TAM Mail-Interview Project
Started on: 3-12-1994
RJ: Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on: 31-12-1994
CP: My first experiences in Mail Art date from 1967 when with my latin-american friends Edgardo Antonio Vigo, Guillermo Deisler and Dmaso Ogaz we started to exchange our reviews : Diagonal Cero, Ediciones Mimbre, La Pata de Palo & Los Huevos del Plata (Diagonal Zero, Osier Editions, Leg of Wood and The Eggs of the Silver) and our mail-art works. The Uruguayan review OVUM 10 published 6 post- cards with my visual poems in 1969. Later, in 1974, during the Uruguayan military dictatorship, I organized the First Latin-American Mail Art Exposition documented at the Gallery U, in Montevideo and I was editing the second epoch of OVUM, about which Géza Perneczky says: "The periodical and private publications that had midwifed in the birth of the network (File of Canada, the American Weekly Breeder and Mail Order Art, Poland's NET, Padin's OVUM, etc) displayed, to different degrees, motives that emphasizes the need for social contacts or were based on more commercial interests." (A Halo, 1991, p.232).
After the history continues…
(Clemente Padin typed his answer and made under the text a collage with some artistamps with texts like "Junio 1973", "Zona Militar", "Ay").
RJ: The mail-art I have seen from you mostly has a political meaning as well. Did mail art have an effect on the political situation?
Reply on : 21-01-1995
CP: I am not sure but in my personal case the answer is: YES! You know, I was imprisoned for the Uruguayan dictatorship the 25th August, 1977 for my opposition to the military government. An edition of rubber-stamps and false mail-stamps denouncing the suppression of human rights and the death, torture and disappearance of many people opposite to the regimen led my incarceration and the sentence by four years for "transgression that hurt the moral and reputation of the army".
Also, for organizing the Counter-Biennal in front of the latinoamarican section of the X Biennal of Paris, France, curated by the Director of the Fine Arts Museum of Uruguay, in the fall on 1977. But an intense and supported mobilization of hundred and hundred of artists in the whole world freed me after only two years and three months!
Mail art (and the network) could have effect in the social-political situation because it is a product of the human work and reflects and reproduces the social relations. Like artistic product is specifically art, with a value in the market interchangeable by money (in our concept the value is high but the price or its expression in money is contemptible for the merchants). Like product of communication, mail art is inseparable part of the social production and it can not leave to express the reality but symbolically. Thus, mail art is a subliminal form of social conscience and an instrument of knowledge (like science). So, also, it can be a tool of change (or status's legitimation) and transformation (or retrocession).
RJ: You call mail art 'an instrument of knowledge'. After so many years of doing mail art, how would you describe the things you learned from the network? What does the network bring that you could not have learned in any other way?
Reply on : 14-2-1995
CP: First, it is an instrument of knowledge of myself. And the others.
After, there are many things that you can learn by personal experience through networking. Network (and art) discovers dark and secret zones of our spirit an existence. Also, it brought us to understand the entangled of our present world. By means of networking we have learned what things like solidarity and true friendship are. Sometimes we can question and change indesirable reality. Only by networking the people know all the possibilities of the new instruments of communication that technology have putted in their hands. On the other side, art and network have discussed and anticipated the scientific knowledges like impressionists that discovered the corpuscular nature of light. It happens because artists that experiment with artistical supports or new instruments of communication also discover its structure and physical properties.
RJ: Can you give some examples of 'new instruments of communication' that you have worked with?
(On February 23th Clemente sent out his first E-mail message, which I read on February 25th. It was not an text-answer, but in a way an answer to my last question. Clemente has entered the Internet too. I sent him an E-mail reply to confirm arrival of his message and wrote to him that he could sent his next answer by E-mail too).
