Shannon Michael Cane (1974-2017) was a friend of Visual AIDS. He curated exhibitions with us; provided space for us at Printed Matter and the New York & Los Angeles Art Book Fairs where he worked; introduced artists to our organization; and introduced us to new artists and people keeping the legacy of artists alive who have died due to the ongoing epidemic. He was a connector, bridge-builder, mentor, style maker, cheerleader, truth-teller, bullshit detector, lover and friend. It was with great sadness then that we learned that Shannon died earlier this month. Our world, our work and the art and publishing worlds of New York and beyond will not be the same without him. As his obituary in The New York Times rightly stated, Shannon was a force.
One of the hardest things to accept about Shannon's death, (and about death in general) is that it is permanent. This may sound silly, or even trite. But it is true. Friends report having false sightings of Shannon at his own memorial, others are having a hard time remembering that Shannon will not be around for future plans they had made together. Death, as it happens, is hard to get used to. And so, we need each other not only to help bare witness to the fullness of a person's life, but also to be there for support when we are reminded that the person is gone.
To memorialize and carry on Shannon's lifework, Printed Matter has created the Shannon Michael Cane Memorial Fund, which will "support future projects carried out in his memory."
To further honor Shannon, his life and his contribution, below, we share memories and tributes, along with images (above), that we have collected. They are for Shannon, and for us.
“Positive Queen Feels Negative. Goes Shopping” – This was one of my favorite T-shirts that Shannon would wear – the statement coming from David McDiarmid’s artwork, one of many artists he championed, simply because he felt that everyone should know his work. He was that way with so many artists, especially young queer artists – through his publications, writing, curating, organizing, and of course, the New York Art Book Fair, he gave so many people a platform to speak their voice and share their point of view – truthfully and unapologetically, just like himself. I first meet Shannon by email, when he was still in Australia. He contacted Visual AIDS about a publication he was working on. It was issue #005 of They Shoot Homos Don’t They?, the Positive issue. I remember his press release stated “Stop being so negative! Be positive instead. Being positive is about more than just viral loads. It’s something everyone should aspire to. Studies show that being positive is actually infectious.” Shannon’s positive attitude (though often cutting) was certainly infectious. With him, you know he would “cut the shit”, and tell it as it is, at least that’s how it felt. Shannon moved to New York around the time that issue of TSHDT? was launched. He generously gave me a copy. That issue of TSHDT? was ahead of the curve. In 2008, work around HIV/AIDS was in a second silence, there were few exhibitions or art publications dealing with a cultural response to HIV/AIDS and even fewer that had the same attitude and humor that TSHDT? did. While at Visual AIDS, I often turned back to that publication for inspiration.
In 2013, I invited Shannon to curate a show for Visual AIDS, which was up at Printed Matter from June 28-July 28, as part of NOT OVER, a series of exhibitions for Visual AIDS 25th anniversary. Shannon persuaded LA-based artists, prvtdncer and bodega vendetta to collaborate on show of drawing and collages. It was a fabulous exhibition. Visual AIDS had a small budget for the show, Shannon but in his “artists-first” kind of way, used his curatorial fee to publish a zine of all the work. The exhibition and publication was titled House in Vermont. This was the first time I heard of that term (which abbreviates to HIV). He described it to me, as “you know, it’s like when you and a friend see a guy in a bar, and your friend says to you, oh, he has a house in Vermont.” Shannon, like many of us, used humor as a way to deal with all the heaviness in life.
A few weeks ago, I asked Shannon if he would moderate a talk I was organizing about queer underground comics. He got back to me and said he was “going through a really shitty time with stress and anxieties” and “wasn’t up to speaking in public”. I sympathized and told him we should grab a coffee soon. He agreed. The night of the talk he took the time to DM me to wish me luck. That’s the last I heard from Shannon. I feel it necessary to mention this, because in such a stressful city, time and age we live in, we often don’t give these feelings of stress and anxiety the attention it deserves, me included. I don’t know all of Shannon’s details, but I know that anxiety takes a toll on the mind and body, and we should all take the time to check in with each other more. We should remember that “being positive is something everyone should aspire to.” We should be kind to each other. I know that Shannon was not the sentimental type, but he was a big hearted soul, and he will be missed. I miss him.
