A Review of Some Mail Art Publications
Circa 1986

By Mark Bloch

In the mid-eighties, New York City mail artist Carlo Pittore asked me, on behalf of an academic publication I cannot recall the name of, to pick eight of my favorite mail art zines and review them. He also asked a few other people to do the same and even reviewed a batch of them himself with the intention of compiling them all into an issue of the academic magazine that was interested in mail art at the time, but the piece was never published for reasons unbeknownst to me. I recently unearthed what was to be my contribution and so for the first time, I offer it to you now. It was the mid-1980s and Ronald Reagan was the President so I wrote my review in the form of a sarcastic letter to him. I review the wonderful self-published zines Mambo Press Update, Eat It Up, Prop, Collective Farm, Afzet, AU and Clinch.




New York City
Sometime around 1986

Dear President Reagan,

Let me tell you about a few of the mail art publications that have appeared in my mailbox over the course of the past few years. I think they are a phenomenon that you should know about.

You may remember from my last letter, Mr. President, that the mail art network is a loosely-knit community of artists, writers, poets, and just regular people who communicate with each other through the international postal system. This activity has been going on for quite some time. Well, it seems that some of these hoodlums actually have the audacity to create their own magazines, as if we didn’t have enough commercially produced periodicals to choose from in this great land of ours. Not only that, but most of these publications are printed in small editions and are available only to contibutors, or to outsiders at an exhorbitant price.

Who do these creeps think they are, Mr. President? Using the U.S. Mail is one thing- tt's actually good for the economy if these buffoons want to waste their dough on postage stamps. But self-publishing? This is a sacred activity that is reserved for the Thomas Paines and Adam Smiths of our society, not a bunch of twisted artists with their minds in the gutter.

Mambo Press Update

A case in point is MPU or the Mambo Press Update, that came to me from San Antonio, Texas. A guy named "Nunzio" is the editor of this rag. What kind of deranged creep would waste his time mailing out this stuff? A lot of it is barely legible and the illustrations seem to be done by children. I thought art was the stuff "American Gothic" is made of. For my money, this MPU has no relation at all to the work of Norman Rockwell. Yet, he calls it art.

The copy I'm holding now (I will wash my hands momentarily) is xeroxed on white paper with a yellow cover. Let me tell you, Mr. President, this is yellow journalism at its worst. Inside, there is an article about a preacher who tried to convince the young men in his congregation not to masturbate by showing then a collection of chicken necks and telling them they were penises that had shriveled up and fallen off! Granted, I did read the article several times, but this was over six months ago, and I still can't wipe this horrible imagery out of my mind. While this is only one story, the rest of the scum inside seems to follow suit. The issue closes with a Canadian woman recalling a childhood memory of an exhibitionist hiding in the bushes exposing himself. While I have had similar experiences myself, and empathize with the poor man in the bushes, I just have to ask, is this the kind of stuff we need circulating in the U.S. Mail? I suggest we seek out this Nunzio and give him a 21 gun salute—Texas style. If I didn't know better, I'd think this guy was related to Lee Harvey Oswald.

Eat It Up

Next on my list is another xeroxed publication- this one called Eat It Up. I'm not surprised that this so-called "magazine of art and culture" is done in that no-good Pinko-town, Berkeley, California. The staff of this blatantly subversive rag are listed as Franklin Void, Joey Know, Patrick T., Ray Weapons and Helen Heaven, but I've been keeping a file on these jerks and I've got reason to believe they are all the same person. It seems apparent, Mr, President, that these cowards, if indeed they are NOT the same guy, are afraid of revealing their true identities for fear that the world would see them as the gutter snipes they truly are.

Anyway, Eat It Up 's format is one 8 1/2" by 11" page, printed on both sides and folded into quarters. It seems to have some continuity to it, being held together by regular features that appear in each issue. Amazingly, these thugs, whomever they are, have had the tenacity to publish over forty issues to date. They are obviously dangerous, Mr. President, if they have this kind of energy. We've got to stop them. These are the kinds of ruffian who not only mutter about free speech, but actually exercise it. Each issue contains both an editorial and an answer to the question, "What is art to a post-urban artist?" These queries usually contain lots of big words and ponder issues that no American in their right mind would bother thinking about. Then, adding insult to injury, they review local art shows and music events, in addition to mail art projects with an inane rating system. Interspersed between the weird illustrations are columns of mail art information, news flashes and a thing called graffiti of the week. Finally, the most useful part of Eat It Up is called "the mailbox", where addresses of correspondents are listed. I find this handy in locating other, like-minded thugs to harrass. We've got to keep an eye on these worms, Mr. President.


