Aldo Tambellini At Tate Modern

A  year ago on this blog I described seeing the recreation of a 1960s Aldo Tambellini happening in Manhattan on 20 October 2011:

…headed up to the Chelsea Museum for a performance of Aldo Tambellini’s Black Zero – a recreation of a happening performed by Group Center several times between 1963 and 1965. Black Zero featured some recorded sounds, including the voice of poet Calvin C. Hernton who couldn’t be there in person because he was dead. One of the improvised elements was Henry Grimes on double bass and Ben Morea on power tools adapted as musical instruments – and they were fabulous together! There were film projections all over the place and a very good modern dancer, who amid apocalyptic verse about racism and nuclear holocaust, eventually fell down into an erotic death pose: at this point Tambellini entered the stage area with a pen knife and popped a balloon onto which film was being projected, and that was the end of the performance. I was knocked out by the event, describing it in words really doesn’t do it justice.

From 9-14 October 2012 Tambellini was at Tate Modern under the banner of Retracing Black. In The Tanks for six days there was a Tambellini environment with film and slide projections, film on TV monitors and an audio loop lasting about 22 minutes. On the evening of Saturday 13 October there were screenings of individual films and the re-staging of two happenings. Tambellini’s strength in the 1960s lay in collaborating with others and collaging different mediums into environments and happenings – and while we’re at it let’s not forget he played a key role in creating a vibrant cultural scene in New York’s East Village that flourished precisely because it kept itself utterly separate from the institution of art!

The Tate’s screening of various Tambellini shorts allowed me to get a better understanding of some of the elements that make up his mixed-media collages but for those new to Tambellini (which seemed to be the case for most of the audience) then seen in this format they didn’t make for a good introduction to his work. The films were mostly abstract and black and white, to fully appreciate their fast flicker in a cinema environment you don’t want distractions from other light sources… unfortunately a number of people on both sides of me were using smart phones during the screening and even in silent mode such coloured flashing really lessened the impact of Tambellin’s work. Nonetheless you could still see there were a lot of parallels between Tambellin’s mid-sixties shorts and lettrist cinema of the early nineteen-fifties. The scratching of film stock and the soundtracks at times being dissociated from the imagery being just two examples of this.

To really grasp what Tambellini is about you  need to experience one of his mixed media happenings. In this context his films become part of a complete sensory overload in an electromedia environment. Moondial recreated from 1966 was an improvisation on the part of a musician and dancer with film and slide projections by Tambellini. The costume worn by the dancer – originally Beverly Schmidt but at the Tate Tanks Daliah Touré – with its wild headdress and reflective parts, brought to my mind the Afro-Futurism of Sun Ra and others. Obviously Tambellini’s mixed media happenings are always to an extent an improvisation and are never going to be exactly the same twice. I was, however, surprised at just how different the version of Black Zero I saw at Tate Modern was to the re-staging I’d witnessed in Manhattan a year earlier. There was more space for the projections, Seth Woods playing the cello rather than Henry Grimes on double bass, and recordings of Ben Morea rather than the man himself improvising live with his ‘noise machines’, fewer recorded words from poet Calvin C. Hernton (nothing about nuclear holocaust at Tate but still plenty about racism), less on stage action in general in terms of performers too.

What was more impressive at Tate Modern than Chelsea Museum was the balloon which Tambellini pops at the end of the performance – this was gradually inflated throughout the event to a huge size (whereas in Manhattan a year earlier it was much smaller). That said I preferred the more cluttered first performance I saw and thought that while Seth Woods was good, Henry Grimes playing live with and against Ben Morea was way more sonically impressive. I also preferred the longer selection of Hernton recordings since his anger at the racism and stupidity all around him is not only deeply felt but theoretically incisive (as anyone who has read his non-fiction books about race in America will already know). Hernton’s poetic style owes something to the beat generation but at the same time he is way better than Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs rolled into one! Tambellini’s mixed media events are at a midway point between beat and psychedelic culture and all the better for not being frozen into one period or the other.

Even if I preferred the version of Black Zero I saw re-staged at Chelsea Museum, it was still great to see it again at Tate Tanks. And the audience at Tate Modern applauded wildly at the end of both pieces, many were clearly ecstatic. Likewise, the Retracing Black environment was also an absolute triumph, providing a great introduction to Tambellini for anyone who wanted to be able to wander in and out without necessarily watching an entire happening. What Chelsea Museum in New York had last year that wasn’t at Tate Modern was a good selection of Tambellini’s Black Paintings, so these really do need to be shown sometime soon in London….

And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!

About mistertrippy

Stewart Home was born in south London in 1962. His mother Julia Callan-Thompson was a showgirl and club hostess. He has never held down a regular job for more than a few months at a time. On those rare occasions when he's been forced to work, Home has taken employment as a factory labourer, agricultural labourer, shop assistant, office clerk and art class model. Deciding he didn't like working in factories as a teenager, Home pursued cultural and political interests, writing many books and participating in even more gallery exhibitions.
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20 thoughts on “Aldo Tambellini At Tate Modern

  1. Chus Martinez says:

    I should have gone to that instead of Frieze! Doh!

  2. Michael Roth says:

    I am not familiar with Tambellini so I checked out Black TV on Ubuweb. I also tracked down his website and will explore the other video pieces later. I’m sure that they would have a greater impact seeing them on a larger screen and with everything else going on at the same time. Sounda like a groovy time was had by all!

  3. The Man in the Iron Mask says:

    Real life is elsewhere (Rimbaud). Sorry to have missed out on the performance – sounds very interesting, particularly the Power Tools… There is a band of this name (with Sonny Sharrock and Ronald Shannon Jackson) – worth checking out if only for their version of UNCHAINED MELODY.

