MAIL ART- BRAIN CELL
１９８１年、当時日本に住んでいたカナダのビデオアーティストBYRON BLACK氏と出会い海外での活発な郵便でのアーティスト達の交流を知り、私もMAIL ARTを始めました。
MAIL ARTは単に一対一のやりとりだけでなく送られて来た作品にコラージュをして送り返したり他のアーティストの考えを取り入れたりします。その方法や考えの図式はそれぞれが整然と規則正しく並んでいる他の細胞と違い、複雑に絡み合い重なり合う脳の神経細胞の様なので私はそれを「BRAIN CELL」と名付けました。
「BRAIN CELL」にMAIL ARTISTの顔や身体を描く行為で「BRAIN CELL」のコンセプトをより実感するため２００１年のイタリアを皮切りに現在なお、様々な国を回り制作を続けています。
RYOSUKE COHEN July 28, 2015 translated by Giovanni Bonanno
MAIL ART- BRAIN CELL
I was so much impressed by Cezanne’s composition and Matisse’s brightness of his paintings, when trying representational paintings in my art-student days.
Afterwards my interest converted into contemporary art to know DADA and FULUXS’s idea.
My mail art activity started in 1981 as follows : I came to know Byron Black, a Canadian video artist who happened to live in Japan.
He was a very ardent mail artist exchanging artworks with many overseas artists.
In the midst of world-wide exchanges with mail artists, I got in touch with a variety of expressions and concepts : drawings, collages, Xerox’s copies, photos, CDs etc, by which I realized the expansion, depth and fascination of mail art.
Mail art is not only the mutual exchange but also the return of transformed origin by collage and others’ idea.
The scheme of its fashion and idea is mutually logical and in order and something complicatedly tangled up like nerve cell different from ordinary cell. That is why I named the mail art BRAIN CELL.
I put the postcards, stickers, rubberstamps etc. sent by mail artists into an A-3 sized paper to collage them, and have kept on sending the documentation.
( collaged paper and a list of participant-address) to each participant (about 55 participants an issue) every ten days.
Just 30 years have passed since I started sending this documentation. I am now ready to print the issue no.925.
In a few years, the issue no.1000 will be sent to each participant.
I have been doing in many countries, starting in Italy since 2001 : I draw an outline of portrait and/or body of each mail artist on Brain Cell, fully to realize the concept of Brain Cell.
In addition, I started ORION SOUP in 2009 so as to discuss without hesitation from the standpoint of artist the beginning of the space, prime numbers etc,.
namely, the most elemental theme to mankind.
Nowadays we can enjoy many network services by real-time communication in a very easy way thanks to the spread of SNS.
I have seen mail arts sent to me repeatedly by air mail, and videos and movies via SNS, by which I feel artists’ particularity, persistence and passion.
I am convinced that DADA, FULUXS flow into MAIL ART, and then into the main stream of fine art, and that this is the only fashion to find out the new direction of fine art direct to tomorrow.
July 28, 2015 translated by Kazunori Murakami
MAIL ART- NETWORKING ART
Recently, I have observed many signs that make me feel as if Mail Art is drawing to a close, and that there are many past publications that could be seen as 'compilations' of Mail Art. Quite a few predecessors of Mail Art have passed away, including Ray Johnson(USA), the Father of Mail Art, G.A.Cavellini (ITALY), Robin Croziel (ENGLAND), Robert Rehfeldt, (GERMANY), G.Deisler (GERMANY), Carlo Pittore (USA), and others. This is probably also because exchange by mail in the age of computers is considered primitive, and after the end of the COLD WAR between the East and the West, the necessity of correspondence between those two different worlds has been lost. On the other hand, I have been regularly receiving mail art by mail and fax, in response to my BRAIN CELL PROJECT dating from the year 1985, which has been numbered issue no.652, as of June 2006. Every time I receive mail art, I am pleased to see more and more new participants. After making them a collage of their drawings, designs, logos, seals, stickers and the like, I make it a rule to send the finished project back to each participant. Mail Art is far from finishing. I appreciate the role of collaboration in Mail Art. It is important to have new participants each time, but it is more important to be evoked by other mail artists' ideas from within the large and deep Network with a diverse range of expressions and concept. I can make mail artists' ideas more interesting by actively availing myself of seals and stamps and other materials sent from others and through my own printed matter. What is more, I can give other mail artists the feeling that they can utilise other's art and collaborate their ideas.
