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Machine with Concrete

Arthur Ganson's Machine with Concrete stands out because it breaks the unwritten creed of machines. Almost all machines we build are created to make things go faster. In factories, machines build products with precision much faster than human workers could. In our pockets, our cell phones convey messages from person to person over vast distances in the blink of an eye and our airplanes can cary us distances that would have before taken months to traverse in a matter of hours. As Eduardo Kac noted in 1993:

…we see the continuity of real time overcoming the contiguity of real space. We experience this new condition daily, when we are in the office or studio and activate by remote control our answering machine at home to retrieve recorded messages or when we withdraw money from an automatic teller machine that communicates with a remote computer. The impact of fiber optics, monitors, and video cameras on our vision and our surroundings will go beyond that of electricity in the nineteenth century: ‘In order to see,’ Virilio observes, ‘we will no longer be satisfied in dissipating the night, the exterior darkness. We will also dissipate time lapses and distances, the exterior itself. (Shanken 234)

This immediacy of machines making space and time irrelevant by serving us with what we want with unmatched immediacy can be observed in almost every aspect of modern life. Machine with Concrete, interestingly enough, also invites the user to question the relevancy of real space and object permanence by performing the reverse of the basic function of most machines: by taking a relatively fast and immediate action and converting it into an inconceivably slow one. Using a series of twelve pairs of worms and worm gears, it slows down the rotation of a motor spinning at 200 revolutions per minute by 1/50th with each gear pair, resulting in the last gear turning at a speed of 1 revolution every 2.3 trillion years. This is a speed that is far beyond imperceptible, it is so slow that it is for all intensive purposes a non-factor within our temporal frame of reference. A clear demonstration of how slowly it is turning, the last gear is embedded in a concrete block so as to be completely immobile, and yet the main motor still turns at its brisk 200 rpm. To give an idea of the amount of time it would take for any sort of measurable rotation of the last gear to occur, it would take approximately 6.4 billion years of continuous operation of the motor for the last gear to turn by one degree. Given that the sun itself will die and destroy all life on earth as we know it within 4-5 billion years , it is safe to say that the machine itself will be destroyed by either planetary annihilation or simple decay of its own materials over time before the motion at one end came into conflict with the solid concrete at the other.

By extending the quick motion of a small, relatable object over such a massive time frame, the machine extends our thoughts to a galactic timescale. The linear physical construction of the machine also aids in this by providing a visual metaphor, each new gear pair is an exponential slowdown of motion, and our minds attempt to keep up with the ever more subtle speeds the gears turn at as our eyes travel from motor to cinderblock.

This work has an odd relationship with Thijs Rijkers' Suicide Machine Sand, as both works engage in a motion that in theory will lead to the ceasing of that motion, and yet Sand results in a conceptual temporal self containment, a machine that will end itself and cease its own existence in this world, and Concrete points to the exact opposite: a motion that is naturally conceived of as a single unit (one rotation) which forces us to consider the insane amount of time which it would take to complete. Even though both pieces focus on unsustainable motion, one calls the viewer to view its life as relatively small and feel sympathy for it, and the other inspires feelings of awe and personal insignificance in the face of such a monumental task being undertaken by such a physically small and immediately present device.


Shanken, Edward A. "Documents: Eduardo Kac: Telepresence Art" Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009. 234. Print.