Judy Malloy

Memories of Art Com and La Mamelle

Carl Eugene Loeffler was born in Mentor, Ohio in 1946. He was raised on a small farm near Lake Eire, according to an interview with Mark Jones, in which he notes that farming was not the main family occupation; his father was an aerospace engineer who worked for TRW, and wanted to provide a good place where his children could grow up. "Farms are wonderful, and I do think that experience has contributed to my development as a creative person. I was pretty isolated out there, so my imagination ran wild and turned everything into toys."[1}

South of Market in San Francisco in 1975, Carl Loeffler opened the art space, La Mamelle, and at the same time he initiated an extensive publishing program with the aim of making contemporary art more accessible and publishing performance and video art documentation, conceptual photography, and texts. In the first few years, performances included T.R. Uthco, Linda Montano, and Judith Barry; exhibitions included West Coast Conceptual Photographers, Photography and Language, Joyce Cutler Shaw, the seminal 1977 Send/Recieve telecommunications project, and Community Art Radio 1976 on KPFA with performances by Richard Alpert, Hank Bull, Stephen Moore, Jim Melchert, Doug Kahn, Helen and Newton Harrison and many others.

As it was for many artists in the Bay area, in the following years La Mamelle was an important part of my experience of contemporary art. [2]


Informally edited information and excerpts from:
Judy Malloy, "Keeping the Art Faith, Interview with Carl Loeffler",
Artcom Electronic Network, on The WELL, 1988

Participants in addition to Loeffler, Malloy, and Fred Truck,included, among
others, John Coate, Abbe Don, Janey Fritsche, David Gans, Freddy Hahne, Raul Gilbert MinaMora, and Howard Rheingold.

In a 1988 interview on Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN) on the WELL, Carl talked about being in Art School. He was studying 19th Century French painting with the idea of teaching art history. But he changed his focus when in conjunction with taking courses in 20th Century art, he began doing intensive library research on conceptual art, video art, performance art, artists books,and xerox art. [3]

The Interview is of interest for its seminal use of early social media for interviews, as well as for its review of the core role of La Mamelle and Art Com in the San Francisco Bay Area art world.

It is January 11, 1988, on topic 90 On ACEN on The WELL, in the days before the Word Wide Web. The interview begins with these words:

"KEEPING THE ART FAITH
It's an online, in depth, INTERVIEW WITH CARL LOEFFLER,
in which anyone can participate by expanding on questions, by formulating new questions or by commenting on answers.

We'll be talking with Carl about his involvement with art -
the artspaces and publications he started; his ideas about art; online art; art gossip.

I'm your host this morning -- Judy Malloy -- at home in a red nightshirt, in Berkeley. With me, at home, online in Iowa (in his Mickey Mouse shirt?) is Performance/Conceptual Artist, ACEN Systems Designer, Director of THE ELECTRIC BANK -- Fred Truck.

With us in San Francisco, from now until this topic turns over, is Carl Loeffler, founder of the legendary 70's alternative art space, LA MAMELLE; editor of *the" book about California performance art, PERFORMANCE ANTHOLOGY; video promoter; founding director of ART COM ELECTRONIC NETWORK.

And anyone else online who wants to join us!

As the Interview progresses, the boundaries between host, guest, and audience may become blurred.

Good Morning!"

To begin with we talk about Carl's background, and then I say: "La Mamelle was a vital art center. I remember, in particular I guess because text/image combinations are a big interest of mine -- the Language and Photography show. Carl, what stands out in your mind? What do you think were La Mamelle's firsts during these early days:"

He responds in part by listing some of the projects La Mamelle hosted, including the conceptual photography exhibition, the Audio Art exhibition, the weekly cable TV show, the trans-continental-satellite performance series in 1976-77 and the video archive started in 1977, and then he says:

"I guess one of my FAVS is the project called A LITERAL EXCHANGE. See very early on I discovered Canadian Art. Actually this place, Art Com, is modeled after a Canadian space, ART METROPOLE. Canada plays a similar role to NY as CA. So, we started collaborating with Canadian art spaces, and I did my first lecture tour across Canada in 1977. In Toronto I started working closely with A-Space, and we decided to do a project where for one month we traded roles. In other words our staff and ten artists went up there, and they came here. We traded galleries, contacts, bank accounts, houses, clothes, and cars. Total life Art."