Reply on : 11-3-1995
CP: By a side the new instruments of communication work like tools of inscription: pencil, brush, chisel, etc. By other side they use different supports like paper, frame, painting, wood, books, etc. Now for the inscripts we use the scanner of the P.C. and like support of the Facsimile or the P.C. sconce or the modem. Before we use air or sea mail for communication between us. Now, we use the electronic space.
Before we sent objects, post-cards, envelopes, letters, DIN A4, etc. Now we transmit electronic impulses and, in the near future, R-laser.
We know that the works are altered by the medium, because each medium has its own in-put and out-put, id est, its own codes of entrance and exit, included its own channel of transmission. All these items integrate the form of expression that determinate the form of contents inevitably. If you obtain a competent expression to a peculiar content, using the new instruments of communication, perhaps you gain an artistical message. Personally I have used fax and through a job-friend I'm trying to use E-mail. Also "new instruments of communication" involve all the last discoveries of the graphic industries.
RJ: Can you tell me a bit more about your first experiences with E- mail. To make the question more concrete I will send this question by E-mail and by the traditional mail on the same day.
Reply on : 2-4-1995 (by Internet), 4-4-1995 (by snail-mail)
CP: A friend, from AEBU, is an associate of a database called "Chasque" and he consents the use of his e-mail to me. Finally, February 23th 1995, I did my first e-mail communication to Chuck Welch, Fagagaga, Reid Wood, Harry Polkinhorn and you. After Ashley Parker Owens sent me the e-mail directory from Global Mail. I also connected with Abelardo Mena from de Banco de Ideas Z de Cuba. In Uruguay there are only three e-mail services connected with Internet: the Republic University; URUPAC, a public institution belongs to the official telephonic service and RED CHASQUE ("chasque" is the ancien and primitive communication system between the latino american first people) depending of the private institution: the Third World Institute.
The first communication by Internet in Uruguay was the August 23th 1994, to the SECIU (Informatic Centre Service of the Republic University). You see, we are too young! The costs for transmission in minimum between 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and for nothing between 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. A Kilobyte received costs one cent and each kilobyte sent costs five cents of a dollar, but you must add the cost of the CHASQUE subscription. The first world sells us the computer technology, but also the rules of its use.
RJ: In 1986 you and others proposed the constitution of a Universal Federation of Mail Artists (see MA-Congress 86, edited by G. Ruch, page 50). Some years later I invented the International Union of Mail- Artists, as a fake union in which everybody could take his own role (see IUOMA-magazine, june 1991). Do you think that there should be some real organization for mail-artists or would it undermine the whole game of mail-art in which there are no written rules?
Reply on : 9-5-1995 (internet)
CP: The Institutions are born when they are necessary. Mail Art doesn't need Federations or Syndicates for to act but the mail-artists need institutions in particular situations of their lives.
Near 1986, almost all Latino america went out of dictatorships and we need to defend our rights. The unity of people was essential for to consolidate the reconquered liberty. Our Universal Federation of Mail Artists was defined itself "by the principle of freedom, justice and social solidarity" and was pronounced for "the respect of the human rights and for economy political according to the social interest". Also it proposed lines programmatic action for to defend the interests of the mail- artists in front of private and public institutions. Like you have said, Mail Art doesn't need rules and, if you read the text in MA-Congress 86, our proposal didn't impose ones. Only it just joined efforts to struggle for our dignity, first like humans and second like artists.
RJ: Currently you are very busy with the mail-art project: "José Martí: 100th Anniversary" with an exposition for AEBU. Why did you start this project?
Reply on 11-6-1995 (E-mail), 15-06-1995 (snail-mail)
CP: If you see, all my mail-art projects regard these considerations: join the people to struggle for their rights and demand situations political-economics that permit us a peaceful life. It is the case of the "José Martí, 100 Anniversary". He died liberating his country, Cuba, and he died raising the flags of solidarity and equality between men.
Those are not only words. He really sacrificed his life for our rights.
