I recently visited the Tate Modern museum while in London and wandered deep into the Futurism exhibit. I strongly recommend you check it out, especially if you are a fan of Battlestar Galactica or Star Wars. There’s a wild and ominous sculpture from 1913-4 created by Sir Jacob Epstein using a rock drill. It was meant to invoke a robust, sentient “man-robot” from the future — and certainly it could be interpreted as a premonition of how our obsession with and reliance on technology could strip us of our souls — but following the carnage he saw from World War I, the artist later cut the figure down from full-length to bust size, neutering its potential power.
I wonder if new BSG/Cylon designer Eric Chu saw this, or if the producers and designers of the original series ever found inspiration in it? Imagine Sir Jacob’s piece with a shorter neck, then compare it with the image of the BSG baddie below. The first thing I thought when I gazed upon this work was, “Cylon!” But then other people alerted me to the fact that this sculpture also mirrors and predates certain Star Wars battle droids, and then I thought, “General Grievous!” Seems like George Lucas and his people may also been impressed by this piece of art. (See the bottom photo, then compare to an image of the original, full body sculpture found here.)
Of his sculpture, entitled Torso in Metal from ‘The Rock Drill’, Sir Jacob once wrote: “It was in the experimental pre-war days of 1913 that I was fired to do the rock-drill, and my ardour for machinery (short-lived) expended itself upon the purchase of an actual drill…and upon this I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menaning, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconsed. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein’s monster we have made ourselves into…Later I lost my interest in machinery and discarded the drill. I cast in metal only the upper part of the figure.”
Let’s hope that when we get to the point of contemplating the designs for our own Cylons or battle droids that we take Sir Jacob’s regression one step further and destroy the mold altogether. If there’s anything sci-fi fans should have learned by now, it’s that certain machines are untrustworthy and even dangerous to our humanity, no matter how sleek or cool they look.