In North America, there are over one hundred programs and labs committed to collaborative experimentation in art and technology. This article examines the current prominence of art and technology labs in the context of the resurgence of collaborative practice in the arts, not only between artists, but also among a wide range of cross-disciplinary groupings of designers, scientists, engineers, scholars, and others. The push for collaboration in the arts is part of a recalibration of the meaning of “research” as it is understood by arts practitioners, and among the legacies of institutional critique has been the expanded engagement of artists in contexts that move beyond galleries and museums and into, among other places, universities, businesses, science and tech labs, and research facilities. At the same time, the massive growth of the tech sector has given rise to a new generation of speculative research enterprise, from Google to SpaceX, which shares, to some degree, the expansive research and development horizons of advanced art. Some of the most prominent current art and tech projects explicitly draw on the legacy of precursor programs from the 1960s to establish a lineage and to confer art historical legitimacy on the new versions. This article examines two art and tech projects, at MIT and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and their strategic deployment of their 1960s antecedents: György Kepes’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) and Maurice Tuchman’s Art & Technology program (A&T), respectively. This examination argues that the loss of a radical vision that preceded the 1960s labs rendered them untenable and explores how the art and technology labs furthered a larger shift from progressive liberalism to neoliberalism. While these earlier projects were short-lived and the targets of considerable criticism, not least because of their connections with military and corporate clients, in the twenty-first century the legacies of CAVS and A&T have been unproblematically reclaimed. Contemporary art and tech projects, we argue, are in danger of succumbing to the same techno-utopianism as their 1960s iterations, and the same military-industrial allegiances that tainted the earlier projects continue to underpin twenty-first-century collaborations.
Research Article|July 01 2018
The Return of the Art and Technology Lab
Cultural Politics (2018) 14 (2): 225-243.