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Paul Ryan papers, 1931-2009

Paul Ryan papers, 1931-2009

Ryan, Paul Louis, 1943-

Writer, Video artist

Collection Information

Size: 19.7 linear feet

Summary: The Paul Ryan papers measure 19.7 linear feet and document Ryan's education and career as a pioneering video artist, theorist, writer, and educator. Records include school records, family papers,correspondence, writings, project files, video recordings, teaching files, printed materials, scattered photographs, and artwork by others. Organizational records are also found for the Earthscore Foundation, Earth Environmental Group, the Gaia Institute, and the Raindance Corporation, among others. The bulk of Ryan's professional work is documented in his writings and project files.

Biographical materials include family papers, early correspondence among Ryan family members, school records, selective service records, photographs of Paul Ryan, and career documentation such as résumés, CVs, recommendation letters, and narratives written by Ryan describing his career. Records related to Ryan's time in the seminary and monastery include letters home during this period, and his letter of resignation from 1965. Correspondence is mainly professional in nature, and spans Ryan's career.

Correspondence between Ryan and family members is also found. Professional correspondence is found with Myrdene Anderson, Peter Berg of Planet Drum, Morris Berman, Avery Johnson, Marga Bijvoet, Thomas Berry, Lois Bianchi, David Dunn, Roberta Kevelson, Gerrit Lansing, Aldo Lira, Oliver Lowenstein, Chip Lord, Claude Ponsol, Jody Procter, Jodi Sibert, Phyllis Gershuny Segura, Michael Shamberg, and Marita Sturken. Corporate correspondence is found regarding job applications, manuscript submissions to publishers, and video submissions to museums and broadcasters.

Writings include mainly articles and notebooks by Ryan, but also drafts of books, lectures, poetry, short stories, a treatment for a television show, and writings by others in various genres. Most of Ryan's prose writing is theoretical in nature, although personal writings and notes from projects are also found. Articles include both published and unpublished writings, with some published multiple times under different titles. Over one hundred notebooks spanning forty years contain a variety of content including drafts of letters, articles, grant proposals, lectures, and other writings. Ryan's two major publications, "Cybernetics of the Sacred" and "Video Mind, Earth Mind," are documented with drafts, contracts, correspondence with publishers, layout documents, and notes.

Organizational records include writings, correspondence, printed material, financial records, grant proposals, and other records concerning various organizations, collectives, and companies in which Ryan participated, mostly having to do with environmental advocacy, video production, or a combination of the two. Organizations with substantial records in this series include the Earth Environmental Group, the Earthscore Foundation, Environment '89 (and '90, '91, and '92), the Gaia Institute, and the Raindance Corporation, among others. Documentation is most comprehensive for The Earthscore Foundation, including by-laws, grant proposals, extensive writings, financial records, and printed materials.

Project files contain video recordings, production notes, photographs, proposals, correspondence, a computer program designed by Ryan, prints for exhibition, illustrations and designs, posters, circulars, contracts, and scripts. Many of the projects documented in this series relate to Ryan's many explorations of the use of video to monitor and interpret two seemingly different subjects, environmental change and human behavior in relationships, expressed through a ritual of interaction among three persons designed by Ryan and called "Threeing," or "Triadic Behavior." The most thoroughly documented projects in this series include "Nature in New York City," "New York City Eco-Channel for Sustainable Television (NEST)," "Talking Wood" (a publication that incorporated the project "Watershed Watch"), "Inventing Triadic Behavior" (also known as the "Triadic Tapes"), "Tethys"(with artist Bob Schuler), and "Video Wake for my Father," a performance for video that saw many iterations, including a private performance, a public performance, an edited video program, and a published script.

Video recordings are found for three projects, including "Nature in New York City," "Inventing Triadic Behavior," and a threeing workshop held at the Kitchen entitled "Video Variations on Holy Week." A printout of records in a videotape database kept by Ryan is found in this series, with a proposal for video preservation; the list of tapes includes those found in the collection as well as tapes not extant.

Teaching files include documentation of Ryan's work at Dalton School, Hudson School, the New School for Social Research, and Savannah College of Art and Design, and many other workshops and training programs Ryan taught. Included are grade books, correspondence, curricula, training materials, and reports. Two of his programs, the Black Rock Rangers at the Dalton School, and the Urban Conservation Corps Pilot Video Program involve the implementation of the Earthscore Notational System in school curricula.

Printed material includes books, newspaper clippings, conference programs and published proceedings, exhibition catalogs and announcements, film and video programs, flyers, periodicals, poetry publications, posters, and materials relating to the artist Al Robbins, which includes an obituary written by Ryan. Also found are publications of the Raindance Corporation, which include the book, "Guerrilla Television" (1971), and four issues of their magazine, "Radical Software" (1971-1972). Most of the printed material was either written by Paul Ryan, contains articles by Paul Ryan, or documents activities of Paul Ryan. Other materials found contain works by Ryan's associates and collaborators.

Artwork contains artists' books, doodles, illustrations, prints, and photographs by named and unnamed artists. None of the artwork in this series appears to be by Ryan. Notable is an artist's book entitled "Patterns" by Lida Zerella, which incorporates still images from Ryan's Triadic Tapes in a small album. Two illustrations are found by Claude Ponsot, who also illustrated many of Ryan's publications relating to Kleinform and threeing.

