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Peak Performances to Stage World Premiere of SWIM, 3/26-29


The world premiere of Swim, a theater work for blind and sighted audiences by celebrated theater artist Robert Whitman, takes place March 26-29 as part of Peak Performances's 10th anniversary season at the Alexander Kasser Theater.

Swim was created at the request of Peak's Executive Director Jedediah Wheeler, who challenged Whitman to "make a work for those who are blind to enjoy along with those who are sighted. Only differently. Uniquely. And without interpretation."

Wheeler described his choice by saying, "As an artist who has made a career creating nonnarrative works that connect different communities at the same time, Bob is uniquely suited to meet my challenge."

Whitman composed Swim with sounds, sights, and even smells of everyday experiences and familiar objects transported to the theater space to create a flow of images that will resonate with both audiences. In Swim multiple actions and events, both live and recorded take place at the same time in several different places within the theater itself, giving the audience many ways to experience the work. Each person may come away with his or her own personal experience of the piece, but as Whitman has said, "An image, an object, a performer or an action may not be seen, but it can be heard, smelled, perceived and felt; and in this shared experience the audience can be brought into a single community."

For the making of Swim, Whitman consulted with artist Emilie Gossiaux, a recent Cooper Union graduate, who was blinded in a traffic accident in 2010. Whitman said Gossiaux "mainly told me what I didn't need to do to accommodate a blind audience."

Building on Peak's reputation for radical innovation and Whitman's ability to create works that connect with audiences in new ways, Swim takes both the series and the artist into a striking new arena, one that widens its reach by opening the theater up to new audiences and creating a uniquely inclusive theater experience.

An example of Whitman's ability to connect different audiences as his last work at Peak, "Passport," which was performed simultaneously in two places: indoors at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University in New Jersey and outside on the banks of the Hudson River near Dia:Beacon. During the simultaneous performances, images and activities performed at one site were transmitted to, and projected at, the other performance site.

Robert Whitman was born in New York City in 1935. He received a B.A. in English Literature from Rutgers University in 1957 and studied art history at Columbia University in 1958.

As a pioneer of artists' theater of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Whitman, together with Jim Dine, Red Grooms, Allan Kaprow and Claes Oldenburg, presented performances that combined performers, props, sound and lights, in non-traditional theater spaces throughout lower Manhattan. Notably, with his pioneering piece, The American Moon (1960), Whitman became the first artist of his generation to incorporate slides and film into his performances. During this time he also exhibited mixed media works at some of New York's more important contemporary venues including the Hansa, Reuben, Martha Jackson and Sidney Janis galleries.

During the 1960s, Whitman became increasingly interested in creative collaboration with scientists, engineers and specialists beyond the realm of the visual arts world, which led to his participating in 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City in 1966. The same year Whitman co-founded, with engineers Billy Klu?ver and Fred Waldhauer and artist Robert Rauschenberg, Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), a foundation that provided artists with access to technology through collaborations with engineers and scientists. He also collaborated on the design, construction, and programming of the Pepsi Pavilion at Expo '70, in Osaka, Japan, and made a new work for the Art & Technology Show, shown at the U.S. Pavilion at Expo '70, and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1971).

His one-person exhibitions have been presented at such venues as the Jewish Museum, New York (1968), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1968), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1973), and The Pace Gallery, New York (1995, 1997, 2004, 2007). He has presented theater works in various European venues, including Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1987 and 1989), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2001 and 2002), the New Media Festival in Leeds, England (2004), and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2010).

Dia Art Foundation organized a retrospective of his theater works in 1976, and, in 2003, presented "Playback," an exhibition bringing together a selection of key works from the early 1960s to late 1970s spanning various media, including presentations of Light Touch (1976) and Prune Flat. The exhibition traveled to Museo Serralves, Porto, Portugal in 2004, and Musee d'art Contermporani di Barcelona in 2005.

In 2005 Whitman launched a large-scale communications project, Local Report, the latest version of a series of telephone pieces that began with NEWS, in New York in 1972, where reports from participants using pay phones all over the city were played over radio station WBAI. Local Report consisted of live performances held on successive weekends at five different places around New York City in which participants used video cell phones to create and send short video films and sound reports from their areas, the final playback resulting in a multi-screen video and sound installation shown at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. An international version of the work, Local Report 2010, produced by Creative Time, gathered reports from more than 90 participants in cities around the world, and these visual and audio reports came into and continued to play on a five screen installation at Eyebeam Center in New York City.

Passport was co-commissioned in 2011 by Peak Performances @ Montclair State (NJ) and Dia Art Foundation. This ambitious work was performed simultaneously in two places: indoors at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University in New Jersey and outside on the banks of the Hudson River near Dia:Beacon. During the simultaneous performances, images and activities performed at one site were transmitted to, and projected at, the other performance site, for example "a person 'walking' upside down across the stage was projected on a large screen outdoors, while a woman crossing the outside space lying on the back of a white horse, appeared as a video projection crossing the stage of the Kasser Theater.

Whitman's Local Report 2012 was an international media and telecommunications work in which Whitman used cell phone video clips and live voice reports from approximately ninety participants in cities around the world to create a live sound and video performance and continuing installation, composing in real time what he calls "a cultural map of the world. The work was produced by Creative Time and performed on October 11, 2012, at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in New York City. The Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts at Stanford University, as well as George Mason University in Alexandria, Virginia and Le Consortium in Dijon, France, participated in the project as satellite performance receiving sites.?

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