John Beck, Ryan Bishop – Technocrats of the Imagination: Art, Technology, and the Military-Industrial Avant-Garde


Duke University Press, ISBN-13: 978-1478006602, English, 240 pages, 2020, USA

Whenever we want to date the first examples of media art (from antiquity to the 20th Century), there are a few influential moments in history that have ignited crucial art experiments and systems. One of these moments occurs in the US in the 1960s, with the first generation of artists working together with scientists and engineers. This seminal book traces the trajectory of this moment in its origins in the radical art avant-garde up to recent revivals. It does it through a series of main case studies: the Center for Advanced Visual Studies by György Kepes at MIT; the Art + Technology program at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in particular the organization of the residency at the RAND Corporation by John Chamberlain; and the group Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.); The ‘liaisons dangereuses’ between the military industry, with its appetite for technical innovation, and a certain ‘art-technology utopianism’, argued to be in turn inspired by John Dewey’s essential collectivism, are carefully reconstructed, diligently documented, criticized, and properly contextualised. The book sheds light on the core initial relationships between media artists and labs, with all the consequences of funding, agency and sponsorship, which have since then become codified systems. A compelling read for anybody involved in media art.