Dziekan on strobes in ‘People meet in architecture’

Titled ‘People meet in architecture’, the biennale [2010 Venice Architecture Biennale] was exemplified by Sejima’s curatorial selection of collaborative and speculative projects, many of which functioned as controlled experiments variously involving acts of shaping space (through the use of light, water vapour, sound) and giving substance to time (photographically, stroboscopically). Through such works:

The interdependency of space and time are explored through projection, movement, images (still and moving) that reveal both the complex subjectivity of perception and the intersubjectivity of experience that is shared – in the spaces of architecture as it is in the context of the exhibition itself. Throughout the exhibition the worlds of information and experience collide, intersect and multiply their contradictions (Blau, 2010: 39).

The role of exhibition in establishing this basis in ‘interdependency’ becomes particularlyevident when encountering works that experimentally demonstrate the structure of transparency and density (Junya, Ishigami & Associates; Matthias Schuler and Transsolar) or mediated environments that test the thresholds of perception. Particularly poignant in this respect were presentations of multi-sensory environments created by artists Olafur Eliasson and Janet Cardiff. Using cinematic effect to carve out slices of visibility, Eliasson’s Your split second house oscillates between the fluidity of perception and momentary flashes that register these impressions. Exhibiting a minimalist attitude that contrasts with the grandiose effect that Eliasson coaxes from the void, Cardiff and Miller Studio’s reprisal of The Forty Part Motet—which I will refer to again in relation to my investigation on UVA’s Chorus—instead places heightened emphasis on tightly controlled spatio-acoustics to produce the intertwining of sonic proximity and intimacy.

Dziekan, V. (2011). FCJ-122 Anxious Atmospheres, and the Transdisciplinary Practice of United Visual Artists. The Fibreculture Journal, (18 2011: Trans)

Boyd Mefford “Strobe-lighted Floor”

BOYD MEFFERD “Strobe-lighted Floor”. Strobe lights under lucite panels in the floor fire at random. The firing produces colored after-images which may affect the spectator’s sense of space and equilibrium.

1968, part of  MAGIC THEATRE at the St. Louis Art Museum. Bulletin of the City Art Museum of St. Louis, New Series, Vol. 4, No. 4 (NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 1968), pp. 8-10

1970 THE MAGIC THEATER was presented at Automation House NYC

Youngblood on Milton Cohen

Cohen’s most recent presentation was Centers: A Ritual of Alignments. Here the projection surface was a translucent circular core from which eight triangular screens radiated. Behind each screen was a photoelectric cell that activated sound and strobe-light events at various positions in the performance area. (Cohen often employs the amplified sound of the projection equipment itself as the aural complement of the imagery.) Behind the core, also described as the ”target” area, was a slide projector.

Film imagery was basic to the performance. Cohen adapted projectors to handle twelve-foot film loops projected sequentially on the fanlike screens, making one round every twenty seconds. Simultaneously various geometrical target patterns were rear-projected onto the core. The audience is seated on revolving stools in the twenty-foot area between the projection system and the screen. Their attention is polarized between the gyrating film and the free-floating slide imagery registering on walls and screens that define the total enclosure.

The multi-channeled sound is electronic, instrumental, and vocal, and moves in complex trajectories from speaker to speaker. The effect, according to Cohen, “is one of sound in flight; sound seeking target.” This theme of seeking out the target is carried over into the visuals through the manipulation of the projection console in a discrete sequence of maneuvers that search out the center. “When and if this centering is won,” Cohen explains, “the performance may proceed to the next film loop. But also ways must be discovered for other performers (live dance, live music, etc.) as well as the audience to contribute to the audiocentric and luminocentric probes. Ultimately there must be a common voyage for all to that identifying place which describes at once the center and the whole.”

Youngblood, G. (1970) Expanded Cinema,  P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York.

Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966-1967)

Andy Warhol‘s lights engineer Danny Williams pioneered many innovations that have since become standard practice in rock music light shows. From May 27-29 the EPI played The Fillmore in San Francisco, where Williams built a light show including stroboscopes, slides and film projections onstage. At Bill Graham‘s request he was soon to come back and build more. Film maker Jonas Mekas(who pioneered film projections during concerts at New York’s Cinematheque), Andy Warhol and Danny Williams’ influential ideas contributed much to the legendary Fillmore Auditorium’s prestige and were also used at the Fillmore East and Fillmore West, both opening in 1968.

Exploding Plastic Inevitable

Lee on Op Art and stroboscopic psychedelia

Stand in front of Bridget Riley’s painting of this title from 1964, and ask yourself, “What do I see?” Or rather, think to yourself, “How do I feel?” It is a picture that plays with the terms of seeing and feeling, of eye and body, as starkly as it is rendered in black and white. Yet just as black and white admits to a vast range of grays in between, so too does Riley’s work beg similar questions of value and scale. To what extent do we see this painting? In what lies its retinal appeal? To what extent do we not so much see it but feel it, experience the picture less as an abstraction than as a woozy sense of gravity visited on the body—a body endlessly subjected to the vagaries of time? Stand a little longer, look a little harder, and then what happens? In time, the surface begins to flicker, like a stroboscope; or wave, like a lenticular screen. Look longer still, and surprising colors—psychedelic phantoms—emanate from between the lines. Spangles of gold, pink, and green burst and flash, lining the eyelids, rattling the skull. The eye is enervated while the body feels something else: nausea, perhaps, or even a blinding headache. (p. 155)

Lee, P. M. (2004). Chronophobia. On time in the art of the 1960’s, Cambridge.


Halpern on Subjective Perception as Technological Potential

These neurosciences thus produced a flexible barrier between the realms of stimulus, the form of the data, the organs of reception, and the site of processing. While such subjective perception had been found in nineteenth-century physiology and psychology, it was now no longer a problem for scientific objectivity and knowledge, and was positively embraced for technological potential in neural nets.[14] The very nerves, extracted from any particular body, are capable of processing and analyzing data.

I would even argue that ontology and epistemology were both collapsed into another approach, which focused on method, process, and feedback. The act of processing information and the act of analyzing it became the same, and the possibility emerged that this de-contextualized seeing process could be rebuilt in other locations. This is not an insignificant experiment in the histories of visuality.[15]

The cybernetic model of perception desired a purely technical and autonomous eye. If one wished to see an insect, then one built a frog’s eye; if one wants to see a missile silo, perhaps one builds a different form. Vision circulated. There was no single norm for vision. The ideal of a singular, or objective, form of vision was replaced by a fantasy of effectiveness serving particular functions. Historically I wish to focus on the critical function that the lack of concern for static ontologies played in facilitating a shift in the conception of sense perception as an interactive process and a material technology in design, cognitive science, and cybernetics. This was an eye extended into the body and out into the world, a vision that was material and could now act on its own—flies eaten and airplanes blown up, for example—a networked cognition beyond the brain and a new way to understand the differences between subjects and objects. There was no ontological stability in cybernetic visuality; there were no stable enemies or preys. [16]

There was, however, a curious indexical and temporal nature to this ability to materialize vision. To focus on how eyes “speak” to the brain demanded a lack of regard for, or perhaps an automation of, recording and an assumption of an informatically dense world. The impossibility of ever accessing and processing all this data was no longer the problem. Instead the question became how to manage and utilize the unknown. This subtle but important revision of attitudes to knowledge and objectivity was first articulated in McCulloch’s classic piece, written with Pitts in 1943, establishing the equivalence between neurons and Turing machines and conceiving of a “neural net.” As I explained in chapter 3, McCulloch ends the piece with an astonishing statement con- cerning scientific claims: “thus [this research proves] that our knowledge of the world, including ourselves, is incomplete as to space and indefinite as to time. This ignorance, implicit in all our brains, is the counterpart of the abstraction which renders our knowledge useful.”[17]

