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Richard Kostelanetz, Robert Rauschenberg, Conversation with Robert Rauschenberg (1968)


Richard Kostelanetz. The Theatre of Mixed Means. London: Pitman, 1970, pp. 78-99.

Universiteit Antwerpen, Theater- en Filmwetenschap, 2010

Belgium is Happening


It's almost as if art, in painting and music and stuff, is the leftovers of some activity. The activity is the thing that I'm most interested in. Nearly everything that I've done was to see what would happen if I did this instead of that.

—Robert Rauschenberg

Although Robert Rauschenberg participated in John Cage's prehistoric mixed-means performance at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1952, he did not become the author of his own theatre pieces until a decade later. Instead, it was as a painter that he originally attracted critical notice and, eventually, international fame. Rauschenberg's objects have been displayed all over the Western world; and as the recipient of the First Prize in Painting at the 1964 Venice Biennale, he is generally considered among the most important painters of the post-World-War-II period. His best-known early works were collages that exhibited a preference for sub-elegant "found" materials and an ability to integrate disparate elements. Toward the end of the 1950's, he created his first combines—three-dimensional collages or "paintings" that stand up away from the wall. In the early


sixties, he adapted silk-screening processes to his compositions and worked with plexiglass; but in 1965 he abandoned that kind of work to concentrate upon finishing Oracle—a five-part sculpture, each part of which contains a radio loudspeaker.

Although painting was his dominant interest during the fifties and early sixties, throughout his career he has maintained some connection with theatre. From 1955 to 1965, he designed sets, costumes, and controlled the lighting, for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and also collaborated in theatre pieces by Yvonne Rainer and Kenneth Koch. In Pelican (1963) he authored his own piece for the first time; and after he all but abandoned painting in 1965, he created a series of theatrical works—Spring Training (1965), Map Room I (1965), Map Room 11 (1965), Linoleum (1966), and Open Score (1966, for the New York Theatre and Engineering Festival). These theatre pieces, like his painting, reveal a particularly acute genius for stunningly original images and interesting visual composition as well as for the exploration of the possibilities of unusual materials and particular spaces.

Born in 1925, in Port Arthur, Texas, Rauschenberg looks considerably younger than his years. He talks willingly, though rather slowly, frequently pausing to find the most accurate word. His modesty causes him to speak about his work and his artistic purposes rather obliquely. As he has never taught and resists the invitation to lecture, his comments are somewhat disorganized and plagued by a tendency to wander; yet flashes of high insight and almost aphoristic articulateness inform whatever he says. Perhaps because his formal education was meager and, as he remembers it, uncongenial, he exhibits an unusual intelligence that is at once innocent and sophisticated, extremely imaginative and yet passionately pragmatic, highly original yet insistently empirical.

The initial interview took place in the kitchen on the third floor of his new multi-storied house, a converted orphanage, on New York's Lower East Side, just after a dinner of lamb chops and salad he had cooked for his guests. Later sessions took place in the adjacent workroom. Each time we met, he exhibited extraordinarily tenacious powers of concentration amid a plethora of distractions.

koste lanetz — How did you become involved with theatre?


rauschenberg — I've always been interested, even back in high school. I like the liveness of it—that awful feeling of being on the spot, having to assume the responsibility for that moment, for those actions that happen at that particular time.

kostelanetz — Was your first professional involvement with Merce Cunningham and his Dance Company?

rauschenberg — With him, and with Paul Taylor. At first I did just costumes and props. Then, at a certain point, it became clear that the lighting and the whole staging were just as essential to the way a piece looked as what the dancers were wearing. Merce lost his lighting man, and although I didn't know anything about lighting, John Cage and Merce convinced me that I could learn it for the next concert, which would be, like, in two weeks. There were three new pieces, and I didn't know one thing from another. I thought personally, "I know I can't, but I certainly do like it that they think I can. I'll try to do it their way.7

At the same time I was getting interested in what the dancers at Judson Church were doing. Before I did any real theatre of my own, Jean Tinguely and Jasper Johns and myself collaborated with David Tudor to do a concert in Paris in 1961, and we also worked on Kenneth Koch's The Construction of Boston [1962]. I don't find theatre that different from painting, and it's not that I think of painting as theatre or vice versa. I tend to think of working as a kind of involvement with materials, as well as a rather focused interest which changes.

kostelanetz — Even though your involvement with theatre may not be too different from your involvement with painting, surely painting is different from theatre on the outside. rauschenberg — Well, in my paintings, almost from the very beginning, I observed that painting changed from one kind of light to another. Then I started incorporating lights into my painting, and theatre is a continuation of that. I wasn't proving that a light bulb was paint or that paintings ought to have light bulbs. It was an organic evolution of the use of those materials. kostelanetz — How did you become the author of your own theatre pieces?

rauschenberg — That skating piece, Pelican [1963], was my first piece. The more I was around Merce's group and that kind of activity,


I realized that painting didn't put me on the spot as much or not in the same way, so at a certain point I had to do theatre myself.

