Oral History Interview with Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, September 6 and October 9, 2007
Oral history interview with Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, September 6 and October 9, 2007
This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission. Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, 2007 Sept.6- Oct. 9, Art Spaces Archives Project (AS-AP) and Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Interview with Peter Cramer and Jack Waters
Conducted by Liza Kirwin
At the Artists' home office in New York City, New York
September 6, 2007 and October 9, 2007
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Peter Cramer and Jack Waters on September 6, 2007 and October 9, 2007. The interview took place at the artists' home office in New York City, New York, and was conducted by Liza Kirwin for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. This interview was funded by Art Spaces Archives Project (AS-AP).
Peter Cramer, Jack Waters, and Liza Kirwin have reviewed the transcript and have made corrections and emendations. The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.
Liza Kirwin: This is Liza Kirwin. I'm with Peter Cramer and Jack Waters at their home -
Peter Cramer: Our home office.
Liza Kirwin: Your home office. And this is an interview for Art Spaces Archives Project [AS-AP] as well as for the Archives for American Art, and it's funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. So, we thank them, first off. It's - what's the date today? September -
Peter Cramer: Sixth.
Liza Kirwin: - sixth, 2007. And this is the first session. I just wanted to begin with both of you talking a little bit about your early lives; where you were born, where you went to school what brought you to New York initially. So maybe start with Peter.
Peter Cramer: Okay, well, I was born in Bennington, Vermont. Our family lived in Massachusetts and my father was a state representative from Berkshire County. We ended up moving to the Virgin Islands because of his association with Jack Kennedy and spent most of my childhood there until I went away to Deerfield Academy. And then, took one year of studies at Skidmore College, studying with Melissa Hayden, who had just retired from the New York City Ballet and then moved to Washington when she decided that she couldn't get the fine arts department to be in charge of dance. It was still part of physical-ed there at Skidmore.
So I moved to Washington and worked at the Kennedy Center and at restaurants and continued my dance training there. And in the summer of '78, I was accepted to come to New York to study at the School of American Ballet for their summer session and have been in New York ever since. I continued studying with Margaret Craske, who was the proponent of the [Enrico] Cecchetti Technique.
Liza Kirwin: How do you spell that?
Peter Cramer: Double C, double H - or no - double C, double T. C-E-C - Cecchetti. I don't know. I'd have to check. [Laughs]
Liza Kirwin:All right.
Peter Cramer: You have to Google Enrico Cecchetti. He was one of the foremost teachers of the Italian school as it was handed down from Carlo Blasis. And she had actually studied with him and she was one of the teachers that at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. And then she had her own studio. It was part of the Manhattan School of the Dance and worked with various small companies. And then in 1981, I met Jack. We were both performing with this company downtown called the Battery Dance Company and we've been together ever since.
Once Jack staged his dancer strike - [laughs] - for, not only better wages, but Jack had been promised like choreographic opportunities within the company and they weren't really forthcoming, particularly. So we formed our own company called POOL, Performance On One Leg, and started performing in night clubs and outdoor spaces, galleries, and through that association with that milieu, particularly around the Pyramid Club here in New York on Avenue A and Jack's association with a colleague.
His fellow student, Brian Taylor, was also a part of POOL, and we did a show at ABC No Rio, called the "Seven Days of Creation," which was seven days, continuously 24 hours of art, music, dance, film. Anything goes; anything happened. And that was - our initial - my initial introduction to ABC No Rio. I had never been there before. Our friends Brad Taylor and Carl George made contact with the then directors, Alan Moore, Rebecca Howland, and Robert Goldman, known as Bobby G.
And they're the ones that setup the show and since we were all part of this great milieu of artists, we did that; it was very successful and really brought a lot of people back to it because it seemed at the time - this is now 1983, and the Colab [Collaborative Projects, an artists'group] had started the gallery from the action of the "Real Estate Show." And then, you know, the generations and, you know, it was now three years later and it seemed like there was kind of a drop off in activities or even interest with some of the original artists.
So they were actually anxious to find new blood and they offered the directorship to Carl, initially, and Carl was not interested. And so -
Liza Kirwin: Carl who?
Peter Cramer: Carl George, who's actually -
Jack Waters: He was part of our collective.
Liza Kirwin: Oh.
Peter Cramer: Yes, this is actually his studio that we use as our -
Peter Cramer: [Laughs] - creative workspace.
Liza Kirwin: Your office.
Peter Cramer: The office and whatever, artist residence. So it was offered to us and at the time, I had lost my apartment on 9th Avenue and Jack, I think, had been, you know - I don't know exactly where. I think he was still living in Brooklyn but we all sort of ended up by the Taylors, Brad and Brian's up on 47th Street and then, you know, so we're sort of couch surfing. And when that happened, they said, oh, well you can - you know, we can't pay you but you can live in the basement. [Laughter.] So we said, oh, okay. That sounds like workable.
Jack Waters: So it was a live-in proposition.
Liza Kirwin: So Jack, maybe we could begin with your little bit of biographical information about where you were born and your educational background and what brought you to New York.
Jack Waters: Well, I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and am a product of a family that were jazz aficionados and also very interested in progressive politics. And so I had a lot of artists and musicians in my home. Lots of Latin music, folk, and jazz and blues, bluegrass-type of stuff. Painters and stuff like that. And studied trumpet when I was very young, but then my interest also went towards dance and I gravitated, especially towards an area that was highly influenced by a German expressionist field called - well, that was influenced by a choreographer Mary Wigman. And she and her associate, Rudolf Laban, had established an area of dance that was very closely associated to what we would now call multidisciplinary and that was not pure dance but word, art, and installation, visual elements and projections would be as prominent as the body as media.
