byte or a virtual stamp of bananas. I wanted to discover how much this spirit energized the role of the networker. I created over a hundred rubber-stamp slogans, “I meta-networker spirit to spirit,” which I distributed in 1991 throughout the international mail art network to friends on five continents. I issued hundreds of “Metanet” rubber stamps too. The “metanet” alternative was underway to “dematerialize” tourist congresses, so they were inclusive of those unable to travel.
During 1992 my proposal for metanet congresses reached mail artists in public events held, often simultaneously worldwide. Interpretations of the theme were varied as I expected. Still, my call to fill out forms titled “Records of Phenomenological Spirit Experience” resulted in over fifty Metanet gatherings and solo performances on five continents. These records were dispersed over the Internet by sharing information on Bitnet newsgroups. On October 7, 1991, at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, a dozen students performed publicly in the RISD Student Center. In a circle with lights turned off, they performed on their stomachs with chins on the floor. Their legs were crossed and dangling in the air. Then, they held hands in silence for three minutes before individual chants arose as a metanet stamp and ink pad exchanged hands marking foreheads, feet, legs, and arms. (67)
On March 23, 1992, I held a Netshaker Harmonic Divergence Metanet Congress at my home in Lebanon, NH. where 22 mail artists performed and filmed a “Spirit Netlink Performance,” while simultaneously, on another continent, a two-hour Networker Congress and Metanet Performance took place in Russia. At Yeisk Museum, two renowned samizdat poets, Rea Nikonova and Serge Segay, transferred a wet rubber-stamped metanet impression “Glasnost Zaumnost!” from their hands to their foreheads.
Italian mail art networker Ruggero Maggi organized the first metanet congress in the Milan Art Center on March 22, 1992. One of the congress documents is a text by Gianni Broi about “metanetworking in spirit.” Again, in 1995 Maggi used the metanet concept at Art Piera ’95 in the metropolitan city of Bolgna, Italy. Multimedia network artists Benfenati Allesandro Marcello Diotallevi, Ruggero Maggi, and Gian Paolo Roffi performed on buses with banners announcing “I Metanetworker in Spirit.”
In Santiago, Chile (1995) mail art networker Hans Braumüller sent stamps and Netcongress signature sheets. He also mailed an NC92 Netshaker Harmonic Divergence painting. Particularly remarkable is Braumüller’s, a landscape drawing in felt-tip and pen and ink. There is also a quotation in this drawing, “I meta networker in action.” Moreover, Braumüller proposed that on October 12, 1992, meta-networkers think about 500 years of genocide and colonialism and make a metanet-congress all over the earth.
Netshaker Magazine and Netshaker Online: Mail Art Ezines
A cluster of online mail art electronic zines and journals appeared within a four-year window between 1992-1996. I edited analog issues of Netshaker, a bi-monthly mail art networking zine published between March 1992 – May 1994. Issues Number 1 and 2 recorded all metanet and tourism congress proposals, including essays, invitations, postcards, emailart, zines, audio, and video cassettes. The first large issue of Netshaker, 32 pages, announced some objectives:
“Welcome to the first issue of Netshaker, a netzine that includes hackers rattles, rants, raves, and whatever else jams my modem and mailbox. Content is determined by who I collaborate, correspond, or cavort within the ethereal open network. In 1992, Netshaker will include themes relating to the Decentralized World-Wide Networker Congress.” (68)
Issue 1, Volume 1 of Netshaker Magazine is a product of early publishing software that was primitive by today’s standards. There were a limited number of fonts I could work with on my laser writer NT, and the software at hand was Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Word Version 5, Hypercard Version 2, and Pagemaker Student Edition. I used scanners that were available to me on campus at Dartmouth College. Artistamps and listings found their way into the hard copy issues of Netshaker, but the 1994 Internet version, Netshaker Online, had no visual images. (69) Netshaker Online was a digital emailed copy of the original Netshaker text, published and widely dispersed over the Internet between January 1, 1994 – March 13, 1996. On April 5, 1995, I began posting Netshaker Online over my newly created webpage, The Electronic Museum of Mail Art, and the stated objectives were ambitious ones:
“This free mail art electronic zine (e-zine) is intended to inform and intersect the worlds of international mailart and the Internet’s online community of artists. Throughout 1994 and 1995, these online issues are devoted to the development of a Telenetlink between the mail art and Internet community. Readers are encouraged to forward free copies of Netshaker Online to BBS outernets, to Prodigy, CompuServe, America Online and other commercial networks.” (70)
Netshaker Online was a free online publication issued from Dartmouth College’s mainframe computer at Kiewit Computation Center. I was inspired to create this online mail art zine after reading some of the earliest Internet art journals like Leonardo, Art Com, and Post Modern Culture. My mail art Telenetlink posts reached a large audience over The Well in San Francisco with help from telematic artist Carl Loeffler and the Whole Earth Review Editor, Howard Rheingold. They published my article, “Mail Art Glasnost,” in the Winter 1989 issue of WER. Judy Malloy, the editor of Fineart Forum, invited me to guest-edit the November 1, 1990 issue, and that same year, Anna Couey, editor of Art Com, asked me to guest edit Art Com. I posted essays, projects, and notices over the Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN) conference on the WELL (Whole Earth Electronic Link) and alt.artcom, the internationally distributed USENET newsgroup. These experiences with online editing texts prepared me to step further towards internet publishing which I found to be instantaneous and interactive, qualities that shaped the creation of Netshaker Online. On New Years Day, 1994, I published these goals:
In Europe, in April 1994, Belgian mail art philosopher and theoretician Guy Bleus edited the first three issues of his mail art electronic magazine, E-PELE-MELE. Dutch mail artist Ruud Janssen posted Electronic Mail Art in March 1994. Ruud Janssen, Guy Bleus, and I wrote observations comparing analog mail art by post to online digital mail art.
