Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Adding Machine

As a bank clerk in Auburn, New York, William Seward Burroughs (1857-1898) became convinced that banks needed a machine that would add figures accurately and print entries and sums. He went to St. Louis, took a job in a machine shop, and began tinkering. By 1891, he had several patents and an adding machine sufficiently reliable for use in banks. It was sold by a firm called American Arithmometer Company, later renamed Burroughs.

 The photograph above shows the first model sold by the American Arithmometer Company. It measures 8 cm. x 38 cm. x 32 cm. 

The photograph below shows a true-to-scale copy of an archaeological stone sculpture from Teotihuacan, Mexico, depicting a jaguar. It is an opening exhibit of the exposition "The adding machine" by Mai-Thu Perret which takes place at the Aargauer Kunsthaus.  
Mai-Thu Perret, The Adding Machine, 2011, polyurethane foam, 103 x 243 x 87 cm

Arriving 15 minutes late to the Aargauer Kunsthaus I barely catch the beginning of the Artist’s talk with Mai-Thu Perret and Madeleine Schuppli, Director and Curator of the Aargauer Kunsthaus.

Everything about Mai-Thu is surprising and refreshing: the contrast between her full feminine red lips and her childlike sandals, her fragile figure and a speed of a machine gun with which she answers questions....answers them with irony and almost shocking directness. 
 Image from www.vogue.it
I am irritated with not seeing the exhibits beforehand to be able to understand what the artist refers to. She speaks of references, which is honest and fresh, since most of us want to be inventors and not interpreters... even the name for the show she chooses, referring to the “cut-up ” technique of American writer Willian S. Burroughs, the great grandson of the inventor of the adding machine (I think...)   

In the last few years Mai-Thu Perret (born 1976) has drawn considerable attention in Europe an the US for her multidisciplinary artistic work, which includes sculprures, painting, installation, video and text-based pieces. 
Little Planetary Harmony, 2006, wood slices, hammered aluminium, aluminium colored acrylic paint, foam, plaster, 353 x 665.5 x 365.7 cm
Mai-Thu Perret, Untitled, 2010, Acryl auf Holz, 60.6 x 45 cm
Untitled, 2009, acrylic gouache on plywood, 24.7 x 19.7 cm
Show "The Adding Machine" stays with the Aargauer Kunsthaus until 31.07.2011 and then goes on view in modified form at the MAGASIN - Centre national d'Art Contemporain in Grenoble, France, in the fall 2011. 


1 comment:

  1. If you really want to freak out, read "Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs.

    It's an hallucinogenic nightmare excursion through "Bill's" brain. (At least at the time he wrote it. He got weird later.)

    He had a thing for machinery--in the novel his typewriter turns into a huge cockroach while he's writing, then scurries off and jumps off of his desk. Delightful.

    So the relationship between him and the inventor of the adding machine is a very observant and interesting anecdote. Thank you for that.

    By the way, William Burroughs and his wife had a clever idea one night--"Gee dear, why don't you put an apple on your head and I'll shoot it off, just like William Tell!!?? said Burroughs. His wife said, "Sure! Sounds like fun!" So she did, and he pulled the trigger and blew the apple right off her head--along with a large portion of her brain. Killed her of course. When later asked about it Burrough's replied, "Well, it was a partial success." (I wonder what he meant by that?)

    Speaking of existential novels, when you finish with Fitzgerald, (great novel by the way!), and you're feeling good about life, pick up "The Sheltering Sky" by Paul Bowles. It's about Western "travelers" who find the desert a little different than "The Lonely Planet" guidebook they've been reading. Like really, really different. I won't spoil it for you; (come to think of it, the book is spoiled all by itself). But for 1949, Bowles did a helluva job describing the real Africa and why it isn't a playground for bored, pseudo-intellectual hippies who are much better off going to the "Pavillion of Countries" at Disneyworld than ever leaving home.

    Oh wait--sorry. This isn't my blog.

    By the way, Mai-Thu is a "babe."

    P.S. I tried to post this note as "Depressed sexist pig" but all I could choose from was "Anonymous." Oh well.