In a series of asides, some peripheral questions are asked and then Art Com programmer Fred Truck sets the stage again by reminding the audience that I am in Berkeley and he is in Iowa (wearing, he tells us, "a nice purple wool sweater")

Carl responds to the audience discussion of art by saying:

"We've been having a great time...and what we're interested in here is ideas, concepts, and new media to state or illustrate them. I was really lucky in that I had great art teachers/instructors/professors who demanded that students understand the theory underscoring works of art. Like why do Impressionists paintings look like Impressionist paintings? And to realize that every work of art is a definition of art, byt the producing artist, in that given time."

I ask Carl about memorable performances, in particular the work that Doug Hall and Jody Procter did where they strapped themselves as sculpture outside the 3rd floor of the La Mamelle Building in San Francisco.

He responds:

"The building performance piece you are speaking of was titled 32' PER SECOND PER SECOND, and it was wonderful. See, a major part of body art/performance was investigation. Artists doing things in part, to discover what it would be like to do them, etc. We were approached by T.R. Uthco (Truth Co.) who desired to sit on chairs, wearing all white, outside on the face of our 3 story building. Yep, pedimental sculpture! The artists were interested in the abstracting experience of being a piece of pedimental sculpture, as well as to create a genuine spectacle that would capture the attention of mass media. So sculpture and media were being manipulated by this work."

Further details of the work, lead to audience questions and asides. A series of arguments about the lives of artists and the different approaches of various San Francisco art spaces ensue.

It is not the World Wide Web, but a small audience of people who are online in 1988. We say what we think, informally, as if we were meeting an exhibition and resuming old arguments. Carl speaks as he would in casual conversation:

"The police didn't stop it once I explained in 'lofty' terms that it was only art after all"

I have great video and photos of all of this...and I can tell you that it SURE WAS FUN!!!!!"

More discussions of art continue the conversation. The audience is not all artists. The openness to different viewpoints adds to the spirit of ACEN and of this interview.

I say:

"Wednesday morning in Berkeley. Files.
Stacks of paper - information
of all kinds are piled around this old Apple II+
reminds me that I think you are in a way an information artist...
I'm talking about collected works like your PRODUCED FOR TELEVISION series, for instance. which was artists video tapes shown on real tv: tapes by Chris Burden, Lynn Hershman and others-- the Burden tape THE BIG WRENCH was a particularly wonderful tape, about among other things jealousy and the truck he bought."

Carl responds by talking about the impact of the Punk scene on conceptual performance. It was a different audience. He and Darlene Tong were working on the book Performance Anthology; (Nancy Frank did the images) it was that tradition that he wanted at the time to emphasize. Later La Mamelle figured out how to program for the new audiences when they produced the cabaret style Performing/Performance series, but that was in 1981.

"So," he continues, "in 1979 we asked how can we program performance in the tradition of the late sixties and seventies. Noting that the tradition I speak of was not about actions directed toward an audience and cultivated private investigation based in conceptualism. We got the idea to buy television time. Bring the artist into the studio. And have them produce work LIVE for television viewing audiences...the TV studio became a 'private' space for the artists, and people at home watched it on airwave (2.5. million watts) and over cable throughout the Bay Area. After the performance we walked out of the studio with a master videotape. So, we covered our interest in documentation, and provided the artist with a videotape that they, as well as Art Com, could distribute. We worked with Chris Burden, Lynn Hershman, Chip Lord (formerly of Ant Farm) and Barbara Smith. The series was another 'first' in the field, and we, and the artists got a lot of mileage from the project and videotapes."


Conversation asides return to a discussion of the different kinds of art spaces in the Bay Area. Carl sets forth his points of view. I argue with him. (I have friends who show their work at other spaces) He argues with me. I apologize for being a host who argues with the guest. We do this all the time offline, but in print it does not look so good. This interview is one of the first online interviews, and we have not yet figured out how to do it.

"As this interview progresses, I am more impressed with what you have accomplished than I was before," I tell him. "You have not only been continually on the cutting edge but also have added something to every new art form you have approached. Let's talk about Performing/Performance -- the early 1980's performance series you put on." Noting that the audiences were very responsive in a rowdy, rewarding way, (In December 1981, I performed in the closer for the first series) I ask: "How *did* you do it? What stands out in your mind about the series?"

