Machines Fall Apart: Failure in Art and Technology

Technological failure is often considered to be central to the logic of innovation. Artists working with technology at the inception of widespread post-war automation, including Jean Tinguely and Gustav Metzger, focused particularly on machines geared toward failure. At the same time, Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), an organization founded to enable collaboration between artists and engineers, encountered failure at times unintentionally and attempted to recast the role that failure plays in experimentation. By considering how failure emerges at this moment in art and technology during the 1960s and 1970s, this article discusses how the program of failure may be bound up with automation and experimentation, but at the same time is not without material effect.

Published in the special issue of “RE: Searching Our Origins,” edited by Paul Brown and Catherine Mason, in Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Vol. 13, No. 4 (April 2005).

A related online essay, “Residue in the E.A.T. Archives,” documents work undertaken while Researcher in Residence at the Centre for Research + Documentation at the Daniel Langlois Foundation.

Image: Jean Tinguely, “Homage to New York” (1960)