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    Fifteen years ago, I received a scarab via mail from Ruggero Maggi in Italy, instead of a Kid-amusing scarab or a butterfly with beautiful wings. The insect was with dirt and enclosed 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 the Amazon River. 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 Japanese and was born in Osaka in 1948.
     In the Amazon of South America, many kinds of small lives live dependent upon each other, such as ants, small insects hiding themselves underneath fallen leaves, ferns and lichen parasites on larger trees and fungi native to decayed wood, together with larger trees, animals, or birds. All of them in toto make up tropical forests. However, human beings have gradually learned to recognize the difference between things useful and useless. We make differences between large trees which are useful to build houses from those which are smaller, we differentiate between edible growth and that which is not;we differentiate between birds and fish which are good to have as pets and those which are not. Our ability to differentiate has, however, caused the ruin of numbers of small plants, which are by nature essential to the ecosystem of the Amazon. This tendency of ours is nowadays a recognized issue, and we know that this is not only pertinent to the Amazon but to everywhere on this planet.
    The very same ability to differentiate has here also in japan caused terrible floods in typhoon season. Huge amounts of rain water flow off the artificially planted cedar and hinoki trees, and the water pours over the banks. In springtime, many of us suffer from hayfever. This has resulted from our immunity deficiency inclination. It is we who have created the reason for this deficiency, we planted only conifers on the earth and made our way of life too clean. As for this, some doctors, even insist upon keeping parasites in our body to regain immunity.
     We have altered our rich and comfortable way of life by pushing away many things unnoticed or never mentioned before. Accordingly, we are about to lose or, in fact, have lost many things which had been the essence of our old rich and comfortable life. Now we are surrounded by social problems such as 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 under the same shadow as mentioned above. They have pushed away financially weak artists from galleries and art exhibitions. They may have even deformed the artistic sense of school children through rigid educational systems, enough so their artistic skill does not mean much today. They also may have put too much importance upon the Euro-American values of art criticism. During the past 100 years, the planet has lost half of its woods in the so-called “gprogress” to which we have aspired. Now that we are facing global environmental problems such as acid rain, ozone holes, hothouse effects and so on. Just as Ruggero Maggi advised us in his art pieces from the Amazon, it is time to restart and rebuild our real art, so now is the time to get started.

    In Mail Art, the network expands as A to B, B to C, and so on. It is not only limited to peer communication. In fact, you can put collages on the mail you receive and send it back, or you may be able to send other artists’ideas into your own mail. As a whole body, it appears as a brain constructed with numbers of compiled and complex nerve cells, which are created in a non-linear order. So I have named this style of art “Brain Cell”, and have been soliciting new Mail Art entries since June 1985. Today we have more than 5000 members from 80 nations, and the entries have amounted to 442 as of March 1999.
    I made up a new word, Copy Left, which means free of copyright, and printed the name on envelopes and sent their seals all over the world. As I myself did, in the world of Mail Art, you can use other mail artists’seals, stickers and stamps and also you can use your own concepts through the printed media. In addition, you are able to be willing to alter others’pieces and put collages on them and send them to other artists. In this way, Mail Art pieces often change their appearances and concepts into unimagined ways, which not one individual artist can create.

Andrej Tisma and Nenad Bogdanovic sent me the seal of “No-Ism” from Yugoslavia. No-Ism means that there is not just 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 No-ism seals all 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 catalogs, photographs, and cassette tapes by mail, fax, e-mail, and Internet. This gives us an amazing view, showing the overwhelmingly plural ways of expression and concepts. I, therefore, regard the huge world of Mail Art full of every kind of ism mixed up like chaos. No wonder not a single rigid ideology survives or dominates.
    As Ray Johnson once mentioned, Mail Art is not a single art movement, but is quite a megatrend that insists that we change our consciousness.

    Many artists, in fact, were in sympathy with Swiss H.R.Fricker’s Tourism concept. I also had opportunities to make tours and meet 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 creators’multiple situations. I had a very different experience, because at home I usually occupy myself at making and arranging art pieces, and learned a lot through fellowship with other artists. Some mail artists live a very natural way of life, others were very sensitive to peace in the world. And for them there were those who were willing to realize their art pieces to their utmost. All of them were not free from financial and political problems nor to postal communication, but they overcame those problems and remain with a very positive attitude. I found their attitude really different from that of Japanese. Tourism, I discovered through my experience, has the potential to stimulate looking at the world with aesthetic eyes. It is not just for making a trip and sightseeing.
     Angela and Peter Netmail have put the Tourism concept into practice globally, and they have sent me mail from all over the world. I believe that their experiences may be far beyond our imagination and reach a deep understanding in the future of what mail art truly represents.

    I have been sending mail since 1997 with the concept of Fractal in addition to that of the usual Brain Cell. Fractal is a word for mirror figures and was advocated by the French mathematician B.Mandelbrot at the IBM Watson Institute.
     Picasso were influenced by Cezanne and African sculptures, Van Gogh by Hokusai and Hiroshige, Pollock by Dali and Miro, so we are influenced by numerous artists and mail artists. Needless to say I myself am completely influenced by some mail artists, Dadaists and Fluxus. I have been teaching art to school children for 25 years. Recently I have been involved in teaching physically challenged children, and I have been greatly influenced by these wonderful children. Deep within me exist many mixed fragmented parts of those artists and children. These and original fragments do not erase each other like spines on a cactus, but lead to a higher plane. This inner world gives me a real feeling that I am sharing many other artists’fragments, what with the experience that I have personal free-from-copyright relationships rearranging other masterpieces with other artists, as well as the freedom that is represented by the word “Copy Left” not bound to ideologies, which is No-Ism.
     What I think, by making Mail Art pieces everyday, is that Mail Art is a dynamic medium. In other words, Mail Art consists in dynamism, because you can be more than a mere individual, able to be free to create art pieces with a new attitude, just being a fragment of the whole Network and sharing fragmental parts of many other artists.

March 1999


Please send me your stamp design, rubberstamp, 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 participant. I will publish at intervals of 8 to 10 days at that time will include 60 people or so. Brain Cell is always seeking a change, does not intend to settle and care of it’s extension of the Network. So... don’t mail a lump of stuff for several issues. Please send them to me one issue at a time, Thank you!

Ryosuke Cohen c/o Brain Cell
3-76-1-A-613 Yagumokitacho Moriguchi City Osaka 570 Japan
TEL&FAX +81.6.6991.1507
E-mail :

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