|Robert Seydel, Untitled (To Joseph C)|
via "Ode to Robert Seydel" from This Is The What
It is hard for me to talk about him, because I want so much to describe him to you, especially now that he is gone - to keep alive forever the way he paced around the classroom (always caught up in the rapture of a piece of art, abandoning his sentences unfinished, grinning to himself and shaking his head, flailing his hands), the particular way he spoke (always full of idearrrrs instead of ideas, as if he had to ground them in the world with the long tail of rolled rs so they wouldn't float away), the leaps his mind made (a student of his recalls a photography critique with him: "After we finished talking about it, he said, 'Well, it's obvious you need to take a linguistics class.' Only Robert would say that... but of course, he was right.")
|Robert Seydel, Ole? Boen, from A Fauna, 2005 |
Mixed media on card, 6 1/2" x 4 1/2"
via the Cue Art Foundation
|A section of the finished structure.|
I took a class with Robert my first semester at Hampshire, and it made me the happiest girl in the world - because Robert's class was an absolute revelation. From Robert, I learned that the things I loved the most (tiny bottles, walking in magical cities at night, toys, trinkets, amulets, dreams, the feel of old streets in the rain, fantastical window displays in shuttered shops, alchemy, museums, cabinets of curiosity, Charles Baudelaire) were not only beloved by others but a legitimate thing to study. It was Robert who introduced me to Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project, Joseph Cornell, Rosamond Purcell, Rebecca Solnit, and more and many more. It was Robert who treated it like a perfectly ordinary and understandable thing that I would want to study miniatures, daydream, wonder, and the spaces nested into paintings and poetry - not external landscapes but the internal worlds of imagination. It was Robert who encouraged me to put my finger on the sense of the spirituality I feel is inherent in the making of beautiful spaces, who nudged me towards the combination of reverie and reverence that led me to spend the better part of a year building a room one part city street, one part library, one part Alice-in-Wonderland wood, and one part temple in my living room - the physical genesis, of course, of the Museum. (I originally conceived of the space as a series of rounded egg-shaped huts full of mystical artifacts. No wonder I fell in love with cob.) The Museum of Joy is the flower of a seed that was planted during my time at Hampshire, a seed I would never have discovered without Robert's help. It was he who said to me that the twin pursuits of reverie (daydream, wonder, imagination, invention) and reverence (love for things and people and places, a sense of the holy, a feeling of the invisible and the mysterious) were not only worth pursuing but desperately important.
"To tune reverie and dream to usage," he wrote in my final evaluation, "- to design a new domestic arrangement to accommodate and foster the complexities of interior life, to shape kitchen, living room, and loft in accordance with the dictates of beauty and magic, is an exercise that is both ethical and life affirming to a rare degree, and has wonderful future implications. To embed imagination in the locus of daily living seems, in conclusion, a superb and exemplary ambition, not to say an alchemical one."
Robert is gone, although his amazing works remain, or some of them, along with an incredible book that anyone who loves the act of making art should get their hands on. But his words to me - "to embed imagination in the locus of daily living seems a superb and exemplary ambition" - well, perhaps they hold more weight because he's gone, because I can't go back to him and sit and talk about books any more, or seeing the world like a child, or language, or magic boxes. The only way I can communicate with him now is to live the things he gave me - that is, to make sure they don't die by keeping them alive in me. I feel a deep reverence for Robert and his way of seeing, and a reverence for the world that he opened up to me, the daydream of a world, the wondrous reimagining of the ordinary. But I can't just go and say thank you, not now, not ever again. I can only offer up the things I have because of him, can only try and put back into the world some of what was taken out upon his leaving. And when I let my mind wander into the dream of the Museum, I see him off away on a hillside, stomping around in his boots and reading poems into the wind.