And in addition to that, I also studied influences of Martha Graham and eventually came here to New York to attend Julliard. And so I studied at Julliard, studied primarily [Jos?] Lim? and then mentored with a woman named Anna Sokolow, who was known among other things as being one of the early proponents of the musical "Hair" and also did a lot of dramatic and theatrical-based movement works.
And after Julliard, I continued my interest in dance. I was always interested in dance as a creative art and traditionally dance is taught as an interpretive art. So composition and choreography were always very important to me and I choreographed for my earliest training. And like the early moderns, creating dance was as important to the medium as performing the works of others. And through that, I made associations early on with Brian Taylor, who is a classmate of mine, and we formed a collective called POOL, which Peter described. And our whole premise was that we were not going to be hierarchical or singularly based but that we would perform each other's works as well as generate works collaboratively.
And along that point, Peter and I did meet because I was performing professionally with the dance company - Battery Dance Company. And we, along with Joan Karlen and Brian, Peter and myself, formed POOL and started performing in nightclubs during the early '80s, which at that time, was very vibrant in that the whole era of house music and really - formulaic entertainment - and hadn't quite set in. It was just after a period of Studio 54, when the Warhol Silver Factory and a lot of bohemian circles were still influential in the nightclub scene in New York City.
So you could actually do concert performances in a club and do classical music and this is what our early club work was like. Then we started to gravitate to more cabaret style but then we also started to do interdisciplinary work and especially because Peter had been associated with a group of people who were doing a club that was involved with changing themes called Area. And so setting and installation was highly influenced into a lot of our work as a collective started to gravitate away from pure dance and into more visual art and what's now called performance art. And yes, about that time, we did our "Seven Days of Creation" show, which was watershed and we became associated with Colab. And it was really a natural baton passing because Colab's interest in social-progressive art was in sync with ours. And really for that reason, they thought that we would be the likely group to carry on the work that they had established with ABC No Rio. At that point, a lot of the founders of ABC No Rio dealing with Colab members were moving on to more traditional art world activities.
They were going into galleries and so forth. And so, we kind of crossed over. Peter and I became members of Colab and were lucky to be a part of that and have their guidance as we started to transition ABC No Rio from more primarily visual arts to incorporating film and performance art, along with continuing the visual art tradition at ABC No Rio.
Liza Kirwin: Could you describe that first performance project that you did at ABC No Rio?
Jack Waters: Well, it was "Seven Days of Creation" and we took that as - because in those days, you know, themed shows were very popular and so we thought was catchy and we also thought the idea of taking one week would be a good idea. Doing something short and concise. So each day of the exhibition, the artist or group of artists changed. The entire installation changed. And the work that was performed and exhibited there was all related. We took artists that we had met from the club circuit, primarily with the Pyramid Club, which was kind of our second operating base before No Rio.
And then also, we had a very strong pedagogical bent and so we made contacts with the local elementary school. It think it was the -
Peter Cramer: The Anna Silver [school]. I think it's PS 40 . It's on Essex Street [166 Essex Street]. And we met a lovely woman there that helped us - I mean, it was - the "Seven Days of Creation" revolved around, you know, Easter. It was actually, I think, overlapping with - it went from Good Friday to Easter or something.
Jack Waters: Something like that. I think it was actually, yes, in April. I think April.
Peter Cramer: It sort of -
Liza Kirwin: A Holy Week.
Peter Cramer: Yes, it turned out to be. It was at the same time as Holy Week, so some of those themes reflected that. But the things - we went into the classroom and we did things with giant eggs and making chickens. I think I had done a chicken performance at the Jane West Hotel for Des Refus? and Club Armageddon. And so I went over there in a costume.
Liza Kirwin: In a chicken costume?
Peter Cramer: Yes, I had made like a big chicken head and I was sort of like a combination of the chicken being born because I had sort of like this plastic that was sort of symbolic of the egg white and a yellow, runny sheet that was supposed to be the egg yolk and - [laughter] - I think we hatched out of an egg for that.
Jack Waters: So we had the school pleased and we were able to translate the work that we were doing in the nightclub scene to things that were interesting and appropriate.
Liza Kirwin: Did you invite people to participate each day? How did you organize it?
Peter Cramer: Well, we were just one of the groups. I think pretty much we were the sort of the organizing group but other curators were invited and they curated artists -
Jack Waters: It was a kind of snowballing effect because the East Village, at that time, was a very dense community of interrelated activity. So you had like a downtown club scene:. people who are artists and artistic. So basically what we would do - it was a very social process. So each day, we would either invite an artist to do whatever they wanted, which would include curating their day.
So one day, the Anna Silver day was something we had done as a group. It was Peter, myself, Brad Taylor, his brother Brian, Carl George - we were the new -
Peter Cramer: Gordon.
Jack Waters: Gordon Kurtti. There were like six or seven people who were really the nucleus, but then it kind of spread out. There was Christa Gamper, who at that time, was part of our POOL performing collective after we had segued pure dance into a more - and then there were people - Arlene Schloss, who had a studio on Broome Street that she called A's Salon [A-Space at 330 Broome Street] and she had worked with George Moore, who is the son of Reverend Patrick Moore from St. John the Divine. And they turned -
Peter Cramer: Collaborated. I don't think it's Patrick but it's Reverend Moore of St. John's. Patrick is the writer.
Jack Waters: They collaborated with Michael Keane and they had been running a series of events by the time we came on the scene, was at the Jane West Hotel. They call it Hotel Armageddon. But they also carried it at The Kitchen. I think Michael had started the first exhibition space at Westbeth, where he lived. And then Arlene, who had come from a Bauhaus tradition, I think, she had, like in the last few years, had been at the DAAD in Berlin [artists-in-residence program].
