A lecture by Felicity D. Scott
Project One, Optic Nerve, 1972, digital projection, 60 mins
As a video collective, Optic Nerve are most often recalled for Fifty Wonderful Years, their hilarious tape of the Miss California pageant, and Psychological Bullrider, a documentary on rodeo cowboys, both of 1973, as well as for collaborating with Ant Farm and T. R. Uthco on Media Burn (1975) and The Eternal Frame (1976). Founded initially as a documentary photo group, Optic Nerve turned to video soon after joining an urban commune, Project One, an experiment in collective living and working launched within an obsolescent industrial building in San Francisco’s South of Market district in the summer of 1970. An urban counterpart to contemporaneous back-to-the-land experiments, Project One was similarly haunted by the ongoing US-led war in Indochina as well as by communication technologies born of war and the Space Race, although it would look quite distinct. With their studio located in the basement, Optic Nerve were early members of the commune, which also included filmmakers, architects, artists, musicians, craftspeople, computer programmers, and much more. Called upon to make a documentary of the community, Optic Nerve’s 1972 video, Project One, stands as one of very few testaments to the complex social, political, and media-technical ecology of this “pioneering” initiative, channeling both the intense work of learning to negotiate, manage, and script communal ways of life, and the information networks that entered into the picture, notably through Resource One, a group of programmers who acquired an SDS940 computer and developed a computer resource center.
In Videocity, a special issue of Radical Software, Optic Nerve noted of Project One, “One prerequisite for the survival of any community is realization and control of those factors operating on it: in this case information.” In addition to screening Project One, I will present aspects of my research on the commune, for which the video serves not just as an important archive but as an artistic precedent for critically interpreting this history, an interpretation that stands at odds with the appearance of Resource One within Stewart Brand’s landmark essay in Rolling Stone, “Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” also of 1972. Under the title “A Straighter Kind of Hip,” I will speak to Project One and its refunctioning of urban industrial spaces at a moment when communications technologies, a knowledge economy, and postindustrial labor were increasingly coming to reconfigure social, economic, and urban relations in America, including collapsing living and work spaces and forging new topologies born of remote access.
Felicity D. Scott is director of the PhD program in Architecture (History and Theory), and co-director of the program in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture (CCCP) at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University. In addition to publishing numerous articles in journals, magazines, and edited anthologies, she has published Architecture or Techno-Utopia: Politics After Modernism (MIT Press, 2007), Living Archive 7: Ant Farm (ACTAR, 2008), Disorientation: Bernard Rudofsky in the Empire of Signs (Sternberg Press, 2016), and Outlaw Territories: Environments of Insecurity/Architectures of Counter-Insurgency (Zone Books, 2016).
This event is free, but donations are always appreciated.
Before the program, from 6-7:30pm, please join us for a drink to celebrate the debut of a permanent, site-specific installation at Light Industry by Josiah McElheny. Additional details forthcoming.