This Saturday, February 11, is Inventors’ Day in America, a day set aside in 1983 to “observe ... with appropriate ceremonies and activities” (Reagan).
I’m undecided as to whether being an inventor is a noble pursuit or not — sometimes a new invention really helps you out, but we damn sure don’t need more garbage to buy. And modern capitalism being what it is (horrible, built on fear and mistrust), there’s the eventuality that all inventions, even the seemingly benign, will be one day weaponized and sold to a government bidder or professional mercenary. Maybe inventing is noble but marketing is nefarious? And war is a Hell cast on Earth, that should go without saying. Anyway, I would like to take this time to recognize the artist and inventor Arthur Ganson, whose inventions have helped me tremendously in life, and especially in the last month, which has been a complete shitshow.
Ganson’s inventions consist of a series of kinetic sculptures made of metal rods, gears, wire, and debris. Though inventions are often qualified by their usefulness, charted on an axis of useful to useless, these inventions deny the concept of use, in favor of simple, confident existence.
In one, a small chair in miniature walks slow circles across a rocky expanse:
In another, a chicken wishbone walks a line:
Ganson’s signature move is to show all parts of the mechanism that animates the piece. Many of these inventions have a feeling of just thinking about something, but at the same time thinking about nothing; as such, it’s instructive to see the gears turning, to see no real progress being made, but for the process to be enjoyable. Inventions flutter, drip, roll, drool, and undulate, and generally just do their thing, powered by small motors or hand cranks. I imagine a dialogue with the inventor: What does this do? This. Why does it do that? I made it this way. Why did you make it this way? It’s nice.
Some of Ganson’s inventions can be seen in person at the MIT museum in Cambridge, where they are on permanent display. But many more can be seen in elegant videos on his YouTube channel. In this location (YouTube), they exist in the context of “satisfying” videos — a grouping characterized by comforting content with tactile intimacy, devoid of narrative or shock. Neighbors, friends, and bedfellows include: ASMR videos, the Thai Slime community, materials fetishists, paint mixers, chocolate tappers, and other assorted stimmers.
If you are having a stressful day and want to see something slow, pleasant, and deliberate, I strongly recommend a crawl through Ganson’s oeuvre. I didn’t post the best ones, on purpose. Also please note: I decided not to post what these satisfying videos are the balm for — I started to, but then I realized that not contributing to something stressful is pretty easy sometimes!
Fat Worm of Error performs “Music for 17 Arthur Ganson Machines” (CW: frenetic sound)
Arthur Ganson on PBS’s Arthur, full episode (CW: rich children)