I sent Terry a series of interview questions via email but he ended up questioning me in response so I decided for this blog entry to publish a conversation that we had over a few weeks about Pat Larter.
TERRY REID: Had a look at your blog presentation. Looks like a good way to go. Am interested in reading what others say. I find it extremely interesting that Steven Miller and Niels Lomholt are unreservedly supportive of Pat Larter's work. To an extent, Niels' thinking is available in writing in his online presentation of art in the mail sent him by Pat over the considerable time of their correspondence (see SEARCH: Pat Larter), but more from both Niels and Steven will surely become available through your blog posts. My interest is in personal responses and tendencies to making gender distinction, leading back to, firstly, a question to you. Consider this to be the first brief instalment of my response. My question to you, as a person, and as a woman is:
What is it that so much interests you in Pat Larter's works in the mail?
DANIELLE HAKIM: Before I give you a straight answer I just want to preface my response with a reminder of something I said in the catalogue essay for the exhibition- I didn’t even know Pat Larter was a mail artist before this exhibition.
I came to her work though wanting to organise a show about Mail Art in general, because Mailbox Art Space is literally a mailbox, I thought this would be a good space for such a show.
My knowledge of Pat Larter as an artist was only though viewing some of her incredible paintings at Sarah Scout as a part of an exhibition ‘Like Mike’ curated by Geoff Newton. They were her superscans with glitter paint-I was blown away by how unusual they were- unlike anything else I had ever seen.
So now to answer your question -the reason I became interested in Pat’s mail art was because when I started researching mail art in Australia and I found her work and was baffled as to how this entire aspect of her practice has been ignored by the art world in Australia.
I still have only seen a limited amount of Pat’s mail art (as I am based in Melbourne and the collection in Sydney) though the work I could access online via the Lomholt Archive and emails with Steven Miller when organising the show, but from what I have seen her mail art is extremely ballsy and humorous. I am really interested in the way her works interconnect -her performances are videoed and then made into stills and then into postcards and sent out as mail art. It’s also very clear that she is a Feminist predecessor- but again a largely ignored one.
I felt it was time she got some attention.
Given you exchanged mail art with Pat, are there any exchanges that stand out?
TERRY REID: All of Pat’s work stands out. It is designed to impact on the recipient, like it or not, in a (close to the bone) primal way. Even modest work presenting only her face also stands out, her face memorably imprinting better than most multinational corporate logos. She has the unforgettable face. Out of countless faces husband, Dick Larter painted over a life-time, it is Pat’s face from out the paintings that most concretely I.D.s in your mind. This is not a result of artistic guile - Dick approaches his subjects equally, like a barometer measuring the inherent height of pressure for each. Pat, maybe not as sexy as the arabesques in the original Coca Cola logo, but totally gamin – hers, when she addresses you, is the face of surprise out of innocent glade, by implication saying, I had nothing to wear but this envelope and you tore it right off me.
Pat provokes response.
DANIELLE HAKIM: Yes that’s one of the things that interests me about her Pat was not a passive muse. I find her and Richard’s collaborative relationship fascinating. As you say she provokes a response - what were some responses to her works by you and other Mail Artists?
TERRY REID: You don’t look at a Pat Larter and say, “Now, isn’t that a nice picture.” You attack it, or you support it. In the network world of co-responding, some who were supportive enthusiastically responded by including Pat-generated, boldly made images of a vulnerable, singular self into get-together groups of mutually supported woo hoo – from isolated wackiness out of the studio on into a new realm of collective anarchy (e.g. see some sentimentality with Pat and Blaster Al Ackerman (USA) illustrating a Joanna Mendelssohn article, “Pat Larter from Kitchen to Gallery” ; as well, Cees Francke (Holland) superimposed Pat’s screaming head in front of Dr B Gluck’s (USA) image of a hydrogen bomb explosion to represent our collective Art Core Meltdown mail and performance exhibition at the University of Sydney, situated here in the Lomholt Mailart Archive). In this way, art in the mail, unlike art on the wall, is moving around the globe, is organic in process: It mutates, regenerates, splits into two and four, makes off-spring rather than homage.
This exhibition at M A I L B o x............
.............is an extension of those processes of regeneration. This is not simply showing Pat’s mail, yours, as we say in mail art, is an ADD TO & SEND ON project, additively reconceptualising individual work into the serial experience of mail slots. Nice going. In the fluxsome world of network values, this is new art. Hopefully, its documentation will continue to communicate the accomplishment: history with a future.
