The Center for Midnight

A history in fragments
Assembled by the Midnight Society
October 29-31, 2018

The famed Pastel Academy in Berlin produced several artists who joined together in 1965 to form the Center for Midnight. They included:

Minerva Black specialized in the cultural and physical production of irreverent embroidery. “I know so much, but I really want this to be for anyone."

Her protest embroidery detailed the consequences of social and political theory by depicting classical Greek figures in modern settings: Persephone at the supermarket; Hades shopping at Sears.

Though most considered the golden age of lithography to be over, Territoria Migraine had been convinced otherwise by the work of Yann Hirsch, who was lately notorious for opening the old wounds of the insular world of lithography.

At the same time, the filmmaker Benjamin John O’Toole was producing his documentary, The Now Without Humiliation, one frame at a time.

By 1965, he had completed 23 seconds of footage.

In the same year, the Center for Midnight began to grow its home on Corpus Catharina, an island in the North Sea. Its buildings were woven of live lapis plants, an unripe rhizome.

When Minerva Black arrived in 1967, she embroidered the ideas of Maria Tallchief into a seaside tree.

“Absolute Ascension,” the Center’s first work, depicted four magicians conjuring love out of a hat.

Upon his arrival, Benjamin John O’Toole pondered her creation “for nearly five minutes” before producing a series of short films in response.

From “Apollo Suicide,” a pamphlet accompanying the Center for Midnight’s opening exhibition in 1968:

Inside the Center for Midnight, we find six plinths, an entire virtual world. On their surfaces are engraved six different figures holding the past.

[...]

The second figure carries a dust pan filled with the crystalline shards of an underwater empire that sank into oblivion when perspiration fled the cities of Rome.

[...]

The sixth figure writes on the plastic knowledge of the world.

Territoria Migraine fetishized transparency: things like air, the sea, time, and the intentions of short stories.

She meditated nightly in front of a saltwater aquarium.

She continued her correspondence with Yann Hirsch, the self-styled “bad boy” of lithography. Lately spurning blocks of traditional size, Hirsch had begun to use titanic blocks (he termed them his “ancient children”) labored over by teams of assistants.

His letters clearly touched Migraine; she embraced the medium with a frenzy. In the summer of 1970, she penned her only-known manifesto:

For Yann:

Lithography is defined by the power of the L. The L is one of the most expressive goals of the artist. The L is a ship coming to the rescue. The L is the necessary question, the sole systematic medium for the exploration of life. Lithography relies on invisible forces. We are moving together. The freak and the dancer make a pattern in the fire. Life is anti-machine but our understanding of life is machine-dependent. We channel the L through the mechanized lithographic order.

The etching “Seaset” was designed by Migraine and fabricated by Hirsch from one of his massive “ancient children,” which required the development of new lithographic techniques.

In 1971, Okyanica-La Trail finished their large-scale painting “Seaset Revisited,” a scathing critique of academia.

From Midnight’s Other Children: An Investigation, by Marcela Ogilvie:

The Center’s leader, a cold-eyed scion of the Okyanica-La clan, spearheaded initiatives in three cardinal directions:

North-northeast: parties of violence.
  Inside: stable marriage.
    Toward the ocean: structural production.

To gather cultural producers around these initiatives, the Center established an ill-fated colony on the Okyanica-La estate, which occupied most of Corpus Catharina Island. Its extravagant galas of age and austerity became celebrated internationally (see e.g. the cover story of Artforum, spring 1967). People whispered about these functions: Who could afford to be so spare, so abstemious? Who could and would afford to sponsor the lack of room and board for all the residents?

In this chapter, I will argue that the Center’s famously gaunt galas had all along been underwritten by a single donor: Yann Hirsch.

In Toronto, Okyanica-La Trail met bassist and puppeteer Jean-Marie Jules Attico, a veteran of an avant-garde performance collective Experimental Bathing. The two worked on five paintings, one for each weekday, that stretched 870 by 530 feet.

Minerva Black was strongly opposed to Attico’s involvement in the Center for Midnight, and soon revealed her large-scale embroidering “Neue Big Chrome,” which directly criticized the Experimental Bathing movement.

Of her work, Black said, “It takes a lot of thread.”

