It’s 9:44 p.m. on the last Monday in October.
I just finished editing the last first draft for Open Space’s last season. Lots more editing to do, but — no more opening the new submission, wondering what you’re getting versus what you commissioned. No more sending it back to the writer, thanking/querying/cajoling/explaining … that’s all over now.
For the longest time I haven’t known how to begin this goodbye. I’ve had it noted in the editorial calendar as “Solong&thanksforallthefish,” a dumb sf in-joke with myself, some form of comfort food.
And what is there, really, to say, that hasn’t been said in one form or another by someone or other on this rabbit warren of a site?1 Open Space doesn’t lend itself to summary, to closure — certainly not by one person. As founding editor Suzanne Stein wrote when we tasked her with addressing the site on its tenth birthday:
And but so. Now it’s 4:04 p.m. on the first Monday in November. It may be true that the pleasurable things always get delayed. But not endings: Here we are, last stop, on the heels of former managing editor Gordon Faylor’s evocative, oblique farewell. That’s not a royal we — I invited Suzanne to join me for this post, or she suggested it, or more probably it was somewhere in the happy middle. It’s a funny (hard, maddening) thing to run a tiny, for-artists-by-artists program inside a big institution; being able to collaborate with Suzanne, especially these last few months, has helped ease the strange loneliness of it. I’m grateful to her: for envisioning and building this site, for inviting me to take over its stewardship, for being a superlative collaborator and friend.
I’m grateful to everyone who has helped to make Open Space what it is… whatever version that is, to you. I just said that OS is tiny, which it is: Currently a team of one, supported by a sole funder (thank you Davis/Dauray Family Fund!), it’s always at most been a half-handful of people inside SFMOMA (Grace Ambrose, Gordon… I see your deft hands in so many of these beautiful pages, and in so many memories of our by-the-seat-of-our-pants parties), and a few kind souls borrowed on occasion from other departments (thank you Gillian Edevane, thank you Noah Biavaschi, thank you Sam Mende-Wong, thank you Bosco Hernández — and thank you Sylvia Castillo, dear Sylvia, without whom this page, along with myriad others produced in the last couple of years, would not look nearly so spiffy). But the whole point — the possibility and the rub — lies in looking beyond the edifice, and then: so many contributors! So many coffee and cocktail dates, studio visits and tech rehearsals. Meetings and showings and consultations and collaborations, notebooks full of plans realized and forgotten. And edits, edits, edits… always edits.
More than anything final, it’s this making-of that feels important now: the dedication to trying something, perhaps something one doesn’t know quite how to do, or why, and seeing how far one can take it. The wondering and wrangling and debating and eye-rolling and laughing and trying again next time. That’s how art has always made sense to me, as a making sense of this world, using the materials and means at hand, and then sending whatever results out into the same world, in vanishingly rare instances changing it, every once in awhile connecting, and more often than not simply being reabsorbed. Nothing worth keeping lasts by staying the same.
Is that true? Maybe. Maybe not. Let me say instead, at 11:22 a.m. on November 9, 2021: I have such gratitude for all of this, and all of you. For the messy, uncomfortable, imperfect, glorious present that was and always will be Open Space.
And so (now! November 29, 11:32 a.m. — no, wait, make that December 1, 3:57 p.m.!), finally: So long, and thanks for all the fish.
When I left SFMOMA five years ago, it never occurred to me I’d remain so involved as to be composing a last post, as (un)certainly as I penned the first. I should have known, perhaps: It speaks to the ideals of the publication. See, you leave a job. You don’t keep doing it! But what you can’t leave — even in a breakup — is a relationship. And Open Space describes a net of relation.
Open Space was (past tense!) an experiment, a challenge, an architecture, a lark. (Also, a thing that sings.) When I talked my way into the situation that would become this publication, I promised myself that, for a duration of two years, this alone would be my poetic experiment. Thirteen years on I’m startled when I consider the macro view: so many hands, so many minds, so many lines! A lot happens in a decade-plus, as Claudia points to above; I’ve said farewell once already and I’ve even summed up.
This feels like a moment to simply say thanks.
To Gordon Faylor, for editorial companionship and his expansive curatorial intelligence, whose care for the esoteric, the wildly experimental, and the historical brought new texture and dimension to Open Space, not only but especially where poetry is concerned.
On behalf of all of us (writers, artists, readers!) to Cody Carvel, poet and digital fellow at Brown University, who extensively advised and supported me as we worked hard to preserve possible futures for the Open Space archive. Many smart and caring people are part of this effort, and I feel confident our work is secure.
And, thoroughly, to Claudia, from whom I’ve learned so much. When I passed editorship of this weird experiment to her I couldn’t have known she would become dear friend, confidant, collaborator. This artist, so generous in creating space and time for others, who — knowingly! — took a job that meant she’d be privileging others’ work over her own. She invited me to join Open Space as writer myself, allowing me for the first time to feel what so many contributors had expressed to me over the years: The freedom to write, unconstrained, in so public a platform, is a transformative creative and critical experience. And it makes the loss of this unique publishing endeavor feel all the more poignant for me, and just a little bit harder to bear. And as to those edits, edits, edits: not only supporting, but gently, elegantly, making others’ work better—this gift, this particular form of care, so often invisible.
I would like to mention some of Claudia’s other achievements on behalf of this community of artists as well. Her first effort as editor-in-chief was to ensure that contributors no longer needed to seek permission from SFMOMA to republish their own work. Before the end of her first year, she saw that Open Space was W.A.G.E. certified, which meant that contributors would be paid a fair wage scale calculated in relation to SFMOMA’s total operating costs — the only outlet of the museum that could claim to be so transparently equitable! Claudia expanded Open Space’s live, in-person component to include dance, performance, and sound collaborations; and together with Gordon began to commission poets not only for essays and commentary, but for poetry plain and simple. Critically, crucially, they expanded access and invitation to so many people and voices traditionally marginalized, not only within arts publishing, but within the walls of the museum itself.
Open Space was always within, and against. This tension and contradiction was built in from the beginning, made it what it was. If the platform is lost, I like to think the possibility isn’t.
Finally, and especially, to each of you who have ever had a hand in this thing, and you know you who are: for your thinking, making, and talking within and for Open Space, and for your friendship, attention, and conversation. We — collective we — made something fierce, unkempt, something alive. Open Space, never a collection of things, always a constellation of people, ideas, expressions —
How does one do justice to such an ever-expanding entity, to get at its density and its reach? We asked Lenny Gonzalez to try. His answer, in collaboration with animator Chris O’Dowd, is this video, the final Open Space commission.
We recommend full screen, sound on:
- I could only laugh when SS reminded me that “so long & thanks for” is the title of her goodbye in 2016, which I of course have read (and quoted from!) more than once... I will miss these footnotes, no matter how many times they have broken.
It was a beautiful thing while it lasted. But now when we refer back to the great writing, it will be more as markers of the past, rather than breathy reports on the present. Thanks to Claudia and Suzanne for years of grand effort.
my goodness, i’ve never been so choked up watching names float on a screen, but the difference here is how many people i actually know. that never happens when i read a roster of people who have contributed work to a museum, but open space defies the normal. this is real community engagement, and to think of it going away, well, damn, if sfmoma doesn’t want to be a part of my community i see no reason why i should be a part of theirs. but also, and really i want to stay focused on the good stuff – i am so grateful to suzanne and claudia and gordon and all the folks they thanked above who made all of this work available to the bay area and beyond. we will all miss you all so much. xo, pg