Friday, January 4, 2013

Useless machine?

I enjoy making things, working with my hands, touching my imagination in real life, making disparate objects fit together exactly as I wish. I used to describe my hobbies as anything that 'rolls, explodes or just blows my hair back.' Whenever I think of something it tends to have a purpose, when I come up with ideas that don't do anything I tend to file it away, and only ever think of it again if I can think of a use. As an art student, I frequently debate the practicality of art, and of the things I make. For a long time I would say that "I don't like useless art", by which I meant that if an object didn't serve a utilitarian purpose I didn't like it. Later I amended that to "I don't like things that look like they should do something but don't", and this is still true, if someone builds a full scale motor, but never put any pistons or valves into it, I would call it fairly pointless. There are other points of view, and in that example I can definitely understand the beauty of the motor what it represents.
I suppose the problem is that I feel like the object is only half fulfilling its destiny when it doesn't perform as intended. Cars that sit and are never driven make me sad, especially the gorgeous and powerful ones often collected. A person might say to me that "some things are made to just be beautiful and that's all," and I can't really argue with that. All I can really say is that I'm still disappointed by things which look like they should have a function but can't perform that function.
This machine is a perfect example of nothing I've just written about, while it does not have a utilitarian function it absolutely does something, it performs and interacts:

Something like this, not reliant on its looks but on its actions, ignites a wonderfully whimsical delight in my belly. The device consistently dares the builder to touch a switch, "go ahead, see what happens." It peeks out from its trapdoor just to flip a switch and scampers back as quickly as it can. The whole affair becomes a performance. Watching the builder play with his creation is like watching a puppy chase it tail: yes it's pointless, but it's just so much fun regardless.
Maybe what I've been looking for is not utility, but a way to engage the viewer. The reason I love moving and mechanical objects is how interactive they are, how they require spacial understanding and inspire me to touch and feel the movement. The fine art world tends to be populated by fragile and fearful objects, hiding behind "Do Not Touch" signs like a child born with no immune system; a timid world is not for me. I want a rolling, exploding world, where you grab something and if it doesn't want to be grabbed it punches you in the gut. I want art that tells you "get on the floor and say thanks!" rather than "I don't quite like that, please don't." I think this is a world that needs more personal challenges, and I think art should confront the viewer, not comfort them. "Go ahead, flip my switch, punk."

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