Buckminster Fuller flourishes at FringeArts and beyond

Arts / Article

Inside the repurposed, post-industrial behemoth of the FringeArts headquarters this past Friday, April 4, one would perhaps not easily make the connections to the legendary Buckminster Fuller and his elegant, geodesic domes. Director Sam Green, however, has more than enough associations and anecdotes to offer with his screening of “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller,” with live score by Yo La Tengo. Knight Arts grantee FringeArts had two sold out shows on their hands, with the stadium seating packed to standing room only as the utopian adventure got underway.

Sam Green and Yo La Tengo examine one of the greatest minds of the 20th century at Cornell University. Photo by Ed Dittenhoefer

With a crowd ranging from music lovers to architectural professionals, Bucky fans to a couple of his contemporaries (at least two people in the audience had actually worked alongside the polymath designer/philosopher in his later years), Green had a varied group to cater to – although with a topic as absurdly interesting as Fuller’s borderline mythical life and times, half the legwork was already done for him.

Having been drawn to Philadelphia in 1972 through a consortium of the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges and the University City Science Center as their World Fellow in Residence, Fuller spent a good deal of his career living and working in and around the city. In fact, during his stay in Philadelphia, he recorded one of his most mind-bogglingly intensive lectures: the 42-hour “Everything I Know.” How’s that for ambitious?

Buckminster Fuller in front of the Montreal World's Fair Dome. Photo courtesy Magnum Photos

Buckminster Fuller in front of the Montreal World’s Fair Dome. Photo courtesy Magnum Photos

Aside from his avid lecturing, Bucky also kept an exhaustive collection of practically everything in his life from the years 1915 through his death in 1983. This “Dymaxion Chronofile” includes journals, videotapes, contraptions, letters and even bills and receipts that document his larger-than-life stay on our planet. The Chronofile is still available to pore over at Stanford University, which is in part how Sam Green became enamored with Bucky’s marvelous mind.

Using a mixture of personal insights from the Chronofile, clips of experts expounding on Bucky’s concepts, the building aural tension and deft punctuation of Yo La Tengo, and more than a little bit of humor, Green led an informal but deeply intriguing exploration of the science, technology, artistry and environmentalism pioneered by a man so often remembered primarily for his triangle-faceted domes. Although these structures are a good starting point to understanding Buckminster Fuller, they actually appeared quite late in the game, and his career was far more vast than the Pauly Shore flick people would like to make it out to be.

Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Map, courtesy Stanford University Libraries and The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller.

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map. Courtesy Stanford University Libraries and The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller

Tangling with words like the recurrent “Dymaxion” (an ad agency portmanteau of dynamic, maxiumum and tension), complex geometry, pre-Internet information stores, and a global sensibility, the thought-provoking ideas espoused by Fuller do seem to parody themselves in a way. He wasn’t afraid to speak to the counterculture on Hippie Hill in San Francisco the same way that he would engage leading thinkers in science and art, and his populism is still contagious. As the quintessential Futurist, Buckminster Fuller sought to level the playing field for humanity by allowing all to live at the highest possible standards available… and beyond.

From our current perspective, these utopian dreams may be scoffed at as naïve or implausible, but there is a lot to be said for how big ideas affect not only the scope of our society, but each of our individual imaginations as well. While many of Bucky’s aspirations remain unrealized, and much of the globe persists in a state far from harmonious equality, his genius resonates far past his brief ride on this ‘Spaceship Earth.’

Buckminster Fuller, courtesy Stanford University Libraries and The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller.

Buckminster Fuller. Courtesy Stanford University Libraries and The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller

Summarizing anything about Fuller comes across as incomplete and introductory, but Sam Green’s “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller” proves as a moving multimedia tribute to the man and his times. Surely, after this Bucky 101 course, if you aren’t stirred or struck with awe and inspiration, you may very well not have a pulse. Perhaps Buckminster Fuller’s revolutionary notions took root in the 20th century, but they are merely beginning to blossom at the dawn of the next.

FringeArts is located at 140 N. Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia; [email protected]livearts-fringe.org.