Slave Pianos, The Execution Protocol (I), Programme Text


Slave Pianos, The Execution Protocol (I), Programme Text


Slave Pianos The Execution Protocol


Created in April 1966 for an exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds are floating rectangles of metallised plastic film filled with a mixture of helium and oxygen. The Silver Clouds, designed with the assistance of engineer Billy Klüver, are an embodiment of Warhol’s ‘farewell to painting’, a physical manifestation of his desire for paintings to leave the walls and to float away.

“Oh! Oh! Oh, this is fantastic, Billy!… It’s going to fly away! It’s like a movie! Fantastic! This is one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me! It is so beautiful. Oh, Billy, it’s infinite, because it goes in with the sky. Oh, it is fantastic! Oh! … Billy, do you know what our movies are called? Up movies, and up art.” – Andy Warhol

The installation of Warhol’s Silver Clouds at the Great Hall provides the context for a significant new work by Slave Pianos, Electric Chair (2007). These two works, taken together, provide the conceptual foundation for a minutely examined & carefully choreographed evening of extravagant entertainment: The Execution Protocol.

“Is not a man an artist who can painlessly and without brutality dispatch another man?” – Charles Duff

Beginning in late 1963, and continuing though until 1967, Warhol made a series of Electric Chair prints and paintings, part of his extensive Death and Disaster sequence. These works are variations on a photograph of the execution chamber at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, NY. The Slave Pianos Electric Chair is, in turn, a large scale sculptural variation on Warhol’s work. It accommodates a suspended concert grand piano, held in an elevated position by leather restraints, and bound at its most delicate extremity by the QRS SLAVE PIANO mechanism. Throughout the evening this device will deftly execute the newly extruded Pianology repertoire, painstaking transcriptions of musical works by visual artists. The imminent demise of each work will be announced by an electrically lit sign, incorporated into the design of the chair, and modelled on the ‘SILENCE’ signal located above the entrance to the Sing Sing execution chamber.

“Being born is like being kidnapped, and then sold into slavery” – Andy Warhol

This will not be the first occasion where Warhol’s Silver Clouds have been subsumed into a larger endeavour. In 1968 they were incorporated by choreographer Merce Cunningham into his dance work RainForest, a collaboration with composer and electronic music pioneer David Tudor, and painter and costume-designer Jasper Johns.

“I immediately thought they would be marvellous on stage because they moved, and they were light, and they took light. So I asked Andy and he said, ‘Oh sure’.” – Merce Cunningham

RainForest was in turn subsumed into Persepolis Event, which was performed at the ancient Persian city of Persepolis in 1972 as part of the extraordinary series of international arts festivals held annually, and on an exceedingly lavish scale, from1967 until 1977, in honour of the royal court of the Shahanshah, and his artistically inclined wife, Shahbanou Farah.

“One of the odder aspects of the late Shah’s regime was its wish to buy modern Western art, so as to seem ‘liberal’ and ‘advanced’. Seurat in the parlor, SAVAK in the basement. …Nothing pulls the art world into line faster than the sight of an imperial checkbook… The main beneficiary of this was Warhol…” – Robert Hughes

“Examine the works of your predecessors and learn a lesson” – The Holy Qur’an

The ‘crippled-symmetry’ of the political, gastronomical and historical ramifications that this sequence of subsumptions suggests provides an illuminating framework to connect the central works to their contingent architectural presentation.

“I think of the whole thing as a huge deep, sonorous Persian carpet suspended in the air.” – Leonard French

A series of interventions are constructed to facilitate the provision of food and other distractions to the audience. A security entrance is reconfigured to apply 2000 volts of electricity to guests as they arrive. Dancers from the Merce Cunningham company will operate the electric chair and assist with the catering for the evening, which will be provided by McDonalds and Coca-Cola. Alcohol will be provided by Slave Pianos in specially constructed silver cans and from modified wine cask bladders.

“The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Stockholm is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Florence is McDonald’s. Peking and Moscow don’t have anything beautiful yet.” – Andy Warhol

“A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke… All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.” – Andy Warhol

Biographical details: Slave Pianos have surely justified their motto, “Nothing Human is Alien to Us”. Its members have made music, pulled hoaxes, divorced, married, and even given birth. Slave Pianos have taken hostages, grown flowers, kept pets, written books, volunteered as human guinea pigs for medical research, played cricket, held picnics, put on plays, saved lives, studied, committed arson, committed suicide, murdered, raped, pushed drugs, gone mad, formed a union, and found God. Slave Pianos are Danius Kesminas, Michael Stevenson, Neil Kelly and Rohan Drape. Slave Pianos are represented by Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.