This place was selected by Media God to perform an experiment
on you, to challenge your brain and its perception. We will present
you sounds and images, which we call Electronic Image and Sound
Compositions. They can resemble something you remember from dreams
or pieces of organic nature, but they never were real objects.
They have all been made artificially from various frequencies,
from sounds, from inaudible pitches and their beats. Accordingly,
most of the sounds you will hear are products of images, processed
through sound synthesizer. Furthermore, there is time, time to
sit down and just surrender. There is no reason to entertain minds
anymore, because that has been done and did not help. It just
does not help and there is no help anyway. There is just surrender,
the way you surrender to the Atlantic Ocean, the way you listen
to the wind, or the way you watch the sunset. And that is the
time you don't regret that you had nothing else to do.
June 15, 1971
Portis, Asst. Curator, Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of Ontario
The Vasulkas and The Kitchen
Essay on The Kitchen for EAI History Project
“There is time,
time to sit down and just surrender. There is no reason to entertain
minds anymore, because that has been done and did not help, it
just does not help and there is no help anyway, there is just
surrender the way you surrender to the Atlantic Ocean, the way
you listen to the wind, or the way you watch the sunset and that
is the time you don’t regret that you had nothing else to do”
“Welcome to The Kitchen” (June 15, 1971)
In early summer, 1971, Dimitri Devyatkin, a fresh convert to
the Porta-pak subculture, approached Nam June Paik following the
artist’s talk at UC, Santa Barbara to express his admiration and
ask advice. Devyatkin was about to return to his native New York
– how could he get involved with the video scene that was bursting
open there? Paik told him a very exciting space had opened just
days earlier in Noho. He should go there. Devyatkin rode a Greyhound
bus to New York and on his second night back found his way to
The Kitchen, at 240 Mercer Street. He brought a tape with him
and joined the Wednesday Open Video Screening, one of the first
in a long-running weekly series begun by Shirley Clarke. Other
artists showing work that night included Bill Etra, Andy Mann,
Jackie Cassen, Richard Lowenberg and Clarke. In the audience
were Paik, Jonas Mekas and The Kitchen’s proprietors, Woody and
Steina Vasulka. After the screening, most of the group went out
for dinner and drinks into the early morning. Within hours of
turning up, Devyatkin had been welcomed and furthermore entrusted
with the keys to The Kitchen (as well as those to the Vasulkas’
14th Street studio). They were headed to Iceland for
the summer. The 21-year-old newcomer was left in charge until
story reflects an article of faith among the original generation
of video artists – value and accommodate anyone who arrives demonstrating
enthusiasm, intelligence and commitment. Media arts curator and
historian Robert Riley noted that “the opening of The Kitchen
... was an outgrowth of the Vasulkas’ interest in collaborative
exchange, and their desire that community resources be shared
[i] Among the earliest video theaters in New
York, The Kitchen alone survived the makeshift times from whence
In February 1971, the Woody and Steina Vasulka first presented
programs of their tapes at Max’s Kansas City – three nights dedicated
respectively to electronics, gay cabaret, and rock concerts, approximating
the three broad themes with which The Kitchen would be identified:
video-image processing, social-issue documentary and avant-garde
music. They showed again at Global Village and then in March
at the WBAI Free Music Store, multi-monitor environments of video
and audio. Inspired by the possibilities of electronic theater,
the Vasulkas pursued an initiative taken by their carpenter friend
Andreas Mannik, (a.k.a. artist Andy Mann). They leased a modest
space he located in the Mercer Arts Center, an aggregation of
off-Broadway stages, independent drama groups and cabarets occupying
two floors of the storied Broadway Central Hotel, a grand hotel
of the 19th century which had declined into a welfare
On June 15, 1971 they unveiled their renovation of
the former hotel kitchen, from which the organization derived
its name. [iii]
Mannik fitted the room with utilitarian elegance
– brick exposed on the exterior wall, ceiling-to-floor curtains
over the windows facing the street, sound-proof baffles on the
inner walls and an open floor upon which equipment and seats could
be arranged as required.
Although The Kitchen was never a production space per se, a
lab aspect acquired from a related group, known as Perception
(comprised originally of Eric Siegel and Vasulkas), played a crucial
role in its financial footing.
[iv] Perception carried out its explorations in electronic
image generation in their respective studios, but for business
purposes its address was 240 Mercer. Through Siegel, a participant
in the seminal “TV as a Creative Medium” exhibition at Howard
Wise Gallery in 1969 who continued to work very closely with Wise
in the patents of his video synthesizers and colorizer, Perception
became the first group taken in by Electronic Arts Intermix, which
was also founded in 1971 by Wise shortly after he closed his gallery.
EAI’s mission, as stated to the New York State Council on the
Arts, was “to assist projects undertaken by groups and not-for-profit
enterprises working to explore the potentials of the electronic
media as a means of expression and non-commercial communication.”
(NYSCA, through Russell Connor and its new TV/Media section, had
likewise earmarked funds for media arts around the same time.)
By way of EAI , Perception received its first grant of $15,000
in autumn 1971, soon after the Vasulkas returned from Iceland.
By mutual agreement, Wise and NYSCA included, $8000 was channeled
into The Kitchen, allowing Woody and Steina to draw salaries as
Director and Assistant Director, although Steina’s pay ended up
being put into a 50 per cent share of the rent to the Mercer Arts
Center. (Presumably Wise made up the difference from his own
pockets.) The balance of the grant was invested into equipment
for Perception, from which the Vasulkas again re-directed their
share towards additional monitors for The Kitchen.
This attention to high-quality equipment distinguished The Kitchen
from other artists’ video collectives in New York, such as Global
Village, Raindance Corporation, and the People’s Video Theater.
The Vasulkas, for instance, contributed some solid video hardware
from their own studio, such as five 25" Setchell-Carlson
monitors obtained in barter from Max’s Kansas City impresario
Mickey Ruskin. Such production-grade gear, to which artists rarely
had access, presented one major incentive to show one’s work at
The Kitchen. The union of technology to performance followed
organically from the personal histories and creative dispositions
of the Vasulkas. Woody began as an industrial engineer. Steina
was an accomplished violinist. The live interface of video technology
to electronic music became a hallmark of The Kitchen, and an obvious
one given the inextricable geneses of audio and video synthesizers.
With an excellent sound system in place from the start, The Kitchen
soon attracted composers in addition to artists.
A music program had been intended from the beginning; La Monte
Young, for instance, performed at the inaugural event. However,
it was not until the arrival a young musician and composer, Rhys
Chatham, in the fall of 1971, that someone took that aspect in
hand. In October, Chatham launched the Monday night series of
Electronic Music Concerts. Four of the first five concerts featured
Chatham himself (one notable evening being an improvised electro-acoustic-video
collaboration between he, Dimitri Devyatkin and Woody Vasulka)
but soon many of New York’s audacious new composers and performers
were appearing, including Maryanne Amacher, Emmanuel Ghent, Frederick
Rzewski, John Gibson, Henry Flynt, Tony Conrad, Phill Niblock,
Gordon Mumma, Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman, to name but
a few. A signal change which Chatham introduced to The Kitchen,
indicating a rite of growth and a minor source of irritation,
was a published schedule.
A primary need of an artist-run center like The Kitchen was
for its members to have time for their own work. With a number
of coordinators, each tending his or her specialty on a regular
rotation, a balance between programming and creative space was
achieved. The Vasulkas were directors-at-large. Chatham organized
weekly concerts. However, aside from Monday music, The Kitchen
was almost exclusively dedicated to video in its first year.
Dimitri Devyatkin was the original video coordinator. He brought
a concern for social issues and documentary, which could not have
been more different from the image-popping video sensibility of
the Vasulkas. (Woody, a Czech emigré, knew the failure of the
Velvet Revolution and was famously skeptical of the liberal bias
which ran through New York’s art world.) Devyatkin, in solidarity
with the leftist agendas of Raindance or Global Village, invited
marginal community groups – feminists; rent strikers from Harlem
and Chinatown; gay and lesbian activists; prostitutes and transvestites
– to use video and see The Kitchen as a platform for their point
of view. These rather ad hoc events brought a new clientele,
not only distinct from the downtown arts contingent but, even
more importantly to Devyatkin’s thinking, utterly alien to the
middle-class patronage which frequented the other theaters in
the Mercer Arts Center. Programming of this sort was necessarily
casual, contingent and free of charge.
