The two artworks I choose are “Twittering Machine” by Paul Klee and “Antenna with Red and Blue Dots” by Alexander Calder. “Twittering Machine” was created in 1922. This work is an adaptation of a previous piece entitled “Concert on the Twig”. A year later, Klee created “Twittering Machine” which placed the same scene into a mechanical and machine driven environment. Instead of the four birds singing their songs on a twig or branch, they are placed on a machine. This piece draws most influence from the futurist movement. Futurism was influenced by the onset of industry and the effect of machines on our society. Steam was the dominant technology during the era this piece was created. I find that this jives with machine influence in this piece. The crank mimics the pistons of a steam engine.
“Antenna with Red and Blue Dots” was created in 1960. This piece was part of Calder’s mobile series. Calder studied mechanical engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. (Mulas 12) This study of engineering gave Calder a broad mechanical pallet which, when combined with the artistic background of his family, gave him an incredibly unique style. Through his combination of engineering and art, Calder created an entirely new breed of sculpture; One which added an entirely new dimension. Large hanging ornaments which would be driven only by air currents within its display environment. I choose these two works as I find a funny parallel between the two. Both images have a sense of inspiration derived from life and both have influences from mechanics.
Starting with Paul Klee’s piece entitled “Twittering Machine”. While the subjects in the piece are quite clearly birds, they are merely objects within a greater machine. This is indicated by the crank handle on the right side of the frame and the shaft connecting all the fish together. The classification of this piece would be considered Futurism. Futurism consists of a group of artists who believe in machines and technology advancing society. Futurists thought modern machinery could make a man made world which is better than the natural world. (Niceley) Paul Klee’s “Twittering Machine” appears to be giving us insight into how he perceived the futurist view. He has four birds strapped to a machine. All the birds are in the position for “tweeting”. All have their mouths open and pointed to the sky. However the machine they’re attached to is frail and technically inadequate. In fact it wouldn’t even work if ported to the real world. To me this says quite a lot about Klee’s feelings on a machine’s ability to replicate a bird’s song. He clearly does not have faith that a machine will enhance this particular aspect of natural life.
A year earlier, Paul Klee made a similar piece. This piece, entitled “Concert on the Twig”, shows the same four birds as appear in “Twittering Machine”. (Lazarro 54) However, in this piece the birds are placed on a twig or branch of a tree. This, when juxtaposed with the hand crank in “Twittering Machine”, seems to provide some backing to the idea that Klee was intending “Twittering Machine” to make a statement about machines role in society.
Alexander Calder said this about his mobiles: “To most people who look at a mobile, it’s no more than a series of flat objects that move. To a few, though, it may be poetry.” His mobiles are essentially machines. They consist of moving parts, joints, and are created through engineering. There is an underlying science behind his mobiles. However his genius lies in how he is able to let his engineering practices disappear and allow only the artful aspect shine through. “Sculpture as line, space, and motion rather than as static mass.” (Mulas 32) When a Calder mobile is viewed it is very rare that one’s first thought is about how much work went into balancing each individual piece of steel.
My first thought when viewing “Antennae with Red and Blue Dots” is the skeletal outline of a deep sea fish. The dark shapes being suspended by the balancing lines form the outer skeleton or outline of the subject. As the mobile twists and molds to the air around it, it is as if the fish is swimming through the air. Donald Kuspit does a beautiful job describing how Calder’s Mobiles move through the air:
“Esthetically, they are remarkable for the way they nervously spread over space, with a certain erratic lyricism, and at the same time seem self-contained and perfectly balanced. They are also remarkable for their economy of means–“biomorphic” planes in Big, Big Black and “bow legs” in Spunk of the Monk–and for the relational mileage Calder gets out of them. In the former work the linkages add an air of technical delicacy, as do the “toes” on which the latter stands. Indeed, both have a special sense of balance, even as they are made all the more dramatic, stark, and mysterious by the gallery’s white walls, which function as a ground. At the same time, they challenge this ground, destabilizing the architecture they inhabit by their movement, whether literal or implied. They seem to have just stepped out of it, unexpectedly, becoming a kind of architecture themselves, that is, an open structure emblematic of a frontier mentality. In their contradictoriness and self-contradictoriness, they also stand–or float–on a frontier of feeling.” (Kuspit)
Here is where I draw the parallel from Klee’s “Twittering Machine” and “Antennae with Blue and Red Dots”. While Klee was depicting a machine mimicking an organism, Calder has successfully created a machine which mimics an organic life form. I think Calder’s mobiles are the ultimate manifestation of futurism in the sense that they actually use machines as their medium. To me, that says the most about what the future will hold and whether or not machines really can or will give themselves value, or add value to our lives and world.
In conclusion, while the two pieces could not be farther from each other in terms of construction techniques, there is a certain irony to their parallels in subject and medium. The two are almost inverses of one another. While nearly forty year apart from one another. Klee shows a genuine distrust in the machine and its influence on organic beings. Meanwhile Calder exploits the machine and his mastery of mechanics as a medium to display an organic being.
Kuspit, Donald. “Alexander Calder.” Artforum International 32.n4 (Dec 1993): 79(2). Academic OneFile. Gale. Fitchburg State College.
Lazzaro, Gualtieri. Klee. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964. Print.
Mulas, Ugo, and Harvard Arnason. CALDER. 1st ed. New York: THe Viking Press, Inc, 1971. Print.
Niceley, H.T. “Paul Klee’s Twittering Machine.” School Arts 91.n7 (March 1992): 31(1). Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. Fitchburg State College.