Saturday, 7 May 2011

Industrialisation and Art

Industrialisation in the late 1800s, and today. The artists of the late 1800's and early 1900's, in Europe, were influenced by the Industrial revolution.

1. What and when was the Industrial Revolution?
‘The industrial revolution may be defined as the application of power-driven machinery to manufacturing. In the eighteenth century all of Western Europe began to industrialise rapidly, but in England the process was most highly accelerated (Rempel, n.d.)’.  ‘Fundamental changes occurred in agriculture, textile and metal manufacture, transportation, economic policies and the social structure in England... The year 1760 is generally accepted as the “eve” of the Industrial Revolution. In reality, this eve began more than two centuries before this date. The late 18th century and the early l9th century brought to fruition the ideas and discoveries of those who had long passed on, such as, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes and others  (Montagna, 2011’). The industrial revolution seems to have been a sequence of changes to the way in which we do things to make them faster, easier and quicker to increase productivity and make life better.

2. Research both Modernist paintings in order to comment on the subject matter, form and style used to celebrate the machine and motion in each painting. Answer the question in 2 parts for each painting. Both paintings featured on this blog that are from the early 1900s were painted by Modernist painters from the group called 'Futurists'. The Futurists celebrated the machine, and objects in motion. Their primary objective was to depict movement, which they saw as symbolic of their commitment to the dynamic forward thrust of the 20th century

 Umberto Boccioni - The City Rises
‘Boccioni was perhaps the most significant artist associated with the first wave of Futurist art (The Times, 2009)’. The futurist artists were obsessed with portraying speed and movement in art. It was a movement concerned with the modern world and ‘the idea of a complete renewal of human sensibility brought about by modern science (Willette, 2011)’. ‘The Futurists preached violence and believed in the virtue of destruction for the purpose of sweeping away the old and the worn out and the useless, with the hope of bringing industrialization about, dragging Italy into the modern world (Willette, 2011)’. ‘Like other Futurists, Boccioni's work centered on the portrayal of movement (dynamism), speed, and technology (Umberto Boccioni: 1882-1916,” 1999-2007)’. ‘Futurist art is optical and not intellectual, always related to things that move, that are directional and dynamic, colorful and fragmented (Willette, 2011)’. In his painting The City Rises he depicts ‘the construction of an electric power plant (“The City Rises: Umberto Boccioni (Italian, 1882-1916)”, 2011)’. It clearly shows the influence of the industrial revolution with the building of a machine plant for the new discovery of electricity to power the civilised and urban world. The workers portrayed in it appear hot, busy and hard at work. They appear surrounded by what could be dirt and steam mixed with sweat, shown with their ‘powerful bodies lean[ing] at impossible angles as they exert themselves in service to the task at hand (“The City Rises: Umberto Boccioni (Italian, 1882-1916)”, 2011)’. It looks powerful and constantly moving like the sea, reflecting the busy and bustling movement of a construction site by those of the lower working class. The horse represents strength to me and the power of the working class who control, build and shape the world and lives of those of the upper classes in society. The contrasting bright colours of red and blue define different objects making it appear crowded and chaotic. It is a futurist artwork in which is concerned with ‘the technological process and the energy of the urban environment (“The City Rises: Umberto Boccioni (Italian, 1882-1916)”, 2011)’.

