Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Turning Point: Art and Politics in Nineteen Sixty-eight, Nina Castelli Sundell

In 1967, Art in America published an article that attempted to define the sensibility of the sixties. The critics Barbara Rose and Irving Sandler asked artists working in a wide variety of styles to define this sensibility. They also raised some other interesting questions:

Is there an avant-garde today? If so, what is its nature?; has the sensibility of the sixties hardened into an academy?... Has the speedup of communications and the attention of the mass media made yesterday's avant-garde today's academy? Does the growing participation of art schools and colleges make for a more academic situation?

Of the 35 who answered their questionnaire, many of whom were also influential teachers, most characterized the sensibility of the period as slick, hard, and impersonal. According to Gene Davis, "Coolness, passivity, and emotional detachment seemed to be in the air. Pop, op, hard-edge, minimal art and color painting share it in some degree" Philip Perlstein noted a similar connection between apparently diverse styles: "Pop art, constructions of all kinds, hard edged abstraction and my own kind of hard realism—it's all 'herd, sharp, clear, unambiguous" For Jack Tworkov, "The emphasis is on thingness. Polish, smoothness, brightness on the one hand—uninvolvement, indifference and heartlessness on the other" A number of artists mentioned the use of new materials and the adoption of industrial techniques. Of these, only George Segal suggested that there might be a connection between the use of unconventional media and a more pervasive spirit of experimentation, citing as characteristic of the period "openness of attitude, a willingness to use unfamiliar material, forms and stances in the work produced, an unwillingness to accept standard value judgments" Almost all the artists addressing the question of the relationship between artists and public stayed firmly within the context of the art world. "Today the establishment, art public, and avant-garde are one congenial alliance," wrote James Wines. "This is a cause for anxiety" A few artists insisted that despite all the attention in the media new art remained irrelevant and incomprehensible to the rest of the world. Alan Kaprow was the only one to perceive a change in the artistic climate responding to events in the larger realms of politics and history:

As the 'cool' outlook of artists in the late fifties and early sixties seemed in accord with the philosophies of passive resistance in the Civil Rights movement, and even the strategies of the cold war on the international level (a relief after the hysteria of the McCarthy era), the temperature began to rise with the Black Muslim movement, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X. . . Artists don't have to illustrate current events to respond to their pressures. If the sensibility of the mid-sixties is warming, I suspect it will get even warmer.1
Looking back after twenty years, the art world of 1968 seems both familiar and oddly different from the situation today. Hotly debated aesthetic issues have been superseded—not so much resolved as abandoned by the art magazines we subscribed to then and subscribe to now. Many of the same critics are still writing, and most of the artists who were interesting then are still showing. But both the art magazines and the art world itself are much larger, the magazines bloated with advertising, the world infinitely more populated-filled with new faces, not only of younger generations, but of mature artists as well, often female or black, whose work, ignored then, now seems more central, more visible. The structure and customs of this world are the same, but there is more of everything now: more artists, more galleries, more collectors, more museums. Not only are there a few more art journals; there is a far greater volume of art coverage in the popular press. Just as no one could have predicted the astronomical auction prices of 1988, no one would ever have guessed that artists and dealers would be written up in mass-distribution magazines, or that museum curators would be models for clothing ads.

Geographically, like Saul Steinberg's famous map of the United States as seen from New York, the art world used to consist mainly of midtown Manhattan with California on the horizon and not much in between. In New York, the center of gravity was much further uptown than it is today. Galleries were on Fifty- seventh Street or in the seventies; their architectural scale was that of apartments or small stores. Quite a few artists lived south of Houston Street in a manufacturing district which had no boutiques, or restaurants, and no special neighborhood name. (The term "SoHo" was coined in 1969.) Of course there were fine museums in other cities, some with strong programs in contemporary art, but nowhere near as many as now. There were artists' co-ops but no government supported "alternative spaces,' either in New York or elsewhere, and relatively few scattered university galleries.2 People were already worrying about the atmosphere of excessive commercialism, the inflated prices, and the appetite for novelty that characterize the art market today, but outside of New York, California, and Chicago, there were few serious galleries.
The concept of affirmative action had not yet been articulated in 1968, and the art world then as now, was predominantly white and male, only more so. The fact that women were treated as intellectual equals and that the strongest could achieve success was presumed to indicate that no special barriers were raised against them. In spite of the unanimous support of the civil rights movement, black artists found it exceedingly hard to get exposure. Artists with Hispanic surnames were presumably nationals of Spain or of a Latin American country. Of the groups which are militant minorities today, homosexuals were the most nearly accepted. In a context where individualism was an essential quality, blacks alone were willing (or forced) to define themselves as a group. Yet the art world was more liberal than other spheres—in many ways a genuine meritocracy.
Throughout much of the sixties, the mainstream art world remained apolitical. The social realism of the thirties and forties had been superseded by abstraction; formalist issues were fiercely debated, and form itself seemed to be the subject of much of the work to be seen. The concept of the avant-garde was still powerful, modernism still an ideal, though there was heated argument as to what kinds of art were actually extending the modernist tradition. Post-painterly abstraction and pop art were already well established as the prevailing vanguard styles; minimalism had recently emerged as a definable phenomenon. A characteristic of all three was the cool, dispassionate tone which had replaced the expressive intensity of both social realism and abstract expressionism. And yet it was a moment of exhilarating freedom and boundless potential, when no idea was too wild to try, no aesthetic premise too extreme to push to its logical conclusion.
Sculpture was the dominant medium, much of it architectonic in scale, and various permutations of artists' performance, experimental dance, and new music were a vital feature of the New York scene. Much of the work that seemed most new and exciting had a machine made look: op art, kinetic art, and light sculpture all projected the glamour of technology with an optimism that soon became hard to sustain. A basic grid pattern, sometimes consisting of serial imagery, was a common structural device in both abstract and representational painting, and in some sculpture as well.3 Many artists were experimenting with nontraditional materials, especially plastics, for their special sensual and physical properties, but also as symbols of the technological present.
E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), founded in 1966 by Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver, an engineer at the Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, and The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at M.l.T., which opened in the fall of 1967, fostered collaborations among artists, engineers and scientists. These resulted not only in discrete objects but in complex multimedia environments. Along with installations employing video technology, artists experimented with broadcast video discovering the purely visual potential of the electronic medium and devising innovative techniques that have since become the staple of MTV. And in 1968, the introduction of the Sony Portapak gave a tremendous impetus to artists' performance, permitting the documentation and dissemination of highly personal, intimate work in this genre.

The experimentation with new media and industrial techniques had a particularly profound impact on printmaking. Tatiana Grosman was able to interest a number of outstanding artists who did not define themselves as printmakers in using lithography at the ULAE workshop, which she had founded in 1957. Working with superb master printers and unhampered by a prior knowledge of the limitations of the medium, Rauschenberg and Johns made prints which refined and expanded the capacities of lithography. In the autumn of 1964, Rosa Esman, a young art collector who was a passionate admirer of both pop art and Tanya Grosman, also began to publish prints, attracted by the idea of creating affordable works by her favorite artists. Inspired by a collection of signed, limited-edition serigraphs published in Paris under the title "UR" (and perhaps, too, by the screenprint technique in the newest paintings of Warhol and Rauschenberg), she became intrigued by the idea of using silk-screen as a medium for original fine-art graphics:
UR was a challenge, and it was this publication that inspired me to publish American artists in collection form, using techniques appropriate to art at that time, but which were untraditional and therefore unacceptable by Tanya Grosman's standards. Silk-screen printing, for example, was traditionally used for reproduction only.4

Rosa Esman and, soon after, Marian Goodman of Multiples, Inc. became intrepid collaborators with artists who wanted to try out unusual techniques and work with peculiar materials, while other more conventional workshops like Sillman and Ives perfected the technique of screen printing, an incredibly adaptable medium. Prints were made on all kinds of surfaces—mylar, Plexiglas, aluminum and fabrics. Plastics were used for collage elements and vacuum-formed to create reliefs. Among the memorable portfolios published by Esman's Original Editions/Tanglewood Press were three sets called "11 Pop Artists," featuring Lichtenstein, Dine, Rosenquist, Segal, Warhol and Wesselmann. Esman also worked with abstract artists: Frankenthaler, Motherwell, Ad Reinhart, Richard Anuszkiewicz. "Four on Plexiglas," an outstanding set published by Multiples in 1966, included work by Guston, Rivers, Oldenburg, and Newman. Both publishers also produced limited edition three-dimensional objects. Some of these were industrially fabricated, but many were partially or entirely handmade, simulating the appearance of mass production.

The vitality, technical inventiveness, and sheer quantity of prints produced in the sixties by these and other publishers, including the superb facilities of Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, amounted to a revolution in printmaking. Not only were there hundreds of new images, there were often hundreds of copies of each image, making it possible for original works by major artists to be shown and collected more widely than ever before. Created in part in response to a new interest in contemporary art, these prints did much to acquaint a broader public with innovative art, and ultimately contributed substantially to the decentralization of the art world in the seventies.

