Cloudsmith

The sky is the limit.

I was in Seattle for a few weeks in 1986 for a residency at an art space called 911. It was The Art Guys' first artist residency. In the course of that short time we explored the downtown area, scavenging, thinking, planning, making. Seattle seemed to me to be a contemplative place, perhaps because of its relative atmospheric gloom of near continual mist and drizzle. It was not yet completely absorbed by the tech onslaught from Microsoft and its satellites. Because of this it was still charming, at least more so than it is now. It was certainly more charming than Houston, "charm" not being a word ever associated with Houston. Contemplative stillness was not a descriptor for The Art Guys either. We were a whirlwind.

This perception of Seattle being a quiet, literary culture may be what accounted for a plethora of bookstores along with a few small wood-paneled gathering places for ingesting warm liquids while digesting books. This was just before the national Starbucks flood. Is it a coincidence that the generational need for a sleepless caffeine jolt coincided with the tech boom? Hmm...

In the course of our meanderings around the downtown neighborhoods, we ducked into a bookstore. Near the entry of the storefront layout were the more obscure books, like those about art. Nestled in between two much larger volumes, and nearly invisible, was a tiny book, almost a pamphlet. On the front cover was a black and white image of a bearded, bespectacled man, eyes closed, sitting cross-legged atop what appeared to be a mound of dirt. He was encircled by stanchions which cordoned him off from viewers looking at him. The title of the book was "Ring Piece by Geoff Hendricks." On the back of this little book was an introductory essay by Dick Higgins. This was a Something Else Press publication – something special. The price sticker said $1.95. I could afford that.

It was a documentary book about Geoff Hendricks' performance for the 8th Annual Avant Garde Festival, organized by Charlotte Moorman that took place in 1971 at the 69th Regiment Infantry Armory in Manhattan.​ Here's Moorman's description of Geoff's performance:

"Geoff Hendricks was on a mound of dirt in a formal tails suit, and he performed silently for twelve hours. Do you know what was in the dirt? Well, he and his wife broke up, and his wedding ring and some of their wedding clothes were buried in the dirt. It was called Ring Piece, and was so strong because he had buried all those memories. The mice that escaped from Dick Higgins's piece called Mice All Over the Place, congregated on Geoff's mound of dirt. But he continued sitting there silently, and the mice soon became incorporated into his piece. One of the colonels involved with the armory was walking around explaining Geoff's piece to another colonel. He said, 'You see that guy in the tails. He's representing Rockefeller, and that dirt and those mice are representing the poor man.' I really enjoyed that. If that's what he wanted make of the piece, that's fine. I appreciated the fact that he was trying to understand."

– Charlotte Moorman, from her interview with Stephen Varble on the Avant-Garde Festivals from the book 

Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance Intermedia, and Rutgers University 1958-1972

Edited by Geoffrey Hendricks, from the exhibition of the same title, ©2003, Rutgers

In 2011, The Art Guys received an email from out of the blue from Geoff Hendricks with the email address name "cloudsmith." Immediately I wondered, "Is this from the Geoff Hendricks?" It was. He wrote to say simply that he liked our work and what we were doing. I was very touched and immediately wrote back to say so. We communicated off and on over the next few years, sharing notifications of events and shows, and trading catalogs. I told Geoff that I had a copy of his "Ring Piece" book, that it was a precious object of mine, and would he be gracious enough to sign it if I sent it to him. He said he would. So I did.

A few weeks later it came back but not in the same state that I had sent it. Geoff had taken the book and cut it in half along the spine, splitting it in two. Then he tied the two pieces together with red string to which was attached a small, white label. On one side he wrote in pencil, "Attach a small bell." On the reverse side he initialed it, "GH, 2011 (for The Art Guys)."

1/1

Geoff died this past May. I never did attach a bell to Geoff's altered book, nor, since receiving this valued curiosity in the mail, have I untied the string and opened it to see if he actually signed it. I keep it on my bookshelf on a small display stand. 

There it sits.

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October 22, 2018