When: On until 19th May 2018, open Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm
Where: Thelma Hulbert Gallery (THG), Dowell Street, Honiton, Devon EX14 1LX
£: Free admission
What is it?
A Curious Turn: Moving, Mechanical Sculpture is a new exhibition, featuring 30 pieces of extraordinary automata, at THG (Thelma Hulbert Gallery) in Devon.
The exhibition is part of a national tour from The Crafts Council, who is leading the revival of interest in automata. Automata are moving mechanical sculptures that are brought magically to life by sequences of cogs, cams, and levers. They have delighted and bewitched people for centuries, and now visitors to the gallery will be able to turn, push and crank the exhibits, to see many of the pieces in action. There will also be newly commissioned films showing other pieces in motion.
A Curious Turn presents automata by leading makers of the last 40 years, that range from the humorous to the macabre and from the playful to the satirical. Works on show take a look at key automata makers such as Rowland Emett, famous for creating the elaborate inventions of Caractacus Potts in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).
A newly commissioned piece by John Grayson has been specially created for the exhibition. Grayson has created a satirical piece looking at the corruptibility of politics, taking inspiration from a 17th century political scandal and connecting it to current affairs. In this work, The Rt Hon Wippingdale of 1716 has his head turned by two dominating females who are ensuring he makes the right choices on future legislation.
Other makers on show include Sam Smith, widely seen as the grandfather of contemporary automata, with his beautifully painted, colourful ‘toys’. At first glance they look playful and harmless, but on closer inspection they explore the darker side of human life; as with A Second Groom Being Rowed Across the Lake by his Third Bride.
Paul Spooner, who has been perfecting his making process for over 30 years, creates humorous and thought-provoking automata, such as Five Artists Reflect on Their Waning Powers. As well as being a skilled carver, Spooner is an accomplished illustrator and some of his drawings from the Crafts Council Collection are revealed in this exhibition for the first time.
Melanie Tomlinson, whose automata are printed with beautifully intricate drawings of folklore and fairy tales, are brought to life when the sculptures move. Tomlinson works hard to keep secret the mechanisms that make her characters come to life, making her decorative work even more intriguing.
A Curious Turn also looks at the central role that Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and its founder, Sue Jackson, have played in the revival of automata from the 1970s onwards. Recognising the potential popularity of moving sculptures, Jackson actively encouraged a group of makers in Falmouth – including Peter Markey, Paul Spooner and Ron Fuller who are all in the exhibition – to make automata to sell in her local craft shop, Cabaret. She often actively guided their creative direction, looking for wit and entertainment in the automata that she collected.
There will also be a programme of workshops and family friendly activities to accompany the exhibition, including a drop-in family automata workshop on 31st March and a paper automata theatre workshop on 27th April.