Within any church there exists examples of such bygone patronage, channelled through sacred objects; high examples being the splendour of a Byzantine altar piece. Within modern times, our mode of adulation and reverence has switched to new forms of fixation. We elevate the machines of our age - this the treasury art of the 21st Century - mass-produced altar pieces, in shiny new materials. The erstwhile fetishism of gold, frankincense and myrrh, supplanted by plastic, chrome and carbon fibre.
Such transition was foreseen by the Italian writer and theorist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, when in 1909 he published the 'Futurist Manifesto'. A key aspect to this new aesthetic language was the cult of the machine - 'We declare that the splendour of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.' He also spoke of the 'metallisation of the human body'. Over one hundred years later, our urban landscape is littered with tangible examples of this prophecy. Art and industry has fused to create highly-coveted everyday artefacts. Now we efficiently move through life, with dynamism, virtuosity and style. Our object of worship is the object itself.
'Bicycle Wheel', created around the same time that Marinetti introduced the Futurist Manifesto, is an artwork by Marcel Duchamp. In it he selected a quotidian machine part (the bicycle wheel) and subverted its established meaning. This 'readymade' form, to Duchamp, was "an ordinary object elevated to the dignity of the work of art". During the mid 1950s to early 1960s, other artists also recognised the potency of the replicated artefact; the factory-produced components of modern life. Among them, Eduardo Paolozzi, Roy Lichenstein, Andy Warhol, would relocate the machine onto canvas, or bronze plinth. Photorealism, an offshoot of Pop Art, would push this paradigm further, depicting the trappings of urban life in a pure framework, reproducing an existing form (such as a car) as a painterly facsimile of itself. As Photorealism sired Hyperrealism, cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard spoke of the 'the fetishism of the lost object'.
Within the ten artworks comprising Velo City, specific components are lifted from reality, to form spatially complex compositions - as altar pieces to the machine age. The lost objects here are those directly associated with Duchamp's readymade of 1913 - the bicycle. Visceral trails of forms fashioned from chrome, steel, carbon fibre, and leather have been juxtaposed to build new poetic relationships. Olfactory sensations can be extracted from rubber, grease, pvc. Shapes echo other shapes; rough combines with smooth; shiny competes with coarse. The complexity of these images allows chance glimpses of recognisable objects. Apertures allow the viewer to form understanding. A sense of voyeurism completes the picture. Through its title, Velo City directly responds to Marinetti's declaration to 'the beauty of speed', with a hint of Mechanophilia lurking abjectly in the background.
Each of the ten artworks is titled with a London postcode. These reference points act as building blocks - a numbered component which precisely fits into the machine - this ultimately represented by the Metropolis itself. Velo City is about our relationship with, and devotion to, the machine.
View the artworks HERE
All artwork and images © James Straffon 2017.