To and From: Davi Det Hompson Correspondents - Ulises Carríon
Concrete Poet - Performance Artists - Book/Mail Artist - Collector
Ulises Carrión is credited with being one of the first artists to write a general theory about artists' books. His influential essay, 'The New Art of Making Books,' written in 1975, analyzes the traditional form of books in the context its tactile, visual, and intellectual merits. Carrión's work with visual and concrete poetry expanded the use of the book as a medium for artistic expression that uses the page as an alternative gallery space.
There is little documented information about Carrión's early life. He was born in a small town in Mexico in 1941 and studied literature and philosophy for three years at the Sorbonne in Paris. During his time at the Sorbonne, he visited Amsterdam and fell in love with the city. He moved there permanently with his partner Aart van Barneveld in 1970. Prior to moving to Amsterdam, Carrión had worked as a writer and poet. In Amsterdam, he changed his direction and abandoned the idea of using language to "say something." (Ruhe, 1990)I kept using language, but not trying to say something, not using it in a way a writer uses language. I was using language as graphics, or as volume, or as color, in the sense that a plastic artist would use language. (Hoffberg, 1999).
In the early 1970s, Carrión was actively involved with the In and Out Center, a small artist run space in the canal district of Amsterdam. Enthralled with new art forms along with the process of artistic collaboration, Carrión and his partner, Aart van Barneveld, began looking for a venue for exchanging artist's books. On April 15, 1975, using capital funds supplied by friends, the two opened Other Books and So, a gallery/bookshop dedicated to a variety of experimental print publications as well as poetry and video performance. They invited artists to participate in the international network of Mail Art by posing questions and initiating projects. 'Send us your definition of art' is one example of such an invitation. Each project was documented in a printed catalogue or some form of acknowledgement and was sent to the participating artists. Carrión also reproduced examples of mail art in a publication titled Ephemera. (Ruhe, 1990)
Davi Det Hompson was one of the many artists from all over the world who responded to Ulises' invitation to participate in a project for Other Books and So. From 1975 through 1981, Carrión gallery/bookshop offered artist's books by Davi Det Hompson for sale and also advertised works that were expected for publication. Davi Det Hompson’s work, There's Music in My Soles, was very popular but did not make much of a profit. He received the traditional gallery cut of thirty-three percent for each sale and clearly did not expect any monetary gain. In many cases, the publications were priced at less than two dollars a copy. In the Davi Det Hompson Papers at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), one of the last letters in Ulises Carrión's file describes the closing of Other Books and So in 1978. Carrión continued to sell work that was left over from the gallery/bookshop from his studio on the lower floor of the same building.
Carrión's published works spread information and critical writing about mail art and artist's books. In his essay "From Bookworks to Mailworks" from his book, Second Thoughts (1980), Carrión clarifies the similarities and differences between artists’ books and mail art:
Bookworks are books that are conceived as an expressive unity, that is to say, where the message is the sum of all the material and formal elements. Mail Art is any postal sending that incorporates one, several or all the elements of the actual mailing as part of the transmitted message. That is, Mail Art is the art of using the mail. ( Second Thoughts, 1980, 25)
This explanation of motivation and practice was important to artists like Davi Det Hompson, whose foremost interest in Mail Art and Book Art lay in communication rather than simple visual play. From 1976 to 1981, Davi Det Hompson participated in several European gallery exhibitions which featured his mail art, artists books, rubberstamps, and artist stamps. He met Ulises Carrión in Denmark in 1979 when he traveled there for a teaching position. The VCU Book Art Collection includes rare examples of mail art projects that document the significant contributions made by Carrión and Aart van Barneveld to the international network of artists. The collection also includes exhibition catalogs and artist's books that illustrate the interest in language and conversational text that both Davi Det Hompson and Carrión explored.
In later years, Ulises Carrión worked on projects that he called "cultural strategies". In one example, Carrión persuaded a group of friends to spread rumors about him and recorded their reactions with the assistance of selected informants. The "cultural strategies" were designed as part social experiment and part performance activity. They were documented in artist's books such as Gossip, Scandal & Good Manners (1981).The exploration of gossip as a form of communication demonstrates Carrión interest and experimentation in redefining language.
In 1979, writer/dealer Karen Kvernes took over the archive of Other Books and So, changing its name to Art Something. Carrión's library was eventually acquired by collector/dealer, Juan Aguis. Ulises Carrión spent a total of twenty years in Amsterdam but his influence on book art and mail art is boundless. His artwork made a lasting and significant contribution to defining and understanding these two art forms for an international network of contemporary artists. He died in Amsterdam on October 6, 1989.
Carrión, Ulises. "The New Art of Making Books." Kontext No.6-7, 1975.
Available from The Center for Book Arts, The Art of the Book, 21 July 2004:
Carrión, Ulises. "Ulises Carrion: An End and a Beginning." In Umbrella, the anthology,
Edited by Judith A. Hoffberg. Santa Monica, California: Umbrella Editions, 1999.
Carrión, Ulises. Second Thoughts. Anjelierstraat, Amsterdam: Void Distributors, 1980.
Crane, Michael and Mary Stofflet, eds. Correspondence Art, Source Book for the
Network of International Postal Art Activity. San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984.
Ruhe, H. Obituary. Kunst & Museumjournaal, Vol 1 No.4, 1990, 55-56.
Freeman, Brad. "General theories of the artist book; Ulises Carrion/El Lissitzky."
The Journal of Artists' Books, Vol 9, 1998, 1-4.
To and From: Davi Det Correspondents