Obrist interviews Emmett Williams
Emmett Williams: I keep alive by walking up and down these hundred and some steps four or five times a day.
Hans Ulrich Obrist: By exercising, then?
EW: Well, really it's extremely important, you know. It's good for the heart and good for the legs. A lot of people come to see me, old collectors, for example, who can hardly walk up the stairs.
HUO: This leads me a bit to my first question. I was interested to know how as an American you came to find yourself in post-war Europe. Also, when you started working here you were, above all, a poet. What kind of poetry were you writing at the time?
EW: Well, I had a fairly classical education in the United States at Kenyon College, where my mentor was John Crowe Ransom, high priest of the New Criticism. I married for the first time in 1949 and went to Paris for a honeymoon - and stayed in Europe for the next seventeen years. The first work I did in Paris was a series of essays for a little magazine called Points, which was edited by Peggy Guggenheim's son, Sindbad Vail. These were literary essays about writing,
contemporary authors and reflections on art. Through Sindbad and his family I met many wonderful people from the past - the old Surrealist and Dada crowd. Tristan Tzara?
HUO: You met them?
EW: Oh yes, yes, yes. It was at Laurence Vail's apartment in
Montparnasse. Laurence was Sindbad's father, the first husband of Peggy Guggenheim. He took her virginity away from her. But these artists didn't mean very much to me. In 1949, Dada didn't have the aura that it attained through the years, and they didn't influence me at all - at least not then. Well, when our first child came, I had to find a job somewhere, and I found it in Germany, in Darmstadt, with The Stars and Stripes. It was a daily newspaper, an unofficial publication of the United States armed forces. It was in Darmstadt that I first met the artists and composers who changed my life and work. For example, Daniel
Spoerri was an assistant to Gustav Rudolf Sellner, director of the Landestheater. Daniel and I met in the cellar club under the castle. We became fast friends, and through him I met Jean Tinguely, Dieter Roth, Robert Filliou, and many other artists who changed my way of thinking, writing, drawing, painting and performing.
HUO: In terms of my research into transdisciplinarity, I am very much interested in these summer music courses in Darmstadt, in which Bruno Maderna and John Cage were involved. EW: Yes, I was quite involved with these annual Internationale Ferienkurse für neue Musik - happily, we lived just a short walk up the hill from where the courses took place. And we were close friends with Wolfgang Steinecke and his wife, founders of the Ferienkurse.
HUO: And how did it work? These courses changed music history, and a lot of artists have been inspired by it. What was the secret of these Darmstadt meetings?
EW: The secret was the people who came. They were electrifying people, and listening to them, watching them at work and play, was a real turn-on. Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Bruno Maderna, Luigi Nono and his wife Nuria - Schönberg's daughter - Luciano Berio and Cathy Berbarian, and on and on and on. I learned a lot about experimental notation that certainly influenced my work as a so-called "concrete poet". There was so much happening. Just sitting down in the artists' Kellerklub in the evening you could learn a lot listening to these fascinating people. The students came from all over the world.
And the older generation of composers and musicologists would drop by to see what the younger composers were up to. You might see Theodor Adorno at the next table chatting up a pretty young student. Or Eugene Ionesco in town for rehearsals of his new play. So there I was in Darmstadt, working for The Stars and Stripes, but my real creative life was influenced by the people I met during the summer courses and from the theater. By the way, the first time the word Fluxus appeared in the press was in an interview with Benjamin Patterson that I wrote for The
Stars and Stripes in 1962, to publicize the world's first Fluxus festival in nearby Wiesbaden. I did other articles about the goings-on at the summer courses and in the theater, very strange stuff for an army newspaper.
HUO: Has this material been republished?
EW: No. I've been asked to, but I don't think they are that great. But it's great to think that they appeared in an army newspaper, of all places! As a feature editor I was able to write about whatever interested me. I was writing more serious essays for several German theater publications. And I put together two travel books - "Cities of Germany" and "Cities of Europe" - published by The Stars and Stripes for the troops in Europe. Lots of travelling. Lots of interviews. Not only my friends - Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, Ben Patterson and
Fluxus - but old-timers like Lotte Lenya, Maurice Chevalier, Ezra Pound and so on. Those Darmstadt years did a lot to widen my horizon.
