"Art Action Academia" (AAA), is a project that documents almost half a century of ‘cultural events’ based on personal trajectories in the domains of Art Action and Academia. Starting point has been my own involvement in such events, often products of collaborative work. Tracing back crossing paths, producing a reconstruction that can not be complete, but will still be inspirational. Documenting, like the weaving of a social tapestry with lifelines, and ‘cultural events’ as colored beads at junctions in the pattern. Initially ten personal histories were chosen, now this number has tripled. (1) Each of these histories is like a yarn - made up of twisted fibers - that can be unraveled, thus disclosing the supportive social networks for all those undertakings.
an incomplete list of names
The initial research for the AAA project brought to the surface over five hundred names of persons and organizations involved in, or associated with the one hundred or so ‘events’ chosen till now (53 of these events are represented on this page by small tableau pictures). (2) To show the variety and interconnection of people involved as creators, facilitators, supporters and inspirators, a selection of these persons whose activities fall in one or more of the following short categories: activist, administrator, architect, archivist, artist, composer, curator, dancer, designer, dramaturgue, educator, engineer, filmmaker, inventor, journalist, lawyer, librarian, manager, musician, parliamentarian, performer, photographer, poet, printer, producer, programmer, publisher, radiomaker, researcher, therapist, videomaker, writer. Each reader will make up, according to their relationships, their own ‘social map’ from the following list of names (* = deceased): *Alexander Trocchi, Alex Adriaanse, Arnold Hamelberg, Arthur Elsenaar, Axel Diedrich, Barbara Steveni (Latham), *Billy Klüver, *Bob Cobbing, Caroline Nevejan, Carry van Lakerveld, Charly Jungbauer, Cock Zouteriks, *Constant Nieuwenhuys, *Cornelius Cardew, David Garcia, Denis Masi, Diane Ozon, Dirk Groeneveld, Eddie Prevost, Eef Vermeij, Ernst Braches, Ewald Vanvugt, Folke Edwards, Franco Mazzuchelli, Fred Gales, Frederic Rzewski, Geert Lovink, Ger Brouwer, Ger van Elk, *Gerard van de Berg, *Gerry Schum, Gertjan Leusink, Giancarlo Sangregorio, Gideon May, Gilius van Bergeijk, Gottfried Hattinger, Gottfried Schlemmer, Graham Stevens, Günter Hampel, Gustav Metzger, Gijs Perlee, Gyorgy Galantai, Hannie van der Dop, Hans van Beers, Hans and Ingrid Derks, Hans Mol, Harry de Wit, Henk Peeters,*Herman Swart, Hubert Tonka, Hugo Kaagman, Ian Knight, Iris Slager, Jaap Kloosterman, *Jacque Ledoux, Jack Moore, Jan Dibbets, Jan de Boever, Jan van Toorn, Jean Clay, *Jean Leering, Jean-Paul Jungmann, Jean-Pierre van Tieghem,*Jeff Nuttall, Jeffrey Shaw, Jinai Hidenobu, *Joan Littlewood, Jochem van der Spek, *John Latham, John Munsey, John Sharkey, Joke Brouwer, Jonas Mekas, Józef Robakowski, Karin and Berndt Kramer, Keiko Sei, Keith Albarn, Keith Rowe, Koert Stuyf, *Kurt Kren, Ludo Pieters, Lutz Schulenburg, Maarten Kloos, Marga Adama, *Maria Hunink, Marijke Griffioen, Masaki Fujihata, Matthijs van Heijningen, Max Bruinsma, Michail Trofimenkov, Milos Vojtechovsky, Moniek Toebosch, Nic Tummers, Niko Paape, *Olivier Boelen, Otto Schuurman, Paul and Hélène Panhuysen, Peter Gabriel, *Peter Schat, Peter Stansill, *Pierre Schwartz, Pieter Boersma, *Primo Moroni, Remko Scha, *Rob Stolk, Robert Hartzema, Rolf Pixley, Rudolf de Jong, Rudy Uytenhaak, Ruud Tegelaar, Saar Stolk, Sean Wellesley-Miller, Simon Vinkenoog, Slavko Timotijevic, Steef Davidson, Svend Thomsen, Swip Stolk, Takehisa Kosugi, Theo Botschuijver, Thom Jaspers, Tjebbe van Tijen, Toshiyao Ueno, *Villém Flusser, Willem Breuker, Willem de Ridder, Willem Velthoven, *Wim Beeren, Woody and Steina Vasulka, Yayoi Wakabayashi, Yoshio Nakajima. The list is only indicative and as incomplete as it should be in the context of an introductory article.