And so, they were also a very strong influence and also resource for us because there was that whole scene. So there were all of these overlapping scenes that were happening and so when we came to ABC No Rio, we were kind of like the nucleus that was able to attach to these other scenes. So that's what the "Seven Days of Creation" basically was, was providing a physical space for all of these different people, who, you know, were ostensibly diverse. Eric Bogosian, who is doing performance art and now is an actor. Steve Buscemi, who had been part of the A's/Refus? [a conjunction used in promotional material and in verbal descriptions of the collaborative entrepreneurship of Arleen Schoss's A's Salon (or A-Space, etc.) and Michael Keane and George Moore's Des Refuses: A's/Des Refus?] 99 Days performance [the reference is to the "99 nights of Performance" at the Storefront for Art and Architecture], I think, had a day at the "Seven Days of Creation." So it was kind of like a very - what would you call it? Just a fertile ground of activity and we ordered by - you know, the seven day structure was basically our ordering structure. And then, each individual or group was given that 24-hour period and at the end of that period, the entire installation changed.
Liza Kirwin: Wow. Do you mean like the first day there was light? That kind of thing?
Jack Waters: No, it wasn't biblical. We didn't care about -
Peter Cramer: Yes there was - not biblical but in the sense of like the performance that we did or that I remember choreographing - not so much choreographing, but the staging was, you know, this whole sort of cosmos beginning where we're sort of all in black and everything is black and we're light very secretly as much as we can. What do you call them? Sparkles. So suddenly like plume, there are these sparklers and then suddenly the sparklers are separating and swirling around. And so the whole idea of creation is we're very much a part of the opening.
Jack Waters: Yes, so we were thinking about the idea of religion and spirituality but not limiting it to a Christian perspective, except in as much as we're coming from this Western perspective, where our calendar is divided within these seven day, 24-hour periods. So yes, some people will take that approach. And for, I think, POOL took day one -
Peter Cramer: Right, I think that was Good Friday.
Jack Waters: Well, yes.
Liza Kirwin: Who were the members of POOL at that moment when you -
Jack Waters: Well, it's a moot point because the idea of compartmentalization.
Peter Cramer: Because there was an open, collective so people come in and out.
Liza Kirwin: Oh, okay.
Jack Waters: We eschewed that.
Liza Kirwin: Okay.
Jack Waters: But the core members of POOL were essentially at dance training, had formal - Christa [Gamper] had also come from this Wigman tradition, who we met at the club. We met Christa at Armageddon. Peter [Cramer], Brian [Taylor], and myself would be the core members of POOL but then Carl, who had a very strong design and visual sense, would do our costumes. Brad, who was coming out of that kind of a ritual, witchy kind of perspective, as well as his brother Brian.
Peter Cramer: Right, they were very influenced by Aleister Crowley and the whole magic tradition. But it comes from, I think, really influenced San Francisco but also was kind of in line with Madam Blavatsky and that whole interest in the occult that happened earlier in America in, I guess it was maybe the early teens or the early 20s or something.
Jack Waters: So there were these ties that were both social and creative. Brad and Brian were brothers. Brian had gone to Julliard with me so he was dance trained. Brad did not have formal training but he was, at that time, an electrician and also had skills in construction. So Brad was a very strong support with our set building and then Carl would do costumes for us and then we would also bring them into the fold, in terms of physically performing.
Peter Cramer: Right, we all did. I think we did that initial thing, that sort of creative thing all together and then each of us kind of did our own little pieces. I did one called Black Spring, which was based on the Henry Miller text about this is the spring that Jesus sang, the sponge to his lips, the frogs dancing. It was Miller's statement about the nuclear threat at the time and I kind of emerge from the trapdoor. Just kind of been a butohesque thing and then got all covered in paint and was drowning in that.
Christa had met a fellow named Jonathan Prosser and they had made this thing called Laceration team. Jonathan had been a part of the Swans, which was a heavy metal, not really called metal.
Jack Waters: They were like John Cale, noise-based band. That I think would have been influenced by [John] Cage but with a more hard -
Peter Cramer: Oh, yes, totally industrial. It was like an industrious side.
Jack Waters: Industrial, you know.
Peter Cramer: I can't remember the German band that - what is it? Einstrzende Neubauten? I can't remember.
Jack Waters: But they were very eclectic. I was very interested post-structuralist practices and so I was doing a series that I called form and meaning, where I was juxtaposing content against formal composition. So I was doing as opposed to Peter's work with tar and visceral material, was doing these very dry formal studies using movement structures in the way that Merce Cunningham would do with his balletic cannon. But taking my vocabulary from a modernist tradition and at the same time taking texts from some of the - what was it, the Cahiers du cin?ma circle. The people who -
Peter Cramer: Right, or someone like Sally Banes.
Jack Waters: Sally Banes.
Peter Cramer: Was writing at the -
Jack Waters: was writing about performance art. You know, what is performance art? So we were -
Peter Cramer: That other seminal book.
Jack Waters: So I was kind of taking this more intellectual approach, which was something that was happening, also, at the time, you know, I guess, like in the alternative space; PS 1, PS 122 circles.
Liza Kirwin: When was your first awareness of ABC No Rio?
Jack Waters: 1993.
Liza Kirwin: Really? That was it.
Peter Cramer: That was it. Yes, that was it.
Liza Kirwin: And who was your contact there? Was it Alan or -
Peter Cramer: It was -
Jack Waters: Well, Bradley Eros. Aline Mare worked together with Bradley Eros. They were a couple and they worked together as the Erotic Psyche. Brad Taylor had known them in San Francisco and Hawaii. So when we told them about this idea that we wanted to do, they said, oh, ABC No Rio. And so Bradley and Aline introduced us to the whole No Rio. So Bradley and Aline were, you know, were involved with the Colab circle at that time.
