Amongst artist and master papermaker Anne Q. McKeown’s archives are a series of carefully fashioned varnished wooden cases, with sliding lids. The largest is 29’ x 28’ x 8’, and opens to a series of compartments holding striking, oversized, fabric bound books. These are mockups and draft versions of the Be-Cause Look Book, published in 1973 by Link Books and edited by Danny Moses. Other cases hold bound volumes of sketches and studies for the book, color plates, cassette tapes of interviews, film reels, and an accompanying X-Plain Nation, a typewritten collection of writings about the book by the two artist authors that reads like a studio visit and a manifesto.
McKeown (under the name Shiva Queeney) co-created this unusual 100 page book with Michael Sheridan (under the name Michael Goodenough). They designed the book with perforations at the binding, and encouraged people to tear out a page, to use the artwork, which many intentional communities and independent newspapers did, in their own publications. I asked her if she would tell me something about how it was made, and what it felt like, during those times. I knew I would get things wrong, work from within the limitations of my own knowledge, and like any interlocutor, push ahead my own fixations, possibly missing the chance to ask what should have been asked. But I wanted to know more about the startling, joyful, scary imagery inside of the book, and about things I remembered from conversations with McKeown. -Emma Wilcox
In tracing the origins of something I remembered her telling me, we discovered newly digitized raw footage shot by experimental media collective Top Value Television for their film Four More Years, covering the ‘72 Republican National Convention. In the footage you can see police versus protestors, in addition to Republican delegates being ushered into a building ahead of the tear gas. At least one person was badly injured at the protest when a taxi driver rammed into the crowd, and the collective documented the taxi driver then getting police protection from angry protestors behind their line. The footage can be seen here. Four More Years can be viewed here.
There is, as of yet, no specific suggested reading list for Past and Power, though there is great power in learning that way. It is suggested that you talk to people you know about their lives, and ask them about what it felt like to live them.
One Summer – We bind ourselves to (what we believe is) this reality
Conversation between Anne Q. McKeown and Emma Wilcox
For Past and Power, 1972, Aferro Publication No. 34
Preamble, Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Illinois, August 1968
EW: I have this memory of a conversation, a memory of a memory being told. You told me about people massed, all pushing against a bus, at an action, was it in ‘68?, and feeling that power, of not being afraid, the power of having the numbers, the sense of possibility, but also concern about not wanting to cause harm to another living person.
AQM: It was 72, not ’68.
EW: There you go, I knew I wanted to ask you. There was just something about the way you described that feeling that has stayed with me.
AQM: 1972 is when everything happened. I mean, not when everything happened, but that summer was ’72.
I was not there, in ‘68. It was just such an incredibly powerful experience to watch it on live televsion, following the Birmingham fire hoses and police dogs of May, 1963 and the brutality of the police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March 1965. As a child, it fractured the world in my, in my experience. It didn’t radicalize me at the moment, but it…it cracked my understanding of what was real. Then in 1968, when the police were beating people approximately my age and the protestors were saying “the whole world is watching….” It just, ooh! It was so much, again, such a shock of realization and the shock of understanding that it couldn’t be denied, in my blood.
My family, my schooling, did not teach me radical thoughts. I did not learn them anywhere but from the news because they showed things. The television televised news. And I didn’t even hang out with people who were that way, who were radicalized. There were rumblings, but it was very much in my head that all of this happened. And so that’s why watching the footage in ’68 felt powerful and that’s why I included it when I listed it as “experiences in the flesh.” There was this, this breaking point of, you know, all of the Civil Rights actions, and then the anti-war actions. Seeing a dead student on the ground shot by the non-military quote-unquote guys, the National Guard. It just was incomprehensible.
EW: I was really struck by the list you wrote down, by the rhythm, it’s like a month, a place, a gathering, experiences in the flesh.
