“As a community of builders and a catalyst for connection, Facebook has much to contribute to the global dialogue about the vital role of art in advancing ideas and innovation.” This statement by Tina Vaz, Facebook’s head of art programs and former director of communications for the Guggenheim Museum in New York, is surprising: why is Facebook, like many Silicon Valley companies, so interested in the art world?
If art and technology have always been strongly intertwined, the effervescence of the 1960s in the United States, and more particularly the emergence of Silicon Valley, gave rise to a tradition of integrating new media and manufacturing techniques into artistic practices. MIT, AT&T or Xerox and its famous Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) are notably at the origin of fertile exchanges between artists and engineers, from the financing of residencies and grants to the recruitment of artists to open up the field of possibilities.
But what about this relationship between art and technology companies in 2021? This is the question that Fred Turner, professor of communication sciences at Stanford University and keen observer of the history of Silicon Valley and technology, tries to answer in L’usage de l’art de Burning Man à Facebook : art, technologie et management dans la Silicon Valley (translated into French by C&F éditions, 2020).
It is by no means anecdotal that Facebook gives artists-in-residence carte blanche to dress up its offices around the world, or that Google employees devote work time to preparing artistic performances for Burning Man — an ephemeral gathering in the middle of the Californian desert that sees thousands of Silicon Valley employees flock to it every year. For Fred Turner, this is symptomatic of a new use of art in the service of a corporate culture and a managerial model. Under the guise of “changing the world” and giving free rein to one’s inner self and creativity, it contributes to blurring the boundary between private and professional life. Far from the ideas of the counterculture that these companies claim to be, such practices to invisibilize power relationships that remain nevertheless prevalent.
The Renaissance Numérique think tank and the Spintank agency invite you to debate this particularly stimulating thesis live on YouTube in the presence of Fred Turner, on Wednesday, May 5, at 5:30 p.m. (Paris local time), on the occasion of the 42nd edition of our meeting series “Aux Sources du Numérique”. The debate will be in English.