passages

Geoffrey Hendricks (1931–2018)

Buster Cleveland, ART FOR UM, Vol.3, Issue 6, INTERACTIVE, 1996.

A QUARTER CENTURY AGO, Buster Cleveland would drive me, in his yellow Mercedes, over to Geoff's townhouse and have me ask him if he wanted to “go for a ride.” I'm recalling that as our first exchange.

Geoff brought more than I ever could have imagined into my world, as did I into his. Early memories: having me shave his head as a tribute to his dear friend Dick Higgins; illustrating one of Higgins's Danger Music scores. Or flying to Spain from London one winter holiday to visit my longtime friends and marveling at Geoff pick oranges to bring back to London and share with our loved ones.

We made our public declaration in a wedding created at Judson Church, during the finale of a memorial-celebration Happening for our mutual friend Al Hansen, twenty-three years ago. Geoff would have been my age today when that event was staged, in 1995.

Ray Johnson and Geoff's late spouse, Brian Buczak, were artist friends well before Brian moved to New York City. Coincidently, both Brian and I moved here in 1976-he from Detroit and I from Montreal. We were the same age. It is Buster who should be credited for seeding me into Ray's mail-art Correspondance School, effectively inseminating acquaintanceships among me, Geoff, Brian, and Ray that developed through the 1980s.

Stephen Varble was someone of curious interest to me, and my fascination intensified when I discovered Stephen and Geoff had a two-year affair as lovers and collaborators. They were also characters in a James Purdy story. I've archived binders of their correspondence. Before Stephen, Geoff was married for a decade (1962-72) to the artist and poet Bici Forbes, aka Nye Ffarrabas, with whom he parented two children. These relationships gave birth to profound creative synergies in each of us: Bici, Stephen, Brian, and me.

Varble and Buczak are no longer here, but Nye Ffarrabas is, and was invited to collaborate on a show with Geoff earlier this year that would highlight some of their early joint and independent projects over the decades that were never fully realized. With Brian, Geoff cofounded Money for Food Press, an artist-book publishing initiative that produced a boxed edition celebrating the tenth anniversary of our wedding event. Later this year, some of Geoff's collaborations with Stephen will be shown at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in “Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble,” an exhibition curated by David Getsy.

Back to our adventurous life together. Some of it is detailed in year-end letters that were produced over several of our earliest years together; we printed the dispatches on colored papers and snail-mailed them to our combined list of 1,800 friends and family. All played a role in our lives, as would many of Geoff's students from his forty-six years of teaching at Rutgers University (and elsewhere), beginning in 1956. The catalogue Geoff edited, Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia and Rutgers University, 1958-72-which accompanied an exhibition we codesigned in 2003-has become an essential contribution to scholarship on that period. Our partnership as cocurators began in the 1990s with Visual AIDS, a New York-based organization that uses art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue, supporting HIV+ artists, and preserving a legacy-because AIDS is not over. We both lost partners to the AIDS pandemic. Geoff with Brian Buczak, who died in 1987, and myself with painter and art bookmaker Andreas Senser, who died two years later. My collaborations with Geoff continued in many cities on three continents for over two decades.

Years before Geoff, I had been courted by a man considered royalty in the BDSM world. He was taken aback when he had learned of my having wed Geoff: “You didn't tell me you married a freak!” was his response when I told him Geoff was an artist who had performed in the blood and guts of a Hermann Nitsch event. I was as surprised by his response as Geoff likely was when he heard Billy Name describe me to him, at our wedding, as “the love I had that got away.”

Sur Rodney (Sur) is a writer, archivist, and pundit based in London.

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