The interim report filed in January 1972 by Perception on its
original NYSCA grant listed seven performance areas: Electronic
Music Concerts, Wednesday Evening Open Screenings, Weekend Video,
and Vasulka Video ( which together dominated the first year’s
presentaions); and Cinema, Three-Dimensional Studies, and Dance
(amounting to a handful of dates, more or less exceptional cases).
As a result, in the spring The Kitchen was awarded a new cycle
of funding, again through Howard Wise and EAI, but as a stand-alone
program this time, entirely separate from Perception. Once again,
the first item of expenditure was compensation to the additional
program coordinators, Devyatkin and Chatham. A sure sign of its
growing stability and stature, The Kitchen finally issued a full
calendar in April, its first, with events scheduled almost every
day of the month. [v] Public support came
with stipulations too, namely an insistence by funding officers
that events demonstrate audience fulfilment by charging admission.
The grassroots video sessions fell by the wayside. Devyatkin
devoted his energy to a computer arts festival
[vi] and an ongoing seminar on perception and cybernetics
(based on the new information theory coming out of MIT), perhaps
deemed to have greater aesthetic relevance.
Throughout the Vasulka era, the profile and activities of The
Kitchen were tuned to the people at its heart. Every void seemed
to presented itself as an opportunity, and someone new came along
to show why. After the voluntary roles of Devyatkin and Chatham
were converted to paid positions, an extraordinarily bright, charismatic,
well-liked and tragic figure began to make himself available.
Shridhar Bapat was not an artist exactly (although the few tapes
he produced were highly regarded by his peers), but the Brahmin
son of Indian diplomats, raised in London and educated at the
London School of Economics, conducted himself with artistic comportment
and verve. Highly intelligent, technically proficient, selflessly
generous, Bapat elicited a general boost in goodwill which in
turn made it possible to raise the level of programming. In June
1973, the Vasulkas launched the first Kitchen Video Festival.
Bapat acted as director. On the face of it, the Video Festival
was not so different from the regular events, but its fortified
roster, comprehensive and intensive, heightened the recognition
of a video arts community and assured that deserving work, from
anywhere, indeed any new developments, received timely exposure
in the vital center, New York. The festival earned the Vasulkas
and The Kitchen a prominent story in the New York Times. [vii] From that point
forward, The Kitchen figured reliably in art and music reviews
by the Times, Village Voice, and Soho Weekly News, with occasional
mentions in The New Yorker, Daily News and elsewhere.
By now, The Kitchen was considered the flagship of the Media
Arts sections of Russell Connor’s NYSCA and Howard Klein’s Rockefeller
Foundation, the place where ambitious artists expected to debut
important works and an attendant audience checked the pulse of
the electronic arts underground. In September 1972, Bapat became
program director. That month, he helped Susan Milano, organize
the first Women’s Video Festival, a two-week event so successful
it was reprised and extended for another two weeks in October.
The Women’s Video Festival, which highlighted women as producers
and women as subjects, included Milano, Steina Vasulka, Shigeko
Kubota, Jackie Cassen, Maxi Cohen, Elsa Tambellini, among several
other individuals and video collectives. In generating their
own identity and spirit, the festivals revived somewhat the political
fervor Devyatkin earlier sought to infuse, however within a definite
artistic context. Both The Kitchen Video Festival and the Women’s
Video Festival were repeated in expanded form in 1973. The 2nd
Women’s Video Festival, held at 59 Wooster Street, was the last
major project Bapat undertook for The Kitchen.
On New Year’s Eve, 1972, Rhys Chatham bade farewell with a midnight
concert of his compositions. He was leaving to devote more time
to his own music. He was replaced by Jim Burton and Robert Stearns,
who would lead The Kitchen through its most momentous changes
since its founding. Stearns came along almost incidentally, a
reliable attendee at concerts in which Burton, his roommate, was
a performer. An instinctive manager, he noticed things to do
and took up those tasks himself, as simple as making an accurate
tally and record of receipts. A telling indication of the influence
Burton and Stearns exercised within The Kitchen’s directorship
was a gradual adjustment to the balance of programs during the
spring of 1973. Music was given two, then three nights per week.
This was an audience-driven decision, responding to the higher
attendance for concerts than video theater and screenings.
Howard Wise, concerned about changes on the horizon and organizational
tensions which resisted resolution, recognized Stearns’s natural
talent for organization and long range planning and began to groom
him for overall management of The Kitchen. The Vasulkas were
relocating to SUNY, Buffalo, where they had been offered a dream
lab at Gerald O’Grady’s Center for Media Study. Devyatkin received
a CAPS grant and decided to study film at the renowned All Union
Institute of Cinema (VGIK) in Moscow. Bapat a desperate alcoholic,
turned out to be lost without the support of those who had once
relied on him. (His closest friends departed, Bapat seemed overwhelmed
by his duties and began to drift and become unreliable.) To cap
matters, The Kitchen was unable to negotiate a viable renewal
on its lease. Seymour Kaback, the entrepreneur behind the Mercer
Arts Center, was clearly dissatisfied with The Kitchen, which
made no effort to affiliate itself with the MAC in any of its
increasing press or publicity. [viii]
Stearns came from the other side of the road, south of Houston
Street, where he was the director of Paula Cooper Gallery. He
understood the necessity of marketing and promotion to the stable
growth of an arts business, which The Kitchen had more or less
become. It became clear that The Kitchen would have to relocate.
Howard Wise and Bob Stearns discussed this step at length. Wise
envisioned a smaller space which could function as a media workshop,
close in spirit to the Perception group from which The Kitchen
evolved. Stearns recognized that the success of The Kitchen came
due to its audience. If a larger space could accommodate a larger
audience, the organization would gain opportunities to invest
in itself, control its own direction and become less reliant on
public funds, with vagaries and guidelines implicitly attached
to their use. Stearns advocated moving to Soho. Furthermore,
the time had come to incorporate The Kitchen as an autonomous
not-for-profit entity. Its budget outstripped the rest of Electronic
Arts Intermix’s programs combined.
A move of only a few blocks conveyed a far greater symbolic
distance. Left behind were the populist, political dynamics of
the East Village and the isolation of maverick video artists.
Soho was cool, savvy and sophisticated with a free-wheeling real
estate market. Fortunately, several developers had a genuine
interest in art, as was the case with Jeff Paley, who leased a
7500 square-foot second-floor loft to The Kitchen (almost ten
times its area on Mercer Street) on very generous terms. The
new space was located at 59 Wooster Street, at the corner of Broome,
in a building known simply as LoGiudice, after the ground floor
gallery of dealer Joe LoGiudice. After several weeks of renovations,
The Kitchen re-opened with two evenings of John Cage on December
7 & 8. In April 1974, Haleakala, Inc. assumed control of
The Kitchen from Electronic Arts Intermix. Howard Wise discontinued
further sponsorships of outside programs to focus his energies
on building a new videotape distribution system.
Ben Portis, January 1992
[i] Robert R. Riley, Steina and Woody
Vasulka: Machine Media (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum
of Modern Art, 1996): 10.
[ii] The Broadway Central was one of the
“grand” hotels of the late-19th century. Built in
1854 and later expanded onto the site of the old Winter Garden
theater, the Broadway Central was where Edward Stokes shot and
killed Jim Fisk (one of the sensational society murders of its
day), where “Diamond Jim” Brady held court, and where the radical
Russian emigré Leon Borenstein adapted a new surname from Trotsky’s
Kosher Restaurant, caterers on the premises. In 1971 the Broadway
Central was a welfare hotel.
[iii] The Kitchen was alternately called,
at one time or another, The Electronic Kitchen, The Electronic
Kitchen for Media Arts, The Kitchen-LATL [Live Audience Test
Laboratory], The Kitchen & Electronic Image Lab, and the
Mercer Media Repertory Theater.
[iv] Early on The Kitchen was pressed into
occasional service as a basic viewing-and-editing facility at
a time when affordable resources were still scarce in New York.
[v] As mentioned already, calendars outlining
concert series only had been issued by Chatham. Those for February
and March 1972 were the first literature acknowledging NYSCA’s
support of The Kitchen.