Although more and more prints were made to benefit political candidates or causes, the use of art as a means of persuasion was frowned on as illustrative and propagandistic. Even among the pop artists, explicitly political content was rare. Robert Rauschenberg's heterogeneous imagery, borrowed from the media, frequently included a public dimension. Images of John Kennedy, soldiers, and military equipment appear in his drawings and silk-screen paintings, along with sports figures, works of art, and everyday objects in mysterious juxtapositions that have a distinct though ambiguous political resonance. Andy Warhol included in his Disaster series powerful news pictures of the civil rights struggle and created a series of intensely moving portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy immediately after the assassination. The dispassionate treatment of these highly charged subjects paradoxically increased their emotional impact. James Rosenquist was perhaps the most overtly political of the pop artists. His F-111, 1962, is a huge, multi-paneled work, almost environmental in effect in which pictures of the controversial warplane are disturbingly insinuated into a montage of other, less deadly American products, and reflective surfaces incorporate the viewer. It was placed on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in February 1968, a symptom, perhaps, of renewed public interest in art with a political message.
Like most Americans, artists responded to the events of the turbulent sixties as individuals—with varying degrees of engagement, passion, or indifference. Though many were strong supporters of the civil rights movement and deplored the U.S. involvement in Vietnam collective action was rare. There were exceptions. A number of artists supported political candidates or causes by donating works for sale and creating commemorative prints. Beginning in 1962, Artists for CORE produced annual benefit exhibitions for the Congress for Racial Equality. In 1962, as well, a group calling itself "Artists and Writers Protest" took out a letter-ad in the New York Times in favor of disarmament; in 1965 the same group denounced U.S. intervention in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. In 1967 the group sponsored Angry Arts Week; over a hundred performances and events to protest the war were organized throughout New York City, including "The Collage of Indignation,' a collaborative work by over 150 artists in a cacophony of different styles which Leon Golub, one of the organizers, described as "not political art, but rather an expression of popular revulsion."5 In another collaborative gesture, 400 artists sent works to be affixed to the Peace Tower designed by Mark di Suvero and erected by the L.A. Artists Protest Committee in the Watts area, which had been devastated by riots in the summer of 1965. But these were exceptions rather than the rule. In 1968, whatever the intensity of their political feelings, few artists expressed them in their art. The artists who participated in the memorable benefit exhibition organized by Lucy Lippard at the Paula Cooper Gallery in support of the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam in October 1968, contributed characteristically experimental nonobjective works.
Sol LeWitt, who made his first wall drawing for that exhibition, spoke for most of his peers when he declared:

I don't know of any art of painting or sculpture that has any kind of real significance in terms of political content, and when it does try to have that, the result is pretty embarrassing. . . Artists live in a society that is not part of society. . . The artist wonders what he can do when he sees the world going to pieces around him. But as an artist he can do nothing except be an artist. 6
Yet, in spite of the apolitical nature of the work included, it was significant that artists chose to participate in such an exhibition. According to Lucy Lippard, a critic who has been personally and passionately involved with both radical art and political activism since the mid-sixties, it was in 1968 that:

The slowly evolving public opposition to the Vietnam War. .. came to a head, sweeping large numbers of artists into the resistance. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and events in Southeast Asia made a newly conscious white constituency aware of the ties between oppression of Third World people abroad and at home. . . Political consciousness and racial or sexual identity met to provide a ground on which artists could relate. Similarly, many of us began to understand how the power structures of the art world reflected those of the world around us.7
Among the notable antiwar art produced in 1968, Nancy Spero's poignant metaphorical drawings of atrocities and Oyvind Fahlstrom's pop culture images of militarist villains and Third World victims were part of an ongoing meditation. Edward Kienholtz' environmental tableau, The Portable War Memorial, 1968, with its ironic juxtaposition of the Iwo Jima monument and the depressing tawdriness of military life, powerfully conveys the moral devastation of war. (A later print version includes the names of hundreds of countries wiped off the map in earlier wars.) An ad placed by Artists and Writers Protest in the Times linked the war in Vietnam with "the other war, the war against Black America,"8 an idea succinctly embodied in Faith Ringgold's American Flag whose stripes spell out the words "die rigger" Indeed, as Benny Andrews' tragic painting of a young black G.I. reminds us, most of the American victims of the war were poor and black.

If 1968 was the year that white artists became more politically aware, it was also the year that black visual artists began to define a specifically black aesthetic, and that white America began to take more notice of their work. While a number of ad hoc artists' collaboratives had been founded earlier in the sixties to foster the creation and exhibition of works by black artists, most shows until 1968 were seen only at black institutions and in black neighborhoods. Those directed to a wider audience were mainly historical surveys. In March of 1968, New Voices: Fifteen Black Artists was shown at the American Greetings Gallery in downtown New York. It provided the nucleus of a more extensive survey of contemporary black artists which appeared in Minneapolis in October and subsequently traveled to several other museums.
A stronger institutional base for the exhibition of black contemporary art was established with the opening of The Studio Museum in Harlem in September. In Chicago, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. served as a focus for the creation of another significant black arts organization: AFRI-COBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists). Like the Organization of Black American Culture in the same city, which had created the Wall of Respect, the first of many murals by community arts organizations, AFRI-COBRA sought "to liberate its audience and define a national Black consciousness"9 This effort was in part a response to a climate that permitted what now seem acts of amazing insensitivity by mainstream institutions. Although the Museum of Modern Arts Junior Council was instrumental in founding the Studio Museum, when MOMA itself planned a memorial exhibition for Dr. King in November 1968, not a single black artist was included; a few were finally added at the last moment in a separate room. The same combination of patronage and exclusion was displayed by the organizers of the documentary audiovisual extravaganza Harlem on My Mind, which opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in January of 1969. By the fall of 1968, Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, and other black cultural leaders were already demanding greater participation by black curators and the inclusion of original works by black artists in the first show at a major museum to focus on the negro in America. In the protests by the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition and the Art Workers Coalition, formed in 1969 in response to the passions of 1968, a new kind of artists' activism was born.
In 1968, confrontation was becoming an increasingly frequent feature of political discourse. It was "the dawning of the Age of Aquarius," as the hit musical Hair, which moved from the Public Theater to Broadway in April, described it—a time of youth, freedom, equality, and love. Liberals were encouraged by the fact that President Johnson tacitly admitting the bankruptcy of his Vietnam policy, declined to run for another term. The passage of the Civil Rights Bill, banning racial discrimination in housing and making it a crime to interfere with civil rights workers, seemed an important step forward, and the presidential candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy offered the possibility of inspiring, effective leadership for the future. To some of the nation's young people, the substantial gains already made by the civil rights and antiwar movements seemed insignificant. They found all forms of authority oppressive, all injustice intolerable. In 1968, their impatience led to an explosion. Student radicals added a new element to the volatile blend of hope, violence and hysteria of that extraordinary year. The "Yippies" engaged in a kind of anarchist agit-prop in a spirit similar to that of Dada manifestations in the earlier part of the century. A group of them demonstrated at the opening of the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism, protesting the fact that this most vital and revolutionary of all modern movements was being embalmed alive, as it were, at what one of them called 'the Mausoleum of Modern Art'."10 Students for a Democratic Society, more bitterly radical, conceived of protest as a form of open war. On April 23, 19 days after the assassination of Dr. King, a group of students organized by S.D.S. occupied five buildings at Columbia University to protest the treatment of blacks on campus and in Harlem where the university was a major landlord, as well as other "repressive" University policies. The university was closed down for over a month. Student unrest was a worldwide phenomenon that spring. Uprisings in Paris, Berkeley, Tokyo, and Mexico City pitted rioting students against police and the militia. At least a part of the trauma of 1968 was due to generational conflict, as idealistic youth challenged the authority and the failure of its elders.
The assassinations, first of Dr. King and only three months later of Robert Kennedy, jolted the country. "The best leaders of our time were dead," Tom Hayden, one of the founders of S.D.S., recently told a reporter from Time Magazine .11 By 1968 1 knew I was part of an apocalypse." It was the apocalyptic political theater of the Democratic Convention in Chicago that finally crystallized the consciousness of the art world. "The whole world is watching," chanted the demonstrators, provoking the Chicago police to blind rage and total loss of self-control. Police brutality, until then a remote problem experienced by blacks and civil rights workers, was directed against the children of the middle class, and witnessed over television by the entire country. Claes Oldenburg, who was visiting the city at the time, told Time Magazine reporters that he was "tossed to the ground by six swearing troopers who kicked me and choked me and called me a Communist."
"After watching with the rest of a horrified liberal community," wrote Tom Hess in an editorial in Art News in November, about 50 artists decided to join Oldenburg in a boycott of Chicago for the balance of Mayor Daley's term in office, stating in a telegram to the mayor:

The recent actions by Chicago's police directed and supported by Mayor Daley and not repudiated by the people of Chicago have marked that city as being unfit for membership in a civilized society.12

The boycott was temporarily suspended for a protest exhibition organized by Oldenburgs dealer, Richard Feigen, in October. Among the works inspired by the convention was Oldenburg's extraordinary multiple edition sculpture of a Chicago fireplug, whose expressive surface texture and violent red color evoke the bleeding meat of the city's stockyards and the blood drawn by its policemen's clubs, and James Rosenquist's slashed portrait of Mayor Daley, which vividly conveys the politician's brutal presence and the hostility of the artist.
It was against this background of increasing political chaos that what Jack Tworkov had referred to as the "thingness" the monolithic and glossy integrity of mid-sixties art objects-was superseded by radical, apparently chaotic new ways of making art. In many instances, tendencies inherent in minimalism, pushed to their logical conclusion, led to the phenomenon that Lucy Lippard christened "dematerialization": the tendency of art to become more conceptual, to include and sometimes even substitute mental activity for sensual experience.
The spirit of Marcel Duchamp informed this tendency. In a full-page obituary-advertisement in Artforum, occasioned by Duchamp's death in October, Jasper Johns emphasized Duchamp's pioneering act of "mov[ing] his work through the retinal
boundaries which had been established with Impressionism into a field where language, thought, and vision act upon one another.''13 In this spirit,
Lawrence Weiner decided, after the accidental destruction of a temporary installation at Windham College, to present his work henceforth solely in the form of the written proposals embodying the conceptual essence of each piece. Similarly, Joseph Kosuth, who saw in Duchamp's Readymades the "beginning of 'modern' art and the beginning of 'conceptual' art,"14 compiled a series of works consisting of enlarged photostats of definitions from a dictionary. Displayed on the gallery wall, the white words floating in a black space resonate in the mind as purely mental images.
Above all, the essential, iconoclastic Duchamp, who reveled in paradox, trusted chance, and possessed a subtle and quirky sense of humor was reflected in the work of John Baldessari. Beginning in 1966, Baldessari made paintings consisting of words alone or together with primitive photographic images. Some were sentences quoted directly from textbooks on art, others, like "a painting which is its own documentation" or "everything is purged from this painting except art," were self-descriptive. All attempted to identify the nature of art in ways simultaneously absurd and profound.

