Ars Electronica has a blog post about our 2013 jurying weekend. Minds were blown, lives were changed. This was the nicest and smartest batch of people I’ve had the good fortune to work with in recent memory: Sirikit Amann, Norbert Artner, Tomek Bagiński, Ian Banerjee, Florian Bauböck, Robert Bauernhansl, Bernhard Böhm, Chris Bregler, Benjamin Brockhaus, Ludger Brümmer, Suzanne Buchan, Viktor Delev, Michael Doser, Marlene Eggenreich, Electric Indigo, Emre ErkaI, Maria Falkinger, Ingrid Fischer-Schreiber, Gerhard Funk, Gregor Göttfert, Andrea Grover, Jens Hauser, Sarah Hellwagner, Martin Honzik, Horst Hörtner, Ela Kagel, Jurij Krpan, Michael Kaczorowski, Conny Lee, Hannes Leopoldseder, Michael Lettner, Veronika Liebl, Karl Markovics, Johanna Mathauer, Tom Mesic, Arthur I. Miller, Jeff Mills, Leila Nachawati, Manuela Naveau, Marcus Neustetter, Emiko Ogawa, Karin Ohlenschläger, David O’Reilly, Gustav Pomberger, Johannes Ramsl, Remo Rauscher, Martina Rauschmayr, Genoveva Rückert, Mariano Sardón, Olga Shishko, Miriam Schmeikal, Karl Schmidinger,Christine Schöpf, Anezka Sebek, Christopher Sonnleitner, Bruce Sterling, Michael Sterrer-Ebenführer, Gerfried Stocker, Martin Sturm, Jer Thorp, Maholo Uchida, José Luis de Vicente, Florian Voggeneder, Susi Windischbauer, Lei Yang, Pamela Z.
“Intimate Science,” the exhibition that I curated as part of my Warhol Curatorial Fellowship, opened on Friday, January 20, 2012 at Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, the campus gallery expertly run by Astria Suparak. Several hundred people turned out (during a snow storm) to see the work of BCL, Center for PostNatural History, Markus Kayser, Allison Kudla, Machine Project, and Philip Ross. The crowd was a mix of artists, architects, technologists, and mycologists– the latter thanks to the abundant examples of reishi sculpture and architecture by Phil Ross and a reception sponsorship from the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club. Both Phil and Allison gave talks the day before; Phil talked about the possibilities for mushrooms as building materials, batteries, and a substitute for petroleum based plastics. Allison talked about how her time living in Bangalore coincided with her research into algorithms embedded in living systems; one example of this is the “Eden Growth Pattern,” a surface fractal found in both urban sprawl and bacterial growth, and in Allison’s work on view, Capacity for (urban eden, human error).
The day after the exhibit, Mark Allen of Machine Project presented a three-part workshop titled, “Mind reading for the left and right brain.” In part 1, participants learned to solder in the process of building a personal galvanic skin response meter (aka a lie detector); in part 2, they developed their “intuitive” abilities with psychics Krystal Krunch, Asher Hartman and Haruko Tanaka; and in part 3, they learned to operate and perform with a simple audio looping device called an Earbee, designed by Sara Roberts. The video below gets at the mind-altering group experience of this full day workshop.
On Friday night, we got a sneak preview of the soon-to-open Center for PostNatural History storefront in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Rich Pell walked us through the darkened hallways of the center, which had the atmosphere of a Victorian sex parlour meets natural history museum.
Ultimately, “Intimate Science” looks at artist-initiated research in a scientific or technological area, and notes the dramatic shift from artists operating on the periphery of research to conducting research themselves. The artists in the exhibit have a sustained and intimate relationship to their studies (for example, in Phil Ross’ case, he has been working with ganoderma lucidum or reishi mushrooms both in the field and in his studio lab for 16 years), and contribute in a meaningful way to cross-disciplinary discourse. I first heard the term “Intimate Science” used by Roger Malina, astrophysicist and editor of MIT’s Leonardo (a 40 year-old peer-reviewed academic journal on the application of contemporary science and technology to the arts). Malina suggests that this type of practice parallels Mode 2 Science, which emerged in the latter part of the 20th Century: a type of scientific knowledge production that is interdisciplinary, problem-focused and context-driven, responsive to the social environment, and interactive (involves non-specialists). Social practice and artistic research operate under the same principals. And when artists become scientists, the lines of inquiry pursued become quite expansive.
