Suicide Machine Sand

Suicide Machine Sand is a work from artist Thijs Rijkers which explores the concept of self destruction in in a maner that is both thought provoking and highly unsettling. Its function is to slowly tilt a small plate on which rests a pile of sand. The sand pours into its own gearbox, wearing down and ultimately destroying the same gears that cause the plate to be slowly tilted downward.


The work both embodies and exceedes Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s description of the new role of sculpture in his 1928 work, The New Vision, where he proposes:

[…] Examples of […] sculpture, which do not depend on […] an illusion are, for the present, difficult to find. Such sculpture must effectively be kinetic as well, since only through the action of opposed forces can it be brought to balanced rest, to equipoise. […] An actual realization of equipoised sculpture can be made through the application of magnetic forces, or with electric remote control. […] To the three dimensions of volume, a fourth – movement – (in other words, time is added). […] In sculpture: from mass to motion. (Shanken 193-4)

Suicide Machine Sand fits Moholy-Nagy’s description of a transition in sculpture away from implicit motion created by static visual cues, an illusion as he calls it, and toward actual motion that works with the other components of the piece to create the sculpture's aesthetic. Suicide Machine Sand is as the title states, a machine, a word which implies a mechanical object built with purpose, one that's identity is inextricably tied to functionality. Because of this functional identity, its action, the motion with which it caries out its purpose becomes its defining component. When viewing most any machine the purpose it serves causes the viewer to think of its creator, and why and how they built it, and consider how the object in front of them reflects the mind that brought it into being. Because Suicide Machine Sand's sole purpose is to unmake its own making, it is stripped of a practical use: if its goal is to destroy itself, wouldn't it have been more efficient had it never existed at all? Attention is drawn to the machine rather than the creator, and the viewer is more likely to empathize with the former than the latter. We do not innately understand what would drive someone to build something that serves only to destroy itself, but we are very familiar with issues related to purposelessness, questioning the meaning of ones own existence, and self destruction. We identify more with the machine than its human creator, something that is relatively uncommon in non-anthropomorphic mechanical art. Perhaps more heart rending is Rijkers' Suicide Machine Saw, which has the same purpose of self destruction as Sand but much more violently turns a crank which pulls a saw over its own motor. While Saw is more direct and immediately affecting, some may find that Sand hits closer to home, as we as humans do not often violently and immediately destroy ourselves, but Sand's slow and incremental death can be viewed as a metaphor for the human condition itself.

Again, since its only purpose is to destroy itself, Suicide Machine Sand's entire being is a part of the action of its own destruction. The entire point to every piece of the machine is to bring an end to its own operation, an idea that blurs the boundaries between spatial and temporal self containment. The sculpture, like many artworks, is self contained within a particular space, and its only action is upon itself. It exists independent of the rest of the world, save a power source. It stands out from the majority of kinetic sculpture however, in that its own actions bring themselves to a close, meaning it in a way turns itself off in the most jaring way possible. It brings thought to the human condition, as we ourselves are born with a built in expiration date with our shortening telomeres and weakening bones, as well as the greater structure of human society, which may would call self destructive (a sentiment particularly popular during the cold war era). In this respect it is not unlike Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York, a machine that operated so vigorously it tore itself apart. Suicide Machine Sand however, is more direct, as instead of ensuring its own demise as a by product of its operation, its function is to create its own demise. Humanity has long been plagued by visions of bringing itself to ruin, and we are resultingly morbidly fascinated with the concept of self destruction, particularly at the hands of our own creations. Perhaps this work can be viewed as an alternative to that future, maybe it asks of us if it would not be better to have our machines destroy themselves rather than be the death of us.


Shanken, Edward A. "Documents: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: The New Vision" Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009. 193-4. Print.

4 replies on “Suicide Machine Sand”

Fascinating artwork and great
Fascinating artwork and great summary as well. I’m curious as to whether there are other self-destructing machines by the same artist, as “Suicide Machine Sand” makes it sound like a part of a series of installations of similar “suicide machines.” What you wrote about the piece blurring the “boundaries between spatial and temporal self containment” really works, as seeing a machine like this piece alone on a blank wall with nothing around it makes me think it’s all alone with no purpose except to end its own life.

self-mutilation of an object
self-mutilation of an object is somehow very enticing. The sort of admittance of temporality. For some reason this work/article leads me to thinking about Jack Burnham’s article ‘System Esthetics’. The idea of this piece being a system, and even you being a part of the system by simply being there for it. Also the statement of an object that is finite… sort of like Dan Flavin, who essentially stated that the light bulbs he used were not really significant as objects and could just as easily be returned to th hardware store as they could be meticulously preserved in a gallery archive for generations.

It also makes a sort of minor connection, for me at least, to William Basinski’s Disintegration loops… if you are not familiar, Basinski took very old tapes of his early compositions (the physical tape was probably from the 1970s), and he looped the tape until the playhead wore through the tapes information completely and it was nearly silent. the idea of inducing impendant ahhnihilation of an object in its present function.

Another disjunctive comment: a quote I thought of while reading your article:

“Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occured to you that you don’t go on forever. Must have been shattering. Stamped into one’s memory. And yet, I can’t remember it. It never occured to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squawling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, theres only one direction. And time is its only measure.”

(Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990))

sorry that this is all one
sorry that this is all one big block of text. I did try to format it but it was being stubborn. Hopefully it wont be too difficult to discriminate between the paragraphs

Another great entry. I
Another great entry. I wonder if there is documentation of the work actually getting destroyed eventually. Good linkage to the quote by Moholy-Nagy, although it’s a soft link to say that this goes beyond that, since a lot of other sculptures do possess the qualities of spatial and temporal self-containment as well. The idea of autonomy in human societies is sometimes critiqued in biopolitics as illusionary since we have given up control of our own life and death. It’s interesting to see this anxiety reflected in self-contained free will devices. i wont say more, look forward to your reworking of the piece!

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