Explo ‘72 Meeting of Jesus Freaks, Dallas, Texas, June 1972
Meeting of the Tribes Rainbow Tribe, Strawberry Lake, Arapaho State Forest, Colorado, July 1972
Miami Republican Convention, Miami Beach, August 1972
So, you’re 22, if I’ve got that right, and it’s June…
AQM: Almost. I was 22 at the end, in August. I was 21 that summer. What you asked me about, that was at the Republican Convention in 1972 in Miami. In fact, in footage you can see now online, they show this very interaction at the convention, of the people outside, and the police and the other people arriving, all dressed up. Not the candidates themselves, but the convention people, the delegates, they were all coming in and, but they were being protected as they went in. But the buses were left there. They were being used as gates, fencing, to prevent a massive push forward into the area.
And what I told you about, this was not planned, a planned action that I knew of. I’m sure there were groups that had planned actions, but… I was there as an observer, a participant yes, but also an observer to see what happened, to be a witness to what happened. But in participation, I saw that these buses could have been used as weapons by the protesters, that there was enough human strength to push those empty buses over and forward. But the idea that I would be putting other people in a position of harm was something that was not… I could not reconcile. I was not afraid of being arrested, although I’m sure, I know, I didn’t want to be arrested.
I think it was a combination of the hierarchical way that I was educated as a child, where the family structure was very hierarchical, and I did not have a voice as a child, which matters. You can override that if you have a certain personality, but my personality, for better or for worse, is, one who is a helper, not one who is…what’s the opposite that I would have liked to have been? (Laughs) The one who has the clear idea of what is good for them and follows that clear idea. That clarity is not a part of my personality. I am… somebody criticized me in graduate school for being reactionary… I think she said reactionary, not reactive, but actually reactionary. And that mystified me when she said it, and she said it publicly and then I couldn’t defend myself. (Laughs) And I am reactionary because I’m in my head. I don’t plan physical events other than the making of the ideas that I have. I’m not an organizer, I’m an observer. I’m constantly an observer.
I was actually there in ‘72 to be an observer for the research we were doing. The book was under contract by then. The bicycle trip that we took from New York City to Pittsburgh was after we had signed the contract, so it was early on that year. The publisher allowed us to do what they used to call mechanicals in their offices, we did the layout at there. We started working on it before we left again. All of it was research because we were looking to even make a second book, which is a whole other story, but we didn’t end up doing that.
EW: It’s interesting though because you’re talking about being an observer and I’m thinking about how there’s the formal, legal kind of designation, right, a witness, an observer, and then there’s research, which includes observation.
AQM: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
EW Which is a huge part of many forms of art-making, even if the viewer of the art doesn’t always realize that. And then there’s your self-description, a epistemological adventurer. Just the idea of someone being at this historic event in ’72, where there’s protests going on, where there’s a lot of news coverage, as a researcher for what we would now call an artist book, that in and of itself is fascinating to me. That you went out and had these experiences to create this unusual and very evocative book. I reacted very strongly to it without any of this kind of background information whatsoever. It spoke to a particular set of sensations, that I can’t really…put into words. Maybe that’s because it was distilled from a lot of direct experience. There’s that potency.
AQM: It’s not a book from one point of view. It’s not a book that is selling a succinct message. It’s very much an observation of a change in the world. In speaking, I want to go back to the idea of the change.
We’re going through that now. You don’t know day-to-day, but you know, if you’re of a certain age, that this, that we will never go back to what was.
One of the strongest memories I have, I think it was on 57th Street, someone had hung a banner out on a flagpole that said ‘Cocaine,’ and it had the Coca-Cola color and the Coca-Cola ‘C.’ It was, to my memory, and that would have to be researched, but to my memory, it was the first time that someone was slapped with a legal process about violation of copyright for a trademark. We were already working on the book by then. We had been in Florida working on it, and came up to New York, and then that happened, the trademark case. We had already been using trademarks as an element.
It was a time of huge change, where the corporations were beginning to… the corporations were getting so much stronger, that they could own a typeface of a C.
