The Scale of “Brazos River” (1976): collaboration between Viola Farber, David Tudor and Robert Rauschenberg for Dallas television
One of the least known works by Robert Rauschenberg was conceived during the period of “privileged access” to television network environment. A 60 minutes long video “Brazos River” was commissioned by the Fort Worth Art Museum and filmed at a PBS-affiliated television station KERA Channel 13 in Dallas, Texas in December 1976. Choreographer Viola Farber with her collective of eight dancers, composer David Tudor, and Robert Rauschenberg came together by the invitation of the curator Anne Livet who aimed to create the first “television exhibition” in Texas in an effort to amplify the impact of the museum. With a promise to reach viewers beyond the ordinary museum audience, the artwork remained ephemeral after its short-lived presentation on regional television in 1977.
As Maeve Connolly argues, exploring “the televisual” extends beyond nostalgia for the medium’s impending disappearance. The importance of television to artists, art institutions and curators is grounded in the possibility to “imaginatively adopt a position that is symbolically ‘outside’ of the culture of contemporary art.” Close analysis of Brazos River articulates how the artwork grappled with the problems of scale – both in regards to the artwork’s formal properties and its imagined impact on the audience, or, to put it differently, the scale’s aesthetic and political dimensions.
This paper examines what Farber, Tudor, and Rauschenberg found intriguing in the televisual form, what specific experiences Brazos River enabled for TV viewers in 1977, and how this project was informed by Rauschenberg’s, Farber’s, and Tudor’s prior collaborations with Merce Cunningham in particular. Featuring interviews by Viola Farber Company dancers as well as operators, engineers, and studio technicians at KERA TV station that I conducted in early 2021, in this presentation I will shine light on the nuances of this seminal artistic production by the Black Mountain College trio.
Video stills courtesy of The Modern Museum of Ft Worth