Shannon Michael Cane - Shaz - what a legend. A creative, fiery, gorgeous, adventurous nugget of a guy. I've been turning my house here in Melbourne upside down looking for a photo of you: big smile, Fitzroy Pool straddling an inflatable dolphin, only a couple of tatts then. You took on organising the Midsumma (Melbourne LGBTIQ Arts Festival) Pool Party, mad queer mayhem with music and edgy queer style you morphed into your 'Witness Protection Program' parties. You DJ'd, we danced as requested.
You worked at Polyester Records in Brunswick St, Fitzroy, right near the tram stop to get home. I'd pop in to check in with all the plans, projects and collaborations going on. You had that infamous framed photo of your Mum Judy hanging behind the counter, "Coles Supermarket Checkout Operator of the Year, 1986." We loved it.
You published They Shoot Homos Don't They?, a queer zine publication that stood out from the rest, a showcase of inspiring art/artists/text/analysis that took you to the world/NYC/Printed Matter.
I'd see you in New York, on my residency there with Visual AIDS in 2015. We compared notes, made a couple of plans. Your generous enthusiasm was electric, you made things happen. In Melbourne, we talked all things David McDiarmid and made a point of viewing his 1993 publication, Toxic Queen, one of your favourites.
I was in awe and you were awesome. You will be missed by all...travel well Shaz xx
Further down Commercial Street, I could see his face lit up by his phone when my pocket whirred. It was after 1am when Shannon texted me to meet him outside the Boatslip. Those words from him followed a years-long chat history consisting of practically nothing but images of hirsute men, mostly guys who looked like burly idiots, followed by exclamation points. They were the kind of men you imagine are only good for one thing and it wasn’t changing tires. Most were quickly snapped pics he and I had taken with our phones in subway cars or when passing construction sites. We were creeps. The texts would appear on my phone without warning, often at inopportune moments, and then I wouldn’t hear from him for months until the next one or until we coordinated hugs in Chelsea. We did this for the better part of a decade.
When I finally reached him, he was locking his bike to a street sign across from the beach access on Commercial. It was a Sunday night and everyone had already fled P-town for the week, back to their lives in Minneapolis or Dallas or Berlin or wherever. He was insistent we find some trouble to get into. I reeked of a basement disco party and was soaking wet. He had also been working up a sweat, but wouldn’t say from where. He threw his arm around me with a shit-eating grin and walked me down the steps to the beach. And then Shannon Michael Cane took me to the dick dock for the first time.
We purposely lost each other the moment we stepped below the deck. He waited for me at the top of the stairs.
If you’re reading this, the name Shannon Michael Cane has probably passed your ears or lips at one point or another. I’ve known Shannon for about a decade now. What once started as an online chat, became something much more. I drove out to New York City from the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania to attend the launch of issue 17 of Christopher Schultz's Pinups magazine. This was my first time meeting Shannon in person. I dropped my truck off in front of his place in Bed-stuy, then took the train into the city, headed to Printed Matter. Once I arrived at the old store front, I stood out front sweating and nervous. I gathered enough nerve to finally walk in the store. I asked the associate where I could find Shannon. Next thing I knew, his head was popping around the corner. He walked out and grabbed his hanky from his back pocket to pat the sweat off my forehead. I then received a kiss and a long, tight hug. A hug that felt different from anything I’ve felt before. He made me feel like we had just hung out the night prior, which made my awkwardness and shyness disappear. His infectious, passionately creative personality brought out the best in people, myself included. One of the things he taught a lot of people was to be comfortable in their own skin and not to give a fuck what people thought. Shannon will be greatly missed but not forgotten as his legacy will live on through our memories of him. Goodnight, babes.
I was fortunate to know Shannon through his years in NYC. He was the center of my NYC family, and a primary force in my life. I’m contributing two very special pictures that represent his passion for publishing, and being naked in a body of water. In 2009 Shannon asked me to take his portrait to accompany an interview he had given about his publication, They Shoot Homos Don't They?. We took pictures at his home, and his beloved dog, Goose, would not get out of the shot, so we included him. Shannon later had "Goose" tattooed across his chest. The other picture was from a trip to Vermont last summer. We went swimming in a lake and a river. This is Shannon in his element. I will always remember his love for that place, and how carefree and happy he was jumping naked off cliffs into the water.