HUO: And can you tell me more about the importance of composers such as Maderna, Stockhausen or Boulez? In an earlier interview, you said that the idea of notation changed the structure of your own creative work, and even of structuring your performances. So I was curious to know if you could talk about how this happened to you, and how artists of your generation started to look towards musical composition in relation to poetics?
EW: It came from exposure to what these composers were doing. I'm not a trained musician or a musicologist - I can carry a tune and follow a classical score if I concentrate - but what these people were doing was a new world for me, and I felt at home in it. You must remember that I was up to my neck in concrete poetry - Daniel Spoerri was publishing his review material, the first number was a little anthology of concrete poetry, number two was Dieter Roth's ideograme and the third
was my konkretionen. Some of my friends jokingly told me that my poems looked like "the funny stuff" the new composers used as scores. Well, some of the composers felt an affinity with my work, and Bruno Maderna asked me to collaborate with him on an opera - which unfortunately never came to pass. Anyway, many of my books of poems are compositions of letters and words, and some of my performance pieces such as A Cellar Song for Five Voices and Four-Directional Song of Doubt for Five Voices have been recorded by professional musicians.
HUO: So the relationship was pretty direct?
EW: Yes. Here is a book of mine, sweethearts, that is composed with only the 13 letters of the title. It was first published in Europe. On the cover of the American edition flutters Marcel Duchamp's Coeurs Volants. It was one of Duchamp's favourite books.
HUO: I know and love the book. There is a beautiful quote by Richard Hamilton about it: 'the first large-scale masterpiece among the concrete texts'.
EW: On the dust jacket? HUO: And before moving onto other things, I wondered whether the situation at Darmstadt was informal, whether it was like a big coffee break, or whether it was highly structured? How did the meetings happen? Did people just listen to lectures, or was it more about smaller circles?
EW: There were formal lectures and lecture-demonstrations, classroom sessions, public concerts, rehearsals all over the place, and of course smaller circles. I've already mentioned the artists' Kellerklub under the castle. And, of course, everyone knows how temperamental composers can be. There were feuds - the Cage-ites against the Nono-ites, for example. And how well I remember the evening the MPs dropped by our house, asking if I knew Herr Haro Lauhus from Cologne. Why? They
explained he was in a hospital after a fight and asked them to contact me.It turned out that Stockhausen had fractured Haro's leg in a heated amatory dispute. Haro recuperated as our house- guest for the next week, swearing revenge on Karlheinz. Yes, those summer music courses were for real! Which reminds me, one New Year's Eve, a drunken judge ran over and killed Wolfgang Steinecke, the founder and director of the summer courses. There was a very private interment, with Wolfgang's widow, Boulez, Stockhausen and myself. Ah memories!
HUO: And how did La Monte Young and the whole Cage context emerge? Hadn't you published first in a La Monte Young magazine?
EW: No. La Monte Young had seen some of my concrete poems in a book called Movens published by Limes Verlag in Wiesbaden in 1960, an anthology of avant garde writers, artists and composers. La Monte wrote to me for permission to reprint some of this work in an anthology he was editing in New York. His An Anthology, a source-book of early Fluxus classics, was designed by George Maciunas. And George Maciunas, the Lithuanian-born father of Fluxus, invited me to join Fluxus at the world's first Fluxus festival in Wiesbaden in 1962. I love the way all
these things are interrelated! What networking - even way back then!
HUO: And what about Cage? There are many interviews in which musical composition was considered in terms of poetics, and Cage became very present in all this. Was Cage also an influence on you?
EW: No, I always make it clear that I belong to the European Fluxus rather than the American Fluxus. I grew up in Fluxus in Europe and not in New York. When John Cage was teaching his famous course at the New School for Social Research in New York, I had been long settled in Europe, and did not undergo his influence, nor did I meet the Cage disciples until later.
HUO: And how would you characterize the main differences between European and American Fluxus?
