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Steve Paxton : Physical Things
Performance Engineer : Dick Wolff

October 13 & 19, 1966

Cast: Karen Bacon, Bill Finley, Sue Hartnett, Margaret Hecht, Michael Kirby, Ted Kirby, Clark Poling, Phyllis Santis, Elaine Sturtevant, David White, David Whitney, and others. Technicians and help: Karen Bacon, Margaret Hecht, Tony Holder, Walter Gelb, John Giorno, Larry Leitch. Sound: Disparate sources

A film still showing Steve Paxton's air inflated structure with audience members walking through.

Audience looking at performers in one of the rooms of Paxton's polyeurethane structure during, Physical Things. Film still

Artist Statement:

This piece is a dance with a set. It is cast not only by those chosen as permanent population (for the duration of the piece) but by those who have chosen to come to see it, and it is presumed that they will observe each other. With regards to air pressure and topography this piece is not an airplane, is pretty much the opposite of an airplane, but much of the rest of it is analogous.

Steve Paxton constructed large inflated structures of polyethylene consisting of large dome-shaped rooms connected by tunnels, with one vertical tower, with another large room and another tunnel on the exterior of the main structure.  The audience walked through and around the largest structure, viewing slides and live activities.  Speakers fed by loop tape recorders played low level sounds inside one of the tunnel rooms. 


In one of the tunnel rooms white screens were attached to the top of cardboard ‘trunks’, and slides of vegetation and leaves played on the screens, as well as a film of the same images. Rising above the last tunnel room was a 100 foot high tower with white noise pouring down from speakers located far above.


As they exited from the tower room, audience members were given small electronic units consisting of an amplifier, speaker and magnetic pickup of the kind used to pick up conversations from telephone receivers.  Jim McGee had modified tape recorders and Dick Wolff had devised an inductive loop system for local sound broadcasting. Twenty wire loops, 8 feet in diameter were fastened to a fishnet rigged above the heads of the audience, each one connected directly to a tape recorder.  The audio signal from the tape recorder induced a low-frequency magnetic field in the wire loop that could be picked up and converted to sound by the unit the audience member was holding to his ear. As they moved about under the different loops, they could compose their own sound experience from the different sounds in each loop: a lecture on how to stop smoking, lovers' conversations, excerpts from the Bible, screeches of jungle birds, a discourse on field hockey, a radio announcer describing a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, Mahler's Song of the Earth, etc.


In the large air structure room on the exterior of the main tunnel, a set of twins, Michael Kirby and his brother, stood motionless.  In another part of this room, Elaine Sturtevant painted Sue Hartnett’s face and hands with a liquid crystal type material. It was sensitive to temperature, so that warm areas of the body showed up in blue and the cooler areas in red. One side of a long exterior tunnel was made with black polyethylene, and disembodied arms and legs of performers extended from holes in the black material.


Paxton later described his work:  "Physical Things was a dance with a set paced by the audience.  The audience paced the piece individually.  Duration was determined by the flow.  'Change of station' was achieved by changing location.  Ear equals place.”

Preparations & Technical Elements


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