Catching Up with the Post Art Network-
1989 to 2007
Mark Bloch Interviewed by Johnny Boy
February 17, 2007
Johnny Boy: I'd like to see what the original participants think about the Network after all this time. What happened to you as a person and a mail artist in these last 10 years?
Mark Bloch: Very interesting. Well, first of all, did you know the Word Strike finally ended?
Johnny Boy: No.
Mark Bloch: Yes I started the Word Strike in 1989. The idea was to stop using the word ART except to mean MONEY or things DONE FOR MONEY. This worked very well. The collapse of prices in the international art market was one of the many positive results of the Word Strike, which lasted longer than expected. I extended it until I learned that members of the art community were coming together in a humanistic gathering of support for the art dealer Pat Hearn, who was tragically stricken with liver cancer and died on August 18th, 2000 at age forty five. Struck by the coming together of the art world as a community, I ended the Word Strike in her honor.
Johnny Boy: Why?
Mark Bloch: At that point, I felt it it was possible for there to be a more flexible boundary between things done for money and things NOT done for money. During the Word Strike, there was no word that existed to signify work done for reasons OTHER THAN money (although I came up with a few, to be revealed later) and once the Word Strike was declared a success, I watched as the art world prices corrected themselves and there was a corresponding opening up of the actual work being shown in galleries and museums worldwide. Fluxus, collage, collaborative art forms, mail art, cyber-art, installation art, performance art, concept art and video art all poured into the consciousness, at last, of even the planet's most thick-headed art knuckleheads, and like an infusion of fiber into the diet, the result was a healthy elimination of unnecessary fat that had been clogging the entrails of the art world for decades. I must add that I recently have seen signs of dangerous muck creeping back into the world's revitalized art systems and so while I hate to be a bully, I must threaten that I never said that the Word Strike had been retired forever. It could be given new life at any time and I will not hesitate to reactivate the Word Strike if the situation again becomes untenable.
Concurrent with the Word Strike was the Art Strike which I also took very seriously. I went into a period of hiding that lasted from 1991 until 2006. I slowed my mail art to a crawl during that 15 year period, sticking mostly to communications that were essential. I mostly expressed gratitude to people during this period that had helped me in the previous 15 year run from 1976 to 1991. Those years had been very good for me. I discovered the existence the mail art network and I was proud to play a very small part in transforming the planet while transforming myself. It seems now, in retrospect, that we were busy laying the groundwork for what was about to happen via the Internet. While I did not produce anything even close to my best work during this period, I did manage to make contact with many people who did. These are the people I concentrated on during my private Art Strike. I gathered up all the information I had learned from them, and tried to apply it to my own life. Whenever possible, I tried to convey thanks to these spiritual and cultural mentors. That was the extent of my mail art involvement in the last ten years or so. I did participate in the occasional show but basically I "dropped out" of mail art by simply slowing my material output to a cryogenic level.
Meanwhile, I did not stop working. I completed many projects and those that I did not complete were moved forward. I finished four semi-autobiographical novels. I began research on several non-fiction books including the still incomplete Last Mail Art Show on mail art and two others: one on Ray Johnson who died during this period and the other on Robert Delford Brown, an important collaborative artist and religious leader. I compiled all my music and soundworks created during the late 70s and 80s. I compiled my performance work and continued to perform occasionally when invited or inspired. I put all my electronic output out on video in the form of Panscan TV which I showed on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in New York City. Panscan TV kind of took the place of Panmag, my mail art zine, but I was making Panmags all along and some of these I hope to publish in print form and on the Internet in the coming years.
Johnny Boy: are you still networking?
