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Jennifer Gabrys

Residue in the E.A.T. archives

End of System

Software, Information Technology: Its New Meaning for Art, 1970
"Art is what remains after everything else is destroyed or forgotten." (1)

Another exhibit held during this time period, Software, gathered together a range of projects that dealt exactly with information and communication systems as the space of art. In fact "software" as a title for the show was employed to be a focus distinct from hardware. One particular installation, Les Levine’s "Residual Software," precisely captures the fallout from the division between software and hardware. With respect to his installation, a conglomeration of 31 photographs of an earth art show reproduced 1,000 times each and subsequently shredded, mounded and stuck together with Jell-O, Levine writes:

All activities which have no connection with object or material mass are the result of software. Images themselves are hardware. Information about these images is software. All software carries its own residuals. The residual may take the form of news, paint, television tapes or other so-called ‘media.’ In many cases an object is of much less value than the software concerning the object. The object is the end of a system. The software is an open continuing system. (2)

The object here is not only an end, but a repeatedly reproduced end. As a continuous system, software operates perpetually, and so there is no end to the residuals it may produce. "Software" functions as a larger economic dynamic, a program of innovation, proliferation and obsolescence; it becomes the motor driving the engine of technology. (And as Burnham’s above comment further implies, software and art may even be interchangeable in this respect.)

In a lecture given in 1972, "The Future of Art and Technology," Klüver refers to the Club of Rome study, The Limits of Growth, to discuss the contribution art may have in abating possible economic, social and environmental collapse due to rampant modes of growth. Citing the ambitious productivity of artists, however, Klüver concludes that a meeting of art and technology would also cause exponential (and inevitably consumptive) growth. "Thus," Klüver chides, "the report was shredded." While there is more than a hint of irony in his analysis, such findings may explain why Klüver ultimately stated the best fate for E.A.T. would be for it to "fade away." (3) Such a wish implies that E.A.T. would be so successful it would necessarily be subject to the same cycle of obsolescence that encompasses so many other areas of growth, where success would ensure the inevitability of failure. At the moment of its demise, it would give rise to a million permutations and experiments just when its original manifestation expires. This is the endless looping logic of art as an idea machine.

The objective of this research, finally, is also to realize a project "outside art," and to expand on the processes of technological breakdown, waste and decay located in E.A.T.’s project toward the present moment. These inquiries into the self-destruction of the machine connect to a related research project on electronic waste, that accumulation of obsolete computer hardware and information overload that characterizes our contemporary technological environment. Further research on this topic may be found at

Jennifer Gabrys © 2004 FDL

(1) Burhnam, Jack, Great Western Salt Works: Essays on the Meaning of Post-Formalist Art (New York: George Braziller, 1974): 46.

(2) Software, Information Technology: Its New Meaning for Art (New York: Jewish Museum, 1970): 61.

(3) Davis, op.cit., 139.