Paulo Bruscky works from Robert Rehfeldt's archive in Pankow. Photo: David Horvitz. Courtesy Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Paulo Bruscky

Paulo Bruscky work from Robert Rehfeldt’s archive in Pankow. Photo: David Horvitz. Courtesy Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Paulo Bruscky

Today Saturday 10th at Chert gallery in Berlin will inaugurate HOME ARCHIVES: Paulo Bruscky & Robert Rehfeldt’s Mail Art Exchanges from East Berlin to South America, an exhibition curated by Zanna Gilbert, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Drawings & Prints at The Museum of Modern Art, and artist David Horvitz.

Along with this exhibition will also inaugurate SIGNS FICTION, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt’s solo show.

We asked some questions to Zanna Gilbert and David Horvitz.

ATP: How did you get to know about Paulo Bruscky and Robert Rehfeldt’s correspondence?

David Horvitz:  A few years ago Zanna sent me to Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt’s house in Berlin to look at the works that Bruscky mailed to Rehfeldt when it was still East Berlin. This was for Zanna’s research into mail art from this time. She was writing about this generation of artists, so she knew about who was sending what to who. In Berlin Ruth had an amazing archive. There were boxes labeled with the names of different countries, and different artists from those countries. We found the Brazil section and then pulled out the Bruscky box. If you imagine an artist sending works all over the world, you could imagine that at each location a work is sent to, an archive grows. They may end up in closets, in shoe boxes, stuffed in drawers, in archival storage containers, or maybe donated to an institution… So there are these little home archives all over the world. And of course Rehfeldt was sending work back to Bruscky in Recife, Brazil. So Zanna went to Bruscky’s house and saw these works.

Zanna Gilbert: I went to Bruscky’s studio in Recife in 2010 and spent a month there looking at his correspondence. He has one of the largest archives of mail art, Fluxus and artists’ books in South America. This archive is not like an institutional archive though, it is full of the idiosyncrasies of Bruscky’s interests – on a return visit recently I noticed he has a new file on Lady Gaga.  I was initially researching mail art in Latin America, but I became interested when I found Robert Rehfeldt’s folder in Bruscky’s archive and saw just how much they had connected across strong cultural, political and linguistic barriers. In mail art, while artists circulated a lot of work, I have found that real in-depth correspondence between two artists is rarer. Rehfeldt was one of the people who Bruscky really connected with. Bruscky told me a lot of stories about their friendship including his visit to East Berlin – they were drinking together one evening and Bruscky fell asleep at the bar, eventually missing the curfew time to get back to West Berlin and getting in a spot of trouble with the border guards.

ATP: You both have an interest regarding the mail: Zanna’s research focuses on artist’s networks and the circulation of art through the mail, while mail art is the main medium in David’s research. How did this inform your collaboration and how did you decide to work on this project together?

DH: It just came naturally. I was in Berlin, and Zanna asked me to go and look at the archive at Ruth’s house for her research. I went to visit Ruth to see the archive. I photographed it for Zanna. I even began mailing Ruth some of my own mail works. The idea for the show came up around there. I think it was Zanna’s idea, I can’t remember. This mostly comes out of her academic research. I kind of was just thrown into it by chance. It was my idea to bring Robert’s table into the exhibition. When I was looking at Bruscky’s work, it was on Robert’s old work table. There were smudges of ink on the table from years of using rubber stamps. I thought this was nice, this layer of ink on the wood, like a palimpsest, attesting to this life-long commitment to a creative practice. It was like someone’s life, all that time, collapsed into smudges of ink.

ATP: You also collected the correspondence into a publication which reconstructs the artists’ exchanges. Which is its relation with the show? How did you choose what to publish among letters and art works sent over a period of almost ten years?

DH: It is the same process of choosing as we did for the exhibition. In the exhibition, we have a gallery, so we have to decide what fits, what looks best, what works best. And so we did the same in the books. It’s two books, representing the archives, that are held together in a box. We didn’t really include any letters. It is all photographs of works from our research photographs. So, they are photographs I took in Berlin, and photographs that Zanna took in Recife. So there is this other layer, of us inside the homes of these artists, looking at this work, in two different countries. About being there.

ATP: How did you conceive the display?

