Remembering the Joy of the Mechanical in the Digital Age.

Last week I went to visit the ‘Marvellous Machines’ exhibition currently showing at the Ipswich Art Gallery. It is a fascinating, stylish display of visually elegant and appealing mechanical artworks.

Baba Yaga from ‘Baba Yaga’s House’ by Keith Newstead.

And, what’s more you get to push small, red buttons to make the automata work in all their whirring and squeaky intricacy.

‘Goat and Bucket’ by Paul Spooner. Mechanical sculpture.

In these digital times it’s easy to take for granted all our speedy, convenient tech. We click and scroll without a second thought as to what is actually going on beneath the screen.

‘Sit up Anubis’ or ‘Sleeping Musculature’ by Paul Spooner. Mechanical sculpture.
Pendulum clocks from 1699.

It wasn’t always so and the ‘Marvellous Machines’ exhibition reminds us of all those bewitching clockwork and mechanical objects from the past. Some examples such as mechanical toys were purely for entertainment and some were functional equipment that was often beautiful too.

Hammond 2 Braille typewriter, 1884. Hammond’s company motto was ‘For all nations, for all tongues’. You can swap different parts around to type in 14 different languages.

Functional objects from the past on display in this exhibition included a braille typewriter, a rather attractive ‘shrimp’ sweet making machine

Shrimp sweet making machine. (Donald Storer and Richard Durrant used this machine to make shrimp-shaped sweets at ‘The Homemade Sweet and Rock Factory’ in Felixstowe between 1950 and 1988.)

and a scale model of the an early Otis lift.

Scale model of Waywood-Otis automatic lift, early 1900s. Waywood-Otis used models like this to show-off their technology to customers. Traction lifts use pulleys and counter weights to move up and down.

Of course, humans have used mechanisms to make moving toys for thousands of years.

Naturally, in an Art Gallery some of the works on display are examples of art. These delightful mechanical sculptures by Paul Spooner are exquisitely crafted, and are both beguiling and witty.

Barecats by Paul Spooner. Mechanical sculpture.

I particularly liked the manner in which the mechanics are also on display in this piece. It has become an expression of our contemporary culture to reveal inner workings. Here you can see the cogs and spindles are finely made and are assembled in a functional and satisfyingly ordered arrangement.

Spaghetti Eater by Paul Spooner. (notice the flowing taps too) Mechanical sculpture.

Another work by Peter Markey, Artist-Painter, resonated surprisingly strongly with me. It’s as if he has been spying on me!

Artist-Painter by Peter Markey. Mechanical sculpture.

‘Marvellous Machines’ featuring these quirky pieces from Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, continues at Ipswich Art Gallery until 3 November 2019. If you can’t get to Ipswich a list of upcoming events displaying some of these mechanical sculptures is available on the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre website. Finally, Cabaret Mechanical Theatre sell some of their work online offering one-offs, limited editions and even ‘build your own’ kits.

Artist-Painter by Peter Markey.
(Looks like I feel when faced with another weekend of decorating this old house!)

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

19 thoughts on “Remembering the Joy of the Mechanical in the Digital Age.”

    1. Yes, I was struggling with filming on my phone and pushing the red buttons at the same time. Luckily another visitor, came over and kindly volunteered to hold the buttons for me.

  1. Takes me back to 1978 when I visited the USSR and was required to spend hard currency on “something”. I loved the wooden carvings that did things when rotated by the wrist, via a round wooden ball attached to strings. The one I bought was a group of bears playing the drums.

      1. No sadly, I can’t account for where the bears went. I have one plaque made with straw inlay, and two fabulous pieces of carved timber from (Communist) Poland, all three pieces still with their original price tag on the back, and that’s it from those days. I used to have a miniature samovar which was given to me on my 23rd birthday in Moscow, but that also has gone. I just remembered I also still have a couple of Soviet badges, one from Leningrad.
        I used to joke you got a medal in USSR for crossing the street safely. You had to understand the context – there was almost no traffic in 1978.

      2. Sometimes we pass on our souvenirs and forget who we gave them too. I don’t know about you, but with my last move I have started seriously reviewing all my stuff, aka clutter, and have started making trips to the charity shops and local recycling centre.

      3. De-Cluttering. The topic keeps coming back in to my life. Over and over. I’ve been tempted to write a blog post on the subject, but don’t want to come across all preachy. On the other hand, perhaps the universe is telling me something : -) PLUS I haven’t written a post for months now, not for want of material.

  2. I would have loved to see this. I recently inherited my mother’s 1950 Royal manual typewriter – the one I learned to type on and that I used in college – and I am so happy to have it. I was fascinated by it as a child, the minute I saw it, because it was clear how it worked, and to think it’s still doing its job as well as ever so many years later makes me happy. Plus it needs no fuel except the energy of my fingers!

    1. Oh my goodness. I learnt on a manual typewriter and you had to properly strike the keys didn’t you? I remember moving to an IBM Golfball machine and you had to have such a light touch. I still prefer typing with a keyboard as opposed to typing on a screen though.

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