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Letters to John Cage Author(s): Robert Morris and Bob Morris Source: October, Vol. 81 (Summer, 1997), pp.

70-79 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 23/03/2011 00:41
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Letters toJohn Cage


Thefollowing letters,written by RobertMorris toJohn Cage over a period of threeyears beginning in 1960, are currently locatedat theJohn Cage Archive at the Northwestern to UniversityMusic Library,Evanston, Illinois. Unfortunately, date neitherMorris'sfirst letter-which Cage evidentlyreturnedto him along with his reply-nor Cage'shalf of the Morriss archives. has found in eithertheJohn CageArchiveor in Robert correspondence been -Branden W.Joseph Aug. 8 [1960] DearJohn Cage, Just received your letter. Thanks for the names of people who might be interested. Kaprow I know of by having read an article by him-very interested to know more concretely of what he speaks and hope to contact him this winter.1 While I'm here in the West perhaps I can see L. Young.2 Glad to have your reaction to the Ensemble3 . .. yes, it is "idea".4Probably a
1. Morris is probably referring to having read "The Legacy ofJackson Pollock," which appeared in Art News 57, no. 6 (October 1958), pp. 24-26, 55-57. According to Morris, he did not get in touch with Kaprow at that time (conversation with artist, October 9, 1996). 2. Although Morris had been living in San Francisco, he spent the spring of 1960 in New York. During August, however, he was back in San Francisco, having returned to participate in Ann Halprin's summer dance workshop along with Simone Forti, to whom he was married at the time. See Kimberly Paice, "Catalogue," in Robert Morris: The Mind/Body Problem (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1994), p. 90. While Sally Banes reports that Morris and Forti moved to New York in 1959, this is contradicted both by Paice and by Morris. See Banes, Democracy's Body:Judson Dance Theater,1962-1964 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993), p. 11; and Paul Cummings and Robert Morris, "Interview for the Archives of American Art" (March 10, 1968), p. 23, copy located in the Robert Morris Archive, Guggenheim Museum, New York. While Morris recalls having met La Monte Young in California prior to corresponding with Cage, according to letters located in the John Cage Archive, it was Cage who had previously introduced La Monte Young to Ann Halprin. Young would attend Halprin's summer workshop with Morris in the summer of 1960 (Banes, Democracy's Body,p. 12). 3. Reference most likely to Morris's "Wind Ensemble." See letter of February 27, 1961. All ellipses are Morris's. 4.
OCTOBER 81, Summer 1997, pp. 70-79. ? 1997 OctoberMagazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Letters toJohn Cage


result of my past problems in dealing, thinking with effort-process and result-object.5 Yes, I wanted a death of process here ... a kind of duration of idea only. I don't think the work goes very far toward changing the Focus from expressing to watching, which I want to do. I am now in the process of working on an event with elements of smoke, water, compressed air, mirrors, small explosions, etc. which I hope can be distributed and given its dynamics by mathematics. I need some way of giving these things existence and at the same time removing the "me" which would make them occur too much in terms of habits-their continuities, even their non-continuities I wish to remove from my expression.6 But I certainly feel the need of a situation where people are working in order to get myself going and maybe I'll be able to find it through some of the people you mention. Please keep the letter as I don't need it. Hope to be able to see you sometime
this winter in N.Y.7