But then Coca-Cola was made with cocaine back in the day, so it’s (laughs) really a very strong back and forth of realities, and… “…and herrrreeee we are. And we’re all using cocaine. And everything’s okay!” (laughs) It’s strong stuff…
In the book there are mom and pop trademarks, images, used for recognition of a product. Something really started, I don’t know when, postwar is what I would say. It became something stronger, they even had ads on the television in the fifties, I believe, about developing trademarks. Business bureaus and others, were defending and promoting, very strongly promoting, developing trademarks. This strengthening of the corporation as an entity eventually led to pressured lawmakers to give a business form the same rights under the law as an individual, a person. So this all is wrapped up with the birth of the corporate, the military-industrial complex, as Eisenhower said. He didn’t call them corporations at that point, but the military-industrial, he said beware of the military-industrial complex. And since World War II, we have not gone through any time, we have not gone through any time at all where we have not, when the United States of America has not been involved in a military action. Whether it’s covert or actual war zones. That time without war, it doesn’t exist.
I had a project that I did with students in the art appreciation courses, back when I was teaching. They would develop a visual image, and they were to start off by going to the New York Times on the day that they were born to see what the major news was and they could use that as a jumping off point. So of course I went and looked at mine, ‘50, and we were already at war, the front page was of the war in Korea. Which they were not calling a war. So we, unbeknownst to us, (laughs) they were building up these two forces, military and industrial, that have, in my personal opinion, done the most to destroy, to change, alter and, in my opinion, hurt the United States of America. Now obviously with the education of the last so many months, the US was a flawed, a very flawed system to begin with, because of racism. Obviously. Something I did not understand as well as I do, I think I do, today.
There are these forces. Before it was colonialism, and using other people to improve who you are, and to take more for yourself, from the resources of the world. And now, in my lifetime, it has been capitalism. To sequester wealth for self, for nation first. But everyone thinks that they can have that too. Everyone thinks that. It’s somewhere in the back of their mind, somewhere, again, this has gotten into the minds of voters, that they aren’t going to do anything to stop business because they live in America, there can be that day when they can be incredibly rich too.
So here, we’re at another change. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I don’t know how it’s going to be. We won’t have an indication of which direction we can go, and how soon we can get started until after November. But, it’s… our country, and actually the entire world has called out our colonialism and slavery and repression of different groups by other groups, who would be in power, the entire world has called it out.
It’s not going to go back. It can’t. It can’t be covered up again. It could be destroyed. Everything could… they could try to destroy it so that the story isn’t known, but it would take so much time and people’s memories are stronger. It can’t go back to where it was. It can go forward for awhile, but it can’t go back. It can’t be destroyed. The recognition of it can’t be destroyed.
AQM: So. Anyhow. (laughs) Back in my life, the book is more than anything a twentieth century expression of the idea of collage. When you cut things up and you put them together. Not pastiche but the most common word, collage. It’s collage. Of what was. Seen through our eyes at that time using visual imagery from that time, that was altered to present an angle on a thought, beyond, that wasn’t right for words, at the moment.
EW: That makes sense. Maybe in some instinctive way the attraction for me is because I’m born in 1980. And though it’s always tempting to ascribe all this significance to the time around one’s birth or you know, we’re always searching for the meaning of the time when we were alive more broadly. But it does seem rather striking to me how many moments of policy change and economic change, a lot of very kind of backlash to the sixties. You know, Reagan coming in, and Thatcher and this kind of like cultural backlash stuff…It now seems to me that a lot of that stuff was cooking basically right before I was born or right around the time I was an infant. And so these are just crude guesses, but it is striking how much stuff happened in the late seventies that, that is so hauntingly prescient to conditions now. You know?
Maybe that’s why there’s a sense of connection to the book, because of what happened, within your and my lifetimes. You’re talking about corporations and fragmentation and depersonalization, we’ve seen the rise of the idea of the corporation as an individual that, that legal ruling. Corporations as (laugh) people. How did we get here? Did anyone feel it? Did we see it coming? And now with 2020, what is about to happen slash what is happening. There’s this grappling for reality. I can sense that something is but I can’t quite articulate it. You know?
