Even Alien Whales: Stan VanDerBeek's Brainchildren

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Interview with Stan VanDerBeek from John Musilli's 1972 documentary The Computer Generation

Jonas Meekas crowned Stan VanDerBeek the "laughing man of the bomb age," refering to his starry-eyed embrace Cold War technology and its transformative aesthetic and spiritual potential. Of VanDerBeek’s numerous large scale proposals, his Movie-Drome was the most fully realized. VanDerBeek began creating films for the Drome in 1957. Built next to his home in Stony Point, NY, the Movie-Drome operated between 1963 and 1966. During that time, viewers would lie on the floor with their heads against the wall and watch and watch projections throughout the dome’s interior. It's visible at the New Museum as part of the exhibition "Ghosts in the Machine" next week until September 30. 

Interior view of the Movie-Drome in action

The full potential of the Movie-Drome, as proposed in his Culture: Intercom manifesto, was not fully realized. In that tract, VanDerBeek proposed:

That immediate research begin on the possibility of a picture-language based on motion pictures.

That we combine audio-visual devices into an educational tool: an experience machine or "culture-intercom."

That audio-visual research centers be established on an inter-national scale to explore the existing audio-visual devices and procedures, develop new image-making devices, and store and transfer image materials, motion pictures, television, computers, video-tape, etc.

That artists be trained on an international basis in the use of these image tools.

The Movie-Drome was to be the exhibition space for these experiments: a network of Movie-Dromes would have been built throughout the world to show experiments from the culture-intercom. “The audience,” wrote VanDerBeek, “Takes what it can or wants from the presentation and makes its own conclusions. Each member of the audience will build his own references and realizations from the image-flow.” Additionally, the urgent utopianism of his project cannot ...

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Stan Vanderbeek: The Computer Generation (1972)

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Documentary from 1972 by John Musilli.

Gygory Kepes’ dream for the new MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies was to create a thriving laboratory for the creation of new artworks and artistic research within the context of MIT. Established in 1967, the Center appointed several long-term fellows in its first decade, including the pioneering experimental filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek.

VanDerBeek became enthralled with MIT’s digital universe. Everywhere, he found computers and intensely creative engineers and scientists pushing the absolute limits of technology. VanDerBeek was as interested in how computers were shaping MIT and the larger society as he was in conducting his own experiments. The Computer Generation is a documentary that captures VanDerBeek’s expansive and fascinating ideas about computers and society and that features clips of his own investigations conducted largely at MIT. “What does an artist do with a machine?” he asks in the film. “Amplify the artist’s thought. And at last the artist is in the electronic matrix, no longer confined to his studio.” via Network Awesome

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