Mark Bloch: I am networking more than ever now. In 1989, after I published The Last Word, my print introduction to the Art Strike and Word Strike concepts and final issue of Panmag for a while, I began to move into the electronic arena. I had been using computers since the mid-eighties, but in 1989 I merged on to the Internet in the form of the WELL and then Echo, a New York City-based teleconferencing system. I have spoken previously about Panscan, the mail art and performance-oriented cyber-environment I created there. What has not been documented is the end of this endeavor which is relevant to your question. Around the time of the death of Ray Johnson in 1995, the World Wide Web was created, changing the Internet from a text-based to a visually-based medium. New cyber-systems like The Thing and others came into being all over the world and started to explore the electronic art space I and others were previously trying to carve out using ascii type as our only tool. Communications within the Panscan virtual world I had created were also breaking down around this time, due to the small-town nature of the community and my own corresponding saturation with the project and the participants. However I will always be very grateful for each and every person who ever ventured into Panscan. It was a community of philosophers, scientists and business people as well artists and what we created together helped me find my voice as a communicator in this new medium of cyberspace. Furthermore I was going through my own changes which continue to this day, including getting married and starting a family. I was also beginning to open up to the idea of getting paid for my creative endeavors. Not just because I needed the money, but because I realized that NOT expecting to get paid was to self-sabotage the message and undercut the tremendous value of the work we create as artists. I kept the Word Strike going for another five years but I secretly began to move back toward the realm of visual art done for money from whence I had come and began to cultivate a network that would allow me to distribute my tangible works to those who could use it via those who could afford to pay for it. The difference was I now saw my work as an important service I was performing, rather than an extension of fears of scarcity driven by cultural brainwashing. I saw the developing Web as the place my artistic conceptual output could eventually move to the benefit of myself and others. I created the concept of Panmodernism and am still in the process of creating a Panmodern network of networks that will help usher in the coming transformation of the world in which art, whether as a commodity or a concept, will be restored to its ancient healing function. The world needs it badly.
Johnny Boy: Has your opinion about the network changed?
Mark Bloch: I now see that the theories of Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller and others, the underground newspaper and peace movements of the 1960s and before, the self-publishing movement that dates back centuries as well as the mail art network were all laying the groundwork for the Internet and its new manifestation the World Wide Web, which blossomed in the period following 1995. I still see the Eternal Network as envisioned by Robert Filliou, in which the fact that no one person has the capability of knowing everything becomes a liberating event, and as a consequence necessitates a collaborative neural network of the Earth's hearts, minds and hands, but now the Web has made it actually possible for this to happen literally, here and now, not just in theory or in well-meaning ghettos of cultural wannabes; and to reach every person on the planet according to their needs as both a sender and receiver of information, not just an elite group.
It is an amazing coincidence that this all came to fruition at the exact moment of Johnson's rayocidal death. Email and companies like Federal Express have made snail mail an anachronism. So just as the founder of the New York Correspondence School delivered himself into a hydrated infinity, a more complex version of the very network he spawned exploded into world consciousness while the non-electronic medium he preferred and pioneered was fading toward oblivion. His death allowed me (and others) to research him and his ideas in ways that, ironically, I never could or did, while he was alive. I now feel that I understand more about what he had in mind and that it was very different from what I previously understood the mail art network and the process of creating mailings to be. So yes, I have a completely different idea of what the network is and these are the reasons why. What form it will take and what this means I am less willing to talk about right now only because it is all new to me, and the potential is so immense (as it was within Ray's world, which I previously had only an inkling of) that I find myself humbled, intimidated and inarticulate at this moment. But it is my main focus and I hope to say it more about it some day as I am able to figure it out.
Johnny Boy: Anything else you want to add?
Mark Bloch: I would encourage people who want to know more about what I am talking about to read my essay Communities Collaged: Mail Art and The Internet and my at interview by Honoria on early cyberspace. The latter is part of Honoria's important thesis on mail art.
Johnny Boy: I may ask you some more questions some time. Would that be OK?
Mark Bloch: One other thing I want to say is that I did a lot of interviews with mail artists in the 80s for the Last Mail Art Show and still have those on cassette tape. I hope to digitize them soon so they can finally be made available to others. I applaud you for doing this project and also Ruud Jannsen for the great job he did in getting his interviews out into the world. I am also indebted to him for the great interviews he did with people like Dick Higgins and Norman Solomon before they died which helped me in my Ray Johnson research. With a topic like mail art with multiple points of view, isn't it good to get the views of as many people as possible?!!!!!
Johnny Boy: Hope I'm not bothering you with these questions.
Mark Bloch: No-- as you can tell, I am full of long-winded opinions and don't mind letting everyone know what they are!
Johnny Boy is a mail artist living in Japan. Mark Bloch founded the Post Art Network in 1978.