[vi] The International Computer Arts Festival,
the first of three organized in conjunction with Electronic
Arts Intermix (but the only one involving either Dimitri Devyatkin
or The Kitchen) ran April 1–14 & 17. Notably, it integrated
various combinations of film, music, video, sculpture and performance
in composite programs, something the organization had never
[vii] David L. Shirey, “Video Art Turns
to Abstract Imagery,” The New York Times, July 4, 1971:
[viii] The Broadway Central Hotel and the
Mercer Arts Center came to a spectacular end when an entire
wall facing Broadway collapsed on August 3, 1973.
Max's Kansas City by Steina
from Pre-Kitchen recollections
Mickey Ruskin's Max's Kansas City steak house was close to where
we lived. It was run by Mickey Ruskin, who extended credits to his
customers. This is pre credit cards, and he sent us the bill once
a month. We heard later that Andy had had to suspend the credit
privileges when his entourage ran up a bill of ten thousand dollars.
But we were on good terms with Mickey, and once I asked him if we
could show in the upstairs room. We had bought some b/w Setchel
Carlson monitors from him, and he had some more from a project of
John Chamberlain that he had sponsored. The terms he suggested was
1/2 the gate if we charged, otherwise free. We had three nights
of packed house. We charged, but when it came to paying, Mickey
would not hear of it. A friend of ours, Andy Mannik, who had attended
all three evenings, suggested we should start our own theater. He
showed us a great place in a dilapidated building on Mercer Street
and we were sold. Problem was, everybody told us, this part of town
was a wasteland, nobody would ever show up. Even the names NoHo/SoHo
were unknown then. Woody named the place after its previous function,
"The Kitchen." We had to clean out ancient wooden iceboxes and utensils
from this former bar mitzvah-type reception place at the old Broadway
The House of the Horizontal Synch
Early in 1971, in Santa Barbara, Nam June Paik told me about an
experimental video theater called The Kitchen that had recently
been organized in Manhattan, by Woody and Steina Vasulka. Immediately
on returning to my family's home in New York, in June, I went to
a Wednesday night open house at The Kitchen and met Woody and Steina.
They'd signed a lease in March, completed renovation, and begun
inviting people to show tapes.
The original Kitchen space was the kitchen of the old Broadway
Central Hotel, on Broadway and Bond Street. At the time, the hotel
housed welfare recipients, but in the late 1800s, it had been
one of Manhattan's most luxurious hotels and the subject of many
tales. For instance, the kitchen of the Broadway Central had once
been run by caterers named Trotsky, a name that was appropriated,
it was said, by a hotel guest named Leon Bronshtein, a Russian
revolutionary hoping to avoid the Tsar's police. The hotel's kitchen
also saw a shoot-out involving Diamond Jim Brady, in an affair
involving the affections of a young lady.
The June night on which I first visited The Kitchen was one of
the most decisive of my life. After screening a piece I'd done
in California, I received a strong reception from the circle of
video artists present. Within hours, I was holding the keys to
both The Kitchen and the Vasulka's private loft. A long relationship
began between me and Woody and Steina, who became my "mama
and papa" of video. When they went off to visit Iceland,
Steina's homeland, they invited me to run The Kitchen for the
Woody and Steina had invited Rhys Chatham, a young composer,
to be music director, so we began an ambitious program that involved
music, with events taking place almost every night. An early collaboration
I conceived was called "House of the Horizontal Synch,"
which featured Rhys on piano, Woody on video synthesizer, and
me on electric violin. A microphone on the violin was patched
to the horizontal synch of a video monitor. As the violin changed
pitch, horizontal lines on the screen changed width. The lines
were keyed through an image of the violinist playing "House
of the Rising Sun."
The Kitchen showcased video art, music, and performance. It both
reflected and stimulated the convergence of art, politics, and
technology. Soon it was the #1 place in New York to have tapes
screened. Pure video art coexisted with social-issue videos from
gay activists, rent strikers, and Chinese immigrants. We welcomed
collaboration and original work. Wednesday night open house remained
a tradition. And while directing The Kitchen, Woody, Steina, Rhys
and I also actively pursued our own work.
At the time, the New York State Council on the Arts was spending
around $20 million annually on video. Most recipients showed their
work at The Kitchen; it was a ritual of project completion. We
hosted many groups and individuals. Several young electronics
designers came to The Kitchen -- designers who went on to have
successful careers. Gallerist and Electronic Arts Intermix founder
Howard Wise was very supportive, making introductions to NYSCA,
as well as personal contributions. I organized a Computer Arts
Festival, which drew participants from all over the world.
Our Kitchen collective came to include Shridhar Bapat. Son of
an Indian diplomat, educated in London, Shridhar became co-director
of video. We were fast friends. A man of high intellect and a
wonderful nature, Shridhar battled acute alcoholism. He died seven
years ago, homeless, on the Bowery.
Upstairs at the Broadway Central was a welfare hotel. Downstairs
became the Mercer Arts Center, a schmaltzy performance bar where
the legendary, heroin-soaked punk band, the New York Dolls, performed
in the wee hours. The band went on to find fame and megabucks.
In 1973, after The Kitchen had moved to Wooster Street, the Broadway
Central Hotel fell down -- physically collapsed! No one was hurt.
In its place now stands a modern apartment building.
The Kitchen's first two years of operation were high spirited
and non-commercial. After moving to Wooster Street, things
changed. Now The Kitchen was a prestigious performance and gallery
space for music and video performance that was driven more by
grants than street-level, social issues. The artists and audience
became increasingly white, better-off, non-native New Yorkers,
a population not so interested in politics or the lives of common
people. Then again, SoHo itself had become a syndrome of artists
pitching projects to foundation executives over expensive lunches.
My tenure at The Kitchen lasted two years, from June 1971 to
June 1973. Invited to Moscow's famous film school VGIK, I left
to study under director Roman Karmen. Today I make video documentaries,
and my programs have aired on ABC, PBS, French and British television.
I had stints working for CBS News, Worldwide Television News and
Metromedia. After spending six years in Moscow, Bucharest, and
Amsterdam, I now live in Brooklyn, with my wife Olga, and children,
Pavel, 5, and Sonya, 4.
Kitchen Story by Steina
In 1970, when the NYSCA deemed video an applicable art form, Russell
Connor visited various art organizations in the state soliciting
proposals. Howard Wise, who had just had a very successful gallery
show “TV as a creative medium” asked one of the artists, Eric Siegel,
for advice. Though NYSCA was legislatively not allowed to fund individuals,
it was understood that the activities of the groups (Global Village,
Rain Dance, Peoples’ Video Theater and the Video Freaks) that had
emerged, hinged on the capacity of individuals in these groups.
So, Eric contacted us and Vincent Novak, suggesting we band together
under the name “Perception.” To qualify, Howard Wise, who had discontinued
his gallery, applied for non-profit status. I think it was on the
suggestion of Frank Gilette, that he named this new entity “Electronic
Arts Intermix.” All worked out and Perception got 12,000 dollars
which was divided 5000 for Woody, 4000 for Eric 3000 for Steina
and 0 for Vinnie, who somehow did not qualify as artist. Eric took
his share to travel to India with a portapac, making one of the
first tapes of that gernre. Woody and Steina, who had at the commencement
of the grant period started the Kitchen, applied all of their funding
toward the Kitchen, much to the disapproval of Howard, who pointed
out that this was their own funds designated for making art. When
the next funding cycle came around, several artists had approached
Howard seeking financial assistance. Howard by now, very supportive
of The Kitchen, suggested that we would apply for separate funding
as The Kitchen. Perception dropped us, but took in, besides Eric,
Frank Gilette, Ira Schneider, Beryl Korot, Juan Downey and Andy
Mann. Howard was a man to be trusted, and this time Electronic Art
Intermix served as an umbrella for a lot of activities, such as
The Avant Garde Festival, Perception, Vasulka Video and the Kitchen.
When Robert Stearns took over the directorship of the Kitchen, he
formed his own non-profit organization under the name Haleakala.
In expectation of a high class art center, he renamed “The Kitchen”
to “The Kitchen Center for Dance, Music or whatever”, hoping to
eventually drop the “Kitchen” name and become “The Center.” This
was his failure in an otherwise very successful run as a director.
Six proposals to EAI
The Kitchen submitted six proposals to Electronic Arts Intermix,
the fiscal agent who incorporated them into their proposal to NYSCA.