Dynamism of a dog on a Leash (1912) Giacomo Balla
Giacomo Balla was influenced by the futurist movement and strongly appealed to the idea of showing movement in painting.  Previously in ‘classical European painting there were rules about how the figure [was] to be depicted. No part of a figure may be duplicated, multiplied. If a figure is shown with two right arms, that's because it literally has two right arms. It's a mythical creature. On the other hand, if a figure is in motion, waving its right arm say, this is never to be conveyed by giving it two right arms (to indicate two stages of the action) (Lubbock, 2009)’. But with the futurist movement brought about by the industrial revolution with increased scientific knowledge and accelerated advances in technologies, artists wanted to show and portray this idea of the fast pace of life. Giacomo Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash shows a lady speeding along walking her dog. ‘The lady has roughly 15 feet, variably solid and see-through. The dog has eight countable tails, while its legs are lost in flurry of blurry overlays. Four swinging leads go between them... The dog, meanwhile, gives the impression of frantic scampering. Its legs thrash beneath a body that makes no progress at all (Lubbock, 2009)’. Balla has done this to try and show the motion of movement in a static 2-dimensional artwork. ‘Multiplications, echoes, flurries, blurs: these motion effects, supposedly capturing the action of the walking legs, become a way of creating new sensations and new phenomena (Lubbock, 2009)’. Not only does it show movement it, also shows a rather close-up image of the movement of an everyday street occurrence. This is a unique feature of futurist works of the industrial revolution showing everyday lower class images of everyday life and happenings. The close up focuses on the feet and represents the fast movement of the industrial revolution.

Cao Fei's RMB City (2007-9) refers to China's recent rapid industialisation and urbanization.
RMB City (2007-9)  Cao Fei
3. Research Cao Fei's RMB City (2007-9) in order to comment on this work in more depth. i.e what images has she used in her digital collage that refer to China's present and history, and why has she used these.
Cao Fei is an accomplished Beijing-based multimedia artist. She is one of the ‘new genertion of Chinese artist (“Cao-Fei – Utopia,” (2009)’. Her project RMB City is a work built in Second Life,’ a vast 3D online world that has operated since 2003 (“Cao-Fei – Utopia,” (2009)’. It is a world in which registers can purchase real estate, set up businesses, and engage in all manner of virtual interactions. It enables users to act out what u can’t do in this world and accomplish things they otherwise could not. Fei was first introduced to Second Life by Zhang Anding (aka Zafka Ziemia), her composer for the Siemens Project (Artkush, 2008)’. Being interested in new technology she was curious if she could ‘use this as a platform for a project (Artkush, 2008)’. Using her online identity – China Tracy – she built RMB City in Second Life on the Creative Commons Island of Kula. The city is ‘named after Chinesse money (“Cao-Fei – Utopia,” (2009’), and ‘refers to “renminbi” or “people’s money,” China’s official currency (Artkush, 2008)’. The city shows a perverse view of Beijing - a blend of communism, socialism and capitalism (“Cao-Fei – Utopia,” (2009)’. The online city is constantly under construction replicating the real world Beijing. Fei has filled her urban world with ‘overabundant symbols of Chinese reality with cursory imaginings of the country’s future (Michael, 2008)’. In it are also skyscrapers and religious monuments which show ‘Chinas current obsession with land development (Michael, 2008)’ and urbanisation. ‘Candy-striped smoke stacks suggest continuous industrial production and ships move goods swiftly in and out of port (“Cao-Fei – Utopia,” (2009)’ reflecting China’s current industrial status and place as the centre of manufacturing and trade in today’s society From looking at the work I can see what appears to be a floating slightly abstract Chinese flag in which the stars suspend it in the air; a giant flying panda looming over the city; a wheel similar to London’s Eye; rising water over and between buildings; a statue of Mao – a former leader of the nation and the Beijing Summer Olympics  Stadium. All of these images/icons reflect China’s past and some of its future. It shows the current and urgent need to protect the endangered Panda; it’s amazing possible future technological advancements in architecture and transport; as well as remembering the past and how far China has come. In a way China is influenced by the idea of futurism and getting rid of the old and replacing it with the new scientific advancements and technologies but still clinging to its past and seeing how far they have come.

