When the machines come they will be wrapped in cellophane. This one strains in its black plastic casing, twisting and turning to set itself free but only becoming more bound. And more anthropomorphic: seeming to kneel, seeming to stretch, seeming to offer benediction, one moment a Renaissance Mary, one moment wearing a burka. The struggle of limbs beneath the tight gleaming sheet is more human somehow than the movement of the real human who pulls it off.
When the machines come they will gleam with their strangeness. We might allow them to absorb us and lead us, like the first man in a suit, who dons a balaclava and offers up his head to its cold metal embrace. Or we might try and be blasé, like the second man, also in a suit, whose self-assured attempts to master the machine flounder, leaving him crumpled like a defeated clown.
When the machines come they will change the landscape – just like machines of the Industrial Revolution did, and of every manufacturing revolution since, and of the digital age. Humanity will need to adjust where it stands. Sans objet: groundless. Literally, the ground shifts beneath the second man’s feet, opening up, sliding, pushing him to keep up. It can seem aggressive, this machine, but when the two men reach out to it and hold on tight, they can rise through its strength, soaring into new shapes, new possibilities.
When the machines come we will search them over for signs of humanity, and send in photographs to the twitter account Faces in Things. When this one rears up and tilts its pneumatic pad, its rivets seem like twinkling eyes, a hard metal line becoming a quizzical mouth. A lean to the left like a tilt of the head as it scans the audience, and for a moment its intention is uncertain: malign or benign? Always the pendulum swings between opposites, between silly and serious, tender and alarming, mildness and menace.
When the machines come they will transform our geometries, making the horizontal vertical, building higher, stronger, implacable. The panels of the flooring become monolithic buildings, looming and unscalable. The space for the two men becomes a small cramped box, trapping them no matter how they try to escape. Sans objet: without purpose. There are no disclosed politics here, no obvious declaration against the capitalist organisation of humans imposed through machines: but those readings are available if you want them.
When the machines come, what will their power be? This machine, like our machines, is always controlled by a human, but it’s easy to forget that when it seems to have such intelligence of its own. This machine, like our machines, is capable of punching holes into the fabric of what we know, changing our sense of space and the infinite, shining at us a light as though from an unknown galaxy.
When the machines come, some will hail them, wide-eyed and astonished, and some will splutter with boredom, unable to see what the point of them is. When the machines come, there will be difference but also repetition. When the machines come…
Sans Objet was on as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2016. Click here for more of their programme.