Robert Whitman, USA (b. 1944)

Cell Phone Performance, 32:18 (MP3)

Visual Documentation [Start Slide Show]

Bettina Funcke "Robert Whitman’s Telecommunication Projects"
Robert Whitman, 4 Cinema Pieces (1968) in UbuWeb Sound

Robert Whitman Cellphone Performance
11 October 2002, Leeds, UK (Evolution 2002: PROCESS)

During his first visit to the UK, seminal American artist Robert Whitman produced a 30 minute cellphone performance based on a work he originally performed using payphones in New York City the mid 1960's.

The performance in Leeds used 30 volunteers with cellphones stationed at pre-defined locations around the city centre. The volunteers repeatedly called a central telephone number and switch board situated in Millennium Square and, when their called was answered, gave a short description of their location. The resulting calls were mixed by Robert and relayed live through public address speakers to an audience in the outdoor square. The performance painted an aural description of the city at that given time.

The event formed part of Evolution 2002: PROCESS, a Leeds based media arts festival produced and curated by Lumen. Lumen exist to advocate a greater knowledge, understanding and appreciation of communication technology and its impact upon artistic practice and discourse. (http://www.lumen.net)


Robert Whitman is a seminal figure in the context of Expanded Cinema and multimedia performance. During the 1960Õs Whitman distinguished himself with sophisticated theatrical works involving interaction between live performers and filmed images. Unlike Jim Dine and Allan Kaprow, whose performances were highly expressionistic, Whitman sought an imagistic theater through works described by Lynne Cooke, Dia's exhibition curator as" magical, poetic, luscious and mysterious".

Robert Whitman was born in New York City in 1935. He studied literature at Rutgers University from 1953 to 1957 and art history at Columbia University in 1958. He began in the late fifties to present performances, including the pioneering works American Moon (1960) and Prune Flat (1965), as well as to exhibit his multimedia work in some of New York's more influential experimental venues, such as the Hansa, Reuben, and Martha Jackson galleries. With the scientists Fred Waldhauer and Billy Klüver and artist Robert Rauschenberg, Whitman cofounded, in 1966, Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), a loose-knit association that organized collaborations between artists and scientists. His one-person exhibitions include such venues as the Jewish Museum, New York (1968), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1968), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1973). Dia organized a retrospective of his theater works in 1976. Several theater projects have also toured to various European venues, including the Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1987 and 1989) and the Centre Pompidou, Paris (2001 and 2002).

Selected Bibliography
Edited by Lynne Cooke, Karen Kell with Bettina Funcke

Robert Whitman’s Telecommunication Projects. Bettina Funcke, UbuWeb, 2003

Rose, Barbara. "Considering Robert Whitman." In Projected Images: Peter Campus, Rockne Krebs, Paul Sharits, Michael Snow, Ted Victoria, Robert Whitman. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1974.

Robert Whitman: Playback. New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2003. Texts by George Baker, Lynne Cooke, David Joselit, Ben Portis, and Robert Whitman.

Off Limits: Rutgers University and the Avant-Garde, 1957–1963, ed. Joan Marter. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, in association with Newark Museum, 1999. Interview with Whitman by Joseph Jacobs, pp. 146–47.

Palisade: Robert Whitman. Yonkers, N.Y.: Hudson River Museum, 1979. Interview by Barbara Rose.

Rose, Barbara. "Considering Robert Whitman." In Projected Images: Peter Campus, Rockne Krebs, Paul Sharits, Michael Snow, Ted Victoria, Robert Whitman. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1974.

Kirby, Michael. The Art of Time: Essays on the Avant-Garde. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1969. "Robert Whitman." Interview by Richard Kostelanetz. In The Theatre of Mixed Means: An Introduction. By Richard Kostelanetz. New York: Dial Press, 1968.

Robert Whitman: 4 Cinema Pieces. Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1968. Text by Jan Van der Marck. "Sound for 4 Cinema Pieces," by Robert Whitman, EvaTone Soundsheet.

Kirby, Michael. Happenings: An Illustrated Anthology. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1965. Statement by Whitman, pp. 134–83.