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USCO

detail-USCO-Shiva

USCO (Gerd Stern, Stephen Durkee, Michael Callahan), Shiva, 1965, paint on canvas, electric lights. Courtesy of USCO and Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati

USCO, also known as the Company of US or US Company, was a group of artists, poets, filmmakers, engineers, and composers who formed a cooperative work and living space in a church in Garnerville, New York. USCO was founded in late 1963 by Michael Callahan, Steve Durkee, and Gerd Stern. In addition to the three founders, a rotating cast of participants including Jonathan Ayers, Sara Ayers, Stewart Brand, Lois Brand, Barbara Budd, Jane Burton, Adrienne Callahan, Bob Dacey, Barbara Durkee, Bob Kugler, Mary Orser, Brian Peterson, Judi Stern, Paul Williams, Dion Wright, and Jud Yalkut brought their own expertise and talents to the larger group. USCO operated as a collective and maintained an ethos that directed and imbued their artistic practice. Their mottos included “We are all one. In a world of simultaneous operations, you do not have to be first, to be on top” and “Guidance, counseling, navigation, and control is our business.” During the 1960s USCO incorporated lights, colors, moving images, sounds, and human actors into a range of multimedia and environmental art practices and artworks, such as installations at museums and galleries and performances at universities and movie theaters, including the first Expanded Cinema Festival and Timothy Leary’s Psychedelic Theater, The Tabernacle at their church, and the first multimedia discotheque, Murray the K’s World.

Drawing upon the influences of religion and technology, USCO used everyday materials, new communication apparatuses, and Eastern and Western mysticism to create artworks that bombarded and overloaded the senses. These artistic spaces unleashed a psychedelic celebration that placed at its center the participation of the individual and the heightening of consciousness achieved through an interaction within the work. USCO members foresaw the transformative power of technology, enlisting it as a conduit toward altering mental and physical experience. They incorporated a philosophy derived from a combination of visionary theorists and spiritualists, including Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Meher Baba, and the Kabbalah.  

USCO’s work falls into three broad categories: multimedia presentations at colleges and museums; kinetic sculpture and painting shown at galleries and museums; and a variety of immersive environments. USCO's multimedia performances were presented at institutions across the United States and Canada, including MIT, Rhode Island School of Design, University of California, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, University of British Columbia, and Oberlin College. The paintings and kinetic works were exhibited around the world, including at the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Walker Art Center, Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Liverpool, Centre Georges Pompidou, Museum of Modern Art in Vienna, Howard Wise Gallery, and the Berkeley Art Museum. Immersive environments were installed at the Riverside Museum, Jewish Museum, Walker Art Center, and Murray the K's World discotheque, as well as a permanent installation at the group's headquarters, the former church in Garnerville, New York. In 2016 the USCO church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

USCO: Films and Performance with 1960s Multimedia Pioneers

Founded in 1964, USCO, or The Company of Us, was one of the first art and technology collectives in the United States to create unique and ephemeral performances featuring slide projectors, audiotapes, moving images, oscilloscopes, refracted lenses, and lasers. USCO attempted to achieve “oneness” through media techniques available to them during the 1960s. On March 3, 2019, two films by USCO and Jud Yalkut were screened – Us Down By The Riverside, 1966 and Us, 1966 (5:22 mins. - 23:54 mins.), and two of the group's co-founders, Michael Callahan and Gerd Stern, joined together for a rare performance at the National Gallery of Art with the assistance of Adrienne Callahan. The Gallery performance utilized the equipment and technology of the period―featuring sound from quarter-inch audio tape reels and multiple carousels of slides, programmed and pulsed by a mixed electromechanical and electronic device designed and built by Michael Callahan. This performance began with Verbal American Landscape, the first collaboration between Callahan and Stern that explores the poetic possibilities of combining language with images. A recreation and mix of two USCO multimedia performances, Hubbub and We Are All One, followed. Hubbub, named after a quote by Martin Luther, and its later iteration We Are All One developed from a post-psychedelic realization that multiplicity and fragmentation could be unified through meditation and focused consciousness.

Released: April 9, 2019, (52:08 minutes)

photograph: USCO and friends at the Church, Garnerville, New York,  April 1964

USCO and friends at the Church, Garnerville, New York,  April 1964, from left: Barbara  and Steve Durkee (holding Dakota), Judi Stern, Chris George, Gerd Stern, Owen Jones, Michael Callahan, Radha Stern, Jane Burton, Stewart and Lois Brand. Courtesy of Intermedia Foundation

Michael Phillips Callahan, b. 1944, San Francisco

Engineer and artist Michael Callahan was the technical director of the San Francisco Music Tape Center from 1961 to 1964, an early electronic studio whose purpose was to explore audio tape as a creative medium. There he assisted in the realization of works by Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich, Ramon Sender, David Tudor, John Cage, and the dancer Anna Halprin. While at the Tape Center he performed in the recorded reading of John Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis. In 1964 he recorded On the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma for Harry Partch. In addition to co-founding USCO, Callahan was president of Maverick Systems Inc. from 1966 to 1969, manufacturing specialized electronic equipment for media presentations, including the design and installation of the media system for the World discotheque whose proceeds supported the work of USCO. After moving to Cambridge, Mass., in 1968, Callahan became the technical director of Intermedia Systems Corporation, a company that produced multimedia presentations for government agencies, schools, museums, and corporate clients. Subsequently he provided consulting services to museums and institutions on incorporating media in their exhibits and programs. In 1989 he and his wife Adrienne Callahan founded Museum Technology Source Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of audio-visual equipment, primarily to museums. Callahan held the position of supervisor of film studios and electrical engineer at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, from 1977 to 1994.

Gerd Stern, b. 1928, Saarbrücken, Germany

Gerd Stern is a poet and multimedia artist with experience in both film and video. He emigrated to the United States as a refugee from Hitler in 1936 and later studied at the City College of New York and briefly at Black Mountain College. During the 1950s he befriended Beat poets such as Carl Solomon and Allen Ginsberg and was an active participant in the San Francisco art scene. He lived on a barge in Sausalito, worked as manager for Harry Partch and Maya Angelou, and hosted jam sessions with Chet Baker and other jazz musicians. He worked at public radio station KPFA and was a publicity agent and journalist, writing for Playboy and other magazines. Stern’s first show of electronic sculptures and collages was held at Allen Stone Gallery in 1962. In 1963 his one-person exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art featured the multimedia performance “Who R U & What’s Happening,” which was also performed at the University of British Columbia with a lecture by Marshall McLuhan. In addition to cofounding USCO, Stern was president of the public company Intermedia Systems Corporation, and currently serves as president of Intermedia Foundation. He has published several books of poetry, including First Poems and Others, 1952; Afterimage, 1965, a serigraphed selection with drawings by David Weinrib; Conch Tales, 1984; Fragments in 2002; and WhenThen in 2018. An oral history of Stern was published by the University of California, Berkeley, in 2002. Stern has been an artist in residence at DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) in Berlin, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Emily Harvey Foundation in Venice. The Stanford University Library acquired Stern’s papers in 2013.

Audio and Video

USCO: A Conversation with 1960s Multimedia Pioneers
Audio, Released: April 23, 2019, (40:52 minutes)

USCO: A Conversation with 1960s Multimedia Pioneers
Video, Released: April 23, 2019, (40:30 minutes)

USCO: Films and Performance with 1960s Multimedia Pioneers
Video, Released: April 23, 2019 (52:08 minutes)