Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Irwin

Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Irwin

Article excerpt

THE WHOLE "ART AND TECHNOLOGY" program was a red herring. But it was actually very successful for me, because I took a different tack. At that time, around 1968, when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was organizing this project and exhibition, 1 had already gotten rid of my studio and had essentially put myself out in the middle of nowhere. It was as if the whole floor of my activity had fallen out. So I thought what was really interesting about the prospect of "A&T" was not just to go to some industrial firm and produce a one-off piece, as other artists in the program were doing, but rather to have a dialogue with people in different disciplines who had the same existential problem that I was encountering.

Fortunately for me, the physicist Richard Feynman took me around to various companies, and in the process I met Dr. Ed Wortz, who ran the open research facility for the Garrett Aerospace Corporation. When I walked into his office, he was wearing this funny outfit, doing a physiology study for walking on the moon--they were measuring how much energy it took to walk up a 20 percent slope in weightlessness, and so on. And he said, "I've never talked to an artist before--what do you guys do?" and we had a running dialogue for the next forty years.

The following summer, in 1969, Wortz was asked by NASA to host a major conference on space travel--the First National Symposium on Habitability. Their question was very simple: How do you send somebody out into space for twenty years and bring him or her back alive and sane? They invited people from all over the world and from at least fifteen different disciplines. He asked me to participate, and after thinking about it at length I decided that I would actually house it.

With the help of other artists Larry Bell, James Turrell, and Jack Brogan, I took a studio I had in Venice and essentially converted the whole thing. So instead of going to a Hilton conference room, the participants met in a virtual space capsule. I had them taken on a circuitous route to Venice and then dumped out in an alley. They entered through a blind door and found themselves in near-complete isolation, with no sense of the outside. It was a sound-dampened room, and all light was indirect. They were extremely unhappy, but they persevered. They gave their papers and had their respondents and the whole thing. That afternoon, they broke up into groups of fifteen, and each group was given a room that was just slightly off--one too large, one too reverberant, one too dark, one too light, etc. …

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