When I did the lights, my lighting cues were not programed. I played the lightboard. From performance to performance, things were different. In a work of Merce's called Stofy, I never repeated the set. A new one was made for each performance from materials gathered from different places. The costumes, actually, stayed more or less the same; but from time to time, stuff was thrown out and anything you could cover yourself with was brought in. The dancers could decide which, or any of these things, or none, they were going to wear when. I never knew where anyone was going to be; the space was not defined. The set had to be made out of what you could find, given the amount of time that you had in a particular locale, out of stuff that was there.

kostelanetz — In the auditorium itself?

rauschenberg — No, out in the alley or any place you could get it. We didn't travel with a set.

kostelanetz — What you had then was a set of ground rules for how this game should be played, rather than a piece with a closely composed score, and the game started as soon as you came into town. rauschenberg — That was an exciting thing to do. In some places, like London, where [in 1964] we did the piece three or four times a week for six to eight weeks, it was very difficult to do a completely different thing every night. A couple of times we were in such sterile situations that Alex Hay, my assistant, and Twould actually have to be part of the set. The first time it happened was in Dartington, the school in Devon. That place was inhabited by people with a very familiar look—that Black Mountain beatnik kind of look—but they occupied the most fantastic and beautiful old English building, all of whose shrubs were trimmed. There was nothing rural or rustic or unfinished anywhere. For the first time, there was absolutely nothing to use. There was a track at the very back of the stage that had lights in it, so the dancers couldn't use that space. About an hour before the performance, I asked Alex whether he had any shirts that needed ironing, which was a nice question to ask Alex because he always did and he always ironed his own shirts. So we got two ironing boards and put them up over some blue lights that were back there. When the curtain opened, there were the dancers and these two people ironing


shirts. It must have looked quite beautiful, but we can't be sure absolutely. But from what I could feel about the way it looked and the lights coming up through the shirts, it was like a live passive set, like live decor. It didn't occur to me then but it does now that it might have been difficult to tell whether we were choreography or set. I knew and I assumed it would be perfectly clear. Knowing that my job was to do decor, it might have been in bad taste, but I did it in all innocence.

kostelanetz — Would you do it again?

rauschenberg — I won't do that. You see, there is little difference between the action of paint and the action of people, except that paint is a nuisance because it keeps drying and setting. kostelanetz — However, there is, I think, a great difference between doing decor and being the author of an entire piece. rauschenberg — Well, you do a bit more. When you make sure that all the cables are taped down and that the curtains are working and that the stage is locked, you've already done everything except get up the nerve to go out there . . . kostelanetz — ... and put your name on it. rauschenberg — It wasn't so hard to put your name on it as it was to actually be there on the stage yourself. The first piece I did, Pelican, I had no intention of being in; but since I didn't know much about actually making a dance, I used roller skates as a means to freedom from any kind of inhibitions that I would have. That already gives you limitations—puts you in a certain area that you must deal with. kostelanetz — This is an example of how your choice of physical ideas determines your possibilities.

rauschenberg — It was a using of the limitations of the material as a freedom that would eventually establish the form. I auditioned dancers for the piece; and to my surprise, I found that dancers who had skated when they were children, and some of them quite well, couldn't roller skate now because of their dance training. They froze, and it was very awkward. They needed a kind of abandon to actually do it. You see, in their thinking, dancers have a going dialogue between themselves and the floor, and I had put wheels between them and the floor. They couldn't hear the floor any more, and their muscles didn't know where they were.


kostelanetz — Did roller-skating movement become the syntax of the-piece or a unifying image?

rauschenberg — No, it was just a form of locomotion. There were other wheels in the dance too. It was just that once I established the fact that I was going to call the piece a dance and didn't want it to be a skating act, then somehow the other ingredients had to adjust to that; so that Carolyn Brown, who was not on skates, was dancing on points, which is just as arbitrary a way of moving. It would not have occurred to me—well, once I say it, it occurs to me and I think it could be done—that someone could have possibly walked in that piece. Like when you do a black-and-white painting, you just give up the idea of different colors, even though you could put colors in. But if your focus is on the black and white, then that's where you are.

kostelanetz — Would you describe in detail, from start to finish, the piece I saw several times and am, therefore, most familiar with, Map Room 11 [1965].

rauschenberg — I began that piece by getting some materials to work with—again we have that business of limitations and possibilities. I just got a bunch of tires, not because I'm crazy about tires but because they are so available around here in New York, even on the street. I could be back here in fifteen minutes with five tires. If I were working in Europe, that wouldn't be the material. Very often people ask me about certain repeated images in both my painting and theatre. Now I may be fooling myself, but I think it can be traced to their availability. Take the umbrella . . .

