Imagine receiving the memo below in 1969 as an employee at RAND Corporation, a think tank founded to conduct research and development for the US Air Force. The memo was distributed by artist John Chamberlain as part of his residency at RAND through LACMA’s Art & Technology Program, an initiative to pair artists with corporations in fields such as science and industry.
TO: Everyone at Rand
FROM: John Chamberlain, Artist in Residence
I’m searching for ANSWERS. Not questions!
If you have any, will you please fill in below, and send them to me in Room 1138.
Despite being known as a sculptor, Chamberlain decided to use his residency as the basis for a “participatory” artwork that would engage the company’s employees. As he later explained, in reference to the kind of research being done at RAND: “What do I know about cloud formations? What do I know about the war in Vietnam? What do I know about the psychology of reflexes in New York City when faced with a police car? I don’t know anything about the police car syndrome in New York City. However, it does seem that you can deal with the people.”
The replies Chamberlain received to his memo ranged from creative responses (“The sign at the Holiday Inn is what is wrong with America”) to overtly hostile messages (“ANSWER! ANYONE WHO WOULD SEND OUT A MEMO LIKE THIS IS A DAMNED IDIOT WASTING OUR TIME AND MONEY!!!”). There was also some misunderstanding regarding the purpose of his residency—a few respondents incorrectly assumed Chamberlain was responsible for the interior décor of RAND’s offices, leading to comments such as, “I like the black edging on the doors…. I don’t like looking at deep purple while drinking water.” Still others used Chamberlain’s memo as a forum to provide feedback on his film, The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez, which he had screened for RAND employees over lunch for several consecutive days. These misunderstandings led Chamberlain’s primary contact at RAND, Brownlee Haydon, assistant to the president, to send out a memo clarifying:
Because of some of the responses to his earlier memo asking for ‘answers,’ I think everyone should understand:
1. John has nothing to do with the experimental redecoration of Rand’s halls and offices (see Roger Levien).
2. John is a guest artist-in-residence, sponsored by and paid by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
3. His question about answers was not intended to elicit review of or comments about his film.
Today, Chamberlain’s piece is a favorite among LACMA staff. A selection of the original “answers” are featured in the exhibition From the Archives: Art and Technology at LACMA, 1967–1971 (on view through October 25); however, you can read the complete set of responses here: