Tom Shannon, Artist / Inventor – A Tribute to John Cage
Three artists I know well, Tom Kovachevich and Jackie Matisse and Molly Davies share an inventive sensibility I like and they share much with John Cage including his friendship.
John Cage’s always surprising conceptions took form in a variety of media. His original methods allowed his intentions in any circumstance, even personal, to take unusual shape. Life can be led creatively. Composed in real time. By-passing the well-trodden roads he found the quiet mushrooms. He brought gargantuan sound creatures into existence with a little phonograph cartridge. The ways of nature were featured onstage, illuminated by a guiding artistic sensibility with an expansive taste for newness.
The online videos of Cage performing with real appliances,vegetables and lots of other things on “What’s My Line?” are lasting records of Cage easily stepping beyond the orthodox venues to convey his work.
In parallel with those are YouTube videos of the water-staged dancing paper performances of Kovachevich and the flowing liquid shapes Jackie Matisse’s painted kite tails make as filmed underwater by video performance artist, Molly Davies. Like Cage, preparer of pianos, these artist’s are masters at assembling initial conditions that allow their creations to be swallowed whole by nature and still retain the satisfying presence of personal artistic deliberation.
Jackie emphasizes the long tails of her kites, usually assigning a simple black fabric square to serve as the head. Likewise Tom Kovachevich often floats a square of colored fabric on a pool of water to create the stage for his paper performers. Both artists sometimes dress their performers with marks or patterns, effectively heightening one’s perception of their seemingly possessed dances. Molly’s long experience as a performance artist, often trespassing the boundaries of real and projected, collaborates seamlessly with Jackie’s wafting planes of fabric and the film plane.
It’s exciting to see small, quiet events such as Kovachevich fashions, and Molly Davies’ lyrical images of Matisse’s underwater kite flights made enormous and amplified in the big public sky. David Tudor, John Cage’s close musical friend, collaborated regularly with Jackie Matisse. He composed neural network music driven by sonar reflections off Jackie’s Volatiles, name of her indoor kites. The tango loving electronic music genius was also an avid chef. Jackie and he concocted marvels in the kitchen and the Kitchen.
-Tom Shannon 2012
Photograph © Robert Cassoly 1983
Research Library, The Getty Research Institute
David Tudor papers, 980039
Sea Tails (1983) (film above) is a six-screen, three-channel video installation that combines electronic music by David Tudor with footage taken by Molly Davies of Jackie Matisse’s kites moving through the ocean.
The Collaborators: Jackie Matisse creates kites and kite-like sculptures from cloth, paper, and metal. Her works use motion, line, and color to sculpt air and water. Matisse collaborated with Tudor on several installations in the 1980s and 1990s. David Tudor (1926–1996) was a virtuoso pianist and a pioneering composer and performer of electronic music. He collaborated extensively with such avant-garde artists as John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Merce Cunningham. Molly Davies has been making experimental films and multimedia installations since the late 1960s. Music has always been an important part of Davies’s work, and she has worked with numerous musicians including Tudor’s lifelong collaborator John Cage.
Performances: Sea Tails received its premiere as a video installation at the Pompidou Center in Paris on June 3, 1983. Tudor later performedSea Tails live in Frankfurt, Stockholm, and New York City by manipulating the sounds at a mixing table. He described the result as a “new enhanced version of the sound tracks.” Sea Tails was a unique sound piece in Tudor’s body of work because it could be presented both as a video installation and as an installation with live performance. Just as Tudor introduced flexibility into the score of Sea Tails, Davies and Matisse varied the format of the video installation. In the versions of Sea Tails shown in Philadelphia and New York City, for example, they stacked three monitors vertically and enclosed them in a black casing.
6 Av, 2012 (premiere) by Thomas Kovachevich
Thomas Kovachevich on John Cage and the making of 6 AV:
6 AV is derived from Mr. Cage. I read, years ago that Cage shared a loft on 6 AV with Cunningham. One day while the Cunningham dancers were rehearsing, Cage stared out the open window and listened to the sounds that the avenue made. He noticed that no matter what changes in the sounds of the avenue the dancers seems to always ‘ go with ‘ the sounds or the sounds with the dancers. He was struck by this and used this observation in countless Cunningham performances. I noticed this with my own dancers [papers] too. I live near the corner of 6 AV myself.. While watching 6 AV [the video] one can hear the sounds of 6 avenue too, which have become a part of the sound track of this video. Thus a salute to Cage and Cunningham.
