The machines that speak of a human presence

In one of the most memorable and radical utterances on the art of the 20th century, the futurists led by Marinetti claimed that a racing car is more beautiful than the Nike of Samothrace. What the Italian futurist meant by beauty was the new machine aesthetics, and the way they stood for movement, change and vigor, the kind of elements, in short, that constituted modernity and modern art. Since then, machines have provided inspiration for some of the most telling images in 20th-century art, from Leger’s cubism, Tinguely’s robot-like meta-machines, David Smith’s raw non-art materialism or Claes Oldenburg’s neo-Dada mechanical objects. In the eyes of artists, they have appeared as alien and threatening, as entities with a strange power but also as quirkily benign and amiable. But whether as sympathetic oddities or as symbols of technological progress and human endeavor, machines have somehow always been associated with change, vigor or scientific objectivity, and for that reason perhaps, rarely examined by a sentimental eye. In the work of artist Sotiris Sorongas, however, machines are considered with a certain nostalgia and somehow come across as the wistful, industrial vestiges of bygone days. Currently on view in a small show at the Museum of Cycladic Art, his paintings show machine parts looming against a white background, with their sepia-tinted color and blurred appearance nostalgically evoking the passage of time. Aged as they are by the wear and tear of time, Sorongas’s machines – mostly cranes, and isolated rusted parts – appear almost humanly fragile, as the old companions of man and a melancholy testimony to human labor. In a way, they are the relics of a time when digital and computer technology was still relatively unknown and the world operated with more traditional machines. The human presence is never depicted but always implied in the works of Sorongas. This is perhaps what makes his work so distinctive. With the sparest compositions and simply through a careful handling of light and line, Sorongas manages to convey traces of human civilization in the most mundane objects. There exists his series of machines but also his paintings of stone fences – in essence contours of stones placed one on top of the other – both favorite subjects and both subtly evocative of the human presence. The machine-derived notions of serialization, standardization and repetition that so inspired minimalism, in the midst of which Sorongas matured as an artist, are here left untouched. What seems to interest Sorongas is finding inanimate objects’ sentient aspects. This he does through a careful handling of design and his typical use of white backgrounds and monochromatic palette. I’m a woman of passion and energy and because of this people around me forget that I’m also very sensitive. I wish I could be more patient… I don’t believe, however, that I exaggerate, that I’m unreasonable. I’m patient enough, but at the same time I do like finding quick solutions, without wasting any time. What can I say? I don’t feel I’m too demanding, but I probably am without realizing it…

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