Food for Thought: E.A.T. and Today’s Tech-Art
Recently Amy Keyishian (@madfoot) wrote “Art and Tech Have a Really Cool Baby at a San Francisco Museum” for re/code. In it, she covers a recent digital media exhibit in San Francisco, and makes a compelling claim–that collaborations between engineers and artists, such as the historic E.A.T. project, are no longer necessary, because artists have direct access to technologies they can leverage in their work.
Known as E.A.T. for Experiments in Art and Technology, this long-term project was initiated in 1966 by a pair of Bell Labs scientists and a pair of prominent artists– Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer, Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman (respectively). They instigated technology-oriented artwork by organizing as a nonprofit that planned several exhibitions and introduced new scientist-artist pairs open to creative collaboration. As Raschenberg famously stated (as quoted in Frank Rose’s “The Big Bang of Art and Tech in New York” for The New York Times) the combination of technology and art crystalized immediately. “If you don’t accept technology, you better go to another place, because no place here is safe. Nobody wants to paint rotten oranges any more.”
Today artists certainly do have access to powerful technologies at their disposal, and technology is even integrated into many art programs. An artist might use any one of many new languages and frameworks that make it easier than ever to develop software, inexpensive devices to power projects, such as mini computers (think Raspberry Pi) and 3D printers, as well as warehouses of specialized data available via APIs. So is there still an opportunity for curated collaboration to bring art and technology to what Keyishian calls the “bleeding edge”?
I do think opportunities remain for engineers and scientists to meld minds in a valuable way. While end-user technologies are readily available, direct collaboration can bring out rich points. As a member of the über-collaborative film industry, I am a firm believer that when it comes to brilliant minds at work, more is better. Artwork created by artists and scientists with the deepest understanding of the latest of all aspects of culture (including technology) deliver new layers of meaning, commentary–and even beauty.