EW: Well, it's difficult. I've written several books on the subject and I'm not sure I know the answer. Fluxus was built by a large number of artists and each one had a distinct artistic personality. It's difficult to see an artistic connection between, say, Wolf Vostell and Daniel Spoerri, or La Monte Young and Ben Vautier. But despite their differences they were able somehow to join together in this forum that George Maciunas provided where we could all share the same stage and
perform one another's works literally and figuratively. The spirit still prevails - especially at the Fluxus festivals and reunions. I'm very happy - and lucky - that a group of younger performers and composers, Die Maulwerker, all of them trained professionals, have sort of adopted me, and we travel together quite often. It's Emmett Williams und die Maulwerker! We've been invited to several German cities, to Madrid, to the Vostell Museum in Malpartida. It's a wonderful feeling
for an old man to work with these young people. They perform the Fluxus pieces in a way that they were never performed forty years ago, and they extract the last bit of music - or anti-music - out of these pieces. It's beautiful what they do, and I really enjoy it. I prefer working with them more than with the old Fluxus veterans because, well, frankly, the old timers are beginning to bump into things, drop props, and forget what to do! That comes with old age! [Laughs] I have to keep myself alert to work with these younger performers and they help me keep in shape!
HUO: In previous interviews and in your books, you have said that Fluxus did not so much change the work that the artists were making beforehand, so how would you define the glue that binds everyone together?
EW: The networking of Maciunas and other Fluxus people - it was
world-wide: Maciunas calling the tune from his headquarters in New York and Massachusetts, Vostell, Beuys, and Ben Vautier proselytizing in Europe? Fluxus became a very "in" thing, and all kinds of artists wanted to join up.
HUO: And what were the beginnings for you with Fluxus?
EW: I already mentioned how La Monte Young "discovered" some poems of mine he wanted to use in this anthology designed by George Maciunas. Well, in 1962 George Maciunas visited me in Darmstadt. He had had to leave New York because of financial problems, and landed a job with the U.S. Air Force in Wiesbaden. Funny, the two of us working for Uncle Sam! He told me about his ideas for a festival of new music - the newest music - Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik - and asked me
to join forces with him. It was during the summer music courses, and we dropped by to see what was going on - and he introduced me to several students from the United States. It was the beginning of a?I was about to say a long friendship, but it had its ups and downs. I had the honor of being kicked out of Fluxus, along with Jackson Mac Low, Tomas Schmit, Nam June Paik and others- for "anticollective attitudes, excessive individualism, desire for personal glory, prima donna complex". Anyway, soon afterwards Wolfgang Steinecke and his wife, the
founders of the summer music courses, came to our house for dinner. I showed him some of the literature George had printed up and he was flabbergasted - a dozen or so of the composers who were summer-course regulars were on George's festival program - of course they didn't go to Wiesbaden in person, their contributions were canned. And the Wiesbaden museum people, where the first Fluxus festival took place, were really shaken up when George's brand of newest music turned out to be chopping up a grand piano and a performer on a high stepladder
dripping water into a bucket! HUO: And what was your dialogue with Beuys before Fluxus in the late '50s? Was there already a dialogue taking place?
EW: Well, Beuys first appeared onstage in the world of Fluxus in 1963 at the Festum Fluxorum in Dusseldorf, officially a two-day colloquium for students at the art academy, where Beuys taught, but it attracted standing-room-only crowds. Ann Noël and I did a Fluxus performance evening at the Kunsthalle Dusseldorf last July to commemorate the event. Beuys' performance, involving a dead hare, was unlike anything
else on the program back in 1963, and the rest of us - "veterans" of the Fluxus festivals in Wiesbaden, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Paris - were, frankly, turned off. Like Vostell, Beuys was making expressionistic theater, which was a Fluxus no-no. He didn't participate in our events, and we didn't fit into his, but we could co-exist on the same stage. In any case, Beuys made arrangements for the Fluxus film classic "A Double Happening" starring Robert Filliou and myself sitting on toilets in the men's room of the Academy. I liked Joseph personally. And one mustn't forget that Fluxus owes part of its
ongoing longevity to Beuys' adoption of the word.
