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The machine is a defining cultural element of the 20th century. The machine and mass production influences man’s view of himself, his evolving notions of beauty and form, what his very world is.
Today we enter the postindustrial era, where machines are more nostalgic than futuristic, more virtual than real; man is being transformed by technology, though now by software and networks which are not so readily depicted but whose influence creates as much uncertainty as ever.
Imagine for a moment a world without machines...
A world where you don’t have a truck that can drive you up the Sierra Mountains for skiing... A world where you can’t pick up a phone and ask a friend for advice...
A world where you have to take cold showers because the great old machine pumping hot water to your house is dying out of neglect and incompetence...
Well this is sort of a world I grew up in. I was born in what was still communist Poland in a great old industrial city of Lodz. We didn’t have a car and there was only one phone in our building and it wasn’t ours. Every summer the city stopped hot water service for 2 months because the one and only power plant had to shut down for temporary maintenance. This was the 80s and we learned to keep candles all around the house because the power often went out at night...
Poland was gray and sad and our industry was dying and there was no innovation to be seen anywhere around.
But we knew, we all knew about a different sort of world...
a world where great ideas can happen...
a world where dreams can come true ...
a world where maybe even heroes were real not imagined.
That other world was America.
I call my paintings hero machines to pay tribute to that world.
In my search for heroic machines, I visit most exciting places and innovators open their doors for me. They are thrilled to have the world see their factories and labs through the eyes of the artist. To see an artist who is there to pay tribute to their struggles; to portray industry without fear or disdain.
The Art World far too often deals with technology and innovation through anxiety; it often condemns of our increasingly mechanized, and now digitized, world. I don’t belong to that art world. I see industry through heroic effort of people behind it. I am here to pay moral tribute that spirit.
USS Hornet: the ship is a United States Navy aircraft carrier and just started my artist residency there. USS Hornet played a major part in the Pacific battles of World War II, served in the Vietnam War and was a recovery ship for the Apollo Missions. Needless to say, the ship is full of heroic machines and I am extremely happy that the crew has welcomed me with gratitude and curiosity.
Machine heroes I document and honor in my work represent a former era... faded glory... maybe old American industry that is going away... I feel a sort of urgency to document certain machines before it’s too late and they slowly rot away...
Let me take you back to Wrightspeed. Ian Wright (who is the CEO and earlier in his career was Tesla founder). Seeing Ian walk on the floor of the factory always inspired me... seeing how much character and commitment it takes to make ideas happen... the load of responsibility that comes with great sacrifices and very little moral credit.
That is why I feel this urgent need to pay tribute to innovators and the greats in the industry for the risks and workload they are taking.
The two paintings on display were inspired by two women who made everlasting impact on the world: Grace Hopper and Chien-Shiung Wu.
Amazing Grace- a tribute to Grace Hopper
A pioneering computer scientist, Hopper is best known for inventing the software compiler, turning English language programming commands into machine language for the UNIVAC I computer. She went on to help create COBOL, an early computer language which dominated business programming for years. Her code resided in Univac’s Mercury Delay Line Memory, the main memory for many early computers, which serves as inspiration for this painting. The memory tank could hold up to 18 delay lines, each storing 10 48-bit words which were captured as acoustic waves moving through the medium of liquid Mercury metal.
Lady in Blue - a tribute to Chien-Shiung Wu
An experimental physicist, Wu shattered a fundamental concept of nuclear physics: the law of conservation of parity. Her 1956 “Wu Experiment” spun radioactive cobalt-60 nuclei at low temperatures. If the law held, the electrons would shoot off in paired directions. But that’s not what she observed! Wu’s experiment demonstrated that nature isn’t necessarily symmetrical. Quadrupole magnets, which served as inspiration for the painting, are used to focus the electron beam in particle accelerators.
The Art World deals with technology and innovation through anxiety; it often condemns of our increasingly mechanized, and now digitized, world. In contrast, I see technology through heroic effort of people behind it: Grace Hopper, Chien-Shiung Wu, Henry Ford and the innovators in Silicon Valley.
As a child I have seen the other side of the iron curtain: a place where no moral credit was given to businessmen, innovators, thinkers. I grew up in a world without heroes. I am convinced that machines and technologies that you build push humanity forward and make our lives better. Machines are extensions of human minds, how great is that!
Polish born artist, Agnieszka Pilat studied painting and illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA. She is an award-winning artist and her works can be found in public and private collections in North America, South America and Europe. Pilat currently lives and maintains a full time studio in San Francisco and is represented by numerous galleries throughout United States. www.agnieszkapilat.com