Umarell : this is the name given to the pensioner in Bologna who, usually with his hands folded behind his back, observes the work in progress, checking, asking questions or making suggestions. This could be a good image of the man of our time: doomed to obsolescence by technical "progress", all that remains is for him to wander around in the middle of the universal construction site, giving advice to a system that does not need it.

However, a historian of the future (will there be one?) will perhaps describe how, from the end of the 20th century onwards, a new political current, the anti-industrial movement, was formed, which aimed to counter the technological onslaught, considered to be a social phenomenon as determining and alienating as the expansion of capitalism. Influenced by the analyses of unclassifiable thinkers such as Lewis Mumford, Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt, Günther Anders, Jacques Ellul and Ivan Illich, the anti-industrialists have for the past thirty years waged their struggle on a wide variety of fronts, from the sabotage of GMOs to the criticism of the digital age, via the fight against "large, unnecessary and imposed projects".

Recent history has often seen art taking up the political issues of its time. But if we can see what an anarchist or communist aesthetic might have produced, it is difficult to say what an anti-industrial art would be. There is, of course, the memorable precedent of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts, and the temptation would obviously be to return to tools and materials from the "eotechnical" world: wood, stone, linseed oil, Indian ink, etc., and with them all those gestures enshrined in tradition, which the plastic arts have inherited from the crafts. Gillian Brett, whose work is driven by a radical defiance of technology and who is familiar with anti-industrial currents, has not chosen this path. She prefers not to look away from the on-going disaster, and to look the machine squarely in the face.

As she herself tells it, the singular turn of her practice was born at Goldsmiths, when she discovered that this prestigious institution, which prides itself on its avant-garde ecological positions, sends its computer equipment to the scrap heap every 18 months. From these graveyards of microprocessors, screens and keyboards, destined to endlessly pollute some desolate region of Africa or Asia, she has drawn the material for her art. The "plastiglomerate" is her medium. Everything that is going to perish and harm away from sight must be brought back before the eyes of the spectator, underlining its monstrosity and absurdity. Contemplating her Bionic Leaves, an allusion to the artificial silicon leaves designed in the laboratory to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis, and Phusis, Hubris, Debris, a lake of liquid crystals in which metallic fragments are floating, one is reminded of the analyses of the Marxist theorist Amadeo Bordiga at the end of his life: it is indeed the mineralisation of nature that we are witnessing under the reign of advanced capitalism.

Gillian Brett also takes a disenchanted and sarcastic look at junk food, defrosted kebabs and hormone-fuelled chicken, the enchanting flip side of which is so-called smart food, meal replacements in the form of pills or powders that are supposed to provide the body with all the nutrients it needs in one go. Here, too, she exposes for all to see what these chimeras marketed by the food industry are really made of: the real basis of their production are these glazed electronic components, captured in the icy amber of synthetic resin, like the insects whose delights the same industry promises to soon make us taste.

Gillian Brett's work, however, is free of the fatalism that marks most contemporary art productions focused on the notion of the Anthropocene. In the same way that some twentieth-century art tried to rescue objects from their fate as commodities in order to restore them to the dignity of things (in the words of Günther Anders in Homeless Sculpture), she rescues the substances imprisoned in the machine gangue from their fate as toxic filth, in order to bring them back to their origin, to restore their intrinsic beauty. Her Witnesses already showed this a few years ago: operating a kind of palingenesis of the material, behind the cables, printed circuits and other motherboards, Gillian Brett finds gold, silver and copper in their virginal purity.

In doing so, she goes against the logic of the ready-made that has become established in contemporary art. The imperative need she feels to make her works herself is destined to shatter the integrity of the industrial product she finds before her. It re-establishes the hand in its artistic prerogatives, both destructive and creative, perhaps echoing the gesture of the Luddites of the 19th century, who dismantled machines to defend their freedom.

The resulting works are sometimes double-bottomed, and the naïve viewer can be taken in: see the LCD screens in her After Hubble series. With their abysmal night, pierced by glimmers, their silver glitter, their quartz dust, the image of the cosmos that they deliver seems to correspond to the one given to us by the technology itself, that of the giant telescopes sent into space. But insofar as these screens have been skilfully broken, or even burnt, by the artist, the title of this series can also be understood as a post-Hubble, the announcement of a post-technological era where we could finally, far from the light pollution of the metropolises, and without the mediation of satellites, rediscover the poetry of the starry sky.

Patrick Marcolini
Mars 2022 (translated from french)

The practice of Gillian Brett is dedicated to analysing the delicate and complex relationship between the human being and technology, reflecting specifically on the ways and the processes by which it inevitably shapes and influences the surrounding world. (...)

Considering such issues, Brett's installations are often unusual, absurd and poetic representations of technological and mechanical devices extrapolated from their context. Her works, often ironically imbued by a DIY aesthetic (Do It Yourself), appear to the spectator both as ruins of a future that has yet to come and as scars of an unfinished history.

The artists' works, mainly realized by waste elements derived from technological and electronic devices, tell us how, despite its apparently immaterial nature, the digital and technological disaster remains firmly bonded to the material reality. Through the artistic process of gathering and alteration of such debris, we immediately think about the toxic cities of the recycling system such as Guiyu in China, where motherboards are dismantled and hard disks poison the groundwater, or Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana, the widest electronic dump of Africa where European and American scraps end up.

Following to such a similar dismantling process but with opposite aims, Brett uses materials that she constantly manipulates: at the heart of her practice in fact always lays an authorial intervention by which, from time to time, she breaks, rips, scratches, welds and alters the composition elements until they are often reduced to a mere matter deprived of its previous utility. Thanks to this strategy, the artist not only intervenes on the technological production process and its finalities, but also cleverly reverses the observation perspective by turning, for example, a computer's screen into a pure and simple object perceived for its aesthetical features rather than for its informative qualities. (...)

While inviting the spectators to almost nostalgically observe the lost dreams, the broken promises and the weaknesses of a technology addicted society, at the same time such a route unveils the personal universe of the artist, where the events of our modernity unfold in front of the public within an atmosphere of ironic disenchantment.

Within the installation In Mars we Trust #2, 2018 some lights evoking far galaxies are fixed within the wall. A broken logo appears, decorated as well by small funfairs lights advertising a colonization campaign already failed. Suggesting the American motto "In God We Trust", Brett addresses the contemporary faith in technology and, at the same time, she ironically reflects on the new tendency, popular among the few richest people of the planet, to organize space trips in the spirit of a new exclusive tourism made possible by the ever more developed contemporary technological progress.

In her practice, Brett's reflection on technology is intertwined with a recent meditation about science and contemporary nutrition. In the series Smart food: better for you and the planet, 2018 Brett analyses the current ambiguity between the desire of a healthy and energetic food and the modern conception of the human body, conceived almost as a mere device to be fuelled in the name of productivity which has completely lost the pleasure to eat in advantage of a fake efficiency.

Made out of resin and electronic elements, a kebab of real dimensions and some sausages displayed on LCD screens – trays compose the installation Smart food: better for you and the planet #kebab and Smart food: better for you and the planet #sausages. Inside them, the word Soylent appears as a reference to the company that, in recent years, was the first to put in commerce for a wider public the powder's food additive conceived to save time avoiding the preparation of the traditional meals. The company name is ironically inspired to the sci-fi movie Soylent Green (1973), where a totally overpopulated society feeds itself, without knowing, with food made of humans' corpses.

The artist reflects thus on the new food's typologies by analysing the so called smart food - a way to eat which was once used by athletes who assumed calories and vitamins through chemically originated products only - and puts it in confrontation with a new form of fast food today accessible to all, in which technology and science are combined together with the purpose to increase human performance within the global production system.

The components used for Smart food: better for you and the planet, 2018 comes in turn from the debris resulted from a previous work, Witnesses, 2016. (...) The unusual rocks that compose it refer to another present work, Untitled, 2015-2018, which is realised by some disused but still functioning LCD screens that the artist started to collect while studying in London and later manually altered.

If the screens are still able to show images and keep their production and functioning invisible, the sculptures in Witnesses reverse the process and show what is hidden, revealing the elements inside the screens (printed circuits, polarizing films, liquid crystals etc.) and their raw origins (precious metals and chemical industry production line). The work is thus both a tangible proof and a demonstration of the reality hidden behind one of the technological industry's most recent products. With her intervention, which allows us to see similar devices devoid of their functions, the artist is asking us to question the overwhelming role that machines have assumed in contemporary society.

Chiara Nuzzi
march 2019

In 2013, in Vienna, Austria, she became interested in machines and their relationship with man. From her nocturnal strolls in the Prater, between disused attractions and an empty Ferris Wheel, she draws a critique of our relationship to Technique. There is a fine line between fairground machines and those which, in all seriousness, "build" a little more inhuman a world every day: identical in their materials and design, only their aesthetics and their uses differ. Reducing them to their common denominator, she questions the place they take and the place they leave us. Thus, through the use of toys that she mixes with "serious" objects collected on construction sites, she reflects on the role that play, and entertainment in general, occupy in the familiarization and acceptance of the machines that surround us.