Read the Intimate Science introductory text below.
The most recent manifestation of artists working at the intersection of art, science and technology demonstrates a distinctly autodidactic, heuristic approach to understanding the physical and natural world. Intimate Science features artists who are engaged in non-disciplinary inquiry; they aren’t allied to the customs of any single field, and therefore have license to reach beyond conventions. This kind of practice hinges on up-close observation, experiential learning, and inventing new ways for the public to participate in the process. And through their engagement with “intimate science,” a more knowledgeable public might well be able to influence what research is supported and adopted by the larger culture, and the walls of science can become more transparent.
For four months in the fall of 2010, I worked at a cozy desk in the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon as a research fellow hosted jointly by the Miller Gallery and the STUDIO. On a daily basis, students, faculty and visiting artists would stop by my front row seat at this frenetic concourse of technoscience dispatches.
While my initial line of inquiry was artists embedded in scientific or industrial environments in the 1960s, I began to uncover a new narrative — a tactile shift in discourse and practice between that moment and this one. While artists two generations ago were dependent on access to technicians, labs, computer time or manufacturers to realize works of scientific or technological complexity, those I was presently meeting had far greater agency to conduct this kind of work themselves. Even ambitious endeavors such as independent biological experiments, materials research and micromanufacturing can be conducted by today’s working artist — and not at a naive or removed distance.
Roger Malina, physicist, astronomer and executive editor of Leonardo, a leading journal for readers interested in the application of contemporary science and technology to the arts, describes this direction as “intimate science.” He writes:
“In an interesting new development in the art world, a generation of artists [is] now collecting data about their world using technological instruments but for cultural purposes. Shared tool-using leads to overlapping epistemologies and ontologies. These artists both make powerful art and help make science intimate, sensual, intuitive.”
And unlike the rare “Leonardo” polymath of the Renaissance, contemporary artists who operate across disciplines employ the expertise of the network: the network, not the individual, is encyclopedic. The Internet has provided unprecedented access to shared knowledge assets, materials, fabrication processes, microfunding, and audiences. This exhibit examines how networked communication and open source culture have contributed to this shift from artists aiding science to doing science, and the impact this imparts on the way scientific knowledge is acquired, utilized and disseminated.
In Common Flowers/Flower Commons (2009), BCL (Georg Tremmel + Shiho Fukuhara) bio-hacks Suntory’s genetically-modified “Moondust™” cut flowers — carnations bio-engineered to have a blueish purple petal color — back into living plants with the intention of creating an “open source” population of these flowers.
Center for PostNatural History (Pittsburgh) is a project spearheaded in 2008 by Rich Pell with the objective to advance “knowledge relating to the complex interplay between culture, nature, and biotechnology.” It is a singular natural history museum that is concerned with “PostNatural” varieties of life normally excluded from scientific taxonomy, i.e., transgenic organisms that have been altered by humankind via selective breeding, genetic engineering, or other methods of biological tampering.
Markus Kayser (London) takes notions of sustainable micromanufacturing to the extreme through projects like his Solar Sinter (2011), which combines a custom-made 3D printer with solar power to transform sand, on site in the Sahara, into glass forms, and Sun Cutter (2010), a low tech ‘laser cutter’ that makes objects by focusing sunlight into a beam powerful enough to cut through plywood.
Allison Kudla (Seattle) combines computer fabrication technologies and plant tissue culturing to make living installations. InCapacity for (urban eden, human error) (2009) she uses a custom-built computer controlled four-axis positioning table to “print” seeds and algae into a delicate architectural pattern, which she describes as biological material in collaboration with an engineering mechanism.
Machine Project (Los Angeles) is a “not-for-profit arts organization and community event space dedicated to making specialized knowledge and technology accessible to artists and the general public.” Machine describes its terrain as encompassing “art, technology, natural history, science, music, literature, and food,” and more. Machine’s style of presenting promotes hands-on engagement and engineers atypical collisions between different branches of knowledge.
Philip Ross (San Francisco) works in the realm of “biotechniques.” He makes sculptural and architectural works from plants and fungi, and videos about micro-organisms. His “mycotecture” series is an experiment using reishi mushrooms as a sustainable construction material. He is also the facilitator of DIY biology events via CRITTER — a salon he founded for the natural sciences.
