"Humanities through Material Engagement”: Gediminas Urbonas on Artistic Research

"The notion of ‘artistic research’ has really taken hold and captured the imagination of the art world in the past fifteen years,” explains Gediminas Urbonas, associate professor in the Art, Culture & Technology (ACT) program in the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. “But what sets MIT apart is that the legacy of artistic research goes back a half century to the founding of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies in 1967.” MIT’s deep history of integration of the arts within the science and technology institute—which is being celebrated throughout the year in a series of CAVS 50th Anniversary events—is “unprecedented,” he says, and foundational to how ACT promotes a “radical abandonment of the disciplinary field in search for new modes of valuation and expression.”

In the past, this departure from the conventions of any single disciplinary perspective led MIT artist researchers, such as CAVS Founder György Kepes and CAVS Directors Otto Piene and Krzystof Wodiczko, to develop experimental forms and materials—from the invention of the concept of civic art to inflatables to experimentation with various forms of lighting and technology including laser and holography. Commenting on this legacy, Urbonas says, “I would argue that what we’re still trying to do in our visual and critical spatial research in ACT is humanities through material engagement.”

In his own work, “material engagement” has likewise come to mean working at civic scale and activating public spaces. Several of his projects—Folk Stone Power Plant, Zooetics and the Swamp Pavilion—represent this CAVS/ACT model. Moreover, Urbonas continues a longstanding practice of MIT artists who do not limit artistic research to an inquiry into the art field itself, but rather, use artistic intelligence and methods to probe diverse subjects.

-- Read the full story via Sharon Lacey, Arts at MIT, April 24, 2018

Image: Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, Folke Stone Power Plant 2017, commissioned by the Creative Foundation for Folkestone Triennial 2017. Credit: Thierry Bal.