Peter Fend

I made three forays in the Times Square Show:

a NEWS ROOM, as a way to use walls for comparative viewing and for locating news events, based on the news-industry legacy of Times Square

a Megastructure Proposal for 42nd Street from First to Eleventh Avenues, with a hovering disc in the East River, designing the public thoroughfare for maximum-flexibility of small-scale use, with interspersed open spaces, on many pedestrian levels

a Tethered Balloon, tested on the roof as a way to hoist signage, or draw attention, or even suspend a platform.

All roles were modest. One could say they were incubations. They were not full-fledged. At the time, I was also guest-curating a show, which maybe should have been incorporated in the Times Square Show, called PUBLIC POLICY: ARCHITECTURE PROPOSITIONS. Works from Carolee Schneemann, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dennis Oppenheim, Joseph Beuys and some ten other mostly-known artists were extrapolated into architectural precepts. Also, I was busy then setting up a legally-incorporated successor to The Offices of Fend, Fitzgibbon, Holzer, Nadin, Prince & Winters, which was founded on July 3, 1980 as what is generally known as "Ocean Earth."

The Times Square Show gave me a chance to do what otherwise would never be. It gave me an aperture for future work. I did not so much "show" there as use the experience to launch future practices.

NEWS ROOM has been a public practice since 1990. But it first occurred, albeit in a small cubicle, in 1980 at the Times Square Show. When it came into full-fledged existence ten years later, ideas and experiences, especially with mass-media clients, clustered around the first probe. The principle was that news media could not be trusted, a favorite Colab theme, and we must set up a space for comparative display of news reports. By 1990, I had eight years of experience, through Ocean Earth, with major TV networks and international newspapers worldwide. I saw how much distortion prevails. A much stronger role appeared: to aggressively contrast news streams, to rely on independent technical sources of information (like satellites), and to sift out the truth. The very first NEWS ROOM, in a small cubicle, was more "naïve."  But the words "Times Square" were decisive. The place, Times Square, was a convergence point for news media, and for publishers, oil companies and major corporations, as nowhere else in the world. I listed the decision-making entities within two miles of Times Square. News deciders included: New York Times, Time-Life (later with Warner and Turner Broadcasting), NBC, CBS, BBC and other television companies, AP, UPI and other news agencies, United Nation press corps, New York Daily News… and three of the big Seven Sisters oil companies, Exxon, Texaco and Mobil. The oil companies have left (to avoid exposure?), but most major news companies have stayed. Now News Corp., the Financial Times and The Economist and emerging internet news giants are clustered there. Add to this the big international publishing houses, and we see at or near Times Square the shaping of much Western thought.

Such a concentration, I said, was bad. Competition narrows. Mono-vocal thought dominates. The "herd" reduces to a few channels. I suspected, but did not know as I learned in the 1980s, that Western news as produced in the Times Square area was so highly edited and conventioned as to frequently disinform.

With NEWS ROOM, I was thinking of a vacuole, a sanctuary, a place for distance from the barrage, for recognizing the convergence of mega-corporate interests and what they want the public to think. I was seeking a space in which to look at the news objectively, especially in physical or geographical space. There would be maps to locate events, models and charts to show effects, arrows to show the physical "relation between events."

The NEWS ROOM was my first, intuitive response to the phenomenon of a show in Times Square.

In the years since, NEWS ROOM has grown into a collaborative, multi-party practice held in cities around the world. It became a team action with the 1988 presidential election: Colab member Greg Lehmann, architect George Chaikin, German artist Jarg Geismar and I worked with gallerist Barbara Braathen to comparatively display, then chart, the different network treatments of the election. Of course we sought the international media. But an election is too small. We adopted a global stance. In early 1990, NEWS ROOM was launched in two cities simultaneously, New York at American Fine Arts Co. and Amsterdam at Museum Fodor, with exchanges of views and even people from one to the other. With many collaborators, in one case even with foreign ministry people, the practice continued in Cologne, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Warsaw… in thirteen countries to date. What would happen was unknowable. We required only the same Helvetica-Italic logo for "news" and "room" as separate words, to emphasize the "room" as an instrument for media analysis, and a quite-standard Weber-projection world map. Sometimes we had a big impact: we contributed a chapter to an expose of government-staged news events in Germany, called "Das RAF Phantom." Sometimes we had direct interference from government authorities. In our second New York NEWS ROOM, a United Nations mission-official came in to tell us not to portray anything comparative or critiquing about their region of the world. We could reveal how much lying exists. And in our collaboration with Mark Lombardi, we revealed how much weaponry Western-government exporters deposited in Iraq, with consequences since. Exposes were made about Iran-contra and faked satellite imagery of the Yugoslav civil war. We used the four walls as a sanctuary from official views, much as did early heretical groups. Without the Times Square Show thrusting art in the center of news decision-making, this practice might not have started at all.

