Page 1

The Imaginary Machine

Lynda Gammon Tyler Hodgins John Luna Neil McClelland Xane St Phillip Robert Youds Slide Room Gallery


SLIDE ROOM GALLERY

November 4–28, 2016

The Imaginary Machine

Lynda Gammon Tyler Hodgins John Luna Neil McClelland Xane St Phillip Robert Youds

Cover image: Robert Youds


John Luna, Something to do with the steady mechanism of effort & medicines, 2011-2016 Oil, acrylic, mixed materials, objects, papier-machĂŠ


Notes for a future lecture on Imaginary Machines Essay by John Luna An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. H.G. Wells, The Time Machine Art is a mixture between concept and discipline Hanne Darboven I want to be a machine Andy Warhol

Please note: The numbers and titles in the following essay refer to the numbers in Marcel Duchamp’s Key to the Large Glass (see image below). To read details of key below: http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/54149.html#

Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-23 [annotated drawing from The Green Box, 1934]


Introduction: Time Travel and The Large Glass Taking the words “imaginary” and “machine” at face value, considering various relationships, consider machines of the imagination, or imagination itself (as invention, speculation, fantasy, sympathy or projection) as machine. The prototypical modern model of imaginary machine (or imagination as machine, depending how you read) might be the eponymous device described by H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, transporting our protagonist through time while catalyzing all the faculties of his intellectual and moral imagination. Before Wells, time travel had not been associated with machines; personal reverie or ancestral connection serviced a sense of the remote past, a model that would be explored in these respective variations by Proust or Pound, both of whom, rather than sitting on Wells’ bicycle-like apparatus, (1) straddled literature. Meanwhile, systems of religion furnished the future in utopian scheme, visionary projection or apocalyptic prophecy. The Time Machine is a little of all of these; a blur of hidden mechanics and immeasurable distance. Wells’ narrative entails some sleight of hand: the machine is never explained, only theorized around, seated in a vortex of fragmented perspectives. This combination of skewed views and schematic fragments, with its archaic moralizing and cruel ironies, reminds me of another early modern machine-that-never-was, Marcel Duchamp’s design known as The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (191523.) Duchamp’s work, as illustrated in his diagram (previous page), is a schematic drawing in lead foil on plate glass. It portrays a dysfunctional social order: nine “Malic Moulds” outfitted in the uniforms of French gender-types cycle in their desire for a mantis-like “Bride”. Their fervor powers a drum-like mechanism (“the Chocolate Grinder”), producing essences, which, collected and refined, float upward to fill the cloudlike spaces at the top of the frame. Only when the squares are filled will the bride condescend. But is this even possible given the horizon that segregates “Bride” from “Bachelors,” or is the entire enterprise futile? A farce on industrialized Catholic France, its one forbidden liberation being, as Robert Hughes has suggested, (2) masturbation?


Certainly Duchamp seemed interested in observing repressed tensions in his work. Dust Breeding (Duchamp’s Large Glass with Dust Motes) (1920) is a document of The Large Glass after it had collected a year’s worth of dust (its author, Man Ray, was one of Duchamp’s collaborators in New York). Man Ray, Dust Breeding on the Large Glass, Gelatin Silver Print, After the photograph, Duchamp wiped 1920, printed ca. 1967 the surface clean, leaving dust on some areas, which he cemented to the glass. Constructing the piece largely in secret, he famously acknowledged the work finished only when, after an accident in transit, the glass of the lower frame was cracked, its sevenyear development fixed in incident. Time travel is for readers, a fantasy of transparency: an infinite, interactive, reading as rereading, in either direction, mutable as a dream. Art objects are often opaquely simultaneous. A viewer progresses by penetrating or circumnavigating real or illusionistic reaches. Attention becomes a kind of time/space measuring; intimate distances closely observe the flow of varnish, crack of accident or textured dust. And visual symbols, the whisperings of which speak to any and all of these things. Duchamp, in proffering diagrams for navigating the Glass, attempts to wed a model that is not quite an object, with a map that is really a poem. His numbered points (from 1-26) provide the framework for this essay, as well as a thematic allegory for its interpretation. Please note that only some numbers are included, as there is always more to be explored, perhaps on a future trip through the glass.


