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The Mail Art - Internet Link

by Chuck Welch

The following text appeared in ETERNAL NETWORK: A MAIL ART
ANTHOLOGY, published in 1995 by University of Calgary Press,
a work edited by Chuck Welch. The essay is reprinted here with
the permission of the author for the benefit of those scholars
wishing to retrieve an accurate account of the merging of mail art
and telematic art. Some of the pioneering projects and texts by
Welch, notably Telenetlink, The Emailart Directory, The Electronic
Museum of Mail Art (EMMA) and The Reflux Network Project,
created by Brazilian artist Dr. Artur Matuck are central to the
bridging of mail art and the internet from 1990-1995.

“Tele” is a Greek word for “far off,” “at a distance.” Netlink is terminology
meaning “to interconnected networks,” especially communication networks
that are perceived to be distant. Artists impart attitudes, values, and
sensibilities in their shared communication with others. Aesthetic sensibilities,
when coupled with social hierarchy and economic inequality, create media
boundaries, “netclubs.” Mail art networking attempts to soar above these
distances, to fly beyond all media boundaries-to telenetlink!
Mail art is communication that travels a physical/spiritual distance
between senders and recipients. For nearly forty years mail artists have
been enjoying interactive mail characterized by free, open, often spirited
visual/textual correspondances. Mail artists have worked hard to abolish
copyrights through dispersed authorship. In the distant, parallel world
of high technology, telecommunication artists often work in the same
collaborative fabric interwoven with mail art. But emailartists network online
in a simulated, textual, paperless world. No wonder there are mail artists who
prefer the tangible, tactile, handcrafted encounter of pen, pencil, collage,
paint, and handmade paper.

It is true that some postal artists are suspicious of art and technology.
they view telecommunications as hasty, simulated, impersonal
interaction lacking in privacy. These mail artists find the timelag of postal delivery a desirable quality. Conversely, there are
telecommunication artists who view mail artists as unskilled in
aesthetic differentiation, hopelessly lost in a slow, antiquated,
and expensive postal bureaucracy. Distances widen between
these communication forms, especially by the stilted influences of
normative art standards. Such attitudes obscure the notion that art
communication is an intermedia concept.

The Artist As Networker
Distance between mail art and electronic art is sometimes more imagined than
real. The notion that mail artists are hostile to high technology is one common
misconception. Experimentation with mass-media technology hastened the
evolution of mail art long before the advent of telecommunications technology.
Mail artists experimented with electrostatic (copier art) technology in the 1960s,
and in the late 1980s embraced the technology of telefacsimile. Throughout the
1980s mail artists matured into networkers who reached for an inter-cultural
transformation of information.
Mail art networkers experience the form and content of the information age. They
dare to apply values that will nurture a larger global society. It comes as no surprise
that pioneering telecommunication artists like Judy Malloy, Carl Eugene Loeffler,
Anna Couey, George Brett, and Fred Truck were all active mail artists during the
early 1970s before they moved towards telecommunications art. Time has obscured
the fact that many idealistic, democratic values of early mail art were carried forth in
the development of today’s online telecommunications community.
Networkers use both telecommunications and mail art as tools rather than
boundaries. These intermedia networkers embrace immediate, direct concepts of
exchange that sometimes lead to real-time, face-to-face conferences. Networkers
are equally comfortable using the postal mailstream to meet vicariously as “tourists.”
The hallmark of both mail and telecommunications art resides in attitudes of
creative freedom, collaboration, the abolition of copyrights, and independence
outside mainstream art systems. Telenetlink is a forum created to celebrate this
interactive spirit between mail art and telecommunications artists.

Evolution of the Telenetlink Project

The international Telenetlink evolved in June 1991 as
an interactive part of Reflux Network Project, an artists’
telecommunication system created by Brazilian artist Dr.
Artur Matuck. Reflux Network Project was an ambitious,
progressive experiment that interconnected 24 on-site
nodes located in university art departments, art research
sites, and private internet addresses. Through Reflux, the
Networker Telenetlink became mail art’s first active online
connection with the world of internet.
Telenetlink became an active component of mail art’s
Decentralized World-Wide Networker Congresses, 1992
(NC92). Throughout 1992 the Telenetlink Project functioned
as the only continuously active online mail art resource
in which the role of the networker was actively discussed.
An international community of mail art and “internetworkers” were introduced to each other before and during
the NC92 Telenetlink. Telenetlink’s emailart addresses
were first actively exchanged in an international scale
by Reed Altemus (Cumberland, Maine) in collaboration
with Crackerjack Kid (Chuck Welch). This list has grown
exponentially through mail art magazine email lists
from Ashley Parker Owen’s Global Mail, (now online with
her CompuServe address), Mark Corroto’s Face and by
Telenetlink’s continued emailart connections to internet;
ArtCom, Post Modern Culture Electronic Journal, and
numerous other online sources.
Some mail artists claim that the 250 sessions of Networker Congresses in 1992 were carbon copies of the smaller 1986
Mail Art Congresses. But NC92 differed from the 1986 Mail Art Congresses in a major context. Participants in the 1992
Networker Congresses were challenged to interact with other marginal networks parallel to mail art; to build, expand,
introduce, alert, and interconnect underground network cultures. These objectives were underscored when the Networker
Telenetlink bridged the telecommunications art community and the mail art culture. I chose internet as the focal point for
understanding the role of the networker. Why internet? Because it is the world’s largest information superhighway that is
moving art towards new communication concepts.

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