Art machines have a condition – even a pathology, perhaps even a
plight. It is to exist between two economies, two regimes. This status,
like that of anything that does not fit in, is their predicament – and
of course that which marks them out as unlike the common run of things.
The economy of the industrial machine, of the robot, is, or at least
was, that of “mechanical efficiency” (in Baudrillard’s 
phrase). Art machines, it is true, work. The machine is after all
something that does something. Art machines have their duties too;
these machines are mechanical without being efficient.
This efficiency of the industrial machine is an efficiency of desire
imposed from without: human wants compose a structure of selection,
like that of Natural Selection, where those that fail to satisfy its
imperatives face their extinction. This ceaseless process is suspended
for art machines. Their economy is altogether more uncertain and yet it
is as arbitrary. For the industrial machine, the survivors of the
process of selection, like members of any successful species,
perpetuate themselves. But it is by no means as certain that an art
machine will be succeeded by its offspring. Art machines form a
discontinuous line. This is because of their uncertain status as
This extension of Natural Selection to the mechanical was present
almost from the moment of that theory’s pronouncement, in Samuel
Butler’s 1863 Darwin Among the Machines. (It will be remembered that
Darwin finally published his The Origin of Species in 1859. Butler
expanded his 1863 text in his satirical 1872 novel Erewhon ).
Darwin and Butler corresponded and Darwin admired Butler’s grasp of his
ideas. Whether Darwin knew of Butler’s extension of evolution to the
mechanical I do not know. In any case it has been rather
neglected. For instance, the biologist Richard Dawkins’s recent
application of genetics to culture
(The Extended Phenotype) contains not a mention of it. Nor does that of
Dawkins's follower, Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine. For Butler, a
relentless process of evolutionary adaptation and selection
(“subservience to the use of man has played that part among machines
which natural selection has performed in the animal and vegetable
kingdoms”, Darwin Among the Machines) operates upon the species of the
machines. These machines have their own taxonomy. He writes of “the
gigantic task of classifying machines into the genera and sub-genera,
species, varieties and sub-varieties”. This is a task Butler hesitated
to commence and one that is perhaps still yet to be begun. And it is
true, we also still lack a taxonomy of art machines.
Art machines (and ArtistMachines – Lewendowski’s own sub genus of
the greater genera art machines) are exempted from the disciplinary
regime of the “use of man” to which industrial machines are subjected.
The mechanical arts are conventionally at a distance from what art is
usually thought to be about. So, in Kant there is nothing wrong with
the practical. But to him an ‘art machine’ would be a
contradiction: if it is machine, it is not fine art; and so also if
these terms are reversed: if it is fine art it cannot be machine. In
fact, neither the machine nor its products can be fine art. Fine
art "must seem to be as free from all constraint of arbitrary rules as
if it were a product of pure nature." (Kant, Critique of Judgement,
section 45). And an art machine could not be placed comfortably amongst
the mechanical arts: its products lack utility.
Since Kant’s time we are more accustomed perhaps to blurring of the
boundary of fine art and the mechanical. Two worlds so long apart were,
however, unlikely to come into contact without upset. So the fate of
Duchamp’s Rotoscopes at the World’s Fair, between the mechanical
garbage crusher and the potato peeler, was a reverse miracle.
May we ask, in a paraphrase of Archbishop Samuel Wilberforce, the
inquisitor of Huxley, Darwin’s “bulldog”, if the art machine is
descended from a garbage crusher on its mother’s or its father’s side?
The facts are similar in either case; the art machine is not descended
from the line of contemporary domestic and industrial devices any more
than is the human from the other primates. Theirs are different strains.
But similarly also, the two kinds are related: cams and levers that
make an art machine draw are also shared with their more mundane
cousins, like DNA between the primates and us. The mechanical aspects
of art machines are not greatly different from machines in general: it
is what they do – or do not – do that marks them out.
But, with much in common, perhaps the two are more closely related than
we might like to think? Our art is more mechanical – and our mechanics?
Is not Duchamp reputed to have observed to Brancusi, “Painting’s washed
up. Who’ll do anything better than that propeller”? Our machinery in
its turn aspires to art.
For the present time, perhaps forever, for art machines, the rule of
efficiency remains suspended. The art machine is placed, like all art,
under another imperative. But uncomfortably: machines in art can do
about as well as art in the machine world (the latter was something
demonstrated to Duchamp’s satisfaction at least:
It is not use that disciplines the art machines. These are still
machines somewhat out of place among the non-mechanical arts. Hence
perhaps their curious proneness to accident and other calamities, for
example Libeskind’s Reading, Writing, and Memory Machines destroyed in
conflagration. Art machines can be unlucky. This is probably the price
they pay for their singularity. Who after all is likely to regret the
passing of a BMW except its owner? Art machines, however, are often
prototypes, one offs. Certainly, there is not usually another to roll
off a production line.
This is more a matter of the economic than the technical. These
machines share with their workaday cousins the possibility of
replication and therefore their continuation over time. Butler writes
of the industrial machine, “if they die…they will immediately enter
into a new phase of existence, for what machine dies entirely in every
part at one and the same instant” (Darwin Among the Machines). This is
a possibility bequeathed also to art machines by history and proof of
their kinship with their industrial fellows. They too may be made and
remade. Indeed, few of them have never been remade and (or) refined.
The present ArtistMachine, it is to be hoped is not the last in its
line. Nor is the present one the first. Here we encounter a succession.