Andrea Grover was the 2010 Andy Warhol Foundation Curatorial Research Fellow at Carnegie Mellon’s Miller Gallery and STUDIO for Creative Inquiry.
A densely illustrated publication, New Art/Science Affinities (2011), accompanies the exhibition. Co-authored by Grover, Régine Debatty, Claire Evans and Pablo Garcia, and designed by Thumb, the book features more than 60 international artists and collaboratives.
I finished reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman and rushed it back to the John Jermaine Library for the next person waiting in line to read this NY Times Top Book of 2011. (If you don’t want to read it, just check out this amazing illustration by Eva-Lotte Lamm and you’ll get the gist.) Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics, has spent his career studying the psychology of judgement making. He describes dual cognitive processes at work in the human mind as System 1 and System 2; the former is an intuitive, automatic process of judgement (think gut reaction and mental shortcuts), the latter an analytical, rules-based slow process (think Math problems and SAT questions). These two systems work in concert to arrive at answers. I have sometimes mistakenly assumed (operative word here) that System 1 is a good place to reside most of the time – making decisions based on instinct and flow – but this book has radically changed my position. My take is that reliance on the kind of involuntary cognition that comes with System 1, while good for primitive man deciding which kind of large cat is going to eat him, has lead us to the present polarization of politics, and the media’s ease of manipulating information with little accountability. The media has a heyday with System 1 at the expense of the planet. As a population, we tend to be lazy when it comes to fact-checking and reasoning, despite the abundance of sources for such purposes. Overuse of System 1 thinking makes people susceptible to any news item that confirms one’s belief system and assumptions (we are especially vulnerable to the dominance of System 1 on hot button subjects like global warming, terrorism, patriotism) regardless of the facts. This is why I’m so attracted to science today, the field which holds a monopoly on System 2 thinking and “truth,” provided research isn’t funded entirely by private industry. There’s a compelling article that touches on this subject, “The State of the Scientist” by Steven Shapin in SEED.
“The increasing alignment of science with commercial institutions carries a risk: the loss in the public mind of the idea of an independent scientific voice — not truth speaking to power but power shaping what counts as truth.”
I read this book. It’s pretty good even if they made it in a week. Worth the fifty bucks, easy. – Bruce Sterling
Our first full review is in Post-Luddite Institute (“promoting awareness of our awareness”). And it’s a thoughtful one, too.
NA/SA could and should be a model for how art writing can be thorough, engaging and relevant, while still contemporary to the subjects it discusses… I applaud the creators for this, NA/SA treats itself as an editorial primer, a barometer of a movement in art that has a multitude of sub-groups and communities but is largely disinterested in constructing a larger mythology. – Georges Negri
And Bust Magazine calls it “the ultimate cuddle buddy.”
Earlier this year I organized a “book sprint” (the collaborative authoring of a book in a condensed period of time) as part of my Warhol Curatorial Research Fellowship on art, science and technology at Carnegie Mellon’s STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and Miller Gallery. I had the good fortune to form a week-long hive mind with writers Claire Evans, Régine Debatty, and Pablo Garcia, and designers Luke Bulman and Jessica Young of Thumb. We tackled Maker Culture, Hacking, Artistic Research, Citizen Science, and Computational Art, wrote about over 60 artists, and created a gigantic timeline that includes everything from the establishment of Radio Shack to Creative Commons and Kickstarter. WE DID THIS IN SEVEN DAYS, with little sleep and lots of instant feedback from faculty and students at CMU, as well as artists who generously skyped into the conversation at a moment’s notice. As of this week, the product of the sprint is out in the world and available as a free download or you can purchase a hard copy.
Official New Art/Science Affinities site:
Official Press Release
NEW ART/SCIENCE AFFINITIES
Contributors: Andrea Grover, Régine Debatty, Claire Evans, Pablo Garcia, Thumb Projects
Published by: Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University + CMU STUDIO for Creative Inquiry
Publication date: October 2011
The Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University and the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry have co-published “New Art/Science Affinities,” a 190-page book on contemporary artists that was written and designed in one week by four authors (Andrea Grover, Régine Debatty, Claire Evans and Pablo Garcia) and two designers (Luke Bulman and Jessica Young of Thumb).