HUO: Another thing I was interested to know about is the relationship between the stage and the box. One of the differences you have pointed out is American Fluxus' obsession with the box, which one finds less in the European context.
EW: These boxes and kits and bags et cetera are real Fluxamericana - hey, I've coined a word! - and, all of them designed and made by George Maciunas. He transformed the ideas of the other Fluxus artists into all these multiples, embellished with his unmistakable typography. I wrote
earlier that it is really possible that all these hundreds of multiples add up to the biggest Fluxus gag of all time - that George Maciunas, Mr. Anti-Art himself, was in reality the most prolific and best Fluxus artist of all - of American Fluxus artists, at least. They are worth a fortune today. But poor George reaped no profits from them. He couldn't sell them, he couldn't sell anything - and he died a miserable death, financially destitute. Those little name boxes that George gave away to his friends, with objects whose initial letters spell out the friend's name? well, a collector recently offered me 10,000 Euros for the one George gave me!
HUO: The economy definitely wasn't functioning for him. It's a bit like some works by Duchamp, which never sold at the time. Indeed, one of the things I was wondering was how far Duchamp and Cage were of importance for your work, and to what extent chance operations affected your poetry?
EW: I was never really obsessed with chance operations. For me, writing down a letter or a word and waiting to see what comes next is chance enough. I suppose the most interesting aleatory music I ever did was a suite of 10 prints called "Incidental Music for Yo-Yo Ma" in 1979. The prints, used as scores, trace the electrostatic distortions on a sheet of blank music paper copied hundreds of times and gradually increasing in size on a xerox duplicating machine. I did the suite at Harvard where both Yo-Yo and I were artists-in-residence at Leverett House. It was performed by Yo-Yo himself, playing a Bach unaccompanied suite, accompanied by Ivan Tcherepnin making waves of electronic distortion to match the progressive complexity of the score. But to return to your question, although I have a great admiration for John Cage, I must confess that I don't sit around playing Cage tapes in my living room or studio. Not to minimize John's contributions to contemporary music or poetics, I prefer listening to Stephen Sondheim.
HUO: You mentioned that you met Tristan Tzara and some Dada pioneers in the '40s, but that they weren't that relevant to you. I was wondering in more general terms how important the history of the European avant-garde was to you and your generation? Was it a question of killing the father? Also as a poet and artist how did you look at avant-garde poetry or the sound experiments of someone such as Kurt Schwitters?
EW: In 1949, when I met Tzara, I was by no means a neo-Dadaist. Through the years I learned much more about the Dadaists and in 1984 I wrote a tongue-in-cheek book about Dadaists that I have shaken hands with. I learned more about Duchamp from knowing Tinguely than I did first-hand. He revered him very much. I came to like Duchamp more and more over the years, but I didn't start out with him as a hero figure. I kept learning more and more about Duchamp because of my rather close friendship with Richard Hamilton. Richard's own writings about Duchamp and his conversations about Duchamp carried me along in a Duchampian
way. I was quite thrilled when I finally met him, and I'm proud his Coeurs Volants flutter on the cover of my book sweethearts. But to me in the '50s and '60s, the avant-garde was not the Dadaists - it was the artists of my generation. That for me was the avant-garde. I didn't say that all those old men should drop dead, but I was interested in what the younger artists were doing because I was one of them and they were my friends. There was so much we could talk about first-hand.
HUO: So the historical elements were revisited more through discussions and through the present - a kind of dynamic form of memory.
EW: Yes, and nothing disappears faster than the reality of the past. I get enraged every time I pick up a new volume about Fluxus because the misstatements are just terrifying. But you come to expect it when you meet people who are doing a dissertation on Fluxus performance, and when you ask them which performances they're familiar with, they say that they have never seen one. You wish them good luck, but you can't
HUO: There is a form of amnesia that so often happens.
EW: One of these historians asked me if I was really in Wiesbaden in 1962, and I said "What do you mean?" and he said he had been through all of the records and knew in which hotel all the artists were staying and had seen the accounts, but I wasn't in the records. And I said, "Have you ever been to Wiesbaden?" He said no, so I said "Well, I was living in Darmstadt, George Maciunas was living in Wiesbaden: you get
on a train in Darmstadt and you're in Wiesbaden in half an hour.