This “ignorance” or subjective quality of all cognition was now the “abstraction” that produced “use.” Subjective perception was equated with technological potential without concern for mediation, and efficacy replaced the concept of an absolute reality as the measure of truth. McCulloch not only took a non-Cartesian perspective but also resolutely declared any split between the mind and the body, or reality and cognition, both undesirable and impossible. [18]

Notes on CHAPTER 4. Governing

16. A lot of work was done at the time on scanning, flickering, and other significant visual phenomena. For example, the work of Frank Rosenblatt under the influence of McCulloch on machine vision, cognition, and scanning had an impact on the conception and design of perception and cognition in electronics and machine intelligence and in developing scanning technologies. Rosenblatt, “Per- ceptron,” of 1958 anticipates Lettvin et al., “What the Frog’s Eye Tells the Frog’s Brain,” of 1959, and both articles anticipated future work in contemporary ma- chine learning and vision models where symbolic processing and neural nets are now returned to use, even though at the time ideas of perceptrons were later debunked in 1969 by Marvin Minsky and Symour Papert in a book titled Perceptrons, in an ongoing set of debates over the nature and approach to machine intelligence. 17 McCulloch, Embodiments of Mind, 34. (p. 310-311)

17.  McCulloch, Embodiments of Mind, 34.

18.  McCulloch elaborated on these concepts in many of his lectures, including those preceding the actual conduct of this experiment; “Physiology of Thinking and Perception.”

Halpern, O. (2015). Beautiful data: A history of vision and reason since 1945. Duke University Press.

Pickering on Flicker


“Flicker” is a long-standing term of art in experimental psychology, referring to visual effects induced by flickering lights (Geiger 2003, 12–15). A spinning top with black and white bands induces perceptions of color, for example. Walter became interested in flicker and incorporated it into his EEG research in 1945, when he came across a new piece of technology that had become available during the war, an electronic stroboscope. Staring at the machine through closed eyelids, he reported, “I remember vividly the peculiar sensa- tion of light-headedness I felt at flash rates between 6 and 20 [per second] and I thought at once ‘Is this how one feels in a petit mal attack?—Of course this could be how one can induce a petit mal attack” (Walter 1966, 8).64 And, indeed, when he experimented with a strobe on an epileptic patient, “within a few seconds a typical wave-&-spike discharge developed as predicted.” The quotation continues: “This was enormously exciting because I think it was the first time that a little theory [in EEG research] based on empirical observation had actually been confirmed by experiment. This meant that there might be some hope of reinstating the EEG as a scientific rather than merely utilitar- ian pursuit. . . . This was one of the critical turning points in our history.” The scientific import of flicker in EEG research was thus that it offered a new purchase on the performative brain, and a new neurophysiological and clini- cal research program opened up here, pursuing the effects of “photic driving” at different frequencies with different subjects. Walter and his colleagues at the Burden, including his wife, Vivian Dovey, experimented on nonepilep- tic as well as epileptic subjects and found that (Walter 1953, 97) “epileptic seizures are not the exclusive property of the clinically epileptic brain. . . . We examined several hundred ‘control’ subjects—schoolchildren, students, various groups of adults. In three or four percent of these, carefully adjusted flicker evoked responses indistinguishable from those previously regarded as ‘diagnostic’ of clinical epilepsy. When these responses appeared, the subjects would exclaim at the ‘strange feelings,’ the faintness or swimming in the head; some became unresponsive or unconscious for a few moments; in some the limbs jerked in rhythm with the flashes of light.” It turned out the optimal flicker frequency for the induction of such effects was often hard to find, and at the Burden Harold “Shippy” Shipton built a feedback apparatus (Walter 1953, 99) “in the form of a trigger circuit, the flash being fired by the brain rhythms themselves. . . . With this instrument the effects of flicker are even more drastic than when the stimulus rate is fixed by the operator. The most significant observation is that in more than 50 per cent of young normal adult subjects, the first exposure to feedback flicker evokes transient paroxysmal discharges of the type seen so often in epileptics” (fig. 3.12).

