Friday, August 20, 2010

Living in Multiple Dimensions: George Brecht & Robert Watts 1953 - 1963, Simon Anderson

One of the most remarkable phenomena to occur around Rutgers at the end of the 50s was a dynamic collaboration between Robert Watts and George Brecht; this partnership, between two ordinarily reserved characters, bore a firm friendship lasting up to Watts' death in 1988. Robert Watts was in his early thirties when he met George Brecht, and had been teaching at Rutgers since 1953. Brecht, just two years his junior, was working as an engineer at Johnson & Johnson, and here lies their first connection: Watts' first official schooling had been in mechanical engineering, and he had been an engineer in the U.S.Navy. The differences — Brecht was an inventor and research chemist — are as important as the similarities, but both men had turned from an early training in the sciences, and brought to their art a particular kind of analysis, which is visible in both separate and cooperative creative productions.

Brecht had seen Watts' work in an exhibition at Douglass College, and was sufficiently impressed to telephone him and invite him to a show of his paintings in New Brunswick. The two men then met weekly, and, over lunch at Howard Johnson's, they dreamed up a number of fascinating projects across a wide range of activity, between them generating ideas that played a vital part in the cultural revolution of the 1960s.

Their combined efforts helped to create a community, and cemented some long-term affinities within the experimental arts. A number of the artists they included in the Yam Festival of 1963 reappeared together the following year at the Monday Night Letters, a weekly series they organised at New York's Cafe au Go Go. The participants in these evenings of music, events and happenings, lecture-demonstrations, dance and indescribable intermedia amount to a roster of American Fluxus, with additions from the New York avant-garde.

Their collaborations were more than simply administrative; they took on and mixed a number of forms: acts of imagination, visual innovations, creative design and straightforward organisation. Yam Festival (1963), for instance, was an amusing and clever idea that helped to produce unique forms of art, and must have required a good amount of the kind of logistical activity that many of us call work.

The Festival was conceived as an extended performance, taking place in the New York area beginning in May 1963, thus creating an exquisite pun which typified the spirit of their intent. More than a simple series of actions and events, the real Yam Festival was a long and multifarious celebration: it lasted, according to Brecht, about two years — "the idea keep things going. Everybody who wanted to could contribute." It was generated partly at the invitation of Bob Whitman, who had been chosen to curate an exhibition: the show never happened, but Watts and Brecht developed Yam Festival into a multitude of jokes, surprises, games, lectures, mail-order-art, and simple occasions made festive by a gathering of like minds in playful mood.

Yam Festival activities included Water Day, Box Day, Clock Day, and two days of a Yam Hat Sale; there were openings, poetry, performance, exhibitions and parties; there were tournaments offered daily, with intermissions and prizes. Information on this miscellany was spread by a printed calendar, whose disjointed graphics are typical of Brecht's design. It featured advertisements for An Anthology and Fluxus 1 amidst a lively plethora of event scores and jokes. Yam Day itself consisted of an 'endless and continuous program of performance beginning about noon on Saturday through evening and Sunday.' This marathon was advertised as featuring the work of a wide and international array of artists, with events by a spectrum of Fluxus associates from MacLow to Maciunas. There was an afternoon of happenings, music and dance at George Siegal's Farm, with a roster that presents a new slant on artist affiliations of the early 60s. Dick Higgins, Wolf Vostell and La Monte Young, all fellow Fluxists, were joined by Allan Kaprow, Yvonne Rainer and sculptor-dancer Chuck Ginnever. This concert-picnic was presented by the Smolin Gallery, who chartered buses for the trip to South Brunswick.

At one point Yam Festival involved Watts in a two-hour 'presentation' at a symposium on primitive and contemporary art at Michigan State University's Oakland campus. This Yam Lecture was a variation on an already flexible frame: two readers picked random texts from envelopes whilst a disconnected series of images was projected onto a wall. Watts himself described the Yam Festival as a vehicle that involved a range of "material that ordinarily is not so directly useful for art or has not yet been so considered."

One important aspect of Yam Festival was the subscription event, a mail-order system, in which a sometimes unknown and randomly chosen audience were offered an unspecified object in return for a self-chosen amount of money. This participatory programme, entitled Delivery Event, involved a range of objects that give a considerable clue to the joint interests of the two organisers: food, pencils, soap, photos, actions, words, facts, statements, declarations, puzzles, etc.... It is a poetic list that includes household articles of the most mundane, even prosaic kind — the very stuff of 'life,' if and when one has chosen to separate Art from Life. That Brecht and Watts both saw a need to deliberately but purposelessly erase this theoretical fracture is one clue to the longevity of their collaboration — if not their longer-lasting friendship — and a certain hint at their involvement with another mail-order catalogue, Fluxus.

