“Every line used to cost something,” my professor sighed over the yield of an undergrad rendering course. This was around the start of the period covered by “Hand and Machine”: from the 2008 financial crisis to the Covid 19-pandemic. Disillusioned by techno-optimism and blaring architectural icons, architects—the exhibition asserts—longed for craft and community.
The diagnosed shift is presented through drawings of various media. Most rest flat on scavenged furniture spread across a vast museum hall. Delicate color studies neighbor a playful animation suspended by a hydraulic lift; a sober line drawing in a display case flanks a political zine on a ping pong table. Digital brushstrokes and grainy filters lend an aura of hand-made authenticity. Or is it a note of nostalgia? Aided by social media, some drawings have reached global grad school fame far beyond their built siblings (if they exist). It is a treat to see them bound by materiality and scale, standing still in a hyper-visual age where images live and die at unparalleled speed. The floor is carpeted by blown-up photos of local firms—a tea cup balancing on a stack of books, a colossal hand poising a pen for stroke. The bustling totality implies process, a moment of transition, a movement coming into being.
But what makes a movement? Critical issues in contemporary praxis—domain, dependency, and agency—are ghostly presences, like the discrepancies between representation and referent; between intent and conditioning factors. A drawing’s exclusions say as much as its inclusions. The most thought-provoking pieces interrogate labor or the discipline’s complicity in the neoliberal sterilization of urban space. Image-making is increasingly outsourced to low-wage workers, humans or robots. Yet most exhibitors lay between boutique office and recent-graduates-turned-collective. Looking behind (and beyond) the drawing could uncover where the hand goes when the machine writes poetry and paints utopias.
Hand and Machine. Architectural Drawings, The National Museum, Oslo
curated by Joakim Skajaa