Shannon Michael Cane : A Celebration Archive Exhibition

Tue 25 June

Curated by Mark Poston and Colin Carmichael

IN MEMORIAM : Shannon Michael Cane

Gay Semiotics is a book compiling a 1977 series by Hal Fischer that features photographs of (then) contemporary gay men in San Francisco's Castro and Haight-Ashbury districts. True to the study of semiotics, each image features notations explaining what various items of clothing, accoutrements, and their overall style signalled about the wearer's particular interests (primarily sexual fetishes), behavior or subcultural archetypes (military, leather, cowboy, and so on).

It's fitting that one of Shannon's book recommendations was Gay Semiotics because, in his lifetime, he achieved deity-level status as someone who could not only read subcultural signs and signifiers but who activated and accelerated them. SMC (as he was oft abbreviated) was an expert in the arcane design of gay semiotics and subcultural semiotics in general.

As a tireless promoter of things he found exciting (including but not limited to: artists, films, bands, bars, books, albums, exhibitions, historical footnotes and interesting anecdotes), Shannon regularly sported the logos, slogans, icons, and names of things he loved on t-shirts. Moreover, he produced his bootleg t-shirts to champion them, routinely promoting and promulgating ideas, artists, and cultural movements through a subcultural iconography.

Shannon's proselytising had a strong impact on the arts scene of Melbourne in the early 2000s, where his maverick and mischievous antics were legendary. When he wasn't behind the desk chatting with patrons about music and art at Polyester Records or Outre Gallery, he was throwing his infamous Witness Protection Program parties, and busy founding the ground-breaking gay zine, They Shoot Homos Don't They?

After being invited by AA Bronson, then director of Printed Matter, to launch an edition of TSHDT? at the New York Art Book Fair in 2006, Shannon moved to New York City in 2008 where he eventually undertook the role of curator for Printed Matter's book fairs and editions. He revolutionised art book fairs during his time at Printed Matter, providing a counterbalance to the at times excessively cerebral or dry conceptual work by promoting work that was fun, irreverent, edgy, and sexy. He lifted up emerging artists and moved arts culture forward with his passion, vision and humour.

Nelson Santos, Visual AIDS, 22 November 2017
As designer and artist Nelson Santos remembered, Shannon often used his prominent position to champion emerging and early career artists whom he loved “simply because he felt that everyone should know their work. He was that way with so many artists, especially young queer artists-through his publications, writing, curating, organising, 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.”

Listen : SmartArts Remembering Shannon Michael Cane

Triple R's Oliver Coleman (guest hosting SmartArts) spoke with Mark Poston about Shannon’s legacy and impact on the arts scene in Naarm/Melbourne.

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In 2017, Shannon passed away, leaving a huge void among friends and a vast network of collaborators. Since 2024 would have seen SMC celebrate his 50th birthday, RISING joined with Shannon's friends to celebrate his work and memory. A party and an exhibition, curated by Mark Poston and Colin Carmichael, took place as part of the opening night of the festival on 01 June, 2024.

For those who aren't familiar with SMC, this was the perfect opportunity to get to know him and his favourite artists, friends, and collaborators, and to celebrate SMC's positive force, which inspired so many worldwide. It was a huge coming together in the name of friendship-those forged and those sadly lost, but never forgotten.

SHANNON MICHAEL CANE, Interview with Nothing Major, 2013
“Who wants to wait to get a gallery show? Who wants to wait to get representation? Who wants to buy into the boushy world of the art world? Let's just make artist's books and use the form as an artist's expression. We can make a book for five dollars and give it out to our friends for free. Or sell it for 10 bucks. It's an exchange of ideas, a whole exchange of what art is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be for everyone.”

Witness Protection Program Social Club : SMC

Shannon threw parties in Melbourne under the moniker 'Witness Protection Program Social Club' (where everybody knows your new name). They had a rule at the bar 'No shirt no service' which was a knowing dig at the tackiness of shirtless mainstream gay bars but also made no sense considering Shannon's penchant for getting his gear off.