Biographical/Historical Note

Paul Ryan (1943- 2014) was a video artist, teacher, writer and theoretician based in New York City and the Hudson Valley of New York State.


The papers of Paul Ryan were donated to the Archives of American Art by Ryan in 2008.

A Finding Aid to the Paul Ryan papers, 1931-2009, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
Paul Ryan was a pioneering video artist, writer, teacher, and theoretician based in New York City and the Hudson Valley of New York State. Born in 1943, Ryan spent his early adulthood as a seminarian and later a member of the Roman Catholic order of Passionist monks, which he left in 1965. He eventually received a B.A. from New York University. During the Vietnam War, Ryan received conscientious objector status and studied with Marshall McLuhan at Fordham University as alternative service. It was McLuhan's influence that led Ryan to begin to explore the possibilities of the medium of video.
In 1969, Ryan participated in the landmark exhibition "TV as a Creative Medium" curated by Howard Wise, which served to link the kinetic art movement of the 1960s with the emergent medium of video art. The first exhibition in the United States devoted to video, "TV as a Creative Medium" signaled radical changes and defined an emerging artistic movement. In 1969 Ryan co-founded the Raindance Corporation along with Ira Schneider, Michael Shamberg, David Cort, Beryl Korot, Phyllis Gershuny, and others. Raindance was an influential media collective that proposed radical theories and philosophies of video as an alternative form of cultural communication. Influenced by the communications theories of Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller, the collective produced tapes and writings that explored the relation of cybernetics, media, and ecology. From 1970-1974, Raindance published the seminal video journal
Radical Software
, which provided a network of communications for the fledgling alternative video movement. In 1971, Shamberg published
Guerrilla Television
, a summary of the group's principles and a blueprint for a decentralization of television through access to public and cable programming. The original Raindance collective dispersed in the mid-1970s; the nonprofit Raindance Foundation continued into the 1990s. Ryan's core writings from the Raindance era were gathered into his 1973 publication
Birth and Death and Cybernation
, republished in 1974 as
Cybernetics of the Sacred
Ryan's work to develop alternative uses of video technology continued long after his involvement with Raindance. He began to implement his theories about the use of video monitoring and feedback within dynamic systems with the work that came to be known as the Earthscore Notational System. With Steve Kolpan and Bob Schuler, he founded the Earthscore Foundation, through which he raised money for the exploration and development of this applied practice. Earthscore, based largely on the writings of philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce and Gregory Bateson's work on cybernetics, provided the theoretical and logical underpinnings of both the ecosystem documentation and interpretation process, and the triadic rituals of interpersonal behavior, that became the core of Ryan's work for much of his life. These ideas were implemented in a wide variety of projects such as eco-channel design, video scores specific to certain locations, threeing projects exploring interpersonal behavior with video and computer technology, and a curriculum for combining media production training with environmental education.
Ryan later worked with organizations such as Talking Wood, The Earth Environmental Group, and Environment '89, (re-named in later years Environment '90, '91, and '92) to implement Earthscore systems and prototypes. He co-founded The Gaia Institute, hosted at Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and co-directed it from 1985-1991. The Institute fostered dialogs between science, religion, and art through workshops, lectures, exhibitions and events. He was an artist-in-residence for Earth Environmental Group in 1988 via a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, and used the residency to carry out his video project "Nature in New York City," documenting city ecosystems and demonstrating how an eco-channel might work. Environment '89 organized a coordinated campaign for a cable channel devoted to the environment, the New York City Eco-channel for a Sustainable Tomorrow (NEST).
Ryan spent his later years as a professor of media production and theory at Savannah College of Art and Design, and then at the New School for Social Research. His work has been exhibited widely in the United States, including "The Primitivism Show" in The Museum of Modern Art (1984), "The American Century Show" at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1999-2000), and the Venice Biennale (2002). He died in 2013.
Arrangement note
This collection is arranged as 8 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1931-2003 (0.8 linear feet; Boxes 1, 20)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1965-2007 (2 linear feet; Boxes 1-3)
Series 3: Writings, 1955-2001 (6.8 linear feet; Boxes 3-10, 20)
Series 4: Organizational Records, 1968-1996 (1.2 linear feet; Boxes 10-11, 20, OV 21)
Series 5: Project Files, 1968-2008 (6.5 linear feet; Boxes 11-17, 20, OV 21-22, 24, RD 26)
Series 6: Teaching Files, 1967-2008 (0.7 linear feet; Box 17)
Series 7: Printed Materials, 1968-2009 (1.6 linear feet; Boxes 18-20, OV 23, 25)
Series 8: Artwork, 1965-2003 (0.1 linear feet; Boxes 19-20, OV 22)
The papers of Paul Ryan were donated to the Archives of American Art by Ryan in 2008.
Processing Information note
The collection was fully processed and a finding aid prepared by Megan McShea in 2013-2014 with funding provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Hidden Collections" grant program.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers and archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice.

Restrictions on Use

Copyright to all works created by Ryan in both completed and draft form retained by Ryan.

How to Cite This Collection

Paul Ryan papers, 1931-2009. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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