Mail Art - Brain Cell - Fractal

Kyosuke Cohen


Fifteen years ago, I received a scarab beetle via mail from Ruggero Maggi in Italy, instead of a kid-amusing beetle or a butterfly with beautiful wings. The insect was with dirt and included in transparent envelope. Now I still remember the day after, when I talked with Byron Black deep I the night about Maggi’s powerful artistic conception inspired of Amazon. Black, in those days, taught video art on 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 a Japanese and was born in Osaka in 1948.

In Amazon of the South America, there also live many kinds of small lives dependent on each other, such as ants, small insects hiding themselves underneath fallen leaves, fernery and lichen parasitic on larger trees and fungi native on decayed wood, together with larger trees, animal or birds. All of them in total make up tropical forests. However human being has gradually learned to make recognition between things useful and unuseful. We make difference between large trees which are useful to build up houses with from smaller ones; we make difference between edible lives between those which are not; we make difference between birds and fish which are good to have as pets and those which are not. Our difference-recognizing attitude has, however, caused the ruin of numbers of small natures, which are in their nature essential to ecosystem of Amazon. This bad trend of ours is nowadays a focused-upon issue and we know that this is not only the case to Amazon, but also to everywhere on the planet.

The very same difference-making attitude has, here also I Japan, caused terrible floods in typhoon season. Huge amount of rain water flows off the artificially planted cedar and hinoki trees, and the water floods out to the banks. In spring time many of us suffer from hay fever. This has resulted from our immunity deficiency inclination. It is we who have made the cuse of this deficiency; we planted only conifers on the earth and made our living way of life too clean. As for this, some doctors even insist upon keeping parasites in our body to regain the immunity.

We have altered our living way of life rich and comfortable by pushing away many of things not noticed or mentioned ever before. Accordingly we are about to lose or in fact lost many things which had been the essence of our old rich and comfortable life. Now we are surrounded with social problems as juvenile delinquency an discrimination against national minorities in addition to the ecological problems. Art world, too, is not the xception; people I this world are under the same trend as mentioned above. They have pushed away financially weak creators from mannered galleries and art expositions. They may have even deformed the artistic escene of school children through rigid educational system, even though their artistic skill does not mean much today. They also may have put too much importance upon the Euro-American values even in art piece critic.

During the past hundred years, the planet lost its half of woods in the progress of alternation of our life. Now that we are facing the global –sized environmental problem like acid rain, ozone hole, hot house effect and so on. In the times as this Rugero Maggi’s art pieces Amazon preaches us to restsart and rebuild our real art and they tell us insistently now is the time to get started.

In Mail Art, the networ expands as A to B, B to C, C to D, D to A, C to A and so on. It is not only limited to peer-to-peer communication. Not only that, you can put collage effect on the mail you receive and send it back, or you may be able to get other’s ideas into your own mail. As a whole body it appears as if a brain construction with numbers of compiled and complexed nerve cells, which is made up in non linear order. So I have namend this style of art “BRAIN CELL”, and have been recruiting new Mail Art entries since June 1985. Today we are more then 5000 of members from 80 nations, and the entries have amounted up to 442 as for March 1999.

I made out a new word Copy Left, which means free of copy right, and printed the names on envelopes and sent their seals over the world. As I myself did, in the world of Mail Art, you can use other mails artists’ seals, stickers and stamps and also you can prevail your own concept by means of printed media. In addition you are able to be glad and willing to alter others’ pieces and give collage on them and send to other artists. In this way, the Mail Art pieces often change their appearances and concepts into unimagined way, which not any individual artist can create.

Andrei Tisma and Nenad Bogdanovic sent me the seal of No-Ism from Yugoslavia. No-Ism refers that there exists not 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 N0-Ism seals 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 catalogues, photographs and cassettes tapes by mail, fax, e-mail and Internet. This gives us an amazing sight and it shows overwhelmingly plural ways of expression and concepts. I, therefore, regard upon that in the huge world of Mail Art every kind of ism is mixed up like chaos. No wonder there survives or reigns not a single rigged ideology. As once Ray Johnson mentioned in this statement, so Mail Art is not a single art movement, but it is quite a megatrend that insist that we change our consciousness.

Many artists in fact, were in symphaty with Swis H. R. Fricker’s Tourism concept. I also had opportunities to make tours and have fellowship with 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 providers’ plural situation. I had a very different experience because at home I usually occupy myself at making and arranging art pieces, and leaned a lot through the fellowship with the artists. Some lived a very natural way of life, others were very sensitive to peace of the world. And for them there were those who were willing to realize their art pieces at their fullest. All of them were not free from financial and political problems and that o postal communications, but they got over the problems and had a very positive attitue. I found their attitude really different from that of us Japanese. Tourism concept is, I found through those tours, potentially able to brush up the sense of art by looking at the world with artistic eye. This is not for just making a trip and seeing sights. German Angela and Peter put the Tourism concept into practice globally, and they send me mails from all over the world. I believe that their experiences may be far beyond our imagination and reach the revelation into the future and tell the sense of the art.

I have been sending mail since 1997 with a concept of Fractal in addition to that of usual Brain Cell. Fractal is a word for self similar figures and was advocated by a French mathematician B. Mandelbrot at the IBM Watson Institute. Picasso and Cezanne were influenced by African sculptures, Goh by Hokusai and Hiroshige, Pollock by Dali and Miro, so we are influenced already by numerous artists and mail artists. Needless to say I myself am fully influenced by some mail artists, dadaists, and Fluxus. I have been instructing art to children in the school for 25 years. Recently I have been got involved in the instruction to physically challenging children, and I have been influenced quite a lot by them. Inside of me exist many mixed fragmental parts of those artists and children. These and original fragment do not exclude each other as if spines of a cactus, but tend to the most high. This inner world within me give me a real feeling that I am sharing many of other artists’ fragments, what with the experience that I have personal free-from-copyright relationships rearrange other’ master pieces with other artists, what with the freedom that is represented as the world Copy Left not bound to ideologies, that is No-Ism.

What I think, making Mail Art pieces everyday, is that Mail Art is a dynamic media. Rather I had better put this like “Mail Art consists in dynamism”. Because you can be more than a mere individual and able to be free to create art pieces with a new mind, just being a fragment of the whole Network and sharing fragmental parts of many other artists.

(English translation by Yukio Teratani & Noriko Hidaka)