Group identities were characteristic for the events of the 60’s and 70’s of last century, while later many of the people involved chose to operate under their own name. Many of these early collectives were short-lived loose associations without legal status and with droll or grandiose names. Sometimes they were just collaborations without a name, ‘affinity groups’ based on constantly shifting alliances (several of these collectives developed into nonprofit organizations mostly in the form of a foundation, ‘stichting’ in Dutch). To name some of these creative enterprises: Netherlands: Eksperimentele Studio Rotterdam, Provo, O & O, Anti Reklame Buro Sneek (Anti Advertisement Agency), Provadya?, Artishock, Laboratorium for Instant Art, Sigma Projekten, Universiteit van de Socio-Ruimte (University of Social Space), Bende van de Blauwe Hand (Gang of the Blue Hand), Internationaal Instituut voor de Herscholing van Kunstenaars (International Institute for the Re-training of Artists), New Electric Chamber Music Ensemble, Orkest ‘66, Vrienden van het Vrije Lied (Friends of the Free Song), Event Structure Research Group (ERG), Universal Moving Artists, Free Community of the Global City of Peace and Pleasure, Buro Informart, Maciunas Kwartet, Research en Informatie Centrum voor Experimentele Vrijetijdsbesteding (... Experimental Recreation), Stichting de Straat (Foundation the Street), Werkgroep Al-Veka, Kritiese Universiteit (Critical University), Stichting voor een Goed- en Goedkoop Leven (Foundation for a Good and Cheap Life), Woningburo de Kraker (squatting agency), Aktiegroep Nieuwmarkt, Vrije Archief (Free Archive), Zomerstraattheater (Summer Street Theatre), Studio voor Elektronisch Instrumentale Muziek (STEIM), Videoheads, Time Based Arts, Europe Against the Current, Cultureel Buro Rusland (CIRC), Next 5 Minutes. Germany: Institut für Direkte Kunst; Chaos Computer Club, Medienwerkstatt Freiburg. United Kingdom: Fun City, Sigma, Centre of Advanced Creative Study, London Filmmakers Coop, Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS), British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, Computer Arts Society (CAS), Artist Placement Group (APG). Starting in the mid-80’s direct contacts with alternative or independent groups in Eastern Europe developed. These were at first rare with the most known exception being Lev Nusberg’s (officially recognized) kineticist group Dvizjenije (The Movement) from Moscow, which had been known about in the West since the early 60’s. Later examples: Pomaranczowa Alternativa (Orange Alternative) groups in Wroclaw and Warsaw; Umweltbibliothek (Environmental Library) East-Berlin, Artpool and Iconnu in Budapest, Tretya Modernizatsia (Third Modernization) Riga and avantgarde pop groups like Aktual and Plastic People from Czechoslovakia and Pop Mechanica from the Soviet Union. The amount of North American groups worth mentioning would take up too much space, suffice to mention: The Filmmaker’s Cooperative, Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT) USA, Fusion des Arts Inc. Canada.
From the late 80’s onward the changing socio-economic climate led to the establishment of small firms, often one man/woman enterprises some examples from the Netherlands: Knowware, Artware, Spatial Effects (Botschuijver); Javaphile Productions (Shaw, Munsey, Adama); Dadadata (Jungbauer, Paape, Domela); Anomalous Research (Pixley); Soundreporters (Gales, Maioli); Imaginary Museum Projects (Van Tijen).
Almost one hundred venues and spaces, have shown, hosted or disseminated these events. The following is not the complete list but gives an impression: Galleria San Fedele in Milano; Better Books, Hayward Gallery, ICA, Theatre Royal Stratford in London; Sigma Centrum, Felix Meritis, Oude RAI, Stedelijk Museum, Universiteits Bibliotheek, de Appel, Tropen Museum, Mozes en Aaron Kerk, Stichting Wonen, de Waag, Beurs van Berlage, all in Amsterdam; Casino Knokke Le Zoute; Globe Theater and Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven; Dominicaner Kerk and Fort Sint Pieter in Maastricht; Kasteel Borgharen; Haags Gemeente Museum, Haags Filmhuis; Bouwcentrum, de Lantaarn, and Museum Boymans in Rotterdam; Mickery Loenersloot and Amsterdam; ‘t Hoogt and Jaarbeurshallen Utrecht; Museum of Modern Art Oxford, Brucknerhaus Linz; ZKM Karlsruhe; National Gallery Prague; Musée de l’Art Moderne and Grand Halle La Villette in Paris; Inter Communication Center Tokyo...
Some spaces can be classified as being a ‘cultural event’ in themselves, a product of collective creativity, grassroot initiatives (though several became established institutions over the years). Relevant examples are: Arts Lab, Middle Earth, UFO, and Roundhouse in London; Fantasio, Paradiso, Melkweg, Gallerie de Tor, de Smederij, Videoheads, Makom, Aorta, Pleinwerker, Oko, W139, Einde van de Wereld (End of the World) in Amsterdam; het Wiel and Apollohuis in Eindhoven; V2 Den Bosch, later in Rotterdam. A few others that come up when I let my mind wander: Christiania Fabriken and Video Gallery Trekanten in Copenhagen; Rote Fabrik in Zürich; Arena in Vienna; Galleria Repassage and Zaklad Remon in Warsaw; Artpool Budapest; Fornace Richard, Via Correggio, Centro Leoncavallo and Via Conchetta in Milano; Skuc in Ljubljana, Srecna Gallerija Belgrade. (3) Cultural platforms in Canada and the Unites States have remained largely outside my direct experience, though I know that Remko Scha and Paul Panhuysen (part of the AAA core group) had relations with Experimental Intermedia and Roulette and The Kitchen in New York, and the Exploratorium San Francisco; Scha also mentions as direct influences Bill Ham and his Light Sound Dimension Theatre in San Francisco and the lightshow performances of the USCO Group from Garnerville New York (presented at the 1966 KunstLichtKunst (ArtificalLightArt) exhibition in the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven.