I called it e-mailart in late 1990, but by March 1991, I cast out the hyphen separating the “e” (electronic) from “mailart.” Emailart is a word I derived from the phrase “email.” Etymologists and lexicographers have traced the word “email” to the French phrase, “emmailleure,” meaning network. The first four letters of emmailleure (72) also match the acronym, a nickname for mail art’s first webpage, EMMA, otherwise known as The Electronic Museum of Mail Art. I created EMMA to be an emailart landing site and launching pad for uploading and downloading scanned snail mail. Mail art webpages are emailart construction sites for networking, dialog, creating online stamps, postcards, and projects.
Wikipedia’s definition for “Email Art” includes Guy Bleus’ text from 1997, The E-Mail-Art & Internet-Art Manifesto. Signed by thirty-four artists, Bleus’ manifesto appears on his electronic ezine, “E-Pêle-Mêle: Electronic Mail-Art Netzine.” Like Guy Bleus’ manifesto, but preceding it, my Ten States of MailArtEmailArt is a declaration (part of Telenetlink Project) appearing July 7, 1995, a time when the ten-part statement appeared in the Internet edition of Netshaker Online: Mail Art Cyberspace Ezine. Ten States of MailArtEmailArt (1995) and The E-Mail-Art & Internet-Art Manifesto (1997) were early examples of emailart “crossover strategies,” a phrase penned by Madelyn Starbuck “describing online communication about mail art and electronic mail art via both distribution systems.” (73)
Telenetlink facilitator and mail artist Dorothy Harris describes “crossover strategies” more precisely than Starbuck by referencing emailart as a postal activity or “cross–posting.” Fusing mail art and email occurred as “cross-post transmissions” of the Emailart Directory via Prodigy and AOL networks between December 1993 and January 1995. Harris, a prolific artistamp creator from Atlanta, Georgia, created cross-post strategies with cyberstamps by first downloading them from the Internet. Emailartists download and upload mail art images altering them with Photoshop, Illustrator, and various software programs. These images can be uploaded, redistributed online, downloaded and reworked by hand, collaged and re-circulated as a new iteration of an original digital stamp. Collaborative strategies may also come into play until the original artwork is a shadow of its former online existence. (74)
Dorothy Harris created an early example of cross-posting when she altered a stamp sheet, Cyber Rat Post 95, first issued by RATOS BBS mail art pioneer Charles Francois. The Cyber Rat logo is duplicated in a sheet of eighteen stamps with Francois’ rat, Mr. Network, running into a misty, green, cyber-soup-space. On the right-hand margin of the stamp sheet border is Dorothy Harris’ inscription, “Downloaded from EMMA (The Electronic Museum of Mail Art) and printed at the Arto Posto stamp works on a thermal wax printer, not on gummed stock. (75) Harris’ action represents an early, unbiased acknowledgment that mail art and emailart interconnect interchanging strategies, not opposing hierarchies of normative structure.
Another significant variation of cross-posting occurred over the web in 2001 when mail artists from Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hamburg, Madrid, Montevideo, Puerto Rico, Santiago de Chile, and Taragona organized “ (E)Mail Art Call,” a show about identity and globalization. The website, designed by Chilean-German Hans Braumüller, remains online at identidad-globalizacion.crosses.net where over 620,000 visitors have seen it. A satellite world map created by NASA shows the world at night, where light is concentrated over industrialized countries while the rest of the planet disappears in darkness. “THIS IS THE LIGHT OF HUNGER AND DEATH,” states the caption. Highlighted instructions say, “Download, alter and upload this image of the world map again.” Here is an early mail art call encouraging cross-post transmissions that blur the line separating mail art and emailart. The November 2001 – January 2002 project was developed by the art collective AUMA (Acción Urgente Mail Art) for exhibition at Digital Hall of the VII International Biennal of Painting, Cuenca, Ecuador. This (E)Mail Art Call also appeared in Mexico City at the VIII Biennal de Poesia Visual Y Arte Experimental, 2001.
