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Monday, July 13, 2020


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Alex Pearl

Alex Pearl
Breakdown: Mechanical Dysfunction and Anthropomorphism

Breakdown: Mechanical Dysfunction and Anthropomorphism is a practice-led research project examining the role of mechanical breakdown in the anthropomorphic process. Current theoretical approaches to mechanical breakdown identify it as a homogenous, revelatory event “a sort of breach opened up by objects.” (Baudrillard, 2004: 62). Breakdown challenges this stereotyping and seeks to examine the range of gesture and affect that differing forms of mechanical breakdown exhibit. In doing so it also develops Sherry Turkle’s notion of anthropomorphism as a connective rather than ascriptive process (2005: 351) in the light of Karen Barad’s “performative account of material bodies” (2007: 139).

Leading this research is Breakdown, the making, remaking, exhibition and re-exhibition of 36 breaking-machines. These breaking-machines; simple mechanical devices made from reconfigured found materials; approach breakdown and fail during their exhibition. They are then repaired or reconfigured by the artist ‘live’ while still on show. Throughout the research this role of the artist as repairman became a key method. The continual recombination of human and machine responding to the call of breakdown allowed for a more detailed understanding of the gestures of mechanical breakdown. This performative relationship considers the posthuman decentring of the Vitruvian man in the writing of Rosi Braidotti (2013: 2) and Karen Barad’s agential realism (Barad, 2007: 44) both of which insist that the human, rather than bounded and individual, be considered as part of a dispersed network of interacting parts.

The thesis begins by investigating the performative relationship of Breakdown in detail. It describes a machine-human body that is materialised fleetingly by mechanical dysfunction. Through an intimate relationship with one machine, it then goes on to identify a typology of breakdown: seize, play, burnout and cutting loose, concluding that each emits differing expanding and contracting forces around which bodies disperse and coalesce. Finally, employing the flicker of a thaumatrope and the making of the science fiction film robot, the thesis posits that anthropomorphism is an integral element in the dissipation and reformation of human-machine bodies.


Conferred 2018

Research Degree: PhD (practice led), Full-time
Department: Art & Design
Funded: MMU & FACT industry based PhD