1969 residency at Lockheed Corporation (now Lockheed Martin) illustrates, in colorful language, the fallacy of management’s more-is-better attitude toward creative individuals. Kitaj worked for three months out of a Burbank jet production facility as part of the firm’s Art + Technology program. From the outset, Kitaj rankled employees with his hostility toward the “organizational red tape” that he felt hampered his process. He didn’t fare better with executives, who balked at his ever-expanding sculpture installation and the production costs it entailed. Eventually, his hosts relented, saying: “Let’s give him what he wants and get him out.” Kitaj, for his part, called one Lockheed executive a “fucking fink.”
Kitaj grated against Lockheed’s buttoned-up culture, an attitude encapsulated in an article announcing the residency in an internal employee circular: Kitaj is photographed cross-armed in a branded blazer, declaring: “I don’t like the smell of art for art’s sake. I would like it to do research. I would like it to get a job. I would like it to do more useful tasks than it’s been doing.” Kitaj’s words were taken out of context from an interview conducted years earlier; Lockheed’s choice of pull quotes reflected the corporation’s perspectives on art more than the artist’s. This instrumental attitude is partly to blame for the relationship going south.
In sharp contrast to Lockheed, no research lab was better suited to artists than Bell Labs, and none had more prolific outcomes. Unlike the one-off arranged marriages of Art + Technology, Bell engineers personally invited musicians and artists to tinker with computer-generated compositions as early as 1961. These encounters flourished organically through the social networks of engineer-cum-musicians like James Tenney. By day, Tenney worked as a technician at Bell; by night, he appeared regularly at “
” and in
From 1967–68, a colleague of Tenney’s, artist
, worked with Bell engineer A. Michael Noll to produce Confused Rain
, a landmark computer-generated video that Paik called a “protest against the lack of common sense in a computer.” A year earlier, artist
worked with another Bell engineer,
, to generate the “Poemfields” series, a canonical work of early experimental cinema. Bell’s open-minded culture also welcomed some of the only female artists to receive corporate residences, including
and Laurie Spiegel. (Art + Technology did not accept any women into its program in its four-year history.)
Bell Labs gelled with artist residences because of its exceptional work climate, still revered as the gold standard of corporate research. Since the early 20th century, Bell managers implemented creativity-enhancing techniques far ahead of the curve, including an open-plan cafeteria meant to spark unexpected conversations between members of different teams. The company also promoted expert engineers—not outside executives—to management, fostering trust and camaraderie between a boss and his team. The corporation’s monopoly on telecommunications translated into generous budgeting for exploratory, far-out projects with no concrete profit motive in sight, an arrangement that gave engineers enough slack to allow artists time on Bell’s mainframes.
Even when their technological raison d’être
didn’t pan out, some corporate residencies still succeeded on the basis of their productive artist-engineer dynamics. One instance is ’s
1968 residency at Singer, the sewing-machine company that had recently expanded its research arm following its acquisition of Link aerospace company. Bochner was invited through Experiments in Art and Technology, an artist-pairing organization co-founded by Bell Labs engineers. He had initially wanted to transfer a series of his drawings into digital images, entailing a prohibitive six-month coding haul for a task that today requires 30 seconds and a scanner.