[signed] Bob Morris

Feb. 27, 1961 DearJohn, It was nice to meet you the other day at the loft concert.8 You expressed an interest in the machines I have made and I wanted to tell you a little about what I have done in the past few months. First of all I changed somewhat the Wind Ensemble. In the first movement I have eliminated the smells and reduced the banging pile-driver sound to one beat per 2 seconds and the volume to a not especially loud one.9 The second movement is left as is. However, the temperature of the theater begins to rise and reaches its maximum of 85-90 degrees in this movement. The third movement is changed completely: it will consist of a duration
5. In his paintings of the 1950s, Morris had investigated the gestural process of Jackson Pollock's work. However, he found there to be too little relation between the process of painting and the resultant, finished canvas. By 1960, Morris had given up on painting, finding his painting "to be really not possible" (Cummings and Morris, "Interview,"p. 23). 6. "Continuities" and "non-continuities" are both distinctly Cagean terms. For a brief discussion, see the introduction. 7. Robert Morris would move to New York permanently early in the fall of 1960 (Paice, The Mind/Body Problem, 90). p. 8. Morris is likely referring to one of the concerts organized by La Monte Young at Yoko Ono's loft. In February 1961, Henry Flynt had given a pair of performances there, the first of which was attended by John Cage. See the list of concerts in Henry Flynt, "La Monte Young in New York, 1960-62," in Sound and Light: La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela,ed. William Duckworth and Richard Fleming, BucknellReview,vol. 40 (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1996), pp. 56, 58. 9. Morris would use a similar idea in his dance Siteof 1964, in which the sound track consisted of "a tape of construction workers drilling with jackhammers" (Maurice Berger, Labyrinths:RobertMorris, Minimalism,and the 1960s [New York:Harper and Row, 1989], p. 81).



of no sound or light and the windows should be opened and the heat off.l10 In your letter of July sent in response to my sending you the first draft of the Ensemble you said I left no room for nothing to happen. Now the changing of the 3rd movement is not conceived by me as "nothing happening" but rather the change was motivated by my increasing concern to achieve an allegorical function in my work. Actually, I can not conceive of nothing happeningll-I'm not trying to make a logical statement. In fact, a kind of "nothing" image is very important to me and I have even said that I want to arrive at zero, although going toward it is like successive divisions of a line-for the arrival one must go outside the process. For the time being I am involved in a kind of reducing process of attempting to find images that are closer and closer to the limit. This is, of course, very to achieve an absolute or final statement, to put a stop to Protestant-wanting process, to beat time (unintended pun). I am able to assign both a negative and positive value to this approach. On the one hand it reflects the desire to get outside by making logical steps (doing next to nothing so that nothing will be a real "next"). Then there is the dislike of the personality which needs to go on making art-perhaps by a kind of attenuation one will finally lose the habit. On the positive side there is my feeling about perception itself. You mentioned in your
10. In its new form, this movement recalls La Monte Young's Composition1960 #4, in which the lights are turned off for the duration of the piece and no intentional actions are performed. ed. Reprinted in An Anthology, La Monte Young (New York:Fluxus Editions, 1963). 11. Cf. the first line of Morris's "BlankForm" essay of 1960-61 which was to have been published in An Anthology:"From the subjective point of view there is no such thing as nothing" (reprinted in Barbara Haskell, Blam!: TheExplosionof Pop, Minimalism,and Performance, 1958-1964 [New York:Whitney Museum of American Art, 1984], p. 101). Morris's statement echoes Cage's famous pronouncement that there is no such thing as an absolute silence.

Game Switch. 1961.

Letters toJohn Cage


letter of July that "most of what happens never was in anybody's mind"; I feel that statements are not exclusive all of what does happen is in everybody's mind-the of one another, I guess it is more a matter of focus. I feel that by reducing the stimulus to next to nothing (some of us really are trying to say nothing in an elegant manner) one turns the focus on the individual, as if to say, "whatever you got in the past you brought along anyway, so now really work at it." I cannot deny in this a "percentage of malice" toward expression, the art situation; or that it underlines solipsism. ... but I intended to describe what I have done and plan to strikes me as very do. But before I do I want to add about the Wind Ensemble-it dreary to make a concert of it. I dislike it from beginning to end. The only way I might be pleased with having it performed would be to have the first movement in one theatre, then everyone would have to get up and travel across town to another theater for the second movement, and to another theatre for the 3rd. Better still, travel to another city for the second, third city for the third.12 Objects made: 1. The Performer Switch. An electrical switch fitted into a 3" x 5" wooden card file box (no wires, just the switch and box) with the following directions on the inside of the lid: "To begin turn on-continue doing what you are don't-do else. Later switch may be turned doing-or something a second, hour, day, year, posthumously." off-after 2. The Game Switch. Same construction as above, but with no directions. The switch has two "on" positions. Clock. 13 A wooden box about 2' square, 8" deep, mounted on wall. Over the front of the box is stretched a tight membrane of thin rubber. Hanging below is a rubber handle resembling a penis. Directions: "Pull gently about an inch and hold for exactly one minute". When handle is pulled it turns on motor in box which pushes out very slowly a bulge in the shape of a breast against the rubber membrane. The bulge extends about an inch and recedes and disappears. The cycle takes exactly one minute.


