E.A.T. and the 1960s
The '60s were a time of thriving technological developments, with the first man on the Moon juxtaposed against sombre scientific achievements used for the Vietnam War. American society was living through an unprecedented economic boom seen since the end of World War II, but it was also witness to an epoch of considerable social turbulence and civil unrest.
It was therefore considered very politically incorrect to display any type of association between artists and industry, particularly given that many of the new technology industries were developing sophisticated weapons commissioned by the U.S. Army for the Vietnam War. Hence in the pre-EAT era, the fact that 9 Evenings
was held at the Armory embodied not only a potent symbol, for it had housed the 1913 Armory Show, (1)
but also an unmistakable power icon, as the Armory was (and still is) a location whose primary function is military drill. The site was charged with a twofold impetus for art cognoscenti
and the general public, although some 9 Evenings'
protagonists sought to make a strong point by using warfare technologies for artistic cum
pacific aspirations. Furthermore, the mere size of the location was a challenge, as most artists and engineers had never worked in such an environment or in the context of a mega spectacle.
To understand the lukewarm and sometimes dreadful reviews 9 Evenings
gleaned, we must bear in mind that art criticism continued, with few exceptions, to be founded on the modernist literary and artistic paradigm. (2)
At the time, Clement Greenberg was still disseminating Kant's theories on the autonomy of art through the separation of aesthetic, social and scientific spheres. So imagine a series of hybrid performances, cross-fertilizing various artistic disciplines, industry and technology, and based on collaborative work. Not that this type of liaison was at its first occurrence in the 20th century. Art historians have chronicled many such decisive moments, which I cannot begin to recount. (3)
Nevertheless, when 9 Evenings
rolled into the Armory, critics were, on the whole, bemused, having few points of reference with which to analyze what was going on, notwithstanding the happenings and performances seen by some at the Judson Church (4)
and other venues on the U.S. East and West coasts during the '50s and '60s.
Moreover, the title of Theatre and Engineering
remained somewhat of an enigma for most visual arts critics. Indeed most pieces in the event came from the performing arts, with many including film projections and live or recorded video broadcasts as well as sound experimentations. What's more, the epithet theatrical
had always held somewhat of a negative overtone, even before Michael Fried stigmatized it in his 1967 essay Art and Objecthood (5)
. Nevertheless, if Klüver used such a title, it was in part because he knew Tuchman was already working on the A&T
program at LACMA. Klüver wanted to ensure there would be no confusion between the two undertakings. He felt that a title such as Art and Technology
might sound too esoteric for the layman!
In describing 9 Evenings,
"It is important to realize (understand) that 9 Evenings
was a realistic event. It wanted to achieve very specific practical and social goals. Its development was coincident in time with the spreading mysticism about technology, the McLuhan concept that the communication means were extensions of the body, the psychedelic experience as an element of art! 9 Evenings
was none of that. (The artists and the engineers) were rigorous, energetic and authoritarian and would demand completely controlled situations. That the forces behind 9 Evenings
should have converged at that time, must have been separate from political developments of the global art, psychedelic kind of situation." (6)
Evidently Klüver was a fervent opponent of some of McLuhan's theories. However, only a few 9 Evenings
pieces were, in reality, "separate from political developments of the global art, psychedelic kind of situation
." Indeed, when we examine film footage (7)
of 9 Evenings
, it becomes clear that the Rauschenberg and Fahlström performances, for instance, were references to the military use of technology in the Vietnam War. Both artists made obvious comments on this issue in their counter-use of military devices, such as the infrared light and infrared video cameras revealing, on a giant screen, a silent crowd of 300 moving in total obscurity at the end of Rauschenberg's Open Score
. Such allusions to the war were also apparent through Fahlström's metaphors in Kisses Sweeter than Wine
In that performance, the evocation of warfare machinery and ideology was stressed with the deus-ex-machina (9)
"anti-anti missile", as well as with Lyndon B. Johnson's oversized head made of raw clay, which the artist slowly exposed to the public while unwrapping a mummy-like cotton strip that covered the President's effigy at the beginning of the piece. I should add that Fahlström's work was also pretty psychedelic
at times. He obviously had a point to make: disarmament would bring happiness and pleasure to generations to come.
On a more formal stance, Deborah Hay's choreography Solo
was without a doubt strongly influenced by the minimalist's aesthetic. In this piece, the dancers were moved at times on remote controlled automated cubes along various tangents that cut through the stage area in front of a row of seated black-clad men and women, who observed the performance much like a jury in a tribunal.
For some, 9 Evenings
may have seemed like an event in a bubble of its own. However, it is clear that the artists could not have been born of a spontaneous generation, as they belonged to a range of movements that were imbued with the '60s context. Consequently, the fact that 9 Evenings
and the EAT phenomena have barely been analyzed baffles the mind.