Between 1998-2002, AUMA members, Hans Braumüller, Fernando Garcia Delgado, Humberto Nilo, Clemente Padin, César Reglero, Tulio Restrepo, Elías Adasme, Montse Fornos, Jose Emilio Antón and others developed an email network connecting Europe and Latin America. In 1998, members of the AUMA collective spontaneously sent email correspondence advocating support for Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón’s arrest of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. (76)
Before the formation of AUMA, Hans Braumüller advocated for social justice and recognizing indigenous people worldwide. He created one of the earliest mail art websites devoted entirely to social justice, Crosses of the Earth, at earth.crosses.net. The site is a contemporary art installation that included my mail artwork with 341 other artists appearing from January 17-26, 2000 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago de Chile. On the site is a fascinating video of the installation and ritual performance carried out by a Mapuche group guided by a female Machi (Shaman), a spiritual leader and healer from the Mapuche people. Braumüller’s eloquent testimonial states, “Crosses of the Earth is dedicated to all Indigenous People of our Mother Earth from the past, present and future.” (77) In a recent email from Hans Braumüller, he noted the vital role that email played in organizing his event: “Without email, I could not have developed this project that was part of the International Encounter of Art and Indigenous Culture. I often communicated via email from Hamburg with the Chilean coordinator, José Mansilla-Miranda, living in Canada.” Mansilla-Miranda, in turn, exchanged information with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago and with the National Indigenous Coordination of Chile CONACIN.” (78)
“Email Art” remains in evidence today as reported in the online art magazine, Hyperallergic. (79) The article follows a web-based project, SCREEN_, that places a solo show of digital art on your phone each month. Organized by artist Ada Wright Potter, SCREEN_ presents a web-based project, SCREEN_, that places a solo show of digital art on your phone each month. Organized by artist Ada Wright Potter, SCREEN_ presents art in several mediums created expressly for the phone screen. Potter uses the platform MailChimp to experiment with the boundaries of Email Art. The article makes a historical reference to my interaction with Ray Johnson and my exploration of the similarities between physical mail and the Internet via my 1991-1996 project, Telenetlink. Potter refers to her current emailart in ways that remind me of mail artist history of resistance to commercial art, institutional discrimination, and censorship:
“Mail art has long been appreciated as an alternative way to view and distribute art without relying on physical exhibition space and dealing with regulated structures of the art world; Potter notes that these benefits are also relevant to email art, describing how SCREEN_ ‘allows us to circumvent the commercial art world, the ‘institutional art world, the scene-y art world.” (80)
Emailart aesthetics emerged during the Telenetlink Project as more mail artists were moving online while simultaneously embracing the analog world of mail art. In April 1991, I organized a listing of online mail art addresses and posted them on the Emailart Directory. I placed published listings in April 1991 over Postmodern Culture and to internet newsgroups like Artcom, rec.arts.fine, and the Well. On October 20, 1991, Telenetlink email appeared on pages 5-6 Fineart Forum, Vol. 5: #20. The emailart announcement went out to over 2,000 subscribers and a more prominent global electronic audience via Internet newsgroups, rec.arts.fine and alt.artcom. I also posted over the Whole Earth Electronic Link (WELL) and distributed the lists on twenty-four significant sites in the 1991 International Reflux Project. Some of the responses were unexpected, many more were thought-provoking, and a few were hilarious, such as Henry Pisciotta, Fine Arts Librarian at Carnegie Mellon University. Pisciotta mused, “So if art is information, what does that make a librarian? (81) On July 19, 1997, I attached the last email addresses and artists’ names onto the Emailart Directory signifying the Telenetlink Project’s end. (82)
The Electronic Museum of Mail Art (EMMA)
I had 10MB of storage to create a mail art webpage in the Fall of 1994 at Dartmouth College’s Kiewit Computation Center. As paltry as that might sound today, it was enough to audaciously dream about creating a virtual art museum dedicated solely to mail art. I envisioned the museum as having interactive rooms where visitors could browse at leisure and meet the guide and director, CrackerJack Kid. There was an entrance, two exhibition galleries, The Emailart Gallery and the Cyberstamp Gallery. Also, the mail art museum was constructed with a library to download books, a space for electronic zines, and a bulletin board to post email addresses. I called it The Electronic Museum of Mail Art, a.k.a. EMMA, and it arrived online April 1, 1995, where visitors were greeted and introduced to the website’s objectives:“
When EMMA was completed and presented for viewing, I introduced the first World Wide Web eulogy for Ray Johnson. I also included my mail art interventions with Johnson and had links to other mail art websites in the weeks and months that followed. On May 5, 1995, Geert DeDecker’s Sztuka Fabryka mail art website became the first European incursion on the World Wide Web. He also contributed a cyberstamp to EMMA’s online exhibition. Anna Boschi’s MAGAM became Italy’s first mail art website in the summer of 1995. In Canada, Jas Warren Felter arrived online in October 1995. Ryosuke Cohen, Alice Kitselman, a.k.a. Dragonfly Dream, and John Labovitz also were online in late 1995.
Days after the Electronic Museum of Mail Art surfaced over the World Wide Web, Arleen Schloss acquired a computer monitor connecting it with my WWW Emailart Gallery Tribute to Ray Johnson. EMMA’s Internet show and Schloss’s gallery exhibition were “Double Tributes” to Ray Johnson in which virtual and real-time presentations mourned the untimely death of mail art’s daddy, Ray Johnson. One can only imagine what Johnson would have said about the analog and digital world appearing together at a post mortem exhibit honoring his life. Would Ray Johnson have taken the computer monitor and turned it facing the wall as he did with the artwork he arranged in his house the day before he jumped into Sag Harbor? Networking via computers didn’t interest Ray Johnson in the least, nor did he fully cooperate with galleries exhibiting his artwork. As Ray’s close friend Francis Beatty said, “He’s a social network unto himself.” (84)
Irrespective of Ray’s peculiarities, Arleen Schloss’s Tribute to Ray Johnson first appeared on the World Wide Web in my newly constructed Electronic Museum of Mail Art Emailart Gallery. (85) The show, “An Emailart Tribute to Ray Johnson,” was a pictorial eulogy. I launched the show online ten weeks after Johnson jumped off Sag Harbor Bridge and drowned. Schloss’s mail art call to friends and correspondents of the late Ray Johnson asked for memories, statements, images, and original works about Ray. She also planned a post-DaDa poetry event/ exhibition, live performances, collage, audio works, letters, books, video, and stamps. Many mail artists were in attendance at A Gallery, including the late Steve Dalachinsky, Ira Cohen, Buster Cleveland, Coco Gordon, Mark Bloch, E.F. Higgins, Valery Oisteanu, and Our Rodney Our.