Again such a list can not be exhaustive and is only given to illustrate the variety. Also it does not include open air public spaces that have seen some of the selected events: streets, squares, parks, ponds and beaches in London, Brighton, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Assen, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Bergeyk, IJmuider strand, Veendam, Hannover, Bordeaux, and the Camargue; some out of Europe like Tabarka in Tunesia and Melbourne in Australia.
Besides, several festivals - ranging from art to protest and pop music - supplied exhibition/performance contexts in the 60’s and 70’s: Pavillions in the Park London, HAI in de RAI, Floriade and Anti-City Circus in Amsterdam, Flight to Lowland Paradise Utrecht, Holland Popfestival in Kralingen, Buiten de Perken Sonsbeek, International Experimental Film Festival Knokke Le Zoute, Straatrevolutie Eindhoven, Edinburgh Festival, Strassen-kunstfestival Hannover, Moomba Festival Melbourne. From the end of the 70’s pre-figurations of what later became ‘multimedia’ festivals developed, like Ars Electronica in Linz, that was at first mainly concerned with electronic music. The late 80’s and 90’s see the full bloom of media art festivals like Artifices Saint Denis, Media Art Wroclaw, Image and Sound Festival The Hague, Instabiele Media Den Bosch, MultiMediale Karlsruhe, Media Art Festival Osnabrück, DEAF Rotterdam.
magazines as rallying points
Another ‘space’ for cultural events that was also a meeting and rallying point, were magazines and other forms of periodical, both small self-published as well as established magazines, which were open to new ideas. Those that have been influential and instrumental for Art Action Academia (here arranged geographically by editorial address, though many of them had an international circulation) are a curious mix of periodicals from the field of art, science and politics: Netherlands: Aloha, Amsterdams Weekblad, Andere Krant, Artzien, Bluf, De Nieuwe Stijl, Gandalf, Hacktick, Hitweek, Holland Hapt, Iets, Image, Kargadoor Bulletin, Kunst van NU, Makkom, Mediamatic, Museum Journaal, New Babylon Bulletin, Nieuwsmarkt, OM, Ontbijt op Bed, Perspektief Magazine, Potlatch, Provo, Randstad, Revue nul = 0, Scandal, Tresspassers W, Tsort, Witte Krant, Wonen/TABK. Belgium: Club Moral, de Media, Happenings News, Force Mental. France: Aproches, Architecture d’Aujourd’Hui, Cinquième Saison, Doc(k)s, Les Dossiers de l’Art Public, Internationale Situationiste, Leonardo, L’Opposition Artistique, Opus International, Revue OU, Robho, Situationist Times, Terminal, Utopie. Germany: 883, Informationsdienst, Kursbuch, Pflasterstrand, Spur, Unter dem Pflaster liegt der Strand, Wechselwirkung. Italy: Ana Etcetera, BIT, Decoder. Scandinavia: El Djarida, Fylkingen, Röde Mor. Switzerland: Hapt Schwizz, Hotcha!, Oeuf. United Kingdom: Archigram, Art and Architecture, Art and Artists, Arts Labs Newsletter, Bitman/woman, Black Chip, Cinim, Circuit, Global Tapestry, Hapt, Heatwave, ICA Bulletin, International Times, King Mob, My Own Mag, Page, Peace News, Radical Science Journal Signals Newsbulletin, Studio International, The Moving Times, Undercurrents, Variant. North America: Aspen Magazine, Black Mask, CoEvolution, EAT News, Georgia Straight, Impulse, Liberation News Service, Logos, Modern Utopian, Musicworks, Our Generation, Processed World, , Radical Software, San Francisco Oracle, Science for People, The Something Else Newsletter, Tulane Drama Review, Unsound, Village Voice, Whole Earth Catalogue.
independent media exchange
A 19th century small woodcut comes to mind showing a simple printing press with an elegant banner draped around that reads: "The Tyrants Foe, The Peoples Friend", but as the adage goes "Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one". That saying got a new meaning with the advance of the Internet, where the freedom of posting a ‘blog’ does not mean that you really "own" your virtual press. It is the server and even more the filtering search engines that are determining. ‘Independent media’ is not only about multiplying but also about distribution.
Still having ones own printing press was a great advantage and many social and artistic movements where at first centered around such a facility. In the Netherlands the Provo movement had its own press starting with a simple duplicating machine and soon after going into offset printing. That press has served many more movements in later years. Other countries have seen similar developments: Paddington Printshop London, Eks Skolan Trykkeri Copenhagen, Le Contre Journal Paris, Druckerei Zahl-Wienen (Pete-Paul Zahl) in Berlin, Stankowski in Köln.
