Deus ex Machina | The Circus of Suffering


The Machine that Measures Love. Photo by Oscar de Paz. Source: Arts Santa Mònica

“The only perfection which modern civilisation achieves is mechanical; machines are magnificent and immaculate but the life which serves them or is served by them isn’t magnificent or shiny or more perfect or more comely.”
– Karel Čapek, Letters from England [1925]

Are machines able to transmit emotions? This is the first thing that came to our mind while visiting The Circus of Suffering [El Circo de las Penas], an art-work by Antigua i Barbuda that they define as “a drama enacted by machines that show how the soul express itself by way of machines assembled from objects with a memory of other world”. Every machine we use —even the smallest one, leave some traces in our life; the continuous interaction between form and content has an emotional component. Sometimes, machines are a reference of our past and some other times, we build machines in an effort of save that past. In this context, Antigua i Barbuda created a fictional story based on the life of their main character João Siqueiros, who built a machine for cutting leather when he was a child.

As we can imagine, there’s not much information about the life of João Siqueiros. So, to research on his life and history, Antigua i Barbuda have used different sources of information, such as references to Siqueiros name in biographical studies, like Monturiol‘s memoirs or Karel Capek’s ‘Letters from England‘. And some other references has been taken from Siqueiros own philosophical reflections which includes machine’s designs and plans drawn by Siqueiros on the last twelve years of his life.

Some of the machines designed by Siqueiros and now constructed by Antigua i Barbuda are:

[1] The Machine that Measures Love


The Machine that Measures Love. Photo: dpr-barcelona

HEART

The heart beat lasts a second

Sixty beats the marathon runner

Eighty of the cuckolded accounting on Santiago Dantas Street

Hundred the opium smoker from Al Juripis

One hundred twenty Mario Andrade’s daughter who is virgin and loved

One hundred forty the son of Sa Carneiro when looking at the daughter of Mario Andrade

How much love fills a heartbeat?

How much love a systole looses?

What do we give when we give love?

What do we get when we are loved?

How can you transform love into numbers and quantity? Siqueiros proposed that by using an artificial heart it is possible to measure the amount of warmth that you inspire to others. Unable to support this thesis, the measuring system of this machine was defective and drove him into several depressions until he burned and destroyed the plans and abandoned the machine, until a collector discovered the signature of its creator.

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[2] The Memory Machine


The Memory Machine. Photo by Oscar de Paz. Source: Arts Santa Mònica

This machine was intended to provoke a response of the senses, understanding that memory was the sum of all our senses and works by producing subjective reconstructions of reality. When he built this machine, Siqueiros was trying to demonstrate that human memory is unreliable, pursuing a path of study that led him to the discovery of the Objective Emotion outlined in his manifesto Against Emotion.

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[3] The Crying Machine


The Crying Machine. Photo by Oscar de Paz. Source: Arts Santa Mònica

GUIDELINES FOR CRYING.

First guideline: look for a sad memory
If you don’t have one, leave, you’ll not be able to cry.

Second guideline: read a sad poem.
If you don’t feel a lump in the throat, leave, you’ll not be able to cry.

Third guideline: imagine the day of your dead.
If you feel immortal, leave, you’ll not be able to cry.

Fourth guideline (only when the other three has failed)
Cry because you have abandoned all hope of crying.

Siqueiros believes that the learning mechanisms are also mechanical. According to Antigua y Barbuda, Siqueiro designed this machine when he was fourty years old while traveling in South America. When he came back to Europe he sold the machine to the Munich’s Municipal Mortuory to be used at funerals. It was confiscated by the Nazis who considered it a degenerated machine.

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[4] The Essence of Music Machine


The Essence of Music Machine. Photo: dpr-barcelona


The Essence of Music Machine. Photo: dpr-barcelona

What is “the essence of music”? In words of John Cage, “the music’s essence was independent of its physical environment.” And following the same idea, for Siqueiros the relationship between music and the senses was the main task when he built a machine which converted musical notes into smells. Inspired by children with hearing problems, Siqueiros invented the machine to enable these children to discover and be moved by music in a new way.

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[5] The Soul of a Machine


The Soul of a Machine. Photo by Oscar de Paz. Source: Arts Santa Mònica

Even if it sounds as a contradiction, according to Antigua i Barbuda, Siqueiros was strongly opposed to the utilitarian conception of the machine, as nothing but an instrument of work. In their own words:

Rather than seeing the engineer as a Creator, a latter-day god able to breathe life into his constructions, he believed that matter already has a life of its own. Hegel, the rationalist philosopher, came to the conclusion that machines have no soul because they have no consciousness, and argued that consciousness of being and origin —in other words, the consciousness of a diving creator, or God— is the exclusive possession of civilized man.

Siqueiros built this machine to demonstrate that Hegel was wrong.

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This work of Antigua i Barbuda is an immersive travel on our early machine memories. As luthiers they have created a possible inventor with impossible machines to communicate our most intrinsic human feelings. While enjoying their work we could find similarities to  the work of musicians Cabo San Roque, a band dedicated to build new and unthinkable instruments using discarded washing machines and even a complete porduction line of an ancient cookie factory.


Música a Màquina. Cabo San Roque. The steel sleeve of the CD under oxidation process.

After visiting this mechanic circus of feelings it’s easier to remember that your trash is going to survive you. Being plastic or steely, our detritus will remain on the biosphere even after we are only a blurry memory. What if accepting such fact and start designing our stuff under this entropic approach. And like the luthier does while building its instrument, knowing that it will transcend the existence of the musician. The pieces from our trash will rearrange with nature in unknown patterns for us. They may pulse, move, scratch… and sometimes even feel things we are all too human to know.

“I love the landfill as you love cemeteries.

I am nothing more than a machine.

I also want to be scrapped

My blood along with lubricants and coolants,

let the flesh rot next to plastic and rubber.

My bones will turn into rods and camshafts

the heart will stop beating along with power supplies

and my brain will forget everything I was, everything I did”

Joao Siqueira (1850 -)

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Related links and info:

[1] The Circus of Suffering photo-set at Arts Santa Monica FB Page.
[2] The Circus of Suffering photo-set at dpr-barcelona Flickr
[3] Antigua i Barbuda web-site
[4] Poems originally in Catalan. Free translation by dpr-barcelona


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