Five proposals went to the Video Department Program including two
from “The Kitchen,” (#’s 1 and 4), one from “Perception,” and one
from “The 9th Avant-Garde Festival”. Two programs went to the Music
department and one to the Theatre Department. The numbers in parentheses
are the original kitchen numbers. Video: Perception The 9th Avant-Garde
Festival ALL FUNDED Kitchen (1) Vasulka Video (4) 5) Seminar on
Cybernetics (2) NOT FUNDED Music: Live Electronic Music (4) FUNDED
Midnight Opera Co. (6) NOT FUNDED Theater: Actors Video Workshop
(5) NOT FUNDED In This Bundle: Six Original Kitchen Proposals EAI
Rewritten and Perception and Avant-Garde Festival Announcement of
grant from 4 and 5, The Kitchen and Vasulka Video.
The New Video Abstractionists
THE KITCHEN: An Image and Sound Laboratory: A Rap
with Woody and Steina Vasulka, Shridhar Bapat and Dimitri Devyatkin
The Kitchen was founded in 1971 as a video and performance
space at a cultural complex on the outskirts of the SoHo area
of New York City called the Mercer Arts Center. At 240 Mercer
Street, the Kitchen, so-named for its past use in an annex building
to the Broadway Central Hotel, shared quarters at the Center with
Off-Off Broadway theater spaces, acting schools and bistros. The
Kitchen initiated some of the first annual video festivals, the
first annual computer arts festival, and programmed the work of
video artists from around the country, as well as music and performance
events, many of which incorporated electronic media.
The sudden collapse of the structure of the Broadway
Central Hotel in 1973 closed the Mercer Arts Center for good,
but the Kitchen re-emerged in SoHo at 59 Wooster Street near Broome.
The Kitchen continues today as a well-endowed performance center
with ongoing video exhibition facilities and archival functions
close by at 484 Broome Street, and has served as a model for other
media arts spaces through the United States and Canada.
On April 1, 1973,Jud Yalkut hosted a monthly edition
of the panel show ARTISTS AND CRITICS for WBAI-FM in New York
with the founders of the Kitchen, Woody and STEINA Vasulka, and
two of their co-workers: Shridhar Bapat and Dimitri Devyatkin.
The discussion entailed a complex overview of the state of video
art at that time.
JUD: Let us start with the genesis of the
Kitchen, what it was meant to be, and how it relates to the current
WOODY VASULKA: When we came into the scene,
into video actually, we felt there was some kind of vacuum in
the presentation of video. Of course this was very subjective,
because there were places like Global Village, Raindance and People's
Video Theater. There were loft concerts; Bill Creston actually
advertised shows. We went to a show there once with Alfons Schilling.
We were just four people in the audience who then got together
and rapped about the concept of a theater. There were a few other
places, but they only wanted to show whatever a particular group
or individuals did that was of interest to them.
JUD: It was a randomly generated scene.
WOODY: Exactly. We were somehow toying with
an idea of filling up the vacuum. We were trying to put together
a more egoless concept of things, to bring more participation
of people, so it would create an impact. Of course, the concept
was much bigger than what we ended up with; there is always a
chain of compromises. Actually, there were 3 or 4 people talking
about the theater; the first was Andy Mannik, who physically found
the space of the Kitchen, and there was Michael Tchudin, and of
course Steina and me. Later Dimitri Devyatkin and Shridhar Bapat
showed up, and that is how it is right now.
STEINA: Michael Tchudin is a musician, and
he was going to combine live music with video. Andy does not dance
himself but is very involved with and knows what's going on in
the dance scene. He wanted to do dance programs. And we were going
to try to make a mixed media scene.
WOODY: So, we had realized that to present
video only, as other groups had done, was not really enough.
JUD: To sustain an environment.
WOODY: So we had these two concepts: one
was to be a Live Audience Test Laboratory (LATL) or to attract
industries to get equipment donated. Of course, these were dreams,
like asking Sony or RCA to give you a camera. These are very naive
concepts. But then we said: let's take electronic media as art
material, let's put them together using the whole environmental
range of media. And that somehow was closer to what we felt about
it, so then the name became “Electronic Media Theater,” and that
is how it stands. And since Steina and I are slowly withdrawing
to other duties, the new generation like Shridhar and Dimitri
are proceeding in electronic image programming. It happened in
a time when there wasn't really much around, and it was a good
time to start and to unite the video scene. Of course, we had
a few people who would not participate in the Kitchen, because
they had their own way of presenting video, but I think mostly
we got the part we like, which is the abstract or non-figurative
or electronically generated video.
JUD: Image processed work in the medium rather
than as a purely generated medium, although the Kitchen had presented
examples of both.
SHRIDHAR BAPAT: One of the major points that
comes up with our emphasis on processed imagery, image-oriented
video, is the fact that this is a form of video which can be performed.
We actually perform, in many cases, instead of just presenting
JUD: Rather than being a newsreel theater.
SHRIDHAR:We are actually a performance space,
and video becomes an instrument, in the same way that a musician
performs. But our orientation has not been totally image-oriented
really because we have by and large over the past two years been
the only regularly functioning video presentation space of any
kind in New York, if not the East, in general. And some of the
most successful programs have been the open screenings.
JUD: On Wednesday nights.
SHRIDHAR:A fully unstructured kind of thing.
People bring in the worst stuff, and sometimes incredible discoveries
STEINA: The people who have found a home
in the Kitchen, are the image-oriented, the electronic image people.
They've become our associates: Bill Etra and Walter Wright, or
Nam June Paik, who is not an associate, but there is hardly a
week that he does not show up. Those people have found the Kitchen
a very ideal space, whereas people who deal with video as social
or political impact have not made much use of it. It is not anybody's
fault, it is just how it developed; the Kitchen was just as open
to them as anybody else. There is also another group of video
artists who have not used the Kitchen at all, and those are the
JUD: They are mainly gallery oriented.
STEINA: Yes, they are not dramatically oriented,
they are more oriented towards continuous showing and the Kitchen
really is a theater. It has the concept of the audience coming
in, and a presentation begining and ending.
JUD: Many of those artists have dealers who
sell videotapes in limited editions at high prices, trying to
use a gallery concept for distribution of video.
DIMITRI DEVYATKIN: I think you can look at
the Kitchen in a much different way, as a real turning over place,
where lots and lots of information changes hands, and I really
feel my own role there, serving a network function--that someone
comes with something that they specifically need to know and we
can easily direct them to where they should go. Therefore, we
represent a great deal more information than we might have ourselves
personally, and this is a function that anybody could serve, but
as you keep serving it, you become better and better at it. What
the Kitchen has really done has been just opening and getting
this new information to cross and intermix, and especially the
idea of music, dance, video and other kinds of performing, interacting
with each other. It is just amazing. You hear of artists working
right down the hall from each other, and never see what the other
is doing. Just having a space where they can meet generates a
very healthy climate.
JUD: It generates an interest and is also
stimulation for new work in one direction or another. That is
the way it was with the Filmmakers' Cinematheque and the underground
film scene in New York until things became a bit more rigidified.
WOODY: I also feel that this is the dilemma
of the Kitchen. Should it be a place to meet, a place to produce,
or a place to show? When we started, there wasn't a great interest
in the Kitchen and we could barely make a week of programm-ing.
Now it is different, I think we are too much into showing and
too little into producing.
STEINA: We are too much into success.
JUD: Also the atmosphere of the Mercer Arts
Center with five theaters and a weekend hangout for Off-Off Broadway
types. Quite a few wander into the Kitchen from this other milieu.
WOODY: Dimitri described one function, which
is the meeting place for the exchange of ideas, or the directions
of visual thinking, but we have the capacity of making an impact
by producing, but we haven't done that. I think that is a bit
of a cop-out on our part. We should be pursuing and doing more
in that direction, and also on the structure rather than on presentation
of the visual.
JUD: Of course, there has been much discussion
over the use of the space and how it would be difficult for it
to double for both functions. It would really require the use
of another space somewhere, and of course more funding.
SHRIDHAR:More equipment resources, more time,
DIMITRI: I think it is really important that
the people who run the Kitchen are artists themselves; it makes
a very different feeling and atmosphere than if it were people
who are strictly in it for the administrative or managerial role.
JUD: Or even the purely hardware end of it.
