Each of the founders of E.A.T. -- engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer and artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman -- had previously been involved in projects involving the use of technology in art; Their experiences were varied but aligned. Rauschenberg, as early as 1959, embedded a radio behind the canvas in his Combine painting Broadcast, with knobs for the visitor to turn sticking through; and in Pantomime (1961) had mounted two working fans facing each on the to the sides of a painting, the power cords disappearing behind the painting. Whitman had included film in his theater pieces as early as 1960: beginning with Super 8 in The American Moon, and then overlapping projection of 16 mm film in Prune Flat (1965), and was developing an interest in advanced optics. Engineer Fred Waldhauer, who was working on advanced switching systems at Bell Laboratories, had a passion for jazz and contemporary music and worked with jazz musician Leroy Parkins to incorporate electronic music into his performances. Klüver, a research engineer at Bell Laboratories, who had directly tapped into the growing interest among visual artists, dancers, and composers in using technological in his collaboration with artists in the early 1960s.
During the summer of 1966 while working on the 9 Evenings performances, the four began to have discussions about the value of the artist/engineer relationships they were forging and to explore how to continue and expand them beyond the 9 Evenings performances. They decided that an organization was necessary to pursue these goals, and in September incorporated Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), as a not-for-profit organization whose goal was to promote collaborations between artists, engineers and scientists. Each of these four brought his specific professional skills and insights to the formation and early activities of the organization.
They all agreed that The idea of promoting and facilitating the one-to-one collaboration between individual artists and engineers or scientists would be the basic goal of E.A.T. These collaborations would make it possible for artists to pursue ideas that required the use of new technology, and the work could develop in directions that neither the artist or the engineer could have foreseen. The founders also believed that these collaborations could lead technology in directions more positive for the needs, desires, and pleasures of the individual, and benefit society as a whole.
Forming the Organization
1966 - 1968
First meeting of E.A.T. for artists at Broadway Central Hotel November 1966. Photo Peter Moore.
Experiments in Art and Technology was founded in 1966 by Billy Klüver, Robert Rauschenberg, Fred Waldhauer, and Robert Whitman. The decision to form the organization developed from the experience of 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering, They wanted to continue the organic artist-engineer relationships fostered during 9 Evenings and decided that a decided that an organization would be necessary to establish the necessary physical and social conditions for these groups to work together.
The four worked with lawyer friend Franklin Konigsberg; and Experiments in Art and Technology, Inc. was incorporated in New York State on September 26, 1966, as a nonprofit, tax-exempt membership organization for scientific and charitable purposes, whose general aim was, according to the Certificate of Incorporation, “to further the development of art and engineering and the interaction of art and engineering.” Robert Rauschenberg became Chairman, Billy Klüver became President, Robert Whitman became Treasurer, and Fred Waldhauer became Secretary. Membership was opened to all artists and engineers.
The founding group and the other participants in 9 Evenings called a meeting for November 30th 1966, at the Central Plaza Hotel, 111 Second Avenue, to determine the level of interest artists in New York would have in an new organization serving artists, engineers and scientists working together. It was attended by 300 artists, engineers and other interested people. The artists and engineers who had participated in 9 Evenings spoke and answered questions from the audience. The reaction was positive to the idea of E.A.T. and an organization that promoted interactions between artists, engineers and scientists to provide the artists with access to the technical world. Membership application forms were distributed at the meeting, and the organizers collected eighty forms from artists, some forms containing immediate requests for technical assistance, as well as forms with many offers of help from engineers and others in the New York art community.
In January 1967, E.A.T. published the first of its newsletter, E.A.T. News, which spelled out the goals of E.A.T. Rauschenberg's and Whitman's involvement in creating E.A.T. were crucial to the organization, in particular their belief in the possibilities for art that could be created when people in diverse fields become collaborators. This idea of one-to-one collaboration between individual artists and engineers or scientists was the basis of E.A.T. To this was added Waldhauer’s and Klüver's belief that artists' ideas and concerns could influence the way engineers approached the technological or social problems they faced day to day. The collaborations could lead technology in directions more positive for the needs, desires, and pleasures of the individual.
The founders of E.A.T. also saw the organization acting as a catalyst to stimulate the involvement of industry and technology with the arts. While the principle goal of its activities would be to match artists who had technical problems or projects with engineers or scientists who could work with them, E.A.T. would also develop other activities that would support the working relationships between artists and engineers.
Klüver and Rauschenberg wrote in an early issue of E.A.T. News:
The collaboration between artists and engineers should produce far more than merely adding technology to art. …Engineers who have become involved with artist’s projects have perceived how the artist’s insight can influence his directions and give human scale to his work. The artist in turn desires to create within the technological world in order to satisfy the traditional involvement of the artist with the relevant forces shaping society… The collaboration of artist and engineer emerges as a revolutionary contemporary sociological process. …E.A.T. is founded on the strong belief that an industrially sponsored, effective working relationship between artists and engineers will lead to new possibilities which will benefit society as a whole.
In April 1967, E.A.T. rented a 5,000 square foot loft at 9 East 16th Street to provide a central location from which to operate, and began to hire permanent staff. Susan Hartnett became chief administrator. Claudio Badal, Ralph Flynn, and Peter Poole, had joined the staff and largely through their work, the loft space was altered to provide for administrative offices, a work area with a lab bench for simple technical work, and equipment storage, and a large central meeting area with benches and cushions.