Witness Protection Program Parties were always overseen by Judy, District Winner, Checkout Operator of The Year. A framed image of Shannon's mother Judy would always be hanging right behind the DJ booth so as to chaperone the parties and check everyone was safe. Judy was the patron saint of Witness. On the actual DJ booth would always be Shannon's trusty Goose Lamp, providing ambient light for the DJs, not of much use, but giving their faces a warm flattering glow.

They had t-shirts for sale at these events, printed with the name 'Witness Protection Program' across the chest, so it looked as though the wearer was proudly proclaiming themselves to be living in hiding after giving evidence in court. WPP Social Club embraced a DIY ethos, fostering community and friendships at the events and behind the scenes for more than ten years. The events were legendary for the art direction, live performances, and music (Shannon deejayed under the nickname 'Shaggs').

Each party had a theme which Shannon would obsess over, curating a stable of photos and then selecting a hero flyer image to use on the invites. Trusty Witness graphic designer Grant Cook would be tested every time with copy changes and image tweaks to the signature witness flyer design. The other curated theme images would be used to blow up to AO posters in which any visible faces and identities were concealed behind a black bar spray-painted across their eyes, along with the Witness Protection Party stencil sprayed on each poster.

Printing flyers at Kwik Kopy and spray-painting the posters in the backyard of the shop, 'White Dog Green Frog' (which Shannon lived above on the corner of Victoria Parade and Smith Street) were all part of the DIY routine. Then there was the install on the day of the party. A posse of volunteer friends armed with Blu Tack, double sided tape and ladders would all gather to help out at various venues where the parties were held over the years: Rob Roy on Brunswick Street, Bar 44 on Lonsdale Street, Yelza on Gertrude Street, the Builders Arms Hotel, Roxanne Parlour in Coverlid Place and The Public Office in Adderly Street West Melbourne, (which was managed by Martin Proctor and was instrumental in WPPSC success), with a final Reunion at The Toff.

Kerry Begg-Boyle and John Hutchinson would always greet the punters at the door, handing out new identity/membership cards to those that regularly attended, and helping people jump the queues that would snake down the stairs at The Public Office. Jason Froome, official witness photographer would be armed with his camera to capture the nights "Shannonigans".

There would always be a performance at some point, usually based loosely around each theme, with many appearances by Witnesses resident show pony Pluto Savage that left the audiences in shock and awe. For a few of the Easter-themed parties, a scantily clad Shannon wrestled a contender in a pool full of hundreds of Hot Cross Buns covered in custard. SMC told a friend that his boyfriend said the following day his ass still tasted like hot cross buns. Some of the DJs who graced the decks (playing actual records) include: Pete Kung, Andee Frost, Jimothy K, Stephen Alkins, Gerard Frank Long, Shaggs (Shannon) himself, Jonny Seymour, Matt Vaughan, Ben Drayton and Luke McD.

Witness Protection Party Poster, flyers and mixes

Witness Protection Party Poster, flyers and mixes

Witness Protection Party Poster and Photos

Witness Protection Party Poster and Photos

They Shoot Homo's Don't They?

“A new wave of homosexual acceptance is dawning” is how the first issue began. “You can now be part of the mainstream if you act straight now. Are you ready? Yeah. Nah. Dunno...” It then goes on to explain "TSHDT? is a look book for men and their admirers, but you don't have to be gay to get it.”

Shannon had wanted to do a magazine for a long time, as he was a big fan of The Face, Interview, Index, BUTT, and K48. Running from 2005 to 2008, They Shoot Homos Don't They? was a 'hetro-friendly' art and culture publication published and edited by Shannon with co-founder and editor Timothy Moore and designer Nik Dimopoulos; its stated mission was to appeal to the intersection of crossover gallerists, designers, and homos. The name was a play on the Jane Fonda film They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969) about the misfortunes of dance marathon contestants that Shannon related to the gay lifestyle, and the long title was routinely abbreviated as TSHDT? (Shannon once said he thought longer and more confusing titles were better).

At the time the magazine started, gay men were gaining increasing acceptance from mainstream society along with an ever-increasing public profile. But as Shannon explained around in his usual wry manner, the five founders were motivated by an urge to contradict the bland gay archetypes that were being given a platform.

“We were dark about the convergence of homo culture with mediocrity- some call it the mainstream...” Shannon explained.

“Sure, we can dress a bunch of straights”, he continued, in an offhanded dig at the 2003 television series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, “but what else can we do? Rather than flash our queer eyes or march on parliament, we decided to ask different homos: how are you doing, what are your motives, and what kind of world are you creating?”

Shannon continued this sentiment in a 2009 interview with The Fader. “I knew that people had this really preconceived idea of what gays are doing creatively and socially,” he explained, “but it's a misrepresentation. The magazine is a platform for challenging this idea of what a gay artist is and what a gay man, (or woman) does.”

Rather than push a specific agenda, the editors of TSHDT? preferred to showcase the work and opinions of a variety of artists, writers, and cultural figures, encouraging readers to negotiate their own politics.

Shannon framed the magazine-whose cover stars included Bloc Party's Kele Okereke, JD Samson and Deerhunter's Bradford Cox, and profiled artists such as David MacDiarmid, Paul Knight, Terence Koh and cult Canadian filmmaker and photographer Bruce LaBruce - as “an art almanac” of what gays are making creatively. Five issues in total were published, each in a different bold colour and theme. Four editions came with a music compendium mix CD.

As he explained further in his interview with The Fader: “I mean there's enough gay trashy magazines to support the stereotypes, big glossy coffee table books of buffed hairless men. That's out there in the mainstream media, as well as the 'metrosexual'.

“There is this micro-minority of gay men that are making really interesting art and there are some really interesting writers and filmmakers. But because they don't fit into this idea of what the general population think gay men are doing, it becomes this alternative lifestyle thing, which has always drove me nuts. If something is a bit different it gets thrown into this alternative category.”

They Shoot Homos Don't They? Zine Covers

They Shoot Homos Don't They? Zine Covers

Inside They Shoot Homos Don't They?

Inside They Shoot Homos Don't They?

P.A.M. X Cali De Witt X M/M Paris

Collaboration was at the heart of a lot of Shannon's interests. From the Witness Protection Program parties where his friends would help out with the party installs, shows, and work the door, to TSHDT? where he called on friends, artists and writers to collaborate in interviews and submit artwork, to his work with Printed Matter's fundraising editions, where Shannon worked closely with artists to conceptualise and produce new works in multiple formats. Through these collaborative processes, he encouraged artists to push the boundaries of their practice and embrace new materials, experiment with multiple processes, produce work in variable formats, and to further collaborate with other artists. One of these projects was the series of Bootleg T-shirt shows he produced for Printed Matter NY.

Misha Hollenbach and Shauna Toohey (P.A.M.), Cali (Cali Thornhill DeWitt), and Michael Amzalag (M/M Paris) — who were all close friends of Shannon's — have collaborated to create this limited edition t-shirt in his honour celebrating his ability to bring people together to make art and have a good time. A wider circle of friends were also consulted to give input on the concept, so it really has been a group effort making this happen.

Shannon was also a fan of the Aussie staple, the stubby holder. Michael Amzalag (M/M Paris) designed the ubiquitous stubby holders you may see knocking around the venue, one emblazoned with SMC's initials and another with a Ryan McGinley 'Mirror Mirror' image of Shannon.

All profits from the sales of these will be forwarded on to the Shannon Michael Cane fund at Printed Matter, which funds the SMC Award. This award is granted to emerging artists (artists, artists' book publishers, or collectives in the early stages of their career) who would be first-time exhibitors in a Printed Matter Art Book Fair.

Each recipient is provided with an exhibitor's table and a stipend to support their participation. Applications are open to anyone, and submissions are reviewed by a panel comprised of the founders of the Shannon Michael Cane Fund and Printed Matter Fairs' staff. Contact Printed Matter NY for submission details.


Friends Misha Hollenbach and Shauna T (P.A.M. / Perks and Mini), Cali DeWitt and Michael Amzalag (M/M Paris) created an exclusive limited edition tee to commemorate Shannon Michael Cane, and mark the special celebration on RISING opening night.

