By Jason Foumberg
Like zombies and cancer, sometimes machines are positioned to reflect the troubles of modern life. I’m not talking about coffee makers but atom colliders. Real or fictionalized, machines (and zombies and cancers) are human-born, but left to their own devices, can become automata that produce malevolent acts, and so they are perfect vehicles for artists, or anyone, to embody the fears and conflicts of our age. There is the fear of losing control, and the fear of destruction. While machines are good at destructing themselves or other things, they mostly excel at being perfect. The fear, then, lies in mechanization. If everything were to become mechanized, then humans, too.
What, then, of drawing machines? One drawing machine, built by Harvey Moon, is currently on display in a vacant storefront window in the old Carson’s downtown building, and several by Mark Porter were recently working up a frenzy at Fill in the Blank Gallery. Both machines make drawings. Moon’s machine reproduces, on a large sheet of paper, a photograph that he chooses using a micron pen. Moon programmed the machine to work day and night for the next three months. The little machine works quickly but the image is very large. It lowers a small metal arm to move itself around the sheet of paper.
Whereas Moon’s machine is precise and controlled, Porter’s machines gurgle, spit and spew pigmented soap to make drawings directly on walls. They look like experiments in robotics. In one, metal arms with sponges move back and forth on the wall like a cat settling in for a nap. Another is powered by a motion sensor, so that a viewer is complicit in ‘making’ the drawing. The wall drawings look like accidents, of the sort that a surrealist would foam at the mouth for.
Harvey Moon says that his drawing machine is programmed to make its own decisions about how the drawing will be made. This is evidenced in the intricate patterns of shading that are taking shape. He admits that the finished drawings interest him less than their actual making. The computer code that produces the machine’s movement—that’s the real art, says Moon, where the machine itself, like the pen it holds, is just a medium. The computer that controls the mechanism is hidden from view.
Porter’s machines work in plain sight, their skeletal gadgetry exposed without need for aesthetic cover-up. Like Moon, Porter seems interested in how something is made rather than its product. With its frothy sputum drying on the gallery walls, these are abject machines. They produce material, but nothing useful. Seen in tandem with Moon’s machine, which runs in a vacant commercial space, the machines are rigged for the apocalypse, again.
Harvey Moon’s drawing machine is on view at 22 South Wabash.