Hybrid Practices: Art in Collaboration with Science and Technology in the Long 1960s

Hybrid Practices: Art in Collaboration with Science and Technology in the Long 1960s
David Cateforis, Steven Duval, and Shepherd Steiner, Editors

University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 2019
329 pp., illus. 85 b/w. Trade, $65.00
ISBN: 978-0520-296-596.

Reviewed by
John F. Barber
September 2019

Hybridity, experimental practices that bridge the gaps between art, science, and technology, while supported throughout academia, is often driven by market interests, university corporatization, and technocratic and instrumental imperatives. Hybrid Practices, an anthology edited by David Cateforis, Steven Duval, and Shepherd Steiner, offers a critical perspective by reexamining hybridity during the Cold War period, 1963-1975, a period the editors argue was the greatest flowering of hybridity prior to present day. The "Long 1960s," as they call this period, offered a "rich ecology of hybrid practices" . . . collaborative projects between artists and scientists, experiments in intermedia, "practitioners deliberately working across disciplines, effacing authorship for the purposes of activating the spectator, bridging gaps between art and government, or remapping the landscape of everyday life in terms of technological mediation" (1).

Through its curated collection of 11 essays by established and emerging scholars, Hybrid Practices seeks to provide a baseline for hybrid practices. These essays address important questions about hybridity. Are there exemplary examples? Can they be continued? Did early examples of collaboration lay groundwork for contemporary interdisciplinary work? How did early performative projects influence contemporary ideas of user and audience participation?

Answers to these questions and highlight practices, Hybrid Practices is divided into three sets of essays. The first, titled "Fallout: Creativity and Invention in, as, or between Art, Science and Government" offers five pragmatic approaches to creativity and innovation. Appropriately, this first section begins with an essay by Anne Collins Goodyear, "Launching 'Hybrid Practices' in the 1960s: On the Perils and Promise of Art and Technology." With her focus on 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering, presented October 1966, Goodyear examines the broader cultural context in which it was offered in order to assess the rise of hybrid practice as well as the challenges to its evolution and long term achievements.

The second section, under the heading "Affective Feedback: Time, Play, and Contagion as Systems of Participation," has each essay focused on consumption and audience participation with and against the hegemony of images and ideology.

Erica Levin's essay, "Sounding Snows: Bodily Static and the Politics of Visibility during the Vietnam War," addresses two works by filmmaker and performance artist Carolee Schneemann, Snows (1967) and Viet Flakes (1965), each created during the highly volatile American involvement in Vietnam. Levin says both works are to be situated against the antiwar protests during the period, the saturation of war images by mass media, and Schneemann's belief that neither the presence of technology in the arts and nor the spectacularized position of the audience were critically considered. Levin argues that Schneemann's use of technology (motion sensors in audience seats to subtly cue performers) aided viewers in recognizing looking as an embodied action, and provide a riposte to 9 Evenings and its embrace of hybrid practices.

The essays in the third, and final section, titled "Thresholds of the Visible: Technologies of the Everyday," all work to make technology, normally invisible in the landscape, visible by tying art to the concept of the everyday, documentary photography, and the rhetoric of science during the period covered by Hybrid Practices.

An essay by Sandra Skurvida, "Technologies of Indeterminacy: John Cage Invents," anchors this section with its focus on Cage as a contemporary curator intent to create situations or events rather than fulfilling exhibition requirements. Focusing on Cage's Water Walk (1959), Variations VII (1966), Musicircus (1967), and Rollywholyover (1993), Skurvida argues that Cage's random juxtapositioning of technological objects and found sounds during the 1960s put both on view as never before, and provided his legacy for contemporary hybrid practice.

The collection of essays, according to the editors, is selected and presented so to introduce and invite readers to engage across practices where hybridity is determined. The essays collected in each section are organized to provide centers of gravity, around which complexities of ideas gravitate, rotate, and motivate. The end result is to showcase three projects at the forefront of hybridity during the 1960s-1970s: Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), the Art and Technology Project at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (A&T), and the Artist Placement Group (APG) in the United Kingdom. Artists discussed include Bernd and Hilla Becher, John Cage, Hans Haacke, Robert Irwin, John Latham, Fujiko Nakaya, Carolee Schneemann, James Turrell, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, and Robert Whitman. Prominent engineers and scientists include Elsa Garmire, Billy Klüver, Frank Malina, Stanley Milgram, and Ed Wortz.

The hybrid practices featured in this collection speak to collaboration and participation, between disciplines and between presenters and audiences. They speak to a fluidity of working in and across scientific, artistic, and performance disciplines. Hybrid Practices certainly provides context for contemporary hybrid practices, but readers are left with more, an ecology of echoes, analogues, and extensions, all pointing toward future hybrid practices.