Outer Space


    "Post-studio Sublime: Southern California Art and Technology after Earthrise" by Ginger Elliott Smith

    “Post-studio Sublime: Southern California Art and Technology after Earthrise
    Ginger Elliott Smith

    In December 1968, the Apollo 8 crew became the first humans to complete a lunar orbit. During that momentous voyage, William Anders captured the iconic photograph, Earthrise (fig. 1), which significantly expanded visual knowledge of the expanse, scale, and sublimity of outer space. The Last Whole Earth Catalog opined, “Earthrise established our planetary facthood and beauty and rareness [. . .] and began to bend human consciousness.”[1] Culled from “Chapter 4” of my dissertation, this paper positions Earthrise as a vector for post-studio art/technology practices in Southern California after 1968.

    My dissertation, “Practicing Big Science: Art, Technology, and Institutions in 1960s and 1970s Southern California,” examines the ways in which high-technology growth in Los Angeles during the postwar years spurred many artists to experiment directly with industrial processes and innovative materials. In the studio, artists independently researched, appropriated, and became self-taught experts on discrete technologies. Beyond the studio their methods operated more divergently by applying physical (e.g., industrial lighting schematics) and/or theoretical (e.g., neurophenomenology) technologies to art. This paper connects the paradigmatic shifts that 3 instigated with a contemporaneous program launched at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The initiative, “Art and Technology,” paired each artist with prominent technology corporations during the late 1960s, culminating with an exhibition and catalog in 1971. I treat the collaborative experiments conducted by physiological psychologist Dr. Edward Wortz and artists Robert Irwin and James Turrell at Garrett Corporation as exemplars of the post-studio paradigm. My analysis attends to the necessary movements enacted by viewers and the ways in which these psychological environments relied on Ganzfeld and anechoic research conducted by NASA, Garrett, and others, in preparation for human space exploration. I term this embodied experience “mobile opticality”—the metacognitive awareness of vision or “seeing yourself seeing.”

    [1] The Last Whole Earth Catalog (Menlo Park, CA: Whole Earth Catalog, 1971).

    • Debating Visual Knowledge