1.) The Bride (Wasp or Sex Cylinder) Credited to Marcel Duchamp, the Fountain was most likely the work of another: Baroness Elsa von FreytagLoringhoven. This recent revelation (3) brought controversy to the iconic object, among other things, realigning the way we “read” both its inception Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, and Duchamp’s reputation. The Fountain, 1917 narrative, that the Fountain shocked audiences simply by virtue of its being an ordinary, even especially banal, object occupying the place of art, has helped to underwrite a rationale of “art as idea” as an article of faith. Reconsidering the work as the product of a different author rewrites this history forcibly. The Baroness’ scatological humour and outrage are discernable in her pseudonym “R. Mutt”: Armut is German for impoverishment, which may have referenced Freytag-Loringhoven’s inveterate, broke Bohemianism, but also almost certainly registered anger at America’s entry into the First World War against her native Germany. Relate this to God, a piece of plumbing (a grease trap) mounted on a wooden plank and photographed by Morton Schamberg, who, for a time, was also credited as its sole author. FreytagLoringhoven, who used to dress in clothing made of found objects (a soup-can brassiere, dinner forks for earrings), may well have embraced a brand of anarchism that rejected official credential in favour of prizing insider notoriety. Alternately, she may Baroness Elsa Freytag von Loringhoven have been a victim of that system’s (with Morton Schamberg), God, 1918 informal economy, which both extols and exploits the exemplary outlier. Look at Fountain and God side-byside, sympathetically, synthetically, situating Freytag-Loringhoven’s vulgarized semantics within the fetishistic theatrics of Duchamp’s


mechanistic world. The suggestion is of erotic relics, profane parents for an industrial age. The title of Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” might take on earthier connotations: congress, multiplication, Rilke’s fairground attraction of “money’s genitals, nothing concealed” on display, (4) or Ginsberg’s barking lament, “Lacklove…in Moloch!” (5) It’s as if, in the obscenity of God copulating with poverty, a rationale of abjection and refusal, of debasement and desublimation, disrupts with paradoxical alternative time/space the history of artworks as rational actors. (2.) Top Inscription or Milky Way (The cinematic blossoming)/ (3.) Draft Pistons or Nets Hanne Darboven’s work, called by its author simply “writing”, presents numbers as lucid networks, programming, that is, a series of choices from a starting point (the calendar day), compounded numerically and written out in lines of cursive proofs that line the walls of her installations, sometimes surrounding artifacts. The simplicity and transparency of this process belies the hermetic connotations of endless numerical sequences, which suggest Kabbalistic coding. Consider the function of numbers as regulators, Hanne Darboven, Querschnitt 74 from longitudinal navigation to (cross section 74), 1973 the calendar on your screen, to the inevitable moment in any time-travel narrative when numbers in accumulation become fantastically, fatalistically arbitrary. Notoriously, numbers can seem reductive –“I’m not a number –I’m a free man!”(6) but they are also our means of establishing relational points: “I am” here/now/then/when, as immanent figuration, instrumentation of control, “the only thing we have made.”(H.D.)( 7) It is arguably not time that matters in Darboven’s masses of numbers, but labour,


as time-transcending effort whose numeracy is simultaneously a flight from history and a commitment to continuity uniting past and future selves. (8) “Transparence is the highest, most liberating value in art – and in criticism transparence means experiencing the luminousness of the thing in itself, of things being what they are,” writes Zadie Smith, quoting Christian Marclay, The Clock, Single-channel video with sound, Susan Sontag. (9) The subject is Christian Marclay’s work, The Clock, a “super-cut” culled from the trove of cinema referencing metered time, orchestrated to keep pace with real time over a 24 hour span. The urgency of real time calls fact home from fantasy, juxtaposing visions of anticipation and release in a means that exposes our collective time as shared action, fiction as veiled becoming, and the construction of “event” itself as a series of shifting attentions, extensions and reflections. Marclay’s labour is relatable to our own years “working” to discern, refine and reconstitute information – navigation – in the form of entertainment. It’s liberated in elegant catharsis of legible editing: “Marclay has made…a sort of homemade Web engine that collates and cross-references an extraordinary amount of different kinds of information… It’s hard to convey… what Marclay does with data, how luminous he makes it.” (Z.S.) (10) (10.) Juggler of Gravity (also called the Handler or the Tender of Gravity)

Marcel Duchamp, Study for the Body of the Bride, from The Green Box, 1934

The Green Box (1934) is Duchamp’s set of explications, presented in no particular order, for The Large Glass. Each “box” (produced in an edition of 320) contains one color plate, ninety-three notes, and photographs and facsimiles by Duchamp. (11) The haphazard appearance of the box’s contents belies the care Duchamp


