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American Artists in India

April 1970 - October 1971

In this photograph, Bark, with his hand on his head, talks with students at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, with whom he worked.

In this photograph, Jed Bark, with his hand on his head, talks with students at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, with whom he worked.

Plans for  the project “American Artists in India" were initiated about October 1969 by Billy Klüver and Gautam Sarabhai. During a trip by Klüver to Ahmedabad, India, they discussed a project in which those artists involved in programming the Pepsi Pavilion at Expo ‘70 would come to the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, as Klüver wanted to expand artists opportunities  beyond the Pavilion project. Sarabhai, who with his sister Gira, was a founder of the National Institute of Design, had traveled to New York and had actually attended 9 Evenings and had established contacts with New York artists. He was eager that the facilities at the Institute were be made available for the project.


E.A.T. presented the idea to Porter A. McCray, director of the John D. Rockefeller (JDR) 3rd Fund, who had a history of funding Indian artists to come to New York and he responded favorably to what E.A.T. termed “a project for open-ended cultural exchange project. ”  With a grant from JDR 3rd Fund, in February 1970, E.A.T. began to finalize plans for "American Artists in India.” In April 1970, when E.A.T. was no longer involved at the Expo ‘70 Pavilion, plans for the project were adjusted to have American artists in New York travel and work in India for a minimum of one month. They could choose to travel, or teach, or to work on their own, or to engage in collaborative projects with Indian artists. The artists who participated in the project were choreographers Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton, and Yvonne Rainer; composers Lowell Cross, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young; and visual artists Jared Bark, Jeffrey Lew, Kate Rediker, and Marion Zazeela. The project began in September 1970 and continued into the early months of 1971.


Lowell Cross, accompanied by his wife, was the first participant and the only one to travel to India from Expo ‘70. His plans were to work on the electronic music studio at the National Institute of Design, pursuing the work David Tudor had done there. At the Institute during April 1970, he consulted with staff members on the repair and improvement of their music facilities, demonstrated studio recording techniques, and recorded some performances of local musicians. Most of his time  involved converting a television set into a device for producing X-Y displays from audio sources. This particularly interested Sarabhai who had seen the laser deflection system at the Pepsi Pavilion and had hope of a laser demonstration at the Institute. A helium-neon laser was located at a nearby institution but it was not possible to borrow it.


Terry Riley’s plans had been to work in Delhi and Ahmedabad on two projects for playing Indian music. One was to research and design an electronic keyboard instrument which was to be subsequently made available to Indian musicians. The other was to utilize his tape delay systems for playing Indian music. However, Riley, accompanied by his wife, stayed in Delhi from November 1970 through April 1971, immersed in a study of North Indian Raga with Pandit Pran Nath.

Jared Bark and Trisha Brown, arriving in Bombay in November 1970, stayed at the University of Baroda for three weeks and at the National Institute of Design for one week, Bark got to know several Indian artists; taught classes which he had never done before and did not consider very successful; made several works of art; became interested in palmistry, numerology, and astrology. He felt that after his trip there was “a spiritual quality in my work not there before.”


Trisha Brown had expressed an interest in mountain climbing, gymnastics, and dance, so E.A.T. had planned to make arrangements for her to work in cooperation with the Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. The Plans were changed by November 1970 for work at the National Institute of Design and the University of Baroda, where Brown would meet young artists.  She gave a long lecture-demonstration on her ideas of dance to the students at Baroda, and later at the Institute, Brown made wall hangings with fabrics and other materials that she found, and also taught classes in dance movement.


La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, in Delhi during March 1971, continued their lessons and practice as planned with their teacher Pandit Pran Nath. They stayed with him and were taken on a pilgrimage to the tombs of his spiritual and musical gurus.