DANIELLE HAKIM: Perhaps this project is like an Add to and Send on project, certainly the way the show was organised via correspondence (though email) and also that we are representing the images of Pat again- though not altering (the originals of course!) but perhaps the way we have placed things next to each other.
I’m glad that you don’t mind mail art being exhibited in a gallery space. Is this generally something that mail artists avoid? Being that the idea is for a personal communication between artists and to bypass galleries and the commercial art world.
TERRY REID: Mail has often been exhibited in galleries, most frequently this has been instigated by mail artists themselves. There is, however, a widely trumpeted anti-commerce sentiment, as though money corrupts. This, of course, can only serve as token gesture, because there are few material equations in the world of modernity that avoid factoring in moolah, e.g. who’s paying to keep the lights on so I can see the mail art on display in the vitrine? Not to mention free postage we always get. “Oh, I’ve just won an art award? I hope it’s not money!”
Ray Johnson (NY Correspondence School) expressed annoyance that Dick Higgins (fluxus) had sold a piece of his mail which he had gotten, obviously, for free: “Fluxus, bucks us,” he said to me; but I, contrarily, later said to Anna Banana, “What’s with this free mail art? You send it to an exhibition and then it disappears into their archive – Wouldn’t it be better if those uncountable works had sold for $29.95 and continued to be displayed on somebody’s wall?”
But, you are right - the core is corresponding: personal exchanges between artists. Mail art shows can be little more than an airmail version of a normal art exhibition.
DANIELLE HAKIM: Speaking of Mail Art shows, I know you and Pat along with Cees Frank organised one called Art Core Melt Down (a post card of this event was exhibited in the show). All I know is that it was an international mail art exhibition about anti-nuclear activity. Can tell us more about it? What was in the exhibition and how did it come to be?
TERRY REID: Art Core Meltdown was not so much about anti-nuclear activity as it was anti-nuclear. It probably would have had more value if it had been a survey of anti-nuke strategies rather than a protest. It was, however, in response to the Three Mile Island meltdown in the U.S.
The title-come-theme I attributed at the time to Dick Larter, I think, correctly. The support of Sydney University Union under Kari Lapinpuro can be attributed to Dick’s high school teaching years (he had loyal friends in former students). Invitations were posted to mail artists by Pat and Cees Francke (Cees, not incidentally, was continuously propelling provocative postings over the Iron Curtain in an attempt at a pan-Europe unification of artists; Pat’s connections pretty much duplicated mine). My endeavour was to include non-network participation from artists throughout Australia and did on the basis of existing connections and with help from gallery men, Frank Watters and Geoff Legge (the invitation went out to artists on their mailing list) and very extensive, heretofore unattributed help from Ian Howard, then teaching at what is now UNSW Art and Design (he encouraged participation from departments of the school). Widespread concern over the disaster at Three Mile Island elicited a wide response of both visual and performance works.
I elected and used Pat’s screaming face, nuclear explosion behind her, as repeat image in all printed material associated with the show. Dick would have liked to see the spotlight shared, but I wanted to avoid fragmentation to give us an intense presence – and this was the image that did it. To this, there were no follow-up objections by any participant, and, as google will show you, a copy of the street poster is in the MoMA NYC collection. Google does, however, not indicate representation in any Australian collection.
DANIELLE HAKIM: It is hard to come by Mail Art in Australian collections! The exception being the Art Gallery of New South Wales where Pats archive is housed.
I had a really hard time finding information about mail art in general in Australia not really any books on the subject!? I asked Steven Miller in a related blog post about this show if there were any other Mail Art archives in Australia- he said you would know- So do you?
TERRY REID: (Interjection w/Tony Twigg) The National Gallery of Australia has some. This has a curious history. James Mollison was aware of art-practice alternatives called ‘Ephemera’. (Sloppy usage, but I love the word.) At one point in the early ‘80s, Mollison handed Paul Taylor, publisher of Tasmanian PoMo Popism mag, Art and Text, a considerable sum of money to get some of this curious stuff in NYC. Ephemera, like explorations stocks, can be got cheap. But, prior to this event, a curious thing happened at the NGA: From ’76 to ’80, Tony Twigg had the responsibility of tracking down sources and archiving results in the international territory of Ephemera. A good source of leads was Judith Hoffberg’s periodical, Umbrella (Judith, a great friend of Anna Banana’s, has been in Australia as a guest of Art Network on interest of Ross Wolfe), and Umbrella was loaded with people with fluxus and network alignments. Replies to Tony’s letters of enquiry were strange and engaging. He replied in kind. And in that fashion, mail art sprang into and out of the National Gallery, making for the beginnings of a legacy in the capital. Works of Tony, leaving the NGA, have, for example via German artist, Henning Mittendorf, ended up in the collection of the Musem für Kommunikation in Frankfurt am Main.
