When I saw "NOT NOTHING: The Collected Writings of Ray Johnson" on the shelf of Bird & Beckett Books, something seemed off to me. I knew Johnson as a collage artist, mailart master, "outsider artist", proto-pop hero, friend of Andy Warhol, mysterious suicide, and subject of the film "How to Draw a Bunny." I did not think of him as a "proper writer." So, as I pulled the book off the shelf, I had to wonder if he also had a secret identity as art theorist. The answer to that is variously: "Yes", "No", and "What the Fuck?"
The content of this irresistible tome from Siglio is made up of facsimiles of Johnson's mail art activities, which went under the name of the New York Correspondence School. He would write to, and reference, big names in art like Marianne Moore, Eve Hesse, Robert Rauschenberg, Ruth Asawa, Billy Name, Joseph Cornell, and so many others (there's a "who's who" in the back for easy reference, but you'll be going to the internet for help given the number of people involved). He would type out letters (often on stationery appropriated from various institutions) and send them off to members of the school, frequently with instruction that the receiver should send the letters to someone else. He would incorporate collage too, as well as his famous bunny drawings.
I'm working with a typewriter a lot these days, which was my ostensible reason for buying the book, even while unemployed. But really, it's just fun: Here he writes nonsensical answers to an art reviewer's questions. Here he draws two horses humping, referencing fellow members of the "school." Here he appropriates a Joseph Cornell "collage tag" in a piece about Warhol. There's no point in reading it sequentially. It's a book you open up and drop in on. If you find a writing you've read before, re-read it. It'll only take a minute.
There's also a suitably bewildered intro by Kevin Killian which is worth a read (because Killian is ALWAYS worth a read) as well as an intro by editor Elizabeth Zuba which gives you more context. But after that, abandon all sense, ye who enter. Spend some time with this mad mind, this left-field creative, this (im)proper writer. And then make something. Anything. And send it to a friend. It's what Ray Johnson would have wanted.
This is a place where I keep track of things I've seen and done, art reviews and discoveries, processes and messes.