We live in a world where everything is focused on efficiency and optimisation. In which you can solve any problem with a dedicated app and in which you can even subscribe to razor blades. Perhaps that is what fascinates us so much about machines: the undiscovered possibilities and their implicit potential to improve our lives. Dutch artist Willem Harbers turns this notion on its head and slows down instead, hampering the process that is aimed at unlimited acceleration and improvement. His machine-like sculptures offer a refreshing look at dysfunction and, by extension, imperfection. It stimulates your imagination and at the same time, it causes a deep alienation. Until March 6, his work can be seen by appointment at Galerie Franzis Engels in the exhibition "A future now past" (and online on GalleryViewer).
A central work in the exhibition is the work "A future now past", after the title of the exhibition. A silent and controlled tangle of tubes ends in round, marble circles that are reminiscent of transmitters. But what exactly do they absorb? Harbers: “This installation seems to come from the past, an object whose function has yet to become clear. Maybe it is meant for the future.” For this reason, Harbers' installations look both futuristic and archaic. For his semi-archaeological objects, he uses materials that resemble the remains of a machine: steel and rubber, often in colours that aren’t necessarily obvious. He combines them with marble and onyx from Italy and Turkey. It is a material that Harbers has used throughout his career: after his studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, he spent a while in Carrara, the famous marble city in Tuscany.
The devices in the exhibition bear non-existent names that sound very plausible: the Revolvateur, the Centripeter, the Maniscopra... Although it is difficult, as a viewer, to put into words exactly what you are looking at - and what this machine potentially serves - you simultaneously note a kind of energy, a dynamic in which the device could come to life at any moment. Other sculptures in the exhibition seem to refer to organic systems in our body, like the circulatory (blood) system. There appear to be associations with medical instruments, at the dentist or surgeon or in a laboratory. Other works appear almost sinister, like a meat grinder, enhanced by the addition of reddish brown veined marble that resembles an organ.
Harbers often uses recycled materials for his fictional material remains from the future past, including cast iron wheels from the mining industry. Harbers: "If we can connect technology and circular thinking, we’ll have made a lot of progress." Recycling materials is also a deeper, more integral part of his practice because he wants to make you think about the usefulness and absurdity of many machine-produced products. What does that say about us as a society, seen from a semi-archaeological perspective from the future?