DIMITRI: Right. Like the Open Screenings,
where you have a chance to show your own tapes, and not as an
egotistical thing, but something with a loose, spontaneous feeling.
And if the person running the show has some reason to be involved,
it is really an exponential addition, as opposed to “well, here
comes another artist.”
JUD: It is a very healthy ego involvement
for the artist to be presenting his work to an audience for the
first time. The genesis of the Open Screenings is a very interesting
STEINA: Yes, remember? You were at the party
when we opened; everybody was. There was no floor; we were dancing
on a strange floor.
STEINA: Yes, and the walls weren't ready,
or anything, but we made the party to introduce what we had. The
first one to offer an idea was Shirley Clarke right at that party.
She had been talking to a fellow artist about the lack of a place
to show your tape. And she had this fantastic concept that it
should be totally open and unprogrammed, that people would just
come unannounced to show tapes.
WOODY: She got it from the movies because
that is what Millennium was doing.
JUD: Millennium still has open screenings.
The Cinematheque used to have open screenings on Wednesday nights.
STEINA: Yes, typically it came from a filmmaker,
this idea of having open screenings. We had not thought of it.
And sure enough, she ran it the first few times, establishing
the tradition of having someone host it.
WOODY: She put a seed there.
JUD: She was a kind of prime mover in many
WOODY: Brilliant concept, and it was much
more personal when it was very small, with very few outsiders.
It was actually only fellow tape makers who came, an audience
of maybe ten to twenty people, it was much more intimate. Now
Dimitri is facing a problem; not only is he running the Wednesday
nights, but also he gets an audience. He actually gets a crowd.
STEINA: It is the dilemma of success, because
now we seem to be averaging something like eighty people a night,
and that was unthinkable a few months ago. So it is not so playful
anymore; it is serious.
JUD: What do you think about handling that
DIMITRI: Sometimes you get the feeling that
the spontaneity is gone, and there is just this tension of every
single moment. Events are booked up months in advance. There is
a harsh competition among artists and therefore, you are forced
to start choosing between them--those are the negative things.
The positive things are that it is really starting to spread information;
people are rapidly becoming more aware of video. That is important,
it will undoubtedly affect the communications of the future. I
really see ten or twenty years from now people using video as
opposed to letters. I seen the influence in people's lives in
a very intense way, especially with cable and computers working
together allowing people to choose what they want in their homes.
And the Kitchen will help affect that.
WOODY: It has that impact indirectly. We
have found, by traveling around to Canada and the West, that people
are actually informed about the Kitchen. It gives them a certain
security that it is true, that electronic media are alive and
are performed. We get letters from Europeans, so the idea of the
Kitchen may be more important than its reality. And we send calendars
around to prove that there is something like electronic media.
STEINA: We now hear of video theaters opening
up all over the United States, in the Midwest and out on the coast.
Because they cannot really be run commerci-ally, not yet, not
even “Groove Tube” could really make it. People are now realizing
that as long as some funding gets the rent paid, you can run a
video theater, which wasn't really thinkable two years ago.
SHRIDHAR:In many ways, just running a video
theater is much cheaper than running your own little portapak,
if you are doing your own little productions. It is such a comparatively
simple thing to do.
WOODY: But it is time-consuming, it becomes
JUD: Particularly at the Kitchen where many
shows require completely different set-ups, just in terms of video
monitors and switchers.
WOODY: Right. It could not really be produced
commercially because it would become such an overhead, such a
hassle. We are actually lucky to be running it half-sloppily because
it gives you the leeway of re-arranging things. Perhaps I am still
regretting that it did not develop its own dramatic form. The
media is still very sketchy, performed more as accident. Configurations
of the monitors are still quite accidental. But it is still a
dream; the electronic medium may not yet be together enough to
JUD: There are a few people who have been
thinking of that, in terms of matrixing monitors, like Frank Gillette
and Ira Schneider.
SHRIDHAR:Some of Global Village's multi-channel
JUD: Even some of the Video Free America
things, used it in a dramatic context.
WOODY: Right. Those are more or less environmental.
Environment is something people respect more, because environment
has been around for a while longer... sound environments, light
JUD: It started with Scriabin.
WOODY: Right. I haven't seen much of - maybe
it is a bad word - dramatic use of media or performances as such,
I am talking sounds coming from different directions, and really
making sense in those configurations. Sounds that have up and
down, right and left, walls of sound. Perhaps it is too literal,
but to master the electronic media the way that music is mastered,
that the conductor makes a small gesture and it makes a great
difference in the sound of a tuba or a cello. So, in that sense,
I guess we all are waiting for those computers, but maybe it is
time to start without them. I see very little of that, and that
is my agenda, to perfect that direction.
DIMITRI: Another aspect that the Kitchen
serves, I feel, is as a political place, in that it affects culture
and the way people relate to their society in their own minds.
For example, the showing we had of THE IRISH TAPES by John Reilly
and Stefan Moore, tapes made in Northern Ireland in the Catholic
community. These ran then simultaneously with scenes of the soldiersmarching,
or some B-specials of the Protestant politicians. But back to
technology: it is not just a question of money, video synthesizers
JUD: In their infancy.
SHRIDHAR:And low-light cameras are absolutely
WOODY: Yes. When you go to an industrial
exhibit, you see that everything is possible, but when you return
to the base of daily production, you are still dealing with beat
up cameras and old reel-to-reel systems with a switcher which
is no good. Let's face it, what we have on our hands is a basic
level of technology, and that is how we live.
JUD: One factor is that 1/2'' reel-to-reel
technology is all basically in the realm of consumer technology,
and that is the last level to which all of the research filters
WOODY: Well, on one level thank god, because
the prices are reasonable. Like we are now facing the whole problem
of developing our own custom-made equipment. We were lucky enough
to find good, yet inexpensive engineers, but it is incomparable
with industry. It would be beyond the reach of any individual.
It is a blessing that the consumer was the initiator of the whole
JUD: Just as the cassette audio recorder
has changed the face of non-fiction and journalism, with the ability
of being able to record information anywhere, and transcribe it
at one's leisure.
WOODY: Again, if you analyze the way people
perform, it already shows the emergence of that video cliché,
which can be perceived two ways, positive or negative. It means
that there is a form to the presentation of video, where people
with no imagination have just the cliché, but someone with imagination
can build on the cliché, making something meaningful.
JUD: A good deal of video art has been based
on the transformation of clichés, like the early work of Paik,
and much early work grew out of channel switching, building a
collage out of broadcast garbage, and taking new forms, which
was a beginning of the video switching aspect.
WOODY: I have a comment on this: This is
the first time we are facing video synthesis. Video, especially
early Nam June Paik, represented an analytical form, a form of
destruction, which was heavily switched, changed, turned, and
beam-deflected, a kind of anarchy. It was very inspiring. But
now, the new generation, like Stephen Beck, has a very disciplined
and organized form of energy.
JUD: Almost virtuoso.
WOODY: Right. It is very contrary to what
video used to do, taking inputs off the air and processing it.
Now, it has become a very rigid, disciplined effort, which is
going into a direction of finely controlled changes.
DIMITRI: You really notice this in the computer
pieces. We are going to have a Computer Arts Festival, for the
first two weeks of April (NOTE: 1973) and the works which have
been coming in fall into two basic categories: people are using
this immense technology of computers either to have this precise
control over many, many variables, such as Walter Wright, with
his programs on very highly advanced hardware, where he has able
to call up any shape and any form and any distortion of the pattern
at will, and he knows exactly what he is going to get when he
punches it up.
” My tapes are made on the Scanimate 'computer'
system built by Computer Image Corp. Scanimate is a first generation
video synthesizer. Images are input in a number of ways--through
two b & w vidicon cameras (these cameras may look at still
artwork, a TV monitor, etc. or from an Ampex 2" VTR, or from
a studio camera. Two of these input channels pass through a video
mixer to the Scanimate CPU (Central Processing Unit) where position
and size of the image is controlled. Also on the CPU are three
oscillators. The CPU also controls the axis (the lines about which
an image folds) and allows the image to be broken into as many
as five separate sections. I play Scanimate as an instrument and
all my tapes are made in real time without pre-programming. I
also try to avoid editing. I am designing and hope to build a
live performance video synthesizer. Most of my tapes have a score,
as in music." WALTER WRIGHT--from 1972 notes for a KITCHEN
DIMITRI: Then a whole bunch of people are
using this technology for its random qualities. For example, there
is a Dutchman named Peter Struycken, who sent a film which, as
you watch it you can not possibly see anything change, but there
are repeating, random, little patterns, and you just see day pass
into night, and never see it repeat.
