A Proposed Agenda for the 1992 Networking Nongress

by Mark Bloch

From my Open Letter to The Network- " I do not have the answers but I am committed to asking the right questions, even at the risk of pissing some people off. But perhaps being an annoying creep is what it means to be an artist in the late 20th century. We need to ask the difficult questions that don't get asked in the official art world or the corporate hierarchies." And from a letter I received from Ray Johnson in 1989: "Simplify. Clarify."
I say that these annoying questions I have been asking during the last 2 years are questions mail artists should ask themselves before and during the proposed 1992 Congress. If you take a look at the last recommendation drafted at the Italian Mail Art Conference in 1986 at Villa Fanna, you will see that some 5 years ago I proposed that mail artists reach out beyond art, beyond the realm of the network. So I am not against ideas being bandied about for this congress, such as enlarging our sphere. To the contrary, I have been engaged for the last year and a half with people of diverse backgrounds in my participation in computer teleconferencing, speaking via phone lines modems and computers, as well as face to face with writers, musicians, scientists, programmers, businesspeople, publishers, book editors, filmmakers, carpenters, students, and mothers and it has been most valuable. I invite all networkers to log onto Panscan to join the dialogue with us. However, unless mail artists know where they stand on a myriad of issues that are unique to us, they should be hesitant to attempt to exert their influence on people of other disciplines. The following list of questions, taken from some of my recent essays, is my proposal for the 1992 Congress. In other words, until these questions are answered, I propose a 1992 Nongress, in solidarity with the International Word Strike that began January 1, 1991 and will continue until December 31, 1993. I propose that in attempt to simplify and clarify what it is we are doing, networkers, mail artists and other public relations men get together and ask themselves the following questions:

FROM The Word Strike flyer:
People used to do art during these times but now they don't have art to kick around anymore so what will we do now?
How will we spend our time?
Will we notice each other?
Will we be aware of the fact that the artists are all out threre beating the shit out of each other, that we even do it ourself when we join in with the art world?
Well, now that we have this leisure time and we're just living in the moment and we're not doing art what will we do?
If we notice the other people should we do something to effect them or should we keep to ourselves?
I f we do something for them what should we do?
Will we send them a message?
What will it say?
Will we do something for ourselves?
What will it be?
What is our goal in doing it?
Or perhaps it has nothing to do with us or them- it's something kind of spiritual that you do for mysterious reasons. What's that all about?
Or maybe if you do want to send a message, what language will you use?
Will you speak the language of their money world or will you not speak at all?
Will you invent your own language?
If so how well do you want others to understand it?
If you are interested in having others understand it, have you demysitified it enough for them to comprehend what you are really getting at?
If you don't want them to understand it why are you sending it?
If you are not willing to demystify the message and meke it clear should (you) just keep it to yourself?
Or if it is a secret between you a few others then keep it quiet?
Don't bother showing it to people you don't want to understand it because we all value our time and we want to spend it getting and sending our messages as clearly as possible?
Yeah, words are just symbols and pictures are just symbols but what are they symbols of?
(Discuss these questions:): the understanding of what history is and what words are, the understanding of what is really happening to us when we are moved to call something a masterpiece, the understanding of the reasons we use stereotypes, and exploring if there is any reality behind them, the understanding of jealousies and the abandonment of the fear that causes them, the understanding of our judgements and the criteria we use to judge things, and where that comes from.

