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The Experiments in Art and Technology Datascape

Christophe Leclercq, Paul Girard

The Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) organization was set up in 1966 by the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman, in association with the engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer. Its purpose was to facilitate collaboration between artists, engineers, and scientists by producing art systems and projects outside the art sphere in a strictly defined sense. Between 1966 and 1970, E.A.T. was thus at the root of more than 600 joint projects in the United States and abroad, most of which, rightly or wrongly, are largely unknown. Billy Klüver and Julie Martin, the organization’s last two directors, undertook the task of archiving their activities in a particularly conscientious way, classifying and preserving a collection of documents related to the production of projects that were the organization’s brainchildren. They also worked toward developing these records, in particular through the making from the 1990s onward, of documentary films using hitherto unpublished archival documents. This work was undoubtedly affected by the emergence of a certain critical recognition by the art world, as gauged by the increase, in the 2000s, of works made and exhibitions held by exhibition curators, researchers, and art critics. Yet the partial use made of these archives makes it impossible to take the full measure of the organization. In fact, it inadequately reflects both the diversity and the proliferation of the structure’s activities, including its systems and methods, its exhibitions and shows, its lectures and, not least, its publications—in other words, its complexity. The collaborative dimension of E.A.T.’s activities (often reduced to technical assistance schemes), of which the creation of systems is just the tip of the iceberg, adds to the problem. Elaborating a response to the seemingly simple question “What is E.A.T.?” therefore calls for the availability and collective use of a great deal of information related to the organization’s many activities. Examined in this way, E.A.T. emerges as an exemplary case study for the burgeoning fields of digital humanities and design alike. Based on this case, it is actually possible to identify, within areas of aesthetics, of art history and social art history, new, practical ways of making use of archives not only by providing access to digitized resources, but also—especially—by focusing on the organization of these resources so as to provide answers to issues raised by the scholars engaged in these different disciplines and in the areas where they overlap. [Premiers paragraphes de la communication]