Cyberstamps: Artistamps in Cyberspace
The definition of the neologism “cyberstamp” is this: a cyberstamp is an ‘artistamp’ in cyberspace. When I created the term in February 1995, a ‘cyberstamp’ had no possibility of any commercial value attached to it. Indeed, I declined permission from a company that wanted to use my neologism for profit. Instead, I created an artistamp gallery as a permanent exhibition space in the Electronic Museum of Mail Art (EMMA). Thus, the first emailart exhibition placed online was titled, Cyberstamps, Artistamps in Cyberspace. In 1998, with the help of Madelyn Starbuck, ACT Lab at The University of Texas, Houston, adopted EMMA as a historical website.
Today the Cyberstamp Exhibition can be seen with approximately eighty contributing cyberstamp artists. (86) In addition, I introduced JPEG images of cyberstamp entries, posting on the World Wide Web from June 1995 until the deadline November 1, 1995. In June 1995, I posted my Cyberia cyberstamps over EMMA, the first cyberstamps to appear over the World Wide Web. Jas Warren Felter, a Canadian artists’ stamp pioneer, sent a congratulatory email message, “Your WEB site is GREAT! I hope you can keep it up. What software can I get to create WEB pages? Any advice? I have access to a site here.” (87) By October 1995, Felter also created a cyberstamp website.
How does a cyberstamp behave in the Twenty-First Century? The artist-philosopher and sociologist Hervé Fischer has created a block of Planetary Democracy stamps whose message is encoded and deciphered like a machine-readable stamp, also known as a QR Code, understood by computers more quickly than as text. Like a UPC bar code, Fischer’s stamps have encoded messages, a kind of global samizdat messaging.
If cyberstamps are artistamps in cyberspace, like Hervé Fischer’s are, what is an artistamp? Like the cyberstamp, the artistamp is a portmanteau coined in 1982 by the Canadian philatelist Michael Bidner. He created his term by fusing two components into a formula; artist + stamp = artistamp. The “artistamp” is a stamp form associated with mail art but with aesthetic criteria distinguishing it as a new genre.
Canadian Neo-Dadaist, Ed Varney put a finer point on defining Bidner’s definition. He declared, “artistamps” should be the same scale and size as postage stamps. Multiple editions were preferable over single copies. The gummed paper could be excluded, perforations could not be drawn, and had to be surrounded by hole perfs. Sewing machine perforations, commercial slit perfs, die cuts, and drawings of stamps were all out of the question now. The name and logo of a real or imagined issuing authority had to be designated on “artistamps.” Everything had to fit a “commonsense requirement for stampness.” The entire process seemed a contradiction without a practical solution. Nevertheless, in 1994 I created the neologism “cyberstamp” and immediately began searching for a level playing field in cyberspace where “artistamps” would never require round perforation holes.
The final postings of cyberstamps over EMMA occurred on March 1, 1996. There were nearly 80 exhibiting artists, including some of mail art’s most innovative international networkers; Vittore Baroni (Italy), Charles Francois (Belgium), Geert DeDecker (Belgium), James Warren Felter (Canada), Ruth Laxson (US), Michael Leigh (Britain), J.N. Laszlo (Switzerland), Carl Chew (US), Joan Coderra (US), David Cole (US), Dorothy Harris (US), Janet Hofacker (US), E.F. Higgins (US), Willie Marlowe (US), Rene Montes (Mexico), Henning Mittendorf (Germany), Clemente Padin (Uruguay), Pawel Petasz (Poland), Marilyn R. Rosenberg (US), Jaime Weitzman (US), Reid Wood, (US), Owen Smith (US), Arleen Schloss (US), and Pere Sousa (Spain).
Mail Art: Future or Departure?
Upon reaching the millennium, the New Year 2,000 brought mail art closer to cyberspace. The new decade would ring in Ruud Janssen’s Internet site I.U.O.M.A., The International Union of Mail Artists, a multi-layered mail art platform that has inspired and educated contemporary mail artists since 2008. (88) Information about mail art and the Internet in the twenty-first century has garnered more interest due to the double pandemic of social lockdown and COVID-19. Mail art websites and blogs created during the last two decades are noteworthy, particularly sites like the Neil Lomholt Mail Art Archive, which includes digital records notating exchanges of artworks, mailings, and correspondences collected between 1970-1985 (www.lomholtmailartarchive.dk).
From October 1 – December 10, 2014, The Museum of Modern Art Library hosted Analog Network: Mail Art, 1960-1999, a show in which some of my online projects, including Telenetlink, were seen in vitrines. Evidence of online aesthetics in networking appeared in my “New-Net“ in 2012. I translated the manifesto into four languages and circulated it worldwide via mail, art blogs, email, and web pages. The manifesto also found its way online in 2012 through live broadcasts at four gallery congress events held in four time zones worldwide. All told, there were about sixty signers of “A New-Net Freedom Manifesto,” which included my Mail Art Net cyberstamp proclaiming mail art as the first global Net Art. The Eternal Network mirrors “A New-Net Freedom Manifesto,” and I hope that the words will inspire younger artists to initiate new forms that open borders.
