This task, this need, is that of holding itself up.
June 28, 2014 6:09 AM   Subscribe

My sculptures are invented only to sustain themselves, functioning as self-resolving problems. The result is an object that has been invented only to compensate for the complications created by its own existence. The piece alone represents the need and the resolution.
Dan Grayber's mechanical contraptions
posted by rebent (16 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite sculpture of this type is Arthur Ganson's Machine With Oil at the MIT museum in Boston.
posted by fairmettle at 6:20 AM on June 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

The result is an object that has been invented only to compensate for the complications created by its own existence. The piece alone represents the need and the resolution.

Well, OK, but the only need the objects have is to wedge themselves into a space. I'm afraid I don't see how this need represents "complications created by its own existence." Usually - and this is a pretty broad generalization - art says something about humans or the forces that affect humans. After all, humans make art. (Let's not detour into a discussion about Australian bowerbirds here.)

This problem is human-generated. The artist created machines that are designed to wedge themselves into spaces. Do we experience complications created by our own existence? Arguably yes, although I'd argue no, but, anyway, our problems aren't well illustrated by the problem of needing to wedge ourselves into a corner, even metaphorically, I think. I am treating these as works of conceptual art, because they are not tremendously compositionally satisfying. Now if the machines had a wider range of complications than the Need to Wedge, I'd like them more.
posted by kozad at 6:24 AM on June 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

These are neat conceptually, but I was hoping the contraptions would be a little more dynamic, like Del's Wooden Machine.
posted by usonian at 6:36 AM on June 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the artist's statement says that the objects wedge themselves, but it's the artist who wedged them there, and the pieces just remain. There is no inherent need on the part of the object, the object just is.

Oddly, I think I'd appreciate the pieces more if I hadn't read the artist's statement, because I'd like to have some mystery as to the purpose of the objects, and when it's spelled out for me that the main purpose (beyond art) is to stay in place, I'm not as satisfied.
posted by xingcat at 6:41 AM on June 28, 2014

If they are mechanical contraptions, then they should move.
If they move, then perhaps a video might have been better.
posted by sour cream at 6:54 AM on June 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

By answering a question nobody asked, the artist's statement satisfies the need it creates by existing.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:01 AM on June 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

So...If I'm understanding this correctly, the artist builds the mechanicals in a way so that they appear to have crawled into these confined spaces, right? The mechanicals don't actually move into the spaces on their own, right? Then, the artist fabricates a back story about the "need" of the machines defined by its existence?

Okayyy...Isn't this a bit like building a ship in a bottle and then creating a story about how it would have said into the bottle on its own, given the right environment?

These are cool looking construction in their own right, which create a lot of questions/answers in the viewer's mind on their own.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:25 AM on June 28, 2014

I think the artist's statement is pretty clear.
1. Remove the human element from the art.
2. Explore the creation of objects that have an intrinsic need, based on their design, to hold themselves up.

The objects are only complete when their design is fulfilled and they're designed to hold themselves up in a specific manner. They'd be a jumble of pieces and wires and weights without their environmental supports.

And that's the point at which I think we're supposed to bring it all back home. It makes me wonder about how much of my own environment has been crafted so that my need to do something is being met. Where is the boundary between doing and being within the environments I create for myself?

And I think they look cool.
posted by Revvy at 7:54 AM on June 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

We seem to have been so brainwashed to the idea that an artist should be seen and not heard, that a critic should be the one to explain a piece to us rather than the artist that created it, that I feel we are missing the point here. In the case of these pieces, we have to include everything when we are considering it, from the artist's statement to the descriptions to the sculptures on display. I don't know why this makes people balk, but apparently it does.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:30 AM on June 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh and in case it isn't evident, I think this is cool.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:30 AM on June 28, 2014

Sturgeon's law, "ninety percent of everything is crap," goes triple or more for "Artist's Statements," in my experience. Most of them exist for reasons that are external to and distinct from the work itself, and they read a lot like corporate press releases: buzzword bingo of a prescribed length and format, thrown together at the last second to tick a box on a to-do list. This one isn't even as bad as most of them.

I like the sculptures quite a bit.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:59 AM on June 28, 2014

As someone who loves to figure out mechanical things like this, this is brilliant.

I once spent about forty minutes with a friend looking at what turned out to be the fuze (detonating tip) of an artillery shell, trying to figure it out. Physical machines have a language that guide you to understanding what they are built for, so if you have the mind for it, you can figure out how to work them and how to fix them without any sort of manual. Everything is always there for a reason.

Consider something like a mousetrap. If you'd never seen one before, you could look at the spring, the metal piece, the wood, and figure out how to set it and that its purpose has something to do with quickly snapping closed when triggered with a light touch. Its very structure proclaims its teleology.

That's what's so fascinating to me about these machines. You could spend hours looking at each joint and arm, the little rubber stoppers, the levers, pulleys, weights and counterbalances: clearly it has a teleology. It was built for some reason. But as you look at it, it eventually becomes clear that all of that machinery is simply there in order to hold itself up: nothing more.

Machines always have a purpose, but I've never seen a machines with a self-referring purpose. It's sort of "I think, therefore I am" level stuff going on here. As someone who studied philosophy, I've often wondered what my own purpose is. I'm unsatisfied with the answer that my own life might be the purpose of my life. This self-referring telos just doesn't make sense to me, even in my own life. I can acknowledge the value of a machine that cranks to open a window, turn a gear to a wheel, or supports part of a bridge. But if I declare that a human life has value, I involuntarily start seeking outside of that life for the source of its value.

These machines make the suggestion that maybe a life has value simply because of what it is, and maybe that is enough.
posted by brenton at 9:27 AM on June 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have no idea how this person got these devices wedged into tight spaces, or why.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:34 AM on June 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's an episode of Arthur, of all things, featuring Machine With Oil.
posted by Small Dollar at 11:20 AM on June 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

This artist exhibited at 21 Grand 5-6 years ago. I was able to examine them as I shared the building. The pieces are spring loaded in one way or another, and one could place the piece in a corner (or other confined space) and let go and it would jam there. The mechanical work was pretty well done, but I would have mechanized one given half a chance.
Would have been fun as a corporate office art piece , as you could move it once and awhile, and it would leave marks where it had been.
Since most people don't know much about machines, it would cause visitors to wonder how often it moved ,and keep an wary eye on it.
posted by boilermonster at 9:40 PM on June 28, 2014

« Older "Everybody gets it. This is a singular voice."   |   We all really are just rats in the Facebook maze Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments