Take the no out of now

Gerd Stern in 2000

Gerd Stern — poet, multimedia artist, performer, 1960s Happenings guy — visited the Writers House in September of 2000. (Gerd was one of the founders of “USCO,” a group of artists, engineers and poets creating multi-media performances and environments which toured U.S. museum and university venues during the 1960s.) He gave me this magnet (see image above) that night. For more about this amazing event in the now 20-year history of KWH, go here: http://writing.upenn.edu/wh/archival/events/2000/stern-gerd.php .

The painters, engineers, poets and sculptors who formed USCO worked out of an old church in Garnerville, New York in the 1960s. Their work included images, sound, and technology executed by a community of participants, some living at the church, and others in various parts of the country and world. What they produced became the subject of a considerable body of journalism and critique. During the late sixties some members of USCO initiated the Lama Foundation in New Mexico. A number of others helped found the Intermedia Systems Corporation in Cambridge, Mass.

When the Thoepe Intermedia Gallery presented its exhibit “From USCO through Intermedia, 1962-1979” (1979), one of the pieces shown was “NO OW NOW,” a contraction of an USCO mantra (“take the no out of now — then — take the ow out of now — then - take the then out of now — then —”). The work was an electro-mechanical mantric device, with manual and automatic modes, utilizing the basic, Our Time Base Is Real USCO timing circuit. A limited editions of three pieces of NO OW NOW were on display, made of IBM surplus parts. Another piece of kinetic sculpture shown at the Thorpe Gallery in 1979 was “Monolog to Digital” (“if you can't count don't blow”), a voice operated assemblage of first-generation solid-state counting modules, dated 1966.

A sampling of USCO productions:

  • psychadelic posters and other graphics;
  • various kinds of machines and electronic devices, such as strobe lights and programming units;
  • electronic audio-visual aids, such as a counting unit for the New York production of Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park;
  • kinetic artistic-informational displays, such as a much-appreciated media-mix about the Lower East Side for New York's Jewish Museum and the Smithsonian Institution;
  • miscellaneous sound and light effects for all kinds of pacifist benefits;
  • an elegant kinetic meditational tabernacle for their own house;
  • consultation in environment creation, including what one critic called "hyped-up rooms intended for psychiatric purposes."

During his Writers House visit, Stern read from a set of eight Conch Tales with drawings (silk-screened) by David Weinrib.