Gallery North presents A Machine Aesthetic, a national touring exhibition taking in Newcastle, Bournemouth, Lincoln and Norwich and concluding at Transition Gallery, London in October 2014. The exhibition is curated by Eric Butcher and Simon Granell .
Public Preview and Q&A with the artists hosted by Professor Helen Baker, 9 December 2013
Preview: 6pm - 8pm
Exhibition: 10 December 2013 - 10 January 2014, weekdays 10am - 4pm
From the first daubings of pre-historic caves, through the invention of the camera obscura and ready-made oil paint in tubes, to the use of digital media, artists have been among the first to embrace and exploit new technologies. The focus of A Machine Aesthetic, however, is at once narrower and broader, concerning itself specifically with the notion and implications of 'mechanisation' in its widest sense in contemporary art.
Since the late 1950/early 60s there have evolved a plethora of artistic practices which, for reasons as various as the practitioners themselves, involve the manufacture of machines to produce the artistic 'product'. Where Jean Tinguely led the way, artists as diverse as Rebecca Horn, Chris Burden, Roxy Paine and Damien Hirst followed. But these analyses have tended to conceive of the machine in a narrow sense. And while this conception has its part to play in A Machine Aesthetic, a more illuminating perspective can be achieved by consideration of the full range of artistic practices that embrace more subtle and sophisticated notions of mechanisation.
Contemporary fine art practice engages with the notion of mechanisation in a sophisticated range of ways; from artists who exploit the materials, processes and techniques of machine production, incorporating machined materials into their work, to those who do not engage physically with machines at all, but adopt a mechanised methodology in the process of manufacture, disciplining their minds and bodies to behave like machines. The latter approach recognises and exploits the extent to which the human condition is predicated upon mechanisation, but acknowledges that we are only part machine. Artists make machines to make their work for them, the creative act being pushed one or more steps from the actual moment of production, raising fundamental questions concerning the status and primacy of the creative act and the relationship between it and the art object. In some cases the 'art machine' is the art object.
In addition, the notion of mechanisation may refer to the process of the reception of the art object by the viewer. The demands that some works of art make on the viewer in their apprehension can be formidable. The manner of a work's execution may demand an analogously mechanistic process in its apprehension.
As the human condition moves further and further from a state of nature we become not only surrounded by machine-made objects, but the products and qualities of mechanised intervention. Even our experience of nature is modified and mediated by human agency and facilitated by the machine. Artists have been at the forefront of this increasing dependence on machine production, whether celebratory or critical, and an enormous number of artists use machine produced products or components in the construction of their work.
Behaving like Machines
Early systems of mechanisation were modelled on human action and agency, emulating the ways in which human beings act and more recently, think. But it soon became apparent that better systems could be designed, systems which acknowledge and exploit the inherent characteristics of machine production, rather than bending the machine to ape man's behaviour. Indeed the relationship is now more dialogic, with our behavioural processes and methodologies owing as much to machine production as the machine owes to its human designers.
For a variety of reasons artists adopt a quasi-mechanised set of behavioural characteristics, disciplining their minds and bodies to act like machines. Mechanisation repeatedly renews its promise to be labour saving; freeing up time for the intellect, but for many of these artists the act is the labour and the labour is part of the point.
Artists of every period have been among the first to exploit the use of new technologies in the developmental stages of their work. Contemporary artists are no exception using a plethora of processes and methodologies which, while not necessarily involving mechanisation in the final execution of their work, nevertheless rely heavily on mechanised processes during its development.
A fully mechanised method of production tends toward reflexivity, where a consideration of those methods becomes both a means and an end in itself. By their very nature, art machines prompt consideration of the creative act; where and when does it occur? What is the relationship between the 'product' and the 'act'? However, contemporary art machine makers have become highly sophisticated practitioners, using machine production as a vehicle for the analysis of a wide range of issues.
The project is supported by:
Northumbria University/Arts University Bournemouth/University of Lincoln/Norwich University of the Arts/Transition Gallery, London