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Stirling Engines Maintenance Performance

Shed Show, ToastWillHost, Manchester, curated by Taneesha Ahmed, and Potential in the Ordinary ROCKELMANN& Gallery, Berlin, curated by Leen Horsford.

Stirling Engines explore the the labour of hobbyists. The Stirling engine, conceived in 1816, is powered by a temperature differential. Although very efficient, Stirling engines were never able to compete with the power of steam and internal combustion engines in industry. Building Stirling engines has now become the domain of hobbyists. 1000s of people all around the world, build these engines for pleasure. These engines, more often then not, do not power anything, they simply work for the beauty of working. Annie Carpenter has attempted to design and build her own beta type Stirling engines, encountering the failure, frustration, and satisfaction of this type of labour. By making these engines and placing them in a gallery, Carpenter is highlighting the similarities in the labour of the artist and hobbyist, and the beauty of making something for no other reason than to work. Photos courtesy of John Lynch.


Production Rings

A series of four videos, all depicting a different scene – a clearing, a pine forest, a pond and a meadow. Shot with a DSLR on a tripod, they resemble photographs, as the only action occurring is the occasional, but regular, entrance of a smoke ring, released from behind the video camera, appearing as a rhythmical timecode. The regularity of the release of smoke is suggestive of industry, as the steam from an engine or the fumes from a power plant. The release of steam from engines is in a sense their product, it is the result of their work. The rings, which may at first appear as perfect circles, soon degrade when they are hit by the elements. The artist’s work is done off camera and like the work of a scientist, the same task is carried out again and again. But like so many failed experiments, no apparent result is achieved.


Navigating the Pond

The artist went to the physical effort of transporting a two-metre diameter hoop down into a pond, where it made a very subtle intervention, blending in with the surroundings. She then rowed the video camera from one end of the pond towards the hoop, trying to keep the center of the hoop in the center of the frame. As the video unfolds, the hoop gradually emerges from its surroundings, as the video camera gets closer and eventually glides into the hoop. The task is successful but this success serves no purpose.


Concept Models

The sculpture series Concept Models explores the gap between intention and realisation. The sculptures are representations of different scientific models, which are in themselves representations of scientific laws. Scientific models take different forms. For instance, a Galilean idealisation is a model that involves deliberate distortions, usually representing an ideal situation, e.g. one with no friction, or isolated systems. These models are a representation of a situation that can only exist in the abstract, not in reality. There are also analogical models; models where something is described as being ‘like’ something else. For example, the theory of general relativity is often explained using the rubber-sheet model; the curvature of gravity is ‘like’ the curvature of a rubber sheet when a weight is placed on it. The very act of using an analogical model involves inherent failure.

Concept Models aestheticises the work of scientists, and in particular the intellectual work of having to explain and simplify complicated or abstract concepts. This marks an important distinction between the work of artists and scientists. When the scientist devises a model, they need to take into account the falsity involved in simplifying or analogising, and try to keep this to a minimum. An artist is not tied to the truth but instead makes decisions based on the aesthetic. In Concept Models this aestheticising is present through the residue of the artist’s work. The artist is the placer of a marble, or the turner of a screw. The science is compromised yet again by the artist, who takes the basics of an explanation of a principle and does what is needed to make it ‘work’. All photographs by Olivier Richomme.