Michael Craig-Martin: Transience

Serpentine Gallery 25 November 2015 — 14 February 2016 Free

The Serpentine presented an exhibition by Michael Craig-Martin, one of the best-known British artists of his generation.

This was the first solo show of Craig-Martin’s work in a London public institution since 1989.

This exhibition by Craig-Martin (b. Dublin, 1941) brought together works from 1981 to 2015, including his era-defining representations of once-familiar yet obsolete technology: laptops, games consoles, black-and-white televisions and incandescent lightbulbs that highlighted the increasing transience of technological innovation. The exhibition also featured new wallpaper that had been conceived especially for the exhibition.

From the earliest work in the show, a wall drawing first produced in 1981 (the same year that the first personal computer was made available), to a painting from 2014 that depicts the minimal lines of an iPhone, Craig-Martin’s work has recorded the profound impact that electronic technology has had on the way we consume and communicate. The exhibition explored the seismic shift from analogue processes to digital technologies that informed the production and distribution of new kinds of objects in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Craig-Martin’s early works explore the conceptual possibilities of contemporary art, testing the boundaries between functional and functionless forms. The introduction of digital technology in recent years has resulted in the breakdown of the relationship between form and function, a process that Craig-Martin captures in his depictions of successive inventions, from the battery, to the cassette, to the laptop.

As Marshall McLuhan wrote in his seminal book Understanding Media, which Craig-Martin read shortly after it was first published in 1964, “technical change alters not only habits of life, but patterns of thought and valuation”. Craig-Martin’s work holds up a mirror to these alterations, reminding us that we are as much produced by the objects we invent as they are by us.

Lightbulb (magenta) (2015) is a sculpture by Craig-Martin, produced on the occasion of the exhibition Transience at the Serpentine Gallery. Based on a drawing, it suggests a three-dimensional object but is almost completely flat. Craig-Martin’s selection of this everyday object draws attention to its design, while its bright colour contrasted with the natural landscape of Kensington Gardens, reminding us of the heat of a ‘real’ incandescent bulb. Like several other objects depicted in the exhibition, the incandescent bulb typified an invention that has been superseded by new technologies.

Craig-Martin also created a digital artwork, Lightbulb, for the Serpentine Galleries on the occasion of his exhibition. It is a drawing with six coloured elements, controlled by a software algorithm.

Craig-Martin has participated in a number of Serpentine events and group exhibitions: Memory Marathon (2012); Map Marathon (2011), Wall to Wall (1994), Here and Now: Twenty-three years of the Serpentine Gallery (1993); Objects for the Ideal Home: The Legacy of Pop Art (1991); Vessel: Sculpture, Glass, Ceramics (1987);