kostelanetz —... which appeared in your painting Charlene [1954] and elsewhere.

rauschenberg — After any rainy day, it is hard to walk by a garbage can that doesn't have a broken umbrella in it, and they are quite interesting. I found some springs around the corner. I was just putting stuff together—that's the way I work—to see what I could get out of it. I don't start off with any preconceived notion about content of the piece. If there is any thinking, it is more along the line of something happening which suggests something else. If I'm lucky, then the piece builds its own integrity. kostelanetz — Once you collect the stuff, what happens?


rauschenberg — You just mess around. The springs, for example, made an interesting noise, so I decided to amplify that. kostelanetz — And the tires?

rauschenberg — They can be walked in, they can be rolled in, you can roll over them, you can crawl through them. All these things are perfectly obvious. Perhaps tires even have uses that you haven't seen before. What I'm trying to avoid is the academic way of making a dance of theme and variation. I'm interested in exploring all the possibilities inherent in any particular object. If you don't have any preconceptions about moving, you've got to start somewhere. This is my way.

The reason that the piece is called Map Room II is because there was a Map Room I [1965] which was done at Goddard College. There was an old sofa on the stage there. I think I make theatre pieces very much the way I make a painting, which is that I simply have to put something into the space. The sofa already occupying part of the space gets to be a member of the cast.

kostelanetz — What about the shaping of the other major theatrical element, which is time? How do you fill that? rauschenberg — Most often my pieces are as long as they just naturally get to be from having worked on them that long. It's a funny thing, but I almost know my size right now and I really ought to do something about it. My pieces are about a half an hour, no matter what my attitude is. I should do a very long piece and a very short piece.

I tend to think of time, as we traditionally know it, as my weakest point, because I've had the least experience in considering it. kostelanetz — Certainly the most frequently heard criticism of Map Room II was that it was too slow.

rauschenberg — I don't mind that. I don't mind something being boring, because there are certain activities that can be interesting if they are done only so much. Take that business with the tires in Map Room, which I find interesting if it is done for about five minutes. But something else happens if it goes on for ten more minutes. It's a little like La Monte Young's thing {The Tortoise, His Dreams and Journeys}. At some point, you admit that it isn't interesting any more, but you're still confronted by it. So what are you going to make out of it?


kostelanetz — However, there is a difference between intentional boredom and inadvertent boredom. The first, if an artist does it, reveals that he knows precisely what kind of effect the boredom he creates will have upon people. La Monte is intentionally boring, because by playing the same chord at that amplitude he wants you to hear certain previously inaudible gradations.

rauschenberg — I'd like it if, even at the risk of being boring, there were an area of uninteresting activity where the spectator might behave uniquely. You see, I'm against the prepared consistent entertainment. Theatre does not have to be entertaining, just as pictures don't have to be beautiful.

kostelanetz — Must theatre be interesting? rauschenberg — Involving. Now, boredom is restlessness; your audience is not a familiar thing. It is made up of individual people who have all led different lives.

kostelanetz — If I were to sit here and talk at, say, one-quarter of my normal speed, it would be inadvertently boring. rauschenberg — Not necessarily. kostelanetz — Would you find it interesting? rauschenberg — I might. I'd have to hear it. I've been with people who have speech problems. At first it made me quite nervous, later I found myself listening to it and being quite interested in just the physical contact; it can be a very dramatic thing. I've never deliberately thought about boring anyone; but I'm also interested in that kind of theatre activity that provides a minimum of guarantees. I have often been more interested in works I have found very boring than in other works that seem to be brilliantly done.

Some of Bob Morris' theatre pieces have had very little activity that goes on for a very long time. They were usually presented in mixed concerts; and I would find myself at the end of the evening being more moved by Bob's inactivity than I was by things that I was at the time more in awe of—skillful executions of extremely difficult movements.

kostelanetz — What was it that made Morris' piece more memorable to you?

rauschenberg — I don't like the traditional idea of the audience— that they shouldn't assume as much responsibility as the entertainer does for making the evening interesting. I'm really quite unfriendly


about the artist having to assume the total responsibility for the function of the evening. I would like people to come home from work, wash up, and go to the theatre as an evening of taking their chances. I think it is more interesting for them. What I was doing at Morris' thing was just that.

kostelanetz — I'm bothered about this juxtaposition of interesting and boring.

rauschenberg — Does it help you to think about a painting that isn't beautiful?

kostelanetz — No, because that isn't necessarily contradictory. What you're doing, I think, is setting up an opposition to entertainment.

