Celebrating 50 Years: Honoring the History of the CAVS


As the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies approaches, the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT) is making plans to celebrate the dynamism and influence of CAVS, and to look toward a future of art as it relates to science, technology and the humanities. 

In preparation for a year of CAVS anniversary-related events, ACT will hold three “salons” next month – informal gatherings with artists, historians, writers, curators, cultural theorists, and others, to think together toward celebrating this important anniversary. Topics for each salon will be organized by Lars Bang Larsen (co-curator of the 2016 São Paulo Biennial, and leader of ACT’s curatorial team for the 50th anniversary), Gediminas Urbonas (artist, Associate Professor in the MIT Department of Architecture and Director of ACT) and Laura Knott (ACT Consulting Curator and CAVS alumna).

Topics for the Salons are:

“Thinking toward a symposium on a future of artistic research and praxis”

“Thinking of the Present and the Future of Art and Technology”

“Thinking about CAVS and ACT in the big world (of cultural, political, scientific and other influences)”

Curator Lars Bang Larsen

Lars Bang Larsen twice visited ACT this past term as we worked toward events and exhibits that recognize the 50th anniversary of the founding of MIT’s renowned Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS). He provided wonderful insight and support in developing our curatorial approach to this year-long celebration taking place over the course of the 2017-2018 academic year.

Lars, a writer and art historian whose work has focused on cybernetics and psychedelia, was recently a co-curator of the 2016 São Paulo Bienal. His catalogue essays —   including One Proton at a Time: Art’s Psychedelic Connections for a 2013 London exhibition, and Never Was a Whole: Linking the Precarities for the 2016 São Paulo Bienal —   as well as his editorial work for Networks, the Whitechapel/MIT Press volume, have added new understandings of the relationships among art created in the 1960s and 1970s, when CAVS was founded, and theories and practices in contemporary art.

He is professeur invité at the Haute École d’Art et de Design in Geneva and his most recent visit to ACT was generously supported by Swissnex Boston.

Revisiting the Foundational Ideas of CAVS

Working with Lars, we’ve looked to CAVS Fellows and alumni, to writers and scholars who have studied CAVS and the period in which it was founded, to MIT historians and scientists, and to artists practicing now —   at MIT and beyond —    to help us think through how the CAVS anniversary might be marked. Several key terms have emerged: art at the civic scale, art and the environment, art as it relates to the histories of science and technology and throughout, art as it engages with ideas about the future.

Each of these terms was consistently explored by CAVS artists throughout its history.  As we prepare to honor that history, we aim to stretch and extend those key terms.

What might a contemporary reading of them entail?

For instance, what do we mean, now, by civic scale? How has our understanding of “the environment” changed since artists in the late 60s engaged with eco-systemic thinking? And how are contemporary artists reflecting those changes? How are artists working alongside, and in opposition to, the methods and means of scientific experimentation and technological “progress”? How do artists envision the future and their role in shaping it?

We have been fascinated by the vigor of the foundational ideas of CAVS —   as they were laid out by György Kepes in the 1960s, as they were expressed during Otto Piene’s 20-year leadership of the Center, and as they have been explored in the 21st century by artists at MIT and beyond. It will be our task to stretch and extend further, looking, as ACT always does, at what art can be and do.