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. 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.