rauschenberg — I think that's it. I used the word bored to refer to someone who might look at a Barney Newman and say there ought to be more image there than a single vertical or two single verticals. If someone said that that was a boring picture, he was using the word in relation to a preconceived idea of what interesting might be. What I am saying is that I suspect there is a lot of work right now in theatre described as boring which is simply the awkward reorientation of the function of theatre and even the purpose of the audience. Just in the last few years we have made some drastic changes. Continuity in the works that I am talking about has been completely eliminated. It is usually different from performance to performance. There is no real dramatic continuity; the interaction tends to be a coincidence or an innovation for that particular moment.

kostelanetz — What else is characteristic of mixed-means theatre? rauschenberg — An absence of hierarchy—the fact that in a single piece by Yvonne Rainer you can hear both Rachmaninoff and sticks being pitched from the balcony without those two things making a comment on each other. In my pieces, for instance, there is nothing that everything is subservient to. I am trusting each element to sustain a work in time.

kostelanetz — What meanings do these changes imply? rauschenberg — All these ideas tend to point up the thought that it would be better for theatre if on the second night you went you found a different work there, even though it might be in the same place and have the same performers and deal with the same material. I think all this is creating an extraordinary situation that is very


new in theatre; so both the audience and the artist are still quite self-conscious about the state of things.

kostelanetz — How do these attitudes relate to the composition of Map Room II?

rauschenberg — In beginning a theatre piece, the first information I need is where it is to be done and when. Where it is to be done has a lot to do with the shape it takes, with the kinds of activity. Pelican was done in a skating rink; if it were not to have been performed in a skating rink, I'm sure that it would not have been done on skates. kostelanetz — Once you heard it would be in a rink, you said, "Why not use roller skates?" That's the kind of association you make. rauschenberg — Exactly. Then I will often use isolated things I just happen to think of, like putting flashlights on the back of a turtle in Spring Training [1965]—liking that for the idea of light being controlled by something literally live and the incongruity of having an animal actually assume that responsibility. That's a separate idea, and that is one way of working.

kostelanetz — Wasn't there a piece that involved a dog coming out on the stage for a similar possibility of uncontrolled activity? rauschenberg — Yes, I used a dog in a piece of Paul Taylor's. The presence of any kind of animal other than people draws one's attention to the fact that people are simply a different kind of creature. kostelanetz — Or the fact that a theatrical situation could contain other creatures aside from people. Hasn't Lassie always been heroic? rauschenberg — That's because' of Lassie's people-quality. I wouldn't be interested in using an animal that communicated with human beings on the level that human beings have taught them to communicate. Lassie is actually a human hero. She puts out fires, saves children, does her work on the farm. That's not my interest in using other kinds of animals. It is very hard to empathize with a turtle. Once you accept it as a turtle, it doesn't become a surrogate human being.

Separate kinds of images like the turtle with the flashlights more or less occur to me divorced from any particular program or piece, like the shoes in Map Room II that are cast in twelve inches of plastic. That was a completely separate image that came to me apparently out of the blue. I had Arman build those shoes, because he works in plastic. I simply told him what the idea was, and he made them for


me. That sort of involvement can happen at any time and then can simply be used in the next piece.

kostelanetz — If it occurred before you had to do the piece, it would be an image in your storehouse.

rauschenberg — The neon that I used in Map Room II came from a desire to use neon. I tend to work on such a short deadline that I can't do anything special, as I can when I'm working just for myself. Availability and expediency get to be determining elements in my theatre work.

kostelanetz — Let me go back for a moment. A piece starts in your mind, once you are asked to do it. . . .

rauschenberg — What I want to know first is where. I carefully check all the architecture of the space. What permissions are granted physically because of where the audience sits, how many doors there are, where the doors are, if there are any windows. In Map Room I, there was a window on one side of the audience; I used it as a small stage. The piece, instead of beginning on the stage, began outside that window. It actually turned out quite beautifully, because it was pouring rain. A God-sent activity was actually working for the piece. It was a simple activity that was happening outside—a girl braiding her hair; by the time she finished, she was soaking wet. Then the rain picked up the light very beautifully, so that she was illuminated and it also put a particular stain on an otherwise perfectly natural and obvious activity.

kostelanetz — Although you weren't in full control of the situation, you didn't mind the accident.

rauschenberg — I don't want to be in full control. In fact, a lot of the obstacles I bring in function to make sure that I'm not in full control. I very rarely tell my people exactly what to do. What my pieces tend to be are vehicles for events of a particular nature that can embody and use the personalities and abilities of the performers. Still, I have never been particularly interested in improvisation, because trusted to improvise, people very rarely move out of their own particular cliches and habits. Or, if they do, they are using their own pre-manufactured disguises of those habits. kostelanetz — Then what you are doing is writing a program, almost, for your materials, which include your props, your people, and your space. How specific is your program?