We have the Doppler effect in physics. The sound coming nearer to us becomes narrower between the sonic waves and sounds higher and more urgent in our ears. On the contrary, as waves travel away from us they get relatively wider and the sound appears lower. There are a variety of physical sounds around us: for example, the sound of cars coming and going. This phenomena is also true of art. Some art comes towards me, while other art goes away. People very often ask me how we can know good from bad in art. It does not matter whether this representational painting is good in composition and color and technique, or whether that piece of abstract art is good in balance and rhythm. I don't think it important to generally decide which style of art is better than the others. That is to say traditional ways of thinking about art is fading away from me. I often other artists only use limited new techniques in spite of what is called 'originality and individuality,' to the constant efforts predecessors had made for so long. A variety of works of modern art with too much false assertion of originality and individuality are also traveling away from me.
When I was at art school, I used to draw or paint representationally, moved by Cezanne's composition, and Matisse's brightness and his own style of plane. Later on I had some exchahge with members of the Gutai Group, so I learned new concepts of art through contemporary art. Consequently I have been participating in Mail Art Networking. I claim that this was a natural changeover and has no inconsistency with my personal concept of art. We need no large studio or storage space for paintings. Whoever wants to take part in mail art does so freely. We can deny the authority of the traditional art world, because mail artists directly exchange their own artworks. The fascination for Mail Art, more than twenty years ago, approached me with a high sound. Even now the collaborative concept of Mail Art is coming closer to me with a much higher sound.
We don't have any fixed "ism" in the infinite expanse of the Mail Art Network. Postcards, xeroxes, collages, drawings, photos, CGs, CDs, and other forms are sent in by mail, fax, e-mail etc. We are overwhelmed by the diversity of how mail art members think and express themselves. We realize that countless "isms" are mixed together in a state of chaos that is represented in Mail Art. Of course, we don't copyright our works. Interested in others' works, we add something to them or combine them together, and then send them back or forward them on to a third party. We occasionally find them changed into pieces with quite an unexpected concept.
At a glance, the jungle looks as if it is made up of gigantic trees, but the fact is that the rain-forests in the Amazon of South America consists of numerous species that cohabit harmoniously: ferns and mosses parasitic to the gigantic trees, very tiny insects that hide themselves under the fallen leaves, insects camouflaging in dead leaves and twigs against the enemies, puny insects swarming together as a threat, birds displaying their existence with colorful feathers and a shrill cry and many other mammals and birds. We really wonder at how diverse these living things are! We can lean from the rain forest that there are a multitude of LIFE FORMS. We are not chained to any fixed "ism" as this frees us from constraint, nor do we care for copyright we prefer to revise and copy others' works in a free and easy style. In such a network there is the possibility of our experiencing much by communication of mail art. This is the very LIFE FORM that we can experience in a variety of ways. Networking Art is art that enables us to be a praying mantis in camouflage, or butterflies flying on colorful wings.
Nowadays I have come to realize that we are all part of a FRACTAL, and that I can be a piece of that FRACTAL, and that I can create art, in a way that extends beyond myself as an individual, in communication with infinite mail artists' ideas.
In the same way that we appreciate the various kinds of LIFE FORMS in the amazon, we can experience a multitude of art forms in the MAIL ART NETWORK. It is only human beings who can experience plural LIFE FORMS, by which we can acquire a genuine sense of new creation.
ＪＵＮ. ２００６ ＲＹＯＳＵＫＥ ＣＯＨＥＮ
translated by Kazunori Murakami
Fifteen years ago, I received a scarab via mail from Ruggero Maggi in Italy, instead of a Kid-amusing scarab or a butterfly with beautiful wings. The insect was with dirt and enclosed in a transparent envelope. Now I still remember the day after, when I talked with Byron Black deep in the night about Maggi’s powerful artistic conception inspired by the Amazon River. Black, in those days, taught video art in a Japanese art school, and he gave me a piece of advice to spell my name “Cohen” like jewish people in place of my real Japanese spelling style, “Kouen” ;I am Japanese and was born in Osaka in 1948.
In the Amazon of South America, many kinds of small lives live dependent upon each other, such as ants, small insects hiding themselves underneath fallen leaves, ferns and lichen parasites on larger trees and fungi native to decayed wood, together with larger trees, animals, or birds. All of them in toto make up tropical forests. However, human beings have gradually learned to recognize the difference between things useful and useless. We make differences between large trees which are useful to build houses from those which are smaller, we differentiate between edible growth and that which is not;we differentiate between birds and fish which are good to have as pets and those which are not. Our ability to differentiate has, however, caused the ruin of numbers of small plants, which are by nature essential to the ecosystem of the Amazon. This tendency of ours is nowadays a recognized issue, and we know that this is not only pertinent to the Amazon but to everywhere on this planet.
The very same ability to differentiate has here also in japan caused terrible floods in typhoon season. Huge amounts of rain water flow off the artificially planted cedar and hinoki trees, and the water pours over the banks. In springtime, many of us suffer from hayfever. This has resulted from our immunity deficiency inclination. It is we who have created the reason for this deficiency, we planted only conifers on the earth and made our way of life too clean. As for this, some doctors, even insist upon keeping parasites in our body to regain immunity.
We have altered our rich and comfortable way of life by pushing away many things unnoticed or never mentioned before. Accordingly, we are about to lose or, in fact, have lost many things which had been the essence of our old rich and comfortable life. Now we are surrounded by social problems such as juvenile delinquency and discrimination against national minorities, in addition to the ecological problems. The art world, too, is not the exception; people in this world are under the same shadow as mentioned above. They have pushed away financially weak artists from galleries and art exhibitions. They may have even deformed the artistic sense of school children through rigid educational systems, enough so their artistic skill does not mean much today. They also may have put too much importance upon the Euro-American values of art criticism. During the past 100 years, the planet has lost half of its woods in the so-called “gprogress” to which we have aspired. Now that we are facing global environmental problems such as acid rain, ozone holes, hothouse effects and so on. Just as Ruggero Maggi advised us in his art pieces from the Amazon, it is time to restart and rebuild our real art, so now is the time to get started.
In Mail Art, the network expands as A to B, B to C, and so on. It is not only limited to peer communication. In fact, you can put collages on the mail you receive and send it back, or you may be able to send other artists’ ideas into your own mail. As a whole body, it appears as a brain constructed with numbers of compiled and complex nerve cells, which are created in a non-linear order. So I have named this style of art “Brain Cell”, and have been soliciting new Mail Art entries since June 1985. Today we have more than 5000 members from 80 nations, and the entries have amounted to 442 as of March 1999.
I made up a new word, Copy Left, which means free of copyright, and printed the name on envelopes and sent their seals all over the world. As I myself did, in the world of Mail Art, you can use other mail artists’ seals, stickers and stamps and also you can use your own concepts through the printed media. In addition, you are able to be willing to alter others’pieces and put collages on them and send them to other artists. In this way, Mail Art pieces often change their appearances and concepts into unimagined ways, which not one individual artist can create.
Andrej Tisma and Nenad Bogdanovic sent me the seal of “No-Ism” from Yugoslavia. No-Ism means that there is not just one ideology in the Mail Art World. No means Brain in Japanese. So, I ambiguously use “No” as the meaning of non-existence and Brain. I sent No-ism seals all over the world, too, in return. Likewise I receive in everyday life many kinds of stuff such as postcards, Xerox copies, collage pieces, drawings, computer graphics, show catalogs, photographs, and cassette tapes by mail, fax, e-mail, and Internet. This gives us an amazing view, showing the overwhelmingly plural ways of expression and concepts. I, therefore, regard the huge world of Mail Art full of every kind of ism mixed up like chaos. No wonder not a single rigid ideology survives or dominates.
As Ray Johnson once mentioned, Mail Art is not a single art movement, but is quite a megatrend that insists that we change our consciousness.
