Jim Haynes, notionally the originator of the Lab idea, offered this definition of ‘An Arts Lab’s purpose’, paradoxically published in the Arts Labs Newsletter and IT just a few weeks before the Drury Lane lab finally closed. It’s the clearest summation of Jim’s own vision.
‘I feel that an Arts Lab has the following characteristics: (a) a Lab is an ‘energy centre’ where anything can happen depending upon the needs of the people running each individual Lab and the characteristics of the building. (b) a Lab is a non-institution. We all know what a hospital, theatre, police station and other institutions have in the way of boundaries, but a Lab’s boundaries should be limitless. (c) Within each Lab the space should be used in a loose fluid multi-purpose way — ie, a theatre can be a restaurant, a gallery, a bedroom, a studio, etc etc. (d) I am interested in creating a fluid commune situation where a group of people live and work together … People ask me If the Arts Lab is political. Anyone who is interested in changing anyone’s attitude to anything is committing a political act. We at the Covent Garden Lab have certain philosophic attitudes to the world, and we hope to show others by word and deed that these political/philosophical attitudes can be transmitted via non-traditional political media. Every person is a medium; use it carefully. (As for art) we are more interested in bringing people together in a real involved way; not very interested in ‘marketing’ art or anything for that matter’.
Others of us who were involved, some of whom had by this time split-off to set up the New Arts Lab at Robert Street, felt that creating a space in which to experiment and to make art was every bit as important…
My book describes the context out of which the Arts Labs grew: Jim Haynes’s previous ventures the Paperback Bookshop and Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, then our collective involvement in the UFO club, the underground newspaper IT and two fundraisers – the Uncommon Market at the Roundhouse and The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream at the Alexandra Palace. Here are some footnotes to that pre-Lab period.
The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream was planned by Jim, Hoppy, Barry Miles and others and has been much written about and mythologised. Biddy Peppin and I were among the neglectful ticket sellers (so it didn’t make the expected fortune). The actor Tutte Lemko was one of those asked to film the Dream – the footage being another potential money-maker. In the event, he was unhappy with what he’d shot (it wasn’t good!) and passed the footage to me, and I edited it as best I could on Peter Whitehead’s Acmade editing bench, then bleached and hand-coloured it, but finally abandoned it. This is what is left: there are glimpses of the Exploding Galaxy, Arthur Brown, Hoppy and Suzy dancing together and Graham Stevens’s inflatable polythene tubes (ever-present at happenings in the ‘60s).
The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream (Excerpt)
The Technicolor Dream was also a Launchpad for The Exploding Galaxy, the performing group led by David Medalla and Jerry Fitzgerald, who contributed an Evolving Documents Show to the opening week at the Drury Lane Lab and were a frequent presence until breaking up at the end of ‘68 (many drifting off towards India). Galaxy-member Jill Drower’s gives this account of Medalla’s vision:
“…[At] a launch party in early spring of ’67, Medalla publicly described his idea of the Exploding Galaxy as a human version of his bubble machines, oozing out living shapes that formed and reformed. In his own words ‘I thought: why not create a situation where dance, poetry, singing, painting and sculpture could co-operate and penetrate each other as they did in historical cultures?’ He also described how he wanted to break down the invisible barrier between creator and the spectator. Medalla had the ability to draw people in instantly and to invite ‘both strangers and friends’ to participate in events…”
– Third Text, vol 22, issue 2 March 2008. See also Drower’s wonderfully illustrated 99 Balls Pond Road, the Story of The Exploding Galaxy, Scrudge Books 2014.
There are astonishingly few images of either Arts Lab. On film, there’s just a glimpse of the Drury Lane building with Jim and me wandering about in it before it opened, visible in a couple of shots from Gavin Miller’s BBC film about the 60s counter culture The Underground Impresarios. Also seen here is Ray Durgnat – then a spokesperson for the London Film Co-op – Gavin intercutting him with films by Kurt Kren – then the most talked-about of ‘underground filmmakers’.
The Underground Impressarios (Excerpt)
Few of us had cameras then. The notable exception was David Kilburn, an occasional projectionist at the Lab, who had a well-paid ‘proper job’ and a real enthusiasm for photography. David contributed more than a dozen images to my book from his collection. Video-recording was then a novelty. A new invention, the Sony Portapak was essentially an expensive toy for the very rich but its radical potential was quickly demonstrated by Jack Moore and Hoppy initially using equipment lent/donated by John Lennon. The Portapak’s half-inch tapes were expensive but reusable, re-use inevitably meaning that few images have survived. A contemporary fragment that still exists (probably shot by Jack) can be seen in Cain’s Film (Jamie Wadhawan, 1969) and shows an event organised by Lynne Tillman at the Drury Lane Lab in April ’69 – Alex Trocchi’s State of Revolt. Visible are Trocchi, William S Burroughs, R D Laing, Sean Philipps and others. The State of Revolt was reviewed for IT (25 May ‘69) by Felix Scorpio [Felix de Mendelsohn] who describes Burroughs’ contribution:
“His suggestion that the time had come to shave off beards, cut hair and generally get out of uniform, to become invisible like the French Resistance, was very central to the idea of Revolt and the tactics it requires.” (‘Revolt’ and ‘resistance’ are tactics even more necessary today).
Cain’s Film, Jamie Wadhawan, 1969 (Excerpt)
The Drury Lane Lab closed in October ’69, overwhelmed by chaos and debt. Village Voice columnist Michael Zwerin suggested a reason for Drury Lane’s demise not mentioned in the book:
“Ken Kesey … is responsible for bringing British Hells Angels to the Arts Lab. British Hells Angels are benign in comparison [to the their American counterparts, who he had also imported at George Harrison’s suggestion, as described in the book!] but they none the less scared a lot of the kids away which is one reason the old Arts Lab closed, and why Jim Haynes and Jack Moore are in Paris now”.
Nicholas de Jongh in The Guardian supplied this obituary, summarising what the Lab had achieved: