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Sylvie Lacerte

9 Evenings and Experiments in Art and Technology

9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering
9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering Statement of purpose, Experiment in Art and Technology Maurice Tuchman, A Report on the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
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, Klüver wrote:

"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. (8) 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.

Sylvie Lacerte © 2005 FDL

(1) The first modern art exhibition in North America, with Marcel Duchamp's Nu descendant l'escalier.

(2) There are still a few remnants of this even today in certain reviews of shows that draw on the postmodern paradigm.

(3) As for instance, Russian Contructivism, the Bauhaus School, Moholy-Nagy's experiments, etc.

(4) Many artists who performed in 9 Evenings came from the Judson Group, namely Yvonne Rainer, Lucinda Childs, John Cage, Deborah and Alex Hay, Steve Paxton, and even Robert Rauschenberg, who was then in his dance years.

(5) Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood”, ARTFORUM 5 (June 1967), Rpt in Art and Objechood: Essays and Reviews (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

(6) Op.Cit., 9 Evenings : Theatre and Engineering (manuscript) / Harriet DeLong, Experiments in Art and Technology.-1966-1967 (1972-1973). Box 2. Experiments in Art and Technology. Records, 1966-1993, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California (940003).

(7) 9 Evenings of Theatre and Engineering / Produced by Experiments in Art and Technology; shot and directed by Alfons Schilling ( 1 film reel (24 min., 30 sec.); 16mm, original, b&w, sound, 1966) The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering fonds, 9 EVE VID00032223.

(8) The title of Fahlström's performance was inspired from the eponymous song composed by the Waivers in the 1950's and later popularized by the group Peter, Paul and Mary and the 1960's.

(9) Pontus Hulten, The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1968) exhibition catalogue. The “anti-anti missile,” was a helium filled device, shaped like an oversized bomb, which periodically floated across the Armory, above the stage area, during Fahlström's performance.