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Damaged Goods : M/M Paris

“In May 2018, six months after Shannon left us, with the help of his friends and family, I obtained access to his entire t-shirt collection just before it was to be sent to his estate in Melbourne.
“The collection includes shirts amassed over the years, ranging from vintage pieces to underground brands, bootlegs, and one-of-a-kind designs. It also features items he personally created or had commissioned, such as tees from the Witness Protection Program Social Club nights he ran in Melbourne during the early 2000s, all the way up to the Bootleg T-Shirt Shows he orchestrated for Printed Matter between 2012 and 2017, alongside the annual New York Art Book Fair he curated from 2013, where many connections were made.

“I spent a couple days in a studio in Brooklyn, documenting it in its entirety, as I felt these shirts he wore were a fitting representation of his style, taste, culture, trajectory, friendships and obsessions.

“Shannon often called himself 'Damaged Goods', a nod to the Gang of Four track that he was also planning to use as the name of a t-shirt venture he contemplated starting. I think it is an appropriate title for this volume, his wardrobe as a vivid portrait to cherish for those who knew him, and a textile time capsule as a glimpse into his personality for those who wish they did.”

  • Michael Amzalag, April 2024
Damaged Goods Book

Bootleg T-Shirts.

Homage. Theft. Fan service. Appropriation. 'Bootlegging' can imply a variety of intentions, tactics and conditions while questioning notions of authorship and ownership. For some, the terms suggests counterfeit reproductions of luxury products. For others it is synonymous with black market industries such as pirate radio, moonshine, underground pharmaceuticals,or unauthorised entertainment media.

For many designers, the term seems to resonate with our impulse to exhume the past and a desire to both participate in and critique the broader industries that commodity the artistic act.

For Shannon Michael Cane, bootlegging was a prompt that allowed him to celebrate the things he loved and bring together people to share them with.

As Curator of Printed Matter's book fairs and editions, Shannon oversaw the inimitable New York and Los Angeles Art Book Fairs, events that summon a diverse and energetic array of artists, publishers, and fans to share their love of all things printed: books, posters, records, zines and quite frequently t-shirts. In his personal practice Shannon regularly created shirts, bootlegging obscure publications, art practices, and logos as a way of illustrating their relevance today.

In 2012 he took the practice a step further by launching the first iteration of 'The Bootleg T-Shirt Show', in which he invited artists and designers to create their own bootleg T-shirts to be exhibited and sold at Printed Matter. This exhibition was followed three years later with The Bootleg T-Shirt Show II, and then again in late 2017 with The Bootleg T-Shirt Show III which his friends Christopher Schultz and Jordan Nassar completed in his stead.

With Shannon's love for graphic t-shirts, he knew their ability to communicate and create communities by broadcasting people's taste, interests, and proclivities to the world at large. Shannon had a passion for promoting and sharing the things he loved with others and cherishing the friendships, communities and connections that might eventuate from this.

This presentation includes a small sample of the t-shirts produced by Shannon Michael Cane, including those made in conjunction with the Witness Protection Program Social Club parties in Melbourne, the Fist Fest arm wrestling competition parties in New York, They Shoot Homos Don't They? magazine, and Printed Matter's Bootleg T-Shirt Shows.

SMC T-Shirt Wall

Ryan McGinley 'Mirror Mirror' : Shannon Michael Cane, 2018.

This video shows the process of Shannon capturing images at the request of artist and friend Ryan McGinley for his book Mirror Mirror, 2018. As Ryan wrote in that publication's introduction:

“This book is populated by photographs of my friends. Most of them are artists-dancers,architects, photographers, actors, painters, musicians, fashion designers, choreographers, performers. This project is about community - my community. Some are family, college friends, brothers-in-law, moms, aunts, former models or ex-boyfriends, many of whom I've photographed for other series of my work. Rather than shoot them as I have before, I asked them to photograph themselves in their own spaces using a set of written instructions I devised to help guide the process.

