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.