The Return of the Art and Technology Lab

Beck, J. and Bishop, R. 2018. The Return of the Art and Technology Lab. Cultural Politics. 14 (2), pp. 225-243. doi:10.1215/17432197-6609102

TitleThe Return of the Art and Technology Lab
AuthorsBeck, J. and Bishop, R.
Abstract

In North America, there are currently over 100 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 a range of contexts that moves beyond galleries and museums and into, among other places, universities, businesses, science and tech labs and 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 (R&D) 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 upon the new versions This article examines two current art and tech projects, at MIT and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and their strategic deployment of their 1960s antecedents: respectively, Gyorgy Kepes’ Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at MIT, and Maurice Tuchman's Art & Technology program (A&T) at LACMA. This examination argues the loss of a radical vision that preceded the 1960s labs that rendered them untenable while exploring 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 due to 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, as the same military-industrial allegiances that tainted the earlier projects continue to underpin twenty-first century collaborations.

KeywordsArt and Technology Labs
US Avant-Garde
Cold War
MIT
LACMA
Experiments in Art and Technology
JournalCultural Politics
Journal citation14 (2), pp. 225-243
ISSN1743-2197
Year2018
PublisherDuke University Press
Accepted author manuscriptBeck_&_Bishop_Return_of_the_Lab_14_JAN_18.pdf
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1215/17432197-6609102
Publication dates
Published01 Jul 2018

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