Associations of small presses and publishers, mostly on a national level, have helped to further this development. One of the stimulating international phenomena was the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), starting as a loosely organized network that during its heydays in the 70’s consisted of a free exchange of over three hundred magazines from fifteen or so countries. Each magazine would send one copy to all the member magazines of the UPS network and text and images were freely exchanged between members. East Village Other, Georgia Straight, Berkeley Barb, OZ, Friends/Frendz, IT. The term ‘underground’ is somewhat misleading because most of the papers functioned outside real dictatorial oppression, the word is more an expression of an attitude and a better term would be ‘cultural underground’ papers. Some major commercial magazines from today were once a member of the Underground Press Syndicate, like Rolling Stone. It certainly was not just mass circulation magazines - though the UPS boasted a readership of 6 million in 1970 - but also very simple and handcrafted papers did participate, like the ‘Free City’ handouts published in San Francisco in 1967, and communal ‘digger’ papers like Hapt in the UK, Netherlands and Switzerland. (4)
Pirate radio has been another form of independent media activity, though limited by their broadcasting capacity on the AM and FM bandwidth. The Netherlands had a whole range of them starting in 1969 with a simple emitter during a student occupation of the University of Amsterdam, Radio De Vrije Maagd (The Free Virgin). Some pirate stations were tolerated for over a decade, like ‘Radio 100’ that has been running on volunteer labor and broadcasted a wide variety of programs including experimental avantgarde soundscapes and music. Some form of pirate television did exist in the Netherlands, using a loophole in the law, sending a signal directly to an official receiver of the new cable network at off-hours. The technical breakthrough of public networks, combined with a new range of cheap video cameras (camcorders), led to a media movement where tactical use of consumer equipment had some impact on major television networks. The ‘Next 5 Minutes’ conferences in Amsterdam - since 1993 - supplied a platform and exchange for such art and action experiences. East-West divides had loosened after 1989, and former real underground media activists from eastern Europe, like the people of Video Journal from Czechoslovakia and Fekete Doboz (Black Box) from Hungary, found at the Next 5 Minutes conferences their first international audience. (5)
aim of AAA project
Art, Action and Academia are separate domains which rarely combine all three. When these domains intersect or overlap it is mostly in pairs, with one element being subordinated to the other, like the combination of art and political action in ‘agit-prop’ and the practice of ‘action research’ or ‘participatory observation’ in sociology and education. Art is often an object of academic research, less frequently is it the other way around. Over the years I have learned to combine these three domains, finding my way in the fields of art, action and academia, in that particular order. The aim of "Art Action and Academia" project is to show the variety of elements that made a series of ‘cultural events’ possible in the last forty years, a retrospective view of the social and technical context of these events, an appraisal of daily realities which had to be reckoned with, a non-glorifying survey of the past, an inventory of limited resources, resourceful improvisation, endearing clumsiness, and, unintentional discoveries. A project that is both permanent and temporary - a permanent documentary system and a temporary series of travelling exhibitions. The documentary system combines the methodical with the associative, a growing repository as the project develops, stimulating public participation, allowing for adjustments and modifications by those who were involved, facilitating the adding of new material. A fixed form will be a book with a DVD, and an extensive web site that will permanently be hosted by a historical archive in ‘digital depot’’. (6) The exhibitions will show working installations (either in their original form, or remakes, reconstructions or scale models). The emphasis will be on ‘interfaces’ and ways of ‘interaction’. Several events can no longer be presented in such a way, and will be shown by audiovisual documentation and the display of left over artifacts, together with examples of original content.
The emphasis will be on what I call ‘cultural events’. Having ideas, for a work, action, intervention, making them real, making them happen, creating unique events at a given place and time. One’s own idea, or someone’s else initiative; acting or reacting; being inspired or provoked, by occasions and/or circumstances. Associating with others; joining or creating a collective project, being in opposition or part of a common cause. In all of these cases temporal situations are created by people at specific locations using oratory, motion, sound, sign, tracings, and the presentation and interaction with objects. Objects can be stable or have changing properties causing an audience to witness the process of their creation or modification. Boundaries between performer and spectator are often blurred, though the sequence of roles, from originator and initiator to collaborator, supporter and participator, is rarely reversed. Each ‘Cultural Event’ has its impetus, a timely combination of artistic, social, financial and technical components and constraints. ‘Cultural Events’ may be the showing of art works; happenings, performances, created environments; concerts, theatrical works; demonstrations, commemorations and manifestations; parties, festivals and other joyful events; systems for collection and representation; visualizations and dramatizations of political and historical information; manifestos, public debates; broadcasts and internet works, publications and lectures.
recurring themes and changing context
The chosen events show both recurring themes and functional shifts in the use of materials, equipment and objects. In several cases the same elements are used for different purposes and are ‘recontextualised’ for different circumstances: smoke at first used for experimental film projection and later in a protest action against a theater play; inflatable tubing as part of pneumatic happenings and later as a playful way to denote in real space the lines of contested urban plans; sculptural assemblage as part of a farewell monument to the outdated curriculum of an Italian art academy, and as a method for an imaginary museum that represented two centuries of revolutions; mapping as a tool to show the devastating impact of certain urban plans and as a way to travel in time, space and mood through urban environments on the basis of psycho-geographic quotations.
