Ecstatic Thought Experiments, 1989 – 2009
A Retrospective of Auditory, Visual, Tactile and Language Works by John Berndt

Wednesday April 15th – Thursday April 30th
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 2PM – 6PM

Opening reception and free concert: Friday April 17th, 7PM-10PM
Performance Nights: Friday April 24th and Saturday April 25th, 7PM-9PM
($6 admission for each night)

Emily Harvey Foundation (Gallery)
537 Broadway at Spring Street - 2nd floor
New York, NY 10012

For more information, contact Shelly Blake-Plock <>.


This April, the Emily Harvey Foundation presents the first major retrospective of works by John Berndt (b. 1967). Berndt’s vital and idiosyncratic cultural activity over the last thirty years has touched nearly every aspect of experimental culture. Best known to the public as a prolific musician, composer and improviser and as a key organizer in the scene around the international High Zero festival, Berndt’s work from the very beginning also involved the creation of coherent novelties in a broader range of media, including personal behavior, film, visual art, text, installation and a variety of non-musical performance genres. Driven by his unique philosophy and collaborations, his panoramic sensibility is the subject of the show.

Berndt’s mother is a cognitive neuropsychologist who exposed him to ideas about cognition, perception and experimental method; between her influence, and a precocious interest in paradoxes, his earliest creative work had an unusually open-ended, existential, and experimental flavor. At age 11 he began composing electronic music soundscapes and language experiments, and at age 13 his musical work was premiered on the radio. Thus began a lifetime public obsession with unusual perceptions, novel compositional structures, and the evocation of unlabeled states of mind.

As a teenager in the mid-80s, Berndt became the youngest member of the international Neoist movement, contributing as a core member to the development of its philosophy and participating in many Neoist events and publications over a roughly ten-year period. Neoism was an avant-garde cultural/political movement, comparable to Fluxus or Situationism, albeit more militant and with qualitatively different content. Neoism often involved the deliberate adoption of falsehoods, mythologies, mind games, and hoaxes. Shortly after co-organizing the Neoist-related “Art Strike, 1990-1993,” Berndt essentially left the movement because his interests had shifted to more honestly liberating (albeit equally strange) content. He also came into his own at this time as a cultural organizer and impresario.

In the early 90’s, Berndt became a student of the philosophy of Henry Flynt, the visionary philosopher and original author of “Concept Art.” This relationship, which has recently deepened into collaboration, had a huge effect on the clarification of Berndt’s thought, and led to an increased emphasis on rationally reconstructable lines of argument within his delirious oeuvre. Berndt began to write sincere philosophy, and to frame his varied activities as manifestations of a unified, radical sensibility of consciousness.

At the same time, his technical abilities developed. Berndt became a student of world-renown avant-garde saxophonist Jack Wright and of experimental instrument inventor Neil Feather. Through these relationships, he dramatically broadened his approach, developing extended technical ability on a variety of instruments, and developing novel approaches to sound production. He also became an advocate of non-idiomatic, freely improvised music (though still actively involved in other approaches), performing in hundreds of freely improvised concerts and on many recordings, including collaborations with leading figures.

In Ecstatic Thought Experiments, 1989 – 2009, the Emily Harvey Foundation brings together the dimensions of Berndt’s work over a twenty year period, ranging from micro- to macro- experiences: A large installation submerges visitors in a uniquely disorienting visual space. A small book, made especially for the exhibit, contains descriptions of impossible objects. Novel optical illusions give the visitor new experiences. A dance solo continues fluidly forever without repeating. Original instruments expose new aesthetics and performance possibilities. Theoretical texts frame lived experience in ways that are destabilizing to faith in conventional knowledge.

From this swarm of content, aligned with no official cultural movement, emerges for the first time the picture of an individual developing a radical philosophy through all available channels. The exhibit is also enriched by three nights of concerts, covering a broad range of Berndt’s heterogeneous solo and collaborative projects, starting with an opening concert on Friday April 17th, and continuing with two nights on April 24th and 25th.

For more information, see