rauschenberg — In Map Room II, the first thing I thought of was the use of a confined small stage within a traditional stage. I broke it down and used the area in front of the curtain as something different from behind the curtain, so that I created two different architectural space situations within one piece, although the entire stage was small. Also, the space of the piece went out into the audience; for while we were onstage with the words making sentences at random, Trisha Brown was down below passing out large white cards to the audience for them to put on their backs. Part of the audience would later become a movie screen.

kostelanetz — How carefully did you program Trisha Brown's activity—that she would come before the audience and pass out cards?

rauschenberg — My instructions to her didn't go any further than telling her exactly what her job was. I gave her a task and an attitude. kostelanetz — Did you give her a time?

rauschenberg — No, however long she needed. I said that she should wait until the lights came up on us and we were settled. Any time after that she felt ready to go, she should just start, trusting her own sense of timing to accomplish the most natural organic relationship to "time." She actually cued us, for when she was through we were through.

kostelanetz — So she improvised the dimension of time . . . rauschenberg — ... using only practical considerations, rather than aesthetic ones. It would have been out of the question for her to prolong her scene. Somehow her activity had to relate to accomplishing a particular job. I gave her an attitude, asking her to be gracious but not patronizing, possibly using the attitude of, say, a nurse's aide or an airline hostess.

kostelanetz — How specific was your programing of the sequences?

rauschenberg — The sequences were determined by a very practical consideration. I had only five people to work with; if I had picked three, say, then it would have been different. But it turned out I had five. The people in the front passing cards had to get offstage, and there was a costume change involved for Deborah Hay. There had to be an activity there to allow Deborah to get into the costume that had the live birds. I didn't have to change clothes as quickly; so I would


have to be the one to bridge that time lapse there. So I figured out the activity I would do—that would be the wiping of the mirror-screen that had images projected on it. Since the screen was dirty, it at first seemed to have no image, but as I wiped it one began to appear—Mount Rushmore tilted vertically. I liked the paradox that the more you wiped, the clearer the image got; whereas in painting the reverse tends to be true. That was for my own personal entertainment. I continued my activity until Deborah was ready. kostelanetz — Which then became the cue for you to stop. Why did you tilt that image of Mount Rushmore sideways? rauschenberg — That's the way it fit on the mirror. Also it postponed the legibility a few moments longer. If that had been a totem pole it would have been right side up.

kostelanetz — So then your script consists of tasks and cues. That's

the way you outline your sequences, so to speak.

rauschenberg — My main 'problem in constructing a program

of a piece is how to get something started and how to get it

stopped without drawing particular attention to one event over


kostelanetz — However, isn't this an aesthetic bias, as is your preference that the piece should have no climax?

rauschenberg — The shape that it takes should simply be one of duration.

kostelanetz — And space.

rauschenberg — Space is a necessary consideration and one of the contributing factors to actually determining the content. If I took any one of my pieces and did it again someplace else, then I'd have to decide what to adjust to the new environment and what to build. kostelanetz — If presented in a new environment, does a theatre piece of yours radically change?

rauschenberg — It can be. New elements come in. In Map Room I, there was a trap door on the stage, and it was a very small stage. The space was filled horizontally very quickly; so I started working vertically. I defined another space, from the trapdoor to the roof. Now, when I re-did the piece, there was no trapdoor on the new stage, so that whole area of activity had to be eliminated from Map Room II.

kostelanetz — Did the piece lose or gain?


rauschenberg — It changed only. Gaining or losing is a critical evaluation, and I stay out of that area.

kostelanetz — Was its old form recognizable in the new setting? rauschenberg — It might have looked more like a different piece than the same piece. Probably the tone of the piece would still be there; but from Map Room I to Map Room 11, which are the same piece, there was such change that I thought the latter warranted being called number two—only two elements out of, say, ten were in both. kostelanetz — In Map Room II, your activity of wiping the mirror ended once Deborah Hay had her costume on; then she came onstage with a cage around her waist, almost like a tire. In that cage were three doves.

rauschenberg — I used doves not for any symbolic reason but because that's about the biggest bird that the amount of space would permit. It was going to be pigeons, but pigeons are bigger than doves. I was toying with a whole other kind of image that turned up in Linoleum, a piece I made after that, where I used chickens, which are big available birds.

In each case, I wanted the actual object of the bird, rather than just bird-like activity. I liked the combination of two independent elements being forced to operate as a single image. Actually, in Map Room II, the first idea was that Deborah's costume should be something edible for the birds, such as corn or bread, but that turned out to be an impractical way to think, since birds that are put temporarily into a new environment aren't going to eat.

kostelanetz — Was the idea to combine two images in one figure so that neither one could dominate the other?

rauschenberg — Yes. It was a kind of combined coexistence to make a single image.