Continuous growing and temporal existence have been a recurring theme, like the branching system of continuous chalk drawings with their short existence on pavements and walls; the "endless" looping continuous film with its flashing subliminal graphic moments; bifurcating hydraulic tubing as part of an environment for heads; long lengths of inflated plastic tubing as short lived play objects. This fascination with continuity led to a playful study of topological systems, knotting, twining and weaving, starting with the continuous drawing and reappearing in later projects with Inca quipu cords in an installation on shamanism. Wireless microphones (still a rarity in the early ‘70’s) borrowed from the Studio for Electronic Instrumental Music (STEIM), together with powerful amplifiers, used during a demonstration in front of the Amsterdam city hall in 1974. In 1982 ‘electronic instrumental music’ (by the AMM music ensemble) with squeaking and cracking sounds was played over a high power outdoor sound system during a demonstration against the start of the building of the Stopera (the disputed combination of city hall and opera on the Waterlooplein in Amsterdam). This avant-garde music was combined in real stereo with "Vieni, o guerriero vindice" from Verdi’s Aida, while the crowd pulled down the fences of the building site and set some of the building machines on fire, and one of the speakers during the demonstration was the composer Peter Schat; a clear example of radical recontextualisation, a fusion of art and action.
Such cultural recycling was not only a typical Amsterdam phenomenon, as is demonstrated by a 1968 London example. A big inflatable made by Graham Stevens was at first used during an peaceful open air hippie gathering in Battersea Park, and later carried around at an anti-Vietnam War manifestation on Trafalgar Square. Filmcritic Raymond Durgnat observed the event: "Graham Stevens’ lolly-coloured inflatable, like a mini-airship upborne by a crowd’s raised arms. To feel it bowling along over one’s head, to become part of the laughing crowd it drew in its wake, to be suddenly enveloped and lost under its pulsating underbelly, to be curiously lured along by its airily slippery surfaces, was the overture to something almost unique in the UFO range: a psychedelic state whose high is neither private nor focused on a performer, but interflows from person to person, setting up new, opening-out circuits." This collective bliss did not last too long as the police ordered its immediate deflation, and when the crowd refused and walked off with the inflatable, a policeman turned hooligan and slashed it with his pocket knife. (7) Examples of reuse of art elements in political and civic action, but also the other way around, with an experimental tent-like Mongolian ‘yurt’ structure, first appearing during the occupation of a building site in the center of Amsterdam in 1987, later used during an alternative United Nations conference in Vienna in 1989 (Science and Technology for Development) and reappearing in 1997 as a part of an art-installation on ‘neo-shamanism’ in the Royal Tropical Museum in Amsterdam.
from the utopian to the commercial
Most of the selected events have been realized , shown, performed or distributed in several ways at different occasions. Some did not get beyond the stage of concept, design or prototype, because of financial restraints, insurmountable sensitivities (not to use the word ‘censorship’), or because certain grandiose or utopian schemes do better to remain at the level of the imaginary. Nevertheless, such schemes and plans show the ideas of their creators in the purest way, as most concrete realizations do involve some form of compromise. A nice example is the "Cinematic Air Pollution Device" designed by Jeffrey Shaw in 1967 to be shown in the city center of Rotterdam with promotional films of local big industries like Shell and Unilever projected on a screen of dirty smoke (it was not received with much enthusiasm by the city council; from this first idea the later more neutral ‘Corpocinema’ project evolved). Another example is a proposal engineered by Theo Botschuijver and Jeffrey Shaw in the beginning of the seventies for an "Aqua-Pneumatic Transit Tube" passing over the swamps in Disney-Park Florida; an advanced idea developed from experience with the earlier ‘Waterwalk Tube’ where the public could walk on water through a 250 meter length of inflated plastic tubing that bridged the Machsee in Hannover. The ‘aqua-pneumatic’ system would propel Disney visitors at high speed in transparent shuttles through a system of looping and knotted tubes. A "change of creative staff" at Disney’s put an end to this joyful plan.
These happenings, momentary environments and installations, were still somewhat related to the art field, but also fused easily with the mixed media events, parties and festivals of the cultural underground movement, from the mid 60’s to the beginning of the 70’s, that laid the basis for the later pop, rock and dance industry enterprises aimed at mass audiences. Theo Botschuijver and Jeffrey Shaw designed events for Pink Floyd and Genesis in the mid 70’s, and in 1995 Botschuijver produced a gigantic inflatable stage roof for a world tour of the Rod Stewart Band. Some playful elements of the sixties and seventies served a changing public policy that was looking for new forms of recreation and children’s play. These inflatable mattresses and cushions also found therapeutic use for handicapped children. Eventually entrepreneurs transformed them into the jumping castles that have become an indispensable part of any local shopkeepers street fair. (8)
interplay between art and science
Such mundane usage of artistic experiments was not the only development, there is also interplay between the artistic and the scientific, in fields like psychology, sonology, ecology and linguistics. Principles of spontaneity and randomness in the artistic sphere(music and painting) reappeared in the linguistic and artificial intelligence research of Remko Scha. Bio-shelters, energy conserving window systems, and light weight materials for the storage of solar energy became the domain of Sean Wellesley-Miller after his involvement with happening like inflatables with the Event Structure Research Group. He became a solar architect working for the North American Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the New Alchemist Institute. Visual perception, immersive environments, and man machine interfaces became a parallel field of activity next to the arts for Jeffrey Shaw, from the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe to the iCinema Centre of the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Fred Gales has been trained in anthropology and sonology and combines his artistic work with field research, recording tribal people in South-East Asia.