4. RMB City is described as a utopia/dystopia. Comment on what these terms mean, and how they can be applied to the work.
Dystopia is described asa society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding’ by Many think that the world we live in is dystopian as in the real world we live in misery and human tragedy occurs all around us. Utopia is an ideally perfect place, according to, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects. It is an ideal place or state. For Fei, RMB City was an ‘experimental utopian world for the 3D online virtual community of Second Life...ideal futuristic city in three dimensions (Michael, 2008)’. ‘It is a Second Life version of her vision of the Chinese city today’ (Artkush, 2008) for users it is a perfect world in which they can create for themselves a new identity and appear as they choose. For younger users it is just a part of everyday life in the technological environment that is the 21st century having another life online.

5. Although the Modernist paintings and the contemporary digital work have emerged from
different contexts, there are also many similarities. Comment on the similarities that you can see in the work. Look at the moving digital image at, if you have not
already researched it.

Both types of works are similar in that they work with what is current at the times and what is advancing in a futuristic approach. For the industrial revolution time period, they looked at new industrial settings and developments at the time portraying these in paintings and using new methods to portray subjects in them such as the many legs of Balla’s dog showing movement. For the digital world in the 21st century, using Second Life, an online medium shows the futuristic approach incorporated into artwork using current technologies that would not have been possible without the scientific and industrial revolutions that began in the 1800’s.  

·         The Industrial Revolution by Joseph A. Montagna, (2011)
·         The Times Online. (January 12, 2009). Study for The City Rises by Umberto Boccioni (1910).
·         Dr. Willette, J. S. M. (8.4.2011). Defining Futurism FUTURISM AS THE AVANT-GARDE.
·         Umberto Boccioni: 1882-1916 (1999-2007)
·         “The City Rises: Umberto Boccioni (Italian, 1882–1916)” (2011)
·         Lubbock, T. (2009, Spetember 4). Great Works: Dynamism of A Dog on a Leash (1912) Giacomo Balla
·         Cao Fei – Utopia, (2009, June 18).


  1. I like how you incorporated the rules of Classical European painting in your discussion about Balla’s painting Dynamism of a dog on a leash. The more I learn about the rules in which were enforced on art during the Classical European era, the more I come to appreciate different art movements like modernism and how it has paved the way for such artists as Cao Fei.

  2. Giacomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash’ is familiar because I could see a representation of a comical type of art. Characters in the two dimension cartoon which is depicted as a scene to show each quick movement when it is rapidly fast forwarded. In the figure the feet are the main idea because basically the feet are only promptly moving. I thought he might have influenced the form Etienne-Jules Marey captured; rapid sequence of images on the person moving with his camera. He neatly dissected time and space, revealing the dynamic rhythms of the human body in motion. (Étude chromo photographique de la locomotion humaine, 1886)

  3. I like how you described the detail that went into Giacomo Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash in order to convey a sense of motion on a flat 2D media. The way that the dog and the lady is depicted reminds me of the Coyote and Road Runner from Looney Tunes which began as a 2D animation. The technique of how they had to convincingly show speed and movement by multiplying and blurring the legs of the Coyote and Road Runner could possibly be influenced by Balla’s painting.

  4. I enjoyed how you discussed the key elements of the Industrial Revolution. I find it interesting that the year 1760 is only generally accepted as the eve of the industrial revolution when in fact the eve of the era really began as you have mentioned "two centuries before this date". It is clear that you have researched the topic of this post in great depth as your comments on the Modernist paintings and Cao Fei's RMB City have shared with me interesting information that I was previously unaware of. Your comments on the similarities between the Modernist paintings and the contemporary digital work display a great sense of understanding of this topic.

  5. I found your blog interesting to read - there were a few things I didnt actually know about until now. Your idea's about the futurist's captivate me because I understand now that without the actual movement within this industrial revolution things like speed or sound would not be depicted in works such as Giacommo Balla's "Dynamism of a dog on a Leash" (1912)

  6. Your observations and descriptions of the meanings which each symbol meant in Fei's RMB city was quite insightful and to the point. I never really thought of it as a visual portrayal of the technological and economical development which China is going through, rather, I saw it more as an image which depicts the traditions in China perhaps away as it begins to absorb more Western traditions and such, leaving hardly any room for the original China.