Vasulka Archive
The Vasulkas
A Text for the The Kitchen Opening

Welcome to The Kitchen

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

Ben Portis, Asst. Curator, Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of Ontario

The Vasulkas and The Kitchen

Essay on The Kitchen for EAI History Project

--> This Article will be soon available at Electronic Arts Intermix

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 was before credit cards, and he sent us the bill once a month. We heard later that Andy Warhol 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 I asked him once 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 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 Central Hotel.

June 2001

Dimitri Devyatkin

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 summer.

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. The Kitchen became 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 an artist. Eric took his share to travel to India with a portapac, making one of the first tapes of that genre. 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, who was by now, very supportive of The Kitchen, suggested that we 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 Arts 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.

August 1976

by Steina

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.

August 1976


Jud Yalkut


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 video scene.

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 tapes.

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 are made.

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 so-called Conceptualists--

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, more personnel.

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 story.

STEINA: Yes, remember? You were at the party when we opened; everybody was. There was no floor; we were dancing on a strange floor.

WOODY: Cement.

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 respects.

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 serious business?

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 have 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 commercially, 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 monstrous.

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 be composed.

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 mixes.

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 environments.

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 soldiers marching, or some B-specials of the Protestant politicians. But back to technology: it is not just a question of money, video synthesizers are barely--

JUD: In their infancy.

SHRIDHAR: And low-light cameras are absolutely essential.

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 down into.

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 video movement.

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 is 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 performance.

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 media.

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 anybody.

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, right now.

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 your 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 it further.

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 tapes--

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 aspect.

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 by hand.

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 semantics.

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 about,

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 be.

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 human symbols.

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 somewhere else.

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 instead.

WOODY: I understand your American 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 for me.

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 and paper.

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 are noiseless.

JUD: The best way to use video is to live with it.

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 in video.

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

Robert Ashley
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.