The ocean is here, right now in the form of scientific data and hopeless amounts of conflict and hate. Finding goodness is just a matter of a fisherman’s patience and anchoring or snaring at the perfect time. While great loss surrounds us as countless lives are affected by hurricanes, entire households swept away in rain, while this country begins the process of assuming an island state personally and nationally, while we are convinced to be afraid of each other and afraid of the world. Sometimes I imagine the buildings under water. New York City: the lost city. The distant truth is easy to swallow. But the way it’s looking now is that the city will be flooded and all the party boats will remain with throbbing lights and hypnotic music over the waterlogged Chrysler building.
While this apocalyptic vision hangs at the edge of our collective consciousness, they are the small cuts that hurt more than anything. Last month, a shock hit us, and brings us into the new future without warning. Shannon Michael Cane passed two weeks ago. We have lost an important person in book arts and the art world. He was the visionary force behind both the New York Art Book Fair and the LA Art Book Fair. I only hope to witness the art world continue to grow, out, open, up, turn inside out, with the same kind of grace and inclusivity that Shannon conducted.
The memorial at PS 1 on November 18th was a well-attended event in which people from all over Shannon’s life attended. I never knew him very well, but felt that my presence was necessary at the memorial, a peripheral figure who might represent the outreaching effect of his life. I was a bibliographic intern at Printed Matter in 2013, and spent the time soaking in the culture, it was the beginning of multiple book projects and events that I would handle, and my internship felt like a little door that was, if not opened, unlocked to the world of the arts. Printed Matter stands at the apex between high art and zine art, and whether they know it or not, this organization has the potential for immense positive impact, with the wide ranging respect and resources that can be used to launch, cultivate, and maintain many book artists from many backgrounds and identities. In the art world now, this position has the potential to be revolutionary. Shannon understood this.
In the forefront of a continuous reel of intimate images of Shannon, one of his good friends, and the last person to speak, brought up the social and cultural influences his personality seized, and his actions caused in the art world. This man danced with Shannon in the West Village in 2013 and decided to return to New York because something had changed since 2001, and since the crash in 2008, and Shannon was there on the wave, a center point. The New York Art Book Fair satisfied a great thirst for the small and underrepresented artists to have their work showcased, but, more specifically, bloom side by side with the same resonance as high profile publishers and artists.
The New York Art Book Fair was a flower the summer of 2013. We sensed it with a frothing, like millions of pink and yellow bubbles were flying from a garden in Queens. This is the fair’s magic: it’s action, it’s movement. He had a sense of humor, a magnetic presence. Tattooed like a sailor: a giant fish swimming up his leg, and an Escher triangle on his chest. His body was printed with almost too many images all packed together, like the book fair, as if he wanted every story on him. At Printed Matter, he would often bring his little black pug who survives him, and the two activated a certain function within the organization. One afternoon he turned Rihanna on for an entire day, opening up a kind of joyful discovery in her that I believe he may have had with many things, a contagious curiosity that I never returned from. He was someone with taste and confidence to believe in. I’m so grateful to have worked with him at Printed Matter that year because I think when something starts for one it also starts for everyone. In 2013 the book fair took off.
A director of the David Wojnarowicz foundation, perhaps appropriately, wept on the pedestal as she delivered a eulogy. Shannon was greatly influenced by Wonjnarowicz, carrying on with the same kind of raw courage that it takes to tell the story of gay men in American history (despite being an expat, himself). The flowers were orange. There were palm leaves and monstera in the gallery. She described a work of Wojnarowicz of a hand holding a frog. I don’t want to transcribe words that I can’t do justice to. But inscribed within was a meditation along the lines of, ‘will the world change if this frog dies?’ “We will stumble,” she answered, saving the souls in the room.
After this passing we are left with a great flower to nurture. A flower that was rooted in joy. We must locate this joy to move forward in the midst of mourning. This is the party boat on the sunken city, and we must make it our mission to invite all on board. There is room for everyone. This is how we save New York. This is how we save our country.
Trends come in waves but the song remains the same. This remix is boldness and sadness all at the same time. How can we be so courageous under such calamity? How can we find joy while tears are streaming down our faces? A cherry popping, lip smacking, tear jerking time. A time to weep and make the most popping party in the same damn moment. Without warning or preparation we are left with this task.