In 1968, Baldessari changed the name of his course in painting at the University of California at San Diego to "Post Studio Art" His "A 1968 Painting," incorporating an awful reproduction of a Frank Stella 'protractor' painting from earlier in the year, both depicts and embodies the written text, using pictorial and written language to evoke two d disparate but equally current strategies for making art, while satirizing journalistic and critical clichés and challenging empty notions about style.
Accompanying the "dematerialization" of art was a broadening of the kinds of media considered suitable for artistic purposes. For the minimalists the most neutral and appropriate vehicles for formal aesthetic investigation were industrial production techniques and materials—not only rigid ones, but also soft, floppy materials, like felt rubber and latex, and malleable substances, such as tar and lead. The new plastics often had an ambiguous, viscous appearance, with strange biomorphic connotations,while remaining obdurately and disturbingly synthetic. The industrial landscape comprised not only gleaming skylines and glossy consumer products but landfill and detritus.

The use of unmodified chunks of industrial and natural materials in their raw state, often loosely juxtaposed rather than constructed or manipulated was by 1968 an international phenomenon. In February, Germano Celant's influential exhibition at the Galeria Foscherari in Bologna and the accompanying book (published in English in 1969) brought together Americans and Europeans working in this vein and suggested the emergence of a new kind of art. Robert Smithson's first "non-site" was shown in March 1968 in a one-man exhibition otherwise devoted to minimalist serial structures. A jumble of rocks placed in a series of crate-like bins constructed to suggest a false perspective was accompanied by a geological survey map of the site from which the rocks had been removed. The "non-site," according to Smithson, "in a physical way contains the disruption of the site." Conceptually, the artist transforms a physical space into mental space. Visually, the 'non-site' presents an intersection of rigid minimalist geometry and natural dispersion. Smithson later pursued this juxtaposition in his 'mirror displacements, more Iyrical visual re-organizations of casually scattered piles of rocksalt or gravel, located either in natural settings or within the gallery, and in such vast environmental works as the celebrated Spiral Jetty, 1970.

Smithson's writings were influential in suggesting the possibility that artists might designate as works of art not only 'ready-made' objects but locations and indeed whole environments. In "A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects," published in Artforum in September, he compared geological process to the texture of thought:

One's mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion, mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptua/ crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. . . A bleached and fractured world surrounds the artist. To organize this mess of corrosion into patterns, grids, and subdivisions is an aesthetic process that has scarcely been touched.15
While much of Smithson's work and that of other artists making earthworks, involves the insertion of human order into natural chaos, the land itself—brute matter—is an essential counterforce. Informing Smithson's vision is the physical concept of entropy the ultimate loss of energy and the dispersion and breakdown of all physical systems over time. It leads him to the realization that "nothing is certain or formal " In this essay, and in an extraordinary exhibition et the Dwan Gallery in October, Smithson brought together a number of artists who used the earth as a medium, either by a direct intervention in the landscape or as a substance whose normal connotations and powerful physical presence could be transformed by a shift of perception into the stuff of art. Sidney Tillim described the exhibition in Artforum in December in an article called "Earthworks and the New Picturesque":

Either passages of landscape are turned into art or object-art is turned into a kind of landscape, or object and landscape are combined in a way that is both aesthetic and atavistic. Dennis Oppenheim proposed to mow rings up to ten miles wide in the wheat fields surrounding an active volcano in Ecuador next July, whereas Robert Morris assembles, in a gallery, and for one time, a compost of dark soil, a profusion of pipes, lengths of felt and a gelatinous mass of thick industrial grease. Other varieties of the literalist landscape experience, either illustrated or actually shown in the exhibition, include the vast parallel lines drawn across a Western wasteland by Walter de Maria. .. Rough-hewn blocks of wood by Carl Andre were illustrated snaking through forest underbrush, Michael Heizer dug slit trenches in forests and sun-baked mud flats. Claes Oldenburg showed some dirt in a plastic container; the dirt was said to be seeded with worms.
The "media aesthetic" of these earthworks, as Tillim noted,
is not limited to a geological palette. . . other artists are working in other mediums which interpolate a corresponding landscape of tactility. And much of it combines both soft and hard components to recapitulate [a] basic formal dichotomy (edge versus mass)...16

In the course of the year, young artists such as Eva Hesse, Barry Le Va, Bruce Nauman, Alan Saret, Keith Sonnier and Richard Serra working in such equivocal media, either produced or for the first time showed work that had a different feeling to it from that of past seasons. Most significantly, the use of industrial felt and the exploration of its variable interaction with the force of gravity by Robert Morris, in a three-part exhibition at the Castelli Gallery in spring, clearly revealed a transition in the work of this influential theoretician of minimalism. This exhibition, along with a polemical article, "Anti Form,' in Artforum, focused attention on the emergence of a new way of making art:
Recently, materials other than rigid industrial ones have begun to show up. . . A direct investigation of the properties of these materials is in progress. This involves a reconsideration of the use of tools in relation to material. .. Sometimes a direct manipulation of a given material without the use of any tool is made. In these cases considerations of gravity become as important as those of space. The focus on matter and gravity as means results in forms which were not projected in advance. Considerations of ordering are necessarily casual and imprecise and unemphasized... Chance is accepted and indeterminacy is implied since replacing will result in another configuration. Disengagement with preconceived enduring forms and orders for things is a positive assertion. It is part of the work's refusal to continue aestheticizing form by dealing with it as a prescribed end.17
Process and chance were also essential to works that did not employ soft materials. For example, Mel Bochner's "surface distensions" involved stretching the perceptual integrity of geometric forms to their limit by photographing grid patterns or three- dimensional cubes and then superimposing, re-photographing, and sometimes manipulating photographic negatives to yield strange irregular shapes. Perhaps the most significant and influential use of these ideas occurred in the Peace exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery that also signal led the growing political activism of the art world. Bernice Rose, curator of drawings at the Museum of Modern Art, considers LeWitt's first wall drawing a seminal event:
LeWitt's transposition of his drawings from the restricted if traditional format of a sheet of paper to the architectural space of a wall with which it became absolutely identified was a radical move. It suggests transformation in the role—and the very nature—of the drawing medium, both within his own work and the history of the medium. LeWitt's move was a cataclysm as important for drawing as Pollock's use of the drip technique had been for painting in the 1 1950's. Both opposed, through radical transpositions in the way in which the thing is made, expectations of the way art ought to look—what it ought to be.18
The scale itself was influential. Drawing, until then an intimate and subordinate medium, became the vehicle for creating major works of art. Separated from the confines of the paper, the web of lines in a LeWitt wall drawing seems a pure emanation of the artist's thought. Yet the interaction of the image with the solid surface of the wall and the architectural space it inhabits gives it a commanding presence. Equally radical was LeWitt's insistence that his works consist of conceptions which can be made manifest in any number of two-dimensional or three-dimensional forms. As Robert Rosenblum noted, since each appearance of a wall drawing reflects the conditions of its execution, the drawings "reconcile two opposing modes of structure that have fascinated many artists of the 1 1960s: the rigorous order of a simple repetitive system . . . and the abdication of this elemental order in favor of the random."19

There was, in 1968, a sense of infinite possibility; nothing was too gigantic or too extreme to try. Christo wrapped his first building, the Künsthalle in Berne, enveloping the environmental works of eleven other artists installed within. Hans Haacke expanded the definition of art to include natural processes: ice forming, the flight patterns of gulls in the New York harbor, the slow growth of grass presented on a Lucite sculpture stand in the Howard Wise Gallery. To some critics, the most significant contribution to the Whitney Sculpture Annual was Richard Artschwager's 100 Locations: modest-sized lozenge shapes made of wood or a strange hairy substance, or stenciled directly on the wall, which were scattered throughout the museum, including the stairwells, the rest-rooms, and the elevator. These "quintessential objects of attention,' as Artschwager calls them, were site-specific, inexpensive art, displayed in an installation that could neither be sold nor photographed in its entirety.
When Robert Morris presented the work of nine young process artists at the warehouse of the Castelli Gallery in December, the New York Times recognized the birth of a new sensibility in calling the exhibition a "landmark event suggesting new ways of thinking about art."20 Perceptions were changing. The controlled geometry of minimalism was yielding to the flux of process art. Rationalism, pushed to its ultimate conclusions, offered the appearance of chaos, and chance produced a new kind of order. The dialectics between object and concept, aesthetics and politics, man and nature were taking on radically new forms.

