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UB’s place in ‘radical arts’ of 1970s focus of event

By PATRICIA DONOVAN

Published May 1, 2014

Last year’s popular “UB in the ’70s” event presented by the Humanities Institute focused on the cultural history of the city and the brilliant writers and musicians, many from UB, who produced groundbreaking work here during that decade.

This year, the Humanities Institute will present “UB in the ‘70s: Radical Arts” on May 6 in the auditorium in Allen Hall, South Campus, which will focus on what made Buffalo’s arts scene in the ’70s an internationally recognized hotbed for experimental media, performance art and architectural theory.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin with a wine and cheese reception at 7 p.m., followed at 7:30 p.m. by presentations by speakers who will participate in breakout sessions after their talks.

“Many people today, on campus and off, don’t realize what an amazing and internationally networked arts scene Buffalo had in the 1970s,” says Elizabeth Otto, associate professor of modern and contemporary art at UB, and executive director of the Humanities Institute, “but Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Carolee Schneemann and John Cage all came to Buffalo in a large part because of the experiments going on here in media study, music, architecture, literature and other fields.”

The program will reflect that era and that scene.

Tony Conrad

Tony Conrad, who helped put UB on the map of avant-garde artistic production, will talk about the pioneering faculty in the Department of Media Study during the 1970s.

It will open with “Media Study Emerges,” a talk by Tony Conrad, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the UB Department of Media Study and a pioneering and internationally acclaimed avant-garde video artist, experimental filmmaker, musician/composer, sound artist, teacher and writer. His first film, “The Flicker” (1966), is widely considered a landmark in structural filmmaking, and in the nearly 50 years since, he has continued to produce groundbreaking work in music composition and performance; video art; filmmaking; community video; video documentation; and home, Web and interventionist video.

Conrad’s work, which helped put UB on the map of avant-garde artistic production, continues to be exhibited and performed in major art museums, performance spaces, experimental arts centers and universities throughout the world.

Among his colleagues in the media study program here were brilliant pioneers of video art and filmmaking, among them Paul Sharits; new media visionary and theorist Gerald O’Grady, founder and initiator of the Center for Media Study at UB; the obscure but revolutionary social documentarian James Blue; filmmaker Hollis Frampton, also a photographer and pioneer of digital art; electronic artists Walter and Steina Vasulka; and artist, curator and theoretician Peter Weibel.

Hadas Steiner, associate professor in the UB School of Architecture and Planning, will present “Banham in Buffalo,” which will consider the work and times of Peter Reyner Banham, the influential British architectural critic and prolific author who was a member of the UB architecture faculty from 1976 to 1980. Banham famously explored the distinct architectural cultures of various urban, suburban and rural ecologies, Buffalo’s among them.

His many books include “Buffalo Architecture: A Guide” (1981) and famously, “A Concrete Atlantis” (1989), in which he explored the influence of American industrial building on modernist European architecture, notably that of the Bauhaus. That influence was articulated in American “daylight factories,” of which there are many in Buffalo — the Larkin, Trico and Alling and Cory buildings, to name a few — and the monumental grain elevators that still line the city’s waterfront. Both books remain in print and are considered classics in their genres.

The third presentation, “The Beginning of the End,” will be given by Jonathan Katz, UB associate professor of visual studies. In the 1960s and into the 1970s, UB enjoyed a heady reputation as the academic home of artistic movers and shakers who set the tone for artistic experimentation in the United States. Katz will explore what happened in the 1970s when the campus shifted from an era of radical artistic expression to one marked by conservative modes of representation. He will present short clips from the recordings of two gay and controversial composers, John Cage and Julius Eastman, both members of UB’s Center for the Creative and Performing Arts.

Eastman was a gay African-American minimalist composer, pianist, vocalist and dancer who often gave his pieces titles with provocative political intent: for example, “Evil Nigger” and “Gay Guerrilla.”

Cage, who pioneered indeterminacy in music, as well as electroacoustic music, was perhaps one of the most daring and innovative composers of the 20th century. He was the romantic companion of choreographer Merce Cunnnigham, a principal developer of modern dance, for most of both their lives.

Today Cage and Eastman are recognized as avant-garde music icons of the gay community.

As part of the program, attorney and businesswoman Eileen Silvers, BA ’70, will discuss her recollections of UB’s creative life during this period. Silvers recently pledged $500,000 to UB to help fund a visiting professorship in her name in the College of Arts and Sciences.

READER COMMENTS

Just to buttress the bridge. For instance, Spyro Gyra founder Jay Beckenstein studied with Julius Eastman and Hollis Frampton was the outside reader for my dissertation. The cross-pollination was a big part of what made everything so special and one need look no farther than the "Autobiography in the Independent American Cinema" get-together to see an absolutely unprecedented "gathering of the tribes" that almost took over the town!

 

Bud Navero

To learn more about documentary filmmaker and UB faculty member James Blue, please visit Facebook: Remembering Documentary Filmmaker James Blue (1930-1980).

 

Barry Strongin