From “The Designs for Motion,” a portfolio and interview with the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely from our Spring-Summer 1965 issue. “Today we can no longer believe in permanent laws, defined religions, durable architecture or eternal kingdoms,” Tinguely said in the fifties. “Immutability does not exist. All is movement. All is static.” He speaks here to Laura Mathews; this was her first published work.
If you were in my place, what questions would you ask?
… I would ask first of all: why do things move in your work? It’s the most simple, and also the most complicated, question. And I answer: things move because if they didn’t move, they might move; that is, in trying to make static things I have tried what everyone tries, and I’ve found that one petrifies situations, the phenomena that one is trying to seize. And finally one finds that as you try to seize these things, the things tell you something. In our time, things race and revolve automatically; industry and automation dominate us and impose a rhythm on us. Faced with that kind of thing, my work must move to remain vital, to avoid obsolescence … one doesn’t admit it, but one knows very well that in moving machines one is faced with life against death. Movement is so natural and so forceful that it is a fundamental dynamism. And anyway, one wants machines to move …
They have the form of motion, and it’s odd to see them not move.
There is something which is not made with the machine, which one can’t see until it moves. When it is still, one knows it’s going to move because something is missing. When it moves, one knows it’s completed. Immobility in a machine must make the phenomenon of motion imminent … In the machine for my last exposition, I found that when I had built it well, when it was what I wanted plastically, it didn’t run as I had wanted it to. When it ran well, it didn’t look like I had wanted it to. So I changed the rhythms, the speeds, to integrate these two plastic phenomena: that is to say the mass of the machine and its less controllable phenomenon of movement, of coming and going. You see, this machine is shut inside itself; it’s condemned to move in its own place. In working in its own place it evokes—for me—the myth of Sisyphus, the man who is condemned to push a stone up a mountain eternally, only to have it fall back to the bottom again. There is a new way to evoke this uselessness of function, but this time, with a serious and mechanistic mode of expression.
It’s a little like this tape recorder, or any machine, isn’t it?
It’s terrifying how we don’t realize how the machine has come to dominate our age. We don’t realize that your hair is treated by machine; that your stockings and your sweater and everything you’re wearing were made by machines; and that the machines which do your hair and make your clothes were made by other machines. What happens at the base of our civilization is incredible. We go round in circles, there’s no question about that. But insofar as it’s dynamic, we advance. This domination by machine has produced an America that is a mad circus of automated, industrial machinery, such as we’ve not yet seen in Europe. Yet even here we’ve grown oblivious to the fact that in Paris there is such a mass of machinery in the street that one hardly moves. But it will get worse: you’re going to see real madness! This kind of madness preoccupies me, and I think that with my machines I point out the stupidity of the machine; the enormous uselessness of this gigantic effort.
Read the whole interview in Issue 34.