Shannon and I came up in the gay bear scene and NY art scene over the years and always had an extra connection in each milieu that bonded us (with a smile and a hug) when we’d see each other. I’d see Shannon at a hairy bear-y house party or a Chelsea opening and feel so relieved I knew someone there that understood me beyond any one particular setting and who I could talk to about dicks or art but mostly dicks. We had a decade long running joke about how much I hated tattoos and how I jokingly disapproved of his extensive assortment (which, to be honest, were pretty cool looking on him).
Shannon was smart, passionate about his work and his lovers (of which he left a masterfully long list), and he had the most unapologetic potty mouth of anyone I knew that always made me laugh. Shannon worked tirelessly to promote the work of under the radar artists, many of whom were LGBTQ, and he often extended the same gesture to Fire Island Artist Residency, shoehorning us into Printed Matter’s programming when he could, and always making us feel welcome and appreciated. We had only just participated in his masterpiece, the NY Art Book Fair, for the first time in September where you could see Shannon pacing the halls making sure the event lived up to his standards. It is one of the most ambitious, accessible, freaky, well organized art events I’ve ever been to, and I can’t imagine it without him.
He left behind his beloved dog Fanny who he doted on and cared for like only the best dog owners do. It’s hard to understand what could make a person leave their pet when the connection is that strong, and it anchors my reflections in the circumstances of what happened. The sadness that took him was swift, cruel, and cunning. It created an alternate reality where none of us existed, where the hairy bears who waited their turn, and the artists who were full of gratitude and enthusiasm couldn’t reach him. I remember him today for what he was beyond the biological tragedy of his depression. I'm smiling imagining him lovingly calling me a "stupid cunt" for attempting this tribute to him today.
(Shannon, Dude, I’m sorry Visual AIDS asked me! What was I gonna do?! I am wearing your “Everlasting Secret Family” shirt today. It’s the coolest shirt I have, and it was something you made. You are still here in all of us and you will not be forgotten.)
Shannon was and will remain an incredible force in my life who challenged me in numerous ways. As with so many others, he was an advocate on my behalf and championed my work, pushing me to be more authentic and free. He was the most fearless individual I've ever known. Farewell Bluey.
PAUL MARTIN (sweaterqueens)
Shannon was amazing, he had one eye on you and two ears on everyone else. He gave queer art a platform to be seen, he loved it and we loved him. His encouragement and support made being a queer artist worth it. Shannon made the artworld less gross and the act of making printed matter worth it. You are missed but never forgotten.❤️ U
I am so proud to have known Shannon. He changed our lives. His energy and humor was intoxicating. He raised us up and let us know that our expressions matter. Shannon was one of the most enjoyable people to collaborate with. He and I were kindred nerds, and every new mystery uncovered I looked forward to sharing with Shannon. He was a guardian of David Wojnarowicz’s work and now I like to think Wojnarowicz is his guardian spirit. It feels right to quote David……
“What is this little guy’s job in the world. If this little guy dies does the world know? Does the world feel this? Does something get displaced? If this little guy dies does the world get a little lighter? Does the planet rotate a little faster? If this little guy dies, without his body to shift the currents of air, does the air flow perceptibly faster? What shifts if this little guy dies? Do people speak language a little bit differently? If this little guy dies will some little kid somewhere wake up with a bad dream? Does an almost imperceptible link in the chain snap? Will civilization stumble?” – David Wojnarowicz, 1990
Yes we will stumble. We love you Shannon. You will never be forgotten.
In my last interaction with Shannon, he gave me some much needed advice on how to deal with "bitchy queens who think they live inside Drag Race." He was straightforward AF, so the fact that he took me sometimes into his confidence, and publicly championed what we do, was frankly, one of the highest forms of endorsement I've received as a person. I am devastated thinking about all the things that will be left unsaid in his absence, especially for us weird little folks in the weird little corner of the queer universe we occupy in publishing and the arts.
