Becoming Machine: Surrealist Automatism and Some Contemporary Instances Involuntary Drawing, David Lomas, δημοσίευση Tate Papers, No 18 Autumn 2012Marilena Pateraki
Examining the idea of being ‘machine-like’ and its impact on the practice of automatic writing, this article charts a history of automatism from the late nineteenth century to the present day, exploring the intersections between physiology, psychology, poetry and art.
Philippe Parreno’s The Writer 2007 (fig.1) is a video, played on a screen the size of a painted miniature, of the famous eighteenth-century Jaquet-Droz automaton recorded in the act of writing with a goose quill pen. Zooming in on the automaton’s hand and face, Parreno contrives to produce a sense of uncertainty as to the human or robotic nature of the doll. It is an example of a contemporary fascination with cyborgs and with the increasingly blurred dividing line between machine and organism. In a manner worthy of surrealist artist René Magritte, Parreno plays on the viewer’s sense of astonishment. As the camera rolls, the android deliberates before slowly writing: ‘What do you believe, your eyes or my words?’ The ‘Écrivain’ is one of the most celebrated automata that enjoyed a huge vogue in Enlightenment Europe. In a lavish two-volume book, Le Monde des automates (1928), Edouard Gélis and Alfred Chapuis define the android as ‘an automaton with a human face’.1 A chapter of this book, which supplied the illustrations for an article in the surrealist journal Minotaure, is devoted to drawing and writing automata.2 The oldest example Gélis and Chapuis cite was fabricated by the German inventor Friedrich von Knauss whom, they state, laboured at the problem of ‘automatic writing’ for twenty years before presenting his first apparatus in 1753.3
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