“New Art/Science Affinities,” which focuses on artists working at the intersection of art, science and technology, was produced by a collaborative authoring process known as a “book sprint.” Derived from “code sprinting,” a method in which software developers gather in a single room to work intensely on an open source project for a certain period of time, the term book sprint describes the quick, collective writing of a topical book.
The book includes meditations, interviews, diagrams, letters and manifestos on maker culture, hacking, artist research, distributed creativity, and technological and speculative design. Chapters include Program Art or Be Programmed, Subvert! Citizen Science, Artists in White Coats and Latex Gloves, The Maker Moment and The Overview Effect.
Sixty international artists and art collaboratives are featured, including Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Atelier Van Lieshout, Brandon Ballengée, Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.), Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, The Institute for Figuring, Aaron Koblin, Machine Project, Openframeworks, C.E.B. Reas, Philip Ross, Tomás Saraceno, SymbioticA, Jer Thorp, and Marius Watz.
The authors collectively wrote and designed the book during seven, 10-14 hour-days in February 2011 at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry. During their sessions they held conversations with CMU faculty, staff and students from the STUDIO, Miller Gallery, College of Fine Arts, Robotics Institute, Machine Learning Department and BXA Intercollege Degree Program.
“The book sprint method was adopted in order to understand this very moment in art, science and technology hybrid practices, and to mirror the ways Internet culture and networked communication have accelerated creative collaborations, expanded methodologies, and given artists greater agency to work fluidly across disciplines,” says lead author Andrea Grover.
The publication is part of Grover’s Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Research Fellowship at CMU’s STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and Miller Gallery. “Intimate Science,” an exhibition that will be the product of Grover’s research, will take place in early 2012 at the Miller Gallery.
“New Art/Science Affinities” (2011, 8.5×11 inches, 190 pages, perfect-bound paperback, 232 full-color illustrations) is available for purchase ($45.75) through print-on-demand service Lulu, or for free download via the Miller Gallery website (http://www.cmu.edu/millergallery/nasabook).
EXCERPT FROM FOREWORD:
We launched our book sprint in order to produce a snapshot of this particular moment—and because we wanted to do it with immediacy, without distraction. The topic of this publication is the most recent manifestation of artists working in art, science, and technology, which we broadly define as work that adopts processes of the natural or physical sciences, “does strange things with electricity” (to borrow a phrase from Dorkbot), breaks from traditional models of art/science pairings, and was created within the last five years. We realize that art, science, and technology intersections have a tradition with much deeper roots than we have space to detail here (and that such histories have been given attention elsewhere), so we’ve provided in a timeline a brief subjective history of innovations, movements, and cultural events that have contributed to this tradition and led us to this moment. To be clear: this book is an effort to understand this very moment in art, science, and technology affinities, and the ways Internet culture and networked communication have shaped the practice.
Project Lead, Warhol Curatorial Fellow at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
11 Program Art or Be Programmed
C.E.B. Reas / Rafael Lozano-Hemmer / Jer Thorp / Marius Watz / Aaron Koblin
With comments from: Golan Levin
Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley / Sebastian Brajkovic / Julius von Bismarck / Paul Vanouse / Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev / Marco Donnarumma / Willy Sengewald (TheGreenEyl) / Boredomresearch
With comments from: Julian Oliver & Danja Vasiliev, Johannes Grenzfurthner
57 CITIZEN SCIENCE
Cesar Harada / HeHe / Critter / Machine Project / Center for PostNatural History / Institute for Figuring
With comments from: Cesar Harada, Fred Adams
73 ARTISTS IN WHITE COATS AND LATEX GLOVES
Brandon Ballengée / Gilberto Esparza / Philip Ross / BCL / Kathy High /
Fernando Orellana / SWAMP / Agnes Meyer-Brandis /
SymbioticA and Tissue Culture & Art Project
With comments from: Phil Ross, Adam Zaretsky
107 THE MAKER MOMENT
Machine Project / Thomas Thwaites / Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Katherine Moriwaki /
John Cohr / Free Art Technology (F.A.T.), Openframeworks,
The Graffiti Research Lab, and the Ebeling Group
With comments from: Geraldine Juarez, Mark Allen, Jonah Brucker-Cohen
131 THE OVERVIEW EFFECT
Tomàs Saraceno / Dunne & Raby / Sascha Pohflepp / Bruce Sterling /
Atelier van Lieshout / etoy
With comments from: Jeff Lieberman, Sascha Pohflepp, Wendy Fok
157 Intermediary: The Scientific Evangelist
A subjective chronology of art, science, and technology
185 Image Credits
188 The 200 most used words in this book
Régine Debatty is a blogger, curator and critic whose work focuses on the intersection between art, science and social issues.