FROM The Last Word- Art Strike, Word Strike, Plagiarism and Originality:
"Why are we here?
To remind outrselves that we don't have the answers."After the first festival Stewart admitted: "Before holding the fest I naively imagined that it was possible to use platforms of privlidge to make a critique of privilidge." Did he do it again by holding it in a gallery?
Why was it in a gallery?
Is it stupid to say that if you change the name it is not a gallery?
What is a gallery?
Should we have covered up the sign as was suggested in the final discussion?
Is a gallery neutral?
Is it a platform of privledge?
What is art and what is an art space?
Are these questions determined by class background?
Is it possible to build a culture without background?
Was Transmission a gallery or not during the week of the festival?
How are we supposed to have a dialogue if Stewart misses my response because of something as stupid as the fact that there is smoke in the air?
Yeah how 'bout time off from talking about how rotten and bourgeousie life is and just get your foot washed?
Should the festival have been more concentrated?
Can one "select things on a basis of non-selection" ?
"What is the role of taste?
Is it possible to build a culture without values?
Is it possible to balance between selection and unselection?
" "Should we agree to differ or should we have a collective vision?
" Sure we are created equal but are we equally creative?
Stewart admits we're not equal but that the division of wealth and priviledge should be "need oriented". What "objective" being is going to decide who "needs" too much?
"Is it censorship?
What if I just went upstairs and ripped down all your work?
Would you be pissed off?
" "That which appears is good; that which is good appears." Can this apply to us as well?
Is his or anyone's flyer only good by virtue of the fact that it appeared at a Festival of Plagiarism?
what is ethical?
Is "sleeping in" a "Bohemian event?
" The discussion after was informal. Was that good?
Again, is any informal discussion at an event like this good or should a group consciousness evolve through group discussions?
who (were)the videos were for, and for that matter, also who (was) the show, the festival, the ideas for?
(Do) you believe in originality?
(Are) you a plagiarist ?
The question about the media after the festival is Is The Way the Media Portrays This Festival Important?
To have reached only these people was clearly NOT the goal-(does) it need to go further?
Does it need to go further than just artists?
Can we ignore the media?
What kind of information should reach the public?
How large an audience should it reach?
How much of this(my book) do you believe?
Why not?
Are we powerless?
If ... we must act in the right ways...what are those ways?
Why did people come to this fest?
What does that mean- direct action?
What can be done?
How to do it?
How long can we afford to talk about the same old shit in new disguises?
"Why Plagiarism?
" Is it all a failure and if so if we have to make "a challenge" what will form should it take?
Is it naive or politically incorrect to believe that human beings are motivated by something that can't be measured?
Why not use Situationist theory if you believe it?
Isnt the success of the capitalist propaganda machine attributable to their mastery of the human psyche?
That is: getting into people's subconscious, activating their lower instincts and directing them to the task of consuming to solve their deep-rooted (often unsolveable) problems?
Who was this festival held for?
Is it for the people who organized it?
The people who were always here?
People who sent work in?
People who looked in for a moment?
People who came in the gallery?
The media?
"The witholding of creative energy is our only weapon. "-T Lowes If it is our only weapon, isn't it necessary that we take it seriously?
Is art our greatest mental possesion?
Whatever happened to art as a a healing power for the people of the tribe?
Do you think by giving up art we need to re-learn the process of thinking?
To re-see the world in a different way?
Why call it an "art" strike?
And why not expect success?
What is the real solution?
What tactic would be more than just a mere pose and could actually work?
Smile 11 calls "artists" "cultural workers". Does this accomplish anything?
Isn't it a "harsh materialistic perspective" which got us into this mess in the first place?
(Is) a little social consciousness is better than none at all?
Is there room for compromise?
Does one have to make money off their creativity?
Do we cease to create for oppressive and exploitative forces at all and use our energy to raise consciousness against such forces?
