Lying in the cot of Jörn J. Burmester’s ‘Weltmaschine’, I am bombarded by images appearing rhythmically on a screen which is suspended inches from my face. I speak my spontaneous associations into a microphone. The images keep coming; they seem to me like hollow internet data, commercial and with no inherent meaning. I continue to speak, and as I do, my words are crudely interpreted by the computer, and projected behind me onto the gallery wall. “I am standing on a big ship” I say… “I am standing on a big shit” the machine types. The sound of laughter as my speech is wrongly transcribed, is the first moment that I become aware of the watching crowd, or of the fact that I am now part of the performance – I have temporarily become the artist.

This is a complex work, both technically and conceptually. Physically, the ‘Weltmaschine’ consists of a scaffold, rigged with many different bits of technology (video cameras, projectors, microphones, laptops and printers), with a seat or ‘cot’ at it’s centre to accommodate a human being. To find out more about the work and the details of how it functions, please visit Jörn’s website.


As a sculpture it is already visually intriguing, but the ‘Weltmaschine’ is an interactive, transformative engine with an input and output – the presence of the human at the centre is integral. One human controls the creative input, whilst another human controls the creative output, but only to a certain extent. As an artist, sitting in the cot of the ‘Weltmaschine’ was creatively frustrating. I did not choose the images that appeared before me, and even as I spoke my words, they were lost in translation, owned by the machine.  In his text about the project, Jörn talks about this idea of expression within set parameters.

“Almost all art works can be considered world machines, as they produce representations of specific ways of encountering the world… The most contemporary form of Weltmaschinen are the so called social networks. Although they constantly prompt users to interact and participate in the creation of virtual worlds, software algorithms control and shape all contributions to fit only those formats that help the interests of their owners, and even appropriate the legal rights to their user‘s input. All of these media seduce or bully consumers to identify with the imaginary societies they present without allowing them to influence their formation or inner workings.” Jörn J. Burmester

Both ‘input’ and ‘output’ of the Weltmaschine can be both analogue and digital. I very much enjoyed producing the input material for the machine, as I drew and collaged, a camera fed my drawing, live, to the screen before the other person’s face, ready for output as text.


The work is intended to lay the notion of ‘art as product’, open to criticism. As I lay in the cot, suspended in the scaffold, attempting to output my ‘art’, I was reminded of Michelangelo, as he lay on his scaffold, painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.  What relation does this metal scaffolding, rigged with technology, bear to the intricate beauty of Michaelangelo’s fresco? For me, ‘Kritik der Weltmaschine’ explores the commodification of art, and considers the role of the artist in the modern world.



“As individual instances of artistic production become emancipated from the context of religious ritual, opportunities for displaying the products increase. The ‘displayability’ of a portrait bust, which is capable of being dispatched hither and thither, exceeds that of a God statue, whose fixed place is inside the temple. The displayability of the panel painting is greater than that of the mosaic or fresco that preceded it. ”

Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. (1936)

Kritik der Weltmaschine will be at Grüntaler 9, Berlin, from the 9th until the 20th of June.

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