In this, Morris approaches certain ideas espoused by Allan Kaprow,who proposed, for example, 12. that "The Happening should be dispersed over several widely spaced, sometimes moving and changing, locales" ("The Happenings Are Dead: Long Live the Happenings!" [1966], in Allan Kaprow, Essays on theBlurring of Art and Life [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993], p. 62). It is unlikely, however, that Cage would have approved of Morris's intended modification. For Cage would come to condemn the giving of directions to the audience of a Happening. See Richard Kostelanetz, The Theatreof Mixed-Means(New York:Dial Press, 1968), p. 56. 13. This piece was later titled Footnote theBride. to

Left:Footnote to the Bride. 1961. Io~~~~~~ :Its The a,~~Right: Box with the Sound of Own Making. 1961.

J1,0: ~~


The Plus and Minus Box. An oak box about 1' x 2' x 5" mounted on wall. It has two doors in front which lift, the left marked "+" and the right "-". Opening the plus side exposes a plane of gray rubber, continuing to lift the door activates a rod which pushes against the rubber from behind like a finger. It pushes out about an inch when the door is completely raised. The left side or minus side is a reverse image of the right-a depression occurs in the rubber plane when the door is lifted. The Box With the Sound of its Making Inside-told you about this.14


Drawings, writings, etc. 1. Frugal Poem. On a page of dark paper the words "words words words" are written, filling the entire page. When read aloud one substitutes the word "talk" for "words". A tape was made of the scratching of the pencil as it was written-it is intended to be several superimposed images, i.e., drawing and/or poem and/or musical score and performance.

14. Cage did go to Morris's studio to see this piece, staying to listen to the entire three-and-a-half hour tape. "When [Cage] came I turned it on ... and he wouldn't listen to me. He sat and listened to it for three hours and that was really impressive to me. He just sat there" (quoted in Berger, Labyrinths, 31). p.

Letters toJohn Cage


yi:! 2. Drawing or unilluminated manuscript. 15 On a dark gray sheet of paper 18" x 24" Duchamp's "Litanies of the Chariot" ("Slow life. Vicious circle. Onanism. .... etc") are written and repeated enough times to fill the page-it amounts to a two and one half hour graphic recitation. The time is recorded at the bottom. Methods for Painting: A. Dictate them to friends. B. Squeeze out equal amounts of all of one's colors onto the palette, mix thoroughly, thin to a liquid and cover the entire canvas as evenly as possible. Sculptures A. Indeterminate 1. 45" x 72" x 37" 2. 85 lbs. 3. 17 mph. 4. 52 F. 5. NNE 3o 10' 25" a. 1 foot b. one yard c. one mile.
This piece was later titled Litanies.






B. Directive 1. (for LaMonte Young) Make a box, even one that will contain something, and leave it in a field.16 2. Put a piece of meat in a metal box and weld it shut. 5. Piece #1, 1961 To be looked at in a state of shock: nearly anything in a state of shock.

Plans for sculpture: I won't describe these in detail. One consists of a set of four cabinets: Standing, Leaning, Sitting, Lying. They are to be placed next to each other; there fitted is just enough room inside for one to assume the stated positions-baffles inside Leaning and Sitting so that one must conform to these positions when the door is closed. Another work is to be a pillar 2' x 8' which telescopes out two more feet. It is to be motorized and geared in such a way that it has a 48hr. cycle-24 up and 24 down. If you are in town one of these days and have the time perhaps you might like to see some of the objects-if so please call before 6pm or after 10:30 pm, TR 7-5934. [signed] Bob Morris

April 12, 1962 DearJohn, I believe it has been almost a year since I talked with you-when you came to my place when I was on Amsterdam and I showed you some of my work. Since then I have done new things, photographs of some of these are enclosed.17 I want to continue doing more of such things. I have contacted a few galleries, Green, Castelli, Radich; all expressed interest, Bellamy of Green and Karp of Castelli came immediately after seeing the photos and looked at the work-but I have not been offered a showing. Most of the sculpture I am now working on is large and I do not think that it would be a commercial success in any gallery and I am getting
16. This piece is similar to a piece of 1961 that Morris submitted (and later withdrew) for publication in La Monte Young's An Anthology: Make an object to be lost. Put something inside that makes a noise and give it to a friend with the instructions: "To be deposited in the street with a toss." 1961 17. (Reprinted in Barbara Haskell, Blam!,p. 101.) These photographs have not been found in the John Cage Archive.

