The impact of machines and technology on society has been a topic of fascination for artists since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Almost a decade ago the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art explored this phenomenon in its mammoth “Art in the Age of Steam” exhibit, tracing the transformations brought about by the steam locomotive from the late 18th century to the mid-20th.
Next fall, the Linda Hall Library will present what amounts to the next chapter in the story with the exhibit, “Ribbons Across the Land,” about the construction and cultural impact of the interstate highway system.
Both of these shows explore where we have been. Today’s artists are grappling with the problems and potential of the digital age, when a cell phone can be used to trigger a bomb and a lap top could take down the power grid.
Andrzej Zieliński has both devices covered in his exhibit, “Open Sources,” at the Nerman Museum, (see www.kcstudio.org for an online review of the show by Elisabeth Kirsch), in which he introduces a series of extraordinary new sculptures made from unlikely mashups of stone, wood, metal and plastic.
Placed on tall wheeled carts, some of Zieliński’s laptops and cell phones seem to promise a grotesque digital takeover; others evidence a hapless, cartoony aspect, like friendly pets. His exhibit caps off a decade of considering the role and ubiquity of technology in our lives, provoking considerations of threat and privacy, social connection and distraction.
For better or worse, technology is now an inescapable part of our lives, a theme taken up by Stephen Proski, an artist, musician, and prime mover behind the former Negative Space club in the West Bottoms.
Coupled with a profile on Proski by art critic, Neil Thrun, is a poetic, manifesto-styled essay by Proski himself. “On Glitch,” explores the ideas behind his performance of glitch music and his conflicted attitude toward the machines that govern our lives.
“Information slips through the fingertips, like a digital green rain flowing downward on an outdated screen,” Proski writes. “The technological drift accumulates and results in a self-sustaining, tumultuous static: a by-product of chaos that thrives and perseveres on more chaos being pumped into the system, until the feed becomes a blur and is no longer decipherable.”
In this issue’s artists pages, Ricky Allman brings another perspective to bear on where technology is taking us in his portrayals of imagined futuristic worlds and scenarios.
“I don’t see this great battle between humanity versus technology,” Allman says. “I see the two becoming a kind of fusion. I’m looking at the ingenuity of humans, our ability to adapt and get ourselves out of situations we got ourselves in to.”
Also on the positive side, is the digitally-linked community of support represented by Kickstarter. Kathy Kerr reports on the crowdfunding site’s benefits to KC artists and the innovative projects it has helped add to the local cultural landscape, putting yet another tally mark in the “ingenuity of humans” column.
And through May 1, Union Station has that topic covered with “Da Vinci: The Exhibition,” highlighting the inventions and machines of art history’s paragon of ingenuity: Leonardo da Vinci.