Liza Kirwin: And how did you make the transition from performing there to managing there or being so involved in the place? I wouldn't say managing, but
Peter Cramer: Well, it was like crisis management because the building was in such a dire condition and not only where the gallery was, but situationally with the neighborhood and the neighbors upstairs and -
Liza Kirwin: Can you describe the position that it was in at the time that you first went to ABC No Rio?
Peter Cramer: Well, when we arrived they had the - they had the basement. There was a whole backyard that Rebecca Howland had done her Brainwash sculpture and it was a cement sculpture. And it was quite elaborate.
Jack Waters: It was a circulating fountain that traced the economic process of energy.
Peter Cramer: The geological to geological to economic development of oil.
Jack Waters: From strip mining to oil processing; it was concrete done with concrete mold and fiber.
Peter Cramer: And so, the major wall was like a geological bas-relief.
Jack Waters: Circulating fountain.
Peter Cramer: Like a slice of land type of thing in that it trickled down across a brain and then went into pools that had, they were surrounded by machine guns made out of concrete.
Jack Waters: So that was the backyard. That took up the -
Peter Cramer: These flaming turrets that were marked Exxon Mobil.
Jack Waters: And then, the interior space, there was a big barrel which was the heating, it was the furnace.
Peter Cramer: Oh, right. They had taken an oil drum, turned it sideways, and made it into a furnace.
Liza Kirwin: What, like a wood-burning stove?
Peter Cramer: Yeah, exactly, like a wood-burning stove.
Jack Waters: I think the show that had been - oh, there was still remnants of the "Suburbia" show when we came in because I think there were still wisps of the insulation that -
Peter Cramer: Brad Melamed?
Jack Waters: Well, I think Brad Melamed, but - a black artist who -
Peter Cramer: Joe Lewis.
Jack Waters: Joe Lewis I think had done for the previous show; I think it was Suburbia. So that's what - oh, and the installation at No Rio, there would always be a residue left from a previous installation. And it was not spoken, but one would incorporate into what was coming next so that, rather than being an out-and-out change, things would kind of morph into the next.
Peter Cramer: Right, the walls were very used and roughly plastered. There was a long, blue table that was pretty much a big work table for everybody. And then, there was the front wall of the gallery, it was glass, so you could look out onto Rivington Street. And then, there was a platform coming out of that which was the stage area. I think there was a bathroom at the top?
Jack Waters: There was a makeshift water closet. There was the toilet that is still there actually, not the same one, but the same makeshift structure. And yeah, the walls would by and large be modeled because people would generally do things to surface the walls. And one would or would not just slap a coat of paint over it. So the walls had a tendency to take this texture that was definitely not flat or smooth by any means. And yeah, I remember there was a piece of graffiti that stayed for years and years. I - what was it - something about TV, like I hate TV. It was a heart, with a heart exed out of it. Do you remember that? [Laughter.]
Peter Cramer: But there were certain areas where there were leaks that were coming from either the upstairs neighbors -
Jack Waters: The leak, the eternal leak -
Peter Cramer: There was a shaft that went down the length of the building from the fourth floor.
Jack Waters: There was the eternal leak and the eternal winter cold. You know, the wind would very literally whistle through -
Peter Cramer: Right, it had a back window. It was kind of like a French window; they were like 12-foot windows that had a gate in front of it there which I guess they opened. But there was a big gate. And above that was a landing for the apartment - what would you call it? Just like a drain, drain area that was also causing problems. So there would be times when it rained when you would literally have a waterfall.
Jack Waters: You would never know when you would have this waterfall flooding effect happen.
Peter Cramer: And the basement was, when we arrived, there was a sort of a makeshift shelf area that they had been storing accumulated artworks for different projects you know that -
Liza Kirwin: These were things that were abandoned there?
Jack Waters: No, they were not abandoned.
Peter Cramer: Well, yeah.
Jack Waters: No, no, no. Alan [Moore], if you look at some of the emails that we've accumulated, if you look at the e-mail that we've accumulated just since we've begun, you know, since we've formalized the archiving process, we see - and I have Alan's notes - that they had intended. Alan, particularly -
Peter Cramer: Alan was the great archivist.
Jack Waters: And I don't know the others -
Peter Cramer: Alan [Moore] and Marc Miller probably were aware of that because they knew that, you know, there was a resonance to it. I think they had already planned this, the book, ABC No Rio [ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery, edited by Alan Moore and Marc Miller. New York: ABC No Rio with Collaborative Projects, 1985].
Jack Waters: They had a sense of, they had a strong sense of - and there was this kind of half-way idea that the work would possibly be useful as collateral, as a way of fundraising. So on the one hand; they knew that there was not a strong market value. But at the same time, they also knew that the artists were, even though they were very socially progressive and socially conscious and extremely critical of capitalist process, they were artists who really wanted to make their living in art. So as they were making alliance with, it was like Brooke Alexander and Jack Tilton, the various commercial galleries and the more successful venues that were, you know, established themselves in the market. They also had generated a body of work that was, if not overtly critical of art market and marketeering and real estate, and particularly real estate, were specific, were theme-specific to particular social themes like elderly care and so forth, animal shelters and so forth and so on. And so, the idea or the value of this work as a collection, as an archive, had occurred I think to Alan from the very beginning.
Peter Cramer: Well, they were certainly aware of like the whole Claes Oldenburg tradition of his Store that he had and they were well-educated in various practices of the art market.
