When Kathy Goncharov asked me to be honored tonight, she probably was taken aback how quickly I said “yes”. What she probably thought was, “Oh, here is this egocentric artist looking for one more jolt of glory.” Then, I turned my weeping, Sehkmut, cow-goddess eyes on her, smiled and said, “Just tell me when.” Kathy, I heard your weeping, but I wanted you to know how much I saw this as a chance to support, rather than be supported: I could support the Brodsky Center in three ways- I mean, the actual Center- not that I hadn’t already done my project…
The first way is, accepting the honor, of course. It’s a way of saying the Center has liked working with me, and I have liked working with the Center. There is something in the contemporary book arts that allows for a blind and free pursuit of excellence. Perhaps, it’s the Tradition, which includes the fabulous, luxury books of the late-Middle Ages, and the great Safavid productions of Iran, for example, The work done at the Center with William Kentridge of South Africa, I believe is placed with the extraordinary, in expected and unexpected excellence, both. The Center has allowed itself to be shaped, as is often the case with individual artist prints, but also to be unshaped by William…
The line between NY and NJ was not always so sharply drawn- more a continuous meadow. New Brunswick was an important town in forming colonial trade and administrative agreements, a big player in the balance of power between NY and Phila. Being a New Jersey boy, I felt I drew upon this less parochial past, just as William left it chaste.
It is something of a joke that this honor is given to someone “homegrown”, rather than to “one of them” in NY- I always felt “coming home” to the Center, rather than “going away”, more like the particular comfort and intimacy you would expect to experience in a book.
The second reason I accept the honor was to honor the people at the Center. Not that the project has taken that long, as projects go, but, as for a lot of people, these years have not always been easy. People’s mothers have died, spouses have become gravely ill, certainly, finances have changed: Life’s threats, which ordinarily make artificial pursuits easy to drop, change or modify. As an artist sometimes working with institutions, I have to know whether they view our work as of the natural or artificial, species. One can never know until the crisis is over. I can say I am completely satisfied with the Center. The natural has won out.
Randy Hemminghaus and Anne McKeown, Master Printer and papermaker, this honor should really go to you. There was never any question of your accepting my book… A book is like a government; you accept it, as it is, until you have to make one yourself. Then, you realize it can be anything you want. It is difficult to sustain knowing what a book is and allowing it to be outside that, defined and undefined, simultaneously. Of course, that is the special excitement of a book- each book is different- but as the producers, you are not expected to be philosophers, all the more impressive as “the book” has entered the Philosophic “limit”, by all tokens of today’s cutting edge.
As such it is actually more open to the contemporary, something of a paradox to some, but I thank John Yau for whose poetry started this whole process. He was extraordinary in watching very subjective reading (mine) of his poetry, objectify itself on the page (my art’s) without flinching.
And then we come to Lisa Switalski, who caught the inhouse spirit of open-hearted generosity and turned it into one of the most singularly executed of bindings. There are many arts; they are equal, but some get separted for extra attention, like binding. Oh, what a pleasure is in, great book binding. Some of you may think the mere presence of the hand is demeaning- what is “care” without the hand? The Metropolitan Museum, in the exhibition “Love and Art in the Renaissance”, has a whole roomful of the symbol of the hand within the hand. What is holding a book if not this? There is the embodied hand and the disembodied hand yet to achieve..., perhaps through binding?
The third reason I accepted the honor is to honor the Center by giving the proceeds from sales of the first 5 books, I would normally receive. Believe me, I could use the money, but it give me much more pleasure to say “thank you”, for a project, which truly has been extracurricular fun, than to see a project not give honor to its benefactor.