A NEAT History

Installation view of NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology. Photo by Johnna Arnold.
Judaism, as it is practiced today, is not a strict biblical religion; it is a rabbinic one. That is because the Hebrew Bible is not considered a literal source to be taken on face value, but a starting point, from which flows centuries of debate among rabbis and other Jewish thinkers, leading to an evolution of understanding. Rather, it is a starting point, from which flows centuries of debate among rabbis and other Jewish thinkers that leads to the evolution of understanding. Science, too, is very much about process. Perhaps that's how science and religion can be reconciled—not as two realms that are in conflict …, but as things you do. Science is about creating hypotheses and testing data against these theories. Judaism is about how we act to improve this world, here and now. And these processes can easily go hand in hand.[1] In short, for Judaism there is no essential conflict between religion and scientific innovation. The Contemporary Jewish Museum has organized an original exhibition, New Experiments in Art and Technology (NEAT), which celebrates the Jewish commitment to new forms of knowledge.

This openness to innovation blossomed in the twentieth century when Jews came to dominate physics in particular.[2] In fact, Julius Edgar Lilienfeld, a Jewish scientist, first patented the transistor in 1930. While industry did not pick up on this breakthrough until after WWII, Lilienfeld’s work did eventually lead to the entire Silicon Valley phenomenon, and indirectly to the subject of this exhibition: art and digital programming. 

Installation view of NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology. Photo by Johnna Arnold.
NEAT is a reimagining of a seminal series of projects, originally titled E.A.T., Experiments in Art and Technology, from the late 1960s. E.A.T. was officially launched in 1967 by the engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer and the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. These men had previously collaborated in 1966 when they organized 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, a series of performance art presentations that united artists and engineers. Ten New York artists worked with thirty engineers and scientists from the world-renowned Bell Telephone Laboratories to create groundbreaking performances that incorporated new technology.

Installation views of NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology. Photos by Johnna Arnold.
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the role of artist and engineer has merged: the act of programming is understood as a new tool or technology for artists to create work, just like a paintbrush or a pencil, and with the understanding that interdisciplinary thinking is inherent to individual makers now. NEAT takes a look at the state of artist/engineering aesthetics from the same number of artists as the original E.A.T., but all the artists are from the Bay Area (rather than New York, as was the case in E.A.T. . The CJM is dedicated to fostering innovation at the intersection of contemporary art and Judaism; NEAT examines artists working at the crossroad of contemporary art and technology. The suggestion is that a coherent synthesis among all three traditions is conceivable. Artists who have resided in San Francisco over three generations—three each roughly in their sixties, their forties, and their twenties—demonstrate that digital forms now encompass visual art, media art, sound art and other forms by sole practitioners. The CJM argues that its home, the Bay Area, has been the international hub for this activity since the 1970s, adding another reason that the exhibition should take place here.

NEAT artists From left to right: Alan Rath, Mary Franck, Scott Snibbe, Paul DeMarinis,
Vishal K. Dar, Jim Campbell, Renny Pritikin, Gabriel Dunne, Paolo Salvagione, Micah Elizabeth Scott,
and Camille Utterback. Photo by Gary Sexton Photography.
NEAT artists are Jim Campbell, Paul DeMarinis, Gabriel Dunne and Vishal K. Dar, Mary Franck, Alan Rath, Paolo Salvagione, Micah Elizabeth Scott, Scott Snibbe, and Camille Utterback. All were commissioned to make new or updated work utilizing original digital and robotic sculpture.


[1] Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, Huff Post Blog, "Why Judaism Embraces Science", June 20, 2011

[2] By one estimate, 15 of the 25 most important physicists of the twentieth twentieth century were Jewish, including Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and Max Born.


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