"In order to gain acquaintance with the premise
applying to the reciprocity between element and structure, the
changing degree of variation being the criterion, I make models
which relate to this problem ... One of these models is my image
programme 1-1972."-PETER STRUYCKEN from the notes to the
FIRST COMPUTER ARTS FESTIVAL in the KITCHEN, 1973.
JUD: Most of the work coming in is digital?
DIMITRI: Yes, but a lot of video synthesizer
work is analog. David Dow, from Southern Methodist University
in Texas, is coming for the Festival with live dancers with myo-electric
crystals attached to their muscles, so a particular motion will
generate a particular current on these electrodes. It then goes
into a digital computer that is programmed to respond to these
changes in motion, and can cause radio and video signals to change.
It is very easy to control; you know if you lift your arm, you
are going to get green. The feedback pieces that used to be based
on electrodes to the brain are not that easy to control.
JUD: This reminds me of the E.A.T. (Experiments
in Art and Technology) “Nine Evenings” piece by David Tudor, using
the Bandoneon to make videographic abstractions and sounds simultaneously--one
to one live generated imagery and sound.
WOODY: Right. There is a whole direction
with audio-visual composing, which is as yet basically untouched.
The artists in the past seemed to try to gain access to technology
and just then demonstrate what it could do. But now, artists are
more generally gaining access to technology, to the tools. And
that creates another problem, how to really use these tools in
a particular frame of mind, or philosophy, or direction. This
we are going to have to face sooner or later. You cannot get away
with just flashing images anymore. Oh it was so beautiful--the
Kitchen was so free. People could bring things that were beautiful
because they were new. But, suddenly after three years, they've
become garbage to us. It is not beautiful anymore; we have seen
it a hundred times. It is that first feedback that you do. Now
we started to discriminate within ourselves. Video is not new
anymore. You are studying how many layers of images are there,
that you could not see before, because your mind wasn't able to
recognize the structure of the image.
SHRIDHAR:You are looking at it from the point
of view of somebody who has been working intimately from inside
the medium as long as it is existed. What about the person who
has never been exposed to video, or has limited exposure to video
or experimental television? He walks into the room and sees the
first feedback that somebody did, all those mandalas going all
over the place; his reaction is much more valid, in a sense, it
is more childlike. It is not geared to trying to analyze what
level of technological mystery there was behind that particular
image. And one reason why this still continues is that, unlike
film, we do not yet have a body of criticism on existing video.
WOODY: Let us face it, a symphony orchestra,
when they really go in sync and they all draw the bows; it is
beautiful. That aspect is still in the traditional mode. But if
you put a tape on and all you see is those two reels on the tape
deck turning, it is something else, of course. It becomes a performance
within your head, but it has very little to do with the space,
people even dim the lights totally. That is a dilemma of the electronic
JUD: Dimming the lights is like making the
theater more private.
WOODY: Making it smaller, or making it all
in your head again.
DIMITRI: It enhances the suspension of disbelief.
STEINA: There is no suspension or belief
required when listening to a piece of music.
WOODY: But we like the Kitchen as a space;
that is why we rented it. It was the physical space; every media,
especially dealing with video and audio, there has to be a place,
a space, the room is your stage. I am talking about trying to
perform directions, levels, and movements of the image. There
are so many configurations of the screen that can be done: horizontal
on the floor, suspended from the ceiling, like the heavens.
JUD: Some of the dreams of Frank Gillette,
thinking about the first news of flexible flat TV screens, were
being able to construct a tunnel that you could crawl through
and have your image all around you.
WOODY: Yes, Frank has fantastic concepts.
He has done a few of them; they are on the model scale. We all
work on model scales, except you can amplify sound infinitely,
but you cannot amplify image. It is still the basic monitor. So
you have to multiply the number, or whatever you can do, but once
you get the amplification of the images, that is it, you can terrorize
SHRIDHAR:Even when we started using video
projectors, a point which Rudi Stern brought up a long time ago,
and obviously McLuhan made this point too, is that video is light
coming out at you. Video is a light bulb, not a mirror; anything
that is reflected is bound to lose some of its power.
WOODY: These may be the legends of video.
There has been an incredible amount of speculation about the size,
that video is so particular, because it has this small size, that
it is in a box. But when you project it, you suddenly realize
that this is not really true - of course there is the scanning,
a whole field behind the scanning, you stare and you are hypnotized.
JUD: It is a low-definition cool medium,
WOODY: Once you blow it up in a proper brightness,
half of these legends about video just go away, because actually
you deal with a frame, and you have the same law of composition
as other large pictures, like film.
SHRIDHAR:Oddly enough, someone decided on
a 4:3 aspect ratio a long time ago, and we have been working within
that. We have been working within 60 cycles too.
JUD: Which is an interesting harmonic scale.
SHRIDHAR:Pythagorean as well.
"There is another way to tune in to 60 cycles.
Keep the power away from you by transmitting through the air.
Use your ears as transducers. Convert from analog to digital.
Join the most constant universal life event on our continent.
Hum at 60 cycles, way down on the end of the Fletcher-Munson curve.
Slip in between the molecules in the body and learn about being
a clock, I tell the limp-skinned ones."--TONY CONRAD, program
notes for DR. DRONE IN CONCERT, 1972, at the KITCHEN.
WOODY: But it goes back to the fact that
once the tools are developed, there is going to be more work with
it. We could do it on the model scale, as Gillette has done, we
could perform any configuration because actually it is you mind
that fills the space. You can really extend your perception, in
the sense that you can eliminate the rest of the room. Once it
works, it is dramatically effective. Of course, life size is the
next philosophical dimension, and bigger-than-life after that.
STEINA: A painter friend of mine started
to philosophize about it, and he thought that the video screen
was actually a continuation of church windows, because it is a
back light; it is not a painting; so he found a continuation there
that I had never thought of--
JUD: Electronic stained glass, in motion.
There is a relationship to Thomas Wilfred's Lumia, which was backlit,
especially when we get into performance. The space-window concept.
SHRIDHAR:Wilfred actually had a greater advantage
working where he was, than we do, because he was able to manipulate
his images over any time span that he chose, and many things of
his took about 35 minutes to see perceivable changes, where we
are still stuck within that basic time frame.
DIMITRI: When I went to Princeton and saw
the computer there that Aaron Marcus works with, where you have
a special joystick with which you can control movement within
a special cybernetic world that he has created, and you can go
up and down, around, into the air; you can travel at any speed
you like, and meet other people who happen to be in the same computer,
traveling around that same imaginary space, and it is just a little
screen. You can also put a little disc in front of your eyes that
spins fast enough to make a delay from one eye to another so that
it looks 3-D, and you really feel as though you are in the space,
even though it is this one little screen. No glasses, just a disc
spinning in front of your eyes.
"Computer art promises to challenge more profoundly
than ever before what is real and what is not."--Aaron Marcus,
notes to film THE BEGINNING at the KITCHEN.
WOODY: Unfortunately, this is what people
call the gimmicks. For us, it is the universe. It seems to me
that the audience wants to be convinced, so they want to enter
the room and it is really there, a 3-dimensional life-size display.
And that is the difference between the establishing of the media
and the research of the media. We are still really in that research;
we play R&D. Our friend, Alfons Schilling, works with binocular
vision; he has done beautiful exploratory works. They are important
because even if you apply them to life-size, the principles are
the same, the calculation of distances. But again, it is the scale
that will make the impact on a society. Somehow we are stuck,
because the Renaissance could really build those beautiful churches;
they put them on paper, they calculated them, but they built them,
and they were so big, so fantastic. If this time is a rationalization
of art, as I believe, it has to be built, it has to exist physically,
and I guess we just have to catch it within our generation.
JUD: Since the Kitchen really has been a
repository and filtering place for many of the tendencies in video,
how do you see those tendencies crystallizing at this point?
