‘”We shall build a tower that will reach to the stars!” Having conceived Babel, yet unable to build it themselves, they had thousands to build it for them. But those who toiled knew nothing of the dreams of those who planned. And the minds that planned the Tower of Babel cared nothing for the workers who built it. The hymns of praise of the few became the curses of the many – BABEL! BABEL! BABEL!… –Maria ‘speaking’ in the silent film ‘Metropolis’ (Fritz Lang, 1927)
The stage is the ‘set’ from Velasquez’s mid-17th cent. painting originally called ‘The Myth of Arachne’ where there are three separate yet linked worlds. In the foreground world, there are 5 working class women and in the middle world behind them, there are 2 leisure class women while in the third world, the tapestry beyond them, the eponymous myth plays out.
This drawing turns the working women into working men, the women’s workshop into a men’s assembly line. One of the baroque celebutantes is now a male manager who no longer contemplates a myth in art, but greedily stares at, clutches one of his mass-produced cycladic-like idols. The other ‘lady’ has become another product/possession, she’s his ‘eye doll,’ his mistress, who has the same proportions and pose as the product.
Please don’t take me for a sexist, I know women workers are as oppressed as men. Double click this small drawing to see the womanly variation same size as the men’s. The guy version was the first drawn, only when it was almost finished did I think I should make a female one, sorry about that.
So what’s different about the second one? The manager is now a woman and the mistress has become a boy-toy, assistant, whatever. The figurines are male of a sort never found in the Cyclades. The women workers are aging better than the men too.
2. AGES OF ‘MAN’
Look at the three male wage slaves. rightmost we have 20-something dude. He’s strong and happy. Why shouldn’t he be? He still gets to draw. The middle aged man in the center, bald and pot-bellied, he works a skilled but artless trade. The old man on the left just cleans the things up, a monkey could do his job.
The youngest of the trio seamlessly mixes art, work and social worlds; he’s got a smart phone and a glass of wine and/or paint. The middle guy’s glass has been emptied and spilled, his existence is work, work, work. He’s got no life, and no art, still he keeps busy. He has to. The old man is tired and wounded, having stepped on the now broken glass; he sees art –not that it’s his art or art at all any more– slipping out of his reach.
The women workers do age but the are not as ‘decline and fall’ as the men. All three ages remain attractive and content. The youngest is young and strong like her male counterpart; she too has a smart phone and she effortlessly mixes art, work and life. Ms. Middle Age appears to still see some art in her craft. And even the most mature of the trio, unlike her geezer counterpart, seems almost happy that the work–artless now that it is– is slipping away. Her gesture is less a weary polish and more a wave good bye.
In the Velasquez, the three world all connected. the physical tapestry made by hand is one and the same with the myth made by mind, The painting has more recently been called ‘Las Hilanderas’ or ‘The Spinners.’ This double titling confirms the connection by naming it after both the background and the foreground. And the scene in the middle also serves to connect as one of the pair of ladies looks back at the tapestry and the other looks out at the spinners. And a spinner returns the gaze.
In my drawings there is no such connection. the foreground and the background are quite separate. The originals steps between palace and shop were brightly lit and there is a musician, a craftsperson but in the palace, as another link. In mine the empty steps between management and worker are a DMZ. No one in the palace looks at the factory no one in the factory looks at the palace
The object loses its art-ness as it proceeds on the assembly line. It declines from a inspired drawing to a careless carving to a mass-produced thing. As opposed to tapestry making which become more art-like in each step of its production. By the time the ‘eye doll’ gets to the palace, it is mere product, a symbol, absolutely equivalent to cash, absolutely artless. The Spanish lady looks at the tapestry as art, but the American managers look the idol as profit.
‘… Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.’ — Maria Metropolis, again.