Claire L. Evans is a writer, science journalist, science-fiction critic, and the author of Universe, a blog addressing the intersections between science and culture. She is also an artist and musician in the band YACHT.
Andrea Grover is a curator, artist and writer. She is the founder of Aurora Picture Show, Houston, and has curated exhibitions on art, technology, and collectivity for apexart, New York, and Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University. She is presently Associate Curator at Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York.
Pablo R. Garcia is the founder and principal of POiNT, a collaborative and multidisciplinary research studio based in Pittsburgh. POiNT is dedicated to experiments in the spatial arts—architecture, design, and the visual and performing arts, in a variety of scales from the portable to the urban.
Thumb is a Brooklyn and Baltimore-based graphic design office that was established as a partnership between Jessica Young and Luke Bulman in 2007. Thumb is fond of fluorescent inks, microscopic art, live and immediate processes, color, Ebay, shape, very glossy paper, discs, surprises, diagrams, rainbow paper, and awkward transitions.
The STUDIO for Creative Inquiry is a center for experimental and interdisciplinary arts in the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University. Founded in 1989, the STUDIO connects artistic enterprises to academic disciplines across the Carnegie Mellon campus, to the community of Pittsburgh and beyond. The STUDIO’s mission is to support creation and exploration in the arts, especially interdisciplinary projects that bring together the arts, sciences, technology, and the humanities, and impact local and global communities.
The Miller Gallery is Carnegie Mellon University’s contemporary art gallery. The Miller Gallery supports experimentation that expands the notions of art and culture, providing a forum for engaged conversations about creativity and innovation. The gallery produces exhibitions, projects, events and publications with a focus on social issues, and is free and open to the public
On March 3-4, 2011, I attended the “Art as a Way of Knowing” conference at Exploratorium, San Francisco, the legendarily creative, hands-on science museum founded by Dr. Frank Oppenheimer in 1969. (By the by, Exploratorium has had an artist-in-residency program since 1976, beginning with Bob Miller’s mind-expanding experiments with light and shadow.) This art-science convocation was headed by Marina McDougall, Exploratorium Arts Project Director, artist and member of The Studio for Urban Projects. The third in a series of National Science Foundation sponsored art-science gatherings, this one was specific to education and how creativity and social learning is an essential feature of inquiry, regardless of discipline. This position was foreshadowed on the cover of the program book with a quote from John Dewey.
As the developing growth of an individual from embryo to maturity is the result of interaction of organism with surroundings, so culture is the product not of efforts of men put forth in a void or just upon themselves, but of prolonged and cumulative interaction with environment. The depth of the response stirred by works of art show their continuity with the operations of this enduring experience.– John Dewey, Art as Experience, 1934
An impressive roster of invitation-only attendees ranged from artists, writers, philosophers, and curators, to educators, scientists and policy makers, all housed at the nautical “thematized” hotel, The Argonaut. The conference took place in a less nautical, more capital setting of The City Club, located in the former San Francisco Stock Exchange Building, designed by Miller & Pflueger architects. The building was opened in 1930 during the height of the Great Depression, and featured artworks that illustrate the might of American industry, including the first U.S. fresco by Diego Rivera, Allegory of California. Fortunately, Rivera’s communist party ties did not cause this mural to meet the same demise as his Man at the Crossroads at Rockefeller Center. Read the rest of this post on my Glasstire blog.
As part of my Warhol Curatorial Fellowship at STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and Miller Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University, I have organized a book sprint which will take place next week! Details can be found on the STUDIO website. Participants include: Régine Debatty, Claire Evans, Pablo Garcia, Jessica Young (Designer), and Luke Bulman (Designer).
This open letter was written by Kevin Nelson in response to Thomas Kalil’s (Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology) introductory remarks at the National Science Foundation sponsored conference, “Innovation, Education and Makers” and the promotion of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education Coalition).
