Machine Number 2 has finally expired only hours before its exhibition was due to come to an end. In terms of exhibiting something that is intended to break down this can be seen as something of a success. The news of its collapse came in an email from Matt Burrows:
“I am happy to report that Machine no.2 performed admirably, coincidentally only giving up the ghost just last Friday – the penultimate day of the show – when a paperclip (I think?) gave up and the wiper collapsed over sideways.
It generated a pleasing little pile of MDF/cardboard dust as it slowly ground away, and an ongoing collection of greasy fingerprints at the point where it tapped the glass, but otherwise was remarkably resilient.”
In the end it seems that the machine started to grind itself into its most basic of materials, dust and grease.
Machine number 8, pictured above, can be seen in action in the Instagram feed on this blog.
It has taken the form of a plain cardboard box which houses sensors and motors which effect a rather elegant dance whenever a change in light is detected. At the moment this is usually a passing human but I intend to make more of these machines that will, in various ways, activate each other.
In The Reproductive System, 1968, John Sladek presents a farcical machine of a novel made up of a huge array of parts, both human and machine, which grind together as they head towards mutual destruction. The eponymous protagonist is an endlessly replicating artificial intelligence made up of varying sized metal boxes. Each box deploys tools and sensors from its otherwise inscrutable body as need arises.
It was chaos in FactLab yesterday. It felt like there were 40 school kids and attendant staff running a workshop in the main space (there may have been only 30). The lab itself was full of bags and coats and sandwiches in tupperware. The invasion of personal and mental space had some effect on the way Machine 7 was put together. The original idea was to drill a hole in the a glass dome and to make a machine that drew in thread until it jammed. Aware of the need not to interrupt the workshop with unnecessary noise, I drilled a little hastily and, applying too much pressure, cracked the dome. Any attempt to continue the process merely elongated the crack a little further. I put the dome to one side and began to work on a piece in which a camera repeatedly headbutted a pingpong ball. It was soon clear that:
a. This would not work at all.
b. It was more connected to my mental state than the project in hand.
I am already struggling to keep on track and I am easily distracted from my mission to make machines that break down. Infact, as far as I know, Machine 2 is still functioning perfectly, it has failed to fail. With this in mind I decided to make a second version of Machine 2, Machine 7. Pictured below Machine 7 uses a toy mechanism to repeatedly tap a camera on the glass of an enclosing dome (see above for genesis of said dome). As the film on the left demonstrates, by chance the pinhole lens of the camera lines up perfectly with my abortive drill hole. The machine is powered through a transformer turned so low that it is held on the point of non-function. It hovers at the point of breakdown much like Rossetti’s, Beata Beatrix, 1864. I am not sure if this a solution to the idea of presenting breakdown over time, but I shall explore further.
Just the facts. Machine 4 consists of a single servo with a polystyrene sphere mounted on it. The servo is connected to a sensor which detects nearby movement and responds to it. The sensor is in fact a long piece of dowel clamped onto a volume controller. Passers-by bump into it. The film is made in FACTLab. At first the camera mounted inside the sphere was somewhat underpowered and could only record a grey, blurred world.
Machine 6 is one of four video pieces made at FACTLab in the last week. It features, and is made by, a simple robot which spins itself until it can do no more. Its breakdown is usually caused by entanglement with the wire from which it hangs, battery failure or impact trauma. Its construction is vary basic as its parts are held together by surgical tape.
The parts include: 2x9v Batteries, a CMOS Mini wireless camera, a small motor and electrical wire (blue). The film is made using two mini dv video cameras and a wireless receiver. In a departure from my usual practice I have left myself in the video (I usually delete myself). This seems to highlight my relationship with the machine, I find it interesting to see myself crouching and touching as we work together.
Another association that immediately sprang to mind as I was editing the video was its similarity to a passage in Powell and Pressburger’s Red Shoes, 1948. As the dancer spins we are given a shot of her viewpoint, the theatre lights. Martin Scorsese uses the same shot in Raging Bull, 1980. In both cases it is a moment in which we are placed in the bodies of the otherwise superhuman, it is a disturbing and exhilarating experience.
The lab at FACT is now open until August with a busy program of workshops and residencies. I am hoping to use it regularly to make a series of machines. The lab is laid out like an electronics workshop, or at least how I imagine an electronics workshop to be. For me it is an unusual environment which delivers a number of jolts to my system. The first shock is that I am able to find tools instantly without the usual rummaging in boxes. The second shock is that they work. Thirdly its other inhabitants have a knowledge of electronics and programming throws my productions into interesting relief. Physically it is also quite a different environment to the usual spaces in which I work. In the past these have been much more obviously loaded with history. Mostly artist run spaces they have been sited in disused buildings which have included: deconsecrated churches, victorian textile mills converted into multiuse creative spaces, galleries in railway sidings, factory buildings, a costume museum sited in an abandoned medieval house. Here Fact lab is located into Gallery 2′ a space for showing digital media. The room is divided by temporary walls of scaffold and grey fiberboard. Tools are neatly set out and I find myself working on the purpose built benches rather than the floor. The lab is open to the public who appear a little challenged by the idea that they are encountering art in progress rather than finished artworks. I spend a lot of time explaining myself and demonstrating.
The table-top machine above is the first that is influenced by my surroundings. It uses a single servo and a dowel enhanced lever to move a polystyrene sphere. The servo occasionally shorts causing it to twitch spasmodically. Below is Machine 3 . This consists of a camera and projector mounted on a motorised scrubbing brush. The machine travels around the room projecting what it sees. It tends to end up running in circles seeing and projecting in an almost closed loop.
Work from my Automatic Filmmaking project, was selected for issue 4 of Critical Contemporary Culture. This work forms the basis of the practice component of my research at MIRIAD. I was also invited to take part in a panel discussion with other contributors: Shen Xin, Laura Eldred and Ximena Galdames. The event was chaired by Dr Helen Kim.
I based my presentation on a discussion of the playground as a site for human/nonhuman intra-action and the abrogation of responsibility.
Machine 2 was conceived through a number of rough sketches made in blue fountain pen. The drawings represented an idea of a machine rather than a plan for its construction. The machine itself was made in my attic studio from a variety of materials, some recycled. The process used for making this machine is similar to that used previously. It is more akin to dry stone walling than engineering.
A glossary of materials
Found in the gutter, the windscreen wiper represents an upgrade from the original wooden arm. Having pre-drilled holes it was much easier to dismantle for transport to Exeter.
I had broken my toe only a few weeks earlier and this leftover padded tape was lying around my studio.
Clip on bells
These were dug up from the garden, although a little rusty they still jingled. I attached them to the machine in order to weight the bottom of the arm. The bells improved the swing and made the camera tap on the glass a little more insistently.
This tape has “fragile” printed on it. It is usually used for wrapping sculptures. It was within reach at a vital moment.
Shipped from Hong Kong this is a simple digital camera (find out more), it is tapped against the glass once every 20 seconds. The image it produces is soft and tinged with green. As it repeated hits the glass there are small interferences in the image it transmits to the screen hung on the wall behind it. This image is upside down and as the camera moves it swings in and out of focus. Opposite are a pair of glass automatic doors which open for people to enter the gallery.
Crudely formed with a coping saw to form a base and a cam. The cam is not smoothly cut leading to a juddering motion. There is nothing true about the construction, joints are loose leading to a great deal of play in the workings. This makes the movement of the camera extremely eccentric, tentative even.
Broken down from a piece of bedroom furniture. The legs can be unscrewed for transport.
This is used as a linkage for the cam. It is secured with a screw which occasionally slips out. This is the most common breakdown of the machine. The result of this breakdown is that the camera stops tapping on the glass and twitches.
This is a mirror ball motor, it turns at a rate of one revolution every twenty seconds. If over stressed it will grind and can reverse direction. Over time the plastic cogs will lose their teeth, the motor will skip and eventually lose all motion besides a slight judder.
Machine 2 , 2015, Windscreen wiper, surgical tape, bells from the garden, packing tape, camera, wood, dansette legs, cotton reel, motor.
Machine 2 is the second in a series of video sculptures investigating anthropomorphism and breakdown. Sealed in Gallery 333, the machine will tap on the glass and observe passers by. Eventually it will cease to function, at which point a documentary of its short life will be screened in the gallery.
The machine taps on the window of a small vitrine in Exeter’s Phoenix arts centre. Closer examination reveals that it is tapping with a small camera mounted on a windscreen wiper. We can see what it sees on a small television screen. The mechanism of the machine is imprecise, it’s movements are far from fluid, it catches and judders, it’s materials, not really fit for purpose, strain and contort.
The camera is a machine too.
There is an interesting scene in Verhoeven’s ‘Robocop’, 1987, before the cyborg is fully activated. In the beginning Robocop is turned on and off by his makers, we get glimpses of vision in the form of a fixed screen overlaid with interference and heads up display. At one point he is activated during a Christmas party and a scientist kisses his screen leaving a lipstick print. The print sits on the outside marking a separation between the internal world of Robocop’s mind and that of humanity.
In ‘Machine2’ just like ‘Robocop’ we see what the machine sees. But there is a sense of dislocation, not least because like the human eye the camera relays an inverted image. Deleuze in ‘Proust and Signs’ uses the imagery of love to Expand upon this idea.
“It is also why the loved women are often linked to landscapes which we know sufficiently to long for their reflection in a woman’s eyes, but which are then reflected from a viewpoint so mysterious that they become virtually inaccessible, unknown landscapes.” (Deleuze, 1973, p7-8)
“How can we gain access to a landscape which is no longer the one we see, but on the contrary the one in which we are seen”.