To follow the details of this research would take us too far afield, so let me make a few comments on it before going back to the sixties.65 First, Walter’s work here exemplifies my earlier remarks about the possibility of being curious about the performative brain. If our capacity for cognitive tasks is immediately before us—I already know that I can do crosswords and sudoku puzzles—the epileptic response to flicker was, in contrast, a surprise, a discovery about what the performative brain can do. Second, this research points again to the psychiatric matrix in which Walter’s cybernetics devel- oped. Third, experiments aimed at inducing quasi-epilieptic fits in school- children should only make us grateful for the controls on human-subjects experimentation that have since been introduced.66 Fourth, flicker is a nice exemplification of my notion of a technology of the self, a material technology for the production of altered states. If you want a paradigmatic example of a technology of the nonmodern self, think of flicker. Fifth and finally, Shippy’s feedback circuit deserves some reflection. In the basic flicker setup the brain was pinned down in a linear relation to the technology. The technology did something—flickered—and the brain did something in response—exhibited epileptic symptoms. This counts as a piece of ontological theater inasmuch as it thematizes the performative brain, the brain that acts rather than thinks. But it does not thematize the adaptive brain, the key referent of cybernetics per se: there is no reciprocal back-and-forth between the brain and its envi- ronment. Feedback flicker, in contrast, staged a vision of the adaptive brain, albeit in a rather horrifying way. The strobe stimulated the brain, the emer- gent brainwaves stimulated the feedback circuit, the circuit controlled the strobe, which stimulated the brain, and so on around the loop. We could say that the brain explored the performative potential of the material technology (in an entirely nonvoluntary, nonmodern fashion), while the technology ex- plored the space of brain performance. I suggested earlier that the tortoise was unsatisfactory as ontological theater inasmuch as its world was largely passive and unresponsive, and I therefore want to note that feedback flicker offers us a more symmetric ontological spectacle, lively on both sides—a dance of agency between the human and the nonhuman. What acted in these experiments was genuinely a cyborg, a lively, decentered combination of hu- man and machine.

We can come back to this below in a discussion of the history of bio- feedback, and at a more general level in the following chapter on Ashby’s cybernetics.

Flicker and the Sixties

Walter and his colleagues experimented with strobes not only on laboratory subjects but also on themselves, and (Walter 1953, 101) “we all noticed a pe- culiar effect . . . a vivid illusion of moving patterns whenever one closed one’s eyes and allowed the flicker to shine through the eyelids. The illusion . . . takes a variety of forms. Usually it is a sort of pulsating check or mosaic, often in bright colours. At certain frequencies—around 10 per second—some subjects see whirling spirals, whirlpools, explosions, Catherine wheels.” Again we can understand these observations as a discovery about the performative brain, continuing a longer tradition of research into such effects in experimental psychology. Walter (1953, 107–13) in fact conjectured that the moving pat- terns were related to the scanning function of the alpha waves (as material- ized in the tortoise): since there is no motion in the strobe light, perhaps the pulsation and whirling in the visual effects comes from the scanning mecha- nism itself, somehow traveling around the brain. But the language itself is interesting. This passage continues: “A vivid description is given by Margiad Evans in ‘A Ray of Darkness’: ‘I lay there holding the green thumbless hand of the leaf. . . . Lights like comets dangled before me, slow at first and then gain- ing a fury of speed and change, whirling colour into colour, angle into angle. They were all pure unearthly colours, mental colours, not deep visual ones. There was no glow in them but only activity and revolution.’ ”67 What should we make of a passage like that? The word that came to my mind when I first read it was “psychedelic.” And I immediately thought of some key texts that were required reading in the sixties, especially Huxley’s The Doors of Percep- tion. Then I was fortunate enough to obtain a copy of a wonderful recent book by John Geiger called Chapel of Extreme Experience (2003).68 Geiger traces out beautifully how Walter’s work on flicker entered into sixties culture. I have little substance to add to Geiger’s account, but I want to review his story, since it adds importantly to our topic.

