Technology is widely seen as an encroaching force, a slick, alien interloper that disrupts in order to run things more efficiency, more profitably. But must this always be the case? Might there be room for a little humor?
The current shows at MCD take the common understanding of technology and push it in that direction. Data Clay, an exhibition of computer-aided ceramics, squeezes the down-to-earth aesthetics of clay into the mathematically precise world of automated production, while Chris Eckert’s Mechanical Parables exploits cutting-edge microelectronics to create objects that are part Rube Goldberg, part Terry Gilliam. The two shows are oddly cohesive, meeting you in the middle between repurposed ancient materials and anachronistic advanced technology. The future needn’t be all high-sheen; there’s room for clay pots and ballpoint pens.
Data Clay, the bigger of the two shows, puts a broad array of objects and technologies on view. It’s overwhelming and endlessly fascinating, but at the same time something of a letdown – mockups or models stand in for pieces meant to be realized at architectural scale. Jenny Sabin’s Polybrick, a series of 3D printed ceramic bricks, fit together like puzzle pieces that can be infinitely extended to form gracefully undulating walls. The bricks are printed directly using a desktop 3D printer modified to extrude clay slip, which is then fired. Each brick is slightly different than the others, allowing for a gradual wave-like effect when assembled. Del Harrow’s Bone Scaffolding explores a similar idea with identical cast bricks in a honeycomb pattern. The brick shapes tessellate infinitely in 3D, creating a mathematically sublime assembly that, more than anything, feels organic.
David Celento’s Digital Islam recognizes the tie between repetition and devotion. His perfectly fitted tessellated tile “flowers” use a peculiar fractal pattern called Penrose tiling that resembles the abstract religious art found in Mosques since the 9th century. The repetitive task of creation, which was once regarded as holy work, is done without thought or comment by soulless machines. The end result is indistinguishable in terms of beauty and complexity.
Chris Eckert’s show in the adjacent gallery explores similar territory. Auto Rosary is a large steering wheel-like object, with a cross and 60 steel “beads” along its rim. If you touch the center of the wheel, a recording of Eckert reciting a rosary plays; the wheel then rotates to the next bead and the recording repeats. It’s the artist’s response to the idea of prayer networks, the outsourcing of devotional tasks. If a stranger can pray for you, why can’t a machine? The abrupt movement gives the contraption a rickety, hacked–together sensibility, one echoed by Scribe, a mechanical writing machine that resembles a 3D printer with an antique fountain pen attached to the computer-controlled armature. The pen copies Biblical passages calligraphically, complete with red ink for the spoken words of Jesus. It’s a sputtering and imprecise tool. Scroll after scroll of this machine-inscribed holy book are on view with pencil marks and corrections, blotted ink and miswritten passages: proof that even an infallible machine can’t get the Lord’s word right every time.
Other tongue-in-cheek mechanical curios abound: there are mock hands attached to gears and levers that assist in “wasting time” or bidding on eBay. Gimme is a disembodied eyeball attached to a tin cup that follows you around the gallery begging for change. There are references to religion, Communism, and commerce, all mockingly portrayed by creaking Victorian steampunk mechanisms, each a little frantic and purposefully overwrought. This sense of machines helping us become more harried and anxious is driven home by the
wall of Babel machines, which, like Scribe, use gears and computers attached to Bic pens to write out endless lists in 20 different languages. The paper lists spill out in folded streams on the floor, never to be read. This pointless mechanization and mindless efficiency is hilarious, cutting and well conceived.
The industrial revolution took production out of people’s homes and into factories. Now, the digital revolution has reclaimed for artists and engineers the individualization of production. These shows are just an early wave of the high-precision, unique objects and blessedly useless contraptions that await us.
Chris Eckert: “Mechanical Parables” and “Data Clay: “Digital Strategies for Parsing the Earth” @ Museum of Craft and Design through April 19, 2015.
“Data Clay” also includes works by Maura Biava, Andy Brayman, Emerging Objects, Gladding McBean, Neil Forrest, Foreign Office Architects, Future Cities Lab & MACHINIC, Justine Holzman, Brian Peters, John Roloff, Specific Objects, Joshua G. Stein, UNFOLD Studio, plus objects from The Porcelain Study Room at the Legion of Honor.
About the Author:
Mikko Lautamo is an artist living and working in Sacramento. His work uses programming to create never-repeating loops of digital animations based on social systems, biological entities and interactions. He teaches Electronic Art at Sac State and has exhibited work in Sacramento, Melbourne and online. His work can be viewed on Vimeo.