STEINA: They are crystallizing a lot. We
are actually expecting other such theaters to open, to crystallize
SHRIDHAR:It is already crystallized sharply
into three different areas which are defined less by their content
than by the way that they are shown: cable public access, in New
York particularly, has been oriented to social action uses of
video, community projects, school boards, and also useful information
JUD: Yes. The New York Public Library has
teenage video workshops.
SHRIDHAR:Yes, this is an example of how we
are crammed full of all the other tendencies. Once a month we
show young people's videotapes by the New York Public Library
people, as well as many high schools around the area. The main
tendency of art-oriented video has been split up between the processed
image people and we are really the major showplace for them, at
least in New York; and the other sharply defined group, the conceptual
artists, to whom video is a kind of incidental tool.
JUD: From another side, the teledynamic environment
can extend into the conceptual category, as well as the psychological
SHRIDHAR:But the conceptual category has
been almost exclusively limited, with the exception of the Avant-Garde
Festivals, to certain galleries and certain museums, where the
resources exist for permanently installing a setup for at least
a week or two.
DIMITRI: I see two main currents of video,
the reportage or documentary style combined with the artistic
or electronic thing. I could see for example, using the electronic
media with a real humanitarian sense, dealing with social issues,
and what you would create would not fit into any categories at
all. It would use a lot of the electronic effects, chromakey,
feedback, superimpositions, but it could also deal with real content
and issues that matter to people. Video has this capability more
than any other form because it is so immediate. You can show something
live or that same afternoon. It is very light, very cheap, can
be put into people's hands, and it is incredible the way you can
manipulate the signal live or on tape to create effects. I think
if you could integrate the real part of video with the electronic
part, you would get something where the whole would be more than
the sum of its parts.
WOODY: Let me comment on that. Only if you
master the compositional form of video, can you use it as you
describe it. It is like the 19th century novel; the vocabulary
was all there; there was not a word missing. You could really
go and do multi-layer analyses of society, plus fantasy, whatever
you wanted, like Dostoyevsky--
JUD: And eventually James Joyce--
WOODY: Right. Joyce. He describes fossil
layers, because they are actually described in the Encyclopedia
Britannica; they all exist. There is as of now no vocabulary of
electronic image. We do not really know how to name it. How can
you say that someone enters a room, and suddenly through his forehead
flashes an ocean, and there is a reflection of sunset, in red,
and his forehead turns pale? These are the terms you would have
to be able to script to perform your image. We are not there yet
whatsoever. We are just trying to divide video further, and make
sub-categories. There are some people who just deal with loop
and delay. There is still a struggle for analytic form. We, the
Vasulkas, went into almost an imitation of painters, like Magritte
(NOTE: particularly the GOLDEN VOYAGE of 1973), because we could
not bypass that. There is so much potential in the painters of
the past, the philosophical insertion. The boxes are not yet open,
if you really touch Dali you see those exploded moments, it is
just unbelievable how it predicts the whole dynamic electronic
image. And if you go into Escher and his developments, those incredible
computer-like, feedback-like loops, day to night, or his incredible
spiral development - all these things that preceded video, because
video people still deal with the accidental. No one has yet selected
his future in video by choice, I think. We all came to it through
film, through a job, or through some other strand. There is a
generation that may be born to be video, but as of now it is all
sketchy; it is all accidental.
SHRIDHAR:At the same time,
WOODY: The novelist sitting there in the
19th century had his words. He did not necessarily depend on the
existence of paper and ink to be able to use and actualize words.
But we depend on a piece of technology that does certain things,
a certain basic limited number of variables that you manipulate
when you manipulate a set of video images. Some writers today
would not write without a typewriter; they have to have at least
a 100 dollar typewriter. (Laughter) They would refuse to write
SHRIDHAR:The typewriter still does not tell
them what to write. They could alternately write it with their
hand, or with a finger in some sand. The point I am making is
that this is like a linguistic analogy, in structural linguistics,
the deep structure is there; the deep structure is the equipment
we are using. We are only slowly starting to actualize it, and
I do not think we can afford to sit around and mathematically
work out every single kind of possible image manipulation. You
would spend 60 years just doing that, and have three years left
of your life to apply what you have learned.
JUD: That will be a new science, video general
DIMITRI: Much of the art that you are talking
about, like Escher and Dali, is something that appeals to artists,
but in my experience, showing tapes that are purely abstract to
people who have strong content needs leaves them completely dry,
and I feel that video can serve them too. Referring to something
that is real in the world, the message that you are trying to
give becomes that much more important because it is talking to
someone about a question that they already have. It relates to
something after they leave the room, whereas, if what you are
doing is totally abstract, there is a totally subjective reaction
to that work. Like with rock and roll bands, some bands are very
egotistical and somehow people who listen to their music have
an individual response that is subjective. Other bands like the
Grateful Dead, maybe I am prejudiced, call up the communal feelings,
use an objective language that gets the people, they feel warmth
to each other, it calls up human emotions that has a positive
effect. I think that video can do that also. That video may be
using real images, or may be the language that you are talking
WOODY: Like a man coming into a room with
an ocean in his head; that seems to be a subjective thing. I am
referring to objective situation where you can show a whole situation
very quickly with very few images.
STEINA: You are talking about artist-audience
relationship, that is something the artist cannot create. He just
has to be true to himself, and hopefully therefore to the audience.
Because an artist who pleases the audience is often not an artist,
though that varies from one artist to another and always has in
history. You, the audience cannot really dictate what it should
DIMITRI: No, I am not saying that. I just
see a need for using it another way from what we call art.
WOODY: There is a great tendency toward what
you describe; it is like the integration of the human into the
electronic space; it sounds glamorous. If you watched the last
piece of Ed Emshwiller, SCAPEMATES, there is an attempt. It is
a very important piece in that respect. He has talking of that
communication between electronic space and man, but he still does
not know what he is doing there. It is up to you to decide if
he fits there or not. But mostly, art communicates through these
JUD: I find that Emshwiller tape very interesting
because he uses monolithic computer generated forms and complex
abstraction with the organic perambulating quality of human dancers
in opposition. This relates to me to the very beginnings of film
abstraction where a pioneer like Hans Richter was always concerned
with the conflicts between strong compositional control and the
chance element, which causes discoveries, with the direct confrontation
of formal rigid elements with organic flowing form.
WOODY: Exactly. There are attempts of humanizing
the abstract image. It is a matter of reading the image and translating
it into human terms, but sometimes I even doubt if that is important,
because the movement of the electron can be ten times more dramatic
to me than the movements of a Cecil B. DeMille film with a field
of soldiers and a full frame of moving horses. See, the drama
itself has very little to do with humanity.
JUD: It is like the drama we see when we
look through a telescope or micro-scope.
WOODY: Right. If you look through telescope,
you can see happenings, which are somewhere where you have no
way of ordering them. They exist besides you. There is another
dimension of human life; it is the existence of different activities
JUD: Also in time travel.
WOODY: Right. It is not a distance. It could
be one millimeter from your eye, or it could be a hundred miles,
but you just do not see it because you refuse to see these things
because you want to see a human tragedy, someone killed, or someone
married, all those nuisances of film. Film has come too far in
the human development story, there is actually no way back. They
bring the drama within the emotions as the most important element,
but actually it may have nothing to do with human stories or human
shapes. Drama itself relates within the third dimension.
DIMITRI: Something that comes to mind immediately
is the way the war in Vietnam was covered by television. Every
single person in America could turn on their TVs at night and
find out the score: the Knicks played somebody in basketball,
and the Vietcong lost five, we lost three. That television culture
used real imagery, conveying a whole propaganda, a whole way of
looking at something.
JUD: Actually, the assassination of JFK and
the first moon landing were incredible communal events, and the
term global village is very valid in that we are creating microcosms
that may become as broad as broadcast television becomes only
at such rarefied moments.
DIMITRI: And it is interesting to see the
way that it is manipulated, like the way Nixon invaded Cambodia
the day of the moon landing. The live TV cameras were all on the
moon. Imagine if they had and put the live cameras on the helicopters
WOODY: I understand your America dilemma.
You were brought up on it, and you do believe in television, but
really for Steina and me this is not the problem at all. What
we work with has something to do with the electronic screen, and
then there is something called television. That is why there are
these confrontations between television and video. I do not find
them very actual to what I live, but it comes from the same box.
That is why the box has no meaning to me. It could be projected;
it could actually all be in the third dimension. It could exist
in your room; it could be a ceiling; it could be a sky. On the
right side should be a beach, and the left should be a hill.
