I got up early and drove to Cookstown to visit the annual Cookstown Steam Show.
I was looking for inspiration and found it. I was overwhelmed!
It was park full of gentle, steam sighing, ponderous behemoths from the early days of agricultural mechanization, each one there in all its whirling, spinning, greasy glory.
It was like being surrounded by mammoth Prayer Machines from a time before my Prayer Machines were even thought of. The visual similarities were apparent; big wheels and pulleys driving other big wheels and pulleys. What I liked most was the human interaction. As I watched one antique tractor being started, the owner performed no less than five functions and checks; a squirt of oil here, an adjusting of clearances there, before he even got to turning the crank wheedling the engine to life. Then, even after it was running he was constantly fiddling with it all.
The thing that intrigued me about these machines in relationship to my Prayer Machines was the ‘put together’ nature of their construction. The combination of machined parts and high tolerance mechanisms with “wired together” low tolerance connections; the poetically fragile lack of uniformity in construction. “Almost” rather than “exactly” was the dictum that seemed to prevail.
I also liked the human interaction, especially with the large steam-powered tractors, where the humans operating it seemed to be nurturing them along variously steering, feeding, lubricating and adjusting in a symbiotic relationship as they progressed. The impression that grew on me was that in creating my Prayer Machines I too am creating a technology that is accountable. You can’t just expect to start it and have it “run”, you have to be engaged with it, feel it, adjust it, listen to it, touch it so that it moves and does what it is supposed to do.
I came away that day inspired by the construction of the machines; their symmetrical beauty, practical visual compositions and exposed mechanisms that make them run. I also came home feeling a connection from the past with a new story I am telling in my Prayer Machines now.
Written August 8, 2015