“I sent a few assistants with fifteen door-sized mirrors to the subjects' homes, armed with instructions that could be read to them during the course of their shoots. The model could also opt to complete the shoot completely on their own. The instructions came from distilling the directions I normally give my subjects when shooting. I wanted to let them examine themselves over the course of shooting five rolls of film with the kind of camera that fewer and fewer people are accustomed to using. No opportunities to self-edit.
“The instructions for the earliest sessions were short, but they evolved and grew over the course of the project. As I developed the film, I would respond to the photos I was seeing and add more instructions for the next participant. By the end of the project, the list of directions was quite long.

“I've always been fascinated by projects in which the artist conceives of the idea and provides instructions, but the work is executed by others. Conceptual projects like these have so many visual possibilities and points of contact.

“One's living space is a rich, complex environment. I've always loved seeing how people live; how they optimize space or live in clutter. There's authenticity in aperson's apartment, in their meaningful possessions and decor, which tells you a lot about their interior lives... A lot of these photos are taken in the artists' apartments and in their personal rooms. I love the variation that comes from using mirrors within an extremely confined space. The multiple reflective surfaces generated unpredictable angles and made things look trippy and psychedelic.

“These images depict a particular moment in time, from the spring of 2016 through the summer of 2017. My favourite works are the photos with babies, cats, or dogs- they really reinforce this notion of community, of family. The subjects range in age from 19-87 (not including the babies), and most of the models' apartments are in New York City. The models represent such an interesting cross­ section of life in the city (and my life in particular).

“A champion of artists' books and publications and a fan of being in the buff, Shannon sadly passed away a few months after he participated in this project. This is one of the last nude images taken of him.

“Many of the instructions I wrote were informed by my choreographer because I wanted to make sure the models explored movement. Many of the actions described in the instructions are the ones I use myself during my own shoots. I love to experiment with poses in my work and when I make photographs. I always play music to get the vibe right; to have fun and not be afraid of getting weird.

“I like listening to The Beach Boys song 'In My Room' when I look at these photos, 'There's a world where I can go / And tell my secrets to / In my room'.”


Curated by Mark Poston & Colin Carmichael


Travis Cane-Melbourne
The Cane Family | Melbourne
Hannah Fox | RISING
Hayley Percy | RISING
The RISING Night Trade Team
Michael Amzalag | M/M Paris
Misha Hollenbach | P.A.M.
Shauna Toohey | P.A.M.
Cali Thornhill Dewitt | Artist and Designer
Ryan McGinley | Artist-Mirror Mirror
James Murphy | LCD Soundsystem - 'Someone Great' Wilfred Brandt | Copyediting
Nik Dimopoulos | TSHDT? Designer
Timothy Moore | TSHDT? Editor
Jason Froome | Official Witness Photographer
Tom Larnach Jones | Soundmerch
Michael Lynch | Smart Artists
Gemma Jones | Shannon's Bestie
Shannon's inner circle of friends | Ephemera, Images and Stories Witness Protection Crew | Images and Stories
Tony Charlton | Design and Creative assistance
Malcolm Watt | Graphic Design
Jose Da Silva | Friendship as a way of Life content
Printed Matter NY | Shanzini

They Shoot Homos Don't They?
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief | Shannon Michael Cane
Editor | Timothy Moore
Designer | Nik Dimopoulos
Music Editor | Jimothy Kontogiannis
Accounts/ Distribution | Colin Carmichael
Features/ Deputy Editor | Adam Murray Kolberg (Vol 3,4 & 5)
Art Editor | Spiros Panigirakis (Vol 2)
Contributing Editor | Voin de Voin (Vol 2)
Contributing Editor | Chris O'Halloran (Vol 3)
Assistant Designer | Laurent d'Unienville (Vol 2)
Design Assistance | Grant Cook (Vol 3)
Copy Editor | Nikki Boer (Vol 2)

Damaged Goods, M/M Paris
Thanks to Judy Cane, Travis Cane, Briony Cook, James Jenkin, John McCoach. Photographed by Kyle Rudd, assisted by James Marquis.
Digital by Chris Trigaux.
Styling by Andrea Bonin, assisted by Jiyoon Cha.
Red Hook Labs: Jimmy Moffat, Natalie Pfister, Hayley Stephan, Casey Meyers, Chad Cameron.
Designed at M/M (Paris). First edition of 10 copies. Printed in Italy. (c) 2024

Laura May Grogan

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