A Curious Turn: Moving, Mechanical Sculpture
An exhibition of automata
Automata are sculptures which are brought magically to life through a sequence of cogs, cams, cranks and levers. For centuries they have delighted and bewitched people.
A Curious Turn previewed in September 2016 at Platform Gallery, Habitat, Kings Road, London and tours throughout the UK during 2017 and 2018. The exhibition features 30 automata from the leading makers of the last 40 years, ranging from the humorous to the macabre and from the playful to the satirical.
Visitors can turn, push and crank to see many of the pieces in action, while other pieces have films to show them in motion. Works on show take a look at key automata makers such as Rowland Emett, famous for creating the elaborate inventions of Caractacus Potts in the film ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (1968).
‘The Discombobulated Brexiteer’, a newly commissioned satirical piece by John Grayson looks at the corruptibility of politics, taking inspiration from a 17th century political scandal and connecting it to current affairs. Amongst many others some key makers and automata promoters explored in the exhibition are:
Sam Smith is seen as the grandfather of contemporary automata! Despite being a folk art toy maker, his celebrated style has influenced generations of automata makers. His beautifully painted colourful ‘toys’ at first glance look playful and harmless, but on closer inspection they explore the darker side of human life. The Crafts Council Collection holds some wonderful examples of his work.
Paul Spooner is a dedicated automata maker and has been perfecting his making process for over 30 years. His work is humorous but also makes you think, as with Five Artists Reflect on Their Waning Powers, a popular Crafts Council Collection work. As well as being a skilled carver, Spooner is a an accomplished illustrator and in the course of developing the exhibition the Crafts Council have discovered some his wonderful drawings in the archive, which are revealed in the exhibition for the first time. Spooner played an important role in revival of the automata craft in the late 1970s, supported by Cabaret Mechanical Theatre.
Melanie Tomlinson, whose automata are printed with beautifully intricate drawings of folklore and fairy tales, which are brought to life when the sculptures move. Tomlinson works hard to keep secret the mechanisms that make her characters come to life, making her decorative work even more intriguing.
A Curious Turn also looks at the central role that Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and its founder, Sue Jackson, have played in the revival of automata from the 1970s onwards. Recognising the potential popularity of moving sculptures, Jackson actively encouraged a group of makers in Falmouth, including Peter Markey, Paul Spooner and Ron Fuller – all represented in A Curious Turn - to make automata to sell in her local craft shop, Cabaret. She often actively guided their creative direction, looking for wit and entertainment in the automata that she collected. Cabaret Mechanical Theatre have assisted the Crafts Council in developing A Curious Turn as exhibition consultants.
Other tour venues and dates:
15 Sept - 19 Nov 2017 Derby Museum & Art Gallery
1 Sept - 1 March 2018 Inverness Museum & Art Gallery
10 March - 20 May 2018 Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, Devon
26 May - 19 August 2018 William Heath Robinson Museum, Pinner
December 2017 - January 2018 National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny, Ireland