Another important Sydney-based producer of artist books and mail art, Denis Mizzi has almost exclusively secured positions for his productions in consequential overseas collections, ignoring home institutions on the basis that they seemed less interested.
DANIELLE HAKIM: Can you tell us about the Mail Art scene when Pat was active from 1974 – 1988?
TERRY REID: I cannot think of any generalities, but it could be useful to indicate that we were not just looking at mail as a system of transmission. All communication systems were under review, including sub-systems such as product promotion and stardom, et cetera that worked in conjunction with mass media. So there was a multidimensional interlocking: e.g. an ad might be ripped out of a publication, intentfully or ironically altered, sent somewhere in the mail art circuit (or elsewhere), be exhibited, then re-published in a magazine that paralleled a magazine in the so-called real world (Life magazine became File magazine became Vile magazine became Bile magazine, each in another’s altering hands).
So, without going on at length, nothing was beyond the long reach of the postman’s mail art arm. Pat first stepped into her Femailman’s uniform in Auckland, making a work for my and Bob Kerr’s counterfeit UK tabloid, the Daily Mail. Later, she and family (providing raison d’être for reviewer, Joanna Mendelssohn’s Family Values reference) did an extravagant performance at the Sculpture Centre in Sydney for an exhibition put together upon the invitation of director, Guilia Crespi and gallery manager, Betty Kelly. This was mail (and all) from the American underground. The show was organized long-distance by me in Sydney and Blaster Al Ackerman, then in Portland. Because of the objectionable nature of much of the material (designed to offend), the exhibition was named Foreighn Ingredients, the ‘h’ as yet another irksome excess ingredient. The show readily achieved negative success. You knew you’d cracked it when even artists disliked it. Pat and Ackerman, as you have become aware, were mutually complementary correspondents. The Larters and crew welcoming performance, with the improvised musical backing from Currents (e.g. included Greg Taylor (Blerta, RAM mag), Billy O’Riordan (Joylene Thornbird Hairmouth, Jimmy and the Boys), Paul Radcliffe (single-handedly did Beach Boys) was documented in analog on portapak by Sue Lord and Stephen Jones. Hopefully, a copy of that is on file with Steven and Eric Riddler at the AGNSW archive.
And, later, as you know, came our other big event of Art Core where we were again working in close quarters.
For my part, however (no doubt Niels can fill you in more), it is the observation you made that performance can be seen as a generator for Pat’s production. It reminds me of a Michael Morris (aka Marcel Dot and Marcel Ditto) early ‘70s statement that relegated art to being re-perceived as “props”, that it is the living of life, conscious of media - that makes it a movie worth living.
Pat, it would seem, has not only been over-looked, you point out, as a mail artist and as a feminist provocateur, but as a performer. As artist, Jacqueline Eyers said about her Melbourne-based friend, curator of performance art, Anne Marsh, she knows a lot about a lot of performance artists, but she does not know much about performance as it has happened in Sydney. Maybe we should bring the digitally transcribed performances of Pat Larter to her attention.
I can envision a second interview, the first Question would be to Dr Anne Marsh: Anne, how would you situate Pat Larter’s work in the arena of performance art? (awaiting possible reply)
And to you, Dani: How did you justify Pat’s videos when the building supervisor unplugged them for being indecent?
DANIELLE HAKIM: I don’t actually know who was behind the turning off of the video as the gallery is a public space it could have been anyone- The building owners were very supportive and did not at all have a problem with the video.
The building where Mailbox Art Space is located holds a number of tenants, the building owners informed me of a complaint from one tenant who disliked the video and specifically mentioned seeing (what he thought were anyway) “young people/children and an older male. One or some of them were naked.”
The video that was screening in the space at the time of the complaint was:
Femail Art: Pat Larter (2003, 59 mins, Mini Digital Video)
A non-linear Documentary on artist Pat Larter
by Nicholas Nedelkopoulos
I re-watched the video to see if there was in fact any young people/children and an older male and if one or some of them were naked. Turns out no - there are no children in the video though yes there is nudity throughout. Nothing in my opinion that should warrant the video being censored.
