Robotic sculptures that wave ostrich feathers in rhythmic patterns, giant digital “paintings” that visitors alter with their movements, art created with LED lights that tease the eye, and a music app that invites the visitor to become the artist. These are the results of the meeting of art, science, and technology on view this fall at The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM). As scientists develop new processes, tools, and materials artists follow close behind to see how those same innovations can be borrowed for use in aesthetic pursuits. The CJM’s fall exhibition, NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology brings together three generations of Bay Area artists, from the pioneers exploring the merging of digital technologies with artistic practice to younger artists who are inventing new ways of artmaking using ever-changing digital tools. The exhibition celebrates the artistic innovations of our region with a participatory and whimsical exploration of Bay Area artists, all using technologies including digital, video, light, and sound.
New Experiments in Art and Technology
Many artists feel that their job is to record what it is like to be alive now and paying close attention now. In order to do so they prefer to use the latest technology, which reflects the environment that shapes our lives. The Bay Area has been rich with artists using digital programming since the 1970s. The nine local artists in this exhibition include representatives from three generations; roughly speaking, there are three in their twenties, three in their forties, and three in their sixties. We asked them to make new work, or new versions of existing sculpture or installation art, for this project.
The title of the exhibition suggests a reexamination of the seminal, famous projects from the 1960s, titled Experiments in Art and Technology, or E.A.T. These events, mostly performances, paired each of several artists with engineers from Bell Labs; all the participants were working in New York City. Today, half a century later, an essential factor has changed: individual artists today are trained in the roles of both engineer and artist. E.A.T. is noted for the public emergence of art heavily incorporating new technology, but it also marked the end of a time when artists depended on corporations for the expertise to carry out their projects. E.A.T. was soon followed by a project at Yale University, titled Pulsa, in which tech-based artists declared their independence. A second change, we suggest, is that the center of gravity of such work shifted to the Bay Area in the 1970s.
Why is NEAT at The Contemporary Jewish Museum? Mainstream Judaism has a tradition of embracing innovation in the sciences; there is nothing in Jewish tradition that would reject new information and understanding about the world as unacceptable to doctrine. This is due to the principle that the religion and its ideas evolve over time given new realities. Jews are expected to “repair the earth,” to help complete creation, and the newest and best tools should be used to accomplish that task.
The historic nature of the Bay Area commitment to freedom of inquiry has created our lively art scene. The founder of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly, once stated that he is most interested in technology where “things don’t quite work.” This love of what we might call the “almost formed,” and the imperfect pursuit of breakthroughs that can change culture, are inherent to the embrace of innovation. This love and this pursuit characterize not only NEAT’s artists, but the essence of Jewish tradition, and the Bay Area’s particular defining attribute.
Renny Pritikin, Chief Curator
Book a tour of NEAT
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Use any of the following questions to engage your students in conversation prior to a Museum visit:
- What materials do artists use to create art?
- Have you ever seen art created using technology, such as computers, robots, or video? When and where have you seen this? How was the experience of seeing this art different from seeing paintings or sculptures?
- How is the work of an artist similar to the work of a scientist?
- What are the similarities between artistic and scientific processes and the materials used by artists and scientists?
- What are the similarities between the tension between tradition and innovation in art and the tension between tradition and innovation in religion?
- Share with your students that they will be visiting an exhibition that features art created using technologies such as robots, coding, iPads, video, and LED lights.
- As age appropriate, share with students background information below about the exhibition and about the history of art and technology.