Various Experimentation and Contemplation of Machines, Automata, Biology, Their Concepts and Aesthetics.
24 October 2010 —
The focus of my thesis is now much narrower than it was previously. Before, I intended to study the direct relationships between man and machine and to explore machinery as a means for creating and enhancing life. Now, I intend to focus only on the beauty of machines, their aesthetics and their raw, physicality. Along with this, I plan to explore the concepts of destruction and ruination, the re-purposing of objects, and the appreciation of individual parts that come together to form (or come apart to destroy) a whole.
I have spent some time deconstructing a sewing machine. While doing so, I have been contemplating the idea of ruins — of places and objects that once were new and now are not. It is an interesting and somewhat frightening realization for me to look at the deconstructed sewing machine and remember what it looked like and what actions it performed before I took it apart — to realize that this machine no longer functions and know that I am the reason for that. In a way, I have killed the machine.
Looking at the grid of photographs of the machine’s gradual deconstruction, I am also reminded of my own mortality. My body is not unlike this machine. There is a skin, an encasement for the vital parts. There are smaller parts within this encasing, each with its own specific role, and at the core is the skeleton, the base that holds it all together. To study the methodical ruination of the sewing machine might not be very different from studying slower and less noticeable, ruination of my own body.
By deconstructing various machines, I have assembled a large collection of parts, or as I like to call them, objects. I love these objects dearly, for no reason other than their beauty. In a way, they remind me of seashells that one collects on a beach — precious objects that once served a purpose but no longer do. Their only remaining “purpose” is to be held and admired.
These parts that I have collected each served a very specific function within their respective machine. By separating them and taking them away from the whole, I have stripped whatever function they were designed to have. If the individual who assembled/created this machine knew the fate of these parts, I wonder what their reaction would be. Would they tell me that I appreciate the parts for the “wrong” reasons?
I have a deep interest in the power of objects. Objects are artifacts. They speak to us and retain memory/history. We attach meaning to objects, we carry them around with us as charms. We understand objects by interacting with them, by touching them.
I want to use my collection of objects to reflect on these ideas. I want to try and know these objects intimately, to appreciate the beauty of each individual part. Through a variety of projects and explorations, I wish to study the ways in which objects affect and influence us, particularly objects that serve no practical function.
September 2010 —
I have been doing some further contemplation in regards to my thesis, and have now narrowed it slightly. Instead of studying machines in general, I intend to focus more specifically on the anthropological aspects of machines, and the direct relationship between man and machine. There are two particular sub-categories within this concept that I am especially intrigued by, and propose to explore.
Climbing within a machine. This is done by choice. It is like donning a mechanical body/persona. It is like having a mechanical companion, or a special tool that allows one to be more than human, while still remaining completely human. The mechanical device/tool/suit can be shed, and the human emerges intact, retaining their humanity.
There are various kinds of machines in this category. Giant Mechs, as seen in Mecha anime, such as the Gundam series. Mini Mechs, such as the Powerloader in the Alien series. Powered Armor, such as Iron Man’s suit in the Iron Man franchise. In exploring this area, I may design and fabricate various suits/mini mechs. I also hope to explore this concept of stepping into something, harnessing its power and becoming more than human, without being so literal.
Becoming a machine. This category terrifies me, and so I feel compelled to explore it. There are two aspects of this concept that intrigue me. The first is to become part machine out of necessity, or against one’s will. Unlike climbing within a machine, the machine becomes an integral part of the human, and the human is therefore no longer human. In the game Earth Bound, the main character must travel through time to defeat the game’s villain. However, his body could not possibly survive the journey, and so the character must undergo a procedure that transplants his mind into a robot. As a child, this horrified me. There is a loss of humanity, a loss of identity, and there is no going back. To no longer be completely human, to no longer be myself as I know it, disturbs me deeply. The second aspect of this, and equally as horrifying, is for someone to become part machine by choice. For someone to so easily disregard their human form, and to voluntarily adopt the body parts of a machine, seems perverse. Such a concept is a violation and a blasphemy against humanity. It truly stirs something within me in a way that most morality-issues can’t.
I intend to explore these fears — the unintentional loss of humanity and identity, and the intentional violation of humanity. I may do this through illustrations and other two dimensional images.
My thesis continues to evolve. I now wish to draw from both my original statement, as well as my most recent updated statement. I am still exploring the themes mentioned in the latter, but I now wish to add that I will also be studying machines purely for their aesthetics. I am quite interested in the visual qualities and compositions of the circuit boards I’m finding, as well as the beauty of the pieces I am taking from other, more physical machines.
I am also now exploring machine parts as they “function” by themselves, taken away from the machine they were once a part of.
I am also thinking about the following: ruins, the act of disassembling, machines/objects as a method of forming an image of humanity, etc.
bookmarks on delicious
To me, machines are absolutely fascinating. I consider them to be expert imitations of life. There are many questions concerning machines that I intend to explore next semester in Design Seminar. For instance, what is the difference between “living” and “non-living?” Is there a difference? After all, the human body (among other examples of “life”) is really nothing more than a complicated machine. Do machines represent some sort of ideal? How is it that a stationary piece of coral is alive, yet an animated bulldozer is not?
I have spent a lot of time studying heavy construction equipment. I am captivated by their appearance and by my own melancholic longing for them to come alive. I find it strange that when I think of these giant machines, it is always with a kind of sadness. Why? I want to explore this side of myself, and this side of the human condition. Why do we anthropomorphize? Why do we identify with inanimate objects? These are more questions I hope to reflect on over the coming semester.
Although machines interest me conceptually and emotionaly, they appeal to me emotionally as well. I plan to return repeatedly to the appearance of machines and the systems within them, focussing only on their visual aspects.
A great source of inspiration for me is the kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen. He has spent the last twenty years attempting to create new forms of life. Jansen has designed and engineered a species of mechanical
animal, and has placed them on beaches in the Netherlands. His complex creatures are independently mobile, relying only on the wind for energy. His creatures even have a life-like
desire for self-preservation — the creatures are equipped with a feeler that senses when they are walking too close to the ocean, and are in danger of
drowning, prompting the creature to stop and walk in the opposite direction, away from the water.
Another artist who has strongly inspired me is architect Lebbeus Woods. His drawings blur the distinction between the living and the non-living. He depicts powerful masses of geometric planes that defy both gravity and logic. Somehow, these masses possess the aura of a living thing. His work is evocative and hauntingly dream-like.
For my senior thesis project, I intend to explore the mechanical life-form, and the essence of life in general. I expect to design a series of
creatures, although as I explore and research, this may evolve into something different. I intend to work both conceptually (addressing the aforementioned questions and then some) and also purely aesthetically (simply exploring the visual composition of machines). I anticipate may ideas will come from this project, and I don’t have any desire to limit myself. I am willing and eager to experiment.
I may work sculpturally, or even kinetically, like Jansen. I also may do some animations or large-scale drawings. My
creatures may have limbs, and even faces, or they may be like Woods’s drawings — seemingly lifeless, yet producing a strong presence of life. This project presents many opportunities for me, and I hope I get a chance to investigate them all.