apparently took in its creation. (12) Though not a clear theoretical text, the notes do provide a lexical correlative to his artwork’s “mechanomorphic” forms. For instance, Duchamp claims the machines are powered by a mystery substance he calls “Love Gasoline.” Duchamp had long been interested in using a machine metric to represent (parody) equivocations made between vital essences and artistic figments, an alchemical marriage for the age of Freud. (13) He once presented a patron with a glass ampoule containing the trapped gasses of Bohemian Paris (50 C.C.s of Paris Air, 1919.) Should it have mattered when the glass was shattered in 1949, only to be mended and presented, just as before? The volumes produced by “outsider artist” Charles Dellschau chronicle in detail Dellschau’s purported participation in a secret society of scientists and engineers based in Sonora, California, whose work was the design and construction of flying Charles A.A. Dellschau (1830–1923), machines he called Aeros. Dellschau untitled watercolor on paper elaborately illustrated the latter in c. 1898–1900 approx. 8 x 10 inches. watercolor and collage, accompanied by notes, some in an invented, cryptic script, with attention given to a secret gas called “Supe” which gives the airships flight. The books include descriptions of construction and flights of the airships and public sightings; as well, his collages incorporate newspaper clippings (“press blooms”) featuring real aeronautical advances and disasters. Dellschau refers to himself as draftsman rather than pilot; he was upto-date with the latest relevant invention, looking up to aviators like the Wright Brothers. But didn’t they all? (C.f. Delauney, Malevich, Balla...) Dellschau’s drawings are garlanded vortices of insignias and linear devices. Like the zoomorphic illuminations of Hiberno-Saxon manuscripts, or the scroll consumed by Ezekiel at the behest of another flying machine, (14) they represent a fantasy of ideation made animate, the rendering rendered buoyant in space.


(11.) Cemetary of Uniforms (Priest, Delivery Boy, Gendarme, Cuirassier, Policeman, Undertaker, Flunky, Busboy, Stationmaster) An internet search for images of Tatlin’s Tower, never built, yields several doctored photos showing the monument insinuated into contemporary St. Petersburg, grey and pitted skies of Revolutionary Russia, and now London (not doctored; a model). Contrast these with archival images of the twenty-five-foot model of the tower being fabricated, or quaint plan sketches, the slanted dynamism of Tatlin’s design seeming oddly prim, albeit militarily so. Tatlin was reputedly Vladimir Tatlin, Model for Pamiatnik III Internatsionala (Monument to the Third both a marine carpenter and an icon International), 1919. maker. Either may explain his interest in hybrid compositions of metal and wood, or the combination of transcendent and utilitarian objectives that haunt this work. The four-hundred-meter tower was a massively ambitious piece of planning, not just a building, nor a monument to the Revolution, but a machine whose operations would both represent and facilitate state administration. A steel framework would support its enormous weight, affording open views into the glass-walled spaces. These consist of three large geometric shapes, diminishing in size as the tower rises: a rectangle for the great hall where delegates would meet, an inverted pyramid for the executive offices of the new world government, a cylindrical tube and sphere at the top to house communications equipment. The great glass rectangular hall would make a complete revolution once a year. The executive level would rotate once a month, and the upper level once per day; the latter with antennae broadcasting radio waves, and projectors making film screens out of the clouds, a final, dispersed gesture of the dynamism of the collective revolutions’ coursing screw, up from the grass roots, pointing toward the pole star.


(14.) Chocolate Grinder (Louis XV Chassis, Rollers, Necktie, Bayonet, Scissors/ (15.) Region of the Waterfall There is an animated video (15) that attempts to link the varied vistas of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s etching series, The Imaginary Prisons, with a swooping viewpoint that glides across truncated arcades, around the massive mill wheels, rendering the ragged drypoint lines suavely traversable. It’s odd to see the machinery switched on (like a model mill in a miniature museum) albeit with little drama to direct our sense of scale or suspense. In Piranesi’s case, juxtaposition of scale is, in itself, a form of suspense. Aldous Giovanni Battista Piranesi, The Drawbridge, plate 7 from Imaginary Huxley remarked that the figures in Prisons, c. 1761. Etching on paper Piranesi’s veduta of ruins were never the correct size, inappropriately dwarfed in a way that, infamously, throws a shadow of the irrational onto the classical past. (16) This feels intentional in the Prisons, as does Piranesi’s mathematical liberties (his orthogonals don’t add up), as settings for night terrors of Absolutism, or prophetic specters of industrialism, Blake’s “Dark Satanic mills”, modeling architectural drawing on inquisitorial jurisprudence (begin with a skewed premise and work backward to corruption) – why make them? What for? Fifteen years in, emboldened, he reworks the lines. 16. Glider (Water Mill Wheel, Runners sliding in a groove) A shuffle through Leonardo’s flying machine drawings – the glider wings, the diagrams of limbs and vectors, the helicopter’s gyring lines of force – suggests both fundamental impulses to flight and restless invenzione, the latter not without flaw: the lightest materials for the ’copter would have been canvas as the covering for the blades and maybe a pine wood body, together weighing at least a ton. The plans wait for lightweight aluminum, plus engines to exist with a high


