blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


ELIZABETH KING | Clockwork Prayer


A document of the monk in motion: he is seen first fully clothed, and then with cassock and cross removed. Close-ups show the winding of the mainspring with the key, the operation of the fusee, the motions of the head and mouth, the left arm, the feet, and the mechanism by which the figure walks and turns. The performance of the kiss may be seen during the close-up shots of the head: as the head bends forward the mouth shuts quickly: a hungry, even a menacing kiss. The automaton itself is entirely original in all its parts and in good working order. Only the cassock and cross were replaced later. Watching the video, one notices right away that the kiss fails to make the wanted contact with the cross at the penultimate moment. The original cross might have been taller or held higher in the hand, or, alternatively, the mechanism driving the left shoulder motion may be worn or misadjusted.

Video made by John Hiller for the Smithsonian Institution, running time 5 minutes, no audio. Automaton figure of a monk, South Germany or Spain, c. 1560; National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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