On Saturday, November 22, the Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco hosted “A Meeting for Ray Johnson,” lovingly organized by Kevin Killian (who wrote an essay for Not Nothing: Selected Writings by Ray Johnson, 1954-1994) and Frances Richard (whose review in Hyperallergic is a superb piece on Johnson) and the Kadist’s own Heidi Rabben. By all accounts (and Kevin Killian’s is below, with his permission), it was an extraordinary evening, complete with Moticos cocktails (see the bartender’s ankle below).
—Lisa Pearson, Siglio publisher
November 24, 2014
Hi Kevin, Frances and Heidi,
I got to my desk this morning and there were a couple of lovely missives from folks telling me how much they enjoyed the Ray Johnson event! I’d love to hear how it went from your perspective—I hope as well or better than you hoped!
Thank you all so much for investing such care and energy and time into this which I’m sure would’ve done Ray proud!
November 24, 2014
It went beautifully. The “Meeting for Ray Johnson” was certainly well attended, with people sitting on the floor. Heidi and Frances were the perfect people to work with, industrious, thoughtful, pleasant and enthusiastic, outside of being crazy smart! So I had no fear ahead of time that it would not go well. I was just nervous that I could keep it together and the cracks in my Ray Johnson knowledge begin to appear. But I “passed.”
When one walked in slides from Not Nothing were projected on a screen and one had the impression of moving from page to page of the book, while in the corner the Johnson documentary How to Draw a Bunny was playing, with headphones in case one cared to listen to it–many enjoyed this option I saw. In another corner of the space, art lovers stood on line while curator slash mixologist David Kaspazyk mixed and poured glass after glass of a cocktail he invented for the occasion, the Moticos. It looked clear like vodka, but it was a mixture of secret ingredients that I gather all had one thing in common, that usually they are not clear—one was chocolate liqueur I remember that… Maybe another was Scotch? It was very magical. After much meeting and greeting Heidi began the event by describing Siglio’s revival of Ray Johnson’s writing projects, and by giving a lively account of his life and death as a whole, and provided brief introductions to the speakers. A young artist, working in the mail art tradition, unveiled an art project she made for the occasion, interactive, so that one could fill out a postcard and she would mail it to the address you gave her, your own or another.
Bill Berkson spoke next, providing a text I could send you if you’re interested. (David K also made a broadside about the invention of the Moticos cocktail, maybe there are still some of those left—I know you’re fond of ephemera.) Next I interviewed 73 year old artist Ron Peetz, who reminisced about going to Sacramento State and getting involved as a student with the NY Corrrespondence School, eventually gathering funds enough to fly Johnson in from NYC to Sacramento for what turned out to be a surrealistic week of “Nothing” that turned the young artist’s life around. Ray Johnson painted a bunny on the seat of a metal folding chair that Peetz still keeps in his studio, and we saw a slide of that.
Frances spoke next, giving a intensive look at one piece, “Plan” in two parts, sussing out the implications of Johnson’s use of celebrity pop culture while threading it with death and intimations of a strange future. perhaps indicated by the word “Plan” in the first place. Suddenly the drowning deaths in the family of Percy Shelley and the movies of Shelley Winters seemed linked in a sinister way, not only by the name Shelley but by their tangible forecasts of RJ’s own death by water.
Cedar Sigo spoke next, the young poet “smashed together” chronologically the writings on Johnson he could find by our local poet Diane diPrima, into a mosaic outlining a relationship at once strong, generative, and puzzling between the two writers. (She is the subject of one of Johnson’s poems in The Paper Snake, and that slide appeared also.)
Finally curator Jordan Stein appeared and told a shaggy dog sort of a story with an unexpected twist, a visit to the 94 year old collector Olga Hirschorn in Florida, and the discovery there of a great Ray Johnson collage. Questions and answers were general and people lingered on and on, all of the books on hand were sold and I even autographed two copies of Not Nothing, feeling like a great fraud but happy.
I’m sure Heidi and Frances can add their own memories to this mélange. Maybe I’ll send my account to Elizabeth Zuba, it was her idea to bring someone from Sacramento into the Kadist ambience.
Cheers Lisa and thanks!
Post script: Curator/mixologist David Kaspazyk has a Ray Johnson tattoo (photo by Kevin Killian)