Not only he struggled against the spanish and north-american colonialism but, also for the elemental human rights, like to love, to eat, to work, to sleep, to be restored to health, to have two square meters of land for to be buried on, to have a roof … don't have to struggle for the food with the rats like more of the half of the latino- american population. José Martí is not dead and never will he rest while there was anybody hungry on the world.
RJ: Is the project a success? Did the mail-artists who contributed to the project understand what it was about?
Reply on 28-7-1995
CP: Almost all networkers that have participated in the Martí's homage have understood his thought. For many people to convoke a mail art show over José Martí was a surprise and also an anachronism because the network don't exalt the individualism neither the official history (always placed in hands of those who have the power). But to talk about Martí is not to talk about the past or the individual person but the heroic fighting for the liberty and dignity of the peoples, like him, 100 years old before.
To talk about Martí is not to talk about Cuba or "Our America" (as he called America Latina) but the whole world, there where there is an outcast or a starving man for bread and justice. I have rather chosen to evoke his gigantic figure in these critical instances for his small mother country and people, arbitrarily and unilaterally blockaded since decades by the largest economic and military power of all the times, as well as in these instances of sharp crises in our Latin America, where underdevelopment and neo-liberalism oblige to more than a half of our population to infraconsume and hungry.
I like his maxim "Doing is the better way of saying", leaving to the rhetoric of words and symbols its mere role of being the frame of the action. During all his life Martí proclaimed his humanist thought and cultivated the essential values of life: equality, dignity and fortitude before difficulties, the total offering to just causes, love to his people and liberty, thirst of justice that admits no bribery. And network has understood it in this way, supporting this initiative in a great number with the participation of 315 networkers from 38 countries.
RJ: How do the Postal Offices in Uruguay look at mail-art nowadays. Is it different compared to the times you started?
Reply on 20-8-1995
CP: Yes, it is different. In 1967, when I started with mail art and when I was editing "Los Huevos del Plata", generational uruguayan review, the post was costly. Nowadays, it is the same as in the countries of the First World. Also, we have the SAL service, more cheap but slow. I have a post office box that costs US$ 40,- each year.
In jail I knew the President of the Postal Union. He told me that in the Uruguayan Post Office there are always police investigators (civil policemen). He was imprisoned ten years under dictatorship because he was the employers representative (!). Now, I do not know if there are investigators but we know that the repressive apparatus from dictatorship was not removed in Uruguay.
RJ: In all the years you have been active in mail art you must have received a lot. Do you keep it all? How does your archive look like?
Reply on 13-9-1995
(by separate mail I received the beautiful catalog of the José's exhibition with a large list of all the participants and some samples of contributions)
CP: In fact my first archive was formed by visual poetry since 1967.
Remember that the visual poetry exhibitions in Latino American (that we called "New Poetry") first were shown in Argentina by Edgardo Antonio Vigo in 1967, and after, in Uruguay, in 1968 by me. All these works from more than 400 poets (fonics, visuals, process-poets, etc.) were exhibited in the "Exhaustive International New Poetry Exposition", at the Gallery U in Montevideo, Uruguay, 1972. After I packed it for an exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum of Santiago, Chile, directed by Nemesio Ant£nez.
The ten wood-boxes with all the works were sent to the Chilean Embassy in Montevideo, in September 1973. But one month later, there was the Pinochet's state-stroke and I couldn't return to the Chilean Embassy because we had our own dictatorship in Uruguay and I was afraid for my freedom. So I lost my visual poetry archive. After my first mail art show in the exterior (the "Image Bank Post Card Show", Vancouver, Canada, 1971, and the well known "Omaha Flow Systems", Omaha, USA, 1973, by Ken Friedman) I began to organize the "Festival de la Postal Creativa" ("Creative Post-Card Festival") in 1974 and I re- organized my archive. But, when I was imprisoned by Uruguayan dictatorship in 1977 I lost 20 suitcases with all the works and correspondence; letters and cards from Beuys, Ulrichs, Higgins, Friedman, Albrecht/D, Blaine, Carrión, Sarenco, Groh, Gappmayrs, Tilson, Dowd, Deisler, Zabala, Vigo, Ben, Garnier, Moineau, Filliou, Urban, Xerra, Jandl, Plant, Atchley, Davi, Det Hompson, Crozier, Nannuci, Miccini, Spatola, Gerz, Nichol, Arias-Misson, Kooman, Meltzer, Ockerse, Cook, Toth, Beltrametti, Ehrenberg, Varney, etc., etc.