Jack Waters: Kiki Smith was involved in the Colab circle. And because of her father [Tony Smith] and her sisters [twins, Bebe and Seton], they realized that there was also, you know, there was tradition. So they were very history-minded. And so, in the basement, when we came in, was where the early archives and visual collection -
Peter Cramer: Right, the stacks of either paintings that were left after shows that people either just left there or they actually, that they may have given them directly, I'm not certain.
Jack Waters: Sometimes, people left them. Other things people generated. Like there's a series that Kiki Smith directed that was made specifically for sale but at the same time knowing that it didn't really fit any known category of multiples. And then, there was also a Jenny Holzer series that had been done for the Colab A. More Store. So they were selling - and the Jenny Holzer series were like the early, was like an early study for what would become her Aphorisms series -
Peter Cramer: Truisms.
Jack Waters: Truisms.
Peter Cramer: So this is what was physically, you know, we were sleeping there with big, fat, well-fed rats from Streit's matzo factory next door.
Jack Waters: Luckily, we had a pit-bull. We had a brindle pitbull named Manny because the neighborhood was -
Peter Cramer: Tough.
Jack Waters: Really tough. It was heroin; it was the beginning of the crack epidemic -
Liza Kirwin: Bobby G was living there prior -
Jack Waters: Bobby G was -
Peter Cramer: Prior to us. Bobby G was in the basement before we did.
Liza Kirwin: And then, he moved upstairs.
Peter Cramer: He moved upstairs.
Liza Kirwin: Was he still upstairs when you moved downstairs, into the basement?
Peter Cramer: Yes, he stayed. He was in the building on the second floor.
Jack Waters: The first apartment was a family called the Acostas and the Acostas had been adopted in a lot of ways by Colab, you know, the founding artist. And unfortunately, we witnessed the deterioration of this family structure. But they were the second floor. And then, the other floors were basically empty.
Liza Kirwin: And you moved in there when? Do you remember?
Peter Cramer: It was the show in April and I think it was the fall of '83. I think it was the fall of '83 that we moved down there and, you know, just starting managing it. They already had a structure where Monday nights, they would have open meetings and -
Liza Kirwin: Were you attending those before you moved in?
Jack Waters: No. Our introduction to ABC No Rio was the "Seven Days of Creation" show. And it was, in my memory, I don't think it was all that long a lag. It almost seems that it was more immediate. But when we actually were formally engaged, it was, we met with Alan, Becky, and Bobby. And the only meeting that we had attended was to organize, to propose the Seven Days show. And then, after that, they said, well, we do Monday night meetings; this is where we take in ideas and proposals. And after that, you're on your own, except you must maintain Becky's fountain and you must placate the creditors, is how they wrote it. They actually wrote a little contract for us which we kept.
Liza Kirwin: And who were the creditors?
Jack Waters: Mostly the utilities, Con Ed, telephone, city of New York.
Peter Cramer: But that was because, you know, they were only offered a month-to-month lease on the space, you know, as a compromise for their action on Delancey Street.
Liza Kirwin: How much was that lease?
Jack Waters: It couldn't have been more than 125 bucks.
Peter Cramer: No, I think it was more than that.
Jack Waters: You see, this is the essence of the record. These are what the archives. I mean, the archives have all -
Liza Kirwin: They do have that?
Jack Waters: Oh yeah, yeah. And this is another thing that was something they saw in common with us was that we were packrats, that we saved - not only that we saved everything, but we organized them and that was very much in keeping with this notion of historicity.
Liza Kirwin: Even if it was a small amount, how was that money raised for the lease?
Peter Cramer: Well, I think Colab was the -
Jack Waters: NEA. We had NEA funding and we had New York State Comp. We inherited a funding base.
Liza Kirwin: Why didn't ABC No Rio become Colab's exhibition space?
Jack Waters: Because there was an avowal decision to distance themselves from ABC No Rio. There was an article that's in the book that Alan [Moore] and Marc [Miller] published that describes the attitude. But because ABC No Rio was founded by an activity that was essentially extralegal, Colab felt that it was safer to distance themselves from ABC No Rio. So although it was commonly known that ABC No Rio was the informal museum of Colab, there was no legal or formal relationship. And it was very intentional.
Peter Cramer: And also, it wasn't just seen as an exhibition space; it was really a place like a laboratory for people to come -
Liza Kirwin: You perceived it from the beginning as a community center or a culture center?
Jack Waters: Yes.
Peter Cramer: Yes, because they were doing, when you look at a lot of the drawings on paper, are all of these kids -
Jack Waters: There were a lot of children. There was also this common interest in youth and education. And you can see from the archives; there are children's drawings. And many times, you can see an adult hand in conjunction with the children's drawings. And then, when you have oral history, when you take oral histories, then you know, especially with the Acosta children, you know -
Peter Cramer: Yeah, there were also a lot of kids in the neighborhood. Because there's also a high school, the Marta Valle Junior High School [145 Stanton Street], that was another thing that once we became directors, [we] were initiating programs there through what was originally their cultural council foundation, which I think sort of transformed itself into the New York Foundation.
Jack Waters: We were acutely aware of our role as gentrifiers. And rather than take a moralistic attitude, we took a more productive attitude with saying, okay, we are like a middle-class, anglo-oriented - even though I'm African-American, my orientation is far more anglo-based than the Latino and the local community. So this idea of not usurping, on one hand, we were there because it's the only place we can afford to and we're creative individuals and we are socially conscious individuals. And so, the Colab founders, at least the consensus of Colab as we understood, we felt that it was our role and our interest to participate in a way that was not - we often refer to No Rio as a gallery. But really it was as much a workspace and an educational facility -
Peter Cramer: A work place. The way Bobby put was, it's a place not a space.
Jack Waters: ABC No Rio is a place, not a space.