These shared enthusiasms can be better understood in light of their individual approaches to art-making and their relationships to the art-object. Since the mid-fifties, Brecht had been educating himself and writing an unofficial dissertation on chance imagery (later published as a Great Bear Pamphlet by Dick Higgins), whilst Watts experimented with mark-making. These interests were to lead both men to the margins of abstract expressionism, and in the case of Watts, to an early association — at least in the minds of some art-critics — with neo-dada.

After World War II, Watts switched from engineering to the arts, and enrolled at the Art Students League, before moving on to Columbia University where he studied Art History. His experience left him with an interest in aboriginal art, particularly Eskimo culture, and this attention is reflected in the stark lines of his mostly monographic abstractions. His early work had consisted of hybrid abstract paintings, and had often included nature studies; there are, for instance, birds portrayed in a series of small paintings using a calligraphic style that distorted them and could not help — given the era of their production — but be identified with trends then current in American abstract expressionism.

By 1956 Watts had begun to experiment with cut-up paintings and seemingly random collections of imagery, but around 1958 he shifted from abstract painting to sculpture and assemblage. Around 1959-60 he was building with found objects and assembling ersatz machines: Monuments, for instance, was a series consisting of found objects and texts embedded into plaster, sometimes acting as maquettes for very large proposals. Here we can begin to see a recurrent tactic; he subjected materials to a succession of fantastic or seemingly inappropriate processes, and thus discovered a third function — or at least a potential for functions. After experimenting with these mechanical toys — he had shown evidence of technical ability at an early age — his artistic boundaries widened exponentially to include film, events, and happenings — the whole range of possibilities open to the intermedial artist. Watts' investigations across all media were always coloured by his playful view of the world, which inevitably led to comparisons with dada, the previous explosion of anarchy and irony.

Throughout the 1960s a majority of reviews of Watts' exhibited work relied on the unhelpful but vaguely familiar term 'neo-dada.' It was almost universally so-labeled from the first exhibition in the winter of 1960. Like those dadas who saw too clearly the follies of their age, and who exposed them with a laugh, Watts was often misunderstood: "barely transformed rubbish" wrote one cruel journalist, later adding in compensation that Watts did, at least, construct 'authentic' examples of the genre. A couple of reviews of his show at Grand Central Moderns mentioned his Goya Box in a favourable light. This small sculpture featured postage stamps illustrating Goya's nude Maja, among other miniature graphic items. This early exhibition revealed Watts' interest in aspects of philately, offering a hint of his later importance to the history of correspondence art.

His early, often kinetic, sculpture elicited comments on his very evident technical ability, whether or not critics agreed on his use of that talent. One, for instance, praised him as an 'entertainer,' and whilst the New York Herald Tribute agreed that it was 'uproarious,' their reviewer later described it as,

...rooting onlookers out of any attitudes of complacency they possess, and showing that art galleries needn't be the solemn places they are supposed to be but on the contrary repositories of great curiosity.

Certainly, Watts' own mechanical and philosophic curiosity prompted his visual and formal investigations — fields of enquiry which transformed and remade simple ideas into extended multilayered themes, as can be seen in his uses of light.

Watts' grandfather ran a movie theatre, for which he made his first graphic works, and it was there that he gained his interest in light, "I used to make advertising slides for the movie house and it was thrown onto the screen with the 'magic lantern,' the projector. It was just unbelievable — no kidding — huge and very bright light. Very interesting." He began experimenting with light again around 1957-1958, in a collage with randomly activated decorative lights, which were then a novel Christmas item. His continuing use of electricity can be seen in Hot Sculpture (1960), which uses a wire heated to red hot, mirrors, and stuff embedded in plaster. He used reflected light again in Marble Game (1958), in which light played off metal foil, and this early impulse to reflect continued with his famous collections of chromium bread, fruit, vegetables and chocolates, shown most appropriately in the supermarket-style exhibition held at the Bianchini Gallery in 1964. These reasonably priced multiples were part of a large series of cast objects, mostly food — including eggs, which were covered in coloured flock, and sold by the dozen. The frisson of chrome stayed with Watts through the middle 1980s. In the 70s he enlarged upon the theme with a series of Ashanti Sculptures replicated in chrome. Made generations before Koons' seaside caricatures, Watts was able to protest and make personal issues of cultural pretension, consumerism and coca-colonisation, colliding in a symbolic fetish wherein observers can literally reflect on their own situation in the surface of the object. His repeated use of food as a motif also often amounted to social comment: his eerily beautiful T.V. DINNER is an indictment of the twentieth century isolation of individual life whose solitary, illusory and ultimately inhuman units arrogate for themselves the luxury of civic grouping.

