Tuesday, September 12, 2006

On collaboration

Statement of Purpose, E.A.T., 1967 Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) Statement of Purpose, 1967

John Cage: "If the artist can become aware of the technology, and if the technologist can become aware of the fact that the show must go on, then I think we can expect not only interesting art, but we may just very well expect an interesting change in social order. The most important aspect of this is the position of the engineer as a possible revolutionary figure. And it may very well come as a result of the artists and engineers collaborating, because the artists, for years now, have been the repository of revolutionary thought, whereas the engineers, in their recent history, have been the employees of the economic life. But in relating to the artist, they become related to a revolutionary factor..."

Billy Klüver: "Together the artist and the engineer went one stop beyond what either of them could have done separately. But perhaps more importantly, the artist-engineer collaboration was the training ground for larger-scale involvement in social issues for both the artist and the engineer."

I've never quite understood what Cage means whenever he talks about the "revolutionary" ethos and actions of artists, especially if this relies on art being extra-economic, and I hear it regurgitated (like academics with Deleuze) by too many artists today, but I do believe that both he and Klüver are onto something valuable when they narrow in on the potential of collaborating as a force for social change.

I especially like the implication of political collaboration. Rather than the hippie-utopian dream of everyone holding hands and working/playing together productively, their call for a re-ordering of things conjures images in my head of shaven-head French women after the war. So many boundaries crossed that the powers-that-be snap to attention, fiercely defending the borders-that-be. (Submit, you seditious whore!) We still fear miscegenation. We want to protect the human, and the machine. We want to maintain certain borders around certain practices and values in art, technology, design, sociology and anthropology too. But we want--we need--to collaborate. To "go beyond" what we can achieve separately. To not merely survive the siege, but come out the other side, like emerging from a crowd, unscathed but nevertheless transformed.


Blogger Phil said...

We want to protect the human, and the machine. ... But we want--we need--to collaborate. To "go beyond" what we can achieve separately.

Not sure about this as an antithetical pairing. Personally I'm all about protecting the human; embodied agency is something pretty special, I'd argue, and it brings with it a whole set of concerns (location, history, psychology, etiquette, play...) which are either irrelevant or a defect in the case of either physical objects or AIs. And it's on the basis of those obdurate, gappy specificities that we can most productively collaborate, surely, not by getting your phone to download my avatar. Or am I just being a Luddite, again? (Felicitous typo OTD: 'Ludite'. I wouldn't mind being one of those.)

Anonymous anne said...

phil - it seems to me that your ellipsis (and the deleting of my in-between point) makes the pairing antithetical ;)

as for protecting the human, well, i guess it depends on what we mean by human. are we best defined in terms of "embodied agency" - and what does that mean exactly?

personally, i would never divorce people (or the human) from "either physical objects or AI" since we can only know and engage both by social means.

but i'd love to hear more about how you see obduracy relating to collaboration...


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