(Why should it not also be cloned to create a critic or curator
machine? This is a possibility Lewandowski has suggested). The
ArtistMachines, as with other art machines, are no longer in an age of
mechanical reproduction; they may reproduce, but they also are
reproduced: “machinery is …employed in begetting machinery” as Butler
observed. This reproducibility has rather attracted artists, as we saw
with Duchamp who hoped to situate his machine advantageously amongst
other machinery. But, as with him, it can just as easily lead to the
artist’s disappointment. (So it was with Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine, a
machine it, will be remembered, for tapping into your alpha waves. The
prototypes were sold for a proposed mass production of Dreamachines
that never arrived. Rather ironically, they were snapped up as artworks
as a canny investment).
Art machines tend to remain, even despite their creators, the
idiosyncratic individualists of the machine world. After all, they are
artists and therefore all too human.
How is it that it is possible for a machine, not as this or that piece
of hardware, to persist over time? How can it succeed in
persistence as type, as a design? The answer is in the question? It is
the same for the art machine as it is for the pencil sharpener: once
created as type it may be recreated. This is the ArtistMachine’s ‘DNA’,
or what can be transmitted in place and time: “The ArtistMachine draws,
signs, displays, comments, shreds and blows it out across the floor”
(Lewandowski): the machine as top-level specification, an ideal machine
that may or not be made. These activities (draws, signs,
displays, comments, shreds and blows) may or may not be instantiated in
particular contraptions, in new fangled gadgets. They comprise rules
waiting to be followed, injunctions that may be acted upon by a real
The gestures that they sponsor become embedded in the “eccentric
projections” that are the cams (something else the pre-industrial
automaton shares with the post-industrial ArtistMachine). These cams
are the physical embodiment of ‘draw’, ‘sign’, ‘display’, ‘comment’,
‘shred’, and ‘blow’. Analogue computing, the hardware of memories: “As
much as the piece is ‘about’ anything, it about the information
actually embodied in the physical structure of the cams and switches
and the way it is repeated into a series of actions” (Lewandowski).
These actions are frankly a touch nihilistic. The machine threatens to
auto-garrotte itself with its own effluent.
Not so with the industrial machine. The industrial machine, as
Baudrillard notes, in its “optimistic mechanics”, to use his phrase,
places production over appearance. The automata of the 18th Century
concealed. Their purpose was simulation. Their secrets were hidden
within panelling and upholstery: an anthropomorphic furniture. But the
industrial machine, the robot that superseded, revealed - a mechanistic
brutalist, its purpose was production. (So too the ArtistMachine
declares its kinship with the desktop shredder, defender of corporate
and domestic privacy) The ArtistMachine, in one possible
interpretation, represents the destruction of productivity.
The cams kept the secret of Maillardet’s Automaton for an age of
dereliction. When, after the passage of years, the manikin was
reassembled upon its rediscovery, it wrote in legible hand "Ecrit par
L'Automate de Maillardet" ("Written by the Automaton of Maillardet”).
The ArtistMachine, however, signs with the sign for a signature
(literally a rubber stamp) and in so doing erases the sign of its
maker, the completion of a history of erasures long ago commenced.
These erasures were not initiated by machinery they are merely
completed by it. The mechanical can only replace what is already
mechanism. The ArtistMachine’s mechanics are what remain evident whilst
the products of its industry return to anonymity as waste.
As the stamp replaces the automaton’s signature, so the automaton’s
limited repertoire of illusionistic drawing is in its turn replaced in
the ArtistMachine by the mass production of the signs of artistry
(Giotto’s freehand circle, or in an earlier incarnation, the
aristocratic nonchalance of Twomblyesque scribble). Of course, such
productionist graphics could not, as a machine graphics, call into
question human artistry if there were not the doubt that the human had
not already become a machine “…the division of labour, which gradually
transforms the workers’ operations into more and more mechanical ones,
so that at a certain point a mechanism can step into their places”
. In art too the process was already long ago in train: "The
reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine", 
said Andy Warhol in 1963 about his way of working.
If these processes continue on each side then differences between art
and the mechanical may one day diminish to zero.
For Butler machines threatened the very existence of the human,
threatened to succeed us as our evolutionary superiors: “we are
ourselves creating our own successors”. But almost a century and a half
later something else seems more probable. Our machines are more human
and we are become more machine: “Mechanised infantry”, says the
invitation to join the war machine, “Forward as one”.
Forward to destruction. But, being an artist, the worst enemy of the
ArtistMachine is itself: the ArtistMachine “shreds and blows it all out
across the floor ready for the cleaners”. (I said above the
ArtistMachine represents the destruction of productivity. The war
machine the productivity of destruction).
 Baudrillard, J. (1993) 'Symbolic Exchange and Death', trans. Grant,
I. H., London, Sage.
 ' "Darwin Among the Machines" originally appeared in the Christ
Church PRESS, 13 June, 1863. It was reprinted by Mr. Festing Jones in
his edition of THE NOTE-BOOKS OF SAMUEL BUTLER (Fifield, London, 1912,
Kennerley, New York), with a prefatory note pointing out its connection
with the genesis of EREWHON, to which readers desirous of further
information may be referred.' From, Project Gutenberg,
 In, Duchamp, M. (1989) 'The writings of Marcel Duchamp'. (Eds.)
Sanouillet, M. and Peterson, P. New York, Da Capo.
 Marx, 'Grundrisse'.
 Interview in 'Art News', November 1963.
 British military recruitment advertisement, 2006.
This essay was first published
in Crimes of Futility No. 7: The
Wild Pansy Press, ISBN 1
900687 22 4, with texts in English and Italian.
essay, 2006, for Simon
published on this website are copylefted
according to the GNU
General Public License