The Mecane Seizes (a paramorphic event)

[Paramorphism is the property of changing from one mineral species to another by a change in internal structure and physical characteristics but not in chemical composition. This idea of structural rearrangement might be useful in understanding anthropomorphism. Rather than seeing anthropomorphism as a purely ascriptive process it can be understood as part of the constant restructuring of connections between humans and machines.]

imageBlondin’s Apparatus, 2016 is a film made from documentary footage of an installation which explored the experience of high wire walking. The installation contained two machines. One made from meccano and broken furniture tracked a video projection of a tightrope walker along the gallery wall. A second machine presented a live image of a piece of thread stretching into the distance, swaying gently in response to movement in the gallery space. The installation presented a sort of mundane peril as the momentary jumps and seizes in the mechanism threatened to bring the illusion to a halt.

What happens if the mecane breaks down? – What happens to the Deus ex Machina machine-human-god-becoming then? Many different things, “breakdown” is not one sealed (blackboxed) event. Once opened up breakdown reveals a huge range of specific and unique machinic communications. Being more specific then, what happens if the the machine-human-God-becoming seizes in its winch mechanism at the base of the mecane? (X marks the spot).


In a machine, a seize is a form of stoppage due to its parts jamming. The symptoms can include: sound, heat, smell, cessation and sluggish or sporadic movement. These symptoms occur when the forces in the machine, rather than being transferred by linkage from power source to output are turned in on themselves. The causes of machine seize can often be traced to a misalignment of parts due to wear or deformation. This misalignment is usually caused by friction, heat and lack of lubrication which are, in turn, often the results of the machine’s normal function.

The mecane seizes
The actor is left swinging in space. He stops his soliloquy and cries out. No doubt, as the actor is playing a god, he is imparting some vital information to the hero of the play. The audience exclaims and falls silent, the rope creaks and new sounds of activity emerge from backstage as the stage crew try to free the mechanism. The play stops, the actor stops, the god disappears. There is certainly stoppage here, but more than this there is a paramorphic change. The components of the machine-human-god-becoming are the same, but their relationship has been altered by the seize. A new body is formed. This reconfigured body causes stresses for the audience, the theatre company, the narrative. There is a breakdown of the anthropomorphic image. The god-human-machine becomes an imperiled actor, a jammed machine and a ruined play. The mecane’s own inertia and creaks become part of the experience of the change in status of the machine–human-god. In this way the language of the play (the linguistic turn) is displaced by a language of mechanical forces, and action


Returning to Face Puppetry, is it presenting a Deus ex Machina with a seized mechanism? The film presents the rehabilitation of seized unconscious locomotion. By performing an imaginary mecane there is an attempt to bypass a neural seize and reconstitute the subject’s original form.

Inspace, 2016, digital video, 5’14”

Inspace is a provisional title for one of two new films intended as part of an evolving multiscreen installation. They were made between my studio and the FACT lab space in Liverpool. The making of Inspace was a particularly unusual experience as it was put together in the dark and silence enclosed in a locked space within the Kurokawa installation at FACT. Kurokawa had made a series of works responding to data relating to the birth and death of stars. The soundscape of Inspace is largely formed by Kurokawa’ soundtrack for his piece Constrained Surface. To avoid disturbing visitors to the exhibition my own piece had to be made in almost total silence with any noise restricted to the more cacophonic moments of Kurokawa’s piece. I felt like a bank robber blasting a safe in time with the roar of a football crowd.

Inspace was filmed on multiple devices including low resolution digital cameras, and an iphone. The cameras were left running throughout filming and were pushed about in much the same way as the simple machines. The qualities of the filmed image are in part a product of the low frame rate and ‘poor’ exposure control of these cameras. In a continuing break from earlier work the hand has become a  prominent feature of these new films. It is more than an activator in the filming process. There is also a quality of close magic in the film with some of the passages appearing to deal with the creation of illusory imagery. However unlike the magic trick the film lacks a sense of narrative or closure.


Moments of breakdown in the film have largely shifted to the camera and include :

Shake and haphazard angles – the product of working closely and filming and making simultaneously.

Low frame rate causing a form of fluid distortion to fast moving objects.

Poor focus and exposure control leading to sudden shifts and breaks in the image.

Horizontal scan lines as the camera fails to keep up with the speed of movement.