Still from Fernand Léger’s Ballet mécanique (1920)

To look at early-20th century artists’ conceptualizations of machines and technology is to be astonished, in a very particular way, by how thoroughly transformative the shift from mechanical to digital has been for humans’ connection with the world. Not only has our relationship to the external world changed in all the obvious ways — from the ease with which we can map our locations to the simplicity of connecting with a partner for almost any activity — our internal ways of imagining it have been utterly changed as well. We live now surrounded by glowing screens and traffic in information; these have sped up our lives in such a way that we don’t often pause to consider them.

Against this chilly, slick digital backdrop, the machines and technologies of the early 20th century seem almost fleshy, so inextricably are they linked and scaled to embodied human experience. Fernand Léger’s delightful and formally exquisite only film, 1920’s Ballet mécanique, is a perfect example of a seminal artist’s engagement with the machine aesthetic: it put a human face on the mechanical processes of photography and film, using the medium itself to marvel at its technical capacity.

On Wednesday at the New York Studio School, Akili Tommasino, a scholar and curatorial assistant in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, lectures on “Machine Envy: Fernand Léger and the Machine Aesthetic, 1909–1955.” This extraordinarily fertile and catastrophic period saw two world wars and the rise of art movements whose repercussions and offshoots remain significant. Revisiting Léger’s machine aesthetics is a timely reminder that a key to deeply engaging with our experience lies in examining the technologies that define it.

When: Wednesday, December 6, at 6:30pm
Where: New York Studio School (8 West 8th Street, Greenwich Village, Manhattan)

More info here.

Laila Pedro is a writer and scholar based in New York. She holds a PhD in French from the Graduate Center, CUNY, and is currently at work on a book tracing artistic connections between Cuba, France, and...