We need to think of three lines of development. First and most conven- tionally, Walter’s observations on flicker fed into a distinctive branch of work in experimental psychology aimed at elucidating its properties, exploring, for example, the kinds of images and visions that flicker produced, and into philosophical reflections on the same. Interestingly, these explorations of flicker were typically entwined with explorations of the effects of psychoac- tive drugs such as mescaline and LSD. It turned out that the hallucinogenic effects of these drugs are intensified by flicker and vice versa. These fascinat- ing branches of psychological and philosophical research on the performative brain flourished in the 1950s and 1960s but seem since to have been largely forgotten—no doubt due to the criminalization of the drugs.69 Of more di- rect interest to the student of popular culture is that Aldous Huxley indeed appears in this story. His 1956 book Heaven and Hell indeed includes flicker, experienced on its own or in conjunction with LSD, in its catalog of technolo- gies of the nonmodern self (A. Huxley 1956, 113–14).

At the wildest end of the spectrum, in the late 1950s flicker came to the attention of the group of writers and artists that centered on William Bur- roughs and Allen Ginsberg, often to be found in Tangiers, where Paul Bowles was a key figure, or staying at the Beat Hotel, 9 rue Git le Coeur in Paris. As I mentioned earlier, the Beats’ connection to Walter was textual, chancy, and undisciplined, going via The Living Brain. Burroughs read it and was fasci- nated to find that “consciousness expanding experience has been produced by flicker.”70 For the Beats also, flicker and drugs ran together. In 1959, when Ginsberg took acid for the first time at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, it was in the framework of a typical Grey Walter setup: “Burroughs sug- gested he did so in concert with a stroboscope. The researchers . . . connected the flicker machine to an EEG, so that Ginsberg’s own alpha waves would trigger the flashes.” I mentioned earlier the strikingly cyborg aspect of such a configuration, and interestingly, Ginsberg experienced it as such (quoted by Geiger 2003, 47): “It was like watching my own inner organism. There was no distinction between inner and outer. Suddenly I got this uncanny sense that I was really no different than all of this mechanical machinery all around me. I began thinking that if I let this go on, something awful would happen. I would be absorbed into the electrical grid of the entire nation. Then I began feeling a slight crackling along the hemispheres of my skull. I felt my soul being sucked out through the light into the wall socket.” Burroughs also gave a copy of The Living Brain to another of the Beats, the writer and artist Brion Gysin, who recognized in Walter’s description of flicker a quasi-mystical experience he had once had on a bus, induced by sunlight flashing through the trees. Gysin in turn discussed flicker with another member of Burroughs’s circle, Ian Som- merville, a mathematics student at Cambridge, and in early 1960 Sommerville built the first do-it-yourself flicker machine—a cylinder with slots around its circumference, standing on a 78 rpm turntable with a 100 watt lightbulb in the middle (fig. 3.13). It turned out that fancy and expensive stroboscopes were not necessary to induce the sought-after effects—this cheap and sim- ple Dream Machine (or Dreamachine), as Gysin called it, was quite enough (Geiger 2003, 48–49).

From here one can trace the cultural trajectory of flicker in several direc- tions. Burroughs both referred to flicker in his writing and built it into his prose style in his “cut-up” experiments (Geiger 2003, 52–53).72 Gysin and Sommerville published essays on and construction details for their Dream Machine in the journal Olympia in February 1962 (Geiger 2003, 62). Timothy Leary, ex-Harvard psychologist and acid guru, was one of the Beats’ suppliers of drugs and learned from them of flicker, which he began to discuss, along with Grey Walter, in his own writings.73 Gysin displayed Dream Machines as art objects in a series of exhibitions and argued that they marked a break into a new kind of art that should displace all that had gone before: “What is art? What is color? What is vision? These old questions demand new answers when, in the light of the Dream Machine, one sees all ancient and modern abstract art with eyes closed” (Gysin quoted by Geiger 2003, 62).

