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WORK OF THE WEEK | 12 November 2018

CAG.902 Alicia Boyle, Machines of Learning, 1938, oil on board, 91.4 x 122 cm. Purchased, the Artist, 1988. © the artist’s estate.

“Four legs good, two legs bad.”

Although painted some years before the publication of Animal Farm (1945), there is an Orwellian quality to this WORK OF THE WEEK, a surreal allegory of interwar society.

Machines of Learning (1938) by Alicia Boyle (1908-1997) features three structures around its periphery, perhaps symbolic of the three estates (clergy, nobility, commoners), which on closer inspection prove to be meat mincers! These ‘machines of learning’ condition and transform individuals, churn out uniform pigs, and feed higher powers in a factory process, exemplified by the imposing central structure.

The artist’s use of pigs may suggest people's obliviousness to danger at a time when the world was, once again, on the cusp of a catastrophic war. This is signalled to the viewer through the dark smoke, airborne biplanes, and demonic Luxury Cinema on the left. Above this are repeated the sinister words 'Escape Me Never', derived from the play (1934) by Margaret Kennedy and film (1935) of the same name. As such, the painting embodies the idiom ‘like pigs to the slaughter’ in its image of these figures obediently moving en masse. There is hope, however, as some people have not fully transformed, and some pigs attempt escape!

Tune in to The Arts House with Elmarie Mawe on Cork’s 96FM and C103FM every Sunday morning as Conor Tallon chats with assistant curator Michael Waldron about each WORK OF THE WEEK! Listen back to this week's chat here: 

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