HUO: Thomas Bayrle told me that your wife ran a very important gallery in Darmstadt in 1963, anticipating the gallery of Copley three years later. Was it a laboratory of radical experiments?
EW: My first wife, Polly, was an aristocratic Washingtonian. As a child she used to play with the Roosevelt grandchildren at the White House! Well, she opened her Galerie Ordo after the break up of our marriage. I was living in Paris again, and know about the gallery only second hand, from her letters and announcements. Spoerri and Tinguely and Soto and other artists who knew Polly offered to show work at Ordo, but Polly wanted to do it her way. And she didn't want any help from me and my
friends. By the way, Polly wasn't the least bit interested in my Fluxus activities. At one of the last vernissages, her guest artist, Stanley Brouwn, pulled an unexpected and unpleasant surprise by messily killing a cat in the crowded garden. Scandal in Darmstadt! After Polly's death in nineteen-eighty-something, my daughters gave me Polly's Ordo papers and archive, which I gave to the city of Darmstadt a few years ago with great ceremony. She'd be proud to know that these documents were laid to rest in an archive in the Jugendstil Künstlerkolonie she used to visit so often.
HUO: We're sitting here in front of a painting related to Schwitters. Could you tell me about him?
EW: I translated a lot of his poems and stories and his works played a big role in a course I was teaching at Harvard in the 1970's, "The Write of Arting" - poems and plays by Kandinski, Arp, Picabia, Oldenburg, Picasso - and of course Schwitters. I learned a big lesson, too. I told my students to visit the Schwitters show at MOMA. They were disappointed: "They didn't have any of his important works," one student complained, "just a lot of small collages." They were used to seeing slides via a classroom projector that blew up the tiny collages to the size of a barn door!
HUO: I interviewed Philip Johnson a few years ago, and he saw the Merzbau. He's the only person I've ever met who's actually seen the Merzbau.
EW: I have met people who claimed they did, but it's hard to tell. It's like in Wiesbaden - sometimes only four or five people would come to these concerts, but thousands more say they were there! [Laughs] Even some artists!
HUO: I've also interviewed Billy Kluver and we spoke of the
relationship between art and technology. I wondered whether technology such as film or TV affected your work at the time?
EW: Frankly, I was not into these things, and I didn't even know how to use the equipment. In terms of technology, I'm almost medieval. I've never driven an automobile. I don't enjoy using the telephone. But happily, my wife Ann Noël knows all about the world of computerdom, and when I have a hard-to-solve problem, she shows me which button to push,or pushes it for me.
HUO: To what extent has this changed the way that you work?
EW: Or play. See this little book? It's a cyclically constructed deconstruction - dedicated to Jacques Derrida and Dieter Roth, of course - of a tale by the Brothers Grimm. A poem cycle composed in 26 of the zaniest typefaces you ever saw! Button button who's got the button? At this rate, in my next life I may be reincarnated as Bill Gates! But seriously, I'm thinking of some super future projects, thanks to Ann Noël.
HUO: A few years ago I organized an exhibition called Do-It and it's still ongoing. Artists contribute instructions, and it would be great if you would be involved. I'll send you an invitation. It now exists as a website. People interpret the instructions and send in their responses. The exhibition is based on these instructions, open partitions and recipes. On the Net, you not only have the instructions but also the feedback loop - people can send in images or sounds or however they have interpreted the instructions. We have, therefore, not
only been able to involve Europe and the United States in the project, but also more recently in Mexico and Brazil, all of which has demonstrated that instruction art has been incredibly important in the history of contemporary art. Your work has been exceedingly pioneering for the field of instructions and art. From the early '60s you created poetry that blurred the line between instruction and performance. Could you tell me about these beginnings in your work?
EW: Well, in the '50s and in the early '60s we used to meet at the famous Kellerklub under the castle in Darmstadt - the composers and musicians from the Ferienkurse, actors from the theater, visiting artists, and all sorts of celebrities young and old. Our home away from home, often until two or three in the morning. My i-Punkt Oper was first performed there, with the audience attempting to follow almost illegible mini-scores in flickering candlelight.