It may be true, as has been suggested, that his preference for reflective surface was partly stimulated by the mischievous challenge it offered to photographic documentation, and if indeed his intent were as much subversion of commodification as celebration of illumination, then it merely emphasises a continuing thread through his oeuvre: from fake pork or lamb chops to Fluxstamps, and from Implosions to Yam, Watts knowingly played with the many-faceted conventions of commodity and distribution. The egg is surely the original multiple, yet selling red-white-and-blue flocked eggs in a contemporary Art Gallery reaches deep into questions of social organisation.

Perhaps less deliberately, Watts' use of chrome literally reflected variety into his palette, which was largely monochrome, otherwise naturally muted or coloured by industrial design. After his mostly black-and-white paintings, he moved into sculptures in which colour was often totemic, like the eggs, for example, in national colours. Whilst hardly the mark of a colourist, this was a presciently Pop solution, with obvious American connotations that appealed to Watts, who made early use of other pop icons, such as brand-names, neon light, and fast-food. Works such as Great American Lover (1960/61), only confirm Watts' inclusion into the canon of early Pop.

As if to confirm his connections with the Pop world, he tried, in vain, to gain legal control over the word itself, but he soon cut loose from the stable and his work really forms part of a dark underbelly beneath those bright and sexy, consumer-friendly forms such as pop, op, and kinetic art. He forms part of the sinister band who shadow the 60s of media memory; like Wolf Vostell, Ray Johnson, Gustav Metzger and LaMonte Young, among others, who carried the issues celebrated by Pop into unpopular areas less suitable as advertising for American-style capitalism, Watts took on the commodity fetish with subtle wit and savage gusto, which he combined with the thoroughness of an engineer.

His play, like that of Brecht, involved the multi-layered use of humour, in many forms, from the comically surreal to the slyly ironic. He was not above the vulgarity of the sight gag — see the witty series of photographic illusions on a dinner theme — and his equally weird sense of slapstick endeared him to the heart of Fluxus. His F/H Trace of 1962, in which the bell of a French horn is filled with small objects or fluid, which spill to the floor as the soloist performs the preliminary bow to the audience, has became a concert classic — one of those select events whose hilarious simplicity and bold intermedial exchanges has enabled them to be remodelled to suit the variable occasion. Maciunas had early taken to Watts as a result of some correspondence pieces they exchanged whilst the former was in Germany. Watts sent some get well postcards embedded with toy-sized explosives to him, and thereby launched a sporadic collaboration that saw the publication of many varied editions by Watts, including a business partnership, 'Implosions', whose stick-on skin-art has again become a fashion item in the 1990s.

Part of Watts' power lay in his ability to playfully combine scourging wit with razor deep cuts of profundity, and he brought to this combination a unique and appealing aesthetic. From the fully operative automobile dashboard of Starchief (1962), to the literalist reading of a feather dress Feather Dress (1965), and from the neon-light artist signature series to his many illusory laminated photo-objects, Watts subjected any randomly generated idea to the playful machinations of his imagination.

In Scissor Bros. Warehouse, Watts formed part of a trio that outfluxed George Maciunas' contemporary efforts at collectivity and alternative commodity distribution. Not only was he subjecting his identity to the eponymous corporation — along with Brecht and Alison Knowles — but all the goods they printed their triptych upon were generally cheap and industrially made. The mass-produced quality of the objects stood in complementary contrast with their identical treatment. A wide range of ordinary things, from bijouterie to tool chests were overprinted with the anonymous and chance-produced assemblage, which were then sold for little more than their street value. The dealer, Rolf Nelson, was even quoted as claiming '...we'll take orders — stencil anything anyone wants with BLINK.' Watts had contributed a photograph of semi-naked celebrants at an Balinese wedding, replete with esoteric tattoos; Alison Knowles — the principal printer of the three — occupied the lower third of the yellow cube with three scissors in gradual stages of opening, and Brecht's event score Blink provided a meditative hiatus between them. Scissor Bros. Warehouse also included a variegated advertising flyer reminiscent of V TRE and the Yam Newspaper. Combining the classic Fluxus characteristics of collaboration, randomness, humour and anti-art irony, the show was labelled first as 'a protest that could well end all protests.' In his conclusion, however, reviewer Art Seidenbaum admits that the protest here was 'more obscure' than the issues he imagined they were against.

