‘Wimshurst, Factory, Rube Goldberg and Francis Picabia’ 2016

‘Wimshurst, Factory, Rube Goldberg and Francis Picabia’ 2016

In the bottom left, note the Wimshurst machine being wound – this is a repeated motif in my three-dimensional, video and drawn work

I was thinking about Dadaism again for this piece – the work of Francis Picabia and linking it with more contemporary artists such as Fischli and Weiss and Roman Signer. The mechanisms depicted here are not concieved to function as mere conventional machines. They seem to operate in a manner ‘liberated from function’ . (The Machinist Style of Francis Picabia, Camfield, W.) There is something absurd about many of the placements of the hands and the mechanisms. Dadaism calls for leaving the sensible and letting desires flourish, with all the turmoil and chaos that implies.

Speaking of Picabia’s work, his machines –

‘They do not function in an ordinary manner because their contacts are

psychological, not mechanical… When viewed in this way, Picabia’s

machines do work’ (Infinite Regress book)

Perhaps the connections and the mechanisms here are psychologically linked somehow.

There is the question that are the sea of arms working communally – are they functioning, or are they entangling each other – these physically impractical machines, if left to their own devices, may question the role of destruction as a creative act.

Duchamp, Picabia and later,  John Cage produced avant-garde piano music that questioned how

chance has a role to play in artwork. Duchamp conceived his Erratum Musical as notes

drawn at random from a hat, and in the second, Rube-Goldbergian setup, balls are

dropped through a channel into carriages drawn by a toy train. John Cage conceived

Music of Changes, one of his first ‘fully indeterminate’ instrumental works; it was

composed applying decisions made using the I Ching.

In the drawing, there is also the aspect of all-overness and omnipresence. (also see dissertation for more)  John Cage sought to emphasise the field in his work, rather than relying on a specific beginning and end. This was something I wanted to echo with this piece.

I don’t seem to want to leave any spaces without detail. The work is at odds with Dadaism in some senses – there was supposed to be less emphasis on heavily detailed ‘retinal’ work. It is, however, my interpretation of these artist’s work.


‘Side Effects’ Performance – photography by Christopher Fernandez


Myself and Robert Whitman, photograph by Christoper Fernandez

Robert Whitman’s revisitation of the ‘9 Evenings’ event that happened 60 years ago

would seem to be a departure from the piece he presented. Whitman presented

‘Two Holes of Water’ created in collaboration with the engineer Robby

Robinson and including a dance component by Trisha Brown. In Whitman’s

performance, seven automobiles were driven wrapped in huge sheets of plastic.

they were parked towards a wall.

This piece was more concerned with everyday, mundane actions being performed

with ‘disruptions’ – small diversions from these actions that would end up marking

it as performance art. There is a humour to it, and an element of surprise

– most actions start normally, but then food is thrown on the floor, clothes get

ripped and eaten (reminiscent of Werner Herzog or even Chaplin eating his shoe)

or a wig is used instead of hair.


In conversation with Whitman, he mentioned to me the film ‘Russian Ark’ – the 2002

film by Alexander Sokurov,  filmed entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State

Hermitage Museum. The most memorable aspect of the work is that it is

filmed in one take – a while feature length film (99 minutes). It utilises over 2,000

actors and three orchestras. Whitman wanted to eschew the Aristotelian narrative

form of much Western drama with a climax (coda from the Latin cauda ‘tail’) and a preface

or foreword.

(Coda symbol) 220px-Coda_sign.svg.png

This style of performance and producing work was in vogue at the time of the ‘9 Evenings’

performance – Cage sought to ‘take away the center of interest, emphasising instead the field’

(From the book ‘Composed in  America’). 

Even though the performance had been worked out, for the final performance,

Whitman decided to lengthen some passages and allow sound effects to be played

at times that had not been planned. There was an element of uncertainty and even

though Whitman was very specific with his plans, he would also frequently change his

mind, and he also allowed us to improvise and respected our positions

as artists.


There was a live streaming aspect – participants walked around the city,

specifically to recognisable sites, but also those that were not too recognisable –

we decided the Barbican might be suitable. This element of the utilisation of

new technology was important for the original performance – iPhones and Skype

were used this time instead of old radio receivers. In 1864 James Clerk Maxwell

showed mathematically that electromagnetic waves could propagate through

free space. The effects of electromagnetic waves (then-unexplained “action at

a distance” sparking behavior) were actually observed before and after

Maxwell’s work by many inventors and experimenters

including Luigi Galvani (1791). Galvani was ever the pioneer, and I have

previously referenced his bioelectricity experiments in some of my drawings.

Cage set up many radios in his work for ‘9 Evenings’ entitled ‘Variations VII’ and

picked up all these invisible electromagnetic waves and had the sounds of

electromagnetic noise played through the space. I believe, at least partially,

Whitman was referencing this aspect through the live streaming aspect.