Art & Engineering:
The Legacy of Billy Klüver and E.A.T.

Directed and curated by Randall Packer

Produced by Zakros InterArts and
Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.)
in collaboration with Billy Klüver and Julie Martin
Exhibition book edited by Timothy Druckrey
Technical consultation by Joe Howard of NASA Goddard Space Center

Exhibition Description

"The new interface I will define is one in which the artist makes active use of the inventiveness and skills of an engineer to achieve his purpose. The artist could not complete his intentions without the help of an engineer. The artist incorporates the work of the engineer in the painting or the sculpture or the performance."

Billy Klüver
Billy Klüver talking about E.A.T.

Introduction

In the late 1950s, the Swedish-born engineer Billy Klüver worked on laser systems for Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Klüver, however, was not satisfied by purely scientific pursuits, and his interests led him to explore the artistic milieu that gave rise to pop art, minimalism, and Happenings a short drive away in New York City. Klüver befriended the leading exponents of the new arts, which led to collaborations in the 1960s with such key figures as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and John Cage.

During this period, Klüver more than anyone, foresaw the potential for the integration of art and technology. Inspired by Aristotle's notion of Techne – in which there was no differentiation between the practice of art and science – Klüver proposed the active and equal participation of the artist and engineer in the creation of the artwork. In this collaboration, he believed that the engineer required the participation of the artist, who as a "visionary about life" and an active agent of social change, involved the engineer in meaningful cultural dialog. At the same time, he felt that the artist, in the spirit of Rauschenberg's famous credo "to close the gap between art and life," had an obligation to incorporate technology as an element in the artwork, since technology had become inseparable from our lives.

In 1966, Klüver founded the now legendary Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) with Robert Rauschenberg, Fred Waldhauer, and Robert Whitman. E.A.T. encouraged the collaboration of artists and engineers across the country in interdisciplinary technology-based art projects. Klüver's work takes on increasing significance as the notion of the synthesis of art and technology has assimilated into the contemporary arts.

Despite the historical significance of Billy Klüver's contribution to the evolution and subsequent widespread adoption of technology in contemporary art, the work he produced and its influence on recent media work is not well known nor has it received a great deal of informed critical discussion. Billy Klüver's contribution to the history of electronic media art extends far beyond the notion of new techniques and new genres. His efforts to bridge the divide between the arts and sciences was driven by a desire to nurture the collaborative spirit. In doing so, he sought to bring the artist closer to the materials of technology and thus more in touch with the forces shaping contemporary society, particularly the revolutionary cultural transformations of the 1960s. He also strove to introduce the artists' world to the scientist, whom he believed would become more engaged with issues critical to society and culture. These seminal ideas have since become fundamental to the creative work of contemporary artists and engineers.

Exhibition Overview

"Art and Engineering: The Legacy of Billy Klüver and E.A.T." celebrates this achievement by introducing a relatively unknown body of work and providing much needed historical and critical context. Additionally, the exhibition links these seminal efforts to contemporary concerns, techniques, and strategies adopted by present day digital media artists, theorists, and critics.

The exhibition is divided into two parts:

  1. Virtual Pavilion - A multi-user, virtual environment based on the legendary Pepsi-Cola Pavilion, the installation originally created for the Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan that involved over 75 collaborating artists and engineers. The digitally reconstructed installation will network host and participating museums with on-line audiences on the Web.

  2. Artists, Engineers and Collaboration - Selected installations of Klüver and collaborating artists, as well as works by other E.A.T. engineer-artist collaborations. Also included will be the E.A.T. archives of films, photographs, newsletters, and other documentation organized chronologically from the period 1960 - 1970, with an overview and narrative in Klüver's own words.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive book containing critical, historical and technical articles written by and about Klüver, as well as a Website containing numerous reproductions of artworks and documentation.


Virtual Pavilion

"The initial concern of the artists who designed the Pavilion was that the quality of the experience of the visitor should involve choice, responsibility, freedom, and participation. The Pavilion would not tell a story or guide the visitor through a didactic, authoritarian experience. The visitor would be encouraged as an individual to explore the environment and compose his own experience."

Original Pepsi-Cola Pavilion
Digital rendering of the Pavilion

The most ambitious work produced by Billy Klüver and E.A.T. was the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion, a multimedia theatrical space and interactive environment created for the Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan. Though the Pavilion is often noted in historical accounts of media art, only those who visited the exposition were able to experience firsthand what has come to be known as one of the most ambitious, collaborative art and technology projects of the 20th Century.

The Pepsi-Cola Pavilion was one of the first immersive artworks to engage viewers through electronic media. The work predates current interest in virtual reality, interactive installations, and other VR experiences that transport the viewer to digitally constructed worlds. The Pepsi-Cola Pavilion also served as a forerunner to the changing relationship between viewer and artwork in interactive media art.

The updated Virtual Pavilion consists of a 3D rendering based on the Pepsi Pavilion, reconstructing the original installation through digital technologies. The intention is to enable contemporary viewers to witness firsthand the Pepsi-Pavilion's seminal influence as an immersive, interactive installation, as collective, participatory experience, and as a major catalyst for subsequent collaboration between artists and engineers.