In reality, Watts was rarely obscure: cryptic maybe, but rarely was his work designed to disappear into the background. George Brecht, on the other hand, has described his ideal event as coming close to a natural occurrence — effectively erasing the difference between artwork and happenstance. Certainly, he started his enquiries from the singular position of not caring whether they did or would ever constitute 'art,' yet the result of his endeavors, especially the 'natural event,' is exactly that of endowing the insignificant with a range of new, even meaningful possibilities. His cavalier attitude to the status of his works extends to many other conventional concepts: a rejection of the limitations that he feels attach themselves to things and ideas already named — as he has said, he prefers "all the possibilities."

Brecht has made his disdain for history clear on many occasions, pleading a poor memory, or arguing that any individual's contemporary research on the spot is better than academic enquiry. He has, for instance, at least three different published places of birth, including the poetic 'Halfway, Or.,' whose qualified ambiguity points to the fact that all memory is essentially fictional. Both artists seem to have reinvented themselves consistently through their lives, and both have celebrated the constant flux of duration in their art, but Brecht appears to have additionally refused to see the value of the conventional kind of fact-gathering that generally accrues to artists of his stature. Like fellow Fluxartist Eric Andersen among others, he cares less — or seems to — about the actuality of his past than the range of possible ramifications of the kind of ideas he was having, or is now having. The only notebook he cares about is the one next to his table, now. This has not prevented the publication of his notes, but it has made him an evasive interviewee — one who seems to often dissemble or obfuscate, although it is more likely that he strives to reemphasise the fluidity of experience, the fickleness of remembrance, the arbitrary nature of circumstance.

By 1958, Brecht had begun to see his life as a series of interactions with the uninterrupted connectedness of the world, rather than a set of specific occurrences, itemised by date. Later wishing to see over and through the predictable system of scientific — at least, numeric — order, he rewrote the calendar in terms of individual experience. The ubiquitous universality of his arrangements, e.g. 'Day of the Bird' are, as in our present calendar, equalled by their arbitrariness, which may well be the point.

The period circumscribed for the Rutgers Circle marked a tremendous period of change for Brecht; in his official career as a chemist, as well as in his personal life, the kinds of advances that are seen in his work are visible in outline. From his 1953 move to Johnson & Johnson, where he began as quality control engineer, to his departure for Europe in the middle 60s, Brecht had revolutionised his ideas about art, and the way he should be in the world. Allan Kaprow has recalled that Brecht's habitat changed markedly within the space of three weeks — from benign suburban to bohemian stark — and it was around the same time that he engineered a part-time position at work: a freelance consultancy with built in time for research and study, which was to became a philosophical experiment on his life. This time marks a particularly expansive manner of thinking for Brecht, when the several directions of his conceptual life ran parallel enough for there to have been fascinating interchanges between these normally separate modes of thought. His knowledge of the history and philosophy of science was easily parlayed into the sphere of music, and thence art, where his explorations in chance, coloured by Zen Buddhism, led to startling new developments in performance art. Although he described himself as having 'survived' an education in chemistry — an experience which it apparently took him six months in Mexico to overcome, — he was able to assimilate his interests in science with these other concerns, and use them productively.

At the time of Brecht's first connection with Watts, he was living in New Brunswick with a wife and child, working as a chemist, immersing himself in history, philosophy and art, making paintings that were almost text-book exercises in chance-imagery. They were produced by dripping paint over crumpled paper, which he smoothed out and overpainted according to his taste. He described these as 'corrected abstract expressionism,' but then,

In 1955, in the summer, while lying on the beach in Atlantic City, it came to me that starting with dripping was ended. And what to do. I started a notebook of possibilities of making works by other chance methods.

Soon, in collaboration with Watts and Allan Kaprow, he was to give shape and form to this search, in collaborative text entitled Project in Multiple Dimensions.

