Myself and Robert Whitman, photograph by Christoper Fernandez
Robert Whitman’s revisitation of the ‘9 Evenings’ event that happened 60 years ago
would seem to be a departure from the piece he presented. Whitman presented
‘Two Holes of Water’ created in collaboration with the engineer Robby
Robinson and including a dance component by Trisha Brown. In Whitman’s
performance, seven automobiles were driven wrapped in huge sheets of plastic.
they were parked towards a wall.
This piece was more concerned with everyday, mundane actions being performed
with ‘disruptions’ – small diversions from these actions that would end up marking
it as performance art. There is a humour to it, and an element of surprise
– most actions start normally, but then food is thrown on the floor, clothes get
ripped and eaten (reminiscent of Werner Herzog or even Chaplin eating his shoe)
or a wig is used instead of hair.
In conversation with Whitman, he mentioned to me the film ‘Russian Ark’ – the 2002
film by Alexander Sokurov, filmed entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State
Hermitage Museum. The most memorable aspect of the work is that it is
filmed in one take – a while feature length film (99 minutes). It utilises over 2,000
actors and three orchestras. Whitman wanted to eschew the Aristotelian narrative
form of much Western drama with a climax (coda from the Latin cauda ‘tail’) and a preface
This style of performance and producing work was in vogue at the time of the ‘9 Evenings’
performance – Cage sought to ‘take away the center of interest, emphasising instead the field’
(From the book ‘Composed in America’).
Even though the performance had been worked out, for the final performance,
Whitman decided to lengthen some passages and allow sound effects to be played
at times that had not been planned. There was an element of uncertainty and even
though Whitman was very specific with his plans, he would also frequently change his
mind, and he also allowed us to improvise and respected our positions
There was a live streaming aspect – participants walked around the city,
specifically to recognisable sites, but also those that were not too recognisable –
we decided the Barbican might be suitable. This element of the utilisation of
new technology was important for the original performance – iPhones and Skype
were used this time instead of old radio receivers. In 1864 James Clerk Maxwell
showed mathematically that electromagnetic waves could propagate through
free space. The effects of electromagnetic waves (then-unexplained “action at
a distance” sparking behavior) were actually observed before and after
Maxwell’s work by many inventors and experimenters
including Luigi Galvani (1791). Galvani was ever the pioneer, and I have
previously referenced his bioelectricity experiments in some of my drawings.
Cage set up many radios in his work for ‘9 Evenings’ entitled ‘Variations VII’ and
picked up all these invisible electromagnetic waves and had the sounds of
electromagnetic noise played through the space. I believe, at least partially,
Whitman was referencing this aspect through the live streaming aspect.