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by Robert Rodger
‘Every letter I write is not a love letter’. Inventing sociality with Ray Johnson’s postal system.”
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Taping Ray

by Nicholas Maravell

Content Tags: Hofstra, Ray

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I attended a friend’s poor taste theme party one evening during the winter of 1982. Thinking there might be something interesting happening I lugged along a dinosaur of a reel-to-reel video recorder. Unfortunately, I never could get the old machine to work as the night was cold and it had stayed in my car too long. It was at this party that I met Ray Johnson.

Creative party favors were given out to everyone there and in my surprise package were small rolls of silver adhesive tape. At some point after meeting Ray, it seemed to me the correct thing to do was to wrap adhesive tape around him. I also wrapped tape around myself and several of the other guests. While video taping didn’t occur that night, I was able to adhesive tape Ray.

The first time I did successfully video record Ray was five years later in 1987. He and I had run into each other at a New Year’s Party and, as always, it was so interesting to talk with him. Realizing that these moments would come and go I mentioned that I had recently purchased some better quality video equipment. I then asked Ray if he would be interested in being recorded, to which he agreed.

A friend, Nadine Palumbo, helped with the first video tapings scheduled just days later at Hofstra University where I was then teaching. Ray arrived with a cardboard box full of artwork and I brought the video equipment which included a television monitor that we kept on live throughout the recordings. Drawings and collages were documented first, and in no time, we realized what more could be done with video based upon seeing Ray on the screen.

During the year and a half that followed, Ray organized fifteen more video sessions. For these meetings, he and I would go to specific locations pertinent to the nature of each video. Ray always had something in mind to tape and we were always open to allowing whatever else might happen to be included as part of the recordings.

With great care I tried to take images of him that accurately showed him as he wished to be recorded.

Not long after Ray’s death, public interest in these videos began to develop as I had a collection of the few recordings of him to exist. An edited Sampler tape, a compilation sampling of all of my video material, was presented at Ray’s Memorial at the Friends Meeting House in Manhattan, N.Y. on April 29, 1995. The Sampler was then shown at Jonas Mekas’ Anthology Film Archives two months later on June 17 and 18, 1995. In addition, several minutes were continuously played at Ray’s 1999 Whitney Retrospective. Over four minutes of these videos were included in the 2003 Andrew Moore and John Walter documentary film “How to Draw a Bunny”. After this experience, my friend Bob Rodger suggested we make available the entire seven plus hour video collection to help give a more complete sense of Ray’s presence.

This idea motivated me to organize the original VHS tapes I had of Ray by importing them into a computer. Once there, I added subtle fade ins, fade outs, and informative titles that included the dates and locations of each recording. Digitizing the material also made it possible for me to clean up the audio and picture quality. I was pleased that I could do all of these video procedures myself as I felt it my responsibility to preserve the artistic nature of what I had recorded with Ray. The next step was to copy everything to dvds and make them available through the website that Bob so brilliantly created. Without Bob Rodger’s great help and vision, the entirety of these recordings would still be relatively unknown.