Gysin was also taken with the idea of the Dream Machine as a drug-free point of access to transcendental states, and had plans to develop it as a com- mercial proposition, something to replace the television in people’s living rooms, but all his efforts in that direction failed (Geiger 2003, 66 & passim). And in the end, the flicker technology that entered popular culture was not the cheap Dream Machine but the hi-tech strobe light.75 As Geiger puts it (2003, 82–83): “By 1968 . . . stroboscopic lights were flashing everywhere. They . . . had been taken up by the drug culture. Ken Kesey featured strobe lights in his ‘Acid Tests’—parties where he served guests LSD-laced Kool-Aid to the music of the Grateful Dead. . . . Tom Wolfe wrote in The Electric Kool- Aid Acid Test: ‘The strobe has certain magical properties in the world of acid heads. At certain speeds stroboscopic lights are so synched in with the pattern of brain waves that they can throw epileptics into a seizure. Heads discovered that strobes could project them into many of the sensations of an LSD experi- ence without taking LSD.’ ” Flicker, then, was an axis along which Walter’s cybernetics played into the distinctive culture of the high 1960s.76 And Walter himself was happy to claim a share of the credit. In a 1968 talk he remarked, “Illusory experiences produced by flashing lights . . . nowadays are used as a standard method of stimulation in some subcultures. I should be paid a royalty because I was the first to describe these effects” (quoted by Geiger 2003, 83).

This is as far as I can take the story of flicker and the sixties, and the key points to note are, first, that this cultural crossover from Walter’s cybernet- ics to the drug culture and the Beats indeed took place and, second, that the crossover is easy to understand ontologically.77 In different ways, the sixties and cybernetics shared an interest in the performative brain, with technolo- gies of the decentered self as a point of exchange. The sixties were the heroic era of explorations of consciousness, and flicker joined a whole armory of such sixties technologies: psychedelic drugs, as already mentioned, medita- tion, sensory deprivation tanks, as pioneered by John Lilly (1972), and even trepanning.78 In the next section we can take a quick look at yet another such technology: biofeedback. For now, three remarks are in order.

First, just as I conceive of cybernetics as ontology in action, playing out the sort of inquiries that one might associate with a performative understanding of the brain, one can equally see the sixties as a form of ontological theater staging the same concerns, not in brain science but in unconventional forms of daily life.

Second, I want to emphasize the sheer oddity of Gysin’s Dream Machines, their discordant relation to everyday objects and the traditions in which they are embedded. In the field of art, it is probably sufficient to quote Gysin himself, who justifiably described the Dream Machine as “the first artwork in history made to be viewed with closed eyes” (Geiger 2003, 54). As a commercial propo- sition, the Dream Machine was just as problematic. In December 1964, Gysin showed a version to representatives from Columbia Records, Pocketbooks, and Random House, and “all present were soon trying to understand what they had and how to market it. Was it something that could be sold in book form with cut-outs, or was it something that could be sold with LPs? Columbia Records’ advertising director Alvin Goldstein suggested the Dream Machine would make a great lamp. Someone said they could be used in window displays” (Geiger 2003, 69). In its unclassifiability, the Dream machine exemplifies in the realm of material technology my thesis that ontology makes a difference.

Finally, I should return to the question of the social transmission of cybernetics. Just as we saw earlier in the history of robotics, flicker’s crossover from cybernetics to the Beats took place via a popular book, The Living Brain, and thus outside any disciplined form of social transmission. The focus of Walter’s book is resolutely on the human brain; it is not a book about art or living-room furniture. But Gysin read “half a sentence,” and “I said, ‘Oh, wow, that’s it!’ ” (quoted in Geiger 2003, 49). Although not evident in the story of the Walter-Brooks connection in robotics, a corollary of the chancy mode in which cybernetics was transmitted was, as I said earlier, the opportunity for wild mutation—the transmutation of brain science into art objects and psychedelic replacements for the TV. (p. 76-83)

Pickering, A. (2010). The cybernetic brain: Sketches of another future. University of Chicago Press.