power-to-weight ratio, efficient enough to carry very little fuel. He probably knew this, but the need to research was compulsive. Was Leonardo influenced by the pump-screw of Archimedes (another polymath) or the wing nuts of the maple tree? Or the myth of Daedalus – those wings?) Leonardo, flying machine drawings: relatable as the mythical inventor, ca. 1488 – 1493 trapped in the labyrinth of his friend, King Minos, might have mirrored the Machiavellian pressures of the leaders Leonardo worked for (during this period: Sforzas and Borgias)? In the annals of his ideas, file these after geological engineering (land reclamation) but before anatomy’s gravity. In the dusty studio, easy to conjure: wood, weights, wax, cartoons for official commissions that would never be completed. 17. Oculist witnesses (Oculist charts) The last thing our understanding of Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons should be is contingent on coherence. In failing to portray their subject wholly, they instead generate diabolical dynamism of shifting positions, unraveling the individual will that spelled the hallmark of the age. This is illustrated by considering their metaphysical opposite in drawings made some thirty years later: Jeremy Bentham’s “panopticon” prison, a utilitarian vision of rehabilitation through observation. Where Piranesi’s vision is pessimistic unto obscurantism, Bentham’s optimism is conducive to lucid centrality. Critically, both works revolve around notions of prisoners regimented by an absent presence. The Panopticon (meaning “all seeing”) was based on a “central inspection principle,” (17) the prison envisaged as a circle of cells arranged around an inspection tower. From this hub, the prison’s inspector could look into the cells any time, addressing any inmate via complex networks of conversation tubes. Inmates would never see the inspector nor know if he was watching, ideally internalizing a conscience shaped by countenancing omniscient surveillance —


Jeremy Bentham, Plan for the Panopticon, ca. 1791, drawings by Willey Reveley

superstructure as superego. Bentham said that this, …obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example, would ensure: “Morals reformed—health preserved—industry invigorated—instruction diffused—public burdens lightened—economy seated, as it were, upon a rock—the Gordian Knot of the Poor-Laws not cut, but untied—all by a simple idea in Architecture!”

Bentham met with “sinister” resistance from political powers that were. Though panopticon prisons were built, the effusiveness of Bentham’s sublime idea inclines its outcome towards the fantastical. The prisons of Bentham and Piranesi incarcerate (and incarnate) a silhouette figure lathed by mechanistic force, the unseen, “unborn” (18) conscience of an industrial century to come.


24. Boxing Match (first ram, second ram) Billy Kluver, a technician for Bell Laboratories, (19) described Yves Tinguely’s self-destructing machine Hommage to New York: “The piano began playing. Jean had reversed the belt for his big meta-matic painting machine, which was the centerpiece. The painting on the long roll of paper Jean Tinguely, Homage to New York, 1960 was supposed to spill out over the audience. I could very easily have reversed the belt, but he took my arm away and said “Don’t touch, Billy.” He had decided that whatever happened should happen. Some time later the weather balloon was supposed to blow up […]. Three minutes later, a bucket of gasoline above the candle was tipped over and the piano began to burn gloriously while it was furiously playing away. A small bassinet had been filled with ammonia. When I closed the switch […] The combination of ammonia and titanium tetrachloride produces, as you all know, […] white smoke, which poured out of the bassinet, until it finally engulfed the specially invited, elegantly dressed audience. It was all over in 27 minutes. The audience applauded and descended on the wreckage for souvenirs.” In Kluver’s account, Tinguely’s dedication to entropic forces overrode the work’s planned failure. The work self-destructed as a machine, but also as idea (though not as drama) cannibalized by passion, to become the exemplar as well as the agent, a project whose process became its punch line. 25. Region of the sculpture of drops The Canard Digérateur or Digesting Duck, was an automaton created in 1739 by Jacques de Vaucanson. It appeared to eat grain, metabolize and defecate. It became famous for its claims and later infamous for fakery (hidden containers stored readymade results). Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca is the real thing. In his digesting machine, food is fed to a series of containers and chemicals, with sealed bags of the machine’s feces