Jeffrey Lew and Yvonne Rainer arrived in Nepal in January 1971 and traveled south through Benares, Madras, other towns and villages. Lew, not having made any specific plans in advance, got away from "tourist belts" by riding a camel for five days and stayed with people he happened to come across--in their homes, in a secluded Hindu temple for two days, and a music temple for four days.  At the University of Benares for five days, Lew found much unused equipment on the shelves and worked with the students and tried to make sculpture. Outside the university, Lew met some Indians with whom he discussed irrigation systems. Lew, whose previous work incorporated Plexiglas structures, earth, stones, and water, personally hoped to return and work with the Indians on irrigation projects that would need no government seals or official procedures.

Yvonne Rainer did not teach or perform during her trip. But she did keep an extensive journal in which she recorded the traditional music, dance, theater, and opera events, along with the ambience of Indian life, which she absorbed. Parts of the journal were later published in Tulane Drama Review and in a book of her works by Nova Scotia School of Art and Design.


Steve Paxton, traveling with Kate Rediker, arrived in Bombay in May 1971 and stayed in India for six months. Paxton wanted to work with street theater groups or a traveling circus and continue the studies he had begun while visiting India in 1964. He had thought the folk dancing and traditional forms of yoga in India were very similar to work by his friends in New York and was intrigued by the connections-- their freedom from complicated structure, social stratification, and architectural limitations. In both cultures, dancers rummaging around for props seemed to have found the same kinds of things that were easily manipulated in similar ways. At the National Institute of Design, Paxton taught a course described as "intensive work in theater" for two and a half weeks. At the Institute, Paxton devised a work/performance, what he called and “anti-chair campaign," placing posters throughout the school. His warnings against chairs, white bread, and other things “one step away from the earth” were not understood by the students or faculty members. Paxton also undertook a ten-day retreat for a Buddhist meditation course and embarked on a project of what he called "Saint hunting" to learn about the qualities of Indian saints. The artists documented their stay through drawings, photographs, sound recordings or film. In addition, E.A.T. staff member Ritty Burchfield conducted  interviews with the artists on their return.


To match the grant received and extend the project for more artists, E.A.T. arranged a formal benefit dinner and bazaar at Automation House in association with the India Council of the Asia Society, December 18, 1970. A benefit committee for the occasion, co-chaired by Mana Sarabhai and Robert Rauschenberg, was formed of twenty-nine individuals and couples. The dinner event featured contemporary images and sounds from India reproduced over closed-circuit television on several floors of Automation House. Included were photographs and slides by Shunk-Kender; Super 8 films by Gary Jacquemin, Billy Klüver, and Shama Sarabhai; video tapes by Peter Poole and Robert Whitman; Indian environmental sounds arranged by David Tudor; and hand language signs from Indian temple dances performed by Chandralekha. A poster of Chandralekha's hand was created and signed by Tom Gormley, Shunk-Kender, and Chandralekha. Indian food was flown in by Air India, Bombay. The evening was also the opening of a two-day Indian bazaar for the sale of lacquerware, carvings, jewelry, and other crafts from Maharashtra. 


In January 1972 E.A.T. applied to the JDR 3rd Fund for a grant to continue "American Artists in India" for a second year. It was proposed to include eleven participants going by themselves and staying two months or longer. Participants would be selected from a group including Martin Bartlett, David Behrman, Robert Breer, John Chamberlain, Remy Charlip, Philip Corner, Brad Davis, Philip Glass, Red Grooms, Alex Hay, Barbara Lloyd, Richard Nonas, Wendy Patrick, Barbara Rose, Ed Ruscha, Shunk-Kender, Marjorie Strider, and Emily Wasserman. Each would have a specific project, i.e., teaching or working ‘with Indian artists, pursuing his or her own work, or observing and recording.  Emphasis would be given to recording either some aspect of Indian life and culture or the participants’ own experiences. E.A.T. would ask Chandralekha to act as a coordinator in India, who would also help direct the participants to places where they could carry out their proposed ideas. The material generated would be edited in India by Chandralekha and published. However, the Fund preferred to continue its emphasis on scholarships for Asians to study in the United States, nor were other applications for funds successful.


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