After that, from 1983, whet I was re-born to art and life, I organized the "May 1st., Workers-Day" at AEBU, Montevideo and many other shows about freedom to Chile, Panam , Paraguay, Nicaragua, against apartheid and United States Interventions, etc. All these exhibitions were donated to the social institutes that had sponsored them, like the "Uruguayan Association for Mandela's Freedom", etc. par example, the José Martí: 100th Anniversary" that I curated in this year was donated to the "Americans' House" of Cuba, because José Martí was the Cuban National Hero. And so…..
Now, I am cataloging and placing anything that I receive. My archive is stored in suitcases and is available for viewing and studying to all people. Also, I'm preparing slides and documentation for my periodical statements and conferences. In the future, I wait till somebody transforms my archive in a Latino American Networking Space for to preserve the memory of these years, so much rich and actives.
RJ: After so many years of doing mail art, do you see any changes that have appeared in the network over the years?
Reply on 1-11-95
CP: Sure! Mail never stops, always it is transforming. First, the beginning with Ray Johnson in the mid. 1960's with the sendings to his friends and the foundation of the New York Correspondence School.
After the apparition of the first lists of mail artists by the action of Ken Friedman and others. The political and social situation of countries of the Third World and East Europe propitiate the birth of the network like an artistical resource for to surpass the isolation and the institutional arbitrariness through communication and interactivity toward freedom and dignified life. This part was studied exhaustively by Géza Perneczky in his book "A Hal¢". We read: "Accordingly, the network started to expend around the year 1972 through the almost simultaneous emergence of the Image Bank in Canada, the File magazine and other pioneering experiments with international lists of addresses that involved the Polish Koksal Gallery, a couple of Czech artists and Clemente Padin of Uruguay."
More later the new media increase extraordinarily the connections and the participants in network was more and more. Also the fall of the Berlin's wall and the incorporation of new countries in mail art did that, today, there are hundreds and hundreds of exhibitions each year and the networkers sum thousands and thousands in all the world.
Now, we asset to the inclusion of the fax and e-mail increasing the interactivity between networkers and, also, to the growing mercantilization and institutionalization of the mail art. Money and mail art don't mix: precisely, the force of the network lies in this norm.
The theme is to maintain art in the area of use, and not in the area of the market or change. By now network only has value. It has not a price with search for profit or lucre, out of its social function like the market art.
RJ: I have noticed that some mail artists that are in the network for a longer time, build their own "correspondence school" and don't always react to newcomers who try to contact them. One reason is of course time and money, but another is that they get tired of explaining again and again the concept of mail art and rather just play the game with old friends. Do you ever get tired of explaining what mail art is all about?
Reply on 27-12-1995
CP: (here, a memento for my old chilean friend, Guillermo Deisler, who died the fall of October 1995 in Halle, Germany).
No, I am not tired of explaining to all what is mail art and networking, especially to newcomers. They have in their hands the future of these forms of communication. The change and the transformation of the Network are absolutely necessaries to preserve the principles of the eternal communication. When the network stops, it dies and disappears.
For the newcomers, I have edited a small booklet about latino american mail art with exhaustive notes about mail art's characteristics and I am answering all the correspondence that I receive (the money only does speed up or slow down that process).