Original mirror reflections
Digital rendering of reflections

The Pavilion facilitates multi-user interaction in a fully 3-dimensional virtual reality space by networking museum-based installations with interactive software created specifically for the Web. On-site and on-line viewers will collectively navigate responsive elements created for the original Pavilion such as: the 210 degree spherical mirror that projected three-dimensional real images similar to holograms; the multi-channel surround-sound system that was pre-programmed or performed live from the control console on the floor of the Pavilion; the multicolored lasers that bathed visitors in an electronic "baptism;" and the kinetic sculptures that playfully roamed the terrace surrounding the Pavilion.

However, the Virtual Pavilion is not just a historical reconstruction: the intent is to update and transform the original Pepsi Pavilion into an entirely new form of multimedia theater. The installation has been conceived, like the original, as a stage for the creation of new environments conceived by contemporary artists. A selection of artists will be invited to create original works that challenge the notion of the responsive environment in ways that were unimaginable in 1970 and are only possible today through the implementation of new digital technologies. Nevertheless, this transformation draws from the fundamental notion of audience participation and interaction that was integral to the original work. The Pavilion invites the audience, in Klüver's words, "to compose its own experience," thus encouraging a more participatory, collaborative relationship between artist, viewer and artwork.

Visitors interact with kinetic sculptures created by Robert Breer
Visitors viewing their
real image reflections

Artists, Engineers, and Collaboration

"Experiments in art and technology is established to develop an effective collaboration between engineer and artist. The raison d'être of E.A.T. is the possibility of a work which is not the preconception of either the engineer or the artist, but which is the result of the exploration of the human interaction between them."

Homage to New York - 1960
collaboration with Jean Tinguely
Oracle - 1962/65
collaboration with Robert Rauschenberg

"Artists, Engineers and Collaboration" surveys the work of Billy Klüver and E.A.T. during the 10 year period from 1960 to 1970. This component of the exhibition includes selected artworks from Klüver's numerous collaborations with artists including Jean Tinguely, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns, among others. It also includes works from other artist-engineer collaborations during E.A.T.'s tenure between 1966 and 1970, most notably from the exhibition "Some More Beginnings" held at the Brooklyn Museum in 1968. Additionally, the exhibition will include selections from the E.A.T. archives including films, photographs, posters, newsletters, and other key memorabilia.

The exhibition will be documented by a comprehensive book of critical writings by and about Klüver, as well as an accompanying Website which serves to provide historical context, offering a chronological account of Klüver and E.A.T. collaborations and its broad influence on thousands of artists who participated in E.A.T. exhibitions, events, etc. around the country. This historical chronology is based on a lecture by Billy Klüver, a fascinating and detailed account of collaborations that includes an extensive collection of photographs of artworks and their creators, film and audio clips from performances and exhibitions, and hundreds of interviews, technical diagrams, and artist sketches.

"Artists, Engineers and Collaboration" begins dramatically in 1960 with the "Homage to New York," Klüver's first collaboration with the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, in which their kinetic machine sculpture destroyed itself in the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Silver Clouds - 1966
collaboration with Andy Warhol

9 Evenings - 1966
Robbie Robinson and John Cage

"Artists, Engineers, and Collaboration" surveys the ensuing decade of interactive electronic works by Robert Rauschenberg; Andy Warhol's experimentation with floating sculpture; the "9 Evenings of Theater and Engineering" performances of 1966 held at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York that brought together Rauschenberg, John Cage, and over 30 other artists and engineers; the formation of E.A.T (Experiments in Art and Technology in 1966; the 1968 "Some More Beginnings" show at the Brooklyn Museum in association with Museum of Modern Art's groundbreaking "The Machine As Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age," the first major exhibition of electronic art in the United States; and finally, the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion, E.A.T.'s penultimate project, bringing Klüver's vision of art and engineering to millions of viewers from around the world.

Soundings - 1968
collaboration with Robert Rauschenberg

Pavilion - 1970
E.A.T. collaboration

 


Exhibition Requirements

Approximately 2000 square feet of gallery space for:

  • Virtual Pavilion virtual reality installation in darkened, isolated space approximately 20' X 20'
  • Electronic media and sound installations (specific work to be determined)
  • Documentation including posters, photographs, publications, sketches, and technical diagrams from E.A.T. events and exhibitions
  • Screening area for films

Technical Requirements for Virtual Pavilion:

  • (high tier) CAVE Virtual Reality System: includes 3 Silicon Graphics Onyx computers, multi-channel surround-sound system, 3 projection screens, 3 RGB data projectors, 3D stereoscopic glasses, "magic wand," and additional pairs of plastic 3D glasses. (for "host" museums)
  • (middle tier) 1 Pentium III PC with accelerated graphics card, multi-channel surround-sound system, 1 RGB data projector and projection screen, 1 joy stick on pedestal, 1 pair of 3D stereoscopic glasses, and additional pairs of plastic 3D glasses. (for "participating" museums)
  • (low tier) 3D environment distributed for viewing on the Web.

Technical Requirements for Artists, Engineers and Collaboration:

  • 1 Video projector and screen for screening room
  • Installation components (to be determined)
  • 2 PCs with 17" monitors for viewing on-line material