Faculty Development Grants and Awards Funding Report
From September 19-27, 2015, I traveled to London for the purpose of conducting research at Tate Britain Archive and the Whitechapel Gallery Archive. The focus of my research was the emergence of systems aesthetics (art influenced by cybernetics and systems theory) as showcased in important exhibitions in London in the 1960s and 1970s: Cybernetic Serendipity (ICA, London, 1968), Systems (Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1972), Art Systems in Latin America (ICA, London, 1974), and Picturing the System (ICA, London, 1978). The documents I was able to access by visiting the archives in person are invaluable. The trip was highly successful and will influence my teaching and professional development in several ways.
Interdisciplinary and New Media Art
I gained new insights into the importance of interdisciplinary and new media practices in the development of systems aesthetics, and in turn the importance of the development of systems aesthetics to the broader challenge to traditional approaches and media. For example, the press release for the exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity states, "no visitor to [the exhibition] will know in any particular instance whether he is looking at something produced by an artist, engineer, a mathematician or an architect." It goes on to state that new media such as plastics and new system such as visual music notation and concrete poetry-when they are adopted by those creative people already identified as painters, sculptors, filmmakers and poets-inevitably lead to new shapes in art ... " I learned more about the strong influence of the latest scientific and communications theories on the artists who were broadly pushing to create more time- and space-based art.
Access to correspondence, planning documents and event announcements improved my understanding of the burgeoning global consciousness and interconnectedness of these artists in the 1960s and 1970s. The exhibitions included an international array of artists who were in greater communication via changes in international mail system and commercial flights. This will help me to teach students about the broad historical shifts to postmodernism and advanced capitalism at the time and towards globalism today.
My book Corporate Imaginations: Fluxus Strategies for Living focuses specifically on the international artists group Fluxus, and it was very helpful to learn how many of the artists associated with Fluxus were also involved in these exhibitions in London. Not only does this speak to my argument about the diversity within Fluxus, it also confirms my claims that despite the efforts of Fluxus founder and organizer George Maciunas to keep the group tight and loyal to the Fluxus name only, many artists did not heed his call and instead thrived on cross-group, cross-movement creative exchange at the time.
Thankfully, archives are becoming increasingly more accepting of personal photography for research purposes. At the Tate Britain Archive I was able to photograph every relevant document. I will incorporate these into my classroom presentations so that my students benefit from seeing first-hand accounts of the artists' and exhibition organizers working processes.
I am immensely grateful to the Faculty Development Grants and Awards Committee for this travel opportunity. The research will enhance my efforts to teach FIT students contemporary art and exhibition production at undergraduate and graduate levels, and in particular to discuss with them artistic practices that draw inspiration not only from the field of visual art but also science, engineering, math, and the development of new materials and technologies from the 1960s to today. Beyond this, the research is immensely helpful to my scholarly work on Fluxus, and my continual efforts to understand the complexities and contradictions of art production, distribution, reception and the changing roles of artists in a global context.