On December 4, a mound of dry leaves was deposited uninvited in the exhibition at the Castelli warehouse. Another appeared outside the Dwan Gallery, and a third was delivered to the Leo Castelli Gallery at 4 East 77 Street. These were the work of a young Puerto Rican artist, Rafael Ferrer, who recollects:

A crucial fact for me in selecting Castelli was that he had a show of Cy Twombly and I felt the leaves would not disrupt or deface any existing art. . . Ron Miyashiro, a photographer friend who did work for Leo was in on the plan and waited in the gallery and took photos. . . [He told me] that when Leo came in he was told by the staff that "the leaves had been delivered to the gallery and not to the warehouse," where the large group show was opening. They had no trouble recognizing that this was art. Finally, I was also told that Leo remarked "they are very beautiful." Years later, he and I spoke about the work and he said that he left them for the day and added "maybe I should have left them longer. . . "21

1. Art in America (January-February 1967): 44-57
2. Feature articles on government patronage for the visual
arts describing the programs and impact of the National
Endowment for the Arts appeared in Art in America
(March-April 1967). "The Boom in University Museums"
was a lead article in Art News (September 1967)
3. See John Coplans, "Serial Imagery," Artforum (October
1968): 34
4. Unpublished talk, Museum of Modern Art, March 22,
5."The Artist as an Angry Artist," Arts Magazine (April
1967): 48
6. Metro (Venice), (June 1968): 44. cit. Lucy Lippard "The
Structures, The Structures and the Wall Drawings, The
Structures and the Wall Drawings and the Books,' in Sol
LeWitt, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978
7. Lucy Lippard, "Dreams, Demands, and Desires: The
Black, Antiwar, and Women's Movements,' in Tradition
and Conflict: Images of a Turbulent Decade 1963-1973:
75-76. New York: Studio Museum in Harlem, 1985
8. Lucy Lippard, in Tradition and Conflict: 77
9. Mary Schmidt-Campbell, in Tradition and Conflict: 57
10. John Ashbery. "Growing Up Surreal " Art News (May
1968): 41 11. Time, January 11, 1988: 25
12. Time, November 1, 1968: 76 and Art News, Novem
ber 1968: 27. Among the artists signing the telegram to
Mayor Daley and subsequent letters of protest were Paul
Brach, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, Ellsworth Kelly,
Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman,
Kenneth Noland, Saul Steinberg, Carl Andre, Eva Hesse
and Robert Smithson.
13. Jasper Johns, "Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)," Artforum (November 1968): 16
14. "Art After Philosophy," Studio International, (October
1969): 135
15. Robert Smithson. "A Sedimentation of the Mind's:
Earth Projects," Artforum (September 1968)
16. Sidney Tillim, "Earthworks and the New Picturesque."
Artforum (December 1968): 44
17 Robert Morris, "Anti-Form," Artforum (April l 1968): 35
18. Bernice Rose, "Sol LeWitt and Drawing" in Sol LeWitt,
New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978: 26
19. Robert Rosenblum, "Notes on Sol LeWitt,' in Sol
LeWitt: 19
20. Philip Leider, New York Times, December 22, 1968,
11, 31:5
21. Unpublished letter, June 1988

above copied from:

Friday, May 9, 2008

When Attitudes become Form, Janet McKenzie

Eva Hesse
Tate Modern, London, 13 November 2002 until 9 March 2003.

Eva Hesse at Tate Modern is a wonderful, enigmatic exhibition that inspires a wide range of interpretations and associations. It also resists interpretation and easy categorisation. Eva Hesse was a pivotal figure in the development of post-war international art and since her early death has become something of a feminist role model. However, Hesse's dramatic life - her evacuation at the age of three from Nazi Germany, her mother's death from suicide when she was ten, her struggle to gain recognition as a young artist in New York, especially in the male-dominated field of sculpture, and her struggle with cancer - have possibly stood in the way of a full appraisal of her work. Hesse died in 1970 of a brain tumour at the age of 34. She has since become a revered and iconic figure in 20th-century art.

The Tate Modern, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Wiesbaden Museum, Germany have collaborated on this great exhibition. The lavishly illustrated catalogue provides an in-depth examination of Eva Hesse's complete oeuvre. It concentrates on her working methods and choice of unorthodox materials as well as on the large aesthetic and philosophical issues raised by her work.

Eva Hesse was born in Hamburg in 1936. She was evacuated to Holland with her sister to escape Nazi persecution and reunited with her family in 1939. They then moved to New York. She studied at Yale School of Art and Architecture in 1959. Her early work included abstracted figures — self-portraits — in thick impasto and an earth palette. Although she later became a sculptor, in her early twenties she drew with a vigorous style and produced many works on paper. In her works on paper between 1962-64 Hesse developed a gestural style, incorporating gouache and collage. They are energetic works, full of possibilities.

In 1961, Hesse married sculptor Tom Doyle. He was invited by a patron to work in Germany in exchange for a number of works. The couple spent a yearlong residency there. It was a pivotal phase in Hesse's creative development. She spent the first six months in Europe visiting galleries and museums. Her works produced there during their second six months have both a mathematical and erotic quality. She was particularly interested in Marcel Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (1915-23) in which sexual desire is portrayed as the driving, mechanical force upon the body. By the time she returned to New York late in 1965, she was well on the way to developing her own unique vision. She had absorbed and developed aspects of Minimalism, Surrealism and Conceptualism. The exhibition conveys the fact that although Hesse worked quickly, in a remarkably short time before her death, and managed to make a profound contribution to 20th-century sculpture in that time, her work is also poetic and personal. At times, it is also witty and searing.

The transatlantic collaboration that has produced Eva Hesse at Tate Modern is the most extensive exhibition of the artist's work ever assembled. It includes early drawings and paintings; dynamic and extraordinary relief sculptures - a transition from two to three dimensional work - and her late, large-scale sculptures. It is a unique chance to see Hesse in Britain, for while Hesse broke new ground in her art, the materials she chose were not fit to last. Many works in museums around the world are too fragile to be moved. Important works such as Expanded Expansion at the Guggenheim Museum in New York - a 10 feet by 30 feet billowing drape of rubberised cheesecloth, supported by fibreglass poles, has had to be taken down. Left standing it would almost certainly collapse. Other latex works have to be kept in storage crates so that airborne fibres do not settle on surfaces that have become soft and sticky. Hesse's work is literally disintegrating.

Hesse's early drawings were shown in a group show in April 1961, entitled: Drawings: Three Young Americans, at the John Heller Gallery in New York. Her work was well received; Donald Judd described her to be 'the most contemporary and proficient'.1 Later, her works were described as prophetic of the latex and fibreglass sculptures she subsequently made. The organic shapes created then on paper were used in many different forms throughout her short career.

Hesse's first solo exhibition: Eva Hesse: Recent Drawings, opened in March 1963 at the Allan Stone Gallery in New York. Gestural marks and collage replace the earlier, evocative ink drawings. Their dynamism was appreciated by ARTnews:

'She smashes down on little cutout shapes, half-erased ideas, repetitive linear strikings, and sets up new relationships. She invents dimension and position with changes of kinds of stroke, levels of intensity, starting and breaking momentum, and by redefining a sense of place from forces which are visible coefficients of energy'.2

The drawings of this period have a great energy, and a private reality. She often reoriented her images by 180 degrees, rearranged parts of the work by tearing it, replacing it with collage. The process here is of paramount importance, an attitude she held in the highest regard, even when she realised that materials such as latex would have a very limited life.

The next group of works on paper (1964-65) were made following her return from Germany. Hesse had visited museums in Basle, Bern, Dusseldorf, Florence, Mallorca, Paris, Rome and Zurich. She absorbed the 'biomorphic surrealism of Pablo Picasso and Arshile Gorky as well as the modified Cubism of Jacques Lipchitz and Eduardo Chillida'.3 Describing her year in Germany she wrote to Sol LeWitt:

'I have done drawings. Seems like 100s although much less in numbers. There have been a few stages. First kind of like what was in past, free crazy forms - well done and so on. They have a wild space, not constant, fluctuating and variety of forms etc. Paintings were enlarged versions, attempts at similar space etc.

2nd stage. Contained forms somewhat harder often in boxes and forms become machine like, real like, as if to tell a story that they are contained. Paintings follow similarly.

3rd stage. Drawings - clean, clear - but crazy like machines, forms larger and bolder, articulately described. So it is weird. They become real nonsense'.4

Hesse's Contained Forms: Gridded works on Paper and Canvas, form an important chapter in the present exhibition. They are divided by black lines to form a grid into which, 'disparate, often humorous cartoon-like forms are placed'.5 These are ambiguous and dramatic works.

Thematically and formally, these works read as arrays of possibilities, where sample styles and subjects are collected and examined as if specimens. Mechanical vs. organic forms, hot vs. cool colours, tidy vs. overburdened brushstrokes are cordoned off and pinned down for analysis. This series became Hesse's farewell to oil painting on canvas, an important step for an artist who had worked seriously as a painter for over five years. The dialectics first developed in these gridded paintings and drawings were subsequently played out in the three-dimensional topography of Hesse's painted reliefs.6

When Hesse returned to New York from Germany she began making 'quirky fetishistic sculpture'. Referred to in the exhibition by Lucy Lippard's term, 'Eccentric Abstraction', this phase of Hesse's rapidly developing oeuvre is puzzling and strange. Building on the sexual imagery and formal qualities of the relief sculptures that Hesse produced in Germany, these works are difficult to categorise. Fetish assemblages, a fascination with psychology and sexuality belong to an alternative Surrealism. Hesse was involved with an artistic circle that included Mike Todd, Paul Thek and Joe Raffaele. They encouraged the fetishistic aspect of Hesse's work.

A most decisive break in Eva Hesse's work came in 1966 with the largest and most elaborate sculpture to date: Metronomic Irregularity II. It was included in Lucy Lippard's exhibition, Eccentric Abstraction at the Fishbach Gallery, New York.

Based on a smaller two-panel study Metronomic Irregularity II consisted of three four-foot wooden squares hung at equal intervals in a row on the gallery wall. Each panel was drilled with a grid of 100s of holes, which Hesse connected with a dense web of cotton-covered copper wires. This formal structure relates strongly to earlier reliefs in which Hesse explored the conflict between chaos and order by pairing regular grounds with disorganised extrusions.7

Order versus disorder is stated here with greater restraint than in previous works. The modular approach to structure within a unified object was quite new for Hesse. So too was the 'recognition that the gallery space itself could be used almost as a sculptural material was a discovery Hesse continued to mine throughout her career'.8 It was not until mid-1966 that Hesse became seriously involved with Minimalism. There are many clues for this development in the early wash drawings in 1966.