AQM: Mm-hmm (affirmative). There’s a book that I might have told you about before, Counterculture to Cyberculture, by Fred Turner. And it is that shift… Trust fund babies, who were able to go out, who were able to fund themselves to go out and do it, leave the cities and go out and live in the country. They helped the hippie movement, but then they saw, “oh my goodness I’m spending up all my money and I’m not getting any return. In fact I’m losing money, being a farmer.” That they shifted and moved into the cyber world and had enormous impact. So if you have (laughs) time, I find it a very easy to read book and I knew all of the stuff from the counterculture part. They even had the Farm (commune founded 1971, Lewis County, Tennessee) in there. Some guys from the Farm later got involved in the California cyberculture world.
It is powerful stuff. And it is during that time, that you’re talking about, when I felt the world was changing in that way from this, this kind of innocence, “we can make it better, all we need is love.” To “nah, we really need our money. And we really need our power.” And you know, “we were children then, but now we’re grown up. And we’re going to take back what’s ours.” Oof. It’s scary.
EW You said it kind of all happened in ’72, and I’m thinking in June you’re one place, by July you’re another place, by August you’re at this moment, this memory I keep wanting to return to.
AQM: What you asked about. It is real. What you said is real. That what, and how I said to you, is exact. But as I could talk about it, there are layers and layers that hold up both of those things. The layers of being an observer but a participant. And, also the layers of why I can’t hurt some other person. Why I don’t want to hurt another person. That’s multiple layers.
EW It just seems like it must have been a really transformative summer. Like just a lot of experiences in a very short amount of time, with very large groups of people. These are all big human gatherings.
AQM: I think that it is, that it was, an enormous summer. The first group, the Jesus Freaks- I didn’t even know this then, but when I looked for articles to send you, there it is in writing from 1972, those groups behind it led to the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and eventually the Contract with America and the shutdowns of Congress in the 90’s.
Yeah, we went to that not knowing that it was a wave of the future.
And we went to the Meeting of the Tribes. And that still goes on, believe it or not. I was very surprised when I found that out. And that has also fractured off into other things like Burning Man. Human beings are so diverse, and how human beings are formed as children, with so many different ways of being. It was impossible as gatherings increase for them not to morph into new ways. That in that whole world of the Gathering of the Tribes, there were also the people like the Unabomber…there are even the people here where I live now, in the “state of Jefferson.” They want to secede from California, to get rid of government. That’s, that’s the bottom line. To be libertarian, true libertarians.
So… the thing in Colorado was not filled with just warm and fuzzy people. It was filled with a thought process that continued to grow and not necessarily even morph, but become more mature, of itself. And therefore it split. Into different groups. For example, there are people in Washington D.C. who have actually gone to work with the system, but then you have someone like AOC, more of a purist. One who believes in the power of the human being, and “everyone should have it folks.” She’s more radical but then there’s the Indivisible group who have worked for the last four years so hard to educate people and move things away from Trumpism. So you’ve got different groups, and then you’ve got the people who are just out here living, and using a drug of their choice, or not. And then you’ve got the people who are the libertarians, who are anti anyone helping anyone.
So that was the second gathering, in July. And then the third one, that was seeing the political systems. I don’t know that anything happened in Miami other than a clash. I’m not seeing anything that predicted anything. It was before, obviously, Nixon’s tapes were totally revealed and it allowed him to get elected, and then humiliated with the possible impeachment. I don’t think it precipitated anything, exactly, I think it was just an incredible event that was experienced as a followup on what had happened in ’68. ’68 was such a shock, then in ’70, there were the protests, and the strikes, at the Universities. The Universities closed at the end of the school year, and that’s when they shot the students in Ohio.
EW: How did you identify the places or gathering to visit for research? As sort of a followup to that question, does it start as a list? Or more like, you go to one place and maybe people suggest another place? The book is no small undertaking, and that shows in the way that you’ve documented it. There’s these wooden cases, there’s the very beautifully bound mock ups, the xeroxes, the tapes, it’s got this intensity of purpose to it. The documentation of early drafts, the X-Plain Nation book. So as much as it seems to be the product of this moment of social upheaval and even chaos, there must have been planning, you know? If you could tell me a little bit more, like how did you decide where to go, to observe?
