View of Experiments in Art and Technology’s Children and Communication, 1971, American Foundation on Automation and Employment, Automation House, New York. Photo: Shunk-Kender © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

View of Experiments in Art and Technology’s Children and Communication, 1971, American Foundation on Automation and Employment, Automation House, New York. Photo: Shunk-Kender © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

Robert Whitman

View of Experiments in Art and Technology’s Children and Communication, 1971, American Foundation on Automation and Employment, Automation House, New York. Photo: Shunk-Kender © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

I’VE ALWAYS FELT that rather than learn how to, say, program a computer, it’s better to find a programmer and say, “Can you do this?” And sometimes if you find the right person, the answer is, “You know, we could do that”—something you might not have asked for.

I was working on projects that had to do with reflection and perception and the transmission of light with John Forkner, the optical engineer I collaborated with for the “Art and Technology” exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1971. I wanted to find a way to reverse spatial relationships, such that what was near would appear far and vice versa. So John went home and reinvented a nineteenth-century instrument called the Wheatstone pseudoscope. Then he moved on to make another invention using tiny optical devices called corner reflectors. It’s difficult to describe how John’s device worked. But basically, if you were to look into it, it would reflect the light coming off your face so as to make it appear to a viewer that your eyeballs were hanging in front of your glasses, your glasses were indented into your head, and so on. The project was never fully realized because the corner reflectors were too expensive, though we did end up creating an environment at LACMA in which viewers saw images floating in space.

At the same time I was working with other kinds of transmission—communications media like pay phones and radio in Local Report. A lot of the communications projects I did with Experiments in Art and Technology [E.A.T.] had a social dimension, for example Telex: Q&A, an E.A.T. project with Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1971 in which people in four places in the world could ask and answer questions about ten years in the future; or the Anand Project, 1969, in Ahmedabad, India, in which educational programming for satellite transmission to rural India was developed with input from local villagers (implemented as a S.I.T.E. program in 1975); or Children and Communication from 1971, where I constructed child-size structures, too low for adults to enter, in two different places connected by telephone lines where kids could communicate with each other using phone, fax, and telex equipment. With no adult supervision, it was a democratic environment, or an anarchist one. To me the two are interchangeable.