Of their own work, Okyanica-La Trail said, “The future is defined by sensational and mostly fascist people. To oppose this, we must find a private part of the world.”

Of his work-in-progress, O’Toole said, “It’s a bloody kind of peculiar life, and of all the ideas ever invented, ‘domestic’ is the bloodiest and most peculiar.”

For most of 1969, Benjamin John O’Toole and Territoria Migraine lived together in a turret perched on the edge of Corpus Catharina. They considered the view from their one window to be the whole truth.

The Center for Midnight opened its doors to the general public only once a year, on the vernal equinox at high noon.

The Okyanica-La family funded O’Toole’s screening in Amsterdam of 2,880,000 continuous one-second short films about the photography and growth of domestic pain.

Yann Hirsch’s experimental novel, Le Percussione de l’Espa, opened a rift within the Center upon its publication. Okyanica-La Trail praised it. Benjamin John O’Toole claimed that reading the text was akin to “watching Neil Armstrong deny the existence of the moon.”

After the dissolution of his relationship with Migraine, O’Toole struggled for many years without any consistent patron.

In 1970, Jean-Marie Jules Attico drowned swimming in the North Sea.

In 1972, Territoria Migraine wrote the opera Wilson, which was both a dramatization of the life of pornographer Wilson Wells and a scathing indictment of O’Toole.

Okyanica-La Trail and Minerva Black had long been close collaborators, but they parted ways over a dispute involving a water taxi fare.

Asked in 1972 about their relationship with Minerva Black, Okyanica-La Trail said only: “Shit feels real.”

How many people do you need? Is an artistic movement only a movement as a collective? Can one person alone carry the melody?

One of Territoria Migraine’s most iconic and, in retrospect, prophetic lithographs is “The Taking of Commissions.” It depicts the collapse of a rabbit society.

Many people were happy to see the Center fail. Andy Warhol said, “Their name was cheap, wasn’t it? Like a billboard in San Francisco.”

The Center for Midnight’s electricity was shut off in 1974 after a payment to the power company went missing. No one noticed.

O’Toole decamped for Amsterdam where he founded the festival “Distractions,” which struggled to stay afloat until O’Toole’s death in 1995 to an ether overdose.

After viewing O’Toole’s final film “Black Dog and Grellus” (1974), Susan Sontag denounced the work as “truly, an evil piece of filmmaking, a work whose exhortation of the virtues of violence casts a sinister shadow on whatever aims the Center for Midnight might have possessed.”

When O’Toole died, Minerva Black is reported to have said, “He became a response to himself.”

The only one left was Okyanica-La Trail. They and Yann Hirsch married in 1990 and never spoke of the Center again. The couple had two children, Khan and Berkeley.

In 2002, Okyanica-La Trail’s “Seaset Revisited” was sold at a private auction for 3.2 million dollars.

After the Center’s abrupt dissolution, the lapis plants of its buildings instantly bloomed.

Many of the Center’s works have found considerable audiences in airports, including “Neue Big Chrome.”

A contemporaneous critic wrote:

The golden age of lithography is over. Migraine began her work as a game, but found the future in stone.

Territoria Migraine’s last etching, “Batorica Time,” was completed in 2001.

Yann Hirsch’s gargantuan blocks, his “ancient children,” were only published posthumously in 2004.

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How this piece was written

The Midnight Society was a pop-up writing collective in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, comprising artists, scientists, humanists, librarians, and algorithms. The collective conducted a three-day writing experiment to produce a short account of the Center for Midnight, a fictional artistic movement of the late twentieth century. Each sentence represents a meticulously-crafted collaboration between humans and a recurrent neural network trained on artists’ biographies and other corpora. A human wrote text in a custom text editor, the algorithm suggested the following words, and all parties remixed and reworked the snippets.

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Assembled by Calla J. Carter, Judy Heflin, Tithi Jasani, Patrick Juola, G. Christopher Klug, Clelia L. Knox, Max Krieger, Matthew Lincoln, Michal Luria, Liam Philiben, Gesina A. Phillips, Emma Slayton, Robin Sloan, Krystal Tung, Annette Vee, Chris Warren, Scott B. Weingart, Katherine Ye, and others.

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Produced with support from
STUDIO for Creative Inquiry & Digital Humanities at the CMU Library

This piece is offered under a CC0 License.