Many artists, in fact, were in sympathy with Swiss H.R.Fricker’s Tourism concept. I also had opportunities to make tours and meet many mail artists when I visited Europe (1987), North America (1989), and again Europe (1990). Then I was able to sense the trend of Mail Art and its creators’multiple situations. I had a very different experience, because at home I usually occupy myself at making and arranging art pieces, and learned a lot through fellowship with other artists. Some mail artists live a very natural way of life, others were very sensitive to peace in the world. And for them there were those who were willing to realize their art pieces to their utmost. All of them were not free from financial and political problems nor to postal communication, but they overcame those problems and remain with a very positive attitude. I found their attitude really different from that of Japanese. Tourism, I discovered through my experience, has the potential to stimulate looking at the world with aesthetic eyes. It is not just for making a trip and sightseeing.
Angela and Peter Netmail have put the Tourism concept into practice globally, and they have sent me mail from all over the world. I believe that their experiences may be far beyond our imagination and reach a deep understanding in the future of what mail art truly represents.
I have been sending mail since 1997 with the concept of Fractal in addition to that of the usual Brain Cell. Fractal is a word for mirror figures and was advocated by the French mathematician B.Mandelbrot at the IBM Watson Institute.
Picasso were influenced by Cezanne and African sculptures, Van Gogh by Hokusai and Hiroshige, Pollock by Dali and Miro, so we are influenced by numerous artists and mail artists. Needless to say I myself am completely influenced by some mail artists, Dadaists and Fluxus. I have been teaching art to school children for 25 years. Recently I have been involved in teaching physically challenged children, and I have been greatly influenced by these wonderful children. Deep within me exist many mixed fragmented parts of those artists and children. These and original fragments do not erase each other like spines on a cactus, but lead to a higher plane. This inner world gives me a real feeling that I am sharing many other artists’fragments, what with the experience that I have personal free-from-copyright relationships rearranging other masterpieces with other artists, as well as the freedom that is represented by the word “Copy Left” not bound to ideologies, which is No-Ism.
What I think, by making Mail Art pieces everyday, is that Mail Art is a dynamic medium. In other words, Mail Art consists in dynamism, because you can be more than a mere individual, able to be free to create art pieces with a new attitude, just being a fragment of the whole Network and sharing fragmental parts of many other artists.
March 1999 Translated by YUKIO TERATANI & HIROKO HIDAKA
San Francisco Arts trimestral eview with Ryosuke Cohen from the National Art Center in Tokyo, Japan.
Conducted by John Held, Jr.
Ryosuke Cohen is not a Japanese Jew. He was introduced to Mail Art by prankster Byron Black (originally from Fort Worth, Texas, an ESL teacher and world traveler), who when asked to translate Ryosuke’s family name, should have replied Koan – but didn’t. A source of confusion perhaps, nevertheless, the Ryosuke Cohen appellation stuck. Ryosuke was not the first Japanese Mail Artist, but he is the longest running Japanese contributor to the international network, who has based his participation on his long running Brain Cell project, which gathers images from Mail Artists on a single page accompanied by an address list of contributors from some fifteen countries per unit. Doing so, he is perhaps more responsible for the spread of Mail Art than anyone else in the Network. I began writing to Ryosuke shortly after he became active in Mail Art, and have remained in contact with him for thirty years. Over this time, we have met on several occasions, both in the Untied States and Japan. Our most recent meeting was in Tokyo to view the exhibition, “Gutai: Spirit of an Era,” at the National Art Center. I took the opportunity to question him about his involvement in Mail Art.
Can you tell me when you began doing Mail Art?
How did you hear about it?
Byron Black, a Mail Artist from Canada [who had lived previously at Western Front, Vancouver, Canada]. He showed me Mail Art at AU group meeting. Shozo [Shimamoto] and I first found out about Mail Art at this time.
When year did AU [Artist Union or Art Unidentified] begin?
It was started by Shozo Shimamoto in his old house. The house where Gutai magazine was first printed.
Yes, in Nishinomiya.
Who were some of the first people you corresponded with?
A German Mail Artist Angela Schmidt. She sent images of bird wings.