She is then confronted, in London, with post-humanist and trans-humanist ideologies, cyborg manifestos, which promise a better world where machines would lead the human being towards bright tomorrows. She takes the opposite tack from accelerationists who advocate the "acceleration of the process of technological evolution" to free humanity from work through the empowerment of machines or the development of Artificial Intelligence aimed at "solving intelligence to make the world a better place" (GoogleDeepMind). She takes a strong rejection for these new millenarian doctrines and seeks to disenchant this vision. By resorting to the processes of satire, she derides this craze for algorithmic life by abusing technological devices, reducing them to simple aesthetic objects, defused and deprived of function.

Contrary to the contemporary mode of production which produces machines with the help of other machines, she gleans objects of all kinds and creates non-machines. In the manner of a haruspex, she uses her imagination to scan the bowels of these modern mechanisms and shows, if not a possibility of reversal, something like a pause, a slowing of the process. This method is not an unnecessary detour but a consequent response to the (non)-donation mode of the phenomenon of modern technology. It is a mediation that must enable us to decipher a reality that is no longer immediately decipherable.

"The sculptor is the isolating artist"1. Gillian Brett extracts machines from the machines' universe, from this world in which machines live (and not humans anymore). What she gleans here and there during her urban walks, from a joke shop to a waste disposal, is combined and transformed in her studio into technological devices whose main characteristic is their uselessness. Her sculptures are offbeat and absurd representations of machines out of their context. This extraction gives them an uncanny look, somehow echoing the feelings she had while strolling by night in a deserted Wiener Prater.

Therefore the combine harvester, giant and efficient agricultural machine, becomes a funfair one, an old exercise machine serving as a ridiculous hold for coloured fairground lanterns and a cutter bar with ersatz of knives (Moissonneuse-foireuse, 2014), while a harmless claw crane machine takes gigantic proportions (UFO catcher, 2015). Although usually a player tries to carefully pick up the coveted item, there the claw is moving on its own, as if driven by a blind and random urge. It sometimes grips a balloon which then pops, condemning it to carry on its erratic wandering.

Construction props on which multi-coloured buoys are attached, some glittery, some covered in confetti, some others with bright pink feathers, Plexiglas, or plastic wings, evoke greasy poles or civil defence sirens (Songe d'une nuit d'étais, 2015).

Along the same lines of hijacking things so mundane that we don't pay attention to them anymore, Je-suis-plus-Interstellar-que-Marcel-Duchamp (2015) combines an office chair with mirrors to create some kind of personal house of mirrors in which one is locked with one's own image reflected from every angles and multiplied. .

"Art serves to rinse out our eyes"2. By giving us to see machines devoid of function Gillian Brett invites us, through childish way of looking, satire, and derision leading to demystification, to question the overwhelming role they have taken in this world. Rather than the rush forward chosen by posthumanists who project themselves in a brave new world in which technology would have erased humankind's "flaws" to free it from its mortal condition, she decided not to respect machines and to ridicule them. To look at them as serious toys for grown-up children who forgot that they once were children. Maybe in order to help us fight against our Promethean shame, this "shame of not being a thing", this "shame who takes hold of men in front of the humiliating quality of things he himself has made"3.

Julien Garcia
october 2015

1 Günther Anders, « Homeless sculpture », in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol.5, No.2, (Dec., 1944), p. 294
2 Karl Kraus, Dicta and Contradicta, Translated from the German by Jonathan McVity, 2001
3 Günther Anders, L'obsolescence de l'Homme. Sur l'âme à l'époque de la deuxième révolution industrielle, Encyclopédie des nuisances/Ivréa, Paris, 2002, pp. 45 et 37

In Gillan Brett' sculptures and installations, there is sometimes only one step between Luna Park and Interstellar. Funfair meets science fiction through things-hybridisation, spangled or acidulous lights compositions. Contained in aquariums or unfolding in videos installations, her formal tales invite the viewer to ambiguous experiences. Therefore a supersized claw crane machine tries in vain to pick up balloons or an office chair takes the shape of a gravitational waves centrifuge.

At first glance, Songe d'une nuit d'étais (2015) evokes a tree from the palm family, a long stem topped by a tree crown. Looking closely, the palms are buoys turned into rockets or other funfair items that could very well be small carriages of an amusement park ride.

Moissonneuse-foireuse (2014-2015) is the crossbred of an exercise machine and an agricultural one. Its bubble-gum-coloured coating and its fairground lanterns lining neutralize the potential danger of the device. Gillian Brett's extra-terrestrial rocks samples collection makes up a joyful group in which would be gathered the planets of a still unknown planetary system..

Benjamin Laugier
june 2015