Peter Cramer: So that it regarded the neighborhood that it was set in and it wasn't trying to set itself off from it.
Jack Waters: In a lot of ways, we kind of played with the idea of identity and nomenclature. I think in the phone book, the Yellow Pages, we were listed under "museums." We kind of loved that - [laughs] - but in fact, publicly, we would never represent ourselves as being exclusively or primarily an exhibition venue. So, it was a workshop and a lab. And not a lab merely for trained artists, but a lab where people who were coming from folk traditions, from naive traditions, should feel comfortable. And that was always a tension, but also a concerted effort, as to how to reconcile and resolve this idea of professionalism and upper mobility and recognition and stature and at the same time, honor and respect something that it by and large indigenous.
Peter Cramer: Right, and I think at this point, Colab had been so successful, you know, doing their art projects, that they really - between the "Times Square Show" and Jenny Holzer and well, of course, the "Real Estate Show," but things that they were doing: the Jenny Holzer thing with the truck, with one of the first moving video screens, things like that, that I think they had the feelings that they had done their community service and now, it was to get down to the business of really making art that still had all of those political and social references and reverberations, but they were more directed to taking what that publicity that was accumulated and directing it to whatever ends they -
Jack Waters: So this has become our mission with maintaining and fostering an archive because it's a very rich and very complex history of many communities and, at times, in complete philosophical and ideological opposition. So, you know, there is very often problems, problematic, but the whole idea was to not ignore or deny the problem and to be able to function and thrive, but not at the detriment of the other.
Liza Kirwin: What were the Monday meetings like, Monday night meetings? Were they contentious?
Jack Waters: They could be, some could be.
Peter Cramer: Well, yeah, maybe later on as -
Liza Kirwin: Did people from the community, the neighborhood, come?
Jack Waters: No. The neighborhood for the most part would stay away.
Peter Cramer: They just saw us as freaks, you know; they were just crazy people, artists.
Jack Waters: There were people like the kids, of course, the Acostas lived there. And so, in the beginning, you know, they got sucked into the drug scene in a very bad way. But there was Felix Perez, who had been part of the whole circle before we came. And he was from the neighborhood and in fact, he left this body of family Super-8 or actually regular eight films of Delancey Street from the early '50s through the '70s.
Peter Cramer: That's the Nelson Rockefeller and parade.
Jack Waters: Yeah. So there were a handful of neighborhood people that would hang out. But they weren't integrated. They didn't have the kind of sense of interlocking affinity that Colab or that our group did. They were not wired for the notion of art professionalism or even social service professionalism in the sense that we were. And I think my sense, from coming from a black neighborhood in west Philadelphia, although my parents I think were unusual and different - we were always around many, many different people from different groupings - my experience and observation is that people from poor and disenfranchised communities struggle to become established and secure.
And in that sense, they emulate what I consider white, middle-class values. And because what we were doing at ABC No Rio were by and large in opposition to those values, people in the neighborhood, for the most part, were not comfortable or secure with how they perceived - you know, we were kind of in complete opposition to their development, their sense of development. At the same time, there was this sense of folk, of art as a natural practice, as something that is of creativity, of something that is a human impulse.
And so, in that sense, I think there was understanding and affinity. But as a culture, as a group, we didn't have a lot of the local community.
Peter Cramer: No, there weren't a lot of Spanish artists; let's put it that way -
Jack Waters: No. It was always an effort.
Peter Cramer: Latinos or even black artists.
Jack Waters: One of the turning events, I think, that came later, you know, I guess maybe towards the end of the '80s, was when we become friends with Felix Gonzalez-Torres. And, of course, he was also coming out of Group Material and was highly conceptual and was Cuban. And Felix was always very careful not to identify himself as a Cuban artist; he was always very clear and very conscious not to identify himself as a particularly gay artist. He was very clear and conscious about not being labeled, although he addressed many of these themes in his art. But because we had incorporated a direct - by that time, we had formalized the pedagogical relationship. And because we were funded publicly, when an artist would come in, we established a commitment that they work with local youth. We actually established -
Peter Cramer: Which is actually what NYFA [New York Foundation for the Arts] does now. If you're given a fellowship, you have to do a community service.
Jack Waters: An obligation to work with the schools that we had established contact with or with the neighborhood groups, so that that was part of the exhibition or performance or screening process. And Felix had come in - next door to us was an abandoned photo studio called Gus'. And for years, for the entire time we were there, we would sort of loot these amazing photos that ranged from the '40s through the '70s. And Felix loved it. Formal portraits, he basically was like a - and this is another part of our archives is the Gus photos. And so, Felix was going to create his own photo studio, like a created history. He was going to do wedding albums. And he said, they are going to look exactly like a Puerto Rican or Dominican family album, but he was going to completely create them himself. And it was going to be kind of like a joke, you know, like an art-world joke. And we had asked him to work with the kids to explain that, like why, to explain the irony. Because when the neighborhood walked in, to their eyes, they would just be seeing -
Liza Kirwin: Puerto Rican wedding photos.
Jack Waters: Yeah, yeah. And so, Felix was very adamant about not doing that. And I always kick myself to say that that was my biggest mistake at ABC No Rio, was kind of prohibiting Felix from doing a show there, you know.
Liza Kirwin: So you didn't let him?
Peter Cramer: Well, it was up to him, really, to decide.
Jack Waters: No one was ever denied. In the Monday night meetings, people would come and they would make a proposal. And we existed as facilitators; we completely eschewed the idea that we're not curators. We did call ourselves co-directors, but we did not curate. And so, we would provide materials. We were getting funding. NEA dropped out towards Reagan's second administration, which is a whole another story. But we continued getting NYSCA [New York State Council for the Arts] funding and so, we could provide funding; we could provide various resources, and especially the tools, you know, helping people. But it was a very DIY situation. And if it was something that we were really super, super, super interested in, then we would function as administrators more actively. But if it was something that we did not particularly care for, we would just stand back and not do anything; but we never said no. Nothing was ever rejected, even at Colab.
