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My visit to gallery camp at Derby Quad has rekindled my interest in the use of technology in art. This ranges from the depiction of technology as a metaphor, as with the alchemical imagery of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even’, through to more literal translations.

The use of technology in art practice has become more visible since the first examples of Net Art in the 1990s. However, these artworks have predecessors in collaborations between the humanities and technological developments stretching back to the early 1900s. These early examples focused on artistic responses to military technology, as well as new developments in computing to aid humanistic scholarship.

This week I have been looking at one particular example of artists and technologists working together to produce new works and to showcase ideas and scientific developments. The project was called the Art and Technology programme and I first became aware of it at the conference ‘Imaginary Exhibitions’, which was held at Henry Moore Institute, Leeds in November 2013.

Art and Technology, LACMA
The Art and Technology project at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Southern California (or LACMA, for short), ran between 1966 and 1971. Its curator, Maurice Tuchman, was interested in developing the links between art and industry, as well as building on artists interests in technological advancement through movements such as Futurism and Vorticism.

In his project report, Tuchman is quoted as saying “Much of the most compelling art since 1910 has depended upon the materials and processes of technology, and has increasingly assimilated scientific and industrial advances. Nevertheless, only in isolated circumstances have artists been able to carry out their ideas or even initiate their projects due to the lack of an operative relationship with corporate facilities. Our objective now is to provide the necessary meeting ground for some eminent contemporary artists with sophisticated technological personnel and resources.”

His colleague Jane Livingstone however, was aware of the differences between the utopian vision of the early 20th Century avant garde and the cynicism of artists of the 1960s. At this time, many artists felt a sense of alienation which they attributed to the appropriation of technology by business interests. In forging connections between art and industry, she hoped to ameliorate these fears and allow artists to develop their ideas through access to increased funds and material capabilities.

Project plan
Tuchman and Livingstone invited proposals from artists, who would then be paired with businesses who shared similar interests or working methods. 40 different companies (including those from the IT, Aerospace and Defence industries), contributed funding and expertise on the basis that they would benefit from the research and development of the artists. They would also own any potential artwork produced from the project, although artists were not compelled to produce an exhibitable product as part of their collaboration.

The curators solicited proposals from 76 artists in total, however by the end of the four year collaboration, only fourteen artists were exhibited in the final exhibition at LACMA. This was due to a number of factors, including artists failing to submit proposals, having proposals rejected, choosing not to produce a tangible object, or leaving their collaborations early due to “irreconcilable differences”.

The artists/technologists included in the exhibition were: James Byars, Jean Dupuy, Oyvind Fahlstrom/Heath Company (‘Meatball Curtain’), Newton Harrison/NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (Illuminated, gas-plasma-filled columns), R.B. Kitaj, Rockne Krebs/Hewlett-Packard (‘Day Passage’ using laser technology), Roy Lichtenstein/Universal Studios (‘Three Landscapes’), Boyd Mefferd/Universal Television Company (Strobe installation), Claes Oldenburg/Disney/Gemini G.E.L. (‘Ice Bag’), Robert Rauschenberg/Teledyne, Inc. (‘Mud Muse’), Richard Serra/Kaiser Steel Company (‘Five Plates and Two Poles’), Tony Smith/Container Corporation of America, Andy Warhol/Cowles Communication (‘Rain Machine’ using holographic printing), and Robert Whitman/Philco-Ford Corporation (‘Mirrored Room’).

Legacy of the Art and Technology project
Apart from the forward thinking nature of the initiators, the project was also praised for its evaluation. This evaluation was in the form of a detailed report which doubled as an exhibition catalogue. The report, entitled ‘A Report on the Art and Technology Program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’, detailed discussions and plans made between the artists, curators and organisations, creating an extensive methodology for producing future art and technology collaborations.

Further reading: