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Robert Whitman

Two Holes of Water - 3 (background)

Robert Whitman and Deboray Hay during the discussions at Stony Points
In the early 1960s, after studying literature and art history, Robert Whitman began doing performances involving film projections. During the same period, he was also associating with the members of the Judson Dance Theater, and sometimes filmed their dance pieces.

In December 1965, Whitman presented Prune Flat at the Expanded Cinema Festival organized by Jonas Mekas. (1) During this performance, films were projected on a screen as well as on the bodies of women (Simone Forti, Lucinda Childs and Mimi Stark) dressed in white. Keeping close to the screen, they mimicked the actions of the scopic doubles projected onto their bodies, in the process generating confusion between reality and illusion, and between the two- and three-dimensional. The show met with great success, and was performed again in a New York theatre in August, 1966.

By juxtaposing images against their mode of production and doing so before an audience, Two Holes of Water - 3 was consistent with the approach of Prune Flat. This was the third version of a performance, the other two versions of which took place in August and September 1966. Whitman wanted to use the same set of images to “develop a piece where you could transform the structure and still have the same piece” (2) and where the main subject would be the experience of time. On a sheet handed out to the audience attending the first version, he wrote: “Time for me is something material. [...] It can be used in the same way as paint or plaster, or any other material. It can describe other natural events. [...] The Images make real the experience of the time.” (3) In the third version of Two Holes of Water, this experience was produced by juxtaposing real-time tape-loop images with time-delay recorded images.

Moreover, like other works executed during this period, Two Holes of Water - 3 introduced distorting mirrors (reflecting Mimi Stark and Trisha Brown) that made it possible to film two different parts of the same body at the same time. Whitman’s collaboration with engineers, which began with 9 Evenings, would extend into the domain of optics. This performance was, therefore, at the crossroads of Whitman’s two approaches to mimic reality. “At the end of the sixties, the mirror was Whitman's preferred vehicle since it generated ‘real images’ in contrast to projected images proper to film, which are found in this work of the first half of this decade.” (4)

Clarisse Bardiot © 2006 FDL

(1) The term “expanded cinema” was coined by Stan VanDerBeek and popularized by Gene Youngblood in Expanded Cinema (New York: Dutton, 1970).

(2) Robert Whitman, in an interview with Clarisse Bardiot, August 2005, New York.

(3) Robert Whitman, quoted in Robert Whitman: Playback, edited by Lynne Cooke and Karen Kelly (New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2003) p.209.

(4) Lynne Cooke, “Through a Glass, Darkly: From Autonomous Artwork to Environmental Spectacle, From Spectator to Specter - Robert Whitman's Art Practice in the 1960's” in Robert Whitman: Playback, edited by Lynne Cooke, Karen Kelly and Bettina Funcke (New York : Dia Art Foundation, 2003) p.76.