October 18th, 2010
Dear Mr. Kalil,
I cannot tell you how overjoyed I am that our Nation’s leaders have finally opened an intrigued eye to the blossoming Maker movement. Your speech following the Maker Faire in New York was encouraging, exciting, and promising. It put a well deserved spotlight on the achievements of garage tinkerers and hackers around the country (and let’s be honest, the world). That our leaders are paying attention to these atypical, underground activities and interested in turning them into mainstream, common American values is incredibly motivating to me as a maker.
There is, however, one facet of this movement that was overlooked in your speech, and as far as I can tell, is unfortunately overlooked everywhere STEM is championed. It is an undeniable aspect of humanity as valuable to Captain Picard as it was to Albert Einstein. It has been a driving force, technologically and economically, in the multi-billion dollar video game industry (and thus, the personal computer and home entertainment industries). It is introduced to Americans before Kindergarten, but somewhere along the path to high school, it is hopelessly abandoned as impractical and unproductive. But, it is also how we stop fragmenting ourselves into STEMs; it is how we come together to pick up STEAM for the renaissance (and yes, the ice cream was its idea).
Of course I am talking about art.
While art is a broad word that is dangerously all-encompasing (there is indeed an art to routing a circuit board, and a quite different art to designing a state machine), the art I am talking about here is fine art — that which Wikipedia defines as “developed primarily for aesthetics and/or concept rather than practical application.” Fine art is no longer just painting on a canvas, drawing musical notes on a stave, or spinning clay into a pot. Fine art, in addition to everything it used to be, is electrical, dynamic, and algorithmic now, and to borrow from Oscar Wilde, as “quite useless” as it ever was. Take as an example, Syyn Labs‘ recent contribution to GLOW.
I wasn’t at the Maker Faire in New York, but I have been to two in San Mateo, and many of the projects I saw there not practically useful, but were quite inspiring. Many of the useful projects I did see had one thing in common with the beloved MakerBots and DIYDrones: They were based on an Arduino, the open-source microcontroller and programming environment designed by artists for everyone.
Yes, the Arduino does fall under the blanket category of Technology, but it would be naive to think that its developers were trained only as technologists and engineers. Their training in art, sociology, and community is doubtlessly and inextricably linked to the platform’s success across its diverse applications. Their desire to create something useful for artists is what drove them to simplify the user interface and lower the barrier to entry.
As I mentioned above, art also has a crucial role in the video game industry. Visual arts in video games are the reason why many of my friends own HDTVs. They are also the reason that companies like nVidia and ATi have had a thriving market in which to sell graphics cards and innovate parallel processing. By and large, people want the latest GeForce and Radeon cards for artistic reasons: they want their games to look good. It wasn’t until very recently that using these massively parallel architectures for anything else was even reasonable.
I could go on about other examples of influences of fine arts on technology, like “Daisy” and the Altair 8800, but your time is valuable, and so is mine, so I’ll cut to the point. This letter is to ask you to take a step back, have a look at the immense discrepancy between grant opportunities from the NSF and those from the NEA, and think about what we can do to pick up STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. Educating and encouraging our children to embrace artistic expression is just as important as teaching them calculus and the periodic table. Let’s encourage our engineers to design new Most Useless Machines. Let’s inspire our mathematicians to devise new mind-boggling N-dimensional fractal animations. Let’s teach our artists to write programs and draw schematics so that they might create an electronic Mona Lisa. And let’s show our children how fun and intertwined all of these fields are, so that they may form communities that flourish as they grow older and spread the joy to their children, and so on.
The train is headed in the right direction, we just need to invite everyone aboard.
Computer Engineer, Electronic Musician, Crasher
Like I was saying, I’m developing a thesis for an exhibition and publication about contemporary artists working at the intersection of art/science/technology, to be presented at Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon in 2011/12. I’m particularly interested in the recent shift from artist/inventor dependent on industry or academy, to independent, even rogue agent (artists conducting scientific research or technological experiments outside the framework and discourse of an institution).
