Catalogue essay for the show Uncomfortably Numb: David Archer

SASA Gallery, 24 March to 24 April 2015

There’s an elephant here. And pigs. Armoured pigs that stamp and champ and play music, pigs comfortably captive, pigs blowing smoke, bubbles, flapping wings and industriously turning pearls into sausages.

Lapping around elephant and pigs is a tide of things of things, partial and whole, rescued and obsolete, inhabiting and overflowing the workshop home of David Archer. It’s almost too much, this multitudinousness, seeming to resist sense and order.
Yet there’s an idiosyncratic logic here that belongs to its owner, for clockwork pachyderms, mechanised pigs and a fortune telling angel with wandering eye are the stuff and expression of Archer’s life and work as maker and artist. This tide of objects is matter and engine room for his ingenious machines as Archer makes, repurposes and commandeers it all into his automata, animatronics and mechanical devices.

This multitudinousness, is here waiting, like life, to be made sense of.

David Archer automata flea circus 1.
Archer’s machines move and dance, crank, smoke and whirr. Colourful, carnivalesque, they hook into the rich lineage of the clockwork automata, the Penny Arcade and the side show alley yet his fortune telling skulls, tantrum throwing juveniles and sometimes monstrous pigs are an altogether more absurdist and darker offshoot.

This is life observed, the absurd distilled through absurdity to make sense of it all so that hand cranked monkeys, bird men and skeletons are all perfectly logical in this slightly sideways world.

The haptic and the handmade are at the core of Archer’s work. Although a sophisticated maker, the hand made-ness of Archer’s machines is integral to the response they engender. They are irresistible and call out to be activated. From a hand held flea circus with febrile flea, to squeaking hand cranked dancing skeletons, to simply activating a machine with a coin, each is a point of meeting between the hand and mind of the maker and the viewer.

To engage is to enter into this world. What seems absurd isn’t, what seems like a non-sense is a machine for making sense.

They are light and dark, appealing and unsettling, hilarious and macabre, slyly mischievous. Always with a twist, a punch line and an existential conundrum at their centre. The Marriage Machine is a divided horse with a couple in the centre, pointing to compromise. We can glimpse our lesser pig nature here; gluttony, pride and sloth. We recognise our desire to control life in the fortune tellers.

Fortune teller automata - artist David Archer 2.

Games, from snakes and ladders to wheels of fortune are our way of dealing with chance, with what we call fate, with the arbitrary and uncontrollable. Here, we can play safely without being reminded too much that the slippery skinned snake is always ready to send us down.

These moments of sense making nonsense perhaps let us think we’ve finally got a handle on fate’s machinery. And maybe they say that instead of fearing the absurd, chance or fate, we should dance with skeletons, embrace our pig nature, accept fortunes from dodgy angels, and laughingly and willingly play fate’s game.

Jemima Kemp, 2015

1. Hand cranked Juggling Bug automota, David Archer, courtesy the artist

2. Fortune Teller automota, David Archer, courtesy the artist