One of the November 2-4, 2012 congress events occurred in Roanoke, Virginia, during an annual city-wide Marginal Art Festival. Three Roanoke, VA theorists, visual poets, and performance artists Jim Leftwich, Warren Fry, performer, and Olchar Lindsann, hosted a telecommunication node
mail art show, performance art, and global Skype event at the Liminal Gallery in Roanoke. (89) Reid Wood and Reed Altemus, two Telenetlink Project facilitators from the 1992 Networker Congress Year, read visual poetry, performed neo-fluxus scores, and introduced improvisational sound events. Appearing over Facebook from England were Phillip Barnes’ “Assembly of Mailed Materials,” Ann Haycock with performance, documentation, and dialogue. Also appearing was Anna Sadler in a directional performance.
Mail art’s visual poetry partners John M. Bennett and Catherine Mehrl Bennett attended the Roanoke Congress. Also listed in the event catalog were Bill Beamer, Suzan Hughes, Matt Ames, Nico Vassilakis, and Crag Hill. In the spirit of Robert Filliou’s Eternal Network and Dick Higgins’ intermedia attitudes, the organizers used local/global networking events celebrating performances, readings, mail art, skyping, twitterings, and social media social media activities. The organizers used the Internet to connect the congresses in England, Serbia, Italy, Canada, and Argentina, where performance artists Graciela Gutiérrez Marx and Susana Lombardo read my “2012 New-Net Freedom Manifesto.”
Is mail art dead in its tracks? How does mail art carry on when there’s no longer a way to move forward into the future? Former President Donald Trump made threats in September 2020 to disband the 246-year-old United States Post Office and outsource it to commercial carriers. Of notable concern was a decommission of 671 sorting machines located in forty-nine states. These sorting machines, capable of moving 21.4 million mail-pieces in a day, were pulled apart, an order that threatened Americans’ right to vote by mailed-in absentee ballots just months before a national presidential election.
American mail artists were concerned whether the postal infrastructure, if disassembled, would result in the death knell of mail art in the U.S. and abroad. There is great cause for worry. USPS postal rates for first-class mail are targeted to rise by 5.5% on August 29, 2021. Domestic postcard rates will increase to 40 cents from 36 cents, and outbound international letters are slated to climb from $1.20 to $1.30. (90) American postal rates have always mirrored the actual monetary inflation rate suffered by U.S. citizens. Still, the USPS-approved 2021 hikes were especially onerous upon the heels of a global pandemic claiming over 600,000 lives. Americans were also reeling from a crashed economy resulted in job losses and bankruptcies not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Mail art’s future is on a precarious path open to conjecture. However, the international art press viewed mail art’s role during the pandemic as a low-tech alternative to the Internet, a slower escape from lockdown by sharing physical artwork. In Art Newspapers, Brian T. Leahy wrote, “…the act of mailing art in a crisis has taken on a new urgency.” However, Art Newspapers didn’t report how mail artists also escaped lockdown by using high-tech mail art zoom conferences. Canadian collage artist Gerda Osteneck and Brooklyn-based mail artist and publisher Joel Cohen initiated online zoom events. With the help of over a dozen other North American mail art “Zoomers,” they now issue ZMAG (Zoom Mail Art Group). (91)
The divide between online mail art and traditional snail-mail sensibilities has persisted through many years. Still, in projects like ZMAG, the global pandemic has proven that different attitudes about art can co-exist without being adversarial. Whether it’s analog mail art or digital emailart, artists need each other more than ever. Creativity is a way towards rebirth, for without art, we have no sense of relationship to others. Whether it’s the Internet or “Outernet,” art can heal, inspire and unify. With this vision, we must create together for the last great revolution – our Mother Earth.
1 Chuck Welch, A New-Net Manifesto 2012, https://www.academia.edu/46542946/A_Manifesto_-for_the_New_Net_2012
2 The term “cyberspace” first appeared in the visual arts during 1960 with a team of two Danish artists known as Atelier Cyberspace. Later, the name appears in 1984 when sci-fi writer William Gibson wrote Neuromancer. The word’s usage gained traction in the 1990s to describe digital communication through uses of the Internet. ↩
3In 2021, I donated 1,600 files (100 linear feet) of mail artists’ works and their correspondences to Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts (ATCA), The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, IA. 100 files contain 200 letters pertaining to my Telenetlink Project, 80 files relate to The Electronic Museum of Mail Art, 2 1/2 linear feet (443 documents) of boxed ephemera contain records of my Networker Databank, and other pioneering online projects linking mail art with cyberspace. The entire correspondence archive is digitally mapped, cross-referenced and annotated in an extensive ARCHIVAL MAIL ART INDEX accompanied by a 1,600 page book by the same title. ↩
5 The New York Correspondence School of Art was Ray Johnson’s social rolodex school of Pop Art friends, acquaintances, and artists randomly united by mail through energetic, playful initiatives. He was fond of saying that “his” school had no history, “only a present.” In 1962, one of Johnson’s NYC friends and correspondents, Ed Plunkett, suggested that the mailing activities be informally incorporated as the New York Correspondence School, after the matchbook ads for art schools in the 50s and 60s. Other explanations of Johnson’s school claim it as a parody of the 1950s New York School of Abstract Expressionists. ↩