The role of the artist in the sixties was still predominantly that of a producer of lasting fixed objects for the art market, though deviant approaches developed, emphasizing the temporal creative act itself, and evading the art market and institutions. Alternative venues were sought. At first taking to the streets. Later, as a side effect of urban and industrial restructuring, former office spaces and factories gave new opportunities (often as a result of squatting actions). The first big series of outdoor events took place during the happy summer of hippies and ‘flower power’ in 1967. It was like being in the eye of the cyclone with all the surrounding and turbulent troubles of the world almost out of sight. Apart from some anti-consumerist references there was hardly any political content in the art projects of that time. That was going to change soon. Rising of the poor in the ghettos of the United States combined with the expanding war in Vietnam with its massive deployment of destructive technology. Nascent ideas of collaborative work and research involving both artists and engineers with the help of major industries (like the pioneering ‘Experiments in Art and Technology’ events in the United States from 1966 onwards) were frustrated, because the same firms (IBM, Bell Labs, Rank Xerox, and the like) were - or were thought to be - also involved in war activities. Student protests combined with labor unrest, anti-racist movements, and a whole series of conflicts that marked the process of decolonization were forcing many people to choose sides. Industry and technology were no longer seen as blank forces with a potential that could be put to creative use. On top of that was a growing consciousness of the impact of modern technology on the environment. All this has limited the pace of growth of the art and technology combine. The ‘Artist Placement Group’ activities in the early 70’s in Great Britain were a sincere attempt to overcome this state of affairs, trying to involve both industry and governmental bodies, but it took almost a decade before the upsurge of computer industry and the development of new mass consumers markets, created a new basis for artist involvement in what came to be known as ‘creative industry’.
a selection strategy
Making a selection needs a strategy: finding, gathering, assembling things, and then some form of sorting and sifting, till there is a body of information, a collection that at first contains more than possibly can be shown. Next is a process of selection which starts with the ordering of the collection, the grouping of things into classes and categories; rules for making distinctions; trying, changing and applying them. Then the end product needs to be envisaged from different viewpoints. Oscillating attention between object and subject, always keeping the core idea of ‘event’ in focus.
While collecting materials for "Art Action Academia" an interpretative framework grew in the form of an audiovisual and textual database consisting of a series of interrelated units (tables). At the moment of this writing there are ten units that relate in a nonhierarchical way and allow many different interpretation: Events, Localities, Organizations, Persons, Narrations, Chronologies, Documentation, Technologies, Objects and Reactions. One may imagine them as sections of a ‘wheel of knowledge’ (rota scientiae) whereby each unit can be placed in the center to create another point of view, another focus. Multiple entries, interpretations, levels, classifications and connections are facilitated by this ‘documentary machine’, that is used for all aspects of the production: exhibition, book, DVD and web site.
collaborations and authorship
Many of the so far selected ‘events’ have been realized in association with other people, either co-authored or as collaborative works. It goes without saying that actions in the civil and political domain were mainly collective undertakings. Collective as an association of individuals, a group of people bound by a common cause, which - under special circumstances - might act as if it had one body, one soul. This ‘unity’ decomposes as time passes, because it is easier to focus on names of individuals and their interactions than on something so volatile as the collective or group spirit of a certain historical moment or period. Individual authorship and collaborative, or collective, creation may seem to be at the extreme ends of a scale, but one can not exist without the other. There always is a social context.
When non traditional materials, and new technical processes are used in an art work, creation - in most cases - will depend on more than just the individual artist. In the process of realization of a project, a group or collective, combining the skills of different people, will arise. It need not be in the form of a production company or an enterprise, as in the movie industry, but some form of division of labor, of contracting and subcontracting, will occur.
Till today the official art world, curators, art historians, and art critics, fail to deal with this new reality and tend to ascribe art works, projects and events, that are clearly the product of a collaborative or collective endeavor, to a single artist, or, at best, mention some form of co-authorship. There are hardly any attempts to recognize individual skills within a collaborative group. In the realm of what has come to be known as ‘media art’ or ‘multimedia art’, the example of opera, ballet, theater and film with their long lists of credits, naming all collaborators and their exact function within a production, has not been followed. This is surprising, because even the name of this category of art multimedia - denotes usage of multiple technologies and skills, hence involvement of more than just one person. The practice of singling out ‘one’, or only a very few names, certainly has an economic background. Someone who is publicly credited with singular authorship stands a better chance in the competitive art market, will also be better equipped to attract the necessary funding for multimedia projects, that are often costly. There is also an ideological side to it: the search for a leader, a conductor, a director, who exercises dominant artistic influence upon a labor and capital intensive medium. In the field of motion pictures this focus on one person mainly the film director - who has made a personal imprint on a body of films, who had the principal responsibility for making aesthetic choices, is called ‘auteurism’ - an idea at first called "politique des auteurs" - originating in French critical writing in ‘Les Cahiers du Cinéma’ half a century ago, by André Bazin and François Truffaut. (9) The most quoted opposite view on this aspect of cinema comes from the German-American art historian Erwin Panofsky who - two decades before - defined the medium of film as "a cooperative effort in which all contributions have the same degree of permanence (...) the nearest modern equivalent of a medieval cathedral." (10)
The aim of this overview of forty years of collaborations is neither the ‘cult of the individual artist’, nor the over-glorification of ‘the collective’. The intention is to go beyond this dichotomy, to show both the unique influence of an individual creator and the indispensable skills and qualities of specialists and generalists in the production process of an event.
