Media Utopia: Art and Advocacy of Paul Ryan

October 8 to December 31, 2008
Exhibited at the Archives’ New York Research Center


From Paul Ryan’s Triadic Tapes (1975), Nature in NYC (1989), and Bronx Falls (1988)

In 2008 The Archives of American Art acquired the papers of Paul Ryan (b. 1943), a pioneering video artist, writer, teacher and theoretician who works and lives in New York City.

Ryan’s work appeared in the groundbreaking exhibition TV as a Creative Medium at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York in 1969, and he was a member of the Raindance media collective as well as contributor to its seminal video journal Radical Software.

Much of Ryan’s theoretical work focuses on triadic behavior--the interrelation of three units or persons—codified by Ryan into the concept of “threeing” as well as the Earthscore Notational System which draws upon video to address issues of ecological sustainability.

The Paul Ryan papers contain primary source materials on Ryan’s individual contributions as well as documentation on the video movement in New York during its germinal phase. The collection is an important addition to the Archives’ research holdings relating to the history of video first formed through the acquisition of the Howard Wise Gallery records in 1971 and augmented more recently through collections such as the Leo Castelli Gallery records and oral history interviews with artists such as Bill Viola, John Baldessari, and Vito Acconci.

The Paul Ryan papers total 29.4 linear feet including correspondence, drafts of writing, photographs, printed material, sketches, notebooks, and a selection of original video studies, excerpts which are on view in the present exhibition.

Donated by Paul Ryan in 2008. Special thanks to Stephanie Wuertz, graduate student in Media Studies at the New School.

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Media Utopia: Art and Advocacy of Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan letter to Howard Wise

Paul Ryan letter to Howard Wise, 1969 Mar. 2

Creator: Paul Louis Ryan

A letter to Howard Wise, dated March 2nd 1969, concerns Ryan’s involvement in the exhibition TV as a Creative Medium at the Howard Wise Gallery. This groundbreaking show was the first exhibition in the United States devoted to video art with notable participants including Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider. As the letter details, Ryan was initially wary about the art gallery setting, but did propose two entries: The Shooting Gallery and Everyman’s Moebius Strip, the latter which was realized in the show. For Everyman’s Moebius Strip Ryan set up a booth with video equipment which allowed visitors privately to record themselves and immediately view the results (an innovation allowed by the medium of video) before the next participant recorded over the footage.

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Media Utopia: Art and Advocacy of Paul Ryan

Cybernetic guerilla warfare draft

Cybernetic guerilla warfare draft, 1971

Creator: Paul Louis Ryan

Following his participation in TV as a Creative Medium, Ryan co–founded the alternative media collective Raindance with artist–activists Frank Gillette, Michael Shamberg and Ira Schneider. Throughout the early seventies, Ryan collaborated on a number of crucial Raindance video projects, including Media Primer, The Rays, Interview with Buckminster Fuller, and Supermarket. The 1971 manifesto Cybernetic Guerilla Warfare was first published in Radical Software, Raindance’s influential theoretical journal. In it, Ryan advocates unauthorized and subversive portable video practices to counteract the dominance of mainstream broadcast television.

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Media Utopia: Art and Advocacy of Paul Ryan

Artist book based on the Triadic Tapes

Artist book based on the Triadic Tapes, 1976

Creator: Linda Zerella

From 1972–76 Ryan developed the idea of a Utopian community based on non–hierarchical groups of three people. To this end he produced a series of videos—the Triadic Tapes—in collaboration with the Dancing Theatre Company founded by tap dancer Brenda Bufalino. In these videos players move around Ryan’s “relational circuit” of six positions outlined on the floor which regulates the interaction of participants as they take turns playing the roles of initiator, respondent and mediator. Ryan then played the tapes back to initiate self–correcting behavior, intending these exercises to facilitate interactions which are open to difference and multiplicity in an attempt to minimize dysfunction within the group. The Triadic Tapes have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art and The Kitchen performance space. Inspired by the Triadic Tapes, graphic artist Linda Zerella created this handmade book with text and Kodalith transparencies of stills from Ryan’s videos.

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Media Utopia: Art and Advocacy of Paul Ryan

Michael Kalil's Threeing rug design

Michael Kalil's Threeing rug design, 1990

Creator: Paul Louis Ryan

In 1990, Ryan called on renowned educator, interior architect and artist Michael Kalil to design a series of Threeing rugs based on his “relational circuit” to be used in various videos, exhibitions, and performance projects. Due to Kalil’s untimely death in 1991 the project was put on hold. The designs were also shown as part of the exhibition Michael Kalil Retrospective: Design for the 21st Century at Parsons School of Design in 2001.

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Media Utopia: Art and Advocacy of Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan with colleagues

Paul Ryan with colleagues, 1986

Creator: Paul Louis Ryan

In 1986, Paul Ryan joined conceptual artist Robert Schuler on a voyage to drop a series of five hundred pound granite blocks with latitude and longitude inscriptions at corresponding points in the Atlantic Ocean. Known as the Tethys Project, the granite blocks at rest on the ocean floor were conceived as objects that would remain unscathed in the event of a nuclear war. For this project Ryan recorded Tethys: TransAtlantic Voyage, 70 hours of unedited documentation of the journey and its participants. In this photograph Ryan (with camera) and friends are pictured off the coast of England.

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Media Utopia: Art and Advocacy of Paul Ryan

Art and survival: the Earthscore Notational System for sharing perception of the natural world

Art and survival: the Earthscore Notational System for sharing perception of the natural world, 1990

Creator: Paul Louis Ryan

Earthscore is a notational system developed by Ryan to help communities detect patterns of disturbance and destruction in local ecologies by using video to monitor the environment. By employing Earthscore a waterfall, for instance, can be recorded over time, its underlying structures mapped, and variations that are observed over extended periods can be charted so that the sustainability of ecological systems can be addressed. The Earthscore Notational System for Orchestrating Perceptual Consensus about the Natural World was published in Leonardo and presented at a 1990 NASA conference on Earth Observation and Global Change Decision Making. Ryan intends Earthscore as an open-source code for public dissemination and use, and has granted unrestricted access to its documentation via the Paul Ryan papers. Ryan has also implemented Earthscore in various video art pieces including Eco-Channel Design (MoMA in 1985), Coast of Cape Anne (Museum of the Moving Image), and Stationed on the Stone (2003, distributed by EAI).

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