Was there anyone else doing Mail Art in Japan at this time?
When did you start gocco printing that you use in your work.
First I did silkscreen. Then I printed with gocco in 1983.
You started on postcards?
Yes. First on postcards and then on Brain Cell papers.
Brain Cell started when?
What gave you the idea?
Brain Cell is network image. I think it’s similar. I think it’s a neverending project. I started with Brain Cell #1, and I’ve done 837 issues.
ow often do the Brain Cell issues get distributed?
One issue every ten days. So, three in one month.
How do you get the image on the paper. When you get the image from your correspondent, do you cut it out, or do you photocopy the image?
First I do a photocopy. For gocco printing, you need black and white contrast. Next, I cut the photocopies and put them together.
You make a collage of the black and white images on one page. How many copies do you print?
Then they are sent out to the correspondents that have contributed images, accompanied by the names and addresses of the people who are included in that unit. There are extra copies that are not distributed. What happens with these?
There are fifty people in one issue of Brain Cell, and I make 150 copies. Fifty copies are sent to Mail Artists. I keep 40 issues, and the others are made into books containing 25 issues of Brain Cell.
Are these books sent to artists or to institutions?
They are sent to Mail Artists.
Not to museums or libraries?
Sometimes I get requests from libraries and universities.
Mostly abroad. I can’t remember who.
Many Mail Artists have arranged Brain Cell exhibitions? Where are some of these places?
There are probably two or three countries a year. For example, last year they were shown in Holland and Ukraine.
Where in Holland?
It was arranged by the Mail Artist Ever Arts.
Did you send him the books and he would break them up to exhibit?
You do this all by yourself, without any help? I know you were a teacher (Ryosuke recently retired). Did the students help you?
No. Only me.
You have the gocco machine at your home?
You will continue to do the Brain Cells?
When you receive the work from Mail Artists, what do you do with the correspondence you receive?
I rent space to store the works.
How big is the collection?
Many paper boxes. One year maybe three or four paper boxes, so after thirty years…about ninety or hundred.
What do people send you? Just images for Brain Cell, or magazines, catalogs, the things most Mail Artists receive?
It’s a big collection. What to you plan to do with it.
If possible, I’d like to place them in a library.
Do you have a specific library in mind?
Has anyone asked you about the collection? What about the Hyogo Prefecture Museum [which has a Gutai collection]?
I have no contact with them.
Do you see Mail Art as a continuation of Gutai.
I learned Mail Art from Byron Black, so I don’t see Gutai and Mail Art as connected.
I remember, in the beginning, you used to send every Brain Cell to German Mail Art Klaus Groh? Any others who received many of the Brain Cells?
Shumel, Les Crammer, John Tostada, Carol Stetser, Guido Bondioli [in the United States], Peter Kaufmann in Switzerland, Henning Mittendorf in Germany, Robert Kepler in Brazil, Clemente Padin in Uruguay.
Do you think Mail Art is more popular now or before the Internet.
Since I’ve been on Facebook, many people write me. But I think it’s a different kind of communication.
What is the difference?
Facebook is amusing, but I like hand made and postcards. It’s another kind of amusing.
When did you start doing the silhouette project? [Brain Cell sheets are joined together in rolls upon which subjects lie, while Ryosuke draws around them.]
2001. First I went to Italy.
Who were the first people?
Emilio Morandi. Then I went to the United States, Canada, England, North Ireland, Spain, Yugoslavia, Germany, Holland and Korea. Two years ago, I got cancer, [so I have not traveled much]. Next year I’ll continue the project.
Sometimes you silhouette the whole body, and sometimes just the head.
I do both the body and the face.
When you complete the silhouette, you give them to the people whose portrait you’ve done?
You don’t save any for yourself, or do you?
It would make an excellent exhibition…
…but difficult to gather all the materials.
Courtesy Francisco Arts Quarterly
Links: Intervista di John Held J. 2012
Visit: http://www.sfaqonline.com/2012/10/19/interview-with-ryosuke-cohen-from-the-national-art-center-in-tokyo-japan/ (Interview with John Held, Jr. 2012)