AQM I know it was all word of mouth. We didn’t have one particular place to meet up with people. There was no single group that was the one group that we were a part of. We were independent researchers. We had three goals basically.
To use the trademarks, that was overarching.
To use as many techniques that we could possibly think of to create imagery. So, that it wasn’t the same information, the same visual information, every single time.
And then, the third was to document not the groups, (that came later, who the groups were), but the sensibility of the protests.
Not protest as a physical event but protest, for example, “We do not accept this creation of reality, as women.” I see now there is actually very little in the book about women in comparison to what is available in our minds now. But it was (laughs) a beginning. 1970 was the first women’s march on Fifth Avenue. Our Bodies, Ourselves, was revolutionary. I remember going to WBAI, I don’t know who all these people were, but this woman showed us all how to use a speculum, to demystify. I mean, (laughs) I couldn’t believe that someone could do that. And that’s how divorced I was from my own body, and my own understanding of my own body. It was too private, it was too much of a taboo, but no it wasn’t. (laughs)
So there were so many things that we were pulling out of this environmental cloud, a thought cloud, that was surrounding us at all times. We lived in the Lower East side, we walked up and down Manhattan.
EW A lot of the work that Evonne Davis (Co-Founder, Gallery Aferro) has done, mostly through the gallery, has to do with trying to connect generations, using the history of movements and protests, and activism. And something that she’s noted is how the language of the activism evolves and changes. The language is sometimes the issue, it’s all we have, but there can be unfamiliar language on either side. Today’s activism has its own jargon, but the language from the past can be an issue too. Reading through some of the X-Plain Nation where you lay out your thoughts on the Be-Cause Look Book, I definitely thought, this isn’t my language. I’m stumbling over some of the concepts. But the imagery is so powerful, it helps. It’s hard to describe. In art and other places I seek out these experiences that feel like stumbling upon fossilized remains, and so that’s proof that there was another way, there was another time.
You sent me this quote, from Eli Cook, writing in the Atlantic, How Money Became the Measure of Everything
“Today, well-being may seem hard to quantify in a nonmonetary way, but indeed other metrics—from incarceration rates to life expectancy—have held sway in the course of the country’s history. The turn away from these statistics, and toward financial ones, means that rather than considering how economic developments could meet Americans’ needs, the default stance—in policy, business, and everyday life—is to assess whether individuals are meeting the exigencies of the economy.”
The book feels like an artifact of a vanished moment of another possibility, and also like it is from right now. There’s a collapse of time.
AQM That’s meant a lot to me, to know that it does have relevance, and that it was alive enough. That it wasn’t self-serving, that it was open enough to continue to live. The themes are enormous, they are what we, as human beings have struggled with, forever.
EW I’m assuming that it would shift sometimes, where you went, like there would be something happening in the news, people would respond, and then maybe you’d go out. So how long would you say you were on the road, as it were?
AQM: We started the book in… it would have been the winter of 1971. It happened quickly, we worked day and night. It’s incomprehensible to me that we did it that quickly, now. And then we went back to New York. We packed up everything into a car, and… (laughs) the first night we were there we stayed in the car, and we heard some guys debating whether or not to break in and steal everything (laughs) So then we worked on finishing it, to the point where we thought we had what we wanted, what we needed.
And then we started going out to find a publisher. I’m pretty sure from the beginning, I was the one who did the sales pitch, which is hysterical, because I’m one of the worst at being able to sell anything. But you know, I believed in it enough to, to be, to go through the hell it took to do it. I remember Michael Korda, when I walked into his office, at Simon and Schuster, (laughs) behind his desk there was a row of Prussian helmets. I thought, this isn’t the right place. (laughs) And he looked at about five pages, and he said, “This is not a book.” And I went, “Oh yeah! Uh, what?” (laughs) So, it was interesting, but, in the industry, going to different places they would suggest other places. I don’t know if that happens anymore.