"How we did it is indicated by the title; we established a series to perform in a theatrical manner performance art." Carl speaks again of how La Mamelle/Art Com had stopped programming live art and then continues:

"And we had a lot to do until 1981. We were finishing the Performance Anthology and put a lot of energy into our 'retrospective' LA MAMELLE, INC 1975-1980 at SFMOMA, And of course the Produced for Television Series and a zillion other things.. So we redesigned our space, painted it black, built all sorts of staging devices to help us with the appearances of theatre. Note that to talk about elements of theatre runs right across the grain of 60's and 70's body/performance art. We now talked about staging and frontality, lighting, directing activity toward an audience, entertainment and cabaret. As you recall we put on extensive shows, sometimes up to over 3 hours long. They would consist of performances, video, film, music, fashion and mania all assembled in a seamless program ...During that series I drove the staff near crazy over perfection. We'd start rehearsing on Weds. continue on Thurs. and stage it on Fri and Sat. Who in the old days practiced a performance?

Many of these shows (Performing/Performance) remain my fav activity for live art. When I think back on it I'm amazed we could do all that work. The underscoring theory for such a series was based on the emergence of a populist attitude on the part of artists. and here in the US fueled by the success of Laurie Anderson. Note that I was inspired in 1977 by Canadian artists in Toronto who did wonderful cabaret performance using TV sets to make staircases to perform satires on Hollywood dance films, etc. The biggest event of this series was when we brought in Ondine, a former Warhol superstar; we drew 1,500...


A while later (my copy of the interview is strangely fractured; some of the pages are missing) I say "So let's talk about telecommunications. Tell us about the SEND/RECIEVE project that you organized with Liza Bear and Keith Sonnier about 10 years ago.

He responds in Topic 90: THE MORNING SHOW - Interview with Carl Loeffler #61: Artcom (artcomtv) Sun, Jan 17, '88 that SEND/RECEIVE "was a two-way 15 hour interactive satellite performance event between SF and NYC. We with Liza Bear and Keith Sonnier developed the idea for the project. The next question was how are we going to do it ---- get access to very expensive equipment.

I've found an important "law" of art production is that you look to yourself for the concepts and look outside of yourself for support.

So we contacted NASA. They liked the idea and gave us everything for free!"

Carl lists what they used including a Communication Technology Satellite, a Mobile Satellite tracking/ receiving station that they parked along the Hudson River, the teleconferencing station at Ames Research Center, the huge satellite dish behind Stanford University, and many other things.

"Within the terrific 'electronic space'," he explains, "we conducted dance pieces using split screen, where dancers in NYC and SF would interact. Music experiments with performers playing to activity in SF and the reverse. Experiments in looping the signal around the system a few times and taking delight in the noise and delay. A quasi-moon walk segment, using a moon suit we got from NASA. All sorts of other investigations..."

There is some discussion of the process, and then I ask

"So how did ACEN come about, Carl?"

He responds:

"Well, that's a long story.....

You know that I'd been following and participating in Canadian Art from the mid-seventies. And this had gotten us involved in slo-scan video and computer networking projects as early as the late seventies. In 1979/80 at SF MOMA we did a project called ARTISTS USE OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS where we created a slo-scan link from that museum to cultural facilities in Tokyo, Vancouver, Toronto, Vienna, NYC, and Boston. The transmission was broadcast live on TV in Austria. To coordinate it all we used I.P. Sharpe and Associates, a Canadian based telecom carrier. The event is major in the history of art, because it was the "first" time this activity found its way to a museum. We interacted with these locations from SF MOMA, and it was great."

Carl continues, noting that in 1983, they were involved with Roy Ascott's Planetary fairytale, La plissure du texte, which was a seminal collaborative work across multiple nodes.

"I was dreaming and dreaming about databases, online access to Art Com -- everything we're doing here."

Then he got a package in the mail from Fred Truck, a print-out from his performance art database, "The Electric Bank,. "Truck had already done what I was working toward," Carl says and confesses his envy. In 1984, Fred visited San Francisco to attend Ginny Lloyd's Inter Dada 84, came by Art Com and demoed his database. "and I was IMPRESSED," Carl says.