marketed as art. Delvoye extends the consumerist implications, designing cunning subversions of corporate logos for his device (Mr. Clean is a favourite), as well as various improvements to the product line (Cloaca Original, Cloaca – New & Improved, Cloaca Turbo, Cloaca N° 5, etc.). All joking aside, it is the Wim Delvoye, Cloaca, 2000-2007 “untouchable” tangibility of Cloaca’s consumption that makes it so memorable as illustration: a synthetic voidance, the product of which disgusts us precisely because it, like all our bodies’ waste, suggests life. (20) 26. Region of the “Wilson Lincoln effect” The “Wilson-Lincoln Effect” is a euphemistic description of what is called a lenticular image: a double-edged texture appears to transform the picture as you pass; in this case changing from the countenance of one American president to another. What else might it mean – Civil War vs. measured peace, freedom vs. failure? Slippage sits in increments of either/or between also/and. Like other simple forms of mechanical animation (the zoetrope, etc.), this illusion conjures imaginative flow out of gap and lapse. Sugar pills come to mind when examining the little round dots of Damien Hirst’s spot paintings. The circles are based on a loose conceit about prescription medication. The nymph Pharmacia, responsible for cosmetics (kosmètikè), also watches the pharmacy (pharmakon). People take Tyrosines for depression, ADD, ADHD, narcolepsy, to improve alertness after sleep deprivation, to combat stress, for PMS and Parkinson’s chronic fatigue, alcohol and cocaine withdrawal, heart disease and stroke, erectile dysfunction, loss of interest in sex, schizophrenia, as a suntan agent and appetite suppressant. (21) What ails you?


Damien Hirst, L-Tyrosine-15N, gloss household paint on canvas; 2001 Size: 297.2 x 1211.6 cm

Three basketballs float, serene, in an aquarium. To keep the balls submerged just so, Jeff Koons worked with a team of scientists to discover the solution of filling the balls with a sodium chloride reagent. The reason he used a basketball, Koons says, is “probably for the purity of it, that it’s inflatable, it relates to our human experience […] to be alive we have to breathe.” (22) It is easy also to think of basketball stars of that decade, (23) whose athletic aspirations have potent outlets to both the spiritualization of athleticism in American culture and, concomitantly, notions of African-American “soulfulness.” Spiritualization as a process is at the heart of Koons’ whole oeuvre. His own celebrity as a character, a wide-eyed huckster or motivational speaker, is (unlike Hirst’s) an extension of the a greater myth about the spiritualization of capital, whose roots stretch back to the imaginary machine that supplies the metaphysical underpinnings of capitalism, Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand,” that regulates the marketplace, ensuring that personal profit creates Jeff Koons, Three Balls Total Equilibrium a common good. Tank, 1985. “It’s what Jeff Koons once referred to as a high-maintenance piece of art,” says Hirst, (24) after being asked about the practicalities of owning a shark in a tank. (25) The history of imaginary machines may be seen as cracked glass and accumulations of dust: failure, fatigue, backwardness, ghettoization, degeneration and decay; ideas that fail


and thrive like life, demonstrating the only real lesson of art that travels, beyond the convulsive moment of its inception. This, surely to indicate a means of survival—of reproduction even—beyond the cyclical modality of that most pernicious of imaginary machines, ideology. This essay has tried to apply the workings of imaginary machines to produce a thesis about imaginary machines. Some of the subjects approached in these examples have included money, consumption, eroticism, transformation, revolutions, prisons, clocks, class struggles, prescription medications and secret codes. These disconnected episodes may be turned around and used to reexamine The Large Glass itself, as a means of either rendering it contemporary, or researching further toward the heart of its origins. Better still, why not go forward in time, asking what other subjects should be talked about, or new machines conceived? John Luna, November 2016

End Notes 1. C.F. Vox, Phil Edwards & James Gleick, “Would you use time travel to kill baby Hitler?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJn8iUe6rwY 2. Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New. New York: Knopf, 1991: 30. 3. Various versions of this story have emerged in the past two years or so. For example: http://www.salvonews.com/usa/did-duchampsteal-the-fountain-urinal-from-a-feminist-dada-baroness-x86053x9. html 4. Ranier Maria Rilke, “9th Elegy”, from his poem cycle The Duino Elegies. trans. Stephen Mitchell. New York: Vintage, 2009 5. Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”, part II, 1955. Allen Ginsberg: Collected Poems 1947-1980. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. 6. C.F. British TV show, The Prisoner, 1967-1968, ITV, UK 7. Lucy Lippard, “Deep in Numbers,” From the Centre: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1973. 8. For a discussion of Darboven’s numbers in relation to time, see David Colosi, “Hanne Darboven: She is Very Busy Writing”, http://3dlit.org/practice/darboven/darboven1.html


