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I just helped my mum clear out an inaccessible corner of the loft. Lurking there were several machines I’d made as a teenager – I hadn’t seen them for almost 50 years. I had no good photos of them and never thought of filming them (who would ever have watched them before youtube). I was amazed how complicated they were, and impressed that they were better built than I had thought.

The factory was the earliest, made when I was about 14. It needs a bit of explanation. At the time I had an imaginary island called Indoslimia which had some lazy, flightless birds called ‘Bedbirds’. The factory provided employment for them, filling the barrels with hot air from the boiler. So its basically a series of conveyor belts that move the red barrels from the top down to the bottom.  In the recreation area at the top, the birds could bounce on a trampoline, rest on a bed, or be hoisted inside a flight simulator. The factory now looks attractively decayed, it has obviously gone the same way as most British industry.


The later machines are more arty. They would not look out of place today in London’s annual ‘Kinetica’ art fair. At the time I remember thinking Indoslimia and bedbirds were childish and being influenced by exhibitions like Cybernetic Serendipidy. The robot arm was ahead of its time – I’ve since seen the same finger mechanism used on real robot hands. 

And the ping pong balls did move in a wonderfully chaotic way, thanks to WW2 aircraft gunsight analogue computer components called ‘ball resolver units’ bought from a government surplus shop. 


Now, looking at the the machines again, I much prefer the factory to the later ones. This is partly because the transition is my loss of childhood innocence. But also the later machines are abstract, they aren’t about anything except their motion and this now seems boring to me. It took me nearly 20 years to completely recover from the influence of fine art – the Chiropodist (1986) was particularly liberating in this respect.

 Also lurking in the loft were some of my mums paintings. She took up art when I was a child. I had completely forgotten that she had also been influenced by abstract art at the same time, I guess we both egged each other on.  She also abandoned it and became a highly skilled landscape etcher. Now aged 88, she is still selling lots of her prints to Kew Gardens. 

It’s always hard to know what to do with my old machines. The fun is making them and I nearly threw away everything some years ago. But my wife persuaded me not to so I built a small outbuilding (8ft x 8ft x 4ft) as my ‘history’ shed. Now, as long as my past doesn’t exceed this volume, it seems under control.  But it has been full for a while so I had assumed that I would throw away these machines after I’d photographed them. The next day I relented. The factory was more interesting than several other things in the history shed so, after a night outside in the rain, it got a last minute reprieve. The others are now landfill.  




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