The new element became Trisha moving across the stage inside the tire with her bottom side showing. In fact, her body was as abstract a form as the tire. She was actually sitting in the tire and protruding, so that her outside shape remained the tire (or a black circle) obscured by some enormous tongue. The tire actually shielded her method of moving. I have photographs of it, and I find it hard to recognize it as a human body. Her method of moving was actually determined by her position—how you can move and what sorts of things you can do. I didn't want the audience to be involved with who it was that was in


the tire and what the person looked like. What I wanted was the most abstract image at that particular moment.

That was followed by the two men with their feet in the tires, Steve Paxton and Alex Hay, who were somehow moving with the attitude that feet had the ability to roll.

kostelanetz — However, at first they walked in a more or less normal fashion, as though they had on shoes with curved bottoms. rauschenberg — But later they did actual forward rolls, letting the tire be their major contact with the ground as they rolled forward. Then they put both feet in the hole of the same tire and walked, turning the tire as they went.

kostelanetz — Then they put four tires in a row, slid into the casket perpendicular to the tires, and rolled like a truck axle across the floor. Were these images intended as a series of variations on the theme of man and his tires?

rauschenberg — Not necessarily. They are variations in the sense that different uses are put to the same material, but not variations in the sense of establishing a theme. Tires were not the theme. Actually, movement was the theme, with the restriction of tires.

At the same time that this was going on, a flesh-colored sofa was moved onstage. It had its own light which made it an independent entity. Deborah Hay, dressed in a flesh-colored leotard, had the following simple direction: Move from position to position on the couch, always considering the couch as part of your image. Never once did she just stand up and be a person standing on a couch. kostelanetz — She always blended into the lines of the couch. rauschenberg — The image wasn't couch and wasn't person.

It is very difficult for me to describe these things this way and to describe the working process, because I just try things. I actually work by eye.

kostelanetz — You do have a method, though, and you are conscious of it, although you may not be conscious of it at the time you are working.

rauschenberg — Actually, anything I tell you about it you could probably get out of the work, if you had seen a number of pieces. kostelanetz — I think you will find, as I have, that the creators of mixed-means theatre are better able to talk about their work than the people who see it, regardless of how experienced they are, because


the authors are more precisely aware of the new language of the new theatre. Take the sequence you have just described to me—Deborah Hay on the couch. I have seen it several times, and I could not have described it as satisfactorily as you did. Now that I've heard your interpretation I do not think I would want to describe it any other way. This may stem from my own inability to perceive your kind of preoccupations, and I doubt if I'm alone in this respect. We all lack an education in the new theatre. If you asked a drama critic what happened here, he might say it was a boring scene in which a girl did a series of headstands on a couch, because that is all his intellectual and perceptual equipment prepared him to see.

rauschenberg — His secondary interest might be whether she was a pretty girl or not and how much or how little she was wearing. My interest was that she was costumed in a color that most closely matched the couch so that integration would happen as easily as possible—so that there would be as little separation as possible between her activity and the natural construction of the couch.

kostelanetz — While she was performing on the couch, the film came on, a travelogue which was projected upon the large white cards which Trisha Brown had asked the audience to hang from the back of their necks . ..

rauschenberg —... using the audience as a screen so that at that point it was divided. The audience had two functions: Part of it had an active role in the production, as opposed to being separated from the activity we had on the stage, while the rest were the observers of the movie.

kostelanetz — It also further split our focus, because we weren't quite sure where we were supposed to look.

rauschenberg — In most cases, my interest is in acknowledging the fact that man is able to function on many different levels simultaneously. I think our minds are designed for that, and our senses certainly are. We can be sitting here, and our noses can tell us that something is burning in the kitchen; yet intellectually for hundreds of years the idea of uninterrupted concentration has been considered the most serious attitude to have in order to use our intelligence.

I think when we are relaxed, all these things happen naturally. But there's a prejudice that has been built up around the ideas of seriousness and specialization. That's why I'm no more interested in giving


up painting than continuing painting or vice versa. I don't find these things in competition with each other. If we are to get the most out of any given time, it is because we have applied ourselves as broadly as possible, I think, not because we have applied ourselves as single-mindedly as possible.

kostelanetz — Do you have a moral objection, then, to those dimensions of life that force us to be more specialized than we should be?

rauschenberg — Probably. If we can observe the way things happen in nature, we see that nearly nothing in our lives turns out the way that, if it were up to us to plan it, it should. There is always the business, for instance, that if you're going on a picnic, it is just as apt to rain as not. Or the weather turns cold when you want to go swimming.

kostelanetz — So then you find a direct formal equation between your theatre and your life?

rauschenberg — I hope so, between working and living, because those are our media.

kostelanetz — You would believe, then, that if we became accustomed to this chancier kind of theatre, we would become accustomed to the chancier nature of our own life.

