Robert Seydel: “With fantasy, longing, and relation”

News Section, Reviews

December 4th, 2014


(Review) Songs of S. and A Picture Is Always a Book by Robert Seydel


Two Works by Robert Seydel


Originally published December 4, 2014


Siglio and Ugly Duckling Presse have just published Songs of S. with Maybe S.: a posthumous cycle of poems, collage works, and journal writings left behind by Robert Seydel, who suddenly died of a heart attack in 2011 while preparing for a course he was to teach at Hampshire College. Siglio has also newly published A Picture is Always a Book: Further Writings from Book of Ruth, another posthumous collection. That book is a collection of journal pages written by Seydel’s alter ego, Ruth Greisman, who was inspired by his aunt of the same name. Opening with a fitting collage frontispiece featuring a beaten vintage photograph of a sailboat on a raging sea with a painted red-orange sun hanging in the sky and the word “V O Y A G E” in bold black typeface, the publication of A Picture is Always a Book accompanies an exhibition entitled “Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter,” showing at the Neilson Library at Smith College in Northampton Massachusetts, and later traveling to the Queens Museum of Art in New York, and the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College in Chicago. These pages taken from old and brittle photo books add even more playfulness to a body of work that’s already fascinating and impressive (if only for its singularity and dreamlike perspective).

Spending time with the two newly published books, it’s clear that Seydel’s very strange and marvelous work challenges stock adjectives and remains indifferent to genres. They are objects to be admired. With A Picture is Always a Book, each photo book paper collage page containing the Ruth journals typed from a typewriter, features Seydel doodles in pen, crayon, and marks using various media. The presses did a fine job of assembling and printing Seydel’s work, and allowing his genre-less work to stand on its own: Songs of S. is the book of slightly more refined writings in the form of lyric poems. With the keen editorial eye of Robert’s friend, the poet Peter Gizzi, this cycle of poems is paired with Maybe S., a color pamphlet of drawings,neatly tucked into a fold in the back of the book’s jacket. A Picture is Always a Book also contains, along with Ruth’s journal pages, an interview between Seydel and Savina Velkova.

Who was Robert Seydel? With one glimpse at the smattering of Seydel’s collages, the pamphlet of drawings by S., and other parts of the Ruth-engaged work made available since his death, it becomes clear that he was an inventive archivist of human experience. A professor at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, Seydel had a fascinating practice of art-making, with classes geared toward teaching students how to collage and collect; and his own archives of curiosities, artifacts, references, annotations and histories show a thrill for knowledge and a connective universe. He seemed to have been one of those rarities who not only taught others, but was always busy making things, and, a distinctively important and timely trait, he was interested in the “shiftiness of gender and identity,” as he tells it in the interview with Velkova.

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