The grid was used by many American artists from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties because it represented a complete break from subjective pictorial preoccupations and illusionist space. The grid was a means of organising the picture plane. There were inherent grids in many of Hesse's work prior to 1966. From this point on, she combined circles and grids that would always separate her work from Minimalist art of the time. Where the grid was neutral, the introduction of circles created an interesting tension. Her relief structures - constructed with washers and grommets on wood panels - confronted Minimalism, even though it was assumed that she had adopted a Minimalist language. Hesse worked on serial procedures, pushing experimentation with mathematical series to extraordinary lengths. She inspired an intellectual dialogue with other artists and theorists.

Like other artists of the mid-sixties - Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt and Robert Smithson - Hesse used techniques from industry. Machine finish, as opposed to the 'idiosyncrasies of touch', was a natural progression from the serial geometries and commercially available parts or found objects.

Accession I, 1967, was an important development in Hesse's career. It consists of an open-top aluminium box, threaded from the outside with rubber tubing, to create a bristling inner surface. Later the same year, she commissioned Arco Metals to make a similar but very much larger structure. She was still involved in the making process but she was not averse to seeking help for technical problems. The Accession boxes display characteristics of geometry versus organic that characterise many of her works. There are anthropomorphic associations and erotic qualities.

In the late 1960s, Hesse began to use latex in her work. Although she was aware of its instability, she was also fascinated by its translucent and supple qualities. Although she acknowledged the influence of Duchamp and his notions of chance, it was the paradoxes of the material that most inspired her work at this stage. Latex was used by Hesse as a casting material - the liquid rubber was poured into forms that she heated or cured in the oven. Later she used it like paint, applying it to cheesecloth or wire mesh. Hesse used latex for 16 major works, and in that process for a number of small works, as well. In a number of these works, other materials were also used - wax, fibreglass, plastic tubing, plaster tiles. Glass cases were bought to display apparently strange collections of sculptures pieces.

The sculptures entitled Repetition Nineteen, displayed so well in the open gallery space at Tate Modern's galleries are one of Hesse's most important series. As implied by its name, it exists in numerous iterations. Repetition Nineteen I, 1967, consists of 19 white, bucket-like shapes, each ten inches tall, made from papier mâché. In Repetition Nineteen III, the bucket forms are twice as tall as the first series and are made of fibreglass and polyester resin. Similar bucket sculptures were also made in latex. They are softer, more organic forms than other works from this period; especially works such as Accession I. They are exhibited on the wooden floor, in a somewhat accidental configuration. They are suggestive of human experience, though an exact meaning is never absolutely clear.

Grids, boxes, tubes, bucket shapes are used by Hesse in different combinations, like words or symbols in poetry. Her late drawings in wash can also be cross-referenced in her working method and in the development of a strong personal language. Against a background of theory and art practice in the late 1960s, it is not surprising that Eva Hesse's sculpture was included in the exhibition, Anti-Form, organised by John Gibson which opened at the Gibson Gallery in October 1968.

The 'warehouse show', as it became known was at Nine at Leo Castelli. Two works by Hesse were selected: Augment and Aught. Robert Morris wrote his influential article in Artforum earlier in the same year, in which he might well have been describing Hesse's important works before they had actually been made:

The focus on matter and gravity as means results in forms that were not projected in advance. Considerations of ordering are necessarily casual and imprecise and unemphasised. Random piling, loose stacking and hanging give passing form to the material. Chance is accepted and indeterminacy is implied, as replacing will result in another configuration.9

Augment was included in the important exhibition organised by Harald Szeemann, When Attitude Becomes Form, Works, Concepts, Processes, Situations, Information, which travelled to Germany and London. The exhibition contributed greatly to Hesse's international reputation. Both Augment and Aught have been extremely fragile since the early eighties and available only to scholars. In 1970, Hesse knew the potential instability of her materials and felt a certain guilt. She felt that when selling her sculptures the buyer ought to be warned. She was also very philosophical, aware by then of her terminal cancer and of her own mortality.

The Window works on paper of 1968 were described by Lucy Lippard as 'transitional'. Stacked rectangles in hazy gouache correspond with the soft washes employed for the latex sculptures. This is an additive process, leaving a frayed edge.

In these drawings Hesse demonstrates her great pictorial intelligence and tact by reconciling motifs and facture from her earlier work with her newer conception of the art object and its generative process.10

Hanging works from 1969 and 1970 revealed Hesse's dialogue with Surrealists such as Marcel Duchamp. They express ephemerality, and energy in space; they are both beautiful and repellent. There is also a psychological suspense evoked. The hanging sculpture Contingent (in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia and too fragile to travel) is painterly in its concept and execution.

The use of non-traditional materials is of central importance in the discussion of Eva Hesse's work; a chapter in the fine catalogue is devoted to the issues of conservation that pertain to her work.

In the last years of her life Hesse became so comfortable with her ideas that her artistic expressions are fluent regardless of the medium in which she worked. The ease with which she explored ideas in different forms and applied techniques in different media suggests that, in her own mind, her creative process had dissolved the boundaries between categories typically used to describe artistic form.11

The late Window paintings have an extraordinary power and beauty. Described by her friend and fellow artist Gioia Timpanelli, with whom she worked in Woodstock, New York, in the summer of 1969, as having a movement that was deliberate and improvisational, expressing discipline and freedom. These small works are among the most powerful in the Tate Modern exhibition.

'The work was abstract, formal, cool, showing great deliberation, clear-headed and passionate at the same time. She never excluded the human emotional element, never abandoned the subtle form. If there seemed to be rules, then they were there to be broken. Everything was immediate and present. The washes were all important, the paint thickness and the thin washes were worked in order to arrive at an abstraction that made sense. Art, like nature, had a prodigious complexity recognisable by those who could see it. All this was done with an intense passion. I don't use the word 'passion' lightly. By it I mean a serious Eros, child of Beauty and the terrifying ineffable creation, which uses the synthesis of opposites, which creates something new.'12

Eva Hesse at Tate Modern enables one to see the art of the past 40 years in a fresh light. Unlike the Barnett Newman show which is still on, and which is primarily about Newman alone, the Eva Hesse exhibition is truly enlightening. It is like returning to an original experience of abstraction and to the experience of absolute authenticity and integrity in the creative act. It makes sense of a lot of art that has been made in a similar vein in recent years and enables one to discern between the brilliant and the very dull in contemporary art.

All quotes are taken from the catalogue published on the occasion of the exhibition Eva Hesse, co-organised by Elisabeth Sussman for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Dr Renate Petzinger for Museum Wiesbaden,

1. Quoted by Julia Bryan-Wilson, 'Early Drawings: Ink Washes and Gouaches', p.129.
2. Valerie Peterson, review of 'Eva Hesse: Recent Drawings', ARTNews 62 (May 1963), quoted by Robin Clark, 'Reorienting, Rearranging, Replacing: Works on Paper, 1962-63', p.129.
3. Robin Cook, 'Contained Forms: Gridded Works on Paper and Canvas', p.149.
4. Quoted, ibid, p.149.
5. Ibid, p.150.
6. Ibid, p.150.
7. Scott Rothkopf, 'Metronomic Irregularity', p.185.
8. Ibid, p.188.
9. Robert Morris, 'Anti-Form', Artforum 6 (April 1968) 33-35, quoted by Robin Cook, 'Anti-Forms: Augment, Aught and Seam', p.253.
10. Scott Rothkopf, 'Late Drawings', p.258.
11. Michelle Barger and Jill Sterett, 'Play and Interplay: Eva Hesse's Artistic Method', p.318.
12. Gioia Timpanelli, 'Woodstock Paintings', p.102.

Above copied from:

Tony Conrad interview, Brian Duguid

Tony Conrad, best known for playing violin with the Theatre of Eternal Music in the early sixties, and for his more recent violin-centred compositions, admits that his introduction to his instrument was mostly negative. It was only the influence of the young violinist Ronald Knudsen that changed things, urging Conrad to play slowly, and concentrate on the tuning, something he has been doing ever since.

Knudsen wasn't the only influence that set Conrad on the path that pioneered the minimalist drone. After hearing Heinrich Biber's 17th century Mystery Sonatas, Conrad noted: "Biber's music transformed me; for the first time, my violin sounded truly wonderful". Close behind Biber's polyphonic timbral invention came Indian classical music, which Conrad quickly came to value for the function of the drone and lack of conventional harmonic progression.

When Conrad left music school at the beginning of the sixties and moved to New York, he soon encountered La Monte Young's then group (featuring Billy Name, Marian Zazeela and Angus Maclise), playing a proto-minimalist jazz mutation. Soon, Billy Name left and Conrad joined, beginning by playing only an open fifth drone, and moving the small ensemble towards a "Dream Music" that would profoundly influence subsequent composers.

Conrad saw contemporary music as being at a crisis point. John Cage's radicalism, and Young's Fluxus verbal scores (listening to butterflies as a piece of music) indicated music being dismantled in an unsurpassably extreme manner - a limit that Rhys Chatham describes in more detail elsewhere in this issue. Conrad believed that the "Dream Music" offered three routes out of this quandary. Firstly, it dispensed with the "edifice of high culture" - it was music to participate in, anywhere, not just fodder for galleries and concert halls. Secondly, it dispensed with the musical score, offering a way for classical music to ditch compositional authoritarianism in favour of the improvisational collaboration already mapped out by jazz musicians. Fianlly, it focussed not on the act of composing at all, but, thanks to the minute harmonic intervals the group were now exploring, on the act of listening. According to Conrad: "This was a total displacement of the composer's role, from progenitor of the sound to groundskeeper at its gravesite".

