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Sylvie Lacerte

9 Evenings and Experiments in Art and Technology

Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s
Time is of the essence — or lack of time as a hypothesis for this art historical gap

“Art and technology rarely works, I think, and it has to do with the element of time, the surprise situation when timing becomes absolutely the most important thing.” (1)

The time factor might account for this art historical gap. In her compelling book Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s, Pamela M. Lee writes in her introduction:

“The art of the sixties, (...) produced an understanding of this time that I call chronophobic, a neologism that suggests a marked fear of the temporal. Cutting across movements, mediums, and genres, the chronophobic impulse names an insistent struggle with time, the will of both artists and critics to master its passage, to still its acceleration, or to give form to its changing conditions.” (2)

Undeniably, in 9 Evenings, the relationship to time was problematic, not only from a philosophical perspective but also from a purely mechanical standpoint.

The event, which was originally planned for an art and technology festival in Stockholm under the patronage of Pontus Hulten, was cancelled when too many financial difficulties arose for it to be held in Sweden. Klüver and Rauschenberg then decided to move the project to New York City. The swift decision meant that the artists and engineers, the entire latter group from Bell Telephone Laboratories, (3) had very little time to get to know each other and organize this grand-scale event. In a survey that Klüver conducted with the artists and engineers after 9 Evenings, we read that most respondents cited lack of time as a major impediment to the teams finding appropriate solutions to certain artistic and technological problems. This lack of time became a veritable trauma for the whole group.

For example, engineer Fred Waldhauer, said: “The possibility of failure through lack of preparation (i.e. time) became engraved on my brain.” (4)

After 10 months of preparation, several weeks of which were spent in a school gymnasium in New Jersey, the squad of 30 engineers and 10 artists had only one week in the Armory to rehearse the 10 performances that would be presented twice each over a span of nine days. Experienced theatre technicians (some from Broadway productions) hired for lighting and sound controls were absolutely astounded by the confusion and chaos that reigned at the Armory and amazed at the lack of preparation and organization for such a colossal spectacle. People sacrificed sleep and proper meals during rehearsal time at the Armory and during the event, as there was always something to repair or prepare for the next set of shows.

Paradoxically, the lack of time before the October 13 opening turned into an excess of time once the event started. In fact, a great amount of time was spent on last minute groundwork before and between pieces, causing long delays in the presentation of the performances. Needless to say, these unplanned intervals created tremendous irritation and impatience among audience members and art critics. As a result, many found the programme “too long and boring.”

If we return to the philosophical facet of chronophobia, 9 Evenings was a most ephemeral episode in time's grand scheme of things. Indeed, each artist presented his or her performance only twice in a two week period. As Klüver used to say, “You had to be there.”

Which brings us back to Lee's statement when describing the struggle between time's acceleration and our will to put it on hold. How can we stand back and take the time to evaluate a work of art appropriately, when thrown into the midst of such a turmoil that lasts but a few moments? The paradigm had definitely shifted, from art works as objects that had, up to then, a certain perennial aura about them, to the ephemeral performances of the '60s and '70s.

However, I cannot agree entirely with Lee’s comments on EAT and A&T, when she asserts, about their philosophies that: “ (...) to treat the art and technology relationship as exclusively the encounter between the artist and the technical “thing,” whether medium or tool, or in the will to represent technology, is to conceive of technology as merely the stuff of objects (...),” (5) because there was definitely more to art and technology enterprises of the '60s, than the “technical thing.” While it is true that EAT's activities and the A&T program involved a great deal of material apparatus, I do not believe that the artists considered technology “as merely the stuff of objects.” Technology was deemed purely as a tool in the process (visible or not) that enabled artists to further their experiments, whether results-oriented or not. This is especially true when one realizes that many conceptual and minimalist artists, such as Richard Serra, Tony Smith and James Turrell, were part of the A&T program in L.A., and that later Vito Acconci and Hans Haacke solicited EAT's services, in addition to the fact that John Cage, Yvonne Rainer and Robert Rauschenberg (6) had already had their fair share of experience with technology for their performative works well before 9 Evenings.

In her Introduction, Lee establishes parallels between EAT and A&T activities on the East and the West coasts. Such links are intriguing, because the author states that LACMA did not learn much from EAT's mistakes. In fact, one could not have learned a great deal from the other's mistakes, as they were happening concurrently, and each organization asserted a totally different stance, although both collaborated with industry. Still, the partnerships were initiated on a completely different level and bias. With EAT, industry came to the artist, so to speak, through financing, equipment and manpower at the artist’s studio, whereas with the A& T program, the artist conducted a residency on the industry's turf, chosen either by Tuchman, the artist or both - different dynamics for different projects and different philosophies.

Sylvie Lacerte © 2005 FDL

(1) Maurice Tuchman, A Report on the Art & Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – 1967-1971 (New York/Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1971) p. 260.

(2) Pamela M. Lee, Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s (Cambridge/London: The MIT Press, 2004) p. 8.

(3) Where Klüver worked as an electrical and laser beam engineer.

(4) 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).

(5) Op. Cit., Lee, p. xix.

(6) The '60s were Rauschenberg's dance years. Mary Lynn Kotz, Rauschenberg/Art and Life, New Edition (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2004)