Project in Multiple Dimensions was a grant application jointly proposed by the three men; written sometime between 1957 and 1958, it is a ten-page document that lays out a case for support of 'an examination of contemporary technological advances for the purpose of discovering new forms for creative artistic expression.' Apart from a budget, the text includes an introduction to the very notion of new areas of art activity; a schematic explanation of the avant-garde; thoughtful personal statements from each artist; and a proposed six-month concert and event series, with an individual event offered by all three. The Proposed Program was rather vague, with repeated use of the embryonic term 'event'; but the budget was precise, including an amount for lumber and welding supplies. One third of the total was for individual reimbursement, and another third for publicity and printing costs.

As an application, Project in Multiple Dimensions was not a success, although years later, Watts was to prove successful in gaining a Carnegie Foundation award for a course at Douglass College. On behalf of Rutgers University he was awarded $15,000 towards a course that would encourage new kinds of research into new kinds of art. Project in Multiple Dimensions surely provided the seeds for this venture, and additionally, the document represents an informed and careful analysis of experimental art and art education at the time.

In places, Project in Multiple Dimensions has the air of a Futurist manifesto, using lists, comparisons and appeals to technology. Like Marinetti, Russolo et al, they declared a search for materials and methods that had yet to become available to artists. The phraseology is somewhat corporate — referring to people as 'the human organism,' and yet despite its occasionally earnest tone, the document is prescient in parts, arguing, in the introduction, for experimental sound productions that have subsequently begun to occur. The enigmatic language in the section listing examples of these new concepts might almost be read as presaging the concerns of dematerialised art, situationist happenings and land art, with references to new and unexplored forms of 'non-space,' 'synthetic space' and 'natural space.'

The section labelled Background continues in an idealistic vein, reflecting a celebration of the hegemony of American capitalism. Displaying a feeling of liberation from the bondage of European cultural standards, the rebellion implicit in Project in Multiple Dimensions typified an element of the post-war American experience: there was a 'loosening of forms' across a wide social front. The three artists argued that daily experiences had become fragmented, and that there was widespread transformation of thinking and acting, giving as one example the recent change in newspaper design, whose traditional regular columns had been replaced by 'asymmetrical groups of type' in no apparent order. Given that Brecht was to first make a collaged newspaper for the Yamfest with Watts, and then go on to create another V TRE for himself and thence for Fluxus, it is perhaps no surprise that the daily news analogy should be used to illustrate a journey from restrictive rationality to the chaos of modern collage. The fate of V TRE was to mirror this modernist analogy, slowly shifting from a random collection of incredible tid-bits to a performance catalogue of efficiently modular design. Kaprow, of course, was also occupied by the quotidian, writing in the 'personal' section of the piece that he 'proceeded from the everyday situation rather than from art.'

This third section of Project in Multiple Dimensions contains three texts that reveal one shared trait: a struggle to name their art. Kaprow's detailed description of the elements within his happenings – what he called 'some kind of synthesis of elements that belong to several arts,' is ultimately reduced to negativity: '[t]here is no 'script' or 'story,' no 'dance' score, no 'set,' no 'music,' no 'stage,' no 'audience' really...' Watts, also, was clearly searching for an appropriate term to describe his activities: in anticipation of Dick Higgins exquisite appropriation of the term 'intermedia' he assembled his varied interests as an 'exploration of various time-space-movement situations through the use of both electro-mechanical devices and selected synthetic and natural materials.' Brecht, perhaps influenced by his growing interest in Zen, manages to be specific and yet say little: 'My art is the result of a deeply personal, infinitely complex, and still essentially mysterious, exploration of experience. No words will touch it.'

As early as June 1958, Brecht had evidenced a fascination with Buddhist views on the world, and he no doubt had his interest in oriental thought stimulated further by John Cage's affinity for the teachings of Dr. D.T.Suzuki. Both Kaprow and Brecht had attended Cage's classes at the New School for Social Research, where Cage doubtless advertised Suzuki's lecture at Columbia University in September, 1958. Brecht made a note of it and it may be that he went to listen to him. In an Evergreen Review of 1958, Aspects of Japanese Culture, Suzuki writes very clearly about the a-logical nature of understanding, and the uselessness of rational interpretations of existence, positing a proposition which may have appealed to Brecht,

Life itself is simple enough, but when it is surveyed by the analysing intellect it presents unparalleled intricacies.