So, it is impossible I can build my own "correspondence school" though I have my old friends, naturally, like Edgardo Antonio Vigo, Graciela Gutiérrez, Brusky, César Espinosa, Klaus Groh, the Barbot's, John Held, Bill Gaglione, Geoffrey Cook, Blaine, Hamann, Polkinhorn, Braumuller, Hoffberg and many others.
The last networker we lost was Guillermo Deisler, as you mentioned. I also heard this news earlier from Birger Jesch in Germany.
RJ: Did you know Guillermo for a long period? How will you remember him?
Reply on 6-2-1996
CP: Yes, I knew Willy postally from 1967 when we interchanged our publications "Ediciones Mimbre" and "Los Huevos del Plata" and our incipient mail art. Personally, I met him in 1971 during the "International Expo of Propositions to Realize", in the CAYC, Art and Communication Centre, conducted by Jorge Glusberg. The event was curated by Edgardo Antonio Vigo. From that moment we were friends for ever. Guillermo was professor at the Visual Arts Department of the Chilean University in Antofagasta, a northerly city. During the state- stroke by Pinochet and the Chilean Army, in 1973, Will and his family had to escape quickly from their mother country. After a stay in Paris, with Julien Blaine, they established at Plovdiv, a Bulgarian city and, later they mover to Halle, Germany, where he died in fall, October 1995.
In my first public opportunity, at the beginning of the V Biennal International of Visual/Experimental Poetry, curated by C‚sar Espinosa in Mexico City, from 10th to 20th of January, 1996, I performed an homage to Guillermo, with a lecture of his poems and tales about our friendship (I recorded when Guillermo sent me Bulgarian official stamps that I bought in Montevideo for financing the "OVUM's" mail). I ended my performance, called "Willy, for ever…" showing the video of "Memorial America Latina" (Philadelphia, Penn, U.S.A., 1989) where it is possible to read, in the portals which closes the cemetery-memorial: "They have not died, they are sleeping and dreaming with the freedom". Like Guillermo now.
I am organizing two events in homage to Willy. First: a great exposition at The Chilean University with his works, in the fall of 1996. I am asking the network to send me works, letters, postcards, or anything that is related to him. All the works will be donated to the Chilean University, and documentation will be sent to all. And second: a mail art show "Guillermo Deisler, our friend…", without restrictions (no jury, no return, no size-limits), documentation to all. The deadline for this will be October 30th 1996. Contributions to both projects can be sent to my mailing address.
RJ: Well, I guess the interview is coming to an end. Anything you would like to say while you have the chance?
Reply on 4-3-1996
CP: Sure. Now, we assist to the globalization of the culture of the First World and the greater expansion of the transnational capitalism. This is meaning that our old cultures of the Third World are disappearing because they are not equipped to defend themselves. If the tolerance before the multiplicity of focuses and expression possibilities as well as respect to the personality of the "others" through pluralism (social, politic, economic, ethnic, religions, cultural, sexual, etc.) are the irrenounce bases of network, then here is a contradiction between networking that aspires to the universality of communication and the small communities, indefensive and fragiles in front of satellites, computers and modem technology. We know that this signifies the expansion of a commercial culture (Coke, McDonalds, Disneylands, etc.) and not most communication and understanding between peoples.
Marketing doesn't care who you are or what your culture is like, because it wants to make everything everywhere the same for its good business. How could we resolve this contradiction.
RJ: Well, maybe someone out in the network can comment on that.
Time to finish the interview so others can read your views as well. I would like to thank you for you time to do this interview, and I wish you good luck with all your activities.
(There is a hardcopy as well which also contains some illustrations. For more info on this and on the interview-project in general contact the Interviewer.)
– END –
Reproduced with the permission of
Further reproduction without the written consent of
Ruud Janssen and the Artist is prohibited.
Mail-artist: Clemente Padin, Casilla de C. Central 1211, 11000 Montevideo, URUGUAY.
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen – TAM, P.O.Box 10388, 5000 JJ Tilburg, HOLLAND
More inforamtion at http://www.iuoma.org/