18 September – 22 October 2020
Better With Or Without
Aluminium, projector, motors, sensors, microcontroller and processor
80x80x150cm / 2020
When A Tyrant Eats Itself
Automated video loop and fluorescent lightbulb
Dimensions variable / 2020
Touch The Nerves, The Blood, The Muscles And The Eyes
MDF, plywood, oak, perspex, acetal, brass, acrylic and floor paint
50x25x60cm / 2020
Brighter Than A Thousand Suns
MDF, plywood, oak, perspex rod, brass and acrylic paint
40x15x45cm / 2020
Seeing Meaning Where None Exists
MDF, plywood, oak, teak veneer, aluminium, perspex and acrylic paint
45x20x75cm / 2020
Text by Dom Heffer
To curb the machine and limit art to handicraft is a denial of opportunity.
- Lewis Mumford
When Wolfgang von Kempelen unveiled his chess playing automata, The Turk in 1769, at the court of the empress of Austria-Hungary, the audience did not know what to think. Some speculated that the machine was controlled by magnets, others argued that it was designed so that a child operator could hide inside. For every doubter there were just as many who considered it a magical device, otherworldly and bewildering. Despite the machine eventually being exposed as a hoax, von Kempelen had drawn people in, with the allure of an 'intelligent' machine.
What is it about our desire to see ourselves, our sentience, reflected in a machine? The 'art machines' of Mark Selby on show at Three Works, get these cogs whirring as you interact with them throughout the gallery's three rooms. They seem to offer a cautionary tale towards our interface with technology.
We can't do justice to the intricate processes that produce these machines here. Suffice to say that these 'art machines' seem to be in some sort of predicament. They sometimes work (or behave) in ways that could seem self-destructive, or as if trapped in a specific function; attempting to escape… does that sound familiar?
Selby uses the term “false play” to describe their behaviour. Play implies a learning, a self-transcendence, a growth; perhaps the machines are trying to transcend themselves, and, ironically, they need us to do it. They appear to be doing one thing, but, as the artist states, “underneath the surface there is some other design or possible appropriation of intention.”
They are machines with other motives.
The works enthrall with their beauty and technical competence. In one room, a machine that can rotate, raise or lower its angle, as well as auto-focus and zoom, projects light and abstractions borrowed from shapes within duo-chromic eye tests.
Another room offers us an ingenious form of data dadaism. Random geographical co-ordinates have informed audio recordings, which in turn, have become ‘visual data columns’ made by hand on a lathe. These ‘columns’ are then filmed rotating, re-composited and hacked by the computer automatically. They play on a loop until the film can no longer play. Here, an appropriate cultural association could just as much be Blakes 7 as Gustav Metzger's auto-destructive art.
The third space hosts a series of Auto-Assemblages. These works offer a playful method of manufacture, where a key aspect is in allowing a computer, or rather its own processing possibilities, to have agency in the production. Spare parts from the artists’ studio are drawn up on computer which then randomly informs the position and joining of the parts. Once this process has taken place the model is assembled. These artist/machine collaborations are sometimes subject to specific rules, like the imperative of two specific lines or vectors to cross, whilst the punchy, toy-like, colour resonates a more open playfulness. The pieces feel like they could be peculiar, wall-mounted games.
Whilst magnetising us, the works also confound our notions of functional utility. If they are 'art machines', then what is the function of art? To think things through and think through things...to raise questions and probe answers.
The allure of these 'sentient' machines––performing a process, acting like a prop––allow us to question our interface with machines; we must beware the “seduction into a misguided illusion of anthropocentrism” where “we become automated [and] the technical apparatus starts to program us”.
This show offers an opportunity to recalibrate this relationship, to re-boot.