Proposal to RCA for Research Laboratory
for Artists and Entertainment
In February 1969 E. A. T. was approached by Julius Haber of R. C.A. who was interested in the possibility of an Artist-in-residence program at the David Sarnoff Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey. After meeting with William Webster, Vice-president of the Laboratories, it was decided to concentrate on three areas of interest: florescent materials, computer poetry and color television equipment. During 1969 several artists visited the facility and plans proceeded for an artist-in-residence to begin a program of interactive poetry using the computer. Several artists who were approached to work at the Laboratories, were not interested in using florescent materials which would fade after six months, and E.A.T. then attempted to contact artists who might be interested in theatrical use of these materials .
To prepare a proposal on artists use of color television equipment, E.A.T. during the summer of 1969 conducted a survey to determine the experiences of artists who had been working with advanced color television. For the study, fifty artists using television in their work were asked about the kind of equipment and techniques they had been using and what they would want to use if given the opportunity. Twenty five artists responded. Some of the artists had been able to make works with equipment at the two educational television stations, WGBH in Boston and WQED in San Francisco, and a number of artists used their own equipment. Their work was generally not shown in broadcast programming. Many expressed "constricting limitations encountered" through operating regulations and having little access to technical people except for equipment operators, "rather than designers." Many "expressed frustration at not being able to realize ideas and experiments because of interpersonal, rather than economic or technical limitations." The artists often said that more could be done with existing equipment than was being done by studios. Many would welcome the opportunity to develop new techniques with existing equipment, Others were “dissatisfied with the limitations of existing equipment and presented ideas for new hardware, e.g. television systems combined with other materials and equipment such as radio, lasers and liquid crystals."
Based on this research, E.A.T developed an idea that went beyond the that of an artist-in-residence program at RCA Laboratories. In a proposal which was submitted to RCA in February 1970, E.A.T. proposed to establish in collaboration with RCA a color television research laboratory in which artists could work closely with television research engineers and scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists or other professionals to explore new forms of entertainment programming. E.A.T.’s interest in entertainment as an important television programming element, had developed as it became involved in the project to produce educational software for satellite broadcast in India, understanding that “The entertainment component will be invaluable as a vehicle for generating motivation, attention, and retention.” [Interestingly and, completely separate from E.A.T.’s work, Sesame Street, which combined strict educational goals and evaluations with live-action, sketch comedy, animation and puppetry, had been in development since 1966, and the first program aired on November 10, 1969.]
Pointing the need for new forms of entertainment in the television medium, the proposal outlined the organization of an open—ended television laboratory for research in entertainment, where artists might experiment with color television. The proposed project to be phased over an eighteen-month period, would begin with seven artists and other professionals, who would work at facilities would be established in Manhattan, possibly at the artists housing complex, Westbeth. RCA was to provide equipment, research engineers, some technicians and maintenance personnel, and E.A.T. a minimum staff of two: a supervisor and secretary. The project would culminate in a large exhibition of works produced at the laboratory, accompanied by conferences and seminars to evaluate the project and suggest further areas of and artists’ activity in television.
Julius Haber, upon receiving the proposal, responded that although he liked the idea, RCA could not fund the project alone, and suggested that E.A.T. also submit it to other networks and get industry-wide support. E.A.T. submitted the proposal to CBS. Support was not received.
Illustration from the proposal for USA Presents.
In response to a call in 1971 for proposals for projects to celebrate the Bicentennial of the American Revolution in 1976, E.A.T developed a proposal to develop and deploy a single-channel satellite television communication system that would transmit films made by people all over the country about their lives and their activities directly to all other Americans. "U.S.A. Presents..." would establish methods and facilities for producing the greatest number of community-produced films from all over the country, and for the widest broadcast of these films around the country.
E.A.T. proposed use of a single-channel, single-access system, using a synchronous satellite, or a number of satellites, that would illuminate the area from Puerto Rico to Alaska and Hawaii. There would be one earth station for the up-link to the satellites. Films made in different parts of the country would be shipped to the earth station. This transmitting station would be equipped with facilities for storing, cataloguing, retrieval and duplication in formats for broadcast. It would have equipment for randomized selection of films for broadcast 24 hours a day, and would send these films to the satellites.
The ground reception system would include both rebroadcasting facilities and direct-reception units. It would make use of available UHF or VHF channels that could be dedicated to "U.S.A. Presents..." during the Bicentennial Year. In addition, CATV systems could be used to carry the channel either off the air or with their own satellite reception facilities. An integral part of the system should be inexpensive direct-reception receive-only equipment in which the antenna and front-end would tie into a television receiving set or, through cable, to a number of such sets. These units would be made available to people in remote or isolated areas, migrant workers, ships, etc.
The concept of "U.S.A. Presents..." was that the nation would record its own culture. The aim was to stimulate the largest variety of people to get involved in recording and transmitting their activities and experiences. A lobster fisherman, truck driver, factory worker, lumberjack, car repairman, teacher, scientist, housewife, nurse, singer, girl scout, etc. all would tell their own stories using their own words and images. As sources to produce these films, local community groups, interest groups, service groups, religious groups, as well as local chapters of national organizations, professional associations, and unions, would be contacted or informed of the opportunity to generate films. In addition, individuals or communities would be encouraged to form programming groups especially for "U.S.A. Presents..."
