Jean Tinguely – catastrophe and death

As a teenager, Jean Tinguely created in the forest near Basel, from wood and cans over 100 meters long sound machines which were driven by water with a paddle wheel. A camshaft operates percussion elements whose rhythm changes according to the current.

With regular provocations, Jean Tinguely follows the path that was imposed on him from the beginning: “The essence of my work has always been movement, movement, movement.

He also dabbled “in a desperate way” in abstract painting before concluding with it once and for all by creating his Méta-matics, an automatic drawing machine.

“I question the machine, I create a climate of criticism, of ‘ridiculousness.’ I introduce irony. My machines are ridiculous or they are beautiful, but they are useless. »

His sculptures are total works of art that appealed to several senses at the same time: sight, hearing, touch, and sometimes smell, when smoke came out.

Jean Tinguely & Niki de Saint Phalle: Le Cyclop ? La tête (Modell), 1970. Museum Tinguely, Basel, Donation Niki de Saint Phalle. © Foto: Christian Baur, Basel; © VBK Wien, 2008

He is a sculptor who breathes life into recycled materials. The objects tirelessly manifest their loud and noisy existence. His magnificent machines are perpetually in motion until their self-destruction. Jean Tinguely created one of the most personal sculptural works of our time.

The origin of his fear of catastrophe and death comes from his youth. He was traumatized as a teenager during the bombing of Basel. A young mother he knew, had her baby in her arms and, while running away in panic, was decapitated by a shell splinter. The impact tore off her head, which was hanging on a wall with her hair. Jean Tinguely took the child from her arms and hid in the ruins, waiting for the enemy.

“Then I began to do something very strange: several Saturdays and Sundays in a row I began to build pretty little wooden wheels that I made like this, along a stream. No idea about art. In the forest, I used a stream: it was a forest of fir trees that formed a kind of cathedral, with the sound characteristics of a cathedral, the sounds were enormously well amplified. I made up to two dozen little wheels, each with its own speed, and sometimes the speed was variable, depending on the speed of the water, which was also variable. Each wheel had a cam. A cam is something that makes the wheel uneven – you see! He was hitting, he was working with a little hammer, hitting different cans, rusty or not, different sounds. These sounds, these tones, in different rhythms, were distributed every five or six meters, and these concerts sometimes went as far as a hundred meters into the forest. I then imagined the lonely hiker also in the forest, first hearing this concert before hearing the sounds of the forest. Sometimes it worked for up to a fortnight, it was obviously fragile, but some worked for months. “

Jean Tinguely

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