‘Side Effects’ Performance – photography by Christopher Fernandez


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

or foreword.

(Coda symbol) 220px-Coda_sign.svg.png

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

as artists.


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.



Summary of my piece of work:


Nicolas Strappini


This piece of work references Cage’s contribution to the original ‘9 Evenings’ (1966) event through the use of static and the sounds of it being discharged using a machine. John Cage applied the principle of randomness by picking up radio signals – my Lichtenberg figure patterns seen in this piece are ‘chaotic’. In radio reception, noise is the superposition of white noise and other disturbing influences. These noises are often referred to as static. I am playing with two meanings of the word static – the noun being the way Cage intended, the adjective being the way I intend it to be used in reference to my piece. I also wanted to produce a live-feed performance, referencing Whitman’s ‘Side Effects’ (2016).


Title of exhibition:


Why make it simple, when you can make it complex?


This day long event has arisen from a month long collaboration between a group of students from MA Art and Science at Central Saint Martins, UAL, and recent graduates from Goldsmiths and Farnham. The group came together as performers in Robert Whitman’s new commission ‘Side Effects‘, produced as part of Arts Catalysts current season ‘9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering Revisited 1966/2016’. In collaboration with The Performance Studio, Arts Catalyst has since hosted weekly workshops for the group to develop a practical and historical perspective on performance practice and transdisciplinary working. The resulting performative installation involves individual works, collectively mediated by the group.

‘Why make it simple, when it can be made Complex?’

‘From Simplicity to Complexity and Back Again’ [Luhmann quote]

Notes / Points:

  • How does Technology help us, how does it create disadvantages?
  • Have we made things more difficult with technology, by trying to find solutions?
  • What is the impact of technology on our culture, communication and well-being?How can Performance be interpreted/transformed into our era? What is new? What can be renewed?


  • How can we use technology to reawaken the habituated mind?
  • Does technology/automation lead to a mechanical mind in the first place?
  • Does functional transcendence (Baudrillard) where objects act beyond what we expect lead to enhanced consciousness?
  • Why do we attribute human characteristics to technological objects?
  • Does the use of technology result in a loss of individuality?


The project ‘Why make it Simple when it can be made Complex’  has arisen from a two month collaboration between students from MA Art and Science, CSM and external alumni Mary Simmons, MA Fine Art, UCA Farnham . The group was brought together as part of the recent event of Arts Catalyst revisiting the ‘9 Evenings’ 50 years after its presentation in New York. During September the artists worked together on a performance with Robert Whitman, who participated in the original event. The project exhibited on the 29th of October is showing works in progress  interpreting performance in a time of increasing technological integration in our life. The participants respond to the collective research with their individual backgrounds, such as e.g. neurology, theatre design, fine art….   The works presented aim to respond with humor and awareness to the fast forwards developments in the Anthropocene, and invite the audience to interact and participate in this open debate.


Side Effects by Robert Whitman, Part of 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering Revisited 1966/2016. A night of new cross-disciplinary performance art and an archival exhibition at Central St Martins, London, 7th October 2016




High output air ionizer    7   Pounds

Mask                               5   Pounds

Mary Suggestion

Each of us could provide a bibliography of 3 books/journals etc that give a flavour of our research interests. Eg My interests include neuroscience-pre-cognitive affect, responses to objects, and space.


Reading list =

Damasio, A. (2012) Self comes to mind: Constructing the conscious brain. London: Vintage.

Baudrillard, J (2006) The System of Objects (radical thinkers).  London: Verso Books.

Lefebvre, H. and Nicholson-Smith, D. (1991) The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.


Installation View: Below




National Art Library Visit – Research

National Art Library Visit – Research



There is scant information about contemporary art in the National Library, but I did find some reference to Jackson Pollock’s painting methods.



Difficulties In The Scientific Study of Synthetic Materials In Paints 




My dissertation mentions the consistencies of paints and their comparison to different sorts of particles found in a cloud chamber. The ‘Jackson Pollock painting’ will display different strokes and intensities of line depending on how he has ‘flung the paint, like a lasso’.


Pollock’s introduction of synthetic binders and resins – ethyl silicate – was ‘one of the most important revolutions in the history of painting’ . (1)

There is a difference between the look of an alpha and beta particle track.

The work of Wilson, the inventor of the Wilson chamber, has also been held in similarly high esteem. Rutherford described his invention as  ‘the most original and wonderful instrument in scientific history.’


‘I had in view the possibility that the track of an ionising particle might be made visible and photographed by condensing water on the ions which it liberated’ – this introduction of condensed water to visualise these ionising particles could be compared to Pollock’s introduction of synthetic binders. Because of the synthetic binders, the paints would now dry at a much faster rate, changing painting as an art form for practitioners.

Wilson’s chamber would go on to be further developed by Blackett who made many important discoveries with it, notably the demonstration of the creation and annihilation of electron-positron pairs. Particle physics has become useful in a day-to-day way – X-ray, proton and ion therapies are used to treat cancer, and the rays can also determine the precise structure of viruses and mutations that cause disease and screen potential drug candidates.

‘Why is physics useful? Think of an expedition climbing Mount Everest. Is someone climbing Everest useful to you in everyday life? Not at first glance, no matter how interesting it is for its own sake. But fleece jackets and breathable waterproof fabrics were first developed for serious mountaineering expeditions and are now cheap and indispensable.’


By Kelen Tuttle, ‘Why particle physics matters’


The ‘scientific development’ of the art of painting, which changed the length of time people need to wait for their paints to dry, could be compared to the development of particle physics – from understanding more about the universe to cancer treatment.

Both, it would seem, improve the quality of life of people and practitioners. Was Pollock’s ‘discovery’ inadvertent, or does it matter?

Wilson set out with a clear goal – to imitate the Brockenspectre in laboratory settings.

Could it be the inadvertency of art that separates it from the purposeful science?






(1). Lodge.R.G.,  A history of synthetic painting media with special reference to commercial materials, American Institute for Conservation pre-prints of the 16th Annual Meeting, (1988), pp.118-127.