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A Machine Aesthetic

The role of mechanisation in contemporary artistic practice.

30 September – 25 October 2014

A Machine Aesthetic explores the various manifestations, uses and influences of mechanisation within the practice of a diverse range of contemporary artists.

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 1950s/early 60s there have evolved a plethora of artistic practices that 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. While earlier analyses have tended to conceive of the machine in a narrow sense, A Machine Aesthetic proposes a different perspective, achieved by consideration of the full range of artistic practices that embrace both subtle and sophisticated notions of mechanisation.

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. Contemporary practices reflect this increasing dependence on machine production, whether celebratory or critical, artists exploiting machine produced products or components in both the development and construction of their work.

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 mimic human 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. While mechanisation repeatedly renews its promise to be labour saving; freeing up time for the intellect, for some of these artists the labour is the point.

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 range of issues.

A Machine Aesthetic is a National touring exhibition curated by Eric Butcher and Simón Granell.

Read a press release about A Machine Aesthetic.

Exhibiting Artists

  • Andrew Bracey
  • Eric Butcher
  • David Connearn
  • Robert Currie
  • Paul Goodfellow
  • Simón Granell
  • Emma Hart
  • Dan Hays
  • Natasha Kidd
  • Tim Knowles
  • Michael Roberts
Work by Eric Butcher

I/R. 580 by Eric Butcher

Multimedia installation

To Do by Emma Hart

This project is supported by Northumbria University, Arts University Bournemouth, University of Lincoln, Norwich University of the Arts, Transition Gallery, London and the Arts Council, England.