rauschenberg — I think we are most accustomed to it in life. Why should art be the exception to this? You asked if I had a moral objection. I do, because I think we have this capacity I'm talking about. You find, for example, that an extremely squeamish person can perform fantastic deeds in an emergency. If the laws have a positive function, if they could have, it might be just that—to force someone to behave in a way they have not behaved before, using the faculties he was actually born with. Growing up in a world where multiple distractions are the only constant, he would be able to cope with new situations. But, what I found happening to people in the Navy was that once they were out of service and out of these extraordinary situations, they reverted to the same kind of thinking as before. I think it is an exceptional person who uses that experience. That's because, in most cases, the service is not a chosen environment; it is somebody else's life that they're functioning in, instead of recognizing the fact that it is still just them and the things they are surrounded by. The Navy is a continuation of extraordinary situations. We begin by not


having any say over who our parents are; our parents have no control over the particular peculiar mixture of the genes. kostelanetz — Let us return to the scenes of the piece. The film is going, and Deborah Hay is visually fused to the couch. . . . rauschenberg — Then there is the neon. When I went to get several pieces of neon, I discovered a Tessler Coil that is used to make sure there is no leakage in a neon tube and that it is the right color. When you touch the coil to any place on the tube, it activates the gases inside. I asked what would happen if instead of touching the coil directly to the tube I used my body as a conductor, by holding the coil in one hand, the tube in the other. I was told that I could if I grabbed it very quickly, but it would knock the hell out of me if I hesitated. It took a little doing always to grab it firmly, because one has fear in control of his muscles too. It's like being on a high diving board, you know—though you want to dive off so much, you don't do it. It's that kind of thing. kostelanetz — It was easier when we were younger. rauschenberg — Because we didn't have so much fear; we hadn't heard so many stories about what could happen. It's like the caution that happened to the trained dancer's body on the roller skates. Skating is the most natural thing a child can do; but to do it seriously as an adult is very hard.

kostelanetz — At this point, you took the plastic glass shoes out of your storehouse.

rauschenberg — I had them anyway, knowing that I would use them someplace in a piece. The clear plastic with the neon showing through it must have been interesting because you could see between the foot and floor, even though I was just walking. kostelanetz — It was a very beautiful image; and because of its beauty and originality, it tended to dominate—to be the most memorable image or the pinnacle of the hierarchy. Was its dominance a defect?

rauschenberg — It was more a defect to have that activity happen at the end of the piece; but before that point in the piece, I had been very busy. If I did that piece again, the order would be rearranged. At the time the audience first saw it, that piece had never been performed in its entirety, not even in a rehearsal. We had some idea of what to do. I'm not against a rehearsal, but I have a tendency to keep making


changes up to the last minute and I tend to work with people I can

trust enough. We all knew that evening that we were making this

thing for the first time; I like that psychologically.

kostelanetz — Were all subsequent performances exactly the


rauschenberg — The first evening it felt just a little too rough. Everyone had trouble getting in and getting out—functional problems. Even then I had a slip of paper with me; and I would go offstage to see what happened next. As I'm the author, you could imagine how the cast felt. That second evening I sensed that the whole thing just sort of died right in front of everybody. So, the third evening I said let's speed the whole thing up; I don't care if we finish in fifteen minutes. Let's get on, do what we have to do, and get out. That would, I thought, tighten things up. My idea of the sequential arrangement is not just to string some activities along, like you're making beads or taking a trip; but when you have three things happen, you should convey the individuality of each of these events separately plus the interaction which happens because of their coexistence. What had happened was that everything had been stretched so that it became a linear piece as opposed to . . .

kostelanetz — ... an overlapping line, like a "Slinky" or a chain with interlocking loops.

rauschenberg — Right.

kostelanetz — Looking back over your involvement with theatre, do you see any kind of development, aside from the obvious development that you have now become the author of your own theatre pieces, rather than a contributor to somebody else's? Also, do you see any development in your company of more or less regular performers? rauschenberg — Well, that last is mostly a social thing of people with a common interest, and we have tended to make ourselves available as material to each other. It is in no way an organized company, and it changes from time to time—people move in and out. However, where a play could be cast with different actors and you would still get the same play, if I was not in constant touch with these people, I could not do these pieces. The whole concept would have to be changed if I had new performers—if I let Doris Day take Mary Martin's part in a musical or used the Cincinnati Philharmonic rather than the New York Philharmonic.


kostelanetz — You write for these performers, and they have learned to respond to the particular language of your instructions. rauschenberg — It goes beyond interpretation or following directions. From the outset, their responsibility, in the sense of collaboration, is part of the actual form and content and appearance of the piece. It makes them stockholders in the event itself, rather than simply performers.

kostelanetz — This company includes, roughly, Alex and Deborah Hay, respectively a painter and a dancer; Lucinda Childs, a dancer; Steve Paxton, a dancer. ...

