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Frances Dyson, And then it was now

9 Evenings

Steve Paxton, Physical Things, 1966
9 Evenings: Emerging Aesthetics

9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering began as a series of planning sessions for what is known as “the Stockholm Festival.” Although the festival failed to materialize, Billy Klüver and Robert Rauschenberg decided to go forward regardless. They used many of the artists’ submissions for the festival to create 9 Evenings, held at New York City’s 69th Regiment Armory from October 13 to 23, 1966.

The artists’ submissions are indicative of the trends in thinking around art and technology at the time. (1) They show that artists were interested in ideas that would come to represent four main features of new technology: wireless connectivity, interactivity, body mapping and the creation of immersive environments and atmospheres via TV monitors. These four provided the aesthetic, conceptual and technical underpinnings for much of the work in art and technology being done at that time, particularly in the area of immersive media.

Marga Bijovet described the event as "a landmark in the history of performance-theatre-multimedia art” and reported that “over 859 engineering hours went into the preparation, at a cost of $100,000 and a total audience of 10,000” (2). The ten performances included: Steve Paxton's Physical Things, Alex Hay's Grass Field, Robert Rauschenberg's Open Score, Deborah Hay’s Solo, David Tudor's Bandoneon! (a combine), Yvonne Rainer's Carriage Discreteness, John Cage's Variations VII, Lucinda Child's Vehicle, Öyvind Fahlström's Kisses Sweeter than Wine and Robert Whitman's Two Holes of Water-3.

The key concepts circulating in both the original submissions and the performances themselves were fluidity, spontaneity, liveliness, transparency, immersion and intimacy between artist and audience. And the medium that first came to mind was sound.

In addition to the innovative use of sound in Nine Evenings, there was also an increasing shift towards the environmental and atmospheric. The art critic Barbara Rose notes that a number of artists were interested in levitation, “[a]pparently, defying gravity is a consistent human fantasy,” (3) while others suggested using clouds and gases. The ephemeral was not only a physical and aesthetic element but also, by virtue of its very immateriality, provided a source for the development of rhetorical structures.

After 9 Evenings

While many of these ideas appeared in 9 Evenings, many projects also failed to materialize. Nonetheless, they helped formalize the process and vision involved in collaboration between artists and engineers — a vision that Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) would soon adopt as its raison d’être.

Artist’s submissions to E.A.T. one year later reveal a continuing interest in “tele-presence,” interactivity and virtual environments. For instance, one engineer wrote: “I am interested in the generation of light by means of existing sounds, the generation of sound by means of existing light and the interaction of the two in a responding environment,” (4) while an artist and industrial designer wanted help in creating “an electro-optical device to provide an illusory flight over a projected-image abstract landscape.” (5) Similarly, a proposal for 10 exhibitions at Automation House in 1969 elicited submissions from artists — the majority of whom had been involved in 9 Evenings and were therefore “long-time” E.A.T. members — that extended the themes of immersion, interactivity, bodily transformation and technological embodiment that first appeared in 9 Evenings.

In particular, the idea of creating proto-immersive environments for 9 Evenings (through, for instance, a plastic-tubing structure (Steve Paxton’s Physical Things) or “surround sound”) was made literal in the Pepsi Pavilion.

Frances Dyson © 2006 FDL

(1) Projects for Stockholm festival: 3rd list (March 1, 1966, project description), [2] p. The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, Collection of Documents Published by Experiments in Art and Technology. EAT C1-6 / 2; 6.

(2) Marga Bijvoet, Art as Inquiry: Toward New Collaboration Between Art, Science, and Technology (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1997), p. 31-33.

(3) Barbara Rose, “Art as Experience, Environment, Process” in Pavilion, edited by Billy Klüver, Julie Martin and Barbara Rose (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972), p. 93.

(4) Sample of Artist’s Technical Proposals / Experiments in Art and Technology (May 1967, projects descriptions), [9] p. The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, Collection of Documents Published by Experiments in Art and Technology. EAT C3-4; 47.

(5) Ibid.