KRAFTWERK: MAN MACHINE

10 - 27 September 2014

Opening Night | Thursday 11 September 6-8pm

John Brooks, Sophie Gearon + Bill Noonan

At a time of such diversity of artistic practice, Kraftwerk: Man Machine brings together four Melbourne-based artists who utilise traditional craft disciplines both conventionally and unconventionally. Rejecting the perceived disconnection between thinking and making set in motion during the industrial revolution when a machine could replace the artisan, these artists think through making, exploring the role on craftsmanship within their collective practices.


Forget About DIY, The Machine Will DI4U

In the last few hundred years (Yay! History!) Craft has had a fluctuating relationship with Art (depending on the era and which ideas were popular at the time, academic stances, etc) and the practical nature of the objects produced in its name are often at odds with the objects produced within an arts framework, which are non-functional, conceptual assemblages or purely aesthetic: Craft objects are brute, rugged henchmen, whilst Arts objects are removed, and (comparatively elitist) intellectuals. i

There is a third kind of object and it is the machine made object, the commodity, the commercial, the mass produced, the plastic, the supplied and the demanded. This kind of object born from the factories of the Industrial Revolution has evolved and some in more modern times and is created completely without any human intervention or influence at all.

These divisions have been given a good battering in the last 100 years or so: there have been artworks that have consisted of commercial, bought objects (thanks Duchamp); artists who have directed their practice to craft, design, and fashion outcomes (cough, Dali, cough-cough); the ongoing inclusion of cultural content by non-Western cultures within art history and theory; Post Modernity which has blurred the roles for many varied practitioners and the collateral that they create and sought; Feminism which has highlighted the inequity of value among the genders and championed (and continues to do so) independent ladies everywhere (thank god: the gender inequity in history is rather embarrassing, Guys, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again); and technology which has shaped the way we communicate, think, experience and create. ii

Despite the battering, the largest deciding factor as to where the ambiguous division (if any) between these categories stands is an economic factor. The machine can clumsily produce objects once made by artisans without the cost of human labour from a deft handed and skilled expert. Machines cost-effectively performed the lifeless actions of a mechanical slave, obedient zombies programmed to fulfil one role, the only expense is making sure it doesn’t die (maintenance and fuel) and raw materials. In the time vs money equation, artisans build their skills over years and are hampered by biological limitations, whilst a machine can be made to fulfil a role endlessly. iii The robots of our science fiction nightmares with immense strength and indefatigable endurance aren’t here to kill us, they’re here to take our jobs. In the end: money talked, artisans walked.

This has led to a mass extinction of skills and craftspeople, causing the remaining few to be championed as rarities in our current Tyler Durden predicted-and-despised consumer dominated world. iv. There has been a slight resurgence of some crafts (specifically ceramics) which has been economically driven by modern interior design trends, but this has only led to cheap machine knock-offs with, ironically, perfect counterfeit-handmade details.

Kraftwerk: Man Machine is the sequel exhibition to Kraftwerk: Ohm, Sweet Ohm exhibited as a part of the Craft Cubed 2013 Festival. Sophie Gearon, Bill Noonan, and John Brooks are interested in the making, the doing, the fabricating of an object by hand, learning through making, hacking and reuniting ‘thinking and making’. There is an absence of human makers.

This remastery of craft skills that the artists seek to accomplish and the reclamation of the act of making, isn’t a decision of economy like that of the employ and the machine, but of value. Most of this process is conducted through hacking pre-existing products or templates, and hack practice v, which in essence is self-exploratory learning that consists of inquisition, of both the physicality of the material involved and its limitations, and the marriage of patience and diligence needed to master the manipulation of the material.

The Hack method encourages alteration and practice, it embodies reworking and problem solving, it requires inventiveness and lateral thinking. So far, humanity still has these to their advantage over the reign of Machines and their cheap factory produced products. We don’t have to be helplessly subjugated to the machine's collective advance and dominion over our personal spaces and domestic lives: take arms against them and learn a new skill, knit a blanket, macramé a wall hanging, sculpt, fire and glaze your own imperfectly-perfect teacups or plant pots.

It’s easy to concede when the savings are being passed onto you, but what you’re giving up is the ability to DIY.

  1. Of course this has not always been the case, Dad, and historically Art has been a largely skill based discipline and centred around perfecting the representation of the real world (in lieu of photography), until Duchamp’s Fountain which set the foundation for conceptual art practices and allowed art to be about ideas more so than aesthetic. It is this kind of art, post-Industrial Revolution (and post-photography), that I’m referring to.
  1. In regards to technology’s encroachment on the realms of art, Bjork (Björk Guðmundsdóttir) is the first artist to have an app collected by a major art museum. The Biophilia app which accompanies her album of the same name, is now in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art as of June 2014.
  2. Terminator II: Judgement Day, James Cameron (dir.), 1991.
  3. Fight Club, David Fincher (dir.), 1999.
  4. The act of 'Hacking;' was once a verb associated almost exclusively with computing that was used to describe altering computer programming for the user's own ends. The term now also encompasses the alteration and manipulation of pre-existing physical objects and not just intangible computer code. Ikea-hacking is a widely popular practice in which people rework, reconfigure and alter Ikea flat-pack furniture and products into new products to better suit their personal needs or tastes.
  5. The act of ‘Hacking’ was once a verb associated almost exclusively with computing that was used to described altering computer programming for the users own ends. The term now also encompasses the alteration and manipulation of pre-existing physical objects and not just intangible computer code. Ikea-hacking is a widely popular practice in which people rework, reconfigure and alter Ikea flat-pack furniture and products into new products to better suit their personal needs or tastes.

Ace Wagstaff, 2014.