With the addition of John Cale and his viola, the newly named Theatre of Eternal Music became dominated by the drones, and soon left Young's saxophone elaborations behind. They explored new harmonic intervals, dissonant but not discordant, and developed a sound that would ultimately become legendary.

However, as Tony Conrad points out below, "History is like music - completely in the present". About 100 recordings of the Dream Music were made, but after Cale and Conrad left the group in the middle of the decade, Young retained them all, and has since refused to release them to his former collaborators. Despite the scarcity of Young's own recorded output, most histories of minimalism describe the Dream Music as primarily Young's work, not as the radical collaborationt that Tony Conrad today recalls. Some of this "hidden history" is, however, beginning to resurface.

American label Table Of The Elements have recently reissued Outside The Dream Syndicate, an early-70s collaboration between Faust and Conrad (although it curiously disappoints compared to the shrill intensity of their 90s live performances). Since then, they've issued Slapping Pythagoras (see this issue's reviews), hard evidence that the penetrating drones of 60s minimalism remain relevant today, and perhaps an indication that the philosophy against which Conrad struggles dates back not just through this century, but for over two millennia. Coming later this year are Conrad's monumental attempt to resculpt musical history, Early Minimalism, and an excellent and previously unavailable recording dating from 1964, Four Violins. Judging by the latter, they should prove essential listening.

TC: You've heard my "new" record, Four Violins. It is going to be the gateway into my next set of CDs - a complete recording of Early Minimalism. I wrote the seven parts of Early Minimalism over the last ten years, but they all look back at Four Violins, and the "Dream Music" that I worked on during the early 1960s with John Cale, Angus MacLise, Marian Zazeela, and of course La Monte Young.

EST: You've picketed La Monte Young in the past, and La Monte Young is presumably well aware of your criticisms of his stance (most notably his unwillingness to unconditionally release recordings by the Theatre of Eternal Music). How has he responded to your picketing, handbills etc?

TC: What kind of conversation are we having here? I think anybody reading this expects us to be having a very informal kind of exchange. Okay. But picketing - picketing for or against something, and handing out literature - these are conspicuously formal actions. They have to be understood as indirect communication. Yes, I am "in communication" with La Monte Young, of course, when I picket and he is there to perform his public action - but by clearly shaping my own action as "picketing," even though there is only me there, I am making my action interprable only as a public or political action, not as a private communication.

What I'm trying to say is that both the message conveyed through my picketing, and the picketing itself, were not communications primarily intended for La Monte Young personally. They were communications which took place on the public level, which is the level of culture, of symbolic statement. These were symbolic or formal statements, which are as much a part of "Music" as this interview is - even though this interview is actually silent, and we aren't even speaking out loud.

People aren't used to thinking of cultural forms spreading out across the full range of formal interactions - or what is called the "text" in literary terms. Even though we have heard all sorts of political expressions in music, as song, when a musical expression takes the form of politics, it still seems musically inaudible.

Let me get back to Young. La Monte Young's early works, you know, were involved with the neo-Dada movement in New York that spawned Fluxus, conceptual art, and happenings. In some of his pieces, he calls for what might be termed "extra-musical" events: leading a bucket around by a string, feeding a piano some hay, releasing a butterfly, and so forth. That kind of piece, perhaps most recognizable because of Yoko Ono's similar work, built a bridge between performance art and music - and without raising any awkward social issues.

When I picket La Monte Young, I am not only making a cultural statement in the formal arena of political action, I am also consciously pressuring the societal isolationism that Young stands for as a figurehead of this earlier movement. His neo-Dada work was a key piece in the architecture of a 60s cultural understanding: that the institutions of art could be violated, the walls torn down between disciplines, and that this could be done as pure Art, without any involvement with "real" politics or social issues.

I have chosen to use a "real" political form to address a cultural conflict between two individual artists, in this instance, because the action of picketing in itself highlights the paradoxes that La Monte Young continues to represent - he is socially elitist and culturally absolutist, yet his cultural image is of a "radical".

Well, I guess I should get to your question - about how he responded. As soon as Young read my statements and saw clearly what I was saying, he stopped communicating with me. I have heard that he cut me out of the new edition of his book, but I haven't bought it so I'm not sure.

EST: This sort of "direct action" is an unusual step in most artistic communities. Do you feel comfortable with your approach, which seems to me to be almost courageous, it seems so unusual?

TC: Yes, somehow there has been a convention that in their work artists don't use each other's works, and they don't invoke one another personally. This is part of a more general depersonalization of consumerist culture in postmodernity. In the old "modern" art, Picasso painted his girl friend and Cezanne painted his neighborhood. But in postmodernity, there has to be impersonality, because the understanding of art is that it is only legible among a community with shared cultural interests. When Warhol painted Marilyn or Campbell's soup cans, it was only to display their objectification and depersonalization. Then about 1980 Sherrie Levine appropriated photographs by Walker Evans - but Evans was too much a person, too little a product - and Sherrie ran into lawsuits, even though Evans is dead.

This is a particularly insidious energy boundary in our corporation-based contemporary culture - it shuts down personal responsiveness and political interactivity, and rechannels expressions of diversity through polite conventions. Why is this taboo so strong? Because using another artist is first "impolite," second violates proper business methods and the proprieties of consumerism, and third is not cool and impersonal like Art is supposed to be.

For me, music and art just crap out when they don't step across into non-polite spaces and outlaw territory. The job of an artist is to discover laws to violate that haven't been made yet. I remember picketing a Stockhausen concert with Henry Flynt in 1964. A lot of artists were inside participating in the event.

Later, in the press, we were accused of stealing equipment. That was how far the "responsible" press was willing to go to discount our impolite action and divert attention from our message. I'm not going to go into that message right now; it's enough to say it was about cultural imperialism, and would have been clearly understood today by anyone interested in post-colonialism, but was about 25 years ahead of its time.

By the way, I do know that La Monte Young's own social elitism makes it impossible for him to take my picketing for anything other than interpersonal bickering, but for me that has nothing to do with the message. Nevertheless, I wouldn't have picketed him if he had not broken the back of our long friendship by waiting for me to die without being able to hear my music.

EST: Do other former T.E.M. members share your view of the situation?

TC: Marian Zazeela is La Monte's wife, and Angus MacLise is dead.

I've talked with John Cale for two decades about what to do about La Monte, and how to get copies of our work. We consulted lawyers, negotiated with La Monte, and begged and pleaded. Nothing. But all of that helped me realize how special the status of these recordings had become. We were the people who first started making so-called "minimal" music, and these recordings are the residue of that influential conjunction. Why doesn't La Monte Young want these recordings heard, when their historical influence is stronger than their actual audibility?

Because they don't show him in as strong a light as he would wish. His approach to music is unashamedly founded in individualist romanticism, and the tapes can't bear the load of his overinflated personal myth. Young's personal peccadillo has set up a historiographic paradox; the cultural influence of this music is more legible than the music itself is audible. That made me see, in the 80s, that re-composed "images" of this music, by its originators, could throw new light on the relationship between cultural history and the practice of music composition.

EST: You've said that the members of the first TEM were painfully aware that they were making the most interesting avant-garde music of the period. Is this still your opinion?

TC: Yes, for sure. In my notes on Four Violins I go into this in greater detail than I can here, but the key elements were social. By improvising, we eliminated the role of composer. But more, this was the turning point from a regime of writing music to a regime of listening. Many things at the time pushed this change, even though there has been very little comment on, or understanding of, the core paradigm shift that this represented for music.

The principal convergence was among three forces. In terms of the symbolic cultural order of the West it was John Cage, in the 50s, who turned music composition most forcefully toward listening. And as it happened, the 50s also saw the eruption of rock n roll consumerism. Whatever else it was, rock'n'roll elbowed itself to the front of pop music because of its sound - a much simplified, listenable music. In another universe, rock'n'roll might have been called "minimal pop." Then, perhaps most important, the technology of recording, and the economics of the music industry, began to make it practical and possible to listen to more sounds, and music, than ever before. It was only in the 1950s that we began to see LP records of music from other times and cultures, weird jazz, and even avant-garde music, all accessibe by any consumer with enough appetite.

Our "Dream Music" was an effort to freeze the sound in action, to listen around inside the innermost architecture of the sound itself. It had something to do with composition, since it became a commentary on the temporal site of the composer, in relation to the sound itself. We were announcing that the composer could sit within the sound, so to speak, and work with it as a plastic continuum extended in time along the same course, and at the same pace, as the listener. That is quite different from improvising on a tune, or using improvisational variation to elaborate sound patterns. The message here was not about indeterminacy, nor about immediacy, but about the control of sounds right there in your environment, and the process of composition as long-term growth of interests within that sound complex.

When I picketed La Monte Young in 1990, it was principally because he had insisted that before making copies of our music for us - which all of the collaborators had agreed originally would be done - that we each would have to sign an agreement that he, Young, was the "composer" of the music. My picket sign said:


1. The "Theater of Eternal Music" ("TEM") of 1964 was collaboratively founded - and was so named to deny the Eurocentric historical/progressive teleology then represented by the designation, composer.

2. Young is suppressing the recordings of "TEM," which do not flatter him. He has specifically denied access by members of the collaboration (Tony Conrad, John Cale) to the collection of recordings for 25 years. Two members are already dead (Maclise, Jennings).

3. Young himself now ignorantly insists on the artistic demolition of this body of work by claiming that it is a series of "compositions" (by him).

4. The "TEM" introduced an influential preoccupation with just intonation. "TEM" was anti-rationalist and non-electronic, but did focus on perceptual and conceptual aspects of small intervals. Young himself misunderstands this development as neo-Pythagorean rationalism (after the scientific idealism of Helmholtz).