The 42nd Street Megastructure Proposal, presented in tandem, was a scenario for Times Square and New York City. With large cantilever-bridge frames, it would allow for plug-in modules and levels, hence easily-changed occupancies. It would extend a straddle-structure across midtown, for more foot traffic, less vertical towers. These were the fantasies of megastructure architects like Archigram, Paul Rudolph and Moshe Safdie. The aesthetic, that of mazes and baffles, was like what Tomas Saraceno does today, schooled by Peter Cook from Archigram. Instead of one sidewalk, there'd be many levels of walking, as if a giant multi-tiered cantilever-bridge had been stretched across the island. The drawings were praised by Vito Acconci. And they've been published here and there, now by the Akademie der Kuenste, Berlin. But in 1980, in the Times Square Show, they were deemed too dictatorial. The co-leaders of the exhibition said they were too top-down, too technocratic, leaving no room for the old-fashioned buildings enjoyed by Hip-Hop. They thought, "Where would the kids meet in such an environment?" I countered that this would be better than the master plans for Times Square, for the giant towers then in the news. But the conflict remained: the Architect does not belong in this Scene; we're bubbling up. Ironically, these megastructure fantasies were welcomed in the South Bronx, as ideas for the neighborhoods. As mazes instead of blocks. And they were carried out with scaffolding and elastic fabric at an intermediate-school playground, on Forrest Avenue, in 1981.

The removal reflects a common thread in Colab: I wanted to build earthworks, but Colabers said that was already out of date; I wanted to build technically-advanced urban structures, but Colabers said these were domineering; I was encouraged to be political, to produce maps, and critiques of news. In effect, Colab was a curatorial force.

The Times Square Show did allow experiments. No other venue could do this. I could do what pushed the edge of know-how. I could work with the unfinished efforts of another artist, in this case, Gordon Matta-Clark. I had worked with Matta-Clark researching his intention to tether a balloon and then suspend platforms or walkways. He died in mid-course. Curators decided that nothing could go forward. Other artists and I felt frustrated. With the Times Square Show as venue, I could go ahead. No gallery or museum would allow such an attempt: And none, in my attempts thereafter, would allow it either. This might change now as a project in 2012. In 1980, I could proceed, on the roof of the TSS building, in an open spirit of collaboration, with materials found with John Fekner, and help on site from Mike Glier, to set a balloon aloft, tether it to the roof with a big netting, then hope to suspend at least signage. A few things were learned: use netting, to distribute pressure on the balloon, use hot air and not just helium, beware of wind, expect ongoing costs. Matta-Clark had called the project "Sky Hook." I continued with the same term, having learned from a professor of architecture that the term, and the concept of balloon-suspended architectural elements, came from Russian Constructivists. So, we were not attempting a project of one artist who recently died. We were attempting a project being drawn up, imagined, proposed, but never practically realized, since before World War One. 

The effort on the roof of the Times Square Show was to first find out if a balloon could be sustainably tethered. I was getting help on this, not least from Mike Glier. He has since called this "visionary." I appreciate that, but I think it's more historicist. There was already a vision. Now, does it work? There at 41st Street, the attempt was very tentative. We ran out of helium, and money. I thought we could make a symbol, maybe even suspend a banner. This accords with what Archigram was drawing. But it took more than I could afford. I still have the netting. The test could be done again. But where is the open-ness of a Times Square Show to allow this? Where is there permission for public experiments? Having an entire building as a base was crucial.

These three efforts were small. They were just beginnings. But much has ensued. The beginnings have gone on to become longer-term practices. The Times Square Show created a climate of permission, usually, and at least of doing or showing what could not happen anywhere in public. Nothing like what I started there, albeit tentatively, even with eventual removal from the show, could have occurred in a normal museum or gallery, or even grant format. Thus, I owe the spirit and direction of much of my life's work, including work with mass-media and the news, to the explosion of let-loose activity of June 1980 at the Times Square Show.

Peter Fend (b. 1950, Columbus, OH)
Peter Fend grew up in Ohio and New York and studied English and history at Carlton College, Northfield, MN. In the late 1970s he worked with Gordon Matta-Clark and became involved with Collaborative Projects, Inc. In 1980, he founded Offices and the Ocean Earth Construction and Development Corporation with Coleen Fitzgibbon, Jenny Holzer, Peter Nadin, Richard Prince and Robin Winters. Additional information is available at:http://inquest.us/peter-fend/.

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