Abstract- Robin Oppenheimer

(full paper) http://hdl.handle.net/10002/443

Network Forums and Trading Zones: How Two Experimental, Collaborative Art and Engineering Subcultures Spawned the “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering” and E.A.T.

The historic meeting of electrical engineer Billy Kluver and painter Robert Rauschenberg at the Museum of Modern Art in 1960 symbolizes a larger technocultural convergence of the worlds of research-based applied sciences and experimental arts that took place in the early 1960s. The historic meeting of artists and engineers from two networked subcultures in New York City to produce a series of large-scale multimedia, technology-driven theatrical performances called “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering” can be traced, in part, to the earlier collaborative, interdisciplinary, and entrepreneurial styles of working invented in both the American avant-garde arts scene in Greenwich Village and the network of military-industrial-academic research laboratories of World War II such as Bell Labs, where theories of cybernetics and information systems were initially conceived. Both groups shared an emerging set of values and work practices that included open, egalitarian approaches to experimentation; discipline boundary-crossing; respect for technology as a tool, and a project-based cybernetics systems approach to creative research and production.
My paper will draw on Fred Turner's research into the collaborative research labs emerging out of WWII around the “new” science of cybernetics that reflected similar ideals and practices of the artist collectives and social networks of Greenwich Village described by Sally Banes. I will also point to early collaborations at Bell Labs with sound artists to demonstrate how the engineers there began to find common ground with artists, and how some engineers were artists in their own right. The specific collaborative breakthroughs and practices of the “9 Evenings” that include engineer Herb Schneider’s use of diagrams to communicate the artists’ ideas to the engineers will demonstrate how the two subcultures learned to develop a “contact language” and “trading zones” to communicate. The subsequent formation of E.A.T. as a global platform for encouraging the creative process between artists and engineers will exemplify how new collaborative practices emerged as art and applied sciences subcultures established complex “network forums” that developed shared “creole” languages and acknowledged each others’ values, processes, and ideas.