Card File. 1963.

to the point where I need more money and more time to continue the work. I am applying for a Tiffany Foundation Grant that would pay $2000 and would like to ask you to write me a sponsoring letter.18 I appreciated very much your efforts in my behalf in having Mrs. Castelli come over to see my things. However, she expressed an interest at that time mainly in the smaller objects since they would be more likely to sell. Even though I do not have plans for smaller objects I would like to keep in touch with her and send her photos of the things I am now doing. I would appreciate your sending along her address if you have it. If you care to keep the photos you are welcome to them. I am also asking Ad Reinhardt and the critic E. C. Goossen to write me a letter. Thank you for considering this and hope to hear from you soon, [signed] Bob Morris Bob Morris 78 East 3rd St. N.Y.C. 3


Morris would not receive this grant (conversation with artist, October 9, 1996).


Robert Morris in costumefor War.

1/12/63 DearJohn, I have not forgotten about the shadow.19However, I have noticed that the weekends seem gray or else I'm not able to get away and think, "oh, well it will probably be gray Sunday". But I hope (intend) to come up to Stony Point20 either the weekend of the 19th or that of the 26th of this month-actually I suppose I should consult the Farmer's Almanac. I will call you the Wednesday or Thursday before the weekend I plan to come up to see if you will be there. I now have two things, CARD FILE (which you have not seen) and COLUMN (which you have perhaps seen in a photograph) at the Green Gallery. I hope you will go see these things. And if you do, and if you have time to carefully look at the
19. It was Morris's intention to make a sculpture by casting John Cage's shadow in concrete. Although Morris never did come to undertake this piece, he did complete a similar project in 1963 by using the shadow of Jasper Johns. Morris cast Johns's shadow in half-inch gray cement, the resultant piece consisting of a sculpture of a length roughly equal toJohns's height, forming a somewhat distorted outline of a figure that lay on the floor. According to Morris, although the piece was completed, it was never exhibited and was eventually destroyed (conversation with artist, October 9, 1996). This piece by Morris is akin to Jasper Johns's inclusion of the silhouette of Marcel Duchamp in Accordingto What(1964). 20. Since the summer of 1954, John Cage had lived in the Gatehill Cooperative Community in Stony Point, New York.

LetterstoJohn Cage


CARD FILE I hope you will note any mistakes or suggestions for additions to this don't say study it, but work and carefully record the time of these observations-I the nature of the work is such that all additions are welcome but I want to know the time that such and such an addition is conceived since this is important information which must be entered into the cards of the CARD FILE. I am anxious to see Merce's work-it has been so many years since I've seen him dance that now, here in NYC, will be welcome indeed. This was just a note to say hello and that I still intend to come up and cast your shadow, and in fact want very much to get started on this but I have not been able to get away. I almost forgot to mention that on January 30th I and another sculptor friend21 will perform a dance at the Judson entitled WAR-I think of this dance as a kind of moralistic act, a useful substitute, a necessary replacement of an activity not easily discarded. Hope you will manage to see this as well as the Green show. Very best regards, [signed] Bob Morris 277 Church St. NYC 13. P.S. I am now teaching at Hunter College. I have mentioned to the head of the Art Department that I would like very much to have you give a lecture at the Bronx campus. When I mentioned this plan I did not know of course how much money you would need to come up and give a lecture, but if you would be interested in this and could let me know what funds would be necessary I would approach the department again-I would very much like to have you give a lecture (maybe you would prefer a concert?) sometime this spring-I would like to try to make it possible if you are interested.


Robert Huot.

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