9. Zadie Smith, “Killing Orson Welles at Midnight”, New York Review of Books, April 28th, 2011 issue. http://www.nybooks.com/ articles/2011/04/28/killing-orson-welles-midnight/ 10. Ibid. 11. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/2002.42a-vvvv/ 12. For example, Duchamp’s careful tearing collotype reproductions along the edges of custom-made templates in the shape of ninetythree notes originally written on stray scraps of paper. http://www. metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/492389 13. The discussion of vital essences and energies, notably in relationship to sexual energy, characterize late 19th and early 20th century interests in everything from spiritualism to nutrition (c.f. Rudolf Steiner, Helena Blavatsky, John Harvey Kellogg, etc.) 14. See Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 1, verse 16, and the seemingly endless discussion surrounding its description and symbolism. 15. Gregoire Dupond at Factum Arte for an exhibition of Piranesi’s work produced by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=FlcbxAr11Pc 16. “Men and women are reduced to the stature of children; horses become as small as mastiffs [….] Peopled by dwarfs, the most modest of Baroque buildings assumes heroic proportions.” – qtd. In A.H. Mayor, Giovanni Battista Piranesi. New York: H. Bittner and co., 1952: 29. 17. Jeremy Bentham, “panopticon; or the inspection-house: containing the idea of a new principle of construction applicable to any sort of establishment, in which persons of any description are to be kept under inspection; and in particular to penitentiary-houses, prisons, houses of industry, work-houses, poor-houses, lazarettos, manufactories, hospitals, mad-houses, and schools: with a plan of management adapted to the principle: in a series of letters, written in the year 1787, from crecheff in white russia. To a friend in england by jeremy bentham, of lincoln’s inn, esquire.” Cartome.org. http://www.ics.uci.edu/~djp3/classes/2012_01_INF241/papers/ PANOPTICON.pdf. 18. This phrase is from the terminal passage of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”


19. http://www.w2vr.com/archives/Kluver/00_Homage.html 20. A lively discussion of the connection between repulsion, fear of mortality and the animistic characteristics of feces may be found in Thomas Nagel’s entertaining review, “It’s Revolting!” New York Review of Books, Nov 24th, 2011. http://www.nybooks.com/ articles/2011/11/24/its-revolting/ 21. C.f. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono1037-tyrosine.aspx?activeingredientid=1037& 22. From an auction catalogue account of a similar work: http://www. sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2014/contemporary-artevening-sale-n09141/lot.62.html 23. Koons has made series of works using the images of African American basketball stars, such as Moses (1985), a framed Nike advertising poster with Biblical overtones. 24. Damien Hirst: “I still believe art is more important than money.” https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/mar/11/damienhirst-tate-retrospective-interview 25. C.f. Hirst’s work, The Physical Impossibility of Death on the Mind of Someone Living (1991), a tiger shark encased in a tank of formaldehyde.


“Imaginary Machine,” Installation shot Lynda Gammon, Tyler Hodgins (left to right)

“Imaginary Machine,” Installation shot Robert Youds, Neil McClelland, Xane St Phillip (left to right)


Modern Times and the Inefficient Machine A machine is a tool containing one or more parts that uses energy to perform an intended action. As we lose our understanding of how machines work, or how we can fix them, the mechanics of machinery are becoming a foreign territory where we dare not travel. From Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines, to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and Yves Tinguely’s self-destructing kinetic machines, to Eva Hesse’s idiosyncratic drawings containing machine-like abstractions, artists have long fantasized about the possibility of creating imaginary machines. The five artists in this exhibition, Lynda Gammon, Tyler Hodgins, John Luna, Neil McClelland and Robert Youds, were asked make an “imaginary” machine. Some made work specifically for the exhibition, other used “machines” they had at hand. The results are surprising, delightful and enigmatic. The work brought together for the Imaginary Machine exhibition is surprising because of its personal nature and how it is a direct reflection of artists’ interests and experiences. Surprising, because our preconceived notions of machines is that they are impersonal and separate from our humanity. The machines in the exhibition are considered imaginary because they have been invented by the artists and, like the corn-eating or mouth-wiping contraptions from Chaplin’s Modern Times, their utility is dubious. The ultimate inefficiency of these invented machines draws attention to their essential construction and lets us envision devices that can exist beyond their quotidian purpose. It brings us into the realm of our imaginative and daydreaming selves. Lynda Gammon’s sculptural installation Sure is based on the machine that she uses to produce her work, the Epson 9800 wide printer. Sure is made up of photographs taken with an analogue camera that are digitally enlarged to actual size and mounted on Foamcore; a found cart provides an internal structure and base. The photographs of the printer were taken apart through a methodical process of deconstruction, and then reconstructed to create a three-dimensional non-functional and slightly topsy-turvy facsimile of the original printer. Gammon’s photographs, with their flat surfaces and depictions of real printer components, create an installation that contains real, illusionistic, and


