Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - Sinking Bear
By Jed Birmingham
HYPE! I put it in CAPS because hype is real and alive in the Mimeo Revolution. Is Fuck You really the shit once you actually fucking read it? Is Semina as good as it was not advertised? (THEY ARE!!!) And because I am a P.T. Barnum as much as anybody: Nutall’s My Own Mag cannot possibly be as great as I have hyped it. Can it? (IT IS!!!).
For the small group of Mimeo Revolution obsessives, nothing is more hyped and spoken of in hushed tones than Sinking Bear. And what a special form of hype. What an appropriate form of hype!! It is the hype of word of mouth, of rumor. Of gossip. Like a band that nobody has actually seen play live, Sinking Bear for decades had never been read cover to cover. Nobody had even seen it. The hype stems in part from reading Reva Wolf’s book on Warhol. She actually read an issue or two of Sinking Bear and was one of the few to consider the mag seriously. Except for maybe Diane Di Prima who wrote about Sinking Bear in her Recollections, which only added to the legend.
And then after years of whispers, Sinking Bears slowly came out of hibernation from cold water flats and garages. I flipped though one with Alan Zipkin at the New York Book Fair. Just one issue. And just a glimpse. But it was like seeing Bigfoot. Shock and awe, and then doubt. Do I actually believe what I have just seen? And then more whispers at the New York Book Fair that a complete run had surfaced. Could the hype be true? Could Sinking Bear be the greatest mimeo mag of all time?
Adam Davis of Division Leap, Johan Kugelberg and the crew at Boo-Hooray tracked down a run and reprinted it as part of an exhibition associated with co-editor among thousands, Ray Johnson. Sinking Bear could now play live in front of a (small) crowd. What would it sound like? Shitty like the Velvets at Max’s or awesome like the Dead Boys at CBGB. Both examples are apt and Sinking Bear sounds like a little of each at times.
My biggest takeaway from reading Sinking Bear is just how unrepentantly it is an inside job. In some ways it is a sealed box: a Warhol Circle time capsule. Those archives are a box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna get. Trash or treasure. Sinking Bear, like the time capsules, beg the question is trash treasure, treasure trash. Play with this any way you want like an innaresting sex arrangement as Burroughs would say. I would bet that every line and every image of Sinking Bear could bear up to the level of scrutiny Reva Wolf places on it in places. I want Sinking Bear to be archived and catalogued like a Warhol time capsule. Dated and described. Dissected and destroyed. It is only by splaying open the corpse of the Bear that it will ultimately let me inside. Yet even without such explanations, Sinking Bear at points shimmers like a Linich light show flickering off a silver surface. At others, it drones on like a nasally queen at a rent-a-freak party at the Sculls’. Soaring and boring. Sounds Warholish, no? Kinda sounds like the Velvets at Max’s.
Warhol threatens to dominate Sinking Bear, just like Warhol dominates the entire art world and market. Boo-Hooray and Division Leap attempt to place the spotlight on Ray Johnson. (Here is where the Dead Boys come in. Anything authentic and artistically autistic will eventually be reduced to advertising.) I do not know much about Johnson or his work, so I do not know if they are solid and substantial enough to cast a shadow. I cannot approach Sinking Bear through Johnson like I can Warhol and maybe that is a good thing, because for me it forces Sinking Bear on some level to stand alone on stage and perform. Or maybe it forces Sinking Bear to sit under the glare of the institution (gallery, library, museum) and be interrogated.
What do I see at the coroner’s? Well, Sinking Bear seems very much alive to me. The fact that it is so inside, so gossipy, so much of a scene, means I will never be able to get under its skin completely. It pushes me away as I attempt to suffocate it with my embrace and pierce it with my gaze. It defies taxidermy. I will be learning about and from Sinking Bear for the rest of my life. I have the feeling Sinking Bear will hold my interest until the day I die. Like a mirror. And I see the image (not influence so much since nobody read it, but then again, like with Floating Bear, all of these nobodies were somebody) of Sinking Bear everywhere: Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets, punk rock flyers, Richard Prince appropriations, Warhol, flarf. Just about anything related to cut and paste aesthetics. And that is everything and everywhere. Ultimately it is Sinking Bear’s merging of form and content that entrances me. Mimeo mixed up with montage. All those seemingly isolated quotations build on each other, are related to each other, and are just as much poetry as a Berrigan Sonnet or an Ashbery composition is. Or just as much music as a DJ sample is. Or just as much architecture as a Vegas pastiche is. Or just as much art as a Ray Johnson collage is. And with the art of Johnson Sinking Bear folds in on itself, reflects on itself. Mazes and mirrors into infinity.
Thanks to Boo-Hooray and Division Leap. Sinking Bear is real. And, yes, it is spectacular.
Published on Mimeo Mimeo. Artists’ Books, Typography and the Mimeo Revolution, presented here by permission of the author. Pictures: Mimeo Mimeo.