June 1985. I had a summer job on a seismic boat in the Gulf of Mexico. Anticipating plenty of reading time, I brought several books with me, including the Labyrinths (Modern Library, 1983), an anthology of fiction and nonfiction by by Jorge Luis Borges. It was a good trip for reading--I also read Moby-Dick and Guerrillas by V.S. Naipaul. All astonishing books, but Labyriths was the one that engrossed me most. By the end of summer I had also read Brodie's Report and had become a life-long devotee of the bookish Argentine writer.
Winter 1987. I had a job in Brazil and took occasional side trips to Buenos Aires. I loved exploring old bookstores there. I spent two days in La Recoleta Cemetary looking for the Borges family mausoleum. It was a maze--a labyrinth--of extravagant, beautiful tombs. Of course I never found it. Borges is buried in Geneva.
2000. I wrote and published a short pamphlet called Ron Regé and his Precursors, an homage to Borges' classic essay, "Kafka and his Precursors."
Early 2010. I saw Ward Sanders' work at Hooks Epstein Gallery for the first time. Each piece is a wooden box that appears quite ancient, filled with a strange cacophony of seemingly antique objects and pieces of paper. They are like wunderkammern, the Renaissance collections of curious artistic and scientific objects that prefigured the modern museum. But Sanders' boxes aren't meant to show real history, but to construct artificial antiquity. They are like collections of hrönir, the objects on the planet of Tlön in the Borges story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" which are found (and thus come into existence) because someone is searching for them.
The systematic production of hrönir (says Volume Eleven) has been of invaluable aid to archaeologists, making it possible not only to interrogate but even to modify the past, which is now no less plastic, no less malleable than the future. ("Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley)I was spell-bound by Sanders' objects. I bought one called Zarzuelas.
Ward Sanders, Zarzuelas (closed), assemblage, 11" x 16" x 5.5", 2010
Ward Sanders, Zarzuelas (partially open), assemblage, 11" x 16" x 5.5", 2010
Ward Sanders, Zarzuelas (open), assemblage, 11" x 16" x 5.5", 2010
October 2011. Another show by Sanders at Hooks Epstein Gallery. This time, Sanders made the literary quality of the work more explicit by adding a bit of gnomic text to each piece. The texts reminded of Borges. I met Sanders and we got to talking about literature. He told me he loved Italo Calvino. He recommended Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman. But then he shocked me by admitting that he had never read Borges.
To me, Sanders' boxes are like illustrations of imaginary Borges stories. I told him that he must read Borges. I said, you have a Borges-shaped hole in your literary life. This void had just been waiting for him to fill it. His excuse was that he didn't want to start into a writer's oeuvre if it was too vast. I smiled and told him that all of Borges' fiction fits into a single large volume.
September 2013. Sanders has a two person show (with Jacqueline Dee Parker) up at Hooks Epstein. I went there for the opening, but the space was so crowded that I decided not to enter. I walked past and looked at some art in other galleries. I came back a little later and the space had opened up a bit. I went in and there was Sanders.
He came up to me and let me right back out of the gallery. We went to his car. He had something for me in a paper shopping bag. It was a wooden box made of rough old wood and has a glass top. Under the glass are three sections. The top section has an antique comb. The central section has what I think is a cat skull with a metal attachment (that looks a little like a toe clip from a bicycle) and some pieces of string. The bottom is stuffed with old blue pieces of paper that look a little like laundry tickets. The box is titled A Borges Shaped Hole (for Robert Boyd).
Ward Sanders, A Borges Shaped Hole (for Robert Boyd), assemblage, 2013
He included a card with a Borges epigram: "That one individual should awaken in another memories that belong still to a third is an obvious paradox." On such an occasion, Borges would no doubt have some erudite statements on the heterogeneous history of gift-giving. I was just speechless.