While working on the list of collaborations, more and more names of persons, groups, organizations and institutes surfaced. Some names came up by checking archival material, others were unearthed from memory, or popped up in conversations during the research. During the first attempts to categorize the involvement of each person or organization, it appeared that some of them had played a role that does not fit the usual professional or functional schemes. Still they had been instrumental. Persons who were inspirational, electrifying, gave moral support, lent their name, or the name of their organization. In short: those who helped to get a project off the ground or kept it going (mostly invisible, sometimes signaled by a personal dedication). It is important, to also document this aspect, to give some understanding of the time and social-economic context in which a project was conceived and realized, to elucidate the collaborations that combined conceptual, financial, technical and managerial skills within a supportive social network. Also people who were opposing certain ‘events’, or were a target of a campaign or action need mentioning (in a way that displays sufficient historical distance).
In a similar way the technical context will be documented. Listing for each work or event the configuration of elements used at the time: equipment, materials, substances, processes and protocols; explaining their use (and mis-use), their availability and cost aspects. Not only elaborating on ‘high-tech’ devices and processes, but also expounding on the low-tech and intermediate and everyday technologies that have been used. The technological changes that impacted on the chosen ‘events’ in this forty year period can hardly be discerned from the shifting labels that were applied to them. The meaning of these terms needs to be clarified so that they can be still understood today. Here are just a few ‘labels’, that were applied to certain events from the mid 60’s to the beginning of the 70’s: ‘action art’, ‘happenings’, ‘expanded cinema’, ‘environments’, and ‘mixed media’. ‘Action art’ and ‘happenings’, real-time events, often starting with an idea with loose ends allowing for inadvertent interventions, with frequent use of cheap materials that could make a big impact (plastic foil, bags, bottles, tubing, foam, spray cans, felt pens, tape, party fun articles and household equipment like vacuum cleaners used as blowers to fill primitive inflatables); ‘expanded cinema’, indicating real-time manipulation of the movie projection surface or other changes in the display context (with the use of special welding machines for plastic foil, synthetic fiber textile, tensioning cords and industrial blowers to make big inflatables, with water pumps, paint sprayers and pyrotechnics, high power projectors and sound systems); ‘environments’, spaces that physically can be entered by the spectator often with some form of manipulation of objects (film and slide projections, tape recorders, chemical effects, and soft surfaces with foam rubber and the like); ‘mixed media’, a mishmash of things thrown together as a spectacle with some form of audience participation (film, slide, liquid and stroboscope projection, combined with bubble blowing and smoke machines, action painting, electro-instrumental music, and other sensorial effects and tricks).
coexistence of analog and digital
Seen from the present all these ‘Cultural Events’ can be labeled as analog forms of multimedia, which have with respect to their audio and visual elements - been succeeded by digital multimedia technologies. But that is a too simple divide. There is a large zone where analog and digital technologies coexisted and still do. Not only through the digital recycling of analogue originals of text, image or sound documents, but also because of cost factors, limited data storage and process capacity. This leads to hybrid configurations of analog and digital equipment and processes. Sound and moving image were for many years too demanding a task for the kind of computer equipment artists would have access to, so analogue tape decks and video recorders, even slide projectors, had to be interfaced to digital computers. A growing demand for interactivity and instant response to give the user a feeling of being in command, was another problem to tackle. Lack of processing speed would force the designer of an interactive system to ‘cheat’ the user by some form of distraction that would create the necessary time to load and display a chosen series of images and or sounds. These changing technical backgrounds can be recorded in a series of interviews with practitioners of those times and used as a basis for reflection on interactivity and interface design.
new need for materiality
As the digital apparatus is progressively absorbing most of the textual, audio and visual tasks - providing for our eyes and ears - the other senses are mostly left out: the tactile, smell, taste, and body balance. In the varied list of unusual materials and unexpected equipment used in the cultural events of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, one finds several examples of materials and processes that had something to offer for these senses. In a recent talk at an Australian university Jeffrey Shaw spoke of the "necessary blandness" of the actual "commercial generic computer interfaces" that have to provide for the widest possible audience, and the relevance of earlier artistic inquiry: "These experiments in interface design point to a future where the manufacture of highly individuated user interfaces may become a cultural industry unto itself." (11)
sobering and inspiring images
There is a normal tendency to present only the most spectacular and advantageous images of an event, the ‘final product’. Favoring the high-tech appearance over the bric-a-brac reality. It will be interesting to show, as well, pictures of experimental phases, prototyping, construction, technical (mis)functioning and working situations. Such images will have a sobering, and also familiarizing effect, they might both change the way this period is conceived, and inspire young generations who might get the desire to do that as well.
why representing this past
At first there is one’s own life time which brings at certain stages many to some form of retrospect, which in itself could well remain a private exercise. Next there is the confrontation with other people’s interpretation, and representation of the past you have lived yourself, by people of your own generation, or generations after. One may recognize oneself in it or fail to do so. On the positive side one may identify with opinions expressed by participants, outsiders or newcomers, or at least understand their interpretation or criticism. On the negative side one may feel a lack of dimension and detail, or notice mistakes and distortions. One may grumble over such shortcomings, leave it, forget about the past - that anyhow will always be made different by each generation. Such a relativist and defeatist point of view belongs to a linear view of time, with history as an endless series of progressing events: uncertain beginnings and no end in sight.
