Friday, October 27, 2006

the do nothing machine...



in the late 1950's, as part of the alcoa company's "forecast collection", the eames office created the solar toy. this toy was unique in many ways; but the most unique aspect (particularly in light of the way things seem to be done today) was the fact that charles eames was interested in creating a toy that did nothing. in terms of "doing nothing" he didn't mean that it would be a static and mute object -he was interested in an object that didn't direct one towards specific answers (or in the case of the work of a designer, towards a specific "use"). it followed an ideology found in much of his works, where the power of play is valued as an experience that can be quite powerful in and of itself - and where a sense of wonder can lead to a depth of thought and a kind of expansive understanding (think powers of 10).

in alcoa's 1959 publication "design forecast 1" (the first image above is from this book), oscar schefler elaborates on the ideas behind the eames's solar powered "do nothing machine"..."there is little pertinence in asking what the toy is supposed to do. it is not supposed to do. it is supposed to be. its whole function is in its being." eames adds "we now have a moment in time which is very precious; but this is valid only if the toy does nothing". eames then goes on to talk about a kind of delightful awareness - found in the attraction to little things that rilke talks about in letters to a young poet; but with a sense of delight in the ability not to want to "know" found in zen (particularly in the same way cage seemed to find this childlike delight in much of the world through zen). eames is toying with the idea that the object really is mute until receptive perceptive humans begin to interact with it and find meaning in their experience with it. it's a wonderful connection to duchamp's ideas regarding the viewer as the "art coefficient".

the solar toy was never manufactured beyond the prototype stage; but alcoa used it in their forecast ads and for some strange reason it ended up on the cover of billy mure's supersonic guitars volume 2 (a somewhat lackluster space age bacheolar pad LP). the toy design is part alexander girard fabric patterns come to life; as well as a healthy dose of irving harper's nelson clock designs, the eames' house of cards and other toys, alexander calder's mobiles, and old chemistry lab kits (and it would be quite an idiosyncratic stretch, but perhaps duchamp's spinning bicycle wheel on a stool too...). here's a track off the mure LP called the moon of manakoora...


Blogger Matterhorn1959 said...

Steve- how many years between the toy being built and it appearing on the cover of the album?

7:55 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

the toy was developed and used in alcoa magazine ads in 1957 & 58, and then in the alcoa annual in 1959. the LP is from 1960. there's no mention of the toy in the LP liner notes, but a tiny charles eames for alcoa credit line on the front. i'm guessing someone at MGM records thought that the "supersonic" toy went with the futuristic aspect of the supersonic guitars...

10:34 PM  
Blogger Dan Goodsell said...

looking at it now, I think it influenced the Tower of Four Winds that stood in front of the Small World ride at the 64 NYWF

6:56 AM  
Blogger Kimmo said...

That's all very interesting, but I reckon you're making a serious mistake eschewing all caps.

It makes reading your stuff a chore, no matter how well written.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just for the record, that's Oscar Shefler, without the C.

--Laura Shefler

2:31 PM  

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