Meanwhile, Donna Hall, a friend of Nancy Frank's, had been talking about The WELL. One thing led to another and Art Com got a go ahead from The WELL to begin Art Com Electronic Network. Carl wanted an online publication. "We got the ok, but we had no idea how to do the programming." He and Fred relate how Fred was helped in setting up ACEN by Matthew McClure, David Hawkins, John Coate and Cliff Figallo. "The WEll helped us out beyond belief," Carl says.

"By the time the second data release rolled around, we could do all our own UNIX programming. "We had to be able to do our own productions, corrections., etc."

"Why The WELL? The main reason was that we could agree with the philosophy of what was and is happening on the Net."

"So ACEN is here because of Canada, Donna Hall, Truck, and The WELL, and we just love the opportunity... Thank you all!"

The interview comes to a close. We don't discuss what is happening on ACEN because the audience already knows this, and we aren't thinking that twenty years later it might be a good thing to review.

"The Future is nearly here," I say on Wednesday January 20, 1988.

"The Future is nearly here! So keep an eye on this electronic space for FUTURE UPDATES" Carl replies.

I conclude the interview:
"Thanks Carl, 'Keep the art faith", a phrase you used, has stayed with me and seems appropriate here."


 
Outtakes from "Keeping the Art Faith"

CL: "Zow this is getting lively. TERRIFIC!"
JM: "am I allowed to say this?"
CL: "the lights are on and here we are and this is NOT fiction."
JM: "oops -- I was rummaging through my files and noticed that it was Jody Procter and not Chip Lord who was out there '60 feet above the pavement in chairs bolted to the masonry' with Doug Hall. Diane Andrews Hall was also a part of T.R. Uthco,. T.R. Uthco did some collaborative things with Ant Farm of which Chip Lord was a part. (how I got confused)"
CL: "I'll make this brief, but sometimes I caused out and out RIOTS in the audience talking about the distinctions between video art and television art. You should have seen it."
JM: "Well its time for me to apologize. Hosts aren't supposed to argue with guests."



Notes:

1. Mark J. Jones, "E-Mail From Carl", CyberStage 1.2, Spring 1995

2. It was, I think, 1977 when I first met Carl Loeffler. I remember going to La Mamelle looking for a job for which I had no experience and coming away instead with the energy of an art space where conceptual art, performance art, artists books, and video were brought together. Carl admired Andy Warhol, and the aesthetic at La Mamelle was somewhat more pop than the other alternative art spaces of the seventies -- all of which are legendary, but for my work, which was visual literary and at times what would be called pop conceptual, La Mamelle was a more welcoming space.

I was beginning or about to begin a landscape documentation project with filmmaker Doyle Saylor. The idea was that artists books, videos and small works of art would be displayed on library shelves where library visitors could experience them along with magazine and new book displays. Many of the works were designed to be handled and "read". Carl was enthusiastic about the project, and through the LOCATION series, we received some National Endowment for the Arts funding, administered by La Mamelle, for our project that was created to bring artists' documentation of local landscape to community audiences. From April 18- May 27, 1978, at the Noe Valley Branch of the San Francisco Public Library we installed my maps, visual card catalog, and xeroxed paintings and drawings designed for library shelves, a large painting we created together, and Saylor's photographs and video of the terrain and experience.

2. Avalanche, founded by Willoughby Sharp and Liza Béar, was his most important source of information at that time and was very influential on his career.


Sources:

Roy Ascott and Carl Eugene Loeffler, Guest Editors, Connectivity:
Art and Interactive Telecommunications
, Leonardo 24:2, 1991.

Suzanne Foley,
Space/Time/Sound, Conceptual Art in the San Francisco Bay Area: The 70s
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1980

Carl E. Loeffler and Darlene Tong,
Performance Anthology: Source Book for a Decade of California
Performance Art
, San Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1980
(there is also a 1989 edition of this book)

Judy Malloy, "Keeping the Art Faith, Interview with Carl Loeffler",
Artcom Electronic Network, 1988
Participants in addition to Loeffler, Malloy, and Fred Truck,included, among
others, John Coate, Abbe Don, Janey Fritsche, David Gans, Freddy Hahne, Raul Gilbert MinaMora, Howard Rheingold.

Last update: May 15, 2013




Carl Loeffler
(November 14, 1946 - February 5, 2001)

"Carl Loeffler", San Francisco Chronicle,
March 17, 2001