The Legacy of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) : An Environmental Aesthetics


Session Title:

  • Urban Ecologies

Presentation Title:

  • The Legacy of Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) : An Environmental Aesthetics




  • Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) is a well-known exemple of interdisciplinarity at the intersection of Art, Science and Technology. It was founded by Billy Klüver, Fred Waldhauer, Robert Whitman and Robert Rauschenberg in order to facilitate collaboration between artist and engineer, and conceived as a creative and experimental process for research.
    The organization has been examined in part by curators, art historians and researchers who focus mainly on the “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering” festival (1966) and, to a lesser degree, on the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion at “Expo ’70”, at the Osaka World Fair. The Pavilion can be seen, as Fred Waldhauer says, as “a culmination of the experiment during 9 Evenings”. The organization and its projects are often interpreted either in terms of their success (by defenders of new media art), or their failure (by contemporary art critics).

    From a different perspective, however, the Pavilion can be considered as a turning point. Closer examination of the statements associated with E.A.T. projects pre- or postdating the Pavilion, or even projects that remained unrealized (which are numerous and merit attention), reveals the omnipresence of the concept of “environment”. Beyond the development of devices as tools or instruments, that would be available to other artists, the idea of a variable environment that was investigated in the Pavilion, in both its sonic and visual dimensions, can be considered as a key concept in understanding the switch by E.A.T from an art to a non-art context. E.A.T.’s legacy can be said to rest on the early development of an environmental aesthetics. This aesthetics, however, does not focus on the idea of nature (as the prevalent notion of “environment” has it) but rather on the built and, particularly, the technological environment. This environmental aesthetics problematizes the nature/culture dichotomy in a manner that is of particular relevance to contexts that are increasingly infiltrated by technology. As a result, it can be brought to bear, fruitfully, on discussions of contemporary strategies in art and design, ecology and technology.

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