Ryosuke Cohen: Mail Art – Brain Cell – fractal (1999)
Vittore Baroni: Brain Cell – The neural collages of Ryosuke Cohen
Ryosuke Cohen: Brain Cell (1985)
Ryosuke Cohen: Mail Art – Brain Cell – fractal (1997)
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 a transparent envelope. Now I still remember the day after, when I talked with Byron Black deep in the night about Maggi’s powerful artistic conception inspired by Amazon. Black, in those days, taught video art in 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 the Amazon of South America, there also live many kinds of small creatures dependent on each other, such as ants, small insects hiding underneath fallen leaves, fernery and lichen parasitic on larger trees and fungi native on decayed wood, together with larger trees, animals, or birds. All of them in total make up the tropical forests. However, human beings have gradually learned to distinguish between useful and unuseful things. We make a difference between large trees which are useful to build up houses and smaller ones which are not; we make a difference between edible creatures and unedible ones; we make a difference between birds and fishes 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 creatures, which are in their nature essential to the eco-system of Amazon. This bad trend of ours is nowadays a focused-upon issue and we know that this is not only the case for Amazon, but also for everywhere on the planet.
The very same difference-making attitude has, also here in Japan, caused terrible floods in typhoon season. Huge amounts of rain water flows off the artificially planted cedar and hinoki trees, and the water floods out of the banks. In springtime many of us suffer from hay fever. This has resulted from our immunity deficiency inclination. It is we who have caused this deficiency; we planted only conifers on the earth and made our way of life too clean. As a matter of fact, some doctors even insist upon keeping parasites in our body to regain the immunity.
An envelope by Ryosuke Cohen
We have altered our rich and comfortable way of life by pushing away many things we never even noticed or mentioned before. Accordingly, we are about to lose or in fact have already lost many things which had been the essence of our old rich and comfortable life. Now we are surrounded with social problems like juvenile delinquency and discrimination against national minorities, in addition to the ecological problems. The art world, too, is not the exception; people in this world are subjected to the same trend mentioned above. They have pushed away financially weak creators from mannered galleries and art exhibitions. They may have even deformed the artistic sensibility of school children through the rigid educational system, even though their artistic skill does not mean much today. They may also have put too much importance upon the Euro-American values even in art criticism. During the past hundred years, the planest has lost half of its woods in the progress of alteration of our life. Now we are facing global-sized environmental problems like acid rain, the ozone hole, the greenhouse effect and so on. In times like these Ruggero Maggi’s Amazon art works preach us to restart and rebuild our real art and they tell us insistently now is the time to get started.
In Mail Art, the network 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. Beyond that, you can put collage effects on the mail you receive and send it back, or you may be able to get others’ ideas into your own mail. As a whole body it appears as if a brain construction with numbers of compiled and complex nerve cells, which is made up in non-linear order. So I have named this style of art “Brain Cell”, and I have been recruiting new Mail Art entries since June 1985. Today we are more than 5000 members from 80 nations, and the issues have amounted up to 442 as of March 1999.
I made out a new word “Copy Left”, which means free of copy-right, and printed the name on envelopes and sent their seals all over the world. Like I did myself, in the world of Mail Art you can use other mail artists’ seals, stickers and stamps and you can also promote your own concept by means of printed media. In addition, you may be willing to enjoy altering pieces by others, collage them and send them to other artists. In this way, Mail Art pieces often change their appearances and concepts in unimagined ways, which no individual artist could create.
Andrej Tisma and Nenad Bogdanovic sent me the seal of “No-Ism” from Yugoslavia. No-Ism refers to the fact that in the Mail Art world there exists not one ideology. “No” means “brain” in Japanese. Ambiguously, I use “No” with the meaning of “non-existing” and “brain”. In return I, too, sent No-Ism seals around the world. Likewise I receive in everyday life all kinds of stuff such as postcards, photocopies, collage pieces, drawings, computer graphics, show catalogues, photographs and cassette tapes, sent by mail, fax, e-mail and Internet. This give 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 his statement, Mail Art is not a single art movement, but it is quite a megatrend that insists that we change our consciousness.
Ryosuke Cohen: Brain Cell
Many artists, in fact, sympathized with Swiss H.R. Fricker’s “Tour-ism” 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 learned a lot through the fellowship with the artists. Some lived a very natural way of life, others were very sensitive to the peace of the world. And among 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 of postal communication, but they got over the problems and had a very positive attitude. I found their attitude really different from that of us Japanese. The 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 Netmail put the Tourism concept into practice globally, and they sent me mail 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 the usual one of 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 Cèzanne were influenced by African sculptures, van Gogh by Hokusai and Hiroshige, Pollock by Dalì and Mirò, in the same way 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 twentyfive years. Recently I got involved in the instruction of physically challenged 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 the original parts do not exclude each other as if spines of a cactus, but tend to the most high. This inner world within me gives me a real feeling that I am sharing many of other artists’ parts, what with the experience that I have personal free-from-copyright relationships rearranging others’ masterpieces with other artists, what with the freedom that is represented as the word Copy Left not bound to ideologies, that is No-Ism.
What I think, making Mail Art pieces every day, is that Mail Art is a dynamic media. Rather I had better put it like this: “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 part of the whole Net-Work and sharing fragmental parts of many other artists.
March 1999, Ryosuke Cohen
(translated from Japanese by Yukio Teratani, with some adjustments by Vittore Baroni)
BRAIN CELL (invite)
Please send me your stamp design, rubber stamp, or 150 stickers or seals. I will print or paste these materials onto the A3 size paper, creating 150 sheets. I will then send a sheet back with a list of addresses to each and every participant. I will publish at intervals of 8 to 10 days and the issue at that time will include 60 persons or so. Brain Cell is always seeking a change, does not intend to settle and care of its extension of the network. So… don’t mail a lump of stuff for several issues. Please send them to me for one issue at a time. Thank You.
Moriguchi-City Osaka 570 Japan