Silk to Silicon, the debut solo show of contemporary artist and designer, Sebastian Koseda, brings together moving images, woven textiles, and graphic design to spotlight the tensions between automation, craftspeople and workers over the last two centuries and into tomorrow. The title of the exhibition references the pioneering period from the introduction of automatic silk weaving looms, through to the rise of IBM computer punchcards and the development of the silicon chip - setting the stage for the crypto-mining, drone-delivering, data-harvesting, all-consuming, digital world we occupy today.
Taking its starting point in 1801 with Joseph Marie Jacquard’s invention of the programmable loom which used perforated cards or ‘punched cards’ to control the pattern a loom weaves, the exhibition explores how this development sparked the beginning of binary computer programming. The Jacquard loom was to directly inform Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the first general-purpose programmable computing engine, in turn leading to the innovation of the IBM computer punch cards of 1931. The exhibition includes facsimile versions of punchcards created by Jacquard, Babbage and IBM.
The exhibition acknowledges the forces of resistance that originally opposed automation, the skilled artisans who became the machine wrecking Luddites of the early 19th century. The term Luddite is now synonymous with people who dislike and distrust new technology but with increasing global concern about the effect exponential acceleration has on jobs, skills, livelihoods, and workers’ rights, Koseda raises the question ‘Are we to witness a Luddite revivalism?’
Displayed in Nottingham’s BACKLIT Gallery, a former textile factory, the ghosts of the industrial past loom large. The exhibition begins with a newly commissioned woven portrait of Ned Ludd, the mythical character who became the figurehead of the Luddite rebellion. Woven by textile artist Sally Holditch on a digital Jacquard loom and taking inspiration from the famous 1812 image of ‘General Ludd’, the portrait combines the new possibilities of digital programming with the traditional craft of handweaving.
Two new films created by Koseda examine our relationship with robots and new technology. The first, a CGI film of a robot arm drawing a self-portrait depicts an endearing act of self-reflection that gives the robot a human quality, seemingly having its own thoughts and intentions. A second film ‘March of the Machines’ imagines drones rising from a deserted landscape to wreak havoc in an imaginary London’s financial centre. Carrying banners demanding ‘Rights for Robots’ and ‘Future-proof or Futureless’, the drones evoke the Luddite rebels of 200 years ago.
Sebastian Koseda, the artist, says:
“In the next 10 years, we are likely to see more change in automated technology than the last 100 years combined. Automation is ubiquitous, but for how long will workers and machines continue to co-exist in peace? Like the tension the loom gives to the weft, the future of automation is a pull of two questions: will we resist, or will we accept that machines are better at driving our cars, making our food, building our houses, treating our bodies and creating our art?”
The exhibition is accompanied by a website featuring an introduction by Sebastian Koseda, and three new essays. Writer Maya Gulieva explores the history of the lace industry, artist Armando De Cosmos creates a visual essay, and Alan Willey documents the ‘digital thread’. The website also features films, visual imagery, and graphics from the exhibition.
The Silk to Silicon exhibition and website was made possible with funding from Arts Council England. With thanks to KitMapper.
Sebastian Koseda is a London-based contemporary artist and designer. His speculative design projects have been featured across multiple platforms and digital spaces since he graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2015. Silk To Silicon is his debut solo show.