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It is appropriate to recall the excitement of machinery in the moment of capital preceding our own, the exhilaration of futurism, most notably, and of Marinetti's celebration of the machine gun and the motorcar. These are still visible emblems, sculptural nodes of energy which give tangibility and figuration to the motive energies of that earlier moment of modernization.


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The prestige of these great streamlined shapes can be measured by their metaphorical presence in Le Corbusier's buildings, vast Utopian structures which ride like so many gigantic steamship liners upon the urban scenery of an older fallen earth.

Source type: picture
Info: Ville radieuse - an unrealised project designed by Le Corbusier in 1930
Original size: 1000x563 px. Edit

Machinery exerts another kind of fascination in the works of artists like Picabia and Duchamp

Source type: picture
Info: Marie - Francis Picabia - 1917
Original size: 700x700 px. Edit

Machinery exerts another kind of fascination in the works of artists like Picabia and Duchamp

Source type: picture
Info: Rotary Glass Plates - Marcel Duchamp - 1920
Original size: 450x633 px. Edit

...but let me mention, for completeness' sake, the ways in which revolutionary or communist artists of the 1930s also sought to reappropriate this excitement of machine energy for a Promethean reconstruction of human society as a whole, as in Fernand Léger and Diego Rivera.

Source type: picture
Info: Le Transport des Forces - Fernand Henri Léger
Original size: 970x535 px. Edit
Source type: picture
Info: Fernand Léger and his students during the execution of Le Transport des Forces for the Palais de la découverte
Original size: 710x541 px. Edit

...but let me mention, for completeness' sake, the ways in which revolutionary or communist artists of the 1930s also sought to reappropriate this excitement of machine energy for a Promethean reconstruction of human society as a whole, as in Fernand Léger and Diego Rivera.

Source type: picture
Info: The Detroit Industry Murals - Sketch for a series of frescoes by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, consisting of twenty-seven panels depicting industry at the Ford Motor Company.
Original size: 900x396 px. Edit

It is immediately obvious that the technology of our own moment no longer possesses this same capacity for representation: not the turbine, nor even Sheeler's grain elevators or smokestacks, not the baroque elaboration of pipes and conveyor belts, nor even the streamlined profile of the railroad train -- all vehicles of speed still concentrated at rest -- but rather the computer, whose outer shell has no emblematic or visual power, or even the casings of the various media themselves, as with that home appliance called television which articulates nothing but rather implodes, carrying its flattened image surface within itself.

Source type: picture
Info: Classic Landscape - Charles Sheeler / Oil on Canvas / 1931
Original size: 849x665 px. Edit