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October 8, 2010


The Worst of Perth

Then there's this approach.

Cameron Brown

Tonight I saw the Otto Dix exposition at the Musee des Beaux Arts. There is a mini-montage from Walter Ruttmann's 1927 'Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt' showing several vitrines populated by human automata. Of varying degrees of uncanniness - the rule seems to be that the more movement they're capable of, the less proportionate their bodies need be -, these are the happy counterpoint to the maimed and mechanized Kriegskrüppel of Dix in the early 20's.

(This is the best I could find: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iA9CzYn_fa4&feature=related. The automata pop up around 1:30-1:55, 3:55-4:30.)

Taking early modern automata as part of the tradition of natural magic - as achieving miraculous effects through natural rather than supernatural means -, it could be interesting to follow their adaptation to the purely commercial use displayed here. (I'm assuming they once served non-commercial interests: the spectacle Leibniz saw in Paris, for example, or at least the one he envisioned in his Une drôle de pensée.) But maybe it's just cynical to think these vitrines weren't also offering genuine entertainment to passersby at the same time they performed their commercial role?

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