Copyright 2009

The ArtistMachine

The ArtistMachine draws, signs, displays, comments, shreds and blows it all out across the floor ready for the cleaners. Like all artists it is infinitely needy and pathetically dependent upon others for its continued existence. Unlike most artists it has the decency to dispose of what it produces before future generations have to work out what to do with it...

The original ArtistMachine was built in 2001 for the exhibition "Sentient Cog" at the 5th @ Guinness Storehouse in Dublin in 2001. It was installed again in Nottingham in 2003 as part of the “Sensitive Skin” Live art festival.
It consisted of a mechanism which drew a crayon circle on a roll of paper for roughly ten minutes; the drawing process then stopped, a facsimilie signature was stamped under the image and the roll of paper advanced, moving the “work” to a position on the front of the machine where it was “exhibited” for the next phase of the cycle. Meanwhile the drawing that had previously occupied that position is pulled into a shredder and the resulting residue blown out of a vent by a powerful fan. Over the period of the installation, the shredded paper piles up to form a kind of “snowdrift” - arguably the final “product” of the machine’s activity.
Contrary to first impressions the ArtistMachine is a hopeful monster. While its rhetoric plays with notions of Futility and Loss a closer look into its workings reveals a process of transformation. The machine transmutes Art into more Art – the drawings become a slowly-growing mound that will eventually dwarf the machine itself if it is left long enough. (At one point I thought of showing the piece in a large glass museum case that would gradually fill up with the shredded paper until the workings of the machine were choked and came to a stop.) The process could always continue, the shredded paper could always be reconstituted into pulp to make something else, or used as mulch in a garden, or mixed with clay to make bricks... I should offer an invitation here to anyone inclined to design and build further modules; we could have a whole chain of linked machines made by different people – ArtistMachine, CriticMachine, DealerMachine, perhaps even an AudienceMachine to automate the process of observing and enjoying.

From the start, the core of the project was the control system. The control sequence is entirely non-digital. It is sequenced by timing wheels and relay switches; these controls were clearly visible and expressed and form part of the work’s narrative. As much as the piece is “about” anything, it is about the information actually embodied in the physical structure of the cams and switches and the way this is translated into a repeated series of actions. It was a piece of technological archaeology in one sense, opting for the transparency of the analogue, while still devising and mapping an algorithm; however, the controls (and the rest of the machine) were, for the most part constructed from “off the shelf” industrial components. These are all easily available and are used in the everyday business of making things Where I needed non-standard parts (for instance the housing for the shredder and fan) these were commissioned from local, small-scale manufacturers using the materials and crafts of their own everyday business. The aesthetic was a by-product of the design process. The way the piece looked was entirely contingent on what it had to do.
What it had to do was to draw a circle – the sign of the Artist Who Can Really Draw, the shepherd boy who turns out to be a genius the ability to draw a perfect circle freehand. This is one of art’s urban myths. Unfortunately, it could not draw a circle particularly well. My friend Daniel Eatock does it much better; he practised over and over again until he could draw a perfect circle in one go and has a huge stack of A3 sheets each with a more-or-less perfect pencil circle. I have no doubt that Dan is a Real Artist

The ArtistMachine’s antecedents in my own work were a set of small motor-driven drawing arms which were triggered at random intervals by a computer programme, but involved spectator interaction by unclipping “finished” drawings and replacing them with a fresh sheet of paper. Historical antecedents would be the painting machines of the situationist Pinot-Gallizio, Jackson Pollock (only any good when drink or some other thing supressed the Inner Artist and turned him into a painting machine ) and most of all Chris Burden’s beautiful, tragic “Model Airplane Factory” of 1999.
Finally, it is a time-based work, and a work in time. Interval and duration are key elements in its structure, it is a thing which measures out its own span (and ours) in repeated actions, with slight variations brought out by the wearing down of a crayon, the random twitches of a spring, small alterations in the speed with which a microswitch closes or opens, movements of air in the gallery space and the actions of gravity on a pile of shredded paper. In the new version of the machine I have fitted the stamping device with, instead of a facsimile signature, a numbering device.

For the next version maybe I will install a sensor which, when the counter reaches a certain number, will blow all the fuses and detonate the components in an electromechanical siezure like the one which waits for all of us at the end.

There is a catalogue available, published by Wild Pansy Press, ISBN 1 900687 22 4 with texts in English and Italian.

Email your address and I'll post you a copy