rauschenberg — We have worked a lot with Yvonne Rainer and Bob Morris and Trisha Brown. In my new piece [Linoleum] I used Bob Breer's sculptures. At the time that I premiered the piece in Washington, I used the son and daughter of the people I was staying with. When I did the piece for Educational Television, Bob Breer delivered the sculptures to the studio; and since I needed another person, Bob Breer immediately became part of the performing group. It's not a company or a group in the sense of the dancers who work with Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, or Jose Limon; it's informal.

kostelanetz — Let's return to that question of development. rauschenberg — In Map Room II, a couple of the people involved said that they had now gotten some kind of feeling about what I was after. Because this is my fourth or fifth piece and these people, if they weren't in them, had seen them all, then I think there is a body of work. If someone is working with an unfamiliar kind of image and if you see only one piece, it looks like a lot of things that it isn't and a lot of things that it is; but you don't really understand the direction. If you see five of his pieces you're more apt to see what he's doing. It's like signposts: You need a few to know that you are really on the right road.

kostelanetz — Do you feel stronger and more confident now in approaching a theatre piece?

rauschenberg — Confidence is something that I don't feel very often, because I tend to eliminate the things I was sure about. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if you didn't do that and if you did this. You recognize the weaknesses in Map Room II, for instance, that weakness of the neon thing coming last. Linoleum is probably


one of the most tedious works I've ever done, the most unclimactic. If you're in the audience, you simply move into it with your attention and live through it. At a certain point it's over.

kostelanetz — One of the myths of modern culture—I associate it particularly with Lewis Mumford's Art and Technics [1952]— is that art and technology are eternally opposed to each other and that one succeeds only at the decline of the other.

rauschenberg — I think that's a dated concept. We now are living in a culture that won't operate and grow that way. Science and art— these things do clearly exist at the same time, and both are very valuable. We are just realizing that we have lost a lot of energy in always insisting on the conflict—in posing one of these things against the other.

kostelanetz — It seems to me that technology has had a huge impact upon modern art—the creation of new paints, the impact of media—all of which has never been fully explored. rauschenberg — You can't move without encountering technology. Just think of what it would be like to go out into the field and pick your supper; now we have it deep-frozen in our kitchen after it was gathered from all over the world. It is only habits in thinking that have tended to make us callous to our actual surroundings. kostelanetz — How do you look upon working with technicians— as a division of labor, as a division of mentality? rauschenberg — I've never questioned paints, since I've never ground my own pigments or mined for the chemicals that made them. I assume a certain amount of information in a tube of red paint. I think that one works with information as though it were a material. I think that somehow it is richer if you are in a live collaboration with the material; that's our relationship to the engineers. kostelanetz — In contrast to nearly all contemporary artists, you did not need to find your own style by first painting through several established styles—by taking them as your transient models. From the start, you were, as we say, an original.

rauschenberg — I always had enormous respect for other people's work, but I deliberately avoided using other people's styles, even though I know that no one owns any particular technique or attitude. It seemed to me that it was more valuable to think that the world was big enough so that everyone doesn't have to be on everyone else's feet.


When you go to make something, nothing should be clearer than the fact that not only do you not have to make it but that it could look like anything, and then it starts getting interesting and then you get involved with your own limitations.

kostelanetz — As an artist, do you feel in any sense alienated from America today or do you feel that you are part of a whole world in which you are living.

rauschenberg — I feel a conscious attempt to be more and more related to society. That's what's important to me as a person. I'm not going to let other people make all the changes; and if you do that, you can't cut yourself off.

This very quickly gets to sound patriotic and pompous and pious; but I really mean it very personally. I'm only against the most obvious things, like wars and stuff like that. I don't have any particular concept about a Utopian way things should be. If I have a prejudice or a bias, it is that there shouldn't be any particular way. Being a complex human organ, we are capable of many different things; we can do so much. The big fear is that we don't do enough with our senses, with our activities, with our areas of consideration; and these have got to get bigger year after year.

kostelanetz — Could that be what the new theatre is about? Is there a kind of educational purpose now—to make us more responsive to our environment?

rauschenberg — I can only speak for myself. Today there may be eleven artists; yesterday there were ten; two days ago there were nine. Everybody has their own reason for being involved in it, but I must say that this is one of the things that interests me the most. I think that one of my chief struggles now is to make something that can be as changeable and varied and alive as the audience. I don't want to do works where one has to impose liveliness or plastic flexibility or change, but a work where change would be dealt with literally. It's very possible that my interest in theatre, which now is so consuming, may be the most primitive way of accomplishing this, and I may just be working already with what I would like to make. kostelanetz — How will our lives—our ideas and our responses— be different after continued exposure to the new theatre? rauschenberg — What's exciting is that we don't know. There is no anticipated result; but we will be changed.