Tinguely / Métamatics
Tinguely / Métamatics
Tinguely / Métamatics
Tinguely / Métamatics
Tinguely / Métamatics

Tinguely / Métamatics

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Jean Tinguely was a Swiss sculptor. He is best known for his sculptural machines or kinetic art, in the Dada tradition; known officially as metamechanics. Tinguely's art satirized the mindless overproduction of material goods in advanced industrial society.

Born in Fribourg, Tinguely grew up in Basel, but moved to France in 1952 with his first wife, Swiss artist Eva Aeppli, to pursue a career in art. He belonged to the Parisian avant garde in the mid-twentieth century and was one of the artists who signed the New Realist's manifesto (Nouveau réalisme) in 1960.

His best-known work, a self-destroying sculpture titled Homage to New York (1960), only partially self-destructed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, although his later work, Study for an End of the World No. 2 (1962), detonated successfully in front of an audience gathered in the desert outside Las Vegas.

In 1971, Tinguely married his second wife, Niki de Saint Phalle with whom he collaborated on several artistic projects such as the Hon – en katedraL or Le Cyclop.

In the mid-1950s Jean Tinguely began production of a series of generative works titled Métamatics: machines that produced art works. With this series of works Tinguely not only problematised the introduction of the robotic machine as interface in our society, but also questioned the role of the artist, the art work and the viewer. Metamechanics, in relation to art history, describes the kinetic sculpture machines of Jean Tinguely. It is also applied to, and may have its origins in, earlier work of the Dada art movement.

Jean Tinguely created his Métamatic sculptures between 1955 and 1959. These sculptures are modelled in a way that resembles the aesthetics of the industrial revolution. The drawings they produce resemble, but also mimic mid-century gestural abstraction. The abstract drawings are produced by means of a motor-driven arm that holds drawing implements of the viewer’s choosing against a piece of paper. The result is a random composition of lines and dots in colours chosen by the user.

His most famous Métamatic, no 17, was created especially for the 1959 Paris Biennale at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris in October 1959. Besides moving around freely, creating drawings outside the museum, the mobile drawing machine driven by a petrol engine also squirted lily-of-the-valley scent and inflated a large balloon literally to bursting point. Tinguely also built a portable Méta-Matic with which to advertise his exhibition in bars all over Paris. Méta-Matic No. 17 was the great sensation of the exhibition and for Tinguely marked the apogee of his meteoric rise to fame in those early years.

Tinguely's Metamatic, no. 17 altered the already challenging nature of his earlier metamechanical works by introducing a product directly affected by the spectator. No longer just watching a process, the viewer, by choosinga an artistic instrument, plays a role in the creation of an entirely new work of art.

In effect, the artist's work challenged the centuries-old tradition of artistic creation: taking part of the art-making out of the hands of the artist and placing it in those of the spectator. Beyond blurring the line of the role of the artist/viewer, here we see the beginnings of interactive art, a practice that is now highlighted by dozens of artists and takes center stage at many museums.

Tinguely was asked in 1960 to produce a work to be performed in the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In collaboration with other artists/engineers, among them Billy Klüver and Robert Rauschenberg, he produced a self-destroying mechanism that performed for 27 minutes during a public performance for invited guests.


This intensive life of this machine is the cause of autodestruction

In the end, the public browsed the remnants of the machine for souvenirs to take home. This homage to the energy of a city that keeps rebuilding itself time after time is a wonderful example of the different and sometimes conflicting conceptions of artists and engineers on how machines should work–and as such an early collaborative effort that foreshadowed the events staged by E.A.T.—as well as a document on the 60s with the rise of happening and pearformance.

This is one piece of what the artist called a “self-constructing and self-destroying work of art,” composed of bicycle wheels, motors, a piano, an addressograph, a go-cart, a bathtub, and other cast-off objects. Twenty-three feet long, twenty-seven feet high, and painted white, the machine was set in motion on March 18, 1960, before an audience in the Museum’s sculpture garden.

During its brief operation, a meteorological trial balloon inflated and burst, colored smoke was discharged, paintings were made and destroyed, and bottles crashed to the ground. A player piano, metal drums, a radio broadcast, a recording of the artist explaining his work, and a competing shrill voice correcting him provided the cacophonic sound track to the machine’s self-destruction—until it was stopped short by the fire department.

Developing upon groundwork laid by Jean Tinguely, Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) was created as a machine performance art group and is considered to be a pioneer of industrial performing arts. 

Since its inception in 1978 SRL has operated as an organization of creative technicians and technical creatives dedicated to re-directing the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare.

Since 1979, SRL has staged over 45 mechanized presentations in the United States and Europe. Each performance consists of a unique set of ritualized interactions between machines, robots, and special-effects devices, employed in developing themes of socio-political satire. Humans are present only as audience or operators.

As of late 2012, SRL conducted over 50 shows throughout the world, mostly in the Western United States. SRL shows are essentially performance art installations acted out by machines rather than people. The interactions between the machines are usually noisy, violent, and destructive. A frequent tag-line on SRL literature is "Producing the most dangerous shows on Earth." A side-effect of the group's activities is frequent interactions with governmental and legal authorities.

Tinguely’s long-cherished passion for Formula 1 car racing is also thematised in some of the key works of this period. His Fontaine Jo Siffert erected in Fribourg in the spring of 1984, for example, is a tribute to the racing driver, Jo Siffert, who died on the racetrack. Tinguely also installed a rotating sculpture made of components gleaned from two of Renault’s own Formula 1 racing cars into the Renault works in both Paris and Bern.

 Called Pit-Stop, this work is unique in Tinguely’s oeuvre in that it also incorporates the medium of film. It uses footage of a real-life pit-stop projected onto the walls of the exhibition space by a combination of 16-mm projectors and convex mirrors. In 1988 Tinguely combined racing car components and bones to build Lola T 180 ­– Mémorial pour Joakim B., a machine-cum-altar created in memory of his friend, the racing driver Joakim Bonnier, who was killed in 1972.

I have always tried to work together with other artists, if only to get beyond myself. Because sometimes I feel like I’m trapped inside myself, and forced to be myself, I feel like one condemned. I cannot do otherwise than what I do.