We live in a cultish age of technology.
This is machine age. This is my tribute.
Mechanical Woman 48" x 48" Oil on AluBond
Electric Panda 50" x 50" Oil on Belgian Linen
Amazing Grace 50" x 50" Oil on board
Accountant 36" x 36" Oil on board
I paint heroic portraits of aging technology. My work pays tribute to industry while confronting humanity’s fear towards automation. I like to arrange my machines in a formal composition, creating heroic portraits of the aristocracy of the past. These aren’t quick snapshots from a cellphone or Polaroid camera, but instead staged photographs... like old family albums or royal portraits. They are posing for their rightful place in the museum halls of royal posterity. They are both witnesses and agents of change. These paintings strive to do the impossible for their subjects… help them to transcend time.
Fallen Soldier 48" x 48" Oil on board
Red Paul 48" x 48" Oil on board
Celluloid Hero 48" x 48" Oil on board
Whisper 50" x 50" Oil on Belgian Linen
Major Velocity 46" x 46" Oil on Belgian Linen
Royal Mousketeer 30" x 30" Oil on board
Blue 48" x 48" Oil on board
art by Pilat
As removed from the complex inner workings of machines as we are today, few are familiar with the sight of an engine casing. Less familiar still, is the sight of one swathed in a thick fur coat. Yet, this is exactly what confronts the viewer in Emperor, an artwork from Agnieszka Pilat’s newest series, #disrupt. Layers of cool grey hide a warm undercoat that peeks, rust-like, through the top of the canvas. While, front and center, a machine fragments into abstraction, obscuring the already ambiguous subject.
Presenting old technology in muted color palettes and traditional compositions, one might question why the paintings warrant the title #disrupt. ‘Disrupt’ is a derogatory label; a term that is leveled at anything that changes the status quo. All innovation is disruptive to a certain extent, but it is new industrial and technological developments that bear the brunt of public ire. Over the past century, machines have resulted in manufacturing job losses and a perceived decline in product quality. Yet, the very same factory workers made redundant by technology, reap its benefits: improvements to transport; time saving devices such as dishwashers; and personal electronic devices all increase our quality of life.
The #disrupt series explores this complicated relationship with technology, and the title encapsulate this duality. Much like our attitude to technology, the connotations of ‘disrupt’ change from viewer to viewer. For some, the title is an appropriate condemnation of our increasingly mechanized, and now digitized, world. Yet, digital natives often use ‘disrupt’ in a positive sense; it is seen as a necessary consequence of innovation, a way to interrupt the inherited problems of our society. Thus, through employing this controversial word Pilat baits both groups, and draws on the emotionally charged term to challenge the viewer to react.
However, Pilat’s work does not merely challenge the viewing public. For a long time, machines were held in contempt within the art establishment. Their presence was seen as fundamentally undermining the values of the gallery circuit. As both a product and enabler of mass production, machines were seen to destroy the individuality of expression treasured in traditional artworks. Thus, by asking galleries to display works that celebrate machines, Pilat also challenges the art establishment by referencing the tumultuous relationship between fine art and technology.
In 1934, MoMA confronted the growing disjoint between the art and the mechanical reality of the world in the exhibition Machine Art. Curator Philip Johnson, attempted to reconcile new machines with an older, pre-enlightenment view of art. Drawing on both Plato’s theory of forms and the later work of Aquinas, he argued that machines came closest to the absolute beauty of a perfect form. A machine tooled component is as close as we are likely to come to the perfect circle or line.
The fact that these images, or the machines themselves, can be mass-produced seems irrelevant to their beauty. By most definitions, a beautiful object is not necessarily an artwork. Rather, an artwork is made by the general consensus of the art establishment. An object isn’t art until the right people say it is. Despite Duchamp’s infamous ready-mades, the status of an artwork remains closely guarded. With the interests of dealers and gallerists on the line, an emphasis on the individual and unique helps protect the salability and price of works. Therefore, machines are still capable of creating a tension in the world of fine art and of disrupting the status quo. In Pilat’s work, this conflict is explored through the juxtaposition of her subject and method of representation.
By painting machines, she reclaims a uniqueness from the mass produced through her handling of paint. However, this conflict is not apparent at first glance, and there appears to be nothing revolutionary about the subjects of #disrupt. Old and worn, the machines seem a bizarre juxtaposition with such a highly charged title. The cool color palettes of the abandoned machinery lend the paintings both a stillness and a certain melancholy. Having once made our lives better, older machines become outdated and forgotten in much the same way as dispossessed factory workers. Machines themselves may become victims of technological advancement. Living and working in the bay area of Silicone Valley, Pilat is witness to the continuous turnover of technology. Her work reminds us that for every innovation, the march of progress takes new casualties.
The paintings act to commemorate these casualties and in the process, anthropomorphize the machines. Pilat plays with the conventions of portraiture to encourage the viewer to reevaluate and empathize with the forgotten subjects. Frontal facing, clearly lit and with unobtrusive backgrounds, the paintings hold all the formal hallmarks of traditional portraits. The machines take on human proportions and on occasion seem to sport aristocratic adornments: Sophisticate with Collar references the royal collars seen in Elizabethan portraits; the engine casing of Emperor dons a fur coat; and a military medal hangs from the machine in La Generala.
In this regard, the series draws on the conventions of portraiture. For the most part, paintings have acted as social markers, displaying wealth and education while also recording an individual’s accomplishments for posterity. In achieving these objectives, jewelry, art objects, and tools of a profession have always held a vital role. In short, portraiture demonstrates that the depiction of objects is integral to depicting people. However, in the nineteenth and twentieth century, the role of portraits and their function to reinforce status fundamentally changed. With the increasing popularity of realism, the aristocratic portraiture that had previously dominated the genre made way for depictions of the proletariat. As
subsequent technological innovations expanded the field even further and made it more accessible to every class, the tradition of oil portraits fell into decline.
Now, as we stumble through the twenty-first century, it seems natural that portraiture would expand again. With the emergence of late capitalism, the fascination with all objects (and not just the technological) has reached a new peak. Our sense of self has become tied to the objects we own and the brands we choose to adorn ourselves with. Thus, it seems a logical progression that portraiture would once again expand to incorporate the inanimate. Yet, this time, in an age where technology is worshipped, the objects have assumed the status previously occupied by aristocrats in portraiture.
Thus, Pilat’s portraits of machines act as both memorial and celebration. The large scale imbues them with a sense of grandeur warranting the ‘heroic portraits’ subtitle of the series. Though poignantly melancholic, the paintings act to commemorate and celebrate the wonders of technology. The aforementioned medal of La Generala can be seen as a recognition for long service to humanity, the painting paying homage to machines’ contribution to society.
To Pilat, to record the role of machines inevitably immortalizes America’s industrial triumph. Having emigrated from Poland to America, she believes that ‘the greatness of America is the greatness of its industry’. Her unique perspective on the American attitude to technology finds form in her celebration of machines.(...)
Claire Carino Contemporary
TH Brennen Fine Art