A note about the video: What one sees is in ‘real’ time. There are no special effects or tampering with the speed. The papers are activated with the power of evaporation. The paper creates its own sound, which we hear. Finally, what we see is a result of all the variables in the room at the time of its making.. Thus this video serves as a record of that moment.
New York artist Thomas Kovachevich has worked in sculpture, installation, painting, drawing, and performance since the 1970s. His work was first shown by Swiss curator Harald Szeenann at the legendary Documenta 5 in Kassel. Since then his work has been widely exhibited in the United States and Europe.
Kovachevich’s poetic and witty performances with paper have become a distinctive element of his ouvre. Of these performances the Curator Richard Hobblock wrote, “I felt exhilarated and privileged, somehow, to have experienced these paper’s lives, so fleeting and modest, their dramatic movements provoking an array of emotions-joy, loss, humor, pity, lust. The range was profound and uncanny, considering the absolute simplicity of these momentary “characters.”
His first performances were presented at the Museum of Contemporary in Chicago in 1973, followed by performances at Art Park, NY and The Drawing Center in New York City, in 1977. Kovachevich continues to perform regularly, most recently at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center, New York City, Bowery Poetry Club, New York City and the Sculpture Center, Long Island City, NY. Kovachevich, with percussionist Greg Zuber, created a special private performance for Merce Cunningham at his residence.
Selected other performances and exhibitions: Betsy Rosenfield Gallery, Chicago; Droll/ Kolbert Gallery, New York City; Dart Gallery, Chicago; Jungian Conference, University of Notre Dame, South Bend Indiana; Toni Gerber Gallery, Bern, Switzerland; Herman Daled, Hotel Wolfers, Brussels; Basel Kunsthalle, Switzerland; Kuntsmuseum Bern, Switzerland; Kunsthaus Zug, Switzerland; Albert & Vera List Visual Arts Center at MIT, Cambridge, MA.; Musee de Marseille, Marseille, France; The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Francesca Pia Gallery, Bern, Switzerland; Farideh Cadot Gallery, NY/Paris; Curt Marcus Gallery, New York City; Berggruen Gallery, Paris; Santa Monica Museum of Art, CA; Kim Light/LightBox, Los Angeles; Callicoon Fine Arts, New York City.
Curator: Tom Shannon, Artist/Inventor
Tom Shannon was born June 23,1947. An early work, made at age 19, was included in the landmark exhibition The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age at the Museum of Modern Art in 1969. Since that time his sculptures have been included in numerous international exhibitions in institutions such as the Centre Pompidou, the Stedelijk Museum, the Moderna Museet, the Venice Biennale, the Sao Paulo Bienal, the Biennale de Lyon, the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Art Tower Mito and the Whitney Museum.
Shannon received the Cassandra Foundation Grant in 1973 and the Florence Gould Foundation Grant in 1995. Awards received include the Pauline Palmer Prize given by the Chicago Art Institute in 1967, the First Prize Frank G. Logan Award plus the Linde Division Award at the Chicago Art Institute in 1969 (jurors: Walter Hopps, Sam Wagstaff) In1991, the Museum of Modern Art in Nagoya, Japan. awarded Shannon the Nagoya Biennale First Prize (shared with Gary Hill). Commissions include permanent installations at Chateau d’Oiron, the Taejon Art Park (designed by Renzo Piano), the Sapporo Dome Art Park, a 3-D video projection for the National Galleries at the Grand Palais in Paris and a large atomic array at Tokyo Broadcasting Co.
Recent outdoor work includes a hovering sculpture inn the center of Osaka and a floating work at Chateau La Coste near Aix en Provence.. Shannon is currently building outdoor work for Tadao Ando’s museum projects in Shanghai and Hainan,China. Shannon was granted patents for the first tactile telephone system, a color television projector (with Walter de Maria), and a synchronous world clock, (a collaboration with Buckminster Fuller) which is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. Shannon was featured artist at the 2003 TED Conference where he presented Air Genie, a patented spherical helium airship whose entire surface is a LED video screen. Tom designed the TED Prize, the Buckminster Fuller Prize and the Trophee Jules Verne installed at the Musee de la Marine in Paris. Shannon attended the University of Wisconsin and the Art Institute of Chicago where he received a Master of Fine Art degree. He lives in Manhattan.