In this article, Suzuki also makes comments that surely have some bearing on the shape of Brecht's earliest event-works, particularly Water Yam, the collection of event scores that he produced for Yamfest, and that were published as one of the first Fluxus editions. Brecht acknowledged the importance of pure intuition as a creative force in some of the scores. He later admitted to not necessarily understanding all of his work, whilst other pieces, including solutions to real problems, occurred to him in dreams.

Although his ideas, according to one interview, 'just come, without motive, without any reason, without logic...,' it might be possible to trace the genesis of one particular event, Two Durations, through some of Suzuki's comments. "One of the commonest sayings in Zen," he wrote, "is 'Willows are green and flowers are red.'" By this he meant that facts of experience are to be accepted as they are, neither positively nor nihilistically, although,

When he says that the willow is green and the flower is red, he is not just giving a description of how nature looks, but something whereby green is green and red is red. This something is what I call the spirit of creativity.

Prior to this, his notebooks for Cage's class indicate that Brecht had been toying with durations, indicated by flashlights, using green and red coloured light. By the time of Water Yam, however, the durations were registered simply by the titles of the colours: Red. Green. This represents a shift from the imposition of a particular experience upon the audience, to a text that is little more than an invitation to the universe of possibilities — as Brecht put it — that any individual audience member might choose.

Whether or not he had read Suzuki, and whether or not he consciously applied what he saw in Cage to his own ideas — for it is quite evident that he and Cage are very different kinds of artists — Brecht, in the years he was associated with Watts, helped to forge the medium of the event as a site in which the individual could find a universal, or through which the universal could be individualised.

In Two Durations, for instance, the open structure of the event-score makes the piece portable, flexible, open to modulation and transformation. No longer is the redness of red limited to the feeble power of a flashlight, but rather to the richness of the human imagination. It can be experienced everywhere and anywhere — from traffic lights to botanical gardens; from museums to the dinner-table. In a1972 Fluxus concert, Takehisa Kosugi indicated the pair of elements by drinking red wine and eating green salad.

Two Durations offers a salutary example of Brecht's ability to synthesise, or correlate, thoughts, rather than simply analysing them or subsuming them in larger concepts. For Brecht, whose position, as already noted, stemmed from Asian ideas almost as much as from western science or philosophy, duration was both infinitely measurable and simultaneously unknowable from outside. His early versions of Drip Music were painstakingly calculated, using burettes and such scientific devices; as with Two Durations, the score was latter distilled almost to a pure — though not necessarily platonic — essence of water, musically accumulating in your choice of situations. Like the philosopher Henri Bergson, perhaps, whose meditations on time are so crucial to any grasp on Fluxus, Brecht realised that such 'off-the-peg' concepts as are provided by language will always be insufficient to describe the continuous flow of internal duration. Brecht, in switching from the calculated measurement of time, matter, and space, to a metaphysical understanding of duration, experience and intuition, gave the minimal gestures of the event a potential for enormous personal effect.

This shift became evident in formal terms; at some point between 1959 and 1962, during the production of Water Yam, Brecht managed to slough off most, if not all, excess content in his work, leaving only the minimal necessary for delivery. Initially, around 1959, he was creating event scores such as Candle Piece for Radio, a printed text that necessitated complex notation devices and enumerated explanations; Brecht himself admitted that it generated too many instruction cards. Like a recipe, the score offers precise instructions, arriving at strict mathematical randomness, and Brecht's scientific training is evident. Just as Kaprow's earliest Happenings are characterised by deliberate inversions of his own exact analysis of the work of art — randomly juxtaposing generic activities from 'life,' 'play,' 'work,' — so Brecht used the sharp and accurate tools of science to construct a scrupulously indeterminate music.

In the Spring of 1960, standing in the woods in East Brunswick, New Jersey, where I lived at the time, waiting for my wife to come out of the house, standing behind my English Ford station wagon, the motor running and the left-turn signal blinking, it occurred to me that a wholly 'event' piece could be drawn from this situation.

