MinXus Mail Bag: Stephen Perkins’ Ideo-Conceptual Triumph (Madison, Wisconsin, USA)

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Mail by Stephen Perkins (Madison, Wisconsin, USA)

 

Stephen Perkins using the moniker Janet Janet was a central figure in the great mail art surge of the 1980s. Those who participated or have studied correspondence and zines from that era are likely to recognize the Janet Janet persona even if they are not familiar with Perkins, who also has a distinguished career in the above-ground art world.

Janet Janet was headquartered in San Francisco. Today Stephen Perkins resides in Madison, Wisconsin, USA and mails packages that show us how mail art was and always should be done.  So Tenderfoots take note and learn at the feet of one of the great masters!

I’m thrilled to have received this stack of 35 cards from Stephen Perkins. They suggest classic Fluxus event scores but are also perfect for communication in the digital age. In this package, Perkins is at his distinctive, conceptual best AND ideologically joining “The Resistance.” Mail art has always had a political aspect; it certainly did in the 80s. Protesting Ronald Reagan and South Africa were particularly prevalent.

Before this post I never thought in terms of something being Perkinsesque (or Janetesque?), but he actually does have a minimalist, text-oriented style that is recognizable.

 

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Stephen Perkins was deeply involved in 1980s zine culture (that was inseparable from mail art) and edited two legendary zines: Box of Water and Schism. He participated in Neoism (especially the British variety led by Stewart Home), the international Art Strike and the plagiarism movement (long before Kenneth Goldsmith) that culminated in the 1989 Festival of Plagiarism in the UK. Perkins has also contributed to scholarship and theory on these subjects. For instance, he and Lloyd Dunn (Photostatic – another classic zine) have published a study of copy art. Perkins is an interesting figure to explore. Ruud Janssen’s interview is good place to begin:

http://www.iuoma.org/perkins.html

 

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Mail art by Stephen Perkins

 

The cards are in pairs so that I am able to show both sides (left to right). I am most fascinated with the tautologies, repetitions and binary oppositions created. The repetitions use the same principle as the Janet Janet construct and are a trope of classic conceptualism. A political message is intended which I doubt anyone can fail to read, but Perkins’ conceptual brilliance (and apolitical abstraction) is present everywhere as well.

 

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Deepest thanks to Stephen Perkins!

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Lost Bonniediva Collage Rediscovered! (Gurnee, Illinois, USA)

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Mail art by Bonniediva (Gurnee, Illinois, USA)

 

Such drama queens we are here at the ranch!

This lovely collage with verses was never “lost” as much as it was “misplaced.”  But making lemon juice from sour cherries, we squeeze this as an opportunity to share a hitherto unseen piece from Mink Ranch fave – the ever-exceptional – Bonniediva! The collage is vintage October 2017. And a fine harvest indeed!

 

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And the envelope:

 

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Deepest thanks to Bonniediva!

 

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MinXus Mail Bag: Correspondence by “Legend of Trashpo” Neil Gordon (Torrington, Connecticut, USA)

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Mail art by DharmaDaDa Neil Gordon (Torrington, Connecticut, USA)

 

Trashpo (and the accompanying DKult of trashpoets) has been a network activity for about a decade. (Opinions differ – of course – about where and when Trashpo started.)

The popular consensus is that Trashpo began with postings by visual poet Jim Leftwich (Virginia, USA) on Fluxlist in 2007. Diane Keys (Illinois, USA) brought Trashpo to network popularity circa 2010. Trashpo – perhaps – has seen its nascence; however, it is still made and we still have avid, head-banging “DKulters.” Trashpo seems to have made a lasting impression on the Eternal Network.

Trashpo produced mail art stars (as much as that is possible) who were named in the various fanzines and on collector cards (yes, there were actual Trashpo fanzines and collector cards) as “Legends of Trashpo” or “Trashpo All-Stars.” This was a rare honor and some will recall Neil Gordon was an official “Legend of Trashpo” who brought a “first thought best thought,” rugged, ragged Punk aesthetic that helped define Trashpo at a crucial time in its evolution.

I have to rely on memory to list other official “Legends of Trashpo,” so I will probably miss some. They include Diane Keys (of course), KDJ (yes, she is a real person), Ernie Baer, Borderline Graphics, Richard Canard, Marla Kittler, Mail Art Martha and others

Many “Legends of Trashpo” are retired from the network or are less active than in the halcyon days when Trashpo was spreading across the globe. This is very understandable, so I am thrilled to receive the occasional piece from Neil Gordon. It is the flawless work of a master and originator. Time for a close-up:

 

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People still ask me, “What is Trashpo?” After a long time struggling with cogent answers, the best I can say is, “It’s whatever Neil Gordon does. It’s whatever Diane Keys does.” Neil Gordon has sent the perfect Trashpo composition here, right down to his signature tea bag wrapper.