Peter Cramer: Well, especially the ones that came physically to the meetings. I mean, once it became known as a gallery, people were sending slides and submissions to, you know, for review. And those would be brought into the meeting, too, and there would be some discussion as to whether or not they were relevant. Or what were they asking? What did they want from us?
Peter Cramer: What do you want? This is what Colab said. When we first went, when Carl-Carl, remember, I didn't go to the first meeting; it was Carl and Brad. And they came back and said, "What do you want?" And so, they were explaining the aesthetics of the "Seven Days of Creation" and we're going to get this artist and it's going to change every day. And people were kind of like, I know, but what do you want. And they'd said say, oh, we just want it to have impact; we want it to be so good. He goes, no, how much money do you want? [Laughter.] And their jaws dropped. They were like, money? You have funding? So this was a very novel idea, the idea that you were making art and getting support for it.
But by the time, like towards our end of our direction there, we were kind of doing the same process. You know, we were mandated.
Peter Cramer: We started getting into the grant-writing stuff and we also, I started initiating the actual incorporation for their own 501(c)(3) and the real establishment of a board in whatever capacity they functioned.
Jack Waters: And our in-joke was ABC No Rio, career artist stepping stone. And that was the beginning of our disillusionment and our disinterest.
Liza Kirwin: How long was your directorship at ABC No Rio?
Peter Cramer: Well, I think by '89, I had finished the, or maybe a little earlier, I finished the incorporation process.
Jack Waters: We incorporated them. It was later than that. It was later than that.
Peter Cramer: Right. But I'd say about for me, in terms of my direct involvement, 1990, I would say.
Liza Kirwin: That's quite a long time.
Jack Waters: Well, we've never disassociated because we segued from there into the history - because there had been so many diverse populations. Even at a single time, we'd have poetry projects; we'd have new music projects going on; we'd have after-hour club events. And so, what our role started to become, because it was so problematic and troublesome with the financial and the political and the legal maintenance of the organization, that we first started doing travel projects. We did a show in Hamburg which was a five-year history or like a 10-year.
Peter Cramer: That was 1990, I think.
Jack Waters: 1990. And from there -
Peter Cramer: But before that, we had gone to San Francisco to ATA [Artists' Television Access] and done sort of a travel group -
Jack Waters: We decided that we didn't want to become overburdened with the idea of physical space because we were putting so much time and energy into maintaining and keeping that it seemed to be in complete contradiction to what our philosophy was about real estate itself. And so, rather than become a burden, we set up a structure at that point where we became, essentially, like a touring group. We found another director, Lou Acierno, who became the director. And then, we also started working on their board development because we had run ABC No Rio. And the beginning was under Colab's auspices, their grants were coming through Colab's 501(c)(3).
Then, it transferred to an organization called Cultural Council Foundation, which was set up for that particular purpose. But at the time, we came to ABC No Rio, we had also incorporated a non-profit organization that was structured as an umbrella organization, not knowing that we'd come to No Rio, but knowing that we were functioning as a performing -
Liza Kirwin: And this was for POOL?
Jack Waters: This was for POOL.
Peter Cramer: Right, Allied Productions.
Jack Waters: We knew that our interest went beyond dance alone, any single medium. So it was a multipurpose umbrella organization. And so, we learned how to do fiscal - you know, we got a lot of management skills from being under the auspices of CCF [Cultural Council Founations]. And we ran ABC No Rio under Allied's auspices for a number of years.
Liza Kirwin: Allied Productions?
Jack Waters: Allied Productions. And so, there's an overlap there. There's a similar overlap of Colab, No Rio to No Rio, Allied. But at a certain point, we realized that we were not going to be instrumental in the day-to-day operation, we began to incorporate ABC No Rio so they had their legal autonomy. And the other thing that we did - we made sure that the founders, that Bobby and Becky and Alan, stayed on the board. In the beginning, it was an unincorporated board, but the Monday night meetings became more than just a kind of amorphous gathering of community people; but we actually formulated a board structure that was specific to ABC No Rio while also running Allied Productions, which had a separate board.
Liza Kirwin: Did you have by-laws and things?
Jack Waters: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Liza Kirwin: Did you first develop them or were they already in place?
Peter Cramer: Well, we worked with volunteer lawyers for the arts. They actually sheparded us through the whole process and it was all free. I think we had to pay whatever the filing fees were, but it wasn't -
Jack Waters: But we had already had Allied Productions, which was in place from - Allied was formed in 1981. And we came to No Rio in 1983.
Peter Cramer: Right, and we already had our status.
Jack Waters: Our advisors for Allied was my sister, who had worked with the director [Michelangelo] Antonioni in establishing something called the - at the time it was - the Film Fund. And now, it's the North Star Fund. And so, my sister Linda is a political and arts cultural fundraiser. And so, she helped us with structuring Allied Productions in New York. And then, we kind of maintained - it was kind of this double life in a lot of ways, multiple actually. I mean, there were so many things going on at the same time. But on the legal plane, Allied became the fiscal sponsor of ABC No Rio. And this also became a bone of contention, the transition from Colab.
I remember one of our first Monday night meetings, well, I'm kind of skipping back and forth, but the early Monday night meetings when someone came to us and said, oh, I'm so glad you're here because no one else can get a show here unless they're part of this inner circle. [Laughs.]
Liza Kirwin: You had to have Colab connections?
Jack Waters: Yeah.