Speaking of underground pests, another one of these scandal-sheets comes out of Albany, New York, and is called Prop, Now Prop is interesting because it does not, at first, look at all bizarre, I was moved by the fact that the price- ranging from $1 to $5- was printed largely on the cover. Obviously an honest, productive money-making venture. A closer look, however, revealed that its mailing status lists the publisher as a non-profit organization. What do you know about this "Workspace Loft Inc.", Mr. President? Is -this some sort of trick? The publication looks innocent enough. The format is either 8 1/2 by 11 or 8 1/2 by 7 inches, with good quality photo-reproduction. It is, after all, printed offset. This requires some kind of money and it makes me wonder who is behind it. All I can find out is that one of the main perpetrators is a fellow named Joachim Frank. A list of contributors is always printed, but it seems to change, from issue to issue. Also, there seems to be a theme for each Number such as "Post Historic Documents," "Literary Issue," and "Vision and Supervision." Most copies have somewhere in the neighborhood of 28 pages of ironic, often sarcastic prose, goofy and/or thought-provoking poetry and witty collages that contain elements that seem to collide from a myriad of sources, Mr. President. Isn't this evidence enough that a menace the caliber of Prop must be wiped off the face of the earth as soon as possible?

Collective Farm

While we are on the subject of cleaning up the planet, Mr, President, let me remind you that the only good Russian is a disappeared one. That is why you must not hesitate to bring action against a couple of commie-intellectuals who call themselves the Gerlovins. These weirdos claim to be ex-reds, and I don't mean the kind from Cincinnati. They are contoversial, extraordinary individualists who seen to work very hard at what they do. This scares me. The Gerlovins left the U.S.S.R. in 1980 and headed for New York City, where they now publish editions of a hand-made, one-of-a-kind project called Collective Farm, which they insist on calling an art object. It is very beautiful to the untrained eye, but close scrutinization by an expert such as myself reveals it to be a piece of cleverly-disguised propaganda. They are obviously attempting to challenge our traditional concept of what constitutes a book. Next they will be questioning the validity of cheeseburgers or worse, apple pie. We must nip these mysterious no-good-nics in the bud or they will undermine all that is sacred in America, Mr. President. They have already infiltrated some of the finest institutions in our land. Their work is archived in the Museum of Modern Art, and other reputable collections across the country have also fallen prey to their masquerade. How long must this go on? I urge you to act now.

Let me tell you how it works, Mr. President. Rimma and Valerie Gerlovin and their comrade' Yagrich Bakhchanyan, another Russian living in Manhattan, invite artist-friends of theirs to submit work on a specific theme. Number One included only Russian immigrants. In the second and third issues, only mail artists participated. Number Four was called "Wunderkinds" in which "famous artworks influenced by children's art are completed by the children of contemporary artists." The fifth and most recent issue is still in the works and involves-art critics. Envelopes are filled by these selected participants, each one choosing the contents themselves, like a book within a book. Rubber stamps and other ornamentation are then added by the Gerlovins, or occasionally by the artists themselves. Finally, the envelopes are bound together. Usually, Collective Farm appears in an edition of 100, which means that that many envelopes must be stuffed by each of the chosen artists. Thus, each copy of the "magazine" is unique and assembled by hand. The cover is then stamped with the distinctive "Samizdat" label, which means, of course "self-published." I think you will agree, Mr. President, that for obvious reasons, this project must not "be allowed to continue. Perhaps the Gerlovins and Mr. Bakhchanyan would find the climate of Alaska reminiscent of their native land. At any rate, I suggest that they practice their consciousness-raising antics elsewhere. Do any of the major airlines fly to Siberia?