The medium most suitable for making these films was Super 8 film with synchronized sound, and the programming structure was proposed with this equipment in mind. A large number of Programming Resource Centers with specially trained staffs would be established in school or other public buildings around the United States. Through the Centers, individuals and groups that are making films would have access to simple Super 8 cameras, sound recording equipment, lighting equipment, film and audio tape, and then access to editing equipment or facilities. The staff of the Centers would be responsible for maintenance, technical advice and coordination, and would organize activities that would familiarize the groups with the tools and processes of film-making on a practical level.
The objective of the training effort would not be to turn these groups into "professional" production units, but rather to provide them with adequate understanding and familiarity with the processes and mechanics of making a film, so that they could become articulate in the new medium. Super 8 mm films with sound, say 15 to 25 minutes, produced by the American people: individuals , community groups, special interest groups, service groups, etc., on subjects of their choice. These would be broadcast 24 hours per day in a format that gave equal importance to each film.
E.A.T. also proposed that the cost be covered by one-minute institutional advertising spots which would be shown randomly, unconnected with any program. A sliding scale of cost to advertisers would be introduced so that a local hardware store and a large national corporation could participate. The proposal also included ideas that the design of the satellite communication system could have possible future use as a service network for the nation to provide consumer advice, medical information, education, emergency information, vocational training, etc.
Vocational Guidance Project
In the spring of 1971 E.A.T. pursuing its idea of Projects outside Art, and artists involvement in other areas of society, developed a proposal for a pilot project to have artists prepare vocational guidance material for high school students in New York state schools. The proposal was to conduct a test project to determine the feasibility of developing material for a vocational guidance program in which contemporary artist would provide core information on the nature and quality of jobs in different professions. The proposal was for three artists each to choose a different job to illustrate in any medium form of content to present the work experience to the students. The expectation was that artists could add realism and insight about the physical realities of jobs to provide a new level of understanding of jobs to enable students to make more informed choices of careers and jobs.
Recording and Documenting Art and Culture
During 1971 E.A.T. developed proposals for projects to study, record, "disappearing cultures" into a new, more permanent media such as film or video. The first of these, in February 1971, was a proposal from Indian artist and dancer Chandralekha, who had recently worked with E.A.T. in New York. On returning to Madras she sent a proposal to use film to record the subculture of women entertainers in Benares called Bai women. In addition Chandralekha proposed other recording projects in India, writing that “it is possible to develop cultural, anthropological subjects with the help of a team, including Haku Shah, who could assemble material on folk and tribal culture.” And she suggested some possible subjects: Marwakathayam Law: the matriarchical system of Malabar; The barter system in Kutch villages; migratory habits of desert people in search of pasture; classical folk and tribal dance history with music and commentary; a film on kite-flying linked to the science of space. E.A.T. made efforts to fund her project. E.A.T approached the JDR 3rd Fund and Kennedy Schmertz of the Smithsonian Foreign Currency Program, which handles PL480 funds.
This work with work with Chandralekha and subsequent investigations of work done on recording and preserving disappearing cultures led to E.A.T.’s focus on developing new methods and approaches to recording. In particular, in conversations with Kennedy Schmertz of the Smithsonian Institution, he was impressed with the use of video and film to allow performers to participate in transferring their performances to new, more permanent media. He suggested that we develop a project for funding by his program and also that we contact Professor Skelton of Colgate University who was beginning a pilot project in India with the National Center for Performing Arts, Bombay.
In such film documentary projects, E.A.T. hoped to develop new approaches and methods allowing the persons being recorded to "translate" themselves and participate as much as possible in the planning and production of films. One of the first ideas was to videotape dancers and choreographers who performed at Judson Church in New York in the early 1960s. Working with video· equipment available at Automation House, E.A.T. would produce several video tapes of this work of dancers whose work had not been recorded. On the basis of these pilot tapes, E.A.T. would apply for funding for a larger series of recordings.
E.A.T. also explored the idea of producing in producing a series of documentary films on American contemporary artists where they participate in the planning and productions. The film series might be on several generations of artists in New York. Plans for these films were discussed with McGraw-Hill for funding.
Large-screen Video Projection System for the Facade of Centre Georges Pompidou
Exterior of Centre Georges Pompidou in 1976.
When Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers won the architectural competition to build Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, they included in their winning design an outdoor projection screen on the building facing the large piazza in front to the building.
In 1976 E.A.T. received a contract to supervise the design and carry out a feasibility study for a large screen outdoor television system. With the help of subcontractor Ford Aerospace, Billy Klüver worked out a proposal for a system using a large projection screen made up of thousands of corner reflectors and an Eidophor projector. John Krauskopf, a researcher in perception at Bell Laboratories, worked with E.A.T. on the specifications for the allowable space between the corner reflectors making up the screen. The biggest problem was to overcome the effect of the sunlight which would directly hit the screen.
All these problems were solved, but the projection system was judged by officials at Centre Pompidou to be too expensive and was never built.