Introduction to exhibition I am Your Servant, I am Your Worker

“How to Stop Worrying and Love the Computer.” Work-in-progress: Introduction to the exhibition I am Your Servant, I am Your Worker for the James Gallery, New York City.

Published in Studija 96, no. 3 (2014): 50 - 65.

While the introduction and concept of the exhibition I am Your Servant, I am Your Worker is published, the exhibition itself remains as yet unrealized.

Download article pdf or view it on magazine Studija online archive.

Humanoid robots representing the members of Kraftwerk, pioneers of electronic music. 1977.

Leningrad electronical institute, USSR. Life. 1959


The exhibition I am Your Servant, I am Your Worker addresses the relationship between man and machine in the artistic production of the 21st century. In this exhibition, ‘machine’ is understood as a system of
computer hardware, software and networks as well as a variety of digital image-making devices and image-sharing platforms. Such devices are the ‘factories’ of the 21st century, universal labor-leisure machines, objects of consumer desire and at the same time ultimate instruments of exploitation, control and surveillance.

I am Your Servant, I am Your Worker presents a selection of works made after 2000 that are based on computer software, hardware and networks. I am Your Servant, I am Your Worker revisits the legacy of the
Soviet Russian avant-garde and projects its revolutionary potential, its interpretation of Marxist-Leninist ideas and its no less revolutionary aesthetics onto contemporary computer-based artistic practices in order to offer new insights and discuss a new art historical narrative. Leftist political thinking in the light of the ubiquitous ‘Occupy’ movements is relevant and ever-present, as are academic debates about post-Internet art, the digital economy and digital humanities.

Art historians and curators in the past few years have made attempts to provide historical narratives of the man-machine relationship in art, for example, Ghosts in the Machine curated by Massimiliano Gioni at the New Museum, New York (2012). There have been some advances in the direction that somewhat echoes Productivist thinking, such as The Museum of Arte Útil initiated by Charles Esche at Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, The Netherlands (2013-2014). The connection between the Productivist slogan “From the easel to the machine” and today’s machine-based artistic production, however, still remains largely unexplored, and to contribute to such exploration is the aim of the proposed exhibit and related programming.

The exhibition proposes a historical genealogy of present-day computer-based artistic practices and theoretical debates surrounding issues such as the role and functions of art in the digital economy and collective artistic production. The historical part of the show connects some of the Soviet Russian Productivist ideas of the 1920s to contemporary practices through the groundbreaking designs, performances and stage-sets of Kraftwerk, the pioneers of electronic music founded in Düsseldorf in 1970.

The title of the exhibition is borrowed from the lyrics of the single Die Roboter (The Robots) from Kraftwerk’s album Die Mensch-Maschine (The Man-Machine, 1978). The screening of audiovisual performances by Kraftwerk and the selection of contemporary works in the exhibition are presented as diverse but valid responses to the revolutionary call “From the Easel to the Machine,” which was also the title of a book by one of the theorists of Russian Productivism, Nikolai Tarabukin, published in 1923.

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Kraftwerk performing live Die Roboter, a single from their album Die Mensch-Maschine (1978) in 2004. Screenshot from YouTube.

Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, 2012. Photo: Alise Tifentale.