The first time I remember meeting Shannon was for a holiday dinner I had at my house, likely 2011. Shannon came over with Matt Connors. He brought over a delicious casserole. He definitely did not leave his casserole dish behind. I remember attempting to initiate a poker game that night but everyone was more interested in talking – so the game was sunk.
After Roddy moved to New York I’d see Shannon all the time. Roddy, Matt and Shannon were a triad. Saying their three names together became a reflexive gesture. They would often go to plays, vacations or dinners together. Given my longstanding friendship with both Matt and Roddy, Shannon became part of my New York family.
Thinking of the three of them as brothers, Shannon would definitely be the wild younger brother. Yet sometimes I feel like he would treat me like a younger brother and tell me to shut up. He had a life energy about him that was always going for it. This is evidenced through the hundreds of pictures we have documenting Shannon’s life. Someone could easily make a book called Nude Cane. While I never went swimming with him, I’m sure he was the first one in the water. He posted countless videos of himself jumping off of high places into bodies of water. If he was ever wearing clothes in these videos, I was usually disappointed and would comment as such.
A weird thing about living in New York – you can spend your moving life never seeing people who also live here. Or there are certain people you always run into. I was always running into Shannon. We were often biking in opposite directions on the Williamsburg bridge. It feels like an understood thing that you just wave and yell when you are moving at high speeds in opposite directions. The last night I saw Shannon alive was on the Williamsburg bridge - passing at a high speed. I screamed and waved.
In 2014 I published a book of 26 artist interviews. It was the first thing I had ever published apart from nasty zines I had made in college. The exercise was largely my compulsion to shine light on ideas and dialogues I wanted to see in the world. This followed with a zine made with Jackie Klempay where we interviewed Jerry The Marble Faun.
I applied to be in the book fair and Shannon let me in with rigorous conditions. His rigorous conditions triggered a kind of paternal need to please him. I felt a lot of pressure to do a good job. This kind of fire made me work harder and instilled a kind of pressure to make things of quality. The precedent was set and I felt that pressure every time I was fortunate to be a part of the book fair.
Shannon had a casual ability to plant ideas or further encourage developing ideas. Two examples. Matt had a dinner party while Cedar was in town. Cedar and I were discussing our love for the poet Alfred Starr Hamilton and the book of his poetry put out by Song Cave (which I discovered at the Book Fair). Cedar and his friends had begun using Hamilton’s style as an exercise in writing. Shannon casually mentioned that this was a great idea for the book fair. Based on this encouragement, Cedar and I then produced one of what would be many poetry chapbooks based on a poet, theme or translation.Second example: I met Alissa Bennett largely through publishing and other dark corners. After we published Dead is Better we were going to do a book release at Printed Matter. Shannon mentioned how he really wanted a Layne Staley slideshow. This casual suggestion led to an important working method which Alissa continues to develop on. These two examples could seem like minor things, but I bring them up to shed a light on how Shannon was always pushing the medium along. He was more than a mere organizer. He developed a thoughtful analysis with the people he worked with. I know there are hundreds of people that have similar stories related to their Shannon’s impact on the development of their work.
Self publishing is a method that needs no middlemen – a medium where you can find a direct voice put on to paper. It’s a direct line. Shannon is largely, maybe some will argue solely, responsible for the popularity and chorus of voices present at each book fair. The art book fair model is now reproduced in many other cities. Self-publishing has amplified a large number of voices that may not have another venue. I’ve met many people through self publishing that have become important peers in my life, a trend that continues the longer I do this. This is completely due to Shannon in that he gave me a chance and kept casually encouraging me along the way. He continually introduced me to kindred spirits I now call friends.
The years 2013-2017 will be remembered as a golden era for self publishing and the Art book fairs with Shannon and Jordan at the helm. I absolutely can’t imagine what a book fair would be without Shannon. And I’m crushed thinking about a New York without him in it. He was a life model – helping to create a world he wanted to see.
I recently attended the Joanne Kyger memorial at the St Marks Poetry Project. Two separate poets chose to read the poem "Night Palace", and I’d like to end by sharing it.
By Joanne Kyger
"The best thing about the past
is that it's over"
when you die.
you wake up
from the dream
that's your life.
Then you grow up
and get to be post human
in a past that keeps happening
ahead of you
If you would like to add a memory or tribute, email [email protected]