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May 18, 2012

Bike-powered mixed-media art installation relies on unpredictability

Joseph Griffiths’ installation, Drawing Machine #1, speaks to the contemporary era, and more specifically, the disengagement human life has had with the material environment. By fusing a tool such as a bicycle with people, in order to create art, Griffiths questions whether or not there really is a method to the madness.

Image via Joseph Griffiths

Drawing Machine served as an outlet for the Australian artist to combat the rigidity he had been experiencing within his own practice by creating something a little bit more capricious while still incorporating the use of a machine. Here, we talk to Griffiths about his inspiration for this piece, which has gotten significant buzz on the blogosphere, as well as the complexities of the themes he explores in the work pictured here and his other artistic endeavors. Griffiths’ latest project, Shelters, will be opening on Friday as part of the 2012 Next Wave Festival.

Image via Joseph Griffiths

Interview with artist Joseph Griffiths

What was the inspiration behind Drawing Machine #1?

To build a human-powered machine that would produce humanistic and unpredictable results. The idea was to illustrate the vital role of human touch and interaction in the mechanized cycle of production and lifestyle in the digital age. We are commonly disconnected from tactile engagement with the world, which as a visual artist is the primary means of work and a happy and satisfied existence.

When we have direct contact with objects, and how they are made and decorated, we tend to place higher value on them and are less likely to wastefully disregard them. We are also becoming accustomed to a lifestyle in which machines have replaced and/or outmoded the handmade, and the everyday skills we need to survive are being exchanged into the digital machines. When they break down, we are largely helpless. I wanted to create an experience that encouraged the audience to participate directly in the machine to create something of joy and beauty.

Are you an avid cyclist? Why a bike?

Yes, I have been an avid cyclist for many years, although now that I live more remotely from the city, I have to travel larger distances and unfortunately rely more heavily on motor vehicles. I think it is wonderful to see the cycling culture become more mainstream and it can serve as a reminder of how far we can get on our own steam!

How does this fit in with the other work you do?

I began working on the drawing machine as a counterpoint to the more traditional drawings I make in my practice. I have been drawing very small, highly detailed images which take months to complete, and as my skills developed, I felt more than anything that they were becoming more controlled, mechanical and predictable. The aim was reverse this equation… Could I create a machine that would render human results?

Anything else you’d like add about this piece?

The work was presented in a disused fun parlor that I used to visit as a young teenager, so inviting people onto a ‘ride’ of sorts was very interesting and I was overwhelmed by the positive enthusiasm of everyone involved. That was three years ago, however, so my work has evolved from there quite a lot. I am still interested in the relationship between artistic creativity and survival skills and I have been developing projects that explore this through improvised shelters and vernacular architecture. I am increasingly exploring natural environments, decorative traditions and folklore, as means to uncover some of the primal creativity that has helped humans survive and develop such rich cultures.

Image via Joseph Griffiths