 

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Neil Gordon sent an altered junk mail letter, but my printer insisted on chopping it up:

 

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There it is! Authentic Trashpo made by a legendary master! Superb!

 

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Thanks Neil!

 

 

Beans Zines by David Alan Goldberg (Charlotte, North Carolina, USA)

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Beans zines (issues #3 & #4) by David Alan Goldberg (Charlotte, North Carolina, USA)

 

Prophets of doom in the 90s announced the birth of the Digital Age marked the death of mail art. Here in 2018, mail art is thriving and defying the old prediction. The current network requires integrating the digital and the snail mail postal system. A few Old School folks object (see the Retired Mail Artists group on Facebook). Otherwise correspondence art is more accessible to a wider audience than in the days  when it was, essentially, “underground” and – ironically – exclusive.

For those of us who are more Old School than Newbies, the internet has been a miraculous gift to help re-connect and/or connect better with friends we previously only knew through paper, envelopes and stamps (sometimes via phone calls and/or personal meetings). One (re-)connection I have enjoyed making is with David Alan Goldberg who is currently located in North Carolina, USA. (As Ficus srangulensis says, “Yer new ol’ bud.”)

Like me, David Alan Goldberg was captured by the excitement of the Age of Zines in the 1980s. This was a time when the explosion of DIY zines (with circulations ranging from a dozen to thousands) overlapped with the mail art network and ignited an alternative, global culture movement outside the mainstream. No one knows how many people participated or how many zines existed. Archives being posted online are beginning to provide a better historical picture of this vast network, but much remains to be done. I believe most people would find the zines absolutely fascinating to view.

There were many of us zinesters. (I would guess the majority were in their teens!) David Alan Goldberg and I were fellow travelers interested especially in the Neither/Nor Press in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA and its famed zine Beatniks from Space.

We were among the generation of slackers (aka Marginals) who adopted the philosophy of Bob Black’s famed essay, “The Abolition of Work” (a sort of anthem in the Reagan years.) Bob Black probably coined the term “Marginal” to describe the first service-economy generation of disaffected youth. Tangential to these activities were Neoism and the Church of the Subgenius, also promulgated via the network.

Only in recent years have I gotten to know David Alan Goldberg in any substantial way, and I am thrilled have received two issues of his current zine Beans.

 

 

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The zines produced all kinds of gifted designers, photographers, writers and – especially – cartoonists who moved on to other endeavors. Beans showcases David Alan Goldberg’s considerable talents as a cartoonist.

 

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From Beans #3 by David Alan Goldberg

 

 

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From Beans zine #4 by David Alan Goldberg

 

 

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Zines are also experiencing a kind of revival today. I frequently receive them via the mail art network and see announcements for events. They are different in scale and focus compared to earlier iterations but also more idiosyncratic, quirky and self-consciously aesthetic. I love them!

David Alan Goldberg is an authentic veteran of the Age of Zines, and it is great to see he has found a venue and patron that allow him to share his gifts. Deepest thanks to DAG for sending these issues along!

Here is some information on the back cover of Beans:

 

 

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Cardboard Quartet: Erica Durante, Jay Block, Richard Canard & Mud Head

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Mail art by (top) Erica Durante (Waldwick, New Jersey, USA) and Jay Block (Bridgewater, Massachusetts, USA)

 

This blog is a serenade to the popular postcard format in contemporary mail art and a chance operation gathering of some great mail art recently (and not so recently) received. Both Jay Block and Erica Durante are faithful postal friends who brilliantly play the postcard like a plaintive violin. Here are the reverse sides:

 

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Two more:

 

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Mail art by (top) Richard Canard (Carbondale, Illinois, USA) and Mud Head (aka Chris Reynolds) (Phoenix, Arizona, USA)

 

Let’s take a closer look at the Mud Head piece. It’s a hidden gem! (Note: Mud Head’s address has changed in the past months, so you should check with him to find out what is current.)

 

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Deepest thanks to Erica, Jay, King Richard and Chris!!!!

 

MinXus Mail Bag: Gu’s Snail Mail Revolution is a Riot (Norfolk, UK)

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Mail art by Gu (Norwich, Norfolk, UK)

 

Tenderfoots need no introduction to longtime Mink Ranch and network fave Gu (aka Gina Ulgen). She is widely admired among us as an artist in general, a brilliant collage artist in particular and – especially with this recent package – a creative spirit capable of transforming mundane mail into art.

