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A CASE FOR THE MACHINE SELFIE


Finishing up my 1st Machine Selfie
Being classically trained, I have always seen my role as that of a portrait painter: to reveal the true essence of a subject; to separate the essential from the non-essential. 
 
In many ways, a selfie is a modern self-portrait. Artistically, the subject is fascinating to me because it has such a long history but takes place in a very contemporary format -- the smartphone at arm’s length.
The genre is centuries old, as every artist from Durer to Van Gogh created selfies in the form of self-portraits. Artistic trends often are a consequence of innovation in technology. Self-portraiture as a genre emerged largely because massive distribution of tin amalgam mirrors in Venice (1507) made them accessible to artists, very much in the same fashion as smartphones brought cheap ever-present camera into the hands of the masses. 

The democratization of self-portrait through this new technology has changed the nature and intention of traditional portraiture. It is no longer a rare moment of deep reflection in search of authenticity limited to a narrow elite of highly skilled artists.
Modern selfies are produced spontaneously, with high frequency and volume, while a traditional self-portrait was a rare, expensive and time-consuming venture. The contemporary selfie exists in the disposable realm of digital economy. By contrast, a painting is a highly praised cultural artifact produced to last.
 
Putting aside the many differences, one thing selfies and traditional self-portraits have in common is the compelling desire to assert one’s own existence, a desire expressed by our ancestors 30,000 years ago in the form of the handprint in the Chauvet Cave, the early selfie technology!

First selfie..?! Snapped in New York in 1920 on the roof of the Marceau Studio on Fifth Avenue, across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, this picture features five mustached photographers holding an antediluvian analog camera at arm’s length. Because this camera would have been too heavy to hold with one hand, Joseph Byron is propping it up on the left, with his colleague Ben Falk holding it on the right. In the middle, you have Pirie MacDonald, Colonel Marceau, and Pop Core.
In this context, my Machine Selfie might seem like an absurdly inverted concept. A machine does not perform to be seen, and its character doesn’t fit into the selfie definition: a tool for digital self-branding, ephemeral and presenting oneself exactly the way the photographer wants to be seen. Also, the dissonance of the medium (painting vs. photography) and subject (human uniqueness vs. mass produced machine) pushes even further beyond the usual definition of a selfie. 

On the left:   ALBRECHT DURER,   1498 'Self-Portrait at the Age of   Twenty Eight'

On the right: VINCENT VAN GOGH, 1889 (oil on canvas) 'Self Portrait: Saint-Rémy'

The Machine of today is concerned with the internal, digital networks, mimicking religiosity and obsession with human soul of the pre-industrial societies. While Industrial Machine’s goal was to replace human labor, post-industrial technology mimics and replaces thinking. The New Machine is a spiritual animal deserving its own selfie genre. A thinking machine will appropriate human traits and behaviors in order to seem more like man. Technology exalting itself in the era of autonomous machine is a logical consequence; thus, the machine selfie is born.
I am on a mission to create machine selfies because who better to reflect and provide comfort in the age of anxiety in our coded, automated global world than The Machine herself? The Machine, who is both the agent, and the victim of change in ever-faster progress of technology? 
I only recently finished a portrait of LIDAR technology, a commission purchased by a technology investor and luminary in Silicon Valley.  When I started working on the painting, LIDARs were a brand new, secretive technology, but just a few months later, by the time the painting was finished, the hardware became already outdated. It belonged to a pile of debris of post-industrial past. 
In contemporary codified and digitalized world, the modern ruins of derelict technology "offer an escape from excessive order”  
(Tim Edensor)
It’s precisely their loss of purpose that renders derelict machines uniquely qualified to transcend the present and lead a conversation about the ultimate truth in the very best tradition of classical portraiture.  By allowing the Machine to contemplate outside its original purpose, by giving her the agency to not only solve problems but also self-reflect, I offer The Machine the key that might open the door to her humanity. 
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Pilat Fine Art · 3526 17th St. · San Francisco, CA 94110 · USA

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