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PICO (Performance Indeterminate Cage Opera) LIVE | 2012

New Music Bay Area and video artist John Sanborn presented a live interactive performance event celebrating the centennial of composer John Cage called PICO (Performance Indeterminate Cage Opera) on September 14th, 2012 at the Berkeley Art Museum.

PICO was inspired by Cage's approach to composition and uses "Fontana Mix" as an organizing structure for a live mix of 6 channels of prepared video, recorded sound, live musical performance, live dance, and audience participation.


This is an edit of the live performance - footage from 8 professional cameras and dozens of audience members.

The work originated from a desire to put in perspective the profound changes to our understanding and creation of art brought about by Cage, conceptualist Marcel Duchamp and video artist Nam June Paik: three seminal artists who were friends, colleagues, and collaborators.


The heart of the work will be expressions of the ways and meanings of change.

John Cage -- on the nature and interpretation of sound, composition and the meaning of music.
Marcel Duchamp -- on the reframing of everyday objects and gestures into art and the participation of the audience in finishing the experience.
Nam June Paik -- on the transformation of personal cultural perspectives into media art.

Originator & Orchestrator: John Sanborn

Performing collaborators
Joseph Copley, Margaret Cromwell, Carlos Venturo, Alyah Baker, Kelly Del Resario, Katherine Wells, plus 18 "extra" dancers from the ballet, modern, drag, performance art, and theater communities.

musician/composer: Wobbly
sound artists: Negativland
pianist: Sarah Cahill
cellist/composer: Theresa Wong
performer/composer: Luciano Chessa
architect/designer: Megan Kelly-Sweeney
designer: Leah Hefner
Skip Sweeney and Roger Jones from Video Free America.

In the centennial year of the composer John Cage we are still arguing about the effect of his life and work on our culture. For some of us, it’s undeniable, for others Cage was a non-musician, in that he wrote for the mind, not the ear.

Are we crazy? Is there anyone who doesn’t believe that art must change the way we see, hear and think? Cage broke down the elements of musical composition to a basic truth – that a composer organizes sound. Reflect on that when you want your art to help organize a world of chaos into delightful bites.

For me, Cage is linked to Marcel Duchamp - who challenged the eye and asserted that an artwork was incomplete until experienced by an audience, and Nam June Paik - who challenged how we truly translate culture into media. Cage was a friend with each – and PICO is a testament to their influence on me and on the high-speed changes to our notions of ownership and authorship. Each artist dared to change our definitions of “artist”, art and the relationship of creator to audience. And as they predicted, the line between those two ancient functional roles is almost gone. Hello, Youtube.

My reaction to Cage’s 100th birthday is to detail the connection between his legacy and what we do with the knowledge he left us. Yes, we can play his music, we can view “Nude Descending a Staircase” as an object, and we can watch “Global Groove” and compare it to the TV we grew up with – but how do we activate their ideas? We do it by plunging head on into expression, without the formality of a frame, a score, or a tv series. We leap from a ceaseless interpretation of thought into a mix.

The key for me in PICO, is found in “Fontana Mix”, a Cage visual score from 1959. A vainglorious attempt to provide a structure for chaos, “Fontana Mix” suggests that you can exert only so much control over sound – and by extension, over a museum filled with ideas. Like life, experienced in a real-time blender. My first concept for PICO was to combine “Pirates of the Caribbean” the ride with the philosophy of John Cage.

I started by developing a series of metaphoric scenarios – small abstract situations that mix Paik+Cage+Duchamp using themes of audience and artist confrontation, deliberately confused gender identity, the appeal of no barriers between “art” and “life”, and added games, wordplay and absurd juxtapositions of elements.

Self-illuminating dancers whose “stage” is the light they cast. Performers wearing GoPro cameras, so you can be both inside (a dancer) and outside (a spectator) the dance. Nudes descending staircases over and over and over, so you can marvel at the simple form and grace – nothing is boring if that is your perspective. I brought the past into the future, with a new take on Charlotte Moorman, and drove the present back into the past, with retro collages of erotic machines.

And then, using “Fontana Mix” to organize the video, audio and pulsed performance elements, prayed that Cage’s framework for keeping chaos at bay would work.

Personally, this project brought me back to the direct influence that Nam June Paik had on my life and work. I never realized just how much I owe to Paik, and Charlotte Moorman (the secret lies with Charlotte) and I was moved when I understood that much of what I learned, I learned through the application of brute force. I owe my own understanding of Cage, to Paik – and my understanding of Paik grew exponentially during the making of PICO.

I miss you both.

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