Abstract- Where Cybernetics Met The Counterculture: The Us Company

Since the late 1960s, historians have argued that in the early part of that decade, as artists embraced new technologies, art itself became "dematerialized." Where once painters and sculptors had crafted one-of-a-kind objects, the conceptual artists of the 1950s and 1960s turned to creating systems - of ideas, of experiences, and of machinery, media and texts. This paper will explore that shift within a highly influential, though not well remembered, art community: The Us Company (USCO). Drawing on four years of archival research and interviews, as well as existing research in art history and science and technology studies, the paper will show how the members of USCO, like contemporaries such as John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg, embraced the cybernetic theories of Norbert Wiener and the collaborative, experimental social styles characteristic of the weapons research out of which cybernetics emerged. It will then show how USCO linked those theories to the communitarian ideals of the then-burgeoning counterculture. In its multi-media events and its communal lifestyle, USCO became a model of the ways in which multi-mediated experience and anti-hierarchical politics could be joined. For this reason, the paper will conclude that USCO and the move to systems art it represents, should be seen as wellsprings of contemporary cyberculture.