6 Fast Fax Facts: The History of the Fax Machine, https://www.efax.com/sf-images/default-source/infographics/history_of_fax_infographic.jpg Accessed, June 7, 2021. ↩
7 Judith Hoffberg, “Mail Art News,” Umbrella, 1990. See ↩
8 Art by Computer issued a new deadline for their exhibition, but there is no evidence in my research that the show ever transpired, nor was there documentation of the event. ↩
9 Clemente Padin in a letter to Chuck Welch dated February 22, 1995. ↩
10 Vittore Baroni in a letter to Chuck Welch dated August 31, 1990. ↩
11 The information ghetto was real unless one was associated with a university or research center. Otherwise, it was highly unlikely that an artist could directly post data using packet-switched networks. Most BBSs in the 1980s were circuit-switched networks requiring dedicated point-to-point connections with free calls within the same area code. Packet-switched networks are networks that send and receive data in the form of packets using PCs transmitting with Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), one of the Internet’s main protocols. It is also the protocol used by major Internet applications like the World Wide Web and email. ↩
12 Chuck Welch, Editor’s Preface to “Network in Latin America,” Netshaker Online: Mail Art Cyberspace Ezine, V2, No2, July 7, 1995. See https://actlab.us/emma/Library/netshakeronline.html Accessed September 30, 2020. ↩
13 Madelyn Starbuck in an email to Chuck Welch dated December 26, 1993. ↩
14 Artur Matuck, REFLUX Project, Universidad de São Paulo: São Paulo, Brazil. ↩
15 Anna Couey, “Art Communication Systems,” See Leonardo, https://leonardo.info/isast/wow/couey-wow294.html. Anna Couey organized Communications Across Borders as a project of ReFlux Network in 1991 at the 16th Sào Paulo Biennale. My essay title included the name of Couey’s important project. ↩
16 Chuck Welch, “Communication Across Borders: Mail Art and Telecommunications Art” in REFLUX Project by Artur Mattock, Carnegie Mellon University. p27-31. ↩
17 Rebecca J. Rosen, “The Early Days of E-Cards,” The Atlantic See https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/12/the-early-days-of-e-cards/250492/ Accessed June 9, 2021. ↩
18 In 1987, Charles Francois began creating the first digital mail art movies in which one featured Shozo Shimamoto’s trip to America. The previous year he began drafting his first E-Letters that were labeled “Multimedia Correspondence.” ↩
19 Rod Summers, “Last Post,” an announcement sent to Artpool Art Research Center, Budapest, Hungary. The digital notice was emailed to me with the kind help of Viktor Kotun, Artpool archivist. ↩
20 On page one of Francois’ questionnaire, Charles Francoise mentions SQUARE 88, a Polish show by the late Pawel Petasz. The event was focused on computer hardware and computer aided visuals. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, the event never took place. ↩
21 Charles Francois in a letter to Chuck Welch dated August 1, 1989. ↩
22 Find complete RATOS research notes and surveys in File #397, Eternal Network Mail Art Archive of Chuck Welch. ↩
23 Charles Francois in a letter to Chuck Welch dated November 9, 1989. ↩
24 Ruud Janssen created a webpage on June 10, 1996, with pages devoted to launching IUOMA, The International Union of Mail Artists. Ruud Janssen sent the email notice to me with an exciting piece of information, “Yesterday was the launch of the homepage from TAM / IUOMA. It is still under construction, but the first pages are ready.” ↩
25 Chuck Welch, Emailart Directory. See https://actlab.us/emma/emma_original/emailartdirectory.html Accessed November 13, 2018. ↩
26 In packet switching, TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) connects the “host” or server computer to the Internet. ↩
27 Steven Dov Lando, “The European Community’s Road to Telecommunications Deregulation,” See https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3118&context=flr. Accessed October 10, 2020. ↩
28 Guy Bleus in a letter to Chuck Welch dated February 3, 1993., p6. See Box 3, Item #355 in the Networker Databank, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/scua/msc/tomsc800/msc783/box 3.htm#box3 (Accessed October 23, 2020). ↩
29 The March 19-21, 1992 Netshaker Harmonic Divergence is a two hour video by Chuck Welch. Copies are located at the University of Iowa, Iowa City in the Main Library, Special Collections, 4th Floor. See Box 3, Item #355 in the Networker Databank. See https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/scua/msc/tomsc800/msc783/box 3.htm#box3 (Accessed October 23, 2020). ↩
30 Guy Bleus, “Electronic Mail-Art Congresses 1992,” Session 03/21/92, 15:38:20 (European Time, Netshaker Telenetlink Congress. Item 366, Box 4, Networker Databank, https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/scua/msc/tomsc800/msc783/box 4.htm#box4 (Accessed October 23, 2020). ↩
31 Chuck Welch, “Netshaker Harmonic Divergence – The RAT Belgium Contribution,” Item 366, Box 4, Networker Databank, https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/scua/msc/tomsc800/msc783/box 4.htm#box4 (Accessed October 23, 2020). ↩
32 “Metanet” is a digital mail art method for telecommunicating in real time from a distance, thereby negating the necessity to meet others in person by travel. Metanet was an alternative to H. R. Fricker’s call to congress via “tourism.” See pages 24-27. ↩
