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The machine is the message

Jürg Lehni presents “Viktor,” his chalk-drawing machine, in a performance part of the Walker’s new exhibition, “Graphic Design: Now in Production”
Michael Marriott presents a lecture on a history of chairs as part of A Recent History of Writing and Drawing at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 2008.
Image by Photo courtesy Jürg Lehni
Michael Marriott presents a lecture on a history of chairs as part of “A Recent History of Writing and Drawing” at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 2008.

What: âÄúViktorâÄù presented by Jürg Lehni

When: 7 p.m., Thurs., Oct. 20,

Where: Walker Art Center, Friedman Gallery, 1750 Hennepin Ave.

Cost: Free
A machine âÄî whirring, humming, tapping âÄî comes to life. This instant of activation is what Swiss artist Jürg Lehni calls âÄúthe Frankenstein moment.âÄù

âÄúYou build them, you plan them, you program them, but theyâÄôre more than just what you thought of. TheyâÄôre very different to what youâÄôve imagined,âÄù Lehni said.

âÄúViktorâÄù is a 60-pound machine that is composed of four motors, positioned in a large two-by-two matrix, and a system of ropes and pulleys that maneuver its chalk-drawing apparatus to generate programmed images âÄî whether illustrative or abstract.

Thursday night, the Walker Art Center will host a performance, so to speak, by âÄúViktor,âÄù accompanied by LehniâÄôs presentation of loosely connected anecdotes from the technological history of communication-related inventions âÄî a lecture series he developed with collaborator Alex Rich titled âÄúA Recent History of Writing and Drawing.âÄù

The free event is part of the WalkerâÄôs expansive exhibition, âÄúGraphic Design: Now in Production,âÄù which opens Saturday. The domain-specific show focuses on the developments in the discipline from 2000 onward, and consists of more than 450 projects that explore the possibilities and potential of the communication-based industry.

Lehni completed âÄúViktorâÄù in 2008. The chalk-drawing robot is an iteration of âÄúHektor,âÄù a similar device created in 2002 that used spray-paint âÄî a medium he selected for its idiosyncratic imperfections but the artist felt unintentionally suggested graffiti culture.

Lehni, who is an engineer by training, created both âÄúViktorâÄù and âÄúHektorâÄù as his response to what he felt was an ubiquity of the âÄúoverwhelmingly preciseâÄù computer aesthetic in design.

âÄúThere was no surprise in the moment of production of something,âÄù Lehni said.

When at work on âÄúHektor,âÄù which the artist created with fellow engineer Uli Franke at Ãâcole Cantonale dâÄôArt de Lausanne, the collaborators received invitations to show their machine in motion at galleries and exhibitions, including a performance at the Museum of Modern Art.

âÄúWe realized it had potential beyond the making of an image because it was actually really pleasant to watch in action. So it became something that was more interesting as a performance rather than a final result,âÄù Lehni said

The chalk-drawing machine, with its glitches and flaws, presents a critique of the computer content practice described in the phrase, âÄúWhat You See Is What You Get,âÄù also known as the acronym WYSIWYG. The term defines the precedent for digital design in that the on-screen display of an image is a precise reflection the final printed product.

âÄúItâÄôs a bit tongue-in-cheek to make a clumsy machine or a machine that is struggling with gravity and therefore cannot be perfect,âÄù Lehni said.

The imperfect machineâÄôs quirks shift attention from the final image to the processes that surround its production.

Lehni is familiar with the mechanisms of control. From an early age, he learned to program his own computer software.

 Lehni said, âÄúI always felt it was more interesting, in a way, to create your own tools rather than use whatâÄôs there.âÄù

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