Gene Youngblood and the Unfinished Communications Revolution

Gene Youngblood & Buckminster Fuller

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller

Tomorrow (June 17) I will interview Gene Youngblood for the fourth time this week, live and online on Networked Conversations (see our Website or Facebook page for more information).

What a week it’s been! We made the pilgrimage to Santa Fe, the media mecca where Gene along with other luminaries such as Woody & Steina Vasulka, Richard Lowenberg, and a host of artists of all types and genres (including Georgia O’Keefe) have found their inspiration in the desert landscape. Santa Fe seems to be the place where media legends go to retire, although with all honesty, Gene is anything but retired: he is still busy chronicling and charting the unfinished communications revolution.

Gene Youngblood is man on a mission. Since writing Expanded Cinema in the late 1960s, drawn from a series of essays published in the seminal alternative newspaper, the LA Free Press, he has always situated himself amidst radically social, educational, and artistic contexts, both as an observer as well as a catalyst of change. Besides his close relationship with the avant-garde filmmakers, Gene was a founding faculty member in 1970 at the California Institute of the Arts (the Black Mountain College of its time), participated in the emerging video art scene during the 70s and 80s, has spoken forcefully and defiantly on media democracy, and embedded himself, quite literally, in the networked art of media pioneers Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz during the 80s and 90s.

During the formative period of Gene’s early development, his chief mentor was Buckminster Fuller, the utopian thinker who brought an ecological and planetary consciousness to the counter-culture generation of the 1960s. “Bucky” as Gene affectionally calls him, left an indelible mark on him by inspiring revolutionary thought in the form of model building, that is, the creation of new worlds and new realities as a powerful alternative to the violent opposition that erupted during the 1960s and 70s era of Vietnam, race riots, and extreme gender inequality. Not that war, prejudice, and sexism has ever disappeared, but Buckminster Fuller brought to Gene a conviction that the best way to change the world was to create an alternative reality empowered by art, media, and communications. Gene refers to this form of socially-driven model building as a vehicle for embarkation from the prevailing status quo, that is: “leaving the culture without leaving the country.”

Over the course of our three days and nearly six hours of flights of imagination and creative dialogue, Gene laid out his grand plan for “The Build,” a towering concept and utopic construction of “autonomous reality communities”: decentralized, pluralistic, and non-hierarchical modes of social interaction. Gene is convinced that this form of radical “secession” is within our grasp, but possibly beyond our collective will to seize the opportunity. What is this “non-place?” Well, Gene has spent a lifetime in the study, critique, and investigation of the communications revolution to define its meaning and potential, in his mind, perhaps the most important unfinished business of mankind.

Don’t miss tomorrow’s conversation with Gene Youngblood if you feel you might already be ready to leave the culture: particularly in the mad and volatile political climate we find ourselves today.

Gene Youngblood – Networked Conversations, a project of the Third Space Network

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