Is sitting around feelingholier than thou because nothing has changed better than working within the system?
Is it possible to completely leave the system?
(Should we continue to) experiment with words?
But didn't the Dadas and Schwitters play that one out seventy five years ago?
Didn't Raymond Roussel devote a lifetime to it?
Why does Structuralism and its retarded children and precursors sell so well in university bookstores?
Is it because words inherently have no meaning or is it just as result of thousands of years of abuse?
How do we re-infuse words with meaning?
Is there not a middle ground between "pretensious drivel" and a "glut" of art?
(Is tearing) apart "visual poetry" letter by letter...the answer?
Does that sort of activity do anything to achieve the original aims of what visual poetry was about or did we somehow get off the track?
To be either co-opted or discarded- (Which one is worse?
) Could the art strike go the route of Acid House and Macy's?
So what is the goal here?
To turn the Art Strike or Plagiarism into a trend?
(When people) brag about how our activities can stand up aesthetically against "high art" but aren't these types of comparrisons exactly what is wrong with high art?
"What stands in the way of truth?
" To what extent is a creative persons "own voice" free of those that have preceded him?
We are always borrowing. But does that negate the idea that individuals are capable of creative solutions to the problems that plague us?
Sometimes people are forced to consciously break with the past. Is this such an occasion?
Is Plagiarism a good word for disabling the problems within the system we are up against?
Who created the system?
Is it a conscious thing?
If so when did it become so?
Is Plagiarism important or is the action?
Is it important if Situationsists started the Straussbourg 68 riots or Punk in 76 or is it just that a revolution occured?
Then why plagiarism?
Why does it have that name?
As for the collective nature- didn't Wittgenstein say this- and many others before him?
Was Edison not a creative man?
Even if he blatantly ripped off his ideas from Nicholas Tesla as has been asserted by some- what does this mean?
Are we doomed to sitting around trying to write songs by committee?
Plagiarism may have well-known historical precedents, or even be necessary, but does that realization do anything to cut down or increase the amount of horror in the world?
Does that intergenerational community democratically preserve the words of all members of the community equally or are certain individuals' words considered to be more important?
If so, is that contributing to a cult of genius?
The history of culture appears to be an ancient bazzar in which the same pieces of jewelry keep being stolen, polished up and resold. But does that mean that the thieves and polishers are not to be admired for their achievements?
Are there any originals left or is everything an original?
Or is everything a copy?
Are Stewart and the rest of Plagiarists percieving the current goings on with acumen or are they missing the point with their barking about revolution?
Surely class struggle is more of an issue in the UK than it is in the USA but are we confusing the issue?
Is Plagirism the right word for what this festival was about or was that name only meant to shock?
What was the goal of the festival?
Is plagiarism a good tool for doing what we want?
For the desired result?
What do we want?
What was the goal?
A consensus emerged at the Festival that we must start now not later but start what?
Detournment was a discussed as a way of taking the lies out of capitalism. Is that the goal- to take the lies out of capitalism?
If that is the goal, is "Plagiarism" a good word, a good technique for doing that?
Does plagiarism equal detournment?
There was talk about creating confusion. Wasn't neoism flatly rejected at this years fest?
Hasn't it been rejected pretty much everywhere?
But at the same time isn't that what neoism's "goal" is?
To create the great confusion?
If a word is necessary for this type of festival what does "Plagiarism" have to do with it?
Who is the target for our activities?
People outside our own circle?
"The professional artists are not suseptable to these ideas why not target where we have the best chance of succeeding?
The students, campuses, universities. The art world needs the art strike ideas the most but they are not sympathetic." Is it wrong to target them directly?
Would covert action be more affective?
Does plagiarism- as it is defined by the festival organizers- work best when it is covert?
What about the working class world?
Do we want to reach them or only other artists?

FROM Proud Mary and The Internal Network :
What is (the network) like?
But inside each of us we have a kind of inner network, a number of voices that speak to us in different ways. Who is the "us" that is being spoken to?
What could be a more perfect metaphor?
How do we actually get out of the way of Proud Mary?
Is it possible to jump ship and escape her influence for a part of each day and change Mary's course without her realizing it?
Is it possible to jump Mary's ship and just enjoy being away from her?
But how would we get away from the Big Wheel once and for all?
Where should we steer her?

FROM Mark Bloch Interview with John Held:
Who is the audience for writings about mail art?
So whats the goal then?
Is it to establish the legitimacy of mail art to those people or is it to talk to your fellow networkers, is it to find new people to join the network?
What is the actual goal of a (lecture on mail art?
) So are you trying to change (the fact) that (the art world knows very little about mail art)?
Do you want them to be more interested in it?
(How is mail art) going to be incorporated into art history, if its not already?
Can thre Fagaga's of the future continue to jump in and participate in in it and be accepted as equal to an Anna Banana or Buster Cleveland or General Idea, and the people who started it?
can mail art continue to exist if it becomes part of art history?
When it becomes part of art history will the network end somehow?
But as far as the Network goes isnt there a danger that it will become exclusive if its too well documented for the art world?
(Do) you consciously decide not to alientate the art worldWhat do you think about the art world?
the big art world like Jeff Koons types?
And everything on down- which is now admitting for membership Fluxus and Situationism?
So how do you see yourself?
Do you see yourself in that role as somehow bridging it as a undreground activity to the mainstream?
So why don't just appreciate (whats going on in mail art) for what it is rather than turn them on to it?
Don't I have a legitimate right to feel (hurt when I am left out of a lecture on mail art?
(Do you) have a strategy (on historifying mail art)?
(When discussing mail art do you) overdo it so they really understand that its open and that your not just replacing the old superstar system with a new superstar system?
Isnt that what mail art is fighting against?
(Is) mail art is open?
But what if the people who are taklking to the people who are not in mail art somehow inhibit the abilityof the people who are only talking within the network to do their thing?
Because there IS a certain slickness to mail art, what will that do to the kid(s) who (write naive) letter(s)?
Does that mean that its moving toward a place where theres no space for that kid?
(Is mail art calcified?
)(is it embalmed?
) (When you talk about mail art do you) make sure that the people who hear what you have to say don't get the wrong idea?

FROM Open Letter to the Network :
Why mention anyone?
What exactly are we trying to do when we publicize mail art?
Or do we know?
Have we ever asked ourselves- Why publicize mail art?
We talk about the close-minded perceptions of the art world but why are we so preoccupied by this?
Is it in fact because we long for the day when mail art will hang in museums beside "Picassos" and other art rebels?
Dead art?
Is that the goal?
What is the purpose of articles and lectures on mail art?
Who are we trying to reach?
Can we do it justice?
Isn't it astounding that a forum exists where naive letters from kids, for example, can be written to more established artists?
But what is (art history's) relationship to mail art?
Is the only difference in the fact that mail art is not yet accepted by the official institutions?
If it is eventually accepted will there then be a difference between Network art and official art?
Or is there something about what we are doing that is inherently unique, perhaps uncorruptable?
Or is everything subject to the absorption and commodification that has characterized official "art" to date?
If Cavellinis or Ray Johnsons are hung in frames (and) they stand up against the best of the official art pieces- did you doubt for a moment that mail art could stand up?
At any rate, does it matter?
Who cares?
Is that what mail artists have been trying to do in their 30 years or more of existence?
- to create objects of art that can stand up next to a Picasso or a Leroy Nieman?
What exactly ARE mail artists doing for social causes?
Isn't 95 percent of it lip service?
Who is really doing anything?
Who has changed anything?
Sure there have been advances. We can be proud of that, but why haven't there been more?
What will comparing mail art to the official art world do to advance more change in the socio-political sphere?
There are indeed mail artists in the USSR and Czechoslavakia and Poland and Hungary but I don't see anything except letters and collages being exchanged- isn't there something more that we can do to help these people?
Don't you think that when viewed honestly, mail art could be seen as a bunch of egomaniacs congratulating each other and looking desperatley through their mail for thier own name on the participants list?
But who will address the needs of human beings?
When mail artists fetish slick publications aren't we forgeting some basic principles of mail art?
Just because a piece ended up in theWhole Earth Catalogue, why single it out as a piece that appeared there while ignoring (two) other (smaller publications)?
Why focus on credentials like Art Forum ?
Why was Dr. Ronnie Cohen's article on mail art in Art News perceived as having more importance than an article scrawled on a poorly printed photocopy from Eastern Europe?
Do "official" magazines hold credibility that home-made publications do not?
(Do you) like slick catalogues, (Do you) comb through catalogues looking (your) own name?
(When you ask yourself why, do you like the answers?
) (Do you agree that) by questioning each other's motivations and asking the tough questions, it can hurt sometimes but it can also make us better at what we do and bring us closer to the ultimate truth we claim to be seeking?
If, in fact, mail art does survive as an yet another official unofficial art movement, don't we want it to be known that we had the integrity and courage to ask the right questions and not just succumb to the shallow thirst for recognition and popularity that characterizes our age?

Send answers to Mark Bloch / Panpost / Word Strike Action Committee / P.O. Box 1500 / New York, N.Y. 10009 / U.S.A. and a copy to the 1992 Networking Nongress Committee c/o HR Fricker, 9043 Trogen, Switzerland