Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Exploding Plastic Inevitable - 50 Years Ago

The 60s were a big coming out party on both sides of the Atlantic; at long last the subterranean avant-garde were right there in your face, and there was nothing you could do about it. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Andy Warhol’s multi/intermedia production, premiered at the Dom, a downtown (NY) Polish meeting hall, in April 1966—the same month the artist showed his cow wallpaper at the Castelli Gallery uptown. At its height, the EPI featured musical performances by the Velvet Underground and Nico, while Warhol films such as Eat, Sleep, Blow Job and Vinyl were projected on multiple screens. A mirrored ball hung from the ceiling reflecting lighting overlaid by colored slides with patterned cut-outs, all changed by hand. The addition of strobe lighting, smoke effects and Gerard Malanga and Ingrid Superstar dancing on stage (not to mention the gyrations of the crowd), all contributed to a “shocking” multisensory experience never seen before.

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The EPI stemmed from Warhol's experimentation with the world of rock music and intermedia performances. As early as 1963, Andy was in the midst of forming a rock band called the Druds with Patty and Claes Oldenberg, Jasper Johns, Walter De Maria, La Monte Young, and Larry Poons. The project, albeit short-lived, demonstrated Warhol's early experimentation with multimedia. In the fall of 1964, Warhol collaborated with La Monte Young on an installation for the Second Annual New York Film Festival. The installation was ill-received, called a “festival side-show” by critics and eventually shown without Young’' loud and imposing soundtrack.

Barbara Rubin and Gerard Malanga introduced Warhol to the Velvet Underground in late 1965 at a performance at Café Bizarre. He decided to become their manager, allowing them to practice at The Factory and placed Nico, a striking German model, actress, and singer, just newly arrived in New York, as their frontwoman. "She was mysterious and European, a real moon goddess type."

The Velvet's initial performance, billed as "Andy Warhol Up-Tight," was at the annual New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry dinner at the Delmonico Hotel in January 1966. It included the Velvet Underground and Nico with Gerard Malanga and Edie Sedgwick dancing on stage. Filmmakers Barbara Rubin and Jonas Mekas rushed into the crowd, shoving flood lights and cameras into the faces of the stunned attendees, asking questions such as "Is his penis big enough?" and "What does her vagina feel like?"

The first public performances of what was advertised as Andy Warhol’s New Disco­Flicka­Theque began in the East Village in April 1966. Eventually, the name  morphed into the Erupting Plastic Inevitable and finally the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, creating a complete auditory, synesthetic experience. Subsequent presentations that spring took place in Los Angeles at the Trip, a nightclub the sheriff closed on the third day due to aberrant behavior and drug use, and in San Francisco at the Fillmore Auditorium, where it was not enthusiastically received. The east coast just didn’t translate well to the laid-back California ideology. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable was not a success, nor was it seen by many, but its influence remains legendary. 




Warhol: I'd usually watch from the balcony or take my turn at the projectors, slipping different colored gelatin slides over the lenses and turning movies like Harlot, The Shoplifter, Couch, Banana, Blow Job, Sleep, Empire, Kiss, Whips, Face, Camp, Eat, into all different colors. Stephen Shore and Little Joey and… Danny Williams would take turns operating the spotlights while Gerard (Malanga) and Ronnie (Tavel) and Ingrid (Superstar) and Mary Might (Woronov) danced sadomasochistic style with the whips and flashlights and the Velvets played and the different colored hypnotic dot patterns swirled and bounced off the walls and the strobes flashed and you could close your eyes and hear cymbals and boots stomping and whips cracking and tambourines sounding like chains rattling.

A visit to the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is an opportunity to at least partially explore the atmosphere created at the EPI shows. There's a bombardment of the senses with the Velvets loud in the background and images like the ones above surrounding the room. It's cleaner and nicer than the original, maybe a little anticeptic (I'm sure The Trip smelled of urine), but squint a little, slump over in a chair or lose yourself - it's almost like being there.