It was alive, the bookstores, Lower East Side, on Saint Marks Place, it was so alive. The information was free and open. People talk about the Internet as, “being the information highway,” but there was a highway already. It was human, it was you know, people sharing a way. Maybe it still happens, I’m isolated in my age. You know, it’s a different world for me. Maybe if I were 21 again, I’d see it was just as much alive as it had been. But that’s where we got all the information from, from people, but also from… just posters on the walls, and going to marches, and going to gatherings, and seeing what the Yippies were up to today.
Everything was very roiling and full of energy, because there were so many young people, if nothing else. We were following the gap of the people who were killed, and the babies who weren’t born during the second world war.
I think it’s still alive, that need to communicate, to do something, not just to make money, but to do something. It’s still very alive.
EW The book is striking because of the mix between bold language, and pages where it is pure, mysterious imagery. There are alot of buses, as well as other recurring imagery. Is there a particular reason there is so much bus imagery? There is a burning bus, I am not part of the generation where imagery of the Civil rights movement was something I saw on the evening news, but burning buses are part of the now iconic set of images that my generation might see when learning about that era.
AQM: The busses relate to our travelling I believe. We drove across the country a number of times in “Driveaway ” cars, where you would deliver a car to a distant place for someone. And get paid. We got to see towns we would not have seen otherwise. We travelled from time to time on busses long distances. The burning bus is taken directly from a photo of the May 14, 1961 Freedom Rider bus. Simon and Garfunkel’s song America also carries a very powerful memory for me. So many issues in the lives of the baby boomers, post WWII, so many damaged fathers who fought in the war, then in Korea, then in Vietnam. All generations have issues to deal with as they become adults. There are many who call the Hippies and Counterculture youth self centered. It seems to me that if searching for a path to best follow a way of love is synonymous with being self centered then those who judge have misunderstood the essence of the search.
EW: There is a page with a drug store, and a lamppost with sneakers thrown over it. I immediately strongly remembered a building on the Lower East Side where dozens and dozens of sneakers had been thrown, heaped onto a pole. I had not thought about that in years, that sensation of walking around Alphabet City and seeing mysterious things like that, as well as the community gardens, sculptures, etc. One of my overall questions is about how place influenced this book.
From the X-Plain Nation book: “We lived this book, fronting the greed, power, fear and madness of daily American life. We didn’t sit in some luxurious studio in NY or LA to do this work, we did it on the streets, sketching in trucks and cars on buses and planes. We did it in homemade huts in the Rocky Mountains after walking thirty miles through snow covered passes. Some of it was done surrounded by Jesus freaks in tents on the Texas plains in the middle of July. We did it getting gassed and harassed by riot squads in Miami Beach….”
Working in New York City alone would have been problematic. We began the book in St. Petersburg FL, we worked in NY in three different apartments, all on the Lower East Side, we worked in LA, we worked in San Francisco. Our side trips were powerful in that we met many folks who were not much different from us.
Once we were packing up one morning, when we were on the bike trip from NYC to Pittsburgh, when a farmer drove up to the barn we had slept in the night before. We looked at each other but no words were spoken. We got on our bikes and were gone. I have thought many times that we could have easily been detained by police as vagrants if the farmer chose that action. We got a couple rides from truck drivers if they had enough room for our bikes. During those years I saw people who were ambivalent or good. I did not encounter the evil shown in the movies or in the evening news. Was it luck? Could be. Or perhaps many folks are basically good if you don’t do anything to hurt them.
EW: Tell me about this page.
AQM: The Penitentiary double photo with the man with the glasses relates to the 1971 Attica Uprising. You can see that the tower inside the “A” on the next page, it is a nighttime photo of a turret from Attica.
EW I also noticed the use of the museum gift shop bag, as imagery on the front and back of the published book. Where did that come from? Evoking, rather casually it seems in some ways, giant cultural edifices… that obviously was not accidental. Where did that come from?
AQM There’s an interesting combination of mindset. Michael Sheridan had been involved in counterculture, I think he was somewhere between six and eight years older than I. And he had been in Woodstock, New York living there, I don’t know how long. He never went to college. He had a very different experience growing up and, and who he was as a person was much more dynamic. I was the quiet, big-eyed watching everything kind of person, I was absorbing. He was more active.