HUO: So that was your realized opera. You mentioned an opera that you were going to do with Maderna, but which was never realized. EW: My opera had nothing to do with the Ferienkurse, it was a Kellerklub affair.The Maderna opera, on the other hand, was to be serious work based upon a Lorca play. I was going to concretize the Lorca text after my own fashion. He visualized a production at a theatre in Rome, a sort
of sound-surround. For domestic reasons - the break up of my first marriage and my removal to Paris - it never got past the planning stage.
HUO: So that's where your work with instructions began.
EW: Yes. This was all pre-Fluxus. In retrospect it's difficult to isolate these things - there was a stage. And you did things. You would have a spontaneous idea and do it. And remember, there was not only the musical imput, but a strong theatrical tradition. And it was more bohemian than la vie de bohème.
HUO: So, from your early pieces you then came to the event scores, such as the song of uncertain length, or the counting songs. Could you tell me about these works?
EW: Well the counting songs specifically date back to the Fluxus festival in Copenhagen in 1962. We had wonderful audiences there for the first time. They were charging admission and we thought they were cheating, so somehow I got the idea that I was going to start these counting songs, counting everyone in the audience. You could touch them; you could have them write their names on the program, put a candy
in everybody's mouth. This way you had contact with the audience and at the same time could work out exactly how many people were there and demand our fair share of the money.
HUO: And how did the definition 'event scores' come about?
EW: I think the expression really derives from George Brecht. It became a very popular part of Fluxus language. Of course, this was all based on ideas of music too - concerto number 3 was so-called because it helped relate the action to music. Some Fluxus artists were composers and were very informed about music - others probably didn't know the difference between a piano and a tuba! But they often used musical terminology as a framework. You had people like Nam June Paik with real musical credentials, Wolf Vostell who talked about life-music, thought-music, de-collage-music et cetera.
HUO: And then there was the voice piece that you did for La Monte Young.
EW: I never understood why it was so popular. People loved it and La Monte loved it too - me asking if La Monte Young was in the audience when of course I knew he wasn't. Isn't it strange how things like that will catch the popular imagination? George Brecht loved it - he put it in the Fluxus newspaper, saying what a wonderful piece it was.
HUO: Is it a question of the open partition - are these things very open?
EW: Take George Brecht's event pieces - they're very open; or these open scores of Dick Higgins. It might just say something like 'blue, green' and something's got to be done about this. You've got to build a piece based on these two words. I find it fascinating that when Die Maulwerker do my pieces, they do them entirely differently from what I used to do. There's a piece where I see how long I can walk around with a glass full of wine or a bottle on my head, and the piece is over if and when the bottle or glass falls. These young musicians transform my
simple piece into an elaborate musical work with their voices, their gestures, the instruments, with actions I am completely incapable of. In fact, I never compete with them when they're interpreting my work; I let them do it their way, and I learn something.
HUO: Some of these pieces are extremely conceptual. I was wondering about the emergence of conceptual art at the time - exhibitions such as When Attitudes Become Form.
EW: Well, this is an ambiguous area - there are some disputes as to where conceptual art came from. Of course, George Maciunas and others attribute it to Henry Flynt, their Marxist-leaning friend, who first used the term 'concept art'. He was certainly an important figure. When Allan Kaprow did Stockhausen's Originale in New York it was Henry who led the picketing against it. He was the one who was saying "down with
imperialism" and so forth.
HUO: It's interesting, the name of Henry Flynt keeps on being mentioned to me and yet he's so forgotten. There are no books about him that I know about.
EW: There are certainly texts available. They have been printed in several of the Fluxus catalogues. I know that the catalogue René Block edited in 1982 contains one.
HUO: But did he stop working?
EW: He got into folk music but continued writing philosophical texts. He used to send me a lot of them while I was living in Canada a few decades ago. I really couldn't understand them; they were a little bit over my head, so I gave them to a professor of philosophy at one of the Canadian universities, who found them fascinating. But Henry is still very much alive. Maybe you should interview him.
