Back of an Envelope

Imagined Machines

Test Bed | 10 Medi 2011 - 16 Tachwedd 2011

An exhibition of ‘sketches’ of mechanical and electronic devices curated by Margaret Sharrow

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The expression 'back of an envelope' refers to off-the-cuff ideas literally drawn on scrap paper such as old envelopes, and sometimes leading unexpectedly to great ideas. Many interesting designs/inventions have their origins in the subconscious, when people are playful or unfocused, more concerned with the process of idea development and less with results. Even though much work is now developed on computers, creative designers, artists and inventors still use drawing to quickly originate and communicate visual ideas. An artist’s sketchbook is an extension of the informality of the envelope and plays an important role in research and record-making. Drawing is the most immediate way to express a visual idea, to try things out.

Leonardo da Vinci is a famous example of an artist-inventor who drew machines. In recent decades, kinetic art has put sculpture in motion, frequently becoming machine-like. Artists working in this way often rely on sketches before beginning to construct pieces in three dimensions - artists such as Alexander Calder and Rebecca Horn. Some of Jean Tinguely’s mechanical sculptures produced abstract marks on paper. Patrick Tresset has reversed the process of starting with a sketch, creating what he calls ‘clumsy robots’ that make sketches of human faces.

For this exhibition artists were asked to use an envelope to create a sketch of an imaginary machine, possible or impossible. Some responded playfully and others ranged from the practical to the whimsical, the humorous to the unsettling, to representations of mechanical detail with no reference to function. As Paul Klee put it, drawing is 'taking a line for a walk'.

Margaret Sharrow (TestBed Intern)

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Supporting new and experimental work by artists based in Wales and the Borders.

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