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Öyvind Fahlström

Kisses Sweeter than Wine (performance)

Öyvind Fahlström, Kisses Sweeter than Wine (video)
Öyvind Fahlström, Kisses Sweeter than Wine (video)
Öyvind Fahlström, Kisses Sweeter than Wine Öyvind Fahlström, Kisses Sweeter than Wine Öyvind Fahlström, Kisses Sweeter than Wine
Performance (a) presented as part of 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, The 69th Regiment Armory, New York, N.Y., United States, October 21-22, 1966.

Technological design: Harold Hodges

Directors: Soren Brunes; Öyvind Fahlström

Production assistants:
Letty Lou Eisenhauer; Barbro Fahlström; Ulla Lyttkens

Props: Alfons Schilling

Robert Breer; Letty Lou Eisenhauer; John Giorno; Bruce Glushakow; Tom Gormley; Jim Hardy; Cassandra Hughs; Ed Iverson; Kosugi; Larry Leitch; Les Levine; Robert Rauschenberg; Marjorie Strider; Bob Schuler; Ulla Wiggen

Audio broadcasts:
Sveriges Radios (Stockholm, Sweden), WBAI-NYC (New-York, USA)

Wesley Barry, "Creation of the Humanoids" (1962), Ditta Agippa, "Acqua Sangemini", an educational film from AT&T (New York)

Kisses Sweeter than Wine was a nine-part piece made up of various sketches joined end to end without any narrative continuity. The performance featured autistic characters capable of doing several mental calculations simultaneously. Fahlström drew a parallel between these subjects devoid of normal intellectual faculties (yet endowed with superior memorization capacities) and the utopia of a universal machine (the computer). Repeated references to contemporary life also enabled him to develop an ironic comment on the links between technology and the military (the Vietnam War was then in full swing). Fahlström made use of video, audio tape and film and slide projectors to create a fragmented theatrical piece. In that way, technology was both a theme and a means of creating effects onstage. (1) 

Part One (Frog-man): Eight performers covered in a thin layer of cotton resembling a pile of snow lay on the floor (b). A film showing a squall of snow going upward was then projected on the screen located at the far left of the stage. Other films, along with closed-circuit videos and slides, would be projected on this same screen during the performance. This description, by the way, will not always deal with the content of the slides (which showed, for the most part, interpretation keys for sketches taking place on the Amory stage.
A panel at the centre of the stage was removed to reveal a frog-man puppet. An archer shot an arrow at it, hitting it in the head (c). After falling from the chair on which it had been placed, the puppet was hoisted up to the ceiling (d), while formations of soap bubbles emerged from an improvised device (e).
An excerpt from an audiotape recording of a drug addict speaking about his life was played.
An excerpt from an audiotape recording of Fahlström trying to phone the British Trade Commission in Shanghai. He got an answer, but no one spoke.

Part Two (Buxton, Demonstration, Johnson Head): Fahlström asked Robert Rauschenberg, in the role of the autistic character Jedediah Buxton (f), to repeat sales and profit figures from stock exchange quotations. Rauschenberg’s face was filmed, meanwhile, by a closed-circuit video camera (g).
A performer sat down in front of a television screen and began to masturbate discreetly (he would continue doing this until it was time for Part Five) (h).
The performers who had been lying on the floor under the cotton sheet emerged carrying posters of Bob Hope and Mao Tse-Tung (i). In Part Four, this scene would announce the screening of the Mao-Hope film.
The screen showed an image of solar flares (j).
A performer came onstage and removed strips of fabric wrapped around a 2-foot clay head of President Lyndon Johnson (k) (Fahlström established a comparison between this wrapped head and the invisible man of James Whales’ eponymous film) (l). A closed-circuit video camera filmed sections of the head.
At various times, the audience heard excerpts of a taped conversation in which two British spiritualists imagined their existence in the afterlife.

Part Three (Charles and Georges) : Rauschenberg/Jedediah Buxton described the Mao-Hope marchers seen earlier as performers playing autistic twins arrived onstage on golf carts (m). A sign informed the audience that one of the twins could correctly match randomly selected dates with the corresponding days of the week. Fahlström tested his ability to do this.
Ultraviolet lights lit the snow-covered area at centre stage.
An audiotape recording of breathing-exercise instructions read by Ralph Metzer was played.
The twins began a pillow fight (n). Hidden in one of the pillows was a receptor and a speaker that gave off sounds.
A performer playing a Vietnamese barber came onstage, filmed by a closed-circuit camera, and began tapping on a microphone. At this point, the audience was shown a sign relating an event from the Vietnam War, when a Viet Cong spy disguised as a South-Vietnamese barber passed messages on to his troops using a tiny transmitter. Each signal relayed corresponded to an airborne enemy target.
Audiotape recordings of airplane engines and explosions were played.
The twins sang the American national anthem.
A recording of an interview with a deaf-blind man was played. Other excerpts from this interview would be played later.
A head of Lyndon Johnson was hung from a cable and swung against a glass wall, which shattered near the audience (o). The lights went out. From this point on, only the ultraviolet light illuminated the centre of the stage.

Part Four (Demonstration, Safford): A performer hung sweaters and a head of Lyndon Johnson on a clothesline, and gradually pulled it toward the screen (p). The Mao-Hope film was screened.
Film description: Fahlström orchestrated a fake demonstration on Fifth Avenue near New York’s Central Park. While demonstrators carried placards with pictures of Bob Hope and Mao, a WBAI journalist asked passers-by the following question: are you happy? (in 1973, Fahlström began presenting this film as an independent work apart from the context of the performance).
A performer playing the gifted and autistic Truman Henry Safford gesticulated and counted frenetically in a loud voice (q).