STEINA: A forest.
WOODY: A forest, and you would be walking
in the sand. That is where electronic image or television progresses
JUD: The quality of the can does not determine
the quality of the product.
WOODY: What disturbs me about the communal
use of video is the power struggle that goes on which is so similar
to other power struggles I have seen. Like in Czechoslovakia,
the first act of the revolution was to erect poles with loudspeakers
on them, and once the village had loudspeakers and a central room
with a microphone, collectivization was a matter of two days.
You can say, “you are to be there at five o'clock in this place,”
and they will be there. I know the power of the media, it is incredibly
strong when used politically. The fight over the media, even when
it is for the public channels is the same mechanism; it is the
struggle for political power. Intuitively, I object to that use,
but this society has got to be flexible enough to operate with
political power; that is the basis of this society.
DIMITRI: Speaking of TV, we should also probably
mention that approximately 80% of all 1/2" video systems
is used for surveillance. You hear about different state police
departments buying huge volumes of cameras, I have heard they
are around with this equipment all the time; they do not know
what to do with it. But that is the primary use of video.
STEINA: But that has more to do with pencil
WOODY: Exactly. It is the only medium that
gives you such a casualty of recording real life. You hesitate
twice: should I push the button?
JUD: You really have to think.
WOODY: Video has the possibility of recording
the casual life of the 20th century as it has never been before,
and sometimes we see those tapes. They are very beautiful because
they are conceived with such casualty. People disregard television
cameras very quickly; they do not pay attention to them. They
JUD: The best way to use video is to live
WOODY: Right. Sometimes you regret that Homer
did not write about a little square where beggars would come and
rap, he always had to pick up some strange heroic stories of the
past. If only the big writers of the past would have paid attention
to some trivial moments. It would be so beautiful to read about
a rainy day in Athens, but video for the first time will be able
to bring you a rainy day in New York because it will be recorded.
SHRIDHAR:Even that requires a certain amount
of discipline, because we have seen a lot of tapes like that.
The person casually recording his life, if you are skilled at
something, that casualness requires a lot of ability and training,
the ability to be there at the right time--
WOODY: The ability to turn the right knobs--
SHRIDHAR:With the right piece of equipment.
JUD: It is a new definition of the concept
of the decisive moment.
WOODY: It is just closer to that moment;
it is not there yet. I feel the same way about the perceptual
part of video; it discloses and helps to close the gap between
the image and the brain, but it is just close. It is not really
there yet, may never be--
JUD: Until we tap into the synapses themselves.
WOODY: Even then, we would be the distance
of a few microns. There would still be a distance between the
plane of realization, the brain and the image.
JUD: That distance has to do with the concept
of consciousness, realizing that the real "I" in ourselves
is the master of all the other "I's." And it is really
at a distance, almost an alienation within one's self, that becomes
more of an observer; it has to evolve into a more divine aspect
which can creep over into our use of the media as an extension
of our neurological system.
WOODY: Right. It is all there. We believe
Steina and Woody Vasulka
Origins of The Kitchen
For those who know The Kitchen in its current space, we would like
to add a few notes on its origin, location and operation from spring
1971 to fall 1973.The “Old Kitchen” was located at the Mercer street
entrance of the Broadway Central Hotel in the Mercer Art Center,
a conglomerate of theaters adapted from the catering rooms and ballrooms
of the hotel. Our space was a former kitchen. The termination of
the Mercer Art Center was the total collapse of the Broadway Central
Hotel in August of '73. Shortly before this catastrophe, the directorship
had been transferred to Bob Stearns, and the “New Kitchen” moved
to its current location on Wooster Street. The “Old Kitchen” was
formulated through contributions of many people, namely Andy Mannik,
Sia and Michael Tschudin, Rhys Chatham, Shridar Bapat, Dimitri Devyatkin
and later by Jim Burton and Bob Stearns, all of whom helped run
the daily operations and programming. A particular credit for the
three annual festivals: The Video Festival, The Computer Festival
and The Women’s Video Festival, should be given to Shridhar, Dimitri
and Susan Milano respectively. Howard Wise, through “Electronic
Arts Intermix,” provided for us the administrative umbrella, without
which we could not have existed. Eventually, the funding by the
State Council on the Arts helped to secure the rent and further
our continuation. Since we started working with video we knew we
had an audience. People would gather in our home. Friends, and friends
of friends would come almost daily. The transition became inevitable.
We had to go from a private place, our loft, to a public one. In
many ways, we liked the Mercer Arts Center. It was culturally and
artistically a polluted place. It could do high art and it could
produce average trash. We were interested in certain decadent aspects
of America, the phenomena of the time: underground rock and roll,
gay theater and the rest of that illegitimate culture. In the same
way we were curious about more puritanical concepts of art inspired
by McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller. It seemed a strange and united
front - against the establishment. The music, in particular, carried
a similar kind of schism. On the one hand, it was technological,
represented by people working with synthesizers or certain structural
investigations of sound - on the other hand, it was an almost theatrical
rejection of established musical performing conventions. It was
difficult to separate these tendencies within new music. Our personal
interest was in performing video. Very soon we understood the generic
relationship of video to other electronic arts, and this realization
became our guiding policy. To us, it was difficult to become an
establishment. We did not want to administer, or have an office,
or even a phone. There was a pay phone by the door. Our idea of
programming was not to select or curate, but to mediate and accommodate
- no one was turned down and no one was served either, since there
was no staff. The people that were around were creative artists
and colleagues. The performers would bring their own crew, their
own equipment and their own audience. At the end of the evening
the audience would help stack chairs and sweep the floor. Some artists
insisted on showing for free, but if there was a donation, the artist
had a choice to collect it, split it or leave it to us. Almost everybody
let us keep the proceeds, which paid for the monthly calendar and
petty cash. It was this loose administrative arrangement that let
people participate spiritually in the directorship. If there was
any virtue in our arrangement, it was the participation. Once a
place is well administered, it becomes a victim of its own well-working.
It includes or excludes, seeks its hierarchy of qualities and eventually
becomes an established idea, not always able to permeate with the
needs of time. There is a self-preserving instinct within every
creative person; preferring the sense of creative freedom to being
bound to a successful model. Every instinct within the daily operation
is superbly important. The Kitchen was only as successful as the
artist of that particular day. It was reborn every 24 hours. Of
course, there were catastrophes only an environment creatively secure
can afford them. We would not have had a telepathic concert from
Boston if the event was being advertised months in advance and the
artist was getting a fee. The impulse to create a concept such as
The Kitchen should not be perceived as an administrative fundraising
initiative. Looking back, we lived in a unique situation when an
alternate cultural model had culminated into an ability to perform
its content - whatever that meant. Suddenly it was ready and eager
to express itself. We went into this venture with a simple and innocent
belief that this activity, so relevant to us, also was of interest
to others. As two newcomers, we were lucky to observe and participate
so intensely in the bizarre culture of that time.
Buffalo NY, 1977
From the publication: Kitchen turns Twenty by Lee Morrissey 1992
Beginning of a Movement
I visited Steina and Woody Vasulka in Santa Fe recently. The house
they live in is more or less a total chaos of technology and art.
Video stuff all over the place. Electronic music. Computers. Cameras.
Piles of tape. Robots. Half-eaten installations. Almost the perfect
picture of the artist's studio and the way the artist works. Another
dimension of life. It was an inspiration. I had been trying to clean
up in case some senator called on me and wanted to know what I was
up to. I realized when I was with them I had lost the vision and
when I got home I had to start making some changes. They have not
lost the vision. It was like being in the presence of the oracle.
They were in a good mood, as usual. Even though the larger area
is, I have read, owned, but not inhabited by the extremely rich
in-t1ight capital from South America and elsewhere, the general
feeling is that seven dollars an hour is a good wage if you can
get it. So there is a tendency for artists to feel like they should
stick together, which in my experience is the signal of the beginning
of a Movement. It didn't seem unusual to find Woody and Steina there.
As I looked around it occurred to me that this is probably the way
The Kitchen started. I mean, it looked so hard and full of possibilities
at the same time. I thought we should take the opportunity of The
Kitchen retrospective to wish them luck on their project. And I
took a few photos so that people can see how the past (and probably
the future) looks.