And I came from a world where I had gone to two years of college, so I had two years of experience with an art school and I really drank the Kool Aid. I drank that Kool Aid, of there being a way to be an artist and have certain skills to be an artist. His way of making things just was amazing to me, because he would pull ideas together and throw things together in a way that I could not do. That I did not do. I’m sure I’ve changed now, I know I’m different. I had to, I was then much more rigid, in what was good and bad, and we even had some fights about aesthetics because I had a different way of looking at the world. So, we just picked up things, we didn’t do heavy duty research into the different trademarks that we used. We found things that visually excited us, and accumulated them, and then found ways to make them work for us.
We had some old Look Magazines, great big picture ones. They were huge. We pulled out images and so we were in a world drenched with imagery and the ideas flowed from what we collected rather than having a tight idea and going to find something that would fit the idea. Which is why I think the book functions on that intuitive level, because it was a soup where things were pulled out of the soup to see what flavor this would be, or what flavor that would be, and maybe they might come together to communicate an idea.
We had gone to the block where there were multiple museums, where MOMA was. We’d go in and look at what they had in the gift shops. The graphic imagery came from the gift shop bag, but also from a memory. There had been a shooting at the ‘72 Olympics, so that imagery was burned into the memory. It worked together. We weren’t trying to promote MOMA And that’s why we took off everything but the word Museum at the bottom.
From the X-Plain Nation book, “This book is a museum. All books once they are printed cease being live art. They become a reflection or a museum.”
AQM: It’s a memory of a moment in time, and considering how short the amount of time we worked on it to pull all these images together, we bind ourselves with what we were experiencing, but then it is a museum. It’s a moment in time. Does that answer?
EW: Yes! It’s a revisiting, right? I’m asking you to look at all these pages and I’m asking you questions about a time that is now passed. You told me that you thought maybe during the time of Occupy the 99%, that would be the moment. But now you’re thinking, as you told me “There was a breakout, but it was not ready for a larger move.” That maybe the moment is now. What is it like revisiting all this now?
AQM: It’s been shockingly gratifying and… I’d like to use the word terrifying, but I don’t mean it in being scared, but that a life can go by so quickly. I’m not dead yet. But you know, so much has gone by and you cannot reach back and grab and relive moments that you might want to. Or redesign yourself to make yourself be what you had then, even though my whole life has been trying to push myself out of who I was. There is joy and beauty.
The horrible death of George Floyd. What happened with him, he has sparked something that went around the world. How could he have sparked that? By giving up his life. Calling for his mother while he was dying. It’s just too much. But he birthed an entire revolt.
I certainly hope it doesn’t go back. I certainly hope it’s not destroyed by those who… refuse to change. That it will bear the fruit of what so many people need. Deeply need. It goes way beyond want.
So, anyway, to be given sort of an opportunity to go back, and to have a computer to find somebody else’s viewpoint of that events at the time that I was involved in, has been astonishing. I think if it affects other people, it, it is amazing to me and wonderful to me that it had, that it has that potential.
I met Petah Coyne when she visited the Brodsky Center. I ran down and said, “I’d like to show you something.” I brought her back the Be-Cause Look Book, and she said, “Oh my god! I was at art school in Cincinnati,” She said, “I used to spend hours with this book.” It did get out there. 4,000 copies found their way out. 4,000, which isn’t a lot in comparison to what some books do, but it got out.
Speaking of books, I worked at the book publishing company at the Farm. I worked on a farm cookbook, I did some work on that, but the most amazing thing was that I worked on the Spiritual Midwifery book (Ina Mae Gaskin) That was published in ’76 and it’s still out there.
EW: Even if 4000 copies is considered a small amount, certain books develop their own legend. Books are kind of magic that way, even if a book is out of print, one person will tell another person about having seen it. It’s that word of mouth thing again that is somehow so potent. And I’m hoping that this resulting sort of interview with you and writing will increase that.
