In addition to my domestic dilemma, my teaching situation at the University of Iowa was coming apart. Hans Breder and I had history. At one point he declared I was the best student he ever had, although that place had been long ago reassigned to his former girlfriend Ana Mendiata.
Hans had invited me back when Performance Art was the hot topic in the Art world. I looked good on paper, and he thought I'd be a feather in the Multimedia cap -- someone to expand the department, take over the undergraduates and give him a chance to branch out as an artist into video art. I was a known comodity, someone he felt he knew and could control.
But I wasn't a glorified graduate student anymore. I had work to produce and (now) the resources to produce it. Hans thought my role was to prep students to take his classes, but I related to them as fellow artists, the way I'd been taught at Hope and ironically, by Hans. You see (and here is one of the most important lessons regarding the teaching profession) the primary relationship of a teacher is not supposed to be with your students Your primary relationship is with the head of the department, your secondary relationship is with your peers (instructors, assistant professors and fellow 'emerging' artists) and your students are in a category Duchamp called 'all the rest'.
I just never learned that lesson. I taught the same weekly Colloquium I had wrestled with as an new student. Under me it became like a TV show with slides of what's going on locally, new music, interviews and working the audience for questions. I shocked, insulted and wrestled with students, and played devil's advocate on their behalf with the visiting artists. To this day students stop me on the street and remind me of the excitement they had in that class.
In Multimedia, I prepared students to take on new ideas that were really the old ideas of Conceptual Art, Miminalism, Earth Art and Identity Art that had been cutting edge when I was Han's student.
I wasn't allowed to teach a graduate student level classes, but graduate students could take the Intermedia workshop I taught one evening a week, as an independant study.
Because I had been touring Belshazzar during the first semester of the year I was hired, I was given a three-year contract instead of the two-year contract that was normal. After the first contract, I had a review and was promoted to assistant professor, and given a second three year contract. But things weren't entirely comfortable in the department. I wasn't passing enough students along to the advanced video courses (probably because I didn't have much interest in video.) My extra-departmental activities with the theater department (Camillo had been entirely produced outside the art department) brought some new students to Multimedia, but it also exposed art students who were so inclined to the temptations of other schools in the University.
Based on his comments, in Han's mind, I crossed a line when I involved students as performers in my work, although that criticism rings a little hypocritical coming from a professor who slept with his student, and took pains to connect her accomplishments with his instruction. I have to admit I'm pretty sore on the subject of giving students and colleagues credit for their work. The most blatent instance of this pettiness on Han's part was a self-serving biography of the department that never mentioned my involvement as a student, faculty member or guest artist. That 'Stalinization' of history was an unforgiveable offense in my opinion.
At the time of my tenure review, Han's disillusion with me was not on my radar. But behind the scenes, Hans and the head of the School of Art, an Art Historian and Machiavellian, named Wallace Tomasini, plotted to get me out of the department. Although I was reasonably well positioned professionally, I was oblivious to their political maneuverings until it was too late to rally a defense. I was told at a meeting in Tomasini's office that my contract wouldn't be renewed.
There was an awkward pause, and it was explained to me that I would be allowed to finish the school year, at which point, I said that I still had 18 months on my contract, and that I planned to stay until it was finished. 'No,' said Tomasini, and with a rapid glance from his unaligned eye, his office manager was dispatched to get my folder from the faculty file. The person in that job was the same administrator, Norvel Tucker, that I had negotiated with years before as a graduate student to get my masters clearance. He came into the room with a look of hopelessness on his face as he gave Hans and Maso the news that I was correct and they were obligated to put up with me for an extra year. It was a very small satisfaction to watch the gears in their heads try to shift to plan B without a clutch.
The unfortunate delay in their plans had an even greater impact the following year when a hiring freeze was put in place and Multimedia was unable to replace me for several years..
I kept teaching Colloquium, but my teaching duties were transferred to the Theater Department to teach experimental theater and direct an original production, The Fall of Babylon.
Babylon was an intentionally gradiose, theatrical pagent. I used all the resources of the Theater Department to workshop the production that was based on a 1919 theatrical experiment by D.W. Griffith.
After disappointing showing at the box office, Griffith tried to salvage the historically extravagant footage of the Babylonian scenes from 'Intolerance' by incorporating them into a stage production that mixed film and live performance. This early multimedia spectacle alternated belly dancers and musical numbers with the cinematic story of a poet and a mountain girl caught up in an earth shaking political cataclysm.
For the Drawing Legion production a third level was added. I played the role of Griffith struggling to complete his masterpiece, only to have it collapse under its own weight.The live scenes took place in the school of Art, at the 'Mall' of Babylon, and during a baachanalian homecoming weekend. The final scene has Griffith floating away from the carnage below in a hot air balloon. Charlie Davies did the magnificent cardboard sets with contributions from Art faculty supporters Howard Rogovin and David Dunlap, Jim Albert did the lights and Susan Wolverton designed the costumes. Graduate acting, directing and playwritng students created characters based on members of Griffith's company and art students populated the set and contributed props. The project wouldn't have been possible without the support of Robert Headly the chair of the department who threw all these resources into my psychodrama.