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Sylvie Lacerte

9 Evenings and Experiments in Art and Technology

Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object (1973)

In her postface for Six Years, Lucy R. Lippard ends her reflection with a lucid thought that may have been overlooked by art historians who delved into conceptual art. She says:

“Conceptual art has not however, as yet, broken down the real barriers between the art context and those external disciplines – social, scientific, academic – from which it draws sustenance. While it has become feasible for artists to deal with technical concepts in their own imaginations, rather than having to struggle with constructive techniques beyond their capacities and their financial means, interactions between mathematics and art, philosophy and art, literature and art, are still at a very primitive level.” (1)

However, Lippard does not mention technology in her nomenclature of external disciplines nor the experiments achieved at the same time by certain conceptual artists under the aegis of EAT. Such was also the case with Billy Klüver, who disregarded those not akin to his artistic philosophy. It is as though the two phenomena lived separately within a kind of autarchy.

In addition, if 9 Evenings was not the result of a dematerialization of the art object per se, as understood in Lippard's definition of conceptual art, the performances represented nonetheless a fugitive moment that could never become commodified enough to cross the art market's threshold as conceptual art did. Indeed, the ideas of the conceptual artists enjoyed such outstanding success that the international art market found a non-equivocal way to capitalize on the zeitgeist of that movement, although the artists had strived, in the beginning, to escape the traditional bourgeois capitalistic art circuits.

It would be simplistic to declare that art and technology ventures of the '60s were a total failure. On what basis would they have been a failure? Because they were not salvaged by the market? If one delves into the genesis of contemporary art in general and the conceptual and technological art movements in particular, we are soon brought to recognize that most artistic endeavours of this intense era were (and still are) all about experimentation and breaking new boundaries and limits, thus revealing undiscovered territories, be they material or immaterial.

Sylvie Lacerte © 2005 FDL

(1) Lippard, op.cit., p. 263.