Part Five (Chinese Sparrows): A musical composition by Iannis Xenakis, accompanied by heartbeats, was played, and gained in volume throughout this part. Performers wearing numbers on their backs scaled ladders, some of them ending up on swings above the Armory floor (r). They all finally collapsed on the “snowy” ground (s). A short-circuit video camera filmed fragments of their bodies. The audience was shown a sign recounting an event related to this sketch: In the 1960s, over 600 Chinese beat on kitchen pots and pans to drive away sparrows that were destroying their harvest. Other signs drew a comparison between this anecdote and the persecution of the Vietnamese communists by the Americans. Then the lights went out.

Part Six (Jell-O Girl, Missile): On a platform at centre stage (between the screen and the “snowy” performance area), a woman in a bikini stretched out in an inflated swimming pool half filled with pink Jell-O (t).
A closed-circuit video camera filmed, offstage, two performers wearing cardboard eyes and relayed their image to the audience. They opened an icebox and took out small packages of food, which they then ate (not included in the film footage of the event). The packages bore labels reading DNA Gandhi, DNA Kennedy, DNA Bob Hope and DNA Malcolm X. Fahlström came onstage, positioned himself near the screen and trained a laser pencil on the performer standing in front of the television screen.
A film parody of a Heinz ketchup commercial was screened (the image was split into 25 sections by being shot through a prismatic lens).
The performer standing in front of the television screen blew up condoms. (He was filmed close-up by the closed-circuit camera.) Accompanied by the frog-man, he handed out condoms to members of the audience selected by Fahlström (this action was repeated until the scene was over).
A performer ran onstage carrying smoke grenades and sped past the first row of seats leaving plumes of smoke in his wake.
The closed-circuit camera filmed the young woman in the pool.
Fahlström pointed his laser at the genital area of a member of the audience (the laser beam was clearly visible in the smoke left behind by the grenades) (not included in the film footage of the event).
The Keane children left the stage, one of them dragging a strip of film for several feet (not included in the film footage of the event).
At the back of the stage, the Viet Cong barber tapped on his microphone again (and continued to do so intermittently until Part Seven).
A recording of an engine revving up was played from behind the screen.
A microphone pointed toward the audience picked up its remarks live.
Another excerpt of the drug addict’s testimony was played. He spoke about his love affair with a young Korean woman during the Korean War.
A missile-shaped Mylar projectile (an “antimissile missile”) flew around the Armory, propelled by a laser-guided airplane engine (u). It headed first toward the cluster of inflated condoms and then in the direction of the viewers who had been given condoms; then it disappeared (not included in the film footage of the event). This missile would reappear from time to time, until the start of Part Seven.
This was followed by the screening of a film showing a postcard with an idyllic Swedish landscape on the front and an insulting note addressed to Fahlström on the back.
Fahlström then pointed his laser toward the lower part of the screen.
Two Italian advertisements for the mineral water Acqua Sangemini were shown.
A close-up image of the Viet Cong barber’s table was screened, while an off-screen hand attached a prosthetic representation of his tongue to the table by means of staples. This was followed by pictures of containers holding bits of fingers, noses and ears. A panel on one of the containers read "ANTI-COMMUNIST INDONESIAN FINGERS". The hand placed the clay likeness of Lyndon Johnson’s head on the table next to the head of the Vietnamese barber.
Fahlström came onstage with pitchers filled with water and ammonia, which he later poured on the television screen chemically treated so it would turn yellow. This action echoed a sign relating a news story about the CIA’s analysis of Indonesian President Sukarno’s urine (not included in the film footage of the event).
An interview with the transsexual Pat Morgan was played.

Part Seven (Speech): Accompanied by rock music, Fahlström delivered a monologue in which he commented on the state of the world in 1966 (the threat of nuclear annihilation, corrupt politicians, etc.). His monologue gradually turned into a plea for a new type of government (v).

Part Eight (Humanoids): A screening of excerpts from Wesley Barry’s science-fiction film The Creation of the Humanoids (1961) shared the stage with an audio recording of the reactions of passers-by to the Mao-Hope demonstration by Central Park.

Part Nine (Space Girl): A platform was set up in front of the screen 8 feet above the floor. All of the performers lay on the floor near centre stage, clad only in white men’s’ shirts. Artificial snow fell from the ceiling (not included in the film footage of the event). A half naked female performer was lowered slowly to the floor on a scaffold (w). When the scaffold came to a stop, the prone performers at centre stage got up and surrounded the young woman (x). She walked along the platform, a clay mouse head in one arm and the head of Lyndon Johnson in the other (y). As she crossed the Armory stage, she was followed by a procession made up of the other performers (z). They then covered her with garlands (suggestive of excrement) and hung ice cubes on her forearms. The bubble shapes (snowflakes going upward) once more appeared from the end of the platform. To conclude, Fahlström played excerpts of Tape Novel, a work for radio composed of a montage of various film soundtracks. Each performance lasted about 100 minutes.

[Documentary sources...]

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Vincent Bonin © 2006 FDL

(1) Paragraph based on Öyvind Fahlström’s account of his performance in the program. See: 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, edited by Pontus Hultén and Frank Königsberg ([New York]: Experiments in Art and Technology: The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, [1966]). p.[4].