Peter Cramer: Yeah, there was a certain -
Jack Waters: This was a perception. Who knows?
Peter Cramer: This was a perception - I didn't - I wasn't so aware of it at the time, but, you know, if you just look at the catalogue, you can see just the curation and the artists involved.
Liza Kirwin: Well, those were the people that they knew.
Jack Waters: I think it's natural.
Peter Cramer: Those are the people who were sort of willing to come because it really was a social milieu.
Jack Waters: But at the same time, Colab never refused anyone. The Colab never said, no, but the arguments could become intense and it was pretty clear what the power structure was and how the power dynamics were. Even though they were informal, Colab had a president; there was someone who would be elected president from time to time. But that was a moot point because the real issue was like, if you're in the family, or if you're out of the family, and what role you played in the familial structure there. So on top of the legal structure - and I think it's like with any organization - I mean, because they are a marriage, literal marriages and blood ties as well as social relations as well as the aesthetic and philosophical and ideological bonds that it was it makes it what it is.
Liza Kirwin: When you came in, what kind of energy did you bring that you felt was new, to Colab?
Peter Cramer: Well.
Liza Kirwin: I imagine they were kind of tuckered out at that point, the people who -
Peter Cramer: They were kind of tuckered out. They were doing things mostly in galleries and, you know, they were doing things outside of No Rio, too, because of Colab's history. So you know, ABC No Rio was really just another space to function in. But we, as performers and being downtown and also queer, sort of brought this whole level of performers from the Pyramid down there. And -
Jack Waters: But we wanted a more, a more -
Peter Cramer: A little more international somehow.
Jack Waters: More international, a more decided queer, gay and lesbian aesthetic, more performance-driven. We established a film program we called Naked Eye Cinema. Colab, I think, was by and large focused on visual art; they were visual artists. In fact, we came, we should talk about "Art on the Beach," because at the time, the funding and the foundation, was emphasizing this idea of interdisciplinary practice. And we had already come from this notion of not being purists in any medium.
And No Rio, they were doing, they had the cardboard bath -
Peter Cramer: Right, they did film programs. It was just, you know, I think that our bent was maybe not directly kind of as political on the face of it.
Jack Waters: We were less didactic; we have politics, but we came in with a more amorphous -
Peter Cramer: It was more, kind of, you know, definitely more kind of clubby and more colorful and you know, a little more -
Jack Waters: Our politics are definitely not as didactic. We weren't doing things that were specifically realistic. I mean, we did "U.S. out of Central America," we did, "Art Against Apartheid." You know, we were doing -
Peter Cramer: But those were all so national, national efforts.
Liza Kirwin: They weren't about playing to the Lower East Side or anything.
Jack Waters: Not as much. We were -
Peter Cramer: Not as much, but there was a metaphor for the gentrifiers in the Spanish communities as much as the United States government was in Central America. So that was quite a powerful thing that was used by many of the artists.
Jack Waters: But as an example, creative time was a very strong force at that point. And Battery City Park was still just a landfill. And so, they something called "Art on the Beach," where I guess it was '84 probably, '83 or '84. And this was part of our transition coming into No Rio still. And No Rio, the parameters for "Art on the Beach" was to pair an architect, a visual artist, and a theater person. And I think that what the Colab group had - the artist, I guess, was Kiki [Smith], Tom Otterness, Fiona Templeton was theater -
Peter Cramer: I can't remember. Was it Ilona Granet ? I think it was Ilona, Tom, and Fiona.
Jack Waters: But in any case, they were all Colab members. And they all qualified for this Creative Times' structural premise. And they were supposed to do, I think, two performances. And they got one. You know, Tom had these really amazing sculptures. You know, he did these amazing sculptures. And they did one; I think it was a lot of fun. And then, they were finished. They were like, okay, that was fun. Do you guys want to - you guys are performers; do you guys want to do it? We're like, yeah, because it was big. That was like a big deal. So we kind of, you know, piggy-backed on their resources and as well as their reputation and use these installations. We completely changed the narrative.
Peter Cramer: Right. We didn't even really use their - we just were using the beach. We kind of stayed away from their structures they were doing. I created a set.
Jack Waters: Right, you built you own set. Right.
Peter Cramer: There was a huge kind of like a dune practically. It was like a 30-foot bluff that was created with all of the sand. And she used that to do this amazing, you know, performance.
Jack Waters: Right, we didn't use their - we weren't even using. You can see them in documentation -
Peter Cramer: It was really just kind of, we were in this dance.
Jack Waters: Yeah, it kind of used the whole, yeah - so we inherited the venue itself.
Liza Kirwin: I'm going to put on another disk at this point.
Liza Kirwin: This is the second disk on September 6, 2007. And you were talking about the beach, art on the beach project.
Peter Cramer: Do you remember what the title of their piece was?
Jack Waters: Which piece?
Peter Cramer: Colab's piece.
Jack Waters: No. But we have that. Also, we have records.
Peter Cramer: Of course, we have flyers and posters about it.
Jack Waters: Yeah, I don't remember. I know that there was a castle. There was a kind of play on the idea of royalty and Kiki [Smith] was the princess. [Laughter.]
Liza Kirwin: For the things that were going on at ABC No Rio, was there an effort to get press or bring in new audiences; was that important?
Peter Cramer: De facto, it was because there was a whole new group of people there. And people, the artists that came in, were more responsible for their own press than we were. That wasn't really our function.
Jack Waters: But we inherited press visibility as well. Because the Real Estate Show and the "Time Square Show" - "Real Estate Show," especially, was more of a media event than an art exhibition. And so, there was attention, there was press credibility. But that, by and large, was more for Colab. And as ABC No Rio shifted and changed, there wasn't all that much -