We both know that in spite of the melting pot myth that American society is based upon, we must keep foreigners and their influence away from the people of the United States. That is why I strongly suggest that you take a good look at some of the material that is circulating in our country from foreign lands, Mr. President. One such publication is a periodical of Dutch origin called Afzet. One of the meanings of this word, I have learned, is an economic term refering to an object that delivers less than what was paid for it. This is certainly the case with a pair of outsiders, Margot Van Oosten and Sonja Van Der Burg and and their bi-monthly taboo tabloid, Afzet.

Like Collective Farm and many of the other mail art periodicals, Afzet challenges traditional concepts of what a publication should be. For instance, Afzet is not bound in any way, either literally or figuratively; it consists of several pages of various sizes and textures, compiled in an envelope. I might add, Mr. President, that over the four years of Afzet's existence, I've noticed that it has become increasingly difficult to stuff the contents back into the envelope from whence they came. This seems to be a periodical that is growing in scope and popularity at an incredible rate, in spite of the fact that it’s circulation is limited to sixty copies per issue. I feel the time is now to squelch Afzet before it is too late. The publication didn't even begin as a mail art venture. The two Dutch women started it in 1981 out of a need to do an art work in collaboration. They sent it monthly at first, only to their friends and asked for responses in the form of ideas and materials. As I look through my early issues, I see that from the start they really had only one concern: to gum up the international postal system. There are three-dimensional objects included such as pieces of rope and string, or folded pieces of brightly colored paper whose only purpose could be to confuse the authorities. The second year it became even worse. They cut down on the frequency of Afzet, publishing only four Issues, and they announced that all the issues would deal with boxes. The confounding thing, Mr. President, was that I couldn't find the boxes. Perhaps the recipients were supposed to construct the boxes themselves. I think that only people as patient and delicate as the publishers themselves would have the gumption to do so. Much to my dismay, Afzet returned for a third year, stronger and more organized than ever. Suddenly a whole new audience of mail art loonies had developed. For the first time the size was standardized to 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 (those Europeans call this "A5") and it was arriving regularly now, every other month. They had also begun a section of the magazine called "Palm Bank" where they could include the work of contributors they called "visitors."

In spite of this success, Mr. President, I was overjoyed when I learned that Sonja and Margot decided to call it quits. They announced a "black issue" at the end of 1985 that was to summarize their experience and say goodbye. However, I guess the people who recieve Afzet had other feelings. The responses were unanimously in favor of continuing with Afzet. Thus, 1984 featured a different color for each issue as Afzet was reborn. Again, participation increased. A new feature called, the "5 by 5 page" was created to announce mail art events. Suddenly these Dutch women were involved in a full-blown mail art endeavor. My greatest fear is that their growth will continue into their fifth year in which each issue will feature a given sentence fragment with the intention of making them into a complete sentence by year's end. How do these women do it, Mr, President? I never knew there was an audience for such personal publication, so rich in texture and metaphor, What is the world coming to, I ask you?


I am also surprised by the success of another foreign publication, this one from Japan. It is called AU, which stands for both "Art Unidentified" and "Artist Union," the name the group that publishes it in Nishinomiya, Japan, which I believe is near Osaka. This periodical is not a magazine at all, but rather, a wall poster. It is very very well-done, featuring two professionally-printed sides of a poster that measures roughly 2 feet by 16 inches. Much of the information is written in English, and some of it is in Japanese, but the most curious results happen when English words, such as names or untranslatable phrases, appear in the middle of a sentence comprised of Japanese characters. These hybrid communications add to the confusion that is created by the incomprehensible photographs. The most recent issue, for example, featured work by one of the ringleaders of this operation, a Mr. Shozo Shimamoto. Images created by mail artists in other countries (including the U.S.A.) were "stretched" on a xerox machine, producing images that looked like somebody in a bad dream having a bad dream. This was issue Number 64. Like the magazine Eat It Up, which I mentioned earlier, AU's publishers seem to be quite prolific, a trait that is even more alarming when it comes from foreign shores. Please remember, Mr. President that these were the enterprising people who bombed Pearl Harbor.

They also are a nation that seems bent on one-upping America with their radios and fuel-efficient cars. Could it be their artists have a better idea, too? Harry Truman knew what to do with these strangers from the Land Of The Rising Sun, I'm sure you do, too. AU is yet another reason why tomorrow is not soon enough for history to repeat itself.