33 Sandra Newman, “Growing Old in New York’s Snarkiest Early-Internet Community,” The Atlantic Magazine Online, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/05/echo-growing-old-online/524577/ Accessed June 7, 2021 ↩
34 Mark Bloch in a letter to Chuck Welch dated July 13, 1990. ↩
35 Mark Bloch, “From Mail Art to Panscan: Notes on Teleconferencing,” 1995. Bloch’s notes were taken in February 1991 but were posted online sometime after 1995. ↩
36 Sandra Newman, op. cit. ↩
37 Edward Rotstein, “A Crunchy-Granola Path From Macramé and LSD to Wikipedia and Google,” See Accessed October 5, 2020. ↩
38 Well Historical Timeline: The First Ten Years, See https://www.well.com/conferences/well-tales/well-historical-timeline/. Accessed October 5, 2020. ↩
39 Ruud Janssen, “The Mail Art Interview With Ashley Parker Owens,” See http://iuoma.org/blog_new_2015/2015/06/14/mail-interview-with-ashley-parker-owens-usa/. Accessed October 5, 2020. ↩
40 Judy Malloy, “Making Art Online,” Telematics Timeline, (Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center). See http://telematic.walkerart.org/timeline/timeline_malloy.html. Accessed June 30, 2021. ↩
41 Many contemporary art forms were in evidence on ACEN; performance and video art, conceptual photography, and texts. The Whole Earth Review published two of my art articles; in 1989 (“Mail Art Glasnost”) and 1992 (“Art That Networks”). I was a guest editor in the November 1991 issue of Art Com Magazine (“Telenetlinks”), which was issued online over the Well in San Francisco. “Communications Across Borders” also appeared that same year on alt.artcom. Beyond my articles on ACEN and The Well, I could not find earlier records of mail art exchanges on ACEN. ↩
43 Hans Braumüller in an email to Chuck Welch dated July 4, 2021. ↩
44 The History of Information Technology Services at Dartmouth, See https://www.dartmouth.edu/its-tools/archive/history/timeline/1980s.html Accessed June 8, 2021. ↩
45 Joy Lisi Rankin, “Tech-Bro Culture Was Written in the Code,” See https://history.dartmouth.edu/news/2018/11/tech-bro-culture-was-written-code. Accessed October 6, 2020. ↩
46 “Dartmouth: ITS Tools,” 1991, See https://www.dartmouth.edu/its-tools/archive/history/timeline/1990s.html. Accessed October 23, 2020. ↩
47 Dorothy Harris in a letter to Chuck Welch dated October 22, 1993 and November 19, 1993. ↩
48 Prodigy had no direct ramp to the Internet in 1993. Harris discontinued subscribing to the BBS in 1993 because it no longer allowed users unlimited minutes of online time. She mentioned frequenting universities in Atlanta where she found free access to AOL. On November 16, 1993, Harris excitedly wrote that finally, she was able to send mail back and forth via the Internet. Throughout 1994 and most of 1995, Dorothy Harris was an active participant in the Networker Telenetlink Project. ↩
49Dorothy Harris in a letter to Chuck Welch dated November 13, 1993. ↩
50 “Introducing Mail Art: A Karen Elliot Interview With Crackerjack Kid.” See http://www.pomoculture.org/2013/09/25/introducing-mail-art-a-karen-elliot-interview-with-crackerjack-kid-and-honoria/. Accessed July 9, 2021. ↩
51Dr. Matuck was a resident research fellow at Carnegie Mellon University when he launched the Reflux Global Telecommunication Arts Project. Reflux Project was one of the very first artistic experiments to involve collaborative networking activities. See https://distributedcreativity.typepad.com/idc_events/2005/07/artur_matuck.html ↩
52 Roy Ascott, telecommunication artist, and media guru initiated his 1986 global project, Planetary Network, focusing on contributing news feed at the Venice Biennale and 24 nodes operating on five continents. Dr. Artur Matuck’s Reflux Project, equally ambitious, included these continents plus South American sites and proved incredibly interactive with the interconnection of networking projects involving many diverse media forms, including mail art. ↩
53 Artur Matuck, REFLUX Project, op.cit. ↩
54 Chuck Welch, “Telenetlinks,” Art Com Magazine, November 1991, No.54, V11, No.10. ↩
55 Anna Couey edited Art Com Magazine in 1991. ACLN dedicated the electronic forum to investigate contemporary art and new telecommunication technologies. The Art Com Magazine appeared on ACEN and Art Com Electronic Network, a telematic network devoted to contemporary art. ↩
56 Some of the artists who contributed to Malloy’s “Making Art Online” are Tim Perkis’ poetry, Howard Rheingold’s commentary, Carolyn Guyer’s Hi-Pitched Voices. Fascinating is Anna Couey and Lucia Grossberger Morales’ “Matrix: Women Networking,” an early telematic document about women and online art. ↩
57 Judy Malloy, “Making Art Online,” Telematics Timeline, (Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center),1991. See https://people.well.com/user/jmalloy/makingart.html. Accessed June 30, 2021. ↩
58 Interest among mail art networkers to dialogue with parallel underground networks did not originate with both founders of the 1992 Decentralized Worldwide Networker Congresses. Publications like Netzine, a 1988-1989 project edited by Vittore Baroni, Volker Hamann, and I, recognized the need to introduce alternative, underground networks to one another. However, in the alternative zine network, Libertarian publisher Mike Gunderloy issued Factsheet Five and reached nearly 20,000 subscribers. Published from 1982-1995, Factsheet Five included 130 pages of zine reviews, comics, self-published books, chapbooks, and DIY periodicals. It remains the earliest definitive guide to the zine revolution. Gunderloy wasn’t a fan of mail art zines, although his bi-monthly publication revealed to Vittore Baroni, Mark Bloch, John Held, Jr., and me how many more underground DIY networks existed worldwide. Gunderloy reviewed some mail art zines, including my Netshaker, and also published a few articles like John Held, Jr.s “Networking the Nineties” (Factsheet Five, No. 35, 1990, p 86-88), and Mark Bloch’s “Net-Work” (Factsheet Five, No. 43, 1991, p 73-74). In 1987, Gunderloy ran a fanzine BBS, but like the Telematic community, there was no interest in mail art as a catalyst to merge alternative networks. Mike Gunderloy’s explanation for by-passing mail art was a fear of mail art filling his mailbox with trash. ↩
