new york society for research art
"Not too long ago I was curious if a group of machines could invent their own language by themselves. I wondered if language worked the way I thought it might, and I set about building some machines that could autonomously develop their own spoken signs. I had the beginnings of the scientific method—a hypothesis—and the tools to do an experiment. But I was never really interested in drawing systematic conclusions from this experiment, I was interested in creating a sonic installation piece around the enigma of language. For me, the work was the question and its answer in action.
When Alex and I first started talking about this notion of "Research Art," whatever that is, I was driven by the idea of an artwork as science project as artwork. Any work of research or art is constrained by the tools of their investigation: the telescope must be invented before we can see the features of other planets; the camera must be invented before we can take photographs.
New technologies—new tools—mean new ways of asking, new vehicles of exploration, new experiments to investigate, new objects, images, and texts.
But what what happens when the tool turns out to be beautiful in itself? What if the experience of asking is the artwork, and the question and its answer are just footnotes? The biologist E. O. Wilson said, "The aim of art is not to show how or why an effect is produced (that would be science) but literally to produce it."
In 2010, the artist Adam Brown and collaborators recreated a famous 1953 experiment to test the chemical emergence of organic compounds from an inorganic, prehistoric atmosphere. Their installation, titled "Origins of Life: Experiment #1," is an aesthetic recontextualization of a chemistry lab, one that emphasizes the process itself and its boiling beakers and glowing test tubes of amino acids. The experience of the idea itself, the questioning, becomes pulled apart from its answer, bringing it into a new, poetic light.
If you wanted to figure out (from scratch) how much a proton weighs, the tools you would need would set you back—you'd need funding, and, barring a particularly generous benefactor, you'd need justification for your research; a reason for weighing that tiny little proton and its potential returns on investment.
But what if anyone could make that sublime measurement with off-the-shelf parts and a little time? What if the experiment stopped being about the answer, but about the experience of the experiment itself? Maybe the notion of astonishing smallness, of the infinitesimal, becomes the new driving datum of a novel artwork, but with the notable property of also being a physical manifestation of that idea—an artwork that is a direct, causal result of its own concept.
Every technological advance and every innovation in the tools at our disposal mean new side-effects to be explored, blind alleys and dead ends to be trodden, and promising horizons to be gazed at. And Research Art, we propose, is the wandering down of blind alleys, dead ends, and promising horizons with eyes that never before existed."
—Ted Hayes, March 2012