In the Summer of 1961, he was still playing with complex orchestration, as in Mallard Milk, a collaboration with Dick Higgins, who provided a marvelously poetic and evocative libretto for Brecht's sound-score. Requiring players to wield toys and common objects in addition to their chosen instrument, he further elaborated a complicated mathematical scheme involving some undefined chance procedure and the performers' age. Earlier that year, however — according to the skeletal dating system of Water Yam — he had honed the event to a monosyllable, in one of his most enduring works, Word Event. There is a contrast between these almost contemporaneous works: Mallard Milk, like its predecessor Motor Vehicle Sundown, adopts a strict system and a sharp tone to ensure the best attempt at chance; the planned escape from intention requires an elaborate score. The laconic Word Event, however, with its 'bulleted' EXIT, offers the absolute minimum: a single word.

Paradoxically, this spartan form manages to contain a very high degree of inevitability. Everyone exits. It may be done badly, but it can't be done wrong. The exact nature of each replay of EXIT — how, when and why each performer completes the piece, is, of course, an entirely aleatory matter, and whether it is noticed, applauded, or even consciously rehearsed, the artist has succeeded in freeing himself from the burden of intent, using the most limited structure imaginable.

Brecht's contribution to the genesis of Minimalism should not be understated. Despite claiming never to have studied Latin, the motto multum in parvo appears in his notebook of spring 1959, and, in an even earlier, more formal setting, he had written; "[T]he primary function of my art seems to be an expression of maximum meaning with a minimal image, that is, the achievement of an art of multiple implications, through simple, even austere, means." Another facet of this drive towards nothing is the sparse formal presentation of his ideas: Water Yam, for instance, is usually published as a plain box of white cards, with instructions or event scores, simply printed in the condensed sans-serif font favoured for early Fluxus publications.

The majority of events in Water Yam tend to be terse, even to the point of impenetrability. Concert for Clarinet offers a monosyllable: 'nearby'; and Concert for Orchestra consists simply of the mysterious and parenthetic 'exchanging.' Other scores vary from brief lists to statements that seem like probable instructions. The lists — often bulleted and carefully placed upon small cards according to precise designs by Brecht — are presumably activities to perform or notice. Water, for instance, offers only the following possibilities: coming from, staying, going to. Piano Piece, however, assumes an act. Brecht has himself performed this as a simple gesture, placing without stopping, yet the deceptively simple score, 'a vase of flowers on [to] a piano,' carefully omits any firm directive. This economical form was deliberate, and entailed an increasing level of enigma in formal terms; as he acknowledged in a 1970 statement, later events became "very private, like little enlightenments I wanted to communicate to my friends who would know what to do with them."

Privacy prevails with Brecht; though he remained in sporadic but friendly contact with Watts until the latter's death. His gradual shift into seclusion did not begin until the later 1970s, after a number of fascinating collaborations, including V TRE, with Maciunas, among a proliferation of Fluxus Publications; with Robert Filliou in the cosmic experiment that was La Cedille qui Sourit; and with Patrick Hughes in a 'pataphysical investigation into paradox as a phenomenon.'

Similarly, Watts played well with others; apart from numerous group exhibitions such as his 1964 show with Richard Artschwager, Christo and Alex Hay, at Castelli, and aside from his co-publication with Maciunas on a wide selection of Fluxus objects and multiples, of necessity he co-operated with the number of craftsmen needed to produce such a rich diversity of art. Later, he was to co-edit an anthological report with Edmund Carpenter, Christopher Cornford and Sidney Simon, documenting a year-long experiment in pedagogy. Published in 1970 as Proposals for Art Education, it is an exemplary study of creative collaboration between artists and art students.

Their careers developed separately, although sometimes in parallel through Fluxus or European gallerists more sympathetic to ephemera. Watts remained an experimental and effective teacher, and an inspiration, through the international postal network of the 1970s and 80s. Brecht, turning to the production of marvellous objects, re-imaged his entire oeuvre as a virtual text, The Book of the Tumbler on Fire.

Not an heroic partnership — Brecht and Watts were not the pioneers of post-modernity, roped together on the slippery slopes of intermedia. Rather, their concerns were revealed as a playful kind of inquisitiveness that was sharpened and maintained by their training in the sciences. Their joint commitment to imagination, invention, and investigation, whether in formal institutions such as Rutgers, or looser affiliations such as Yam Festival, was reinforced by combined practices that amount to 'pataphysics. Their shared approach to research allowed the mind to travel freely over the conceptual surface of an object, to dissect it in myriad fashions, and reconnect the parts in new, more interesting, and always amusing, ways. Both men were naturally attracted to a seriously playful view of the world, and the coincidence of these various unpredictable characteristics made their unique collaborations fit seamlessly into the larger community better known now through Fluxus.

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