“This book came about because we felt compelled to share Bob Raymond‘s work with a wider audience after he died unexpectedly in 2012″ – so Jed Speare starts his Preface to the volume of 192 pages printed on square 25 x 25 cm. Attempting to name a value, Speare zooms on three : mindful public service, intermedia, and idealism of 1960- 70s. He names the Raymond’s collaboration as artist with Mobius Artists Group as recently as August 2011, in the multimedia performance of John Cage’s Variations VIII at its original site, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. Slowly the preface proceeds gingerly to suggest that Raymond’s photography of performances is not documentation only, but art, moreover, a durational performance – lasting not a day, a week, a month , a year and a day ,more like On Kawara‘s Silence 1968 -1979, but stretching to 35 000 images taken over decades. The subject is Mobius. The book is a selection Raymond made in 2009 . His wife and partner, Marilyn Arsem, a performance artist and member of Mobius, contributed ten pages of history of Mobius and on specific contributions Raymond committed to the group, from manual work to art. She shares the inside story – of his care not to distract the performing artist or the audience, to discuss the resulting images with the artists later on, selecting few only from each batch. Perhaps most telling that he treated his “documentation” as art is Arsem’s record of the artists valuing different shots from those Raymond strongly preferred.
“He was frequently surprised at the images they preferred to use as representations of their work. In his mind they were rarely the best ones.”(p16)
If this were not enough to perceive Ramond not as historian, producer of documents, but as an artist, Arsem introduces his “overlooked art “: performances, sound scores, sound installations, audio components for performances, videotapes, music improvisations, collaboration with her and Scott deLahunta, and later his innovative collaborations, eg. with Sara June, in 2010, performing to a camera. (p21)
“Looking at the pictures Bob made of my performances made me a better artist” writes Jeffery Byrd in his contribution …”The moments you see in this book, like conversations in long car rides, have now passed and are silent. Each, however, is rooted in a real place and a particular time. No current technology exists that would allow us to revisit those events that once happened ….we must rely on our memories and the mirrors provided by the photographs made by Bob Raymond.”(p23) Raymond abandons the safety of that statement- while he could not read it – by fireworks of questioning: ” These photographs are clearly not the messages themselves: the moments I have captured represent shadows, impressions, fragments of these messages. Taken together, it might even be possible to weave a narrative of the inhabitants of this other world, elaborations as to why they carry fish around so carefully, why they destroy potted plants with such a vigour, why they coat themselves from head to toe in colours, why they toss their musical instruments off cliffs, or use them upside down. I am not certain I can write that story, but I do know I’ll continue to be there, to look in, to see what I can see… (p25)
Jed Speare offers a postscript about two exhibitions of Raymond’s images made up from his “curator’s statements”, one from 2009 the other related to the memorial exhibition 2012. He shares a marked confidence in the photographs that document art also being art.
“As a personal progression and choice, the more recent images have a predominantly oblique presence when the images focus on detail, often casting away a familiar, identifying spatial context …. the uncertainty of not knowing…”(p26)
Not only the above recovers Shklovsky’s theory of art as foregrounding, it also insists on estrangement as poetic path to denouement.
The curators of the memorial exhibition asked artists to write a statement about the selected image. Marilyn Arsem wrote about the above Dreams(breathe/don’t breathe ) of home, 1987:
I have lived with this image of myself for many years. It has hung on the wall of our dining room, it is on a Mobius T-shirt and it still is used occasionally for Mobius activities. I am increasingly aware of how young I am in this photo. Nevertheless, when I see the picture, I can still feel the soft flesh of the fish in my hands, and smell it. And I am taken by the sense of anticipation in my face as I gaze at the fish, willing it back to life.
Julie Rochlin writes about Raymond’s photograph of her performance as “indelibly imprinted on my mind”.
I remember – when watching performances during the 197os- holding on to what I called secretly (and later publicly) “target images”. I imagine that Raymond knew about those all along.
The book is a document -with cherished memories and sincere gaps.