"To Avoid the Waste of a Cultural Revolution": Experiments in Art and Technology
CitationKuo, Michelle. 2018. "To Avoid the Waste of a Cultural Revolution": Experiments in Art and Technology. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation does not examine a single artist. Rather, it addresses a vast organization: Experiments in Art and Technology, or E.A.T., founded in 1966 by artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman and AT&T Bell Laboratories engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer. E.A.T. grew to five thousand members at its peak. Together, they sought to form collaborations between artists and engineers, a grand union of culture and technology, of minds, fields, and competencies. They hoped for nothing less than “to avoid the waste of a cultural revolution.” But what E.A.T. produced was far more restless, complex, and divided—a sprawling and unruly alchemy. In what follows, I offer the first comprehensive analysis of this extraordinary group.
Building on the contemporaneous contravention of conventional models of composition and intention in the work of Rauschenberg, John Cage, Judson Theater, Pop, Op, Happenings, Minimalism, Conceptual, and kinetic art, E.A.T. sought to destabilize the normal process of artistic making, introducing collaboration and conflict into the process. But the organization also strayed far from the art world, looking instead to a very different realm: big science, the explosion in large-scale research in postwar technology, from the military-industrial complex to the rise of the global telecommunications network. Engineers and scientists, in turn, hoped to learn from artists—to upend linear teleologies of technological innovation and instrumental reason; to think more “creatively,” in a harbinger of Silicon Valley-speak. I examine the ways in which these different disciplines convened on the terrain of a shared interest in systems, cybernetics, drugs, lasers, computer graphics, electronic sound, plastics, risk; E.A.T. thereby modeled a new kind of knowledge transfer and material exchange at a scale never before seen in the arts. In doing so, I maintain, E.A.T. took on the colossus of universal connectivity—the very goal of AT&T and NASA, military think tanks and corporate laboratories—and posed a new kind of network.
By focusing on this unorthodox organization, I hope to redress a blind spot in an art historical literature that persists in concentrating on individual artists, historical actors, and heroes. Indeed, if most art of the postwar period is seen as challenging traditional models of individual authorship, few studies have actually examined the most trenchant confrontations with modernist constructions of individual subjectivity, rationality, agency, and form. And if much Conceptual art eventually folded radical systems, events, and language back into a kind of pure ideation, E.A.T. models a different path for art in the 1960s and ’70s: a resolutely multiplicitous array of things, people, media, information, codes, sensations, and temporalities; a massive dispersion and disruption of technological life, in the ether but also on the ground.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41128206
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