There is also a more personal experience of time that makes another approach possible. Remembering how you learned from other people. How you loved to hear their stories; the books they recommended; the things they showed you; their support when you were eager to learn more. Joy of reading, urge of discovery, searching bookshops, libraries, archives for left traces of other people, other lives. Receiving from others who came before you implies giving to the ones after you. This can be seen as a more cyclical approach to time, a ‘passing on’ from generation to generation, not so much as an act to escape oblivion, or create eternal values, but as a social venture, just for the pleasure of communication itself and the human need for some form of recognition.
Making the 1960-2006 "Art Action Academia" overview might be seen as self serving, but the mere fact that my initial research surfaced over five hundred names of persons and organizations involved in hundred or so events, points in another direction. Covering these forty years in such a way and detail will help to understand how human creativity finds its way, will show how indispensable the contribution of so many people has been; will revive the joy of improvisation; make understood the level of involvement and dedication (including the dangers of fanaticism); and will widen our view on art, not as something isolated, but fully embedded in its time: socially, politically, economically and technically. As a corrective for the first decade of the 21st century that overvalues the individual, creates stardom and its related lower strata, that over-protects claims of personal ownership of creativity, that tend to deny the communal, and hampers free exchange, such an insight might lead new generations to other ways of creativity....
<-1) Initial name list with indication of main activities:
Fred Gales (researcher, radiomaker), Jeffrey Shaw (artist, manager, researcher, educator), Milos Vojtechovsky (researcher, artist, educator), Paul Panhuysen (artist, manager), Pieter Boersma (photographer, activist), Remko Scha (artist, researcher, educator), Sean Wellesley Miller (inventor, researcher, educator), Theo Botschuijver (designer, inventor, educator), Tjebbe van Tijen (artist, activist, librarian, researcher), Willem Breuker (artist, manager)
Alex Adriaanse (artist, manager), Arthur Elsenaar (artist), Bas van Tol (designer, educator), Caroline Nevejan (producer, manager, researcher), Carry van Lakerveld (curator), Cock Zouteriks (artist, activist, manager), David Garcia (artist, producer, educator), Frans Panholzer (lawyer, researcher), Gideon May (programmer), Graham Stevens (architect, artist), Gustav Metzger (artist, activist), Hans Derks (researcher, writer, educator, activist), Hans Mol (artist, activist, educator, writer), Iris Slager (artist, activist), Jack Moore (videomaker, producer), John Latham (artist), Marijke Griffioen (designer), Matthijs van Heijningen (manager, producer), Nic Tummers (writer, educator, parliamentarian), Otto Schuurman (filmmaker, educator), Pierre Schwartz (artist), Rob Stolk (activist, printer, designer, writer), Robert Hartzema (activist, writer, therapist, publisher), Robert Jasper Grootveld (performer, activist, artist), Rolf Pixley (programmer, inventor), Simon Vinkenoog (writer, performer, educator), Steef Davidson (writer, activist, designer, printer, collector), Willem de Ridder (artist, producer, performer).
<- 2) AAA research started in 2004.
<-3) For a study on the history and dynamics of self-managed cultural spaces see my article ‘Vrije culturele ruimtes’ (free cultural spaces), in ‘Gebroken wit, politiek van de kleine verhalen’; Ravijn, Amsterdam; 1992. Online version (in Dutch) at:
<-4) The beautiful ‘Free City Communiques’ can be found in the ‘Digger Archives’ on the net:
<-5) Documentation on the first Next 5 Minutes 1993 conference and the history of radical film and video can be found at:
<-6) Digital depot is a term used for long term storage of digital data, not only for this but also for later generations. The International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam is setting up such a depot and the AAA project will be stored here.
<-7) Raymond Durgnat "Why I Kicked My Underground Habits" in ‘International Times’ no 37.; August 1968. On-line (web-archive) version at:
<-8) For an account full of details and irony of Theo Botschuijvers experiences see Het Parool PS special 22 May 2003, interview "De opblaasman" (inflatables man) by Peter van Brummelen.
<-9) The idea of ‘auteurism’ stems from an 1948 essay by filmer and filmcritic Alexandre Astruc ‘Le caméra-stylo’: "The film-maker and author writes with his camera as the writer writes with his pen." The most quoted Truffaut essay is "Une certaine tendance du cinéma français" and appeared in ‘Cahiers du Cinéma’ January 1954. An English source on auteurism is "Theories of authorship: a reader" edited by John Caughie; Routledge & Kegan Paul; London 1981.
<-10) Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) article "Style and Medium in the Motion Pictures" 1934, revised in 1947. An interesting observation for understanding "new media" can also be taken from the same text: "It was not an artistic urge that gave rise to the discovery and gradual perfection of a new technique; it was a technical invention that gave rise to the discovery and gradual perfection of a new art." The text appears in a recent publication: Panofsky "Three essays on style"; 1995; MIT Press; Cambridge.
<-11) Jeffrey Shaw "Meaningful Interfaces in Immersive Environments", talk for the University of New South Wales, 2006.