5. Each "TEM" member had an interest in carefully structured improvisation and long durations. Young's early eurocentric compositional innovation - the use of long notes - appears in his String Trio. However, nowhere do his compositions show "TEM"'s crucial understanding that long durations are small intervals.

6. Young's neo-Futurist ("Fluxus") work aside, his Orientalism and romanticized personality-cult mark him among the most regressive of contemporary artists. His conservative gutting of "TEM" has paid off (for him) in a multimillion petro-dollar bonanza, which he uses to perpetuate his exploitative and artistically mindless enterprise.

7. Money paid to Young is valuable resources wasted on ignorance, false self-representation, service to Young's ego at others' expense, and a colonial image of American cultural expression. YOUNG - OUT OF BUFFALO NOW!

But enough of Young, and back to your question. In the group, all of us had a strong conviction that we were making the most interesting music of the time, and that it was continually growing. Personally, what I enjoy most is being stimulated by cultural experiences that change my way of thinking, and that is what had first drawn me into contemporary music. Yes! In fact, I would like to see the concept of "avant-garde" replaced with that as a criterion for art work. So it was painful to sit through the fifteen years after the first Dream Music without hearing anybody out there doing anything comparably interesting.

In a certain sense, our invention of "minimal" music had been a resultant in a flowing and ongoing cultural process. On the other side, there were qualities in our music that presented specific tough challenges for musical art, and for some years after our work, it was difficult to see anywhere to go but backwards into mannerism.

A moment ago I referred to the emergence of a "regime of listening" - a musical sea change that appeared in the wake of swelling access to music from other times and cultures, the tidal wave of rock'n'roll in pop music, and John Cage's summation of the Western symbolic cultural order. Ever since the Enlightenment in the 1700s, Western music had understood itself through the balance between the "universe" of music on the one hand, and the particular world of a single composition on the other. As Julia Kristeva puts it, in classical music "each musical text invented its own laws and did not obey those of the common 'language.' This is the famous loss of 'universality' that music history attributes principally to Beethoven." In earlier music, and in "primitive" societies, supposedly "musical 'creation' requires strict obedience to the rules of the musical code." [Julia Kristeva, Language the Unknown: An Initiation into Linguistics, 1989]

In "Dream Music" there was a complete loss of the particular, in this sense, since the musical work as a closed and internally structured system vanished with the composer. The structural elements with which we were occupied were not parts of an arbitrary system of signifying practices, even by extension, but rather were the physical constituents of tone. We, the performers of the sound, were also first and foremost the listeners. In the context of a single protracted sound, the listener's connection to musical language is cut off; the process of listening is silenced. In this emptiness, unexpectedly, there appears a legibility of rhythm and melody which rises to consciousness automatically, out of the unconscious level of perceptual processes, when the standing wall of sound paradoxically releases the listener's attentiveness.

EST: Why do you feel the strand of minimalism that TEM evolved has failed to reach far beyond a small minority of listeners, unlike other obvious strands of minimal music?

TC: I suppose you're thinking about Reich and Glass. Their "minimalism," though superficially similar to ours, arises quite differently, through process, rhythm, and design - all elements which are deliberately absent in Dream Music. Since their music retained rhythm and internal structure, it had a comfortable familiarity for the Western "classical" listener, and in its rhythmic directness made a bridge to rock music. The bridge to rock was foregrounded in the 70s, of course.

Let me say this more clearly, though. Dream Music had torn up the book of Western composition, whereas Reich and Glass reinscribed it. Nevertheless, there were certain linkages among the two approaches, right from the beginning.

The first composition of mine ever played in concert, Three Loops for Performers and Tape Recorders from 1961, used the same tape delay structure that Terry Riley discovered independently just a bit later. Tape delay was a technological system which had direct rhythmic and metrical implications. Steve Reich saw this during his early apprenticeship with Terry, and appropriated tape delay as the systemic foundation for his own later work. Perhaps it was my own good luck that I have never been very interested in rhythm, and so my piece, Three Loops, is primarily about timbre and process, not rhythm.

To get back to Dream Music, though, perhaps the premise that our music has not reached beyond a small strand of people isn't as accurate as you think. Of course, La Monte Young has built a wall of elitism and privilege around the music we made, and it's easy to imagine that Dream Music has not had much influence, since ironically you can't listen to it. But we did play out at the time, and also privately, for a number of composers. For example, Karlheinz Stockhausen came to listen to us play. At that time we were frequently using a large gong that Robert Morris had made for La Monte. Immediately there was a great change in Stockhausen's music - which had been stalled in its serialist tracks. He started using "improvisation," and even wrote a piece for gong. What a dweeb. I had felt respect for him earlier, but that experience told me a lot about how he worked.

More importantly, of course, our particular approach to the structure of tone, and our departure from the Western compostion tradition, have each been profoundly influential. In fact, the use of "modal" tonality, with harmonic tunings, is a fetish which we installed, and which has popped up all over the musical map.

EST: Were there any other minimalist musicians who you felt any sense of commonality with at any stage?

TC: Yeah, certainly, and at many different times. Of course, Henry Flynt, my earliest friend, would never want to be called a "minimalist" - but his ideas about music were very important in my development. From my first years in New York, one of the most important was Walter DeMaria, who was and is a sculptor - and he would never want to be called a "musician." His use of natural sounds was particularly influential for me. None of his recordings are available anywhere.

There were repeated instances in which I played music with, or for, other musicians, and through this their work was strongly affected by having an awareness of Dream Music. Often, personal contact was the only way that even the most avid younger composers could become aware of our music, during the decade or so following 1965.

In 1971 I played a concert at The Kitchen, for which I devised Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain. Rhys Chatham was the musical director there - he was also a flautist with a passion for Indian music. I played the violin part, but I needed another stringed instrument and a bass pulse, so Rhys and Laurie Siegal played with me, and it was clear that this encounter had an impact on his thinking.

It was Rhys, of course, who fulfilled John Cale's initiative begun a decade earlier, by injecting the "minimal" sound into the heart of rock music in the 70s. His music for guitars was, in turn, appropriated by Glenn Branca. Of course, what I mean by John Cale's initiative was the incomparably important work he did with the Velvet Underground. Not only did he incorporate his Dream Music viola work within the Velvets, he also used the Velvet Underground to create huge and powerful continuous sound forms as rock music - in effect constructing the first industrial music.

Charlemagne Palestine and I met in January 1969 when I recorded him performing on the carillon at St. Thomas's Church in New York. He was a music student at that time, and only became involved in minimal music somewhat later. I'm excited that he has returned to music lately, because his work was among the best in the 70s.

When I moved out of New York in 1974 to teach at Antioch College in Ohio, David Hykes was a film student there. He was already aware of Young and my connection with Dream Music, through Paul Sharits. Everyone, like Paul, who had been involved with Fluxus was aware of the Dream Music. Hykes and I played music together occasionally, though the core of our enduring friendship was filmmaking.

And when I moved to Buffalo to teach video, Arnold Dreyblatt was a student here, working with the Vasulkas. Only after he moved to New York, became Young's archivist, and returned to Buffalo for a visit, did he accost me with his astonishment - "So you're the one who started the music!".

EST: Could you tell me something about Early Minimalism?

TC: Sure. Early Minimalism is a series of seven compositions that do two important things - aside from sounding excellent. First, they are comments on the function of history and a non-recoverable past in the archive of musical culture. I said something earlier about the impact of recording technology on access to musical materials. Recording, as a system for the storage of sounds, has always fascinated me - as in Three Loops. You make a record of a sound, it is "archived" for some period, and then it is reproduced. In notated music, written records might be said to "archive" the sound for "reproduction" by a later performer. In Early Minimalism the time frame of "archiving" is a historical interval - about twenty years. The "recording" was effected by and through the composite cultural processes of music history, and the "reproduction" is my act of composition, enabled by the authority of my participation at the originary site of minimalism.

In Early Minimalism I have established a place for the direct participation of history in the cultural process, with history operating through the instrumentality of the composer. The thing that provided me with an unusual opportunity to explore this approach was itself La Monte Young's closure of our taped archive. That closure insured that the cultural legibility of Dream Music would always be understood as indirect. However, by reason of our own participation in the music, I and the other Dream Music collaborators are singularly empowered with direct access to the music.

Early Minimalism invites an interrogation which, for music, has timely and cogent implications: How has "the music" been archived? How is it being reconstituted? What are the cultural processes entailed in storing or recovering musical information? And what reconstitutive processes comprise authenticity? Each of these questions demands attention to the non-congruence of personal memory (or experiential continuity) with cultural memory and influence - that is, attention to the double sites at which music history's power relations are transacted.

I have wished for an active intervention of the historical time scale into music before, but not until the popularity of Foucault's writings and the appearance of postmodernism have such ideas been legible as components of a work.

The secondary ambition which I have for Early Minimalism is simpler and more accessible. Early Minimalism is my way of taking up the Dream Music where I left it and moving it ahead, without the encumbrance of Young's arch-conservative imprint. More than that, in honesty the exquisite joy and painful energy of our high-voltage music began to slump, for me, under the sodden weight of the singing, just at the moment when my playing with John Cale - the two of us, on violin and viola - was reaching a dizzying azimuth. Early Minimalism picks up from that apex.

And further, it has launched some compositional developments in my music that are doing exciting new things with microtonal music. But that's another story.

EST: Given your strong interest in recovering what you've said is a missing personal history, do you feel comfortable with the way that listeners may start to perceive minimalist musical history through the filter not only of writings about Young, but also now through the sound of your "new" music?

TC: Sure. History is like music - completely in the present.

EST: I've received the impression that Early Minimalism, like Slapping Pythagoras and Four Violins, concentrates on the characteristics of stringed instruments. Do you think the absence of vocal/wind parts in any ways misrepresents minimalist musical history? Or is it just that their contributions were never of significant interest?

