“When I started drawing these ordinary, everyday objects in the late 1970s, I thought they were pretty stable in the world; I assumed that they would not change over time. When I first drew a light bulb, I had no idea that it would become a thing of design history.” – Michael Craig-Martin
The usual jog around Kensington Garden this afternoon turned out to be a rather delightful diversion when I chanced upon the current art exhibition at Serpentine Gallery showcasing vibrant graphic paintings of everyday objects by Michael Craig-Martin.
At first glance, the precise outline and contrasting colours of each objects in his paintings felt very flat and caricature-like, but viewing them collectively made me stop to think about how many of these items I grew up with in the eighties and nineties had already become obsolete in present day. For example, things like a cassette tape for listening to music, which was being replaced by a CD in the nineties, but these days, nobody even uses these analogue devices anymore because music had become digital and had to be streamed online. It no longer existed in physical form anymore. To think that younger generation would never have heard of these objects, does not know what a Walkman is, and would probably have to go to a museum to look at one of these in the future really made me realise how fast our world and the way we live are changing, being controlled by technology. A whole orchestra can be performed from laptops instead of real physical instruments these days. In a way, I felt rather nostalgic and sad that next generations would not know how to play any musical instruments, let alone not knowing what a real piano or violin looked like altogether! So many objects depicted by Craig-Martin in this series of work were everyday items that, I too, thought would be around forever such as the analogue filament light bulbs and household power sockets, but even these were being replaced by new generation of digital LED lights and new generation of Smart Power Sockets as we speak, the title ‘Transience’ captured the essence of transitional nature of technology and the speed at which new forms of technology are invented, distributed and superseded in this exhibition perfectly.
Over the past 30 years, Michael Craig-Martin has continued to select familiar objects from contemporary life, regardless of their function, size or monetary value, recording the transition from obsolete items to the now ubiquitous manifestations of digital technology. The composition of his paintings has changed in parallel with the development of new inventions, reflecting the ways in which we now interact with them. For example, analogue objects such as black and white television with buttons and dials that requires manual handling are depicted in three-dimensional axonometric form, whereas modern technology such as laptops and iPhones are shown in a two-dimensional frontal or side elevation views to mimic the flatness of new generation touchscreens.
Transience not only serves as a reflection of our fast changing world, but also as a reminder of the importance in disconnecting oneself once in a while from technology to engage ourselves in skills which more and more are becoming obsolete if we do not choose to practice them regularly, even though they may not be as necessary as they once were, but they do benefit our physical health and wellbeing. Although technology has made life much more convenient than it used to be, Michael Craig-Martin reminds us that there is also a real danger in relying too much on technology and forgetting that we are still living in a physical analogue world.
If anyone passes by Kensington Garden, I highly recommend a quick visit to Serpentine Gallery to view his work. The exhibition will be on until 14 February 2016.