The TAM Rubberstamp- Archive of Ruud Janssen
by John Held, Jr.
It has been sixteen years since Ruud Janssen became aware of mail art, and because of his interest in documentation, we have an excellent overview of his activities. In this catalog we have reprinted both his lengthy Curriculum Vitae, and his latest “information-newsletter” of the TAM Rubberstamp-Archive.
To write a factual account of his work would therefore be repetitive. Let me instead impart some personal impressions of the man and his work, and why I believe Ruud has become such an important link in the mail art network.
I have been involved in mail art since 1976, beginning from an experience the previous year when I took my first trip to Europe and found myself at a rubber stamp store in Amsterdam, Holland, called Posthumous. I brought some stamps home with me and began research to learn if other artists were using them in creative ways. Soon, I discovered the mail art network, and began doing my own rubber stamp art.
I returned to Amsterdam for the first exhibition at the gallery Posthumous opened in a section of their store, which they named Stempelplaats. I spent two weeks there, and spent much of my time in the evenings going to a nightclub called the Melkweg (the Milky Way). So when I received an invitation in 1985 for a show at the Melkweg, it reminded me of my first steps in mail art, and I became interested in the organizer, Ruud Janssen.
Since then, we have become close friends. We met first in 1989, when I gave a talk and held an exhibition at De Media in Eeklo, Belgium. Our second meeting occurred in 1995, when I traveled to Europe with Picasso Gaglione for the opening of the Musée de la Post exhibition, The Art of the Rubber Stamp, in Paris.
After the Paris show, Gaglione and I went to visit two mail art archivists, Guy Bleus in Wellen, Belgium, and Ruud in Tilburg, Holland. We stayed with both, and a fuller description of our adventures can be found in The Stamp Art Gallery catalog, The Fake Picabia Brothers: L’Art Tampon.
Suffice it to say, that our visit with Ruud was a most enjoyable one, and we were able to view firsthand his living and working space. Ruud is a good example of what sustaining interest and hard work are capable of. His apartment is small. He works a full-time job that demands much of his time and energy. Yet somehow he has found a way to make himself an undeniable presence in an international art network.
The activity starts early in the morning. While others on the train are reading their morning papers, Ruud has been to the Post Office to pick up his mail, and is busily reading the latest news from his worldwide correspondants on his way to work.
At home that evening, he is at the computer working on the Mail Art Interview project, creating stampsheets and colorful envelopes, enclosing the TAM Rubberstamp-Archive sheets in his correspondence, issuing membership cards to newcomers in the IUOMA (International Union of Mail Artists) and responding to those all too frequent requests that demand more then a simple letter.
His training in computers prepared him well for his use of this new technology in mail art activities, and Ruud was one of the first mail artists to extend the communicative and archival potentials by combining these interests.
Now all the data concerning his Traveling Mail Art Rubberstamp-Archive can be retrieved easily from the computer, and distributed in both printed and electronic formats. And it’s a good thing too, for since the beginning of the Archive in 1983, some 15,000 thousand forms have been distributed to over 60 countries, with the purpose of documenting the rubber stamp impressions of artists involved in the mail art network. To date, over 1,600 artists have responded.
It is to his credit that Ruud is not only interested in the output of the artists, but what motivates them to continue their work. His Mail Art Interview Project is the first systematic attempt to gather in-depth information about the participants in the network.
How he does this along with all his other projects, I will never know. He does not have any sponsors for his projects. All the research and publishing activity results from his own limited resources. This is the same for most mail artists, whose work is under appreciated by the mainstream art institutions.
Without sponsorship of any kind, Ruud has amassed the most complete information on the creative use of rubber stamps. Someday, someone from the mainstream will come knocking on his door seeking to borrow the art and information for an exhibition or a publication.
Until that time, The Stamp Art Gallery has arranged to show some of the collection, as well as the many publications Ruud has produced in support of the collection, to a wider audience.
For the exhibition, Ruud has created a special form for the contributing artists in the TAM Rubberstamp-Archive to respond, and also in which to participate. Instead of having the artists imprint their rubber stamps on the form, and returning them to Ruud, as is the normal procedure, a special form has been developed, and the artists have been instructed to forward it directly to The Stamp Art Gallery.
All work received has been displayed, and we have reproduced at least one work by each participating artist in this catalog. In this way, Ruud has used the opportunity of a gallery show to erect a structure by which all who want to can contribute.
This generosity of shared creativity is characteristic of Ruud’s work, and we are grateful that he has collaborated with us in the first partial public exhibition of the largest rubber stamp archive in the world.