AQM: At someone’s suggestion, I looked to see if I could find the Be-Cause Look Book out there and I found that they’re all over the world, in libraries all over the world. Even the Museum of Modern Art now has it. I think I told you that we tried to donate it to them. We tried and they said “Ah! Well, this is… this isn’t fine art!” (laughs). Yeah. There’s that dichotomy that I was telling you about that, that Michael had no training and I did, and that struggle and luckily he kept it real and didn’t tighten it up, like I would have it if I had been alone.
When I went looking for them I found something on a blog related to the Museum of Modern Art Library, and someone there wrote, “Who is this?” “Who is this Shiva Queeney? Does anybody know who this is?” I wasn’t going to go there. There is however one critical thing I would like to fix, on amazon they said it was put together by a group of people, “various cooperative effort.” And that’s not true. We thanked people who had helped us, and people did help us, in all different kinds of ways. But he and I were the only contributing artists.
EW: That’s good to know. That makes me think about how Gallery Aferro has been involved with so many highly collaborative projects. And I’m so proud of what we’ve done, but in some cases there’s been this problem with the records, the documentation, the way archives and listings functions, we get entirely omitted. I think in one case it was because the true names of the collaborators didn’t fit in a label format easily. I know some of it is my ego talking, but then the history of all the people involved in some crazy beautiful thing is wrong or lost. And once it’s out there it’s hard to get fixed.
AQM: I have all the originals. (laughs) Except for two. I have all the originals so, you know, how come those other people don’t?
EW I want to move forward in time a little, because you were talking about the Farm, being there in ’75. You’re talking about how quickly putting the book together came about, and I was really struck by that. It seems like a lot happened in a very short period of time, in the early ’70s, with the caravan of buses all travelling together and establishing the farm. So, it seems to me if you were there in ’75 it was still a pretty young community. And you’d already seen a lot, traveled through, a lot of things… it’s like the midpoint of the decade, of ’75, so, I thought maybe we should go there for a moment. You’re 24, 25, what was going on then for you? What was it like?
AQM I went there specifically because I was pregnant. And I went there for the midwife experience. The state of NY would have covered me financially. But I just felt that it was the right thing to do. So I went down on a bus by myself at eight months pregnant. Poor bus driver, he was happy when I got off. (laughs) And then I lived with three other families and we shared working things together. The farm was kept going financially in part because all food was grown there. The only thing that was purchased was margarine and sugar. It was a total vegan diet. One woman would stay home, and bake the bread and prepare the meals and all. Soybeans was their basic food because it was easy to grow there.
I had no trouble fitting in with the group. It was a natural switch. What was interesting was that it was more group think. Group think’s a really big term, and I don’t mean that it as a pejorative. It was a need to function together. An agreement to function together. There was a level of spirituality that I had not found anywhere else. I didn’t connect with anything like that at Strawberry Lake. There might have been… but it was a huge area, so I didn’t see everything going on.
And certainly the Jesus Freak part was codified so far into Christian talk that it couldn’t penetrate my armor. So I didn’t feel any spirituality there. With the Farm, there were Sunday morning gatherings where everybody would walk to one field and meditate together, not very long, but long enough, and then Steven Gaskin would talk, and (laughs) it fed me so deeply. It was amazing, and wonderful. But it was a group of people searching, another group of people trying to find… and I don’t know the demographics of what happened, when it stopped being. It got up to 1200 people from 800 when I was there, but it didn’t survive as a commune. It’s now a co-op a situation, where people built their own homes and so forth and so forth. They still have their school. They had a school from the beginning, for all the children.
It was an attempt at the perfect society. And you know, human beings make it entirely impossible. (laughs), but it was amazing.
Coda, Summer 2020
Humans cannot see what happens to their beloved or what will happen to them, when this form of existence ends. So much energy goes into attempting to control life and into fighting death.
Here we stand. Now. We watch the death throes of human refusal to accept all that is here/now. Perhaps this will be another blip in the enormous history of the breath and spirit of Homo Sapiens. Has this human struggle not been a primary essence in our history, in every inch of this globe that the sun touches with its warmth, its heat, its fire? Let’s go forward to hope, to stand up, to hold each neighbor’s hand. – Anne Q. McKeown