The proliferation of artist collaborations with engineers and scientists reached a fever pitch in the late 1960s embodied in efforts like the Art and Technology Program of LACMA, Experiments in Art and Technology, and the Artist Placement Group, each which aimed to pair or place artists within scientific or industrial environments, with various intentions including to provide access to state-of-the-art technologies, scientists, engineers, manufacturing processes, or corporate culture in general. This synchronicity of these like-minded projects could be attributed to the countercultural impulses of the ’60s, a growing interest in systems theories, and a desire for artists to intervene in the industrial sector (specifically around technologies associated with warfare). As evidence of the significance of art/science/technology collaborations, two of the above mentioned programs, A&T and E.A.T., were invited to exhibit at the world’s fair Expo 70, Osaka, Japan– the theme was Progress and Harmony for Mankind.
I’ve slowly been making my way through “A Report on the Art and Technology Program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,” the 397 page tome that documents LACMA’s ambitious program to place contemporary artists in residence within advanced industries (mostly in California) between 1967-1971. The entire report was put online as a free, downloadable PDF in 2008 as a result of growing requests for copies from LACMA’s archives. One of the reasons I’ve been reading it at such a leisurely pace is because the book reads like a legal deposition with documentary evidence: every correspondence and interview with an artist or a industry professional is presented in minute detail; hand-written notes, printed memos, and snapshots are included; interviews are transcribed; and winning and losing proposals are given equal time. It’s a fascinating approach to an art catalogue that more closely approximates a scientific research paper. On Friday, November 5, I had the good fortune of speaking with Maurice Tuchman, co-curator of Art & Technology, and asked him why the documentation surrounding the project was so detailed. Maurice said they wanted to create a real-time document, and to do so in a candid, objective manner. 36,000 copies of the report were printed and distributed to the museum trustees, participating sponsors, and the public. He also indicated that while E.A.T. and A&T were aware of each other (Robert Rauschenberg was a participant in both), there was no real communication about their distinct projects. He said that the marked difference between the two projects was that A&T had the goal of creating an exhibition, while E.A.T. was more theoretical and open-ended.
More on my conversation with Maurice later.
The focus of my research at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry has been artists working in scientific or technological environments during the last four decades (see Chronology of Artists in labs, tech industries, or science agencies). The mid 1960s marked an explosion of interest in cross-disciplinary projects– the paring of artists with engineers, or the placement of artists in scientific environments or industry– as exemplified by Nine Evenings: Theater and Engineering, Art & Technology at LACMA, and the Artist Placement Group, all initiated in 1966. Contemporary artists working in scientific domains are heirs to the throne of these historic milestones, and have much in common with the prevailing spirit of the 1960s avant-garde. In her book Greenwich Village 1963, author Sally Banes argues that the work of the ’60s avant-garde had attributes of folk art, including the handmade & the functional, the incorporation of everyday materials, the inclusion of untrained and non-professionals in the creative process, and the refusal to participate in mainstream culture of mass production and consumption.
We call the art of traditional communities folk art– a term that implies not only function and form, but issues of training, subject matter, resources, and distribution. Folk art is embedded in the social process– it is art by the community for the community. Furthermore, it is made outside the sphere of professionalism: it need not compete in the contemporary market, and its makers are not trained toward that end. Whether this art is an object or a performance, it often appears unpolished and lively, since it is handmade and unique… What about the “tradition” forming in the Sixties artists– the avant-garde, which valued innovation over custom (the very opposite of folk art practice)? Is it possible to take folklore forms and folklore context out of their social milieu to consciously create a new American folklore from above, rather than from below?
The institutionalization of artists in scientific or technological environments never happened the way Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver had envisioned when they wrote the first statement of Experiments in Art & Technology (E.A.T.) in 1967.
The purpose of Experiments in Art and Technology, Inc. is to catalyze the inevitable involvement of industry, technology, and the arts… E.A.T. was founded on the strong belief that an industrially sponsored, effective working relationship between artists and engineers will lead to new possibilities that will benefit society as a whole.
My sense is that the practice has mostly moved outside rarified institutions and industries (the relationships were too complex and tied to capitalism and results-oriented economics), and into the hands of individuals and collectives (facilitated by networked communication which gave agency to maker culture, the open source movement, peer-to-peer sharing, crowdsourcing, etc.). From there, the types of activities exploded and yielded a variety of subtypes of Artists/Scientists/Technologists. Over the next week, I’ll fine tune this chart and add definitions, distinctions, and examples of each subtype.