Throughout history art has been created and understood as a means of expression and communication. What we think we know about the world, what we want the world to know about us, our anxieties, emotions and our innermost thoughts have manifested themselves in strange, complex, shocking and beautiful ways. Art is a vibrant, metamorphosing, sensitive language that directly speaks of our experiences within our surroundings; a perpetuating record of human existence. As technology constantly changes, so does our spatial awareness, our perception of time’s measurability, and our understanding of quantifiable existence.
Drawn highlights an intriguing and relevant moment in our age; the presence of technology in art.
Our daily lives are permeated by digital, mechanical and technological interaction and art continues to reflect such transitions. Drawn showcases ways in which technology is influencing the way we see, experience and create art.
Upon entering the exhibition we are met with a strange implement of steampunk sensibility, a seemingly archaic contraption amidst the frame-lined walls of the gallery: Jason Lane’s drawing machine. Jason’s work engages with the influx of manmade technologies in the modern age designed to improve our standard of living, the materials that they are comprised of and waste, and the outputs they create.
A bicycle wheel, rubber bands and a needle-like pencil springing out from salvaged wood and metal, form the components of the structure. When switched on, the pencil whirs into motion, frantically skimming lines and dots across the page and the result is a delicately etched, abstract sphere – an echo of the machine’s movements and an ironic reproduction of the bicycle wheel sitting within. The inventions and appliances that constantly work to make our lives more convenient also produce outputs of their own, through sound, movement and vibrations. The drawing machine reminds us of this as it emits an artwork through automation.
Can a machine have a soul? Do we consider the drawing machine’s output to be art? Is it the resultant sketch, the piece of paper, or in fact the whole machine that is the artwork? The drawing machine also brings into question the ever-present issue of what we constitute as art.
Rachel Ara’s presentation of a computer-optimised design also associates art with the machine.
Produced using CAD, a system used in commercial industries varying from architecture to engineering, to kitchen manufacturing, it could be considered a decisive snap-shot of the utilitarian design process. Stark and beautiful in its simplicity this crisp, photographic composition contrasts subtle tones, with highlight and shadow revealing the clean edges of the indentation. The cut-out void within the image could make this artwork a contemporary response to the idea of a ‘mark of the maker’ being present in an artwork, such as heavily-texured brushstrokes, a scribbled name, or pencil outlines visible beneath a painted surface might signify. In this case the tool has merged with its implementer, suggesting the final maker is a hybrid of both the computer and the artist.
Whether it be through style, medium or concept, Drawn is peppered with artworks that address the theme of human creativity amalgamating with technological concepts.
A floating candyfloss of black ink, ‘Retracing Your Steps – Bristol II’, is an example of Debbie Locke RWA’s use of fabricated drawing machines. Striving to ‘challenge the infallibility of machines’, many of Debbie’s works use GPS and other methods of mapping to produce artworks based on the tracking of movement.
George Meyrick’s ‘Six Spaces (Blue EEA2)’, Paul Bradley’s ‘Tokyo Underground Encrypted’ and Michael Falzoni’s ‘All we ever wanted’, bring colourful symmetry, bold geometrics and detailed pattern, executed with perfect precision.
Jonathan Byles’ futuristic landscape broaches current topics of fascination: space travel, the future of human settlements, the awe of technology to come, post-apocalyptic fantasy.
Scribbled handwriting morphs into indecipherable code in ‘The Prophecy Restated’ by David Smith and spoken sentences are printed, stretched and minimised to form an analogous flow of data in Fran Norton’s soundwave of words: ‘Mother and Child (16 years)’, merging basic human symbols with a machine-like aesthetic. What we initially grasp from the artworks at first glance changes when we look again, and when we consider what the art might be telling us.
Which leads me to one of the most arresting and striking artworks on display, Caroline Cesareo’s ‘Grand Fiasco Rouge’. On approaching, could it be a detailed oriental-inspired woodcut? Is it a contemporary homage to William Morris in red ink? No. It is a fluid, noisy, over-spilling mass of calamity. In an age of instant access to information, Cesareo’s stunning red sea of nonsensical forms exploits our impatient need to comprehend what we can see, fuelling the mind’s erratic search for reason. Leaving unanswered questions, the piece challenges what we expect from art. It speaks to those who want to understand art upon immediately viewing it, and teases those who attempt to look deeper, by offering no resolve through its lack of conformity to recognisable forms. What is the message here? Is there a solution hidden in its depths?
As with all artworks, the joy is in the search.
With thanks to Jill Sutherland guest blogger for the RWA.
Drawn is on until 8 June at the RWA