Visual Media

9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering


Documentary of '60s tech-art synergy

This documentary is a wonderful testament to what can happen when bright folks from different disciplines get together to make stuff. In 1966, 30 engineers from Bell Labs collaborated with a number of modern artists in New York to create a series of pieces/experiments. Open Score by Robert Rauschenberg, the first release in a 10-part DVD series on these pieces, captures what is essentially a high-tech indoor tennis match. Two players rallied with racquets wired with FM transmitters that amplified each stroke. As the lights in the room dimmed, the whole event coalesced into a participatory, multi-media “happening.” Since engineers reappropriated infrared lenses — primarily a military tool back then — the artists were able to film and project shots of the crowd.

A combo of 16mm performance footage and more recent interviews, the documentary is short (35 min.) but totally inspirational. These days we’re used to SRL shows and Maker Faires and the melding of science and art. We’ve come along way since C.P. Snow suggested the dangers of intellectual isolationism. Watching the old footage and listening to the collaborators reflect on the evening really emphasizes the beauty and importance of such cross-pollination(s).

You may feel inclined to tinker. You’ll likely feel a renewed appreciation for collaboration. More than anything, you’ll be reminded not to pigeonhole. Tom Robbins said it best: “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world, and those who are smart enough to know better.”

Just ask engineer Larry Heilos: “I got a deeper appreciation for the artist, per say. I began to realize that, hey, while they were doing things that were different, they were really just people like the rest of us, with some tremendous imagination and with some forethought as to what they could work with and what was available to them. Very stimulating.”

-- Steven Leckart 05/2/07

(Netflix doesn't carry it (yet). Also, there's a book on this subject, which I have not read. -- SL — editors)