flat space. The excitement of the work lies in the contradiction between the real and the imagined. She has taken apart an image of the original machine to create something new. Her work wanders in and out of the flat space of the photographic surface to the three-dimensional space of the constructed object, then moves into the gallery floors and walls through an extensive network of shadows. Photography has been used to document reality and yet the most it can do as a medium is to give a rough or very general sense of what is real. The potential unreality of photographs is juxtaposed with the reality of tangible physical materials in Sure. The irony here is that a complex machine such as the Epson 9800 wide printer is a contemporary machine that can never be taken apart. We wouldn’t even dare to take apart this powerful and intricate machine as we might have a typewriter or camera decades ago. Gammon has conceptually deconstructed this apparatus through physical means, making us think about its very “machine” nature while creating an inert version of the original machine.

Lynda Gammon, Sure 2016 Digital photographs mounted on Foamcore with manufactured cart


Tyler Hodgins has used an x-ray of his right hand as the central motif in Again and Again. He installed it in the window of a “borrowed” x-ray door whose original purpose was a barrier to protect x-ray technicians. Hodgins suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis as a result of his day job. In this imaginary machine, his hand is signaling “ok”. X-rays are somewhat secretive; they are kept in envelopes and can only be seen against a light. Hodgins has created the illusion of machine that is indicating everything is all right. And yet the x-ray, despite its incredible ability to show us what is wrong with our body, does not readily reveal information to the untrained viewer. In Again and Again, the x-ray is easily accessible at eye level and yet we still cannot discern what it is meant to tell us. Hodgins’ machine reminds us of the possible failure or inefficiency of even the best of our machines. We need to have training or a manual to decipher what is going on here. This machine, while seemingly very practical and easily movable, offers no solution to anything, only a reminder of an impossible situation.

Tyler Hodgins, Again and Again 2016 X-ray radiation barrier, X-rays


John Luna’s installation Something to do with the steady mechanism of effort & medicines, is a compilation of various works he has done over the years, with some random collage ephemera thrown in for good measure. The work is an archive reminiscent of a hastily assembled storage shelf in a museum or gallery back closet. It archives Luna’s past work, his vast collection of materials, and vestiges of his experiences caught in fragments of notes. For this exhibition, Luna has formed his paintings into the rough shape of the bellows of an old-fashioned camera. The camera is a device to document history, a tool used to archive information. While the structure is made of moveable parts, we are not invited to engage with this potential movement. Instead, we take in this work in bits and pieces as we move around it taking in glimpses of hidden worlds that exist between the canvases. The work is more like an assembly of separate yet attached components than of a machine; perhaps it represents the remnants of a machine that fell apart and then was rapidly put together by Dr. Suess’ Cat in the Hat before the parents came home. This improvisational work contains references that are historical and autobiographical using materials and process that reference the everyday and the immediate without revealing anything definite or specific.

John Luna, Something to do with the steady mechanism of effort & medicines (detail), 2011-2016 Oil, acrylic, mixed materials, objects, papier-maché


Neil McClelland’s drawings depict machine parts found on the family farm in Quebec. These parts are but remnants of their functional forms; they have been worn away over the years until the part’s original purpose is almost indecipherable. While this work has no actual moving parts like others in the exhibition, the oil-painted forms seem to be disintegrating and dripping off the page. The paintings, with their architectural vellum surfaces imprinted with “Alberta Research Council,” suggest a diagram. McClelland’s machine parts are the antithesis of those seen in instruction manuals. While we have a certain sense of materiality from this work, upon closer inspection, it is challenging to decipher exactly what we are looking at. We know they are parts of machines, but which parts? There is a nostalgia to the work in that we are looking at machines from time gone by, a time when you could see and understand the basic mechanics of how things work. These historical machines had no mysterious or invisible parts such as the ubiquitous microchip that today is found in everything from watches to sewing machines to cars. The expressive marks seem to contradict the measured and calculated found surface. It reminds one of the casual scrawling of an idea on whatever surface is available, creating a sense of urgency, as if to record something that is about to vanish. These somewhat diaphanous renderings are ghosts from another era reminding us of what we are missing in today’s machinery.

Neil McClelland, left to right: jawflipper, paincrank, switchkiller, all done in 2014. Oil on mylar.