Goodyear on Mefferd and “bringing us together”

New to the city, Tuchman had reason to believe that this undertaking would not only complement the futuristic setting of Los Angeles but would also en- hance the museum’s financial and cul- tural standing. As critic Peter Plagens observed, the exhibition catalogue for the show, A Report on the Art and Technol- ogy Program of the Los Angeles County Mu- seum of Art, 1967–1971, “is not so much the narrative of a completed project, but an interim report on a hoped-for ongo- ing metamorphosis of modern art, cen- tered in Los Angeles” [21]. The ambitious aims of the exhibition were buoyed by the opportunity to par- ticipate in the American Pavilion, spon- sored by the United States Information Agency (USIA), at Expo ’70 in Osaka. The decision of the USIA to focus on “topics dealing with Science, Technology, and the Arts” made selections from Tuch- man’s “Art and Technology” exhibition an ideal choice and also suggested that Tuchman had correctly read prevailing art-world trends in designing his project. As Tuchman later explained, the opportunity was a prestigious one, giving “Art and Technology” the “imprimatur” of the USIA. Tuchman included works by eight artists in the Os- aka installation: Claes Oldenburg’s Ice- bag ; Boyd Mefferd’s strobe room; Tony Smith’s “cave,” composed of interlocking cardboard pyramids; Robert Whitman’s mirror-generated virtual images; Newton Harrison’s glowing tubes of color; Roy Lichtenstein’s films; and Andy Warhol’s Rain Machine. The political cache of proj- ects celebrating the combined power of the United States’ technological and cul- tural resources, in the context of the Cold War, was reflected in the commentary of an American journalist reporting on the installation, who observed:

It must…be attractive to the government to consider how “A&T” seems to embody democratic ideals of co-operation and interaction between various lev- els of the society. Pragmatically, “A&T” could be interpreted as embodying [President Nixon’s] “bring us together” philosophy. (p. 170)

Goodyear, A. C. (2008). From technophilia to technophobia: the impact of the Vietnam War on the reception of “Art and Technology”. Leonardo, 41(2), 169-173.

Fred Turner on USCO

For Wiener, as, later, for McLuhan and Fuller, computers served as important tools with which to model and create such environments.9 When they read Wiener alongside McLuhan and Fuller, the artists of USCO extended Wiener’s insights on the role of computing to include technologies ranging from 35 mm slides to film strips to strobe lights and even LSD. For USCO, each of these technologies opened the door to a cybernetic, environmental mode of social organization. At one level, USCO sought to control its audience through communication: as Stern put it in 1967, when you make a multimedia environment, “you take a piece of time, and you see what you can make it do to people.”10 At another, however, it offered a way to free audience and artist alike and allow them to enter a collaborative, egalitarian social structure. The effect of an USCO show, wrote journalist Richard Kostelanetz at the time, was “somewhat similar to the psychedelic experience, for in both an awareness of sensory overload disrupts all attempts at concentrated focus—and also initiates a gamut of emotional and psychological changes. An intrinsic purpose of such an environment is the challenging of linear habits of organization.”11 Once immersed in a state of information overload, USCO meant its audience members to become something like cybernetic organisms, acting, seeking feedback, reacting. It also aimed to give them a new appreciation of human unity: USCO designed its installation at the Riverside Church, for example, to teach visitors that “We Are All One.” (p. 69)

Turner, F. (2014). The corporation and the counterculture: Revisiting the Pepsi pavilion and the politics of Cold War multimedia. The Velvet Light Trap, (73), 66-78.

USCO was a media art collective in the 60s and 70s, founded by Michael Callahan and Gerd Stern, who also founded Intermedia Systems Corporation which produced multimedia art internationally. Influenced by media theorist Marshall McLuhan, they were using stroboscopes, projectors and audiotapes in their performances. Eventually they moved into an old church in Garnerville, Rockland County, NY. To underline the community character of the project, USCO used the phrase “We are all one”. The abbreviation USCO stands for “The Company of Us”. Among its members were the painter Stephen Durkee and the video artist Jud Yalkut[1] Stewart Brand, although not a formal member of the group, held close relations to USCO.