Art & Language are a conceptual art group founded in the late 1960s in England. Much of their early work didn’t look like art. It was essays, mathematical notation, transcripts of conversations, all different kinds of written materials. Faced with the opportunity to exhibit in a gallery setting to an artworld audience, A&L needed a way of realistically presenting their work in a way that a viewer who hadn’t been part of the original conversations might have a chance of being able to navigate the results.
A&L’s solution was to assemble copies of all the texts in filing cabinets and produce an index to them. Texts were given “markers” (tags) and indexes of the relationships between each text’s tags were produced in print or on microfilm. Mainframe computer time was used to create the index for Index 04, although reports differ on which computer was used and whether the index was in fact random or not.
This is an obvious forerunner to Google or del.icio.us. It is also a use of what would now be regarded as search technology to produce a genuinely artistic solution to a genuine artistic problem.