Like I said, there are numerous illustrations in AU. They are all presented in that pristine Japanese style that they seem to enjoy flaunting at the rest of the world. The information is also presented in an impeccable manner. They often offer information that other publications seem to miss. In fact, many of the projects they mention seem to originate within the Artist Union Space itself. There are announcements for a "portrait mail art show," a "unique art show," and a "hand made book exhibition." There is also an invitation to an "envelope show" as well as the "A.U. Mail Art Book III." Now, you may be interested to know, Mr. President, that previous A.U. Mail Art Books read like a Who's Who of the mail art network. There were world maps showing just how many of these maniacs there are on the planet and a compendium of entries by the usual gang of mail art thugs, world-wide. How long can we let this go on, Mr. President? These people at A.U, (who include, among others, Misao Kusumoto and Ryosuke Cohen) seem very open to outside influence. They freely invite others to participate in their projects. The question, however, is, do we have to stand by and watch? I think you'll agree that this Artist Union is too powerful a force to be left to their own devices.


That brings us to the last publication on my list, this one with a shorter history and from a country with a less aggressive reputation.

I am speaking of Switzerland and the magazine Clinch, which originates in the home of Geneva's Gunter Ruch. Now Ruch is dangerous because of his seemingly flawless blend of information about the network and artwork from that network. He seems to have a flair for presenting esoteric subject matter as if it were everyday kind of stuff. Is this the sort of man we want lurking in the streets of a neutral zone in middle of Europe? Certainly not. Let me tell you what I mean. All of his issues thus far (there have been four to date, with a new one due out any day) have presented the work of his mail art friends in the form of stickers. Between 15 and 20 different artists, representing countries that stretch around the globe, submit to Clinch 200 stickers to grace the pages of his magazine. Those pages, I might add, are very seductive, being multi-colored and very efficiently used, while not appearing cluttered. Each issue also prints letters of praise from fellow mail artists that read like testimonials of their favorite coffee. But coffee is not what we are talking about here. No, Mr. President, this is intimidation of the first degree, in the form of visually interesting propaganda, that works on the reader/viewer without their knowledge. The colors, the stickers, the innovative layout—all coerce the recipient into empathizing with the opinions that lie between the lines. What are these opinions? I can't figure them out, but they seem to lead to a strange kind of concerned euphoria. Perhaps by listing the themes of the various issues you'll see what I mean: Number 1 was about mail performances, Number 2, mail music. Issue Number 3 was called visual poetry, but I couldn't find a rhyme or a reason anywhere. Number 4 has been promising a mail art history that should prove interesting. Future projects include Number 5 on social engagements and Number 6 on new horizons. What are the horizons Ruch has in mind? I don't think we should wait to find out, Mr. President.

The information I've presented here. President Reagan, should convince you of the evil consequences that await us if we sit by and allow these mail artists to continue with their activities. I feel we must purge ourselves of this ugly mail art beast before they grab control of our nation and our world. Even the Ayatolla does not pose a threat as great as these artists and their “magazines."

New Zines

In case you aren't convinced, let me close by citing a few of the newer endeavors in this area. A slick new rag out of Texas called ND has recently surfaced, adding to the havoc already created by the previously mentioned MPU in the Lone Star State. Florida is home to two mew publications, The Trouser Snake Press and Doo Dah Florida. The TAM Bulletin has recently come to fruition in Holland. Finally, a threatening new publication from Uruguay has recently cone to my attention called Participacion that reaches Spanish-speaking readers and seeks to educate uninitiated artists of the opportunities available to them in the mail art network. How long do I have to go on, Mr. President? Example after example of these wicked monsters are creeping into the lives of complacent human beings everywhere. Do we need this kind of aggravation? Do Americans need to be harrassed by this sort of self-serving individualism?

As I said in my introduction, President Reagan, self-publishing is a sacred activity reserved for patriots and statesmen. I think every American should ask himself- would Benjamin Franklin condone this sort of activity? I think we all know the answer to that one. I know you will act accordingly. Thank you for your concern.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Bloch