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Öyvind Fahlström : Kisses Sweeter than Wine
Performance Engineer : Harold Hodges

October 21 - 22, 1966

Direction: Soren Brunes, Öyvind Fahlström.Production Assistants:Letty Lou Eisenhauer, Barbro Fahlström, Ulla Lyttkens. Props: Alfonse Schilling. Performers: Bob and Frances Breer, Letty Lou Eisenhauer, John Giorno, John Glover, Bruce Glushakow, Tom Gormley, Jim Hardy, Cassandra Hughes, Ed Iverson, Kosugi, Larry Leitch, Les Levine, Marjorie Strider, Bob Schuler, Sylvis Vog, Ulla Wiggen. Tapes: Sveriges Radio, Stockholm; WBAI-NYC. Films: Creation of Humanoids courtesy of W. Barry, Genie Productions Inc. and Medallion Pictures. Acqua Sangemini courtesy Ditta Agrippa, Rome. Educational films courtesy AT&T. Chemicals: Nuclear Research Associates. Music: Iannis Xenakis, Nancy Sinatra, Cher, Jimmie Rodgers.

Oyvind Fahlstrom performance during 9 Evenings

Still from the performance of Öyvind Fahlström's piece Kisses Sweeter Than Wine during 9 Evenings.

Artist Statement: In my piece, I approach the new technology on several levels. Chemicals developed by the new technology permit me to use elements formerly not possible – an object gradually changing color, “snow bubbles” rising from the ground, people enveloped by “clouds”. By utilizing our internal broadcasting system, I can have pillows sing out while they are bounced on the floor or thrown in the air. By utilizing our remote control system, I can have an actor pursued by an airborne object or direct the same object to approach floating targets.

On another level, my piece deals with machine-like qualities in people: robot-like people capable of memorizing enormous amounts of data or of making multi-digit calculations in their heads (as found in psychiatric literature); the risk of putting “robots” (narrow minds) in situations for which they are not “programmed” – i.e. crisis situations – and machines getting out of control.


Juxtaposed with this are glimpses of everyday events and characters of the world of today. Bob Hope and Mao Tse Tung appear in New York City street demonstrations for example.  For this we will use films of an actual demonstration along with tapes of the reactions of the people who see it. Tape and film become a part of the piece. New York, China, Indonesia, the bottom of the sea, space, the world of the future (as seen in a science fiction movie) all are interwoven into a triptych of slide, movie, and television screens. There is no explanation. The spectator draws conclusions or not, as he chooses.

Öyvind Fahlström, who was a Swedish painter and writer, made the most complicated theater piece of everyone. It is impossible to do justice to Fahlström's piece Kisses Sweeter Than Wine. It was complex and rich in sound and image. Fahlström's initial ideas included, wanting to use a yellow liquid in which you can dip a body, a form that floated in the air and followed him wherever he walked, the ability to write on the wall with a laser beam. He wanted snow that fell upwards instead of coming down.


The piece opened with a Frog Man sitting on a chair sitting in the middle of a white field with screens behind him. It's removed, and somebody shoots an arrow into him and foam comes out of him as he is raised up in the space. Robert Rauschenberg played Jedidiah Buxton. He was sitting behind the screen and this image was projected on the screen. Jedidiah Buxton was a savant born in 1707, and he had the capability of multiplying very high numbers together in his head. The images that Fahlström worked with had props on one side, on the other side, he dealt with a sort of machine-like quality of certain types of human beings that makes them look like computers or behave like computers, and the crisis situations that if they come into, what will they do.

When it opened there was a 9 x 9 meter carpet of cotton at center stage, a Snow Field. Films and slides were shown on screens on either side of the Snow Field. Two Chinese Sparrows entered wearing back packs with big black numbers and arrows with cotton balls on the ends. They climbed on swings and began to swing back and forth to Iannis Xenakis' music, interspersed with songs by Nancy Sinatra and Cher. The swings slowed down and the Chinese Sparrows fell off the swings and lay motionless on the Snow Field with the arrows sticking up in the air. A projected slide explained that this refers to the campaign in China against sparrows, who were said to be eating too much of the grain crop. "For three days 650 million people got up at 4 in the morning and banged gongs so that the sparrows would have no place to rest and would drop dead from exhaustion."


Eight people were lying motionless on the Snow Field next to the placards covered with cotton. They rose and picked up six placards with large photos of Bob Hope and one of Mao Tse Tung, and struggled off the stage. Fahlström had organized and filmed a demonstration on the streets of New York of people carrying placards of Bob Hope and Mao. A radio announcer interviewed people on the street during the demonstration, asking them over and over again, "Are you happy?"


There was a girl sitting in a swimming pool of jello, at the same time a man was watching television behind the screen and he filled condoms with helium and gave them to the audience on strings. The audience then sits holding floating prophylactics. Meanwhile, what Fahlström called the Anti-Missile, a remote-controlled Mylar inflated missile floated in. It circled around the entire armory and then into the audience area

In the final segment, the spotlight pointed toward the ceiling. The winch hoist slowly moved down carrying Space Girl, who was throwing out silver leaves of snow. As she got off the hoist, the performers dressed in oversized men's white shirts, surrounded her and she held the bust of President Lyndon Johnson above her head. A procession started, led by Space Girl walking slowly holding a large rat on one arm and President Johnson's head on the other. The sound was tolling bells, organ music and a revival meeting.


The piece ended as white snakes or snowflakes floated upwards toward the ceiling. The sound changed from Kisses Sweeter than Wine to sound tracks from violent movies scenes in which women are frightened, crying, and screaming.


One of the engineers produced snowflakes that rose upwards, as Fahlström wanted, by blowing compressed helium into a coffee can full of a liquid Ajax detergent.

Preparations & Technical Elements


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