Spurred on by exhibitions, industry sponsorship and education programmes, the artists of the 1960s began to grapple with the space age. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 prompted a new interest in the world of the machine, yet the artistic approach to technology differed from the Futurist and Constructivist precedent. Technology did not hold utopian potential; rather the artists of the 1960s adopted varied approaches, ranging from sheer admiration to fearful pessimism. However, by the end of the 1960s technology became closely associated with the American war effort. The negativity that developed in response resulted in the technological work of artists such as Jean Tinguely and Robert Rauschenberg being pushed aside in favour of Conceptualism. Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York (1960) and Robert Rauschenberg’s Soundings (1968) will be used to explore how these particular artists responded to the rising technology, and the extent to which artist and scientist collaborated.
The technological works of Tinguely can be classified as kinetic due to their incorporation of mechanical movement. For Pontus Hultén the inclusion of movement implied a ‘complete rejection of the holy values of art’, the traditional characteristics of sculpture were abandoned and kineticism projected sculpture onto a different course. Tinguely, like Rauschenberg, used technology as a means to question and investigate his society. For the artist of the 1960s technology was a tool; it offered new materials and aesthetics that directly related to and provided a critique of the modern world. Moreover, kinetic sculpture negated the creative process; the mechanical movement encouraged an element of anonymity. This was further encouraged by the frequent and often necessary collaboration between artist and industry. This collaboration is evident in Homage to New York, which enlisted the help of Billy Klüver, an electrical engineer who co-founded Experiments in Art and Technology alongside Rauschenberg in 1966.
Homage to New York (figure.1) was Tinguely’s earliest self-destructive sculpture. The development of a suicide-machine extols the artists desire to produce an aesthetic of ‘accident and transformation’. Homage to New York took the assemblage of the 1950s and gave it movement and sound. Embracing technology as a creative means, Tinguely can be seen to differ from Claes Oldenberg who, rather than use technology as a medium, critically comments on its role in society through emasculating it in his soft sculptures. Tinguely, in contrast, compiled the junk of New York City into a theatrical set wired electronically to splutter and puff into oblivion. The use of motors proclaimed the repetitive nature of the machine, however the incorporation of chance seen not only in Homage to New York but also in Study for the End of the World No. 1 and No. 2, allowed Tinguely to transcend and manipulate the machines true qualities in favour of theatricality.
Homage to New York was...