Boris Artzybasheff’s anthropomorphic illustrations are surreal and often bordering on the grotesque. But as I look at them I can’t help but think that they’re more accurate representations of contemporary reality than what most of us perceive as reality.
Modern citizens have become so alienated that we aren’t even aware of the degree to which we’ve become alienated. Many of Artzybasheff’s illustrations are weapons systems, like tanks and planes and artillery pieces, with human features. And actually this isn’t too far fetched, because modern warfare essentially turns soldiers—and the citizens who send them into battle and support the war effort—into killing machines. Equally, our economic systems, in a very real sense, turns us into machines. We all know what it’s like to feel like a hamster on a wheel that’s spinning faster than we can keep up. The demands of work and commuting often don’t take into account whether our duties are humanly possible. The demands of economic competition force us to become virtual machines in service of the greater economy.
In Japan, for example, the demands of education and the workplace have almost eliminated any semblance of a private life. But this is becoming true of all developed economies; and it’s even more true of third world economies, where companies exist that are essentially a new form of slave labor. And the forces that drive us all are essentially impersonal; they pertain to profits and the bottom line. We all serve the numbers on bank ledgers! America is competing with Germany, Japan, and now China and India; and they’re competing with us. But we’re all actually competing with a single force: “efficiency.” And efficiency is a relentless master—a master that no single nation can gurantee it will always be able to satisfy. Any nation can fall out of favor with the grand master known as efficiency. Aand Artzybasheff’s illustrations of humanoid industrial machines are a vivid representation of that reality as well.
So I submit that his illustrations show the true reality stripped of all pretense. They’re more than symbolic and metaphorical: they remove the veil from our eyes and allow us to see things as they actually are! In fact we’re more like Artzybasheff’s machine-
It’s too bad that Artzybasheff isn’t still around. We could really use him to help us see the realies that we’ve taken so much for granted for so long that they’ve become invisible to us.