Vasulka Archive
Steina and Woody Vasulka

Origins of The Kitchen

For those who know The Kitchen in its current space, we would like to add a few notes on its origin, location and operation from spring 1971 to fall 1973.The "Old Kitchen" was located at the Mercer street entrance of the Broadway Central Hotel in the Mercer Art Center, a conglomerate of theaters adapted from the catering rooms and ballrooms of the hotel. Our space was a former kitchen. The termination of the Mercer Art Center was the total collapse of the Broadway Central Hotel in August of '73. Shortly before this catastrophe, the directorship had been transferred to Bob Stearns, and the "New Kitchen" moved to its current location on Wooster Street. The "Old Kitchen" was formulated through contributions of many people, namely Andy Mannik, Sia and Michael Tschudin, Rhys Chatham, Shridar Bapat, Dimitri Devyatkin and later by Jim Burton and Bob Stearns, all of whom helped run the daily operations and programming. A particular credit for the three annual festivals: The Video Festival, The Computer Festival and The Women's Video Festival, should be given to Shridhar, Dimitri and Susan Milano respectively. Howard Wise, through "Electronic Arts Intermix," provided for us the administrative umbrella, without which we could not have existed. Eventually, the funding by the State Council on the Arts helped to secure the rent and further our continuation. Since we started working with video we knew we had an audience. People would gather in our home. Friends, and friends of friends would come almost daily. The transition became inevitable. We had to go from a private place, our loft, to a public one. In many ways, we liked the Mercer Arts Center. It was culturally and artistically a polluted place. It could do high art and it could produce average trash. We were interested in certain decadent aspects of America, the phenomena of the time: underground rock and roll, gay theater and the rest of that 'illegitimate' culture. In the same way we were curious about more puritanical concepts of art inspired by McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller. It seemed a strange and united front - against the establishment. The music, in particular, carried a similar kind of schism. On the one hand, it was technological, represented by people working with synthesizers or certain structural investigations of sound - on the other hand, it was an almost theatrical rejection of established musical performing conventions. It was difficult to separate these tendencies within new music. Our personal interest was in performing video. Very soon we understood the generic relationship of video to other electronic arts, and this realization became our guiding policy. To us, it was difficult to become an establishment. We did not want to administer, or have an office, or even a phone. There was a pay phone by the door. Our idea of programming was not to select or curate, but to mediate and accommodate - no one was turned down and no one was served either, since there was no staff. The people that were around were creative artists and colleagues. The performers would bring their own crew, their own equipment and their own audience. At the end of the evening the audience would help stack chairs and sweep the floor. Some artists insisted on showing for free, but if there was a donation, the artist had a choice to collect it, split it or leave it to us. Almost everybody let us keep the proceeds, which paid for the monthly calendar and petty cash. It was this loose administrative arrangement that let people participate spiritually in the directorship. If there was any virtue in our arrangement, it was the participation. Once a place is well administered, it becomes a victim of its own well-working. It includes or excludes, seeks its hierarchy of qualities and eventually becomes an established idea, not always able to permeate with the needs of time. There is a self-preserving instinct within every creative person; preferring the sense of creative freedom to being bound to a successful model. Every instinct within the daily operation is superbly important. The Kitchen was only as successful as the artist of that particular day. It was reborn every 24 hours. Of course, there were catastrophes only an environment creatively secure can afford them. We would not have had a telepathic concert from Boston if the event was being advertised months in advance and the artist was getting a fee. The impulse to create a concept such as The Kitchen should not be perceived as an administrative fundraising initiative. Looking back, we lived in a unique situation when an alternate cultural model had culminated into an ability to perform its content - whatever that meant. Suddenly it was ready and eager to express itself. We went into this venture with a simple and innocent belief that this activity, so relevant to us, also was of interest to others. As two newcomers, we were lucky to observe and participate so intensely in the bizarre culture of that time.

Buffalo NY, 1977