59 Eventually, air war was waged by NATO for 78 days over Serbia and Montenegro. In 1999, three bridges were bombed by NATO near Andrej Tisma’s home in Novi Sad. ↩
60 Svjetlana Mimica in a letter to José Van Den Broucke dated August 22, 1992. ↩
61 Svjetlana Mimica in a letter to Chuck Welch dated July 27, 1992. ↩
62 Andrej Tisma in a Facebook message to Chuck Welch dated October 26, 2020. ↩
63 Florian Bieber, “Cyberwar or Sideshow? The Internet and the Balkan Wars,” October 27, 2020, p126. ↩
64 Friendships in letters are sometimes illusionistic pre-conceptions assured by the safety of time and distance. Still, a face to face meeting can shatter a mail art friendship in a heartbeat. Hungarian mail art philosopher Géza Perneczky, wrote that mail art congresses “exemplified that the closer two mail artists get to each other, the more marked the differences become between their personalities and principles”(Quote from The Magazine Network, Edition Soft Geometry: Köln, 1993, p.133). ↩
>65 Theis Vallø Madsen, Ants in the Archive. Aalborg, Denmark: Aarhus University and Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg, 2015. ↩
66 Laurel Jean Fredrickson, “Life as Art, or Art as Life: Robert Filliou and the Eternal Network,” See https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327892893_Life_as_Art_or_Art_as_Life_Robert_Filliou_and_the_Eternal_Network. Accessed October 13, 2020. ↩
67 Chuck Welch, Networker Databank, Box 2, items #143-144, 1992. https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/scua/msc/tomsc800/msc783/box 2.htm#box ↩
68 Complete issues of Netshaker and Netshaker Online are accessible for research thanks to John Held, Jr., who made a generous contribution of over 600 mail art periodicals to The Museum of Modern Art Library, NYC. See https://research.moma.org/mailart/N.html#9. Accessed October 11, 2020. ↩
69 Visual content over the Internet didn’t appear until April 22, 1993 when the first successful Web browser, Mosaic 1.0, was released. ↩
70 Chuck Welch, Eternal Network Mail Art Fanzines, Peterborough, NH: Netshaker Press, 2020. p30. ↩
71 Chuck Welch, “The Mail Art – Internet Link,” in Eternal Network: A Mail Art Anthology, University of Calgary Press, 1995, pp. 125-128. (Ed. by Chuck Welch) See https://independent.academia.edu/ChuckWelch Accessed October 12, 2020. ↩
72 Roopinder Singh, “You@electronicmail.com,” Seehttps://www.tribuneindia.com/1999/99may29/saturday/head2.htm. Accessed October 16, 2020. ↩
73 Madelyn Starbuck, a.k.a. Honoria, “FLUXLIST: Re: After Mail Art and Internet Comes Tourism,” See https://firstname.lastname@example.org/msg00686.html. Accessed October 15, 2020. ↩
74 Dorothy Harris, The Chuck Welch Artistamp Archive, Peterborough, NH. ↩
75 Dorothy Harris, Ibid. ↩
76 The infamous dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, was indicted for human rights violations committed in his native Chile by Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón on 10 October 1998. Pinochet was arrested in London six days later and held on house arrest for a year and a half before being released by the British government in March 2000. ↩
78 Hans Braumüller in an email to Chuck Welch dated July 9, 2001. ↩
79 Claire Voon, “You’ve Got Email (Art),” Hyperallergic, See Accessed October 16, 2020. https://hyperallergic.com/272906/youve-got-email-art ↩
80 Claire Voon, Ibid. ↩
81 Henry Pisciotta in an email to Chuck Welch dated October 11, 1991. See Networker Databank Congress, University of Iowa Special Collections, https://www.lib.uiowa.edu/scua/msc/tomsc800/msc783/box 1.htm ↩
82 Two sources confirm the origin of emailart terminology; TheReflux Network Project (1991) and Eternal Network Mail Art Anthology (1995). I compiled The Emailart Directory in March 1991 as I created lists from my numerous email exchanges at Dartmouth College. Access to these early email transmissions is available at the Chuck Welch Eternal Network Archive, Special Collections, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa and Archives of American Art, Washington, DC. ↩
84 Nathalie Olah, “New York’s Most Famous Unknown Artist Is Now More Important Than Ever,” Vice. See https://www.vice.com/en/article/8g39db/ray-johnson-mail-art-013. Accessed October 19, 2020. ↩
85 Mark Bloch’s hypertext tribute to Ray Johnson, “An Illustrated Biography of Ray Johnson,” was also transmitted over Echo BBS a week or so after EMMAopened her doors to the World Wide Web. ↩
87 Jas Felter is an email message to Chuck Welch dated July 3, 1995 ↩
89 Galleries in Cornwall (UK), Odzaci (Serbia), Ponte Nossa (Italy), and Roanoke, VA (US) hosted congresses and served as downloading sites and documentation centers, with abilities to interact with performing networkers through Skype and Secondlife. Performances and activities were steamed live from all 4 locations using Bambuser and Livestream. ↩
90 John Waggoner, “How Much Does a Stamp Cost at the Post Office? See https://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-2021/proposed-postage-stamp-price-raise.html Accessed June 9, 2021. ↩
91 Gerda Osteneck, “ZMAG-Zoom MailArt Group – A Brief History” Email to Chuck Welch from Gerda Osteneck dated June 17, 2021. ↩