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  • The Future of an Idea:9 evenings—Forty Years Later
  • Deborah Garwood (bio)

Art and science are inextricably connected. Changing views of the manner in which nature operates bring about corresponding changes in art . . . If I imagine myself then as a composer in a situation where anything can be done, I imagine making a music a little different from the concerts of ambient sounds we nowadays hear wherever we are when we listen. I imagine this music as technically like my experience: wireless. I imagine all distinctions between art and life removed. Art would then have to do with the opening of ourselves to the world in which we live.

From a typed letter from John Cage to Billy Kluver, dated June 31, 1965, and exhibited in 9 evenings reconsidered: art, theatre, and engineering, 1966

9 Evenings, Then and Now

9evenings reconsidered: art, theatre, and engineering, 1966 endeavored to reassess a legendary series of ten experimental performances that was presented at New York's 69th Regiment Armory on East 25th Street in October, 1966; the original event was entitled 9 evenings: art, theatre and engineering. The curator of this retrospective exhibition, Catherine Morris, is an eminent independent curator and a specialist in alternative art of the 1960s and 1970s. She was keenly aware that the character and substance of the performances themselves had fallen into obscurity even as the event sustained landmark status in critical literature on the period, thanks to its emphasis upon art, theatre, and engineering—themes that are often folded together on the contemporary art scene today as live performance and hybrid digital genres. Morris surmised that a reexamination of the event from today's perspective was due, particularly since 2006 marked the 40th anniversary of 9 evenings. The LIST Visual Arts Center welcomed Morris's proposal as the second in a series of guest-curated exhibitions dedicated to the theme of technology and engineering in relation to the fine arts. [End Page 36]

The original event began as a brainstorm between Billy Kluver, a senior physicist and communications engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories, and artist Robert Rauschenberg. Their core idea was to introduce a group of artists to the most recent communications technology through collaborations with engineers, then to promote a festival of the ensuing works. An event such as this would raise the scale, public access, and technological sophistication of avant-garde art to the level of public spectacle. Indeed, the scope of 9 evenings as much as its conception was regarded as bold and innovative when the event came to pass. An early model of corporate-industrial sponsorship for art projects (although privately funded, ultimately), it was perceived as a critical success by some, a selling out of the avant-garde by many, and a box office flop by most.

Kluver was undaunted. Following 9 evenings, Kluver, Rauschenberg, Whitman, and engineer Fred Waldhauer sought to perpetuate its objectives by founding Experiments in Art and Technology. Popularly known by its acronym, E.A.T. was most active during the late sixties; its demise is usually dated as 1973. Legions of visual artists as well as performing artists attended educational E.A.T. seminars in search of alternatives to the formalist model of strictly separate artistic disciplines, a model for which "theatrical" tendencies and popular culture were anathema. E.A.T., meanwhile, envisioned a public profile for itself that corresponded to the avant-garde's radical vision of life as art. To read over the projects that E.A.T. proposed to corporations and governments around the world from the 1960s through 1973 is to understand how dedicated Kluver was to its vision. He was a humanist whose experiments in social science from the 1960s until the end of his life, in 2004, expressed idealistic faith in applied science.1

In the mid-sixties, Kluver and Rauschenberg made an interesting pair. Swedish-born Kluver came to the U.S. in 1954 for further engineering training at Berkeley. He then moved to the East coast and found employment as an engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories in northern New Jersey. The field of communications had been revolutionized by cybernetics theory, which became closely allied with Artificial Intelligence during...


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