FORM AND FUNCTION

Irish-born sculptor and painter Michael Craig-Martin has created a colourful document of our times
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When Michael Craig-Martin began making prints of objects in the 1970s, he thought he was creating an encyclopaedia that would define the way we lived for centuries. The fast pace of technological progress, and the resulting obsolescence of many of the objects he documented took him by surprise. “I realise now that the things I was drawing before were objects that had been designed or invented in a period where form followed function. Things looked like what they did. Take the telephone. It was obvious what it was used for – there was a handle with a part you spoke into and a part you listened to. You could understand how it worked. Nowadays a mobile phone can be anything: it can tell the time, it can take a photograph, you can surf the internet on it. The one thing that it gives you no indication of is where you speak and where you listen. The main functions are not expressed in the object. This is a very big change in the way we think about objects in the world.”

His latest exhibition at the Alan Cristea gallery continues the project he started almost 40 years ago. Prints of a ring, a milk carton and a stiletto sit alongside some of the digital age’s most recognisable artefacts, including headphones, a USB stick and a colourful set of recycling bins. “When I first started drawing, things like tables, chairs and shoes were the things that constituted the ordinary world of objects. Now it’s iPhones, laptops and memory sticks. These very different kinds of objects are everywhere. Everyone knows what they are... they’re instantly recognisable.”

How has the changing nature of the objects we use affected our psychology? “Nobody can remember how we functioned without computers. Objects have become more concerned with communication than with physical usage. We’re talking less about hammers and screwdrivers and more about information and communicating with each other. You could call it a shift from the industrial age to the information age.”

Michael Craig-Martin: Objects of our Time opens 28 March at the Alan Cristea Gallery