  4. Ron Vautier says:

    So which is better, lettrist cinema, the neo-baroque mixed media happening of the monocausal flux event?

  5. mistertrippy says:

    Ron one of these isn’t necessarily better than the other – it depends on the individual piece and the mood and tastes of the viewer…..

    @ Michael Roth – there were also some Tambellini films on YouTube but Ubu may have them all covered… and I haven’t checked to see if they are still there… But yes best to see them at one of his happenings….

    @ MITIM – Will check out Unchained Melody by Power Tools in due course…. thanks for the tip. I like the work Sunny Sharrock did with Herbie Mann including of course Memphis Underground…..

  6. Karen Eliot says:

    Aldo Tambellini is a groove sensation!

  7. The Man in the Iron Mask says:

    Groove sensation: it’s a phrase used by ‘deep topographer’ Nick Papadimitriou. Is Karen Eliot being ventriloquised? Has KE being doing a module in psycho-geography – perhaps even teaching one?

  8. Chus Martinez says:

    If Nick Papadimitriou is a straight man he can’t be trusted – only those who aren’t male and/or straight could have any idea what a groove sensation is!

  9. Maurice Allwood says:

    But had the installed a sprung floor for the dancer – you mention the concrete being a problem for dancers in a previous blog.

  10. mistertrippy says:

    No The Tanks still had that hard concrete floor – Daliah Touré coped with this far better than the dancer I saw perform at the opening of The Tanks, Touré was really impressive. However perhaps this hard surface expalins why Black Zero wasn’t filled with improvised dance as it was when I saw it restaged at Chelsea Museum last year…. the dancer had already completely battered her joints and ligaments doing Moondial…

    @ TMITIM – Nick Papadimitriou is ventriloquising me when he uses ‘groove sensation’ in Scarp, this being a catch-phrase I’ve been using on social media sites like MySpace and Facebook for years.

    @ Chus Martinez – if you can’t trust Nick Papadimitriou over this, then I’m to be trusted even less…..

  11. Steve Smith says:

    I thought Aldo Tambellini was an Italian racing driver until I read this blog….

  12. The Man in the Iron Mask says:

    All of a sudden the world is a better place: knowing that Papadimitriou is being ventriloquised and not doing the ventriloquising… That said, he deserves our pity because he is championed by Will Self.

  13. Ed Emmery says:

    Why not call what Tambellini does expanded cinema? That’s the way I’d describe it.

  14. mistertrippy says:

    You can call it expanded cinema or happening – I don’t think the choice of term is that important. I felt the Tate Tanks restaging of Black Zero could happily be called expanded cinema, but that the Chelsea Museum version I saw a year earlier is better served by the term happening. So I stuck with happening because that seemed to best fit the first restaging I saw.

    @MITIM – yes I think Self championing Papadimitriou does Papadimitriou a real disservice!

  15. Lucy Johnson says:

    Thanks!

  16. Dave W. says:

    Tambellini may have stayed outside the institution of art in the 1960s but he’s smack bang in the middle of it now! To reuse a detourned phrase played back against another cultural renegade: Tambellini may think he’s the image of the people but he’s the absolute bourgeois!

  17. mistertrippy says:

    Dave, have you always been this boring or is it just something you’ve got into lately?

  18. I guess you didn’t go into details on a lot of stuff because it is on Tambellini’s website. But for those that haven’t been there check this out from that site!

    In March 1967, using the large space above the Gate Theatre, Otto Piene and I founded The Black Gate Theatre, the first “Electromedia” Theatre in New York City. I painted with black the 3 inch thick wooden platform covering the floor. Someone volunteered to make black cushions which were placed on the platform and used by the audience to sit on. The space had three large, rectangular pillars. The walls were painted white. The room had no lighting facilities but had plenty of AC outlets in which one could plug numerous projectors. This room was to be considered an open space for experimentation by the artists working with the new media for Performances and Installations. Carman Moore from The Village Voice, after a visit to the Black Gate in 1968, wrote, “The vibrations of the Black Gate room seem to be about thinking.”

    Otto Piene and I opened the first Black Gate Program with “BLACKOUT” which was the simultaneous showing of my hand-painted film projected slightly out of synch and four carousel projectors zooming lumagrams of concentric circles continuously onto the environment, covering the entire wall. Otto Piene’s “THE PROLIFERATION OF THE SUN” was a series of hand-painted slides projected around the room as the audience sat on the floor. The program notes given to the audience included Otto’s description of his presentation and I included a series of philosophical statements such as “blackout—man does not need his eyes but to function with 13 billion cells in his brain.”

    Future programs had performances by, to name a few: Nam June Paik who performed without the use of video and Charlotte Moorman who zipped herself inside a bag and played the cello; Kosuki, made an installation experimenting with radio sound; the Group USCO with Gert Stern and Jud Yalkut did an installation projecting on balloon screens; Preston McClanahan used light and fog for an installation which surprisingly was visited by anthropologist Margaret Mead; Jergen Klaus brought an evening of short German films on conceptual and other German artists including an early work by Hans Haaker shot on a Berlin Street. Carman Moore in The Village Voice in 1968 talks about a visit to the Black Gate: “I dropped in on a rehearsal of composer Jacques Beckaert’s (from France) piece of tape, viola, and voice last Saturday. Composer-violinist David Behrman owned the electronic equipment and was whipping out just the right box with the right switch to get the right sound all afternoon. An Intense work of strong musicality and social statement on the black man’s plight seemed in the making.”

  19. Tom Hodgkinson says:

    Didn’t Kazimir Malevich already do black paintings (as well as white ones) way before Tambellini?

  20. Fred Dellar says:

    Sounds like Tambellini is happening!