HUO: I am also interviewing Jackson MacLow.
EW: He has total recall. He's wonderful for the New York scene.
HUO: In 1966, you went to New York to become editor-in-chief of The Something Else Press. I was wondering if you could talk about this and about books. You've often used books to make work.
EW: I did the famous Anthology of Concrete Poetry for Dick Higgins' Something Else Press, based on material I'd collected in Europe. And it was the best-selling book of the press. It even outsold John Cage's Notations. I edited and worked with Claes Oldenburg on the book Store Days. Dick reprinted three of my books that were first done by Hansjörg Mayer in Stuttgart. But it wasn't my idea, it wasn't my intention to publish books that I had done in Europe. But Higgins, the millionaire publisher, wanted them! It was a very hard time for me, because I had no idea that George Maciunas and Dick Higgins had become great enemies as this point. Higgins broke entirely with George Maciunas, and there was me, a friend of both George and Dick. I knew nothing about this, and when I get to New York to become Editor-in-Chief I find out that George Maciunas won't speak with me because I'm working for his enemy! Well, these were hard times. I felt so alone there. I had very little to do with the New York Fluxus people then, because I wasn't welcome, simply because I was working with Dick!
HUO: In terms of your Anthology of Concret Poetry, one of the things that is so interesting was the way in which the movement was anticipating the globalization of the art world (and following up on earlier avant-gardes), but it included Sweden, Brazil, Japan and many other countries. How did you manage this?
EW: Suddenly everybody was playing language games, the Noigandres group in Brazil, Eugen Gomringer and Dieter Roth in Switzerland. Pierre Garnier in France, Daniel Spoerri, Claus Bremer and myself in Germany, Ernst Jandl and Gerhard Rühm in Austria, Ian Hamilton Finlay in Scotland, Seiichi Niikuni in Japan, and so many, many others. We were in touch with each other, a real network. The material that I collected through this networking while living in Darmstadt was a real international collection, and much of it went into my anthology in 1967. It's still the best of the concrete anthologies, for the 60's were the heydays of the so-called concrete movement. The book made waves internationally.
HUO: I have a few last questions, the first of which is about
collaboration. The artist Douglas Gordon has said of the 1990s that it was a decade of 'the promiscuity of collaboration'. It's very interesting that there has been a whole generation of artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija and Philippe Parreno who have worked in this way. Rirkrit was involved in this project by René Block and yourself last year, revisiting Fluxus. So I was interested to know about how you see collaboration? EW: The most important collaboration work I've been involved with started in 1961 and is still going on. It started when Daniel Spoerri decided that instead of a catalog for an exhibition of
his snare pictures at the Galerie Lawrence, he would map the objects on the cluttered table in his tiny Paris hotel room. Then with the help of his friend Robert Filliou he wrote rigorously scientific descriptions of each object, adding anecdotes about each one. He titled it Topographie Anecdotées du Hasard. The little booklet made a big noise in avant-garde circles. Well, my translation of the French text, together with new anecdotes added by Daniel and myself - a kind of dialogue between friends - and illustrations by Roland Topor, was published by The Something Else Press in New York in 1966. It was an international critical success. Two years later the first German edition appeared, translated by our friend Dieter Roth, incorporating my re-anecdotations and new anecdotes by Daniel and Dieter. The book gets thicker and thicker! Atlas Press in London brought out the next English-language version in 1995 with all the material from the three earlier versions, with Malcolm Green's translation of Dieter Roth's anecdotage, plus new re-anecdotations of Daniel, Dieter and myself, and
photos and documentation of the Topo and the Topographers through the years. In 1997 Nautilus Verlag in Hamburg brought out a new German version with new material by Daniel and myself, and with the deluxe edition comes a 225cm x 160 cm silkscreened tablecloth with a reproduction of Meret Oppenheim's composition based on the relief features of the objects on Daniel's table coated with 15 centimeters of snow. Duchamp was a Topo fan. And Richard Hamilton called the
Topography "one of the great books of the century". He's probably right. Anyway, it will outlast Daniel and myself, the only twoTopographers still extant, and still playing games with the Topo.