[22. Pi / Grace, Nine in the first Place, Six in the Second, and Nine at the Top. Changing To: 46. Shêng / Pushing Upward]
Change your mind or change your receiver (your receiver is your mind).
A special thanks to Exact Change for sending along a complimentary copy of Composition in Retrospect in support of this project. I will probably include this text in a final series of readings leading up to the centennial, since the text was part of a final project in Cage’s life culminating with this publication.
Today I’m reading through two more statements on artists in the central section of A Year From Monday. As I mentioned last week, John Cage devoted a series of essays in the middle of his second book on artists working in other mediums, with the surprising addition of Miró, an artist that had little to do with Cage; the inclusion of this essay is curious—it was a commissioned essay and I have the feeling that Cage lumped several writings from his summer at Cadaqués with Duchamp I mentioned a few weeks ago. The Miró essay is brief, and it sounds like Cage is talking about Duchamp more than anything else from several of the references. Thus we have another indirect thread of readings: Cage reading Miró through the lens of Duchamp, and my reading Cage’s reading of Duchamp’s reading of Miró – the network of discourse continues.
Cage openly expressed disdain for surrealism on a number of occasions, especially Salvador Dalí (which he lambasted after a visit to his Figueres retreat near Cadaqués during the same summer he visited Duchamp), yet he devoted time for this essay, and chose to include it in A Year From Monday. My guess is that this decision had as much to do with Duchamp as anything, but perhaps there are other hidden reasons, or perhaps Cage made an exception to this exceptionally unique artist. Everyone is entitled to change their minds (or their receivers).
I think this is why Cage chose to write “in the third person” about Miró, and the 8 statements are as vague as the surrealist landscapes. There is mention of chess, of course, and the Catalan landscape, a misdirected interpretation of Latin (Un image, not anima, as Duchamp noted), Cage’s familiar automatic door anecdote, and several references to specific works, which I will do my best to decode:
This is the way: looking out over the sea where his island is. “I do this with all my heart.” Way to do what? Catalunya.
|Catalan Landscape (The Hunter), 1923-4|
A gardener, he’s also a hunter, even when sleeping: earth disturbed, is receptive to whatever there is in the air: they told me he wanted to know, to see what was happening.
I think, if anything, Cage was open to this receptiveness in Miró, the landscape space held within the relief of such works as the Spanish Dancer series, and he chose to reflect this feeling in the layout of the text itself, which is sparse and open.
Space. Even when close, there is distance.
The second essay on Paik is much more direct, since Paik was a close friend and occasional foe of Cage’s. Cage first met Paik in 1958 during his infamous Darmstadt lectures discussed earlier on this blog, and they remained close until the end of Cage’s life. Paik was among the first composers to take the conceptual turn, embracing Fluxus during his time in Europe, and in 1964, championing the nascent genre of video art after he purchased one of the first portable videotape recorders, the Sony Portapak, after receiving a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation (notably, it was Cage that wrote Paik’s reference letter for the grant).
Within video art studies, along with the larger arena of media studies, the “Portapak history” as it has come to be known, is a particularly contested portion of media history, one rife with all the familiar academic squabbles regarding determinism, corporate and commercial peddling, and the like; Paik was, self-admittedly, at the forefront of this history, and his relationship to Cage generates one of the many streams of Cagean influence in the larger cultural sphere of postwar America – sort of like the Kevin Bacon game.
The extent of Cage’s interaction and dialogue with Paik is far too great to convey in a short blog post, but suffice to say, it was a tumultuous and energetic dialogue that in many ways represented the emerging post-Cagean aesthetics of 1960s conceptual artists. Cagean notions of indeterminacy, the aesthetic of silence, chance techniques, technological utopianism, multimedia expansionism and a free-spirited embrace of the notion of interdisciplinary collaboration were sparked by Cage’s core texts and recordings churned out of Wesleyan University Press and small print record labels, and Paik’s antics epitomized this rapid transformation. The floodgates were suddenly open, and with it, the kitchen sink, that bathwater, and the baby.
This is another complicated arena of Cage Studies, one rife with all the familiar camps and ideological discourses that encrust layers upon layers of intellectual calcite on an ageing memory of 1960s utopianism. Most importantly, Paik marked the first turn toward identity and sexual politics, elements that were explicitly cloaked within Cage’s oeuvre. One only has to take a cursory glance at some of Paik’s most infamous Fluxus works, particularly his collaborations with cellist and avant-garde impresario Charlotte Moorman, to see the sea of change sweeping over the Cagean aesthetic.
There is a lot to be said about Cage and Paik in regard to technology, media theory and television studies, and I think I’ll save some of that discussion for Cage’s later essay on Paik as I’m running short of time this week. I will end with this note however. Paik has been in the news quite a lot lately, particularly after the recent Tate Liverpool exhibition and the ongoing archival project at the Smithsonian headed by John Hanhardt, and several scholars, such as Dieter Daniels, have dug in to the relationship between Cage and Paik. There are many angles to view this unique interaction, from identity politics to media history, but most importantly I believe that the transition from Cage to Paik represents a larger shift within American culture past the high-modernism of the neo-avant-garde and toward the colorful world of pastiche and schizophrenic juxtaposition that sparked Frederic Jameson’s critique. Cage aptly concluded his essay with a recent Paik proposal, which in my mind represents the gentle intrusion into the Cagean artwork of something else:
My new composition in now 1 minutes. (For Prof. Fortner). The Title will be either “Rondo Allegro”, or “Allegro Moderato”, or only “Allegretto”. Which is more beautiful? I use here: Colour Projector. Film 2-3 screens. Strip tease. boxer. hen (alive). 6 years girl. light-piano. motorcycle and of course sounds. one TV. // “whole art” in the meaning of Mr. R. Wagner.