TC: Well, I'm not sure I want to be the one who tries to authenticate music history; I'm more interested in using it, as a material in my work. As for my choice of instruments, I want to write music that can be performed, and right now that requires me to do a lot of the performing myself. If I'm going to get the sounds I want. The instrumentation might become secondary, if I could be confident about the outcome!

EST: You've spoken almost admiringly (or, with interest, at least) of the way Young allows his personal mystique to create history around him. Are you also trying to consciously remake your own history?

TC: Yes. I have a site to occupy that has stood unannounced for too long. But my approach has nothing to do with personal mystique, and everything to do with ideas and works that aspire to authorize cultural adventurousness and diversity.

By the way, I do believe that La Monte Young wants me to die without hearing my music, just as Angus MacLise has died. I would like to think that Angus's son, Ossian, would contest Young's retention of the Dream Music recordings - but Ossian was raised in Nepal as a Buddhist monk. Young has now already taken control over the works and musical heritages of several dead composers: Terry Jennings and Richard Maxfield, as well as MacLise. That kind of necrological cooptation makes you feel like you'd better get your own words said before you go, if Young controls any part of your work.

EST: Young has acknowledged a debt to yourself in introducing him to the mathematics of just intonation.

TC: Well, among the Dream Music collaborators I provided the understanding of rational numbers as frequency ratios, Cale found Alain Danielou's Tableau Comparatif des Intervalles Musicaux, and Young suggested eliminating the prime factor 5 from our performance intervals. He also discovered Harry Partch's book.

EST: Do you acknowledge any particular debt to him, or the other TEM collaborators?

TC: I certainly do. The Theater of Eternal Music was a collaborative enterprise from the beginning, and I have never deviated from that understanding. Each of us brought an immense contribution to the table, and only Young has corrupted that premise. In particular, without La Monte's discipline, space, and idealism, there would have been no cohesive impulse sufficient to hold us together as long as we were.

EST: What are the most obvious common attributes that you see in your music, film and video work? I'm talking about your public access video work; you seem to have been most interested in community/participatory issues.

TC: Ok, I'll just talk about public access video for now. Usually public access is thought of as an open forum for idiosyncracy and ego fulfillment. However, public access also turns an entire urban municipality into a laboratory for exploring models of the circulation and development of cultural forms. For instance, I have used it to test the potential for triggering cultural participation among the people in my city. I have also tried to reach children in inner city families with messages that can help to authorize their participation in schooling.

This may seem far afield from the music am making, but an overarching concern of both is very close to me. I see the United States as the heartland of a corporatist de-development effort aimed at leveling the playing field for consumerist marketing. Any cultural differentiation on this landscape is antithetical to the structural needs of corporate consumerism. The single preeminent cultural objective that makes sense in the 90s is the development of mechanisms that can trigger and sustain differentiated cultural expression.

There is a scattering of recent developments in communications that appear to be promising in this regard. Some, like the "information superhighway" and the multimedia educational technologies, are fakes that are being oversold in the interest of commercial development. On the other hand, the "zine" scene, and the proliferation of small independent music labels, each seems like a powerful machine for running upstream against the corporate current of cultural diversity dismantling. Perhaps the biggest reason for my increased visibility today is my just being exhilirated by the great little labels like Artware, Barooni, Complacency, Distemper, Extreme, Review, Streamline, Tone, and the rest - and of course Table of the Elements.

EST: To what extent are similar concerns applicable to your music, particularly given its frequently fairly traditional performance context? Also, in discussing The Flicker, you've drawn attention to its hallucinatory qualities, and I'd be keen to hear to what extent you want your music to create similar experiences.

TC: When I made the film The Flicker in 1965-66 my principal motivation was to explore the possibilities for harmonic expression using a sensory mode other than sound. The experience of "flicker" - its peculiar entrapment of the central nervous system, by ocular driving - occurs over a frequency range of about 4 to 40 flashes per second (fps). I used film (at 24 fps) as a sort of "tonic," and devised patterns of frames which would represent combinations of frequencies - heterodyned, or rather multiplexed together. I was interested to see whether there might be combination-frequency effects that would occur with flicker, analogous to the combination-tone effects that are responsible for consonance in musical sound.

That was a sophisticated idea. Even though the frequency range of flicker is theoretically large enough - though barely - for harmonic modulation products to occur, The Flicker did not convincingly demonstrate the existence of any harmonic flicker structures. Nevertheless, the hypnotic phenomena and trance states that characterize flicker drew my attention again later, when I was working in the 70s and 80s on mind-altering, on attentional states, and on Music and the Mind of the World.

EST: Given that you evidently valued the collective semi- improvisatory approach to music-making of the TEM, do you forsee further collaborations with musicians like Faust or others? What interests you about the juncture between "your" music and theirs?

TC: Right now my music has moved so far in its own direction that I don't have any immediate collaborators. In the most recent compositions, there are a lot of new ideas that use tiny harmonic intervals in ways I haven't ever heard of. But that's the impulse for making things - if there's something you won't be able to hear otherwise, you have to play it yourself.

On the other hand, I have been completely inspired by the opportunities I've had to work together with Chicago musicians that I've met through my friend Jim O'Rourke. There is a lot of talent, openness, and adventureousness in the Chicago scene. For instance, Steve Albini, who is a celebrated rock producer, has contributed generously to my recording activities in Chi-town. Jim O'Rourke needs a book-length treatment of his own. Let me just say that I have especially enjoyed playing together with Jim and David Grubbs, and I could envision future collaborations with them very easily.

EST: Could you tell me something about your late 70s music, such as Music and the Mind of the World?

TC: Well, that was twenty years ago, when certain currents in the art world began running more strongly against the stagnation of the late 60s and early 70s formalist hegemony. Some of the younger artists whose ideas were flowing through Buffalo then were David Salle, Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman, and Jack Goldstein. At the same time, women artists were forcefully questioning the closure of art under Greenbergian modernism. My own tactic was to break decisively with the use of formal structures, to explore psychological states and attitudes, and to adopt genre expressive forms as vehicles for constructing public art. I produced a "war" film and a "women's prison" film; in music, I spent five years playing the piano. Since I wanted to incorporate a variety of critical postures and attitudinal approaches within the boundaries of my work, I decided to include rehearsals, being yelled at for making mistakes, doodling, playing excellent music, recalling musical ideas from my past and trying to play them, and even using formally structured playing. Everything was taped; some of it was performed in public. I played at the first New Music America festival, for instance. That phase of my work was extremely important as groundwork for the emergence of Early Minimalism, which takes up certain of the same concerns but addresses them more concisely and within a more auditorily spectacular performance situation.

Conceptually, music presents a lot of opportunities at present, and Music and the Mind of the World continues to be my base camp for approaching the biggest questions.

One of the most profound questions for musical art is how sound and music can be shown to be radically different from language and visual art. All the recent talk about postmodernism has seemed to level the playing field for artists to move their projects ahead in any number of different directions - but then some of the central paradoxes of twentieth century modernism remain dead ahead in front of us, and don't seem to go away. Peter Burger has discussed this. He comments that modern art rebels against its status either by construing itself as political ... or by declaring that the void that it recognizes itself to be is the whole purpose ...

Politicisation or messianic over-inflation are the extremes into which modern art must throw itself as soon as it becomes conscious of the constraints dictated by autonomy. And once these positions have been passed through, all that remains is to attack the institution, a task undertaken by the movements of the historical avant-garde in the wake of World War I ... Since the historical avant-garde, art's self-sublation figures as one of its poles, the other being the self-contained work.

Then he confronts art with an apparent brick wall.

Aesthetic experience cannot get beyond the attack on the institution, because its failure seems only to reinforce the institution's boundary. The catastrophic scenarios of postmodernity with their declarations of the imminent end of art have evidently missed out on an aspect of aesthetic experience continually encountered by artists since the historical avant-garde; namely that once you're inside the place called Art there's no getting out again. As if you were King Midas, everything you touch turns to art. Even the blank refusal to produce anything at all is transformed into an aesthetic act ... What these days goes by the name of post-modernism could more accurately be termed 'post-avant- garde': in other words, an epoch marked by the failure of the historical avant-garde's attack on the artistic institution. [Peter Burger, Aporias of Modern Aesthetics, in Thinking Art: Beyond Traditional Aesthetics, ed. Andrew Benjamin and Peter Osborne, 1991]

But Burger may be wrong where "art" concerns music, if music at its heart functions quite differently from the signifying practices of language and visual expression. And there are reasons to expect that it does. Sometimes, for instance, we just hum or whistle, and it does seem completely artless. Why do we do that? Tunes are for controlling people; otherwise, why would melodies stick in our heads? Perhaps music is not a cultural form so much as an endemic disorder, like a computer virus. Like endemic diseases, it has become a childhood disorder - and lullabies (or now television jingles) may tell us why music is so compelling in group socialization, why it has such a big part in the subject's participation in the social order - politically, religiously, and sexually. And yes, while we're talking about the music inside of our heads, why do humans have such a vast capacity for melody? Is that just a piece of evolutionary bric-a-brac, or does it mean something?

It's going to take a careful study of the full range of cultural diversification to explore these questions - everything from the one immense worldwide corporate hegemony to the numberless inscrutable private cultures or languages that Wittgenstein tried to write out of existence - but which have arguably appeared in Henry Flynt's development of concept art, would arguably eventuate from the infinite fragmentation of subject positions hinted at by queer theory, and arguably arm us with an atheoretic model for understanding hypnotic trance and attentional disorders.

This interview was conducted by eMail between Tony Conrad and Brian Duguid in June 1996. Contact Table of the Elements, Box 5524, Atlanta, Georgia 30307, USA. Special thanks to Jeff Hunt for assistance. Interview © Brian Duguid 1996.

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