You Begin with the Possibilities of the Material

by Korrina Rose

The Death and Resurrection of LACMA's Art & Technology Program
Art and technology are indelibly linked, both strictly man-made ideas, both lending to the other through history. The cave paintings couldn’t have been created without first crushing a pigment with a hand-sized rock and adding a binding agent, usually spit or fat. Simple by our standards but only discovered through trial and error, and human observation.

In 1967, Maurice Tuchman, a curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, launched the Art and Technology Program, and now nearly five decades later, LACMA is reincarnating this forward-thinking initiative in hopes to incite a lively public dialogue led by artists; around the many creative opportunities, cultural implications, and ethical challenges brought about by technological change. In its original incarnation, the Art and Technology program, or A&T, prominent artists, including Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Claes Oldenburg, and Andy Warhol, were commissioned and paired with leading specialists in the technology and engineering fields, but failed to produce completed works and ultimately expired. This is not to say that the original Art and Technology program was without any notable outcomes; several projects were the foundation to innovations years later, as documented in A report on the Art and Technology Program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1967–1971, which LACMA notes is one of their most sought after out-of-print publications. Amy Heibel, the VP of Technology and Digital Media at LACMA, cites the inspiration for rejuvenating this program as “the role technology plays in the museum, and [realizing] that one of the things [LACMA] are uniquely placed to do is to support artists who are interested in working with emerging technology.”

This time around LACMA is doing things differently from the get-go: Instead of commissioning artists directly and pairing them up with an aerospace, scientific, or entertainment corporation, they held an open call for submissions available to any individual artist, student, or collective. A panel composed of LACMA curators, the director, and Lab staff deliberate on which proposal is worthy of receiving the Art + Technology grant of up to $50,000 and access to the Balch Art Research Library, which has been newly renovated specifically to house the new lab program and projects. The Balch Art Research Library is to serve as a space for the presentation of the pieces and their accompanying demonstrations and lectures. The selected artists are also given access to support from The advisory board, which includes representatives from NVIDIA, DAQRI, Accenture, SpaceX, and Google, in addition to independent artists and academics. The hope is that the artists use these resources to expand the trajectory of their work to make poetic use of technology, or take a critical stance on the subject.

Heibel believes, “Projects that engage emerging technology have a high risk of ‘failure’, and this is an opportunity for artists to present their work-in-progress so that the public can see and learn from their process, regardless of whether it results in a finished work of art within the span of the grant. Our primary interest is in exposing the making process,” and like our ancient ancestors before, here’s to  hoping that our efforts of blending two components aren’t futile and something sticks to the wall.