Xane St Phillip is known for his passion for colour theory which he has taught for more than 25 years. His piece, Six thousand five hundred sixty one, is an homage to his love of colour. In St Phillip’s work, the viewer is silently invited to make their own painting by altering readymade paint samples to create an array of colour schemes. While there is a finite number of combinations possible (the “6,561” of the title), there is a sense of the infinite as viewers try different arrangements. St Phillip eliminates the distance between the work and viewers as they turn the dowels to alter what they see in front of them. Painting is collapsed into its most fundamental elements: colour and form. The colour samples and the visible infrastructure of plywood and dowels are reminiscent of a hardware store display case. Of course we know that St Phillip’s machine could be more efficiently created with a computer program that could generate endless variations on colour schemes. But it is the very inefficiency of St Phillip’s machine that makes it so appealing. We get to hand crank the dowels to find a scheme of our choice. We also have the pleasure of the tactility and familiarity of the colour cards; the work allows for the merging of the hardware store experience with that of the art gallery creating a space where everyone feels welcome.

Xane St Phillip, Six thousand five hundred sixty one 2016 Paint colour samples and wood


Robert Youds has a lifelong interest in architecture and interior spaces. In his home and studio, the boundaries between the living space and work space are blurred. One area easily flows into the next. When Youds first installed Your continuation in the gallery space, the painting with reflective tape (now on the gallery floor) was originally placed horizontally behind the Plexiglas of the wall piece. By the next day, the corrugated aluminum painting was moved from the work to the floor. Your continuation was transformed from a discrete wall piece to a place of activity: activity of past, present and future. Is the piece on the floor the result of an activity that is about to happen or one that has already happened? It appears that either it is about to be put back into the piece or it was just taken out. The flashing alternating coloured lights from the Plexiglas installation reveal a present-tense action keeping the viewer transfixed in the moment. The casualness of having part of the work lean against the wall suggests more of a domestic space where things are always in transition, e.g., tables and chairs moving from one place to the next. This work creates an active space between the viewer and the work, a space filled with the sensation of light and neuronal activity. The flickering decals oscillate between mundane bathroom dĂŠcor and stellar constellations. The work reminds us of a Las Vegas slot machine and the stained glass windows of a church; it offers both a sense of excitement and contemplation, a place to inhabit between the spectacle and the sublime.

Robert Youds, Your continuation 2016 Vinyl, aluminum, powder-coated steel, controller, timer, Plexiglas


I was drawn to curating an exhibition on the imaginary machine because of a fascination with the mechanical drawings that come with appliances, tools and different kinds of machinery. I love the simplicity of line and the integrity of purpose of these diagrams. Unlike the microchip-embedded machines of today’s world, the machines in this exhibition offer a full revelation of their inner workings: Gammon’s cart holding up Foamcore mounted photos; Hodgins’ old x-ray door with scratches and tears; Luna’s two-sided canvases; McClelland’s tool parts revealing all components; St Phillip’s machine that explores colour combinations using dowels, some of which still have the bar codes on them; and Youds’ installation with cords, wires and electrical components all being part of the work. And while all the works in this exhibition are very different from those stark and straightforward machine diagrams, the individual pieces in the Imaginary Machine have a deep integrity in the way they connect to the personal practice of each of the participating artists. The art here combines life experience, everyday materials and an artistic vision rooted in art history. There is also a sense that the artists are not completely satisfied with their invented machines – maybe something else could be done, something added, something taken away. However it is through the inefficiencies, the flaws, the uncertainties that these imaginary machines come to life and make us aware of our humanity. Wendy Welch Curator

Tyler Hodgins, Again and Again (detail) 2016, X-ray radiation barrier, X-rays


Acknowledgements We would like to thank and acknowledge the following people for their help with the exhibition: The artists: Lynda Gammon, Tyler Hodgins, John Luna, Neil McClelland, Xane St Phillip, Robert Youds John Luna for his poetic essay about the historical relationship artists have had to the “imaginary machine.” Jenn Wilson for her help with the installation of the work. Natasha van Netten for designing the poster and the promotion of the exhibition. Tara Nicholson for her photodocumentation of all the artists’ work Tim Bradley for his excellent copy editor skills Melissa Gignac for her assistance in keeping all the Slide Room Gallery paperwork well-organized and for her eagle-eyes in proof-reading the final draft of the catalogue. The Capital Regional District for their financial assistance by providing the Slide Room Gallery with a project grant for the Imaginary Machine exhibition.


SLIDE ROOM GALLERY 2549 Quadra Street, Victoria, BC V8T 4E1 250.380.3500 info@slideroomgallery.com www.slideroomgallery.com

Imaginary machine catalogue  

Catalogue accompanying Imaginary Machine exhibition Nov 4-28, 2016

Imaginary machine catalogue  

Catalogue accompanying Imaginary Machine exhibition Nov 4-28, 2016

Advertisement