ZG: At first we were thinking about bringing the material correspondence from each archive together: Rehfeldt’s works that now reside in Bruscky’s studio in Recife, and Bruscky’s works from Rehfeldt’s archive in Berlin. But after some thought, we decided it felt wrong to forcefully or fully close that distance – those works were never together in the first place. All of the levels of the project have registered distance in some way, like David going to take the photos on my behalf because I couldn’t travel to Berlin and he was there. So, we decided to show Rehfeldt’s works in a far-off place – photographed in the archive in Recife. This way the show still retains some of the context of the place where the works now rest. We’ll be showing slides of those works, alongside Bruscky’s mailings in Rehfeldt’s archive in Berlin, as well the table from Rehfeldt’s studio.

ATP: In 1982 Paulo Bruscky traveled to Germany and met Robert Rehfeldt for the first time. How did their correspondence change or evolve since that meeting?

DH: You should go to the exhibition and see for yourself!

ZG: The earlier mailings reflect the rush of a new friendship, of finding someone to correspond with that shares your understanding of the world, but this is mediated by the fact that the artists had never met, so there is this attempt to ‘touch’ the other, for each of them to impress their likeness on the other – through repeated self-portraits,  fingerprints, or X-Rays – registers of the body that is absent and is replaced by the letter. The mailings seem to almost become bodies themselves in this attempt to reach some kind of epistolary, long-distance intimacy. After they met in Berlin, their friendship was solidified (this wasn’t always the case when long-distance correspondents finally encountered each other face-to-face, sometimes they were horrified!), and – perhaps paradoxically – they no longer needed to maintain the correspondence in the same way. The mailings are less personal and more perfunctory later on but there is an increased warmth in the way they address each other.

SIGNS FICTION,   Ruth Wolf-Refhfeldt,   Installation view,   courtesy the artist and Chert,   Berlin

SIGNS FICTION, Ruth Wolf-Refhfeldt, Installation view, courtesy the artist and Chert, Berlin

ATP: Could you introduce me to “Signs Fiction”, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt’s solo exhibition in the upper space of the gallery? Is there a dialogue between this exhibition and “Home Archives”?

ZG: Ruth’s exhibition has been organized alongside Homes Archives by Jennifer Chert. “Signs Fiction” is a rubber stamp that Ruth deployed on her mailings and visual typewriter poems. Ruth was also a participant in the international mail art network but Robert was much more active in making and maintaining contacts. Ruth’s typewriter poem postcards are unmistakable and extremely exquisite in their execution…maybe there’s a tension between this painstaking labour on a unique piece and the postcards she printed and distributed. She used an Erika typewriter to compose poems made up of repeated or overlaid letters and punctuation marks. Ruth’s work also makes a brief appearance in the Bruscky-Rehfeldt exhibition, because one of her postcards is in Rehfeldt’s file at Bruscky archive. To me, it is interesting that her work is subsumed there, because mail art on the large was a kind of ‘boys club’. There are notable exceptions though, such as Anna Banana, Irene Dogmatic, Regina Vater, and Graciela Marx. I found that many women artists would engage with mail art by making distributable work (postcards, carbon copies, prints) rather than actually mailing intensely with others. This is an area I want to work on more. But it is also part of the reason we decided to show Ruth’s work alongside the Bruscky-Rehfeldt correspondence.

Interview by Matteo Mottin

Until 28th February.

chert-berlin.org

Paulo Bruscky works from Robert Rehfeldt's archive in Pankow. Photo: David Horvitz. Courtesy Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Paulo Bruscky

Paulo Bruscky work from Robert Rehfeldt’s archive in Pankow. Photo: David Horvitz. Courtesy Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Paulo Bruscky

Robert Rehfeldt works from Paulo Bruscky archive in Recife. Photo: Zanna Gilbert. Courtesy Paulo Bruscky archive and Ruth-Wolf Rehfeldt

Robert Rehfeldt work from Paulo Bruscky archive in Recife. Photo: Zanna Gilbert. Courtesy Paulo Bruscky archive and Ruth-Wolf Rehfeldt

Robert Rehfeldt works from Paulo Bruscky archive in Recife. Photo: Zanna Gilbert. Courtesy Paulo Bruscky archive and Ruth-Wolf Rehfeldt

Robert Rehfeldt work from Paulo Bruscky archive in Recife. Photo: Zanna Gilbert. Courtesy Paulo Bruscky archive and Ruth-Wolf Rehfeldt