We find every aspect of this assemblage carefully considered and inter-connected. We also see some interesting evolution (perhaps not revolution) in Gu’s work. First, here is an overview of the envelope and its contents:

 

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Gu generously includes postcard-size examples of her collage as well as supporting ephemera. To us, every piece has a necessary place in the visual syntax that creates a structure. Here are the reverse sides:

 

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Gu has developed a distinctive artistic style (her collage work is easily recognizable) using complex verbal-visual puns, popcult imagery with an emphasis on the retro-historical and an eye for image absurdity closer to the sensibility of Surrealism than Da Da.

Thus, Gu is not a Warholian literalist although she shares with the master an interest in the mass produced images that swim in the collective unconscious. We think, indeed, her work is filled with sharp irony and awareness and she explores the juxtapositions of changing fashion to deepen and intensify her work. She draws from the trope of the “pin-up girl” and the increasingly complicated representation of gender roles.

The “Snail Mail Revolution” stamp is FAB:

 

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Here are the contents of the package:

 

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Mail art by Gu (Norwich, Norfolk, UK)

 

 

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In previous work, Gu’s puns, metaphors and themes have appeared more randomly and dispersed. They were often isolated to a single piece and did not necessarily have a relation to accompanying pieces. In this package we see (or we think we see!) the formation of far more consistent themes and metaphors. Those give unity to this mail art package as well.

Gu has often previously focused on images of women and fashion. In these pieces received that emphasis is pronounced and commentary seems to be made on the repressive and/or restrictive nature of the clothing. We’d call this a feminist turn in her work, but the descriptive is too reductive and confining in terms of the breadth and depth of the pieces. The giant bra is funny. We believe you do yourself and the piece a disservice to become, for instance, enraged about patriarchal control of women. Gu also uses cat imagery as a metaphor for the feminine.

Here is the ephemera that was included:

 

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And the reverse:

 

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Wonderful, wonderful art! Deepest thanks to Gina!

MinXus Mail Bag: “Ghost Ship” Add & Pass from Debra Mulnick (Boise, Idaho, USA)

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Add & pass sent by Debra Mulnick (Boise, Idaho, USA)

 

I have referred to the present moment in the Eternal Network as the Platinum Age of the add & pass (a&p) because I have never received so many of these pieces from so many different people at one time in various states of completion (and even decomposition).

I gather others are receiving them too and launching their own. (I also include the disclaimer I am not a huge a&p fanatic. I am more interested in them in terms of their network history.) I also assume from the lore that there was an earlier Golden Age of the a&p overseen by Ray Johnson and the Correspondance [sic] School folks.

Debra Mulnick sent me this really interesting a&p that I would call “mature” or very close to completion. It appears to be what I named in an earlier blog a “ghost ship” a&p that has possibly been drifting around (North America and Europe) for not just years but decades! I might also have titled this a “distressed” a&p because it appears – as we used to say – “as if it had been around the block a few times.”

One stamp is from a mail art show in 1986. That’s the earliest date I can find in this ancient and cryptic text; that’s early if it actually dates the piece. A small Ray Johnson bunny stamp says, “The show must go on.” I’ve never seen that one before. For me, the piece is visually very interesting but – oddly – linear given the contributors. Perhaps this a more contemporary a&p made from recycled mail art? That is a great idea too.

Mail art on one level – like Fluxus – is a game of names: Endless lists of names in all different orders with sub-lists. This piece Deborah Mulnick sent (and contributed to) spans several generations ranging from “Old School” to absolute contemporary:

 

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Here are the artists I’ve been able to identify in this a&p: RF Cote (Canada); Ed Giecek (Washington State, USA) (Longtime networker Ed seems to be involved heavily in the current a&p phenom and might be recycling earlier pieces); Frips (Belgium) (Frips is a fab artist who was a network foundation but I haven’t heard much about her lately); Moreno Menarin (Italy); Maggie Mize (Texas, USA); Debra Mulnick (Idaho, USA); Gerda Osteneck (Canada) (a newcomer who has already achieved “Legend of Trashpo” status); Amber Scribble (Florida, USA). Great and interesting group!

Debra Mulnick enclosed this wonder in a FAB (word of the day) envelope with a retro vibe (right down to the typewriter print) and lovely colour:

 

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Many thanks to Debra Mulnick. I might just “retire” this piece in my own archives.