Klüver and Waldhauer, with the help of Robbie Robinson and other 9 Evenings engineers volunteered right away to go to the E.A.T. loft to read artists' requests and contact engineer friends to help them. Ralph Flynn joined the staff and was in charge of helping artists use the technical equipment that had been built for 9 Evenings. Engineers Robinson and Per Biorn were also active in the early projects: sound and light modulations for Carolee Schneeman's performance, Snows; special recordings of sound for Lucas Foss' concert at Carnegie Hall; a soft neon tube for a Robert Rauschenberg's performance at NYU; photocells for a Max Neuhaus concert at Park Place Gallery; electronic circuits for Marta Minujin's, Minuphone, an interactive environment in a telephone booth. They were joined by Waldhauer, Jim McGee and Dick Wolff to organize sound switching, TV projections, proportional control of projectors and sound sources for Homage to E.A.T., a panel discussion at the 92nd Street YMHA, in which the participants talked as they ate an elegant dinner on stage with -- at John Cage's suggestion -- contact mikes on table, plates, glasses which amplified sounds of the dinner in progress.
In the summer of 1967, Klüver and Rauschenberg met the lawyer Theodore W. Kheel, who was a well-known mediator of labor disputes and president of the American Foundation on Automation and Employment. Kheel became enthusiastic about the possibilities of E.A.T. in relation to his own foundation, and began to give advice, assistance, and support, providing ideas for fundraising among industrial and labor leaders.
During the summer of 1967 an E.A.T. Board of Directors and Advisory Council were formally assembled from among a group of prominent people; and during a meeting of the E.A.T. Board of Directors held at Kheel's law office on August 8, 1967, John Powers formally became chairman of the board and Kheel became Chairman of the executive committee. Other officers of the board and members of the executive committee were Klüver, President; Rauschenberg, Vice-president; Waldhauer, Secretary; and Whitman, Treasurer. The other members of the board were Walter H. Allner, Richard Bellamy, Rubin Gorewitz, Marion Javits, Herman D. Kenin, Gyorgy Kepes, Edwin S. Langsam, Paul A. Lepercq, Max V. Matthews, Jerald Ordover, Seymour Schweber, Simone Withers Swan, and Marie-Christophe Thurman.
Soon after this meeting, Kheel suggested organizing a press conference to formally announce of E.A.T. to the technical and general press. The press conference was held at Rauschenberg's building on Lafayette Street on October 10, 1967. Works of art incorporating technology were exhibited on three floors. Among the works were Whitman's Shower, Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds, Rauschenberg’s Oracle, and Leon Harmon's and Kenneth Knowlton’s computer-processed image called Computer Nude. About 300 persons attended. Statements in support of E.A.T.'s program were made by Kheel, Klüver, Rauschenberg, Robert Morris, Warren Brodey, Director of the M.I.T. Science Camp; Ralph C. Gross, President of the Commerce and Industry Association; Senator Jacob Javits; Herman D. Kenin, President of the Council of AFL-CIO Unions for SPACE; Edwin Langsam of AT&T; and John Pierce, Executive Director, Research in the Communications Principles Division, Bell Telephone Laboratories. The press conference led to articles in such diverse publications as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, AFL-CIO News, The London Daily Telegraph, and Business Week.
At this time, E.A.T. continued the drive for funds by having E.A.T. directors and friends --e.g, Marion Javits, Ted Kheel, John Powers, Paul Lepercq, and John de Menil -- personally approach industrial leaders, labor leaders, art collectors, and other individuals. E.A.T. would also apply for funds from the CBS Foundation through Frank Stanton, the Ford Foundation through McNeil Lowry, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund through Stephen Benedict, the National Endowment for the Arts through Roger Stevens and Henry Geldzahler, and the New York State Council on the Arts through John Hightower.
In October 1967, E.A.T. received its first grant from the New York State Council on the Arts for administrative expenses, and began to slowly assemble a full-time staff. Susan Hartnett was in charge of artist and engineer relations. Jean Erlichman, in charge of public and industrial relations. Ralph Flynn, who had been volunteering part time, joined E.A.T.'s staff full time in early January 1968 and took charge of E.A.T. equipment and helped artists with simple technical problems. Julie Martin became the editor of E.A.T. News, in January 1968. By March 1968, they had been joined by Rose Petrock, as administrative assistant; and Peter Poole, head of technical information, libraries, and research, who soon took on the role of supervising matchings and technical services. Part-time workers for mailings, record-keeping, transcribing, and other tasks included Claudio Badal, Judy Goldman, Barbara Levy, Amy Martin, Terry Martin, Wayne Thompson, and Barbara Zakarian. Francis Mason served as interim President of E.A.T. from March to November 1968, and was succeeded by Klüver, who left Bell Laboratories to devote himself full time to E.A.T.
On September 18, 1968, E.A.T. held another press conference at the 16th Street loft office announcing the Some More Beginnings exhibition, the beginning of an artist-in-residence program at Singer Central Research Laboratories and the receipt of $75,000 in grants, for operating costs: $50,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, one for $25,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. As announced, the funds would be used to hold the exhibition and to develop a national organization, a safety program, a technical information retrieval system providing answers to artists’ questions, and a technical advice and consultation service for museums, galleries, and collectors on works of art incorporating new technology.
The initial phase of consolidating the formal organization of E.A.T. was complete.