The approach is not unlike the one chosen by Zack in his landmark “Authentik and Historikal Discourse on the Phenomenon of Mail Art”, also in Art in America, the January/February 1973 issue. The article begins with an account of Nut Art, which Zack writes was “definitely invented in 1967 by Roy De Forest and myself”. “Definitely invented”: the author feels it necessary to underline the truth of the statement. The article is full of reports on the reports of others. “Soon after Clayton moved to California from South Dakota I began to receive (…) letters reporting the exploits of a friend named George Gladstone, a local madman (…) who planted the highways with critters cut from dead inner tubes and alarming neckless heads”, for example. Zack reports on letters reporting on barely believable incidents and activities – and if he does not do that, he reports on barely believable exchanges that took place via the mail. The factual report and the outrageous scheme, the document and the forgery mix in a manner that makes it very hard to tell what is what and how the reader can be sure that it is all true. In insisting on the truth of his reports, or reports of reports, Zack manages to cast doubt on their truthfulness.
Another example of Zack’s tightrope act on the border between document and fiction: his Twenty-One Correspondence Palimpsests are letters – Mail Art works – by others, annotated by Zack. He advertised them to his contacts in the name of the Correspondent Art Services Foundation, secretary David Zack. The CASF, he wrote, was a non-profit organization dedicated to “research on communication arts and related services”. The Correspondence Palimpsests were available as originals, sealed in polyethylene and framed, and as Xerox copies – not a fixed number of copies but between seven and 49 of them. On one letter he wrote: “This is a letter from Jim Haining, one of the most powerful friends of anyone in mail art. (…) Jim Haining’s mail is a fountain of interest - - - for one thing he was the first to show me what Mircofiche looks like (…) and for another he introduced to me the concept of the work of art shared among friends as if it were a puzzle “. So: Zack adds background information on the writer – rather random bits of information – to a letter sent to himself and asks his network what to do with it. There is a document, there is information about its provenance, but there is no purpose, at least, not yet. It is up to the recipient to decide what to do with it. Zack brushes the archive, but passes it by because he does not imply any particular way of using the material.
True stories, letters that were really sent and research material that is not tied to any particular topic or goal. Zack manifested himself as an archivist of the phantasmagorical. His records and files are deceptive, even hallucinogenic. In a strange way he demonstrated the problems inherent in all Mail Art archives: the material stands as a witness to an exchange, but although it is has a physical reality and can be seen as an unchanging witness of an exchange that once took place, it does not really capture the exchange. It always goes beyond fact. It speaks to you as document and work at the same time.
When will we learn to stop making a difference between the art collection and the archive?