I think the problem is viewing it out of context.
I explained that the video showing is a non-linear documentary on artist Pat Larter whose artwork is currently being exhibited at Mailbox Art Space.
I also mentioned that Pat is a very well respected artist worldwide- less so in Australia where her work is often overlooked, especially her Mail Art which this exhibition focuses on.
It was important for us to screen the video as it directly relates to her mail art as stills of her performances which she videoed (which you can see on the TV) were often sent via post as mail art (you can see these in the mailboxes) and this was why we included it alongside her artwork.
The documentary brings together interviews with the artists husband Richard Larter (a well respected artist in his own right), video art Pat made in the 70s and 80s as well as interviews with Pat herself. Pat Larter often worked with nudity something she did as a way of parodying and subverting codes in the media. Her video works were ground breaking in their time and still are today (despite being largely underrepresented), especially in their contribution to the feminist art movement. Some of these video works are very explicit and Steven Miller and I made a conscious decision not to show these as we did not want to upset anyone as gallery is in a very public location.
I also said that all the material for this exhibition was loaned from the Art Gallery of New South Wales. (In case this meant something to the tenant, as it is an Art Institution)
Unfortunately I never got a response from the tenant and a decision was made by the building owners to keep the video off for the last week of the exhibition.
Steven and I had discussed the possibility that something potentially could go wrong upsetting conservative members of the public so it was not really surprising. I suppose we are lucky we are a small and relatively unknown space so probably bypassed a lot of the fuss other spaces would have had to deal with!
It is widely stated that Pat was the driving force in the mail art from ‘Pat and Dick” and that she chose to use this regardless of whether or not the mail art was from her alone. Can you shed any light on her use of this name?
TERRY REID: Dick was preoccupied with his progression of paintings; however he was always the town crier for Art in the Mail. Via Dick in person, I always knew what Lomholt and Blaster Al were doing in, and out of, the mail. Dick kept mail contacts to the end. Think it was his daughter, Diane who told me she was on the phone with him when he heard a bird in the garden and left her hanging so he could grab a snap for Darlene (Birdwoman) Altschul, a correspondent of his in Southern Cal. Not so long ago I got an email from the footloose Helen Amyes who lamented she had uncovered Dick’s death in something I had written for Niels’ site. Helen had been expectantly waiting for his mail, was sunk in the knowledge it would no longer come.
For Pat to sign off with ‘Pat and Dick’ is the best joke of all. Not only does it say, ‘Yes, my husband lets me do this sort of thing’, another illustration of what Joanna Mendelssohn named ‘family values’, but is exactly what every housewife has written on every card for every birthday and every Christmas since the year dot, ditto.
DANIELLE HAKIM: haha I’d never thought of it that way typical of Pats humour to subvert. I guess I’d thought it was more that they did collaborate a lot so she was crediting Dick.
It is also acknowledged that Pat was the creator of the term Femail Art and that this was taken up by other female artists. She seems to have been a very influential figure do you have anything to say about this?
TERRY REID: Pat coined the term, Femail Art. It was first taken up by Bill Gaglione for a widely distributed edition of Vile magazine. This edition was devoted to just that, putting Pat’s term of description on the front cover. She shared the magazine with Yoko Ono and other luminaries whose presence launched a successful vessel.
Pat as influential? In what way? Maybe in-so-much as some artists (mainly male) responded substantially to her work. And, of course, they, as you read with both Steven and Niels, liked Pat and supported the fact she took a stance without compromise. I would like to include amongst them Ray Johnson (as we enjoy saying, and correctly so, New York’s most famous unknown artist). Ray, suitably, sent her a gosh golly giant penis, large enough that Steven Miller and his image off-sider, Eric Riddler have had to file it in an oversize drawer. I was making this fact known to Ray’s biographer, William S Wilson (Manhattan) whose response was, “Oversize drawer? Surely that was the point.”
Before I forget, I should give you links to earlier writing on Pat that I did for the Lomholt Archive: go to http://lomholtmailartarchive.dk/texts/terry-reid-in-the-formular and check out b39 for Art Core, b40 through to a46 for Pat and for Pat and Dick. See also
SYDNEY CRITIC, JOHN McDONALD FAMOUSLY SAID THAT THE LARTER’S HONEYMOON PHOTO WAS THE LAST PHOTO IN WHICH THEY APPEARED NORMAL. After that, was the real fun begun.
A dip into other images from the file.
You can see more of Terry Reid's work here: