slot machine construction



Among Bob Osborne’s early works between 1998 and 2001 were constructions adapted from broken slot machines and fairground ephemera. These are Duchampian ready-mades, not only in the sense that they have been found whole, or in part, and transformed into the elevated aesthetic  arena of art, but also because they have been stripped of previous function and metamorphosed into contemplative objects of intriguing shape, colour, texture and material.

The artist also knowingly taps into the heady, irreverent and satirical tradition of the found object, being directly aware of the peculiarly British folky, pop art nostalgia of Peter Blake-a near neighbour in Chiswick- by the more conceptual and rationalist American art of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and also by the Marcel Duchamp-inspired French Nouveau Realiste movement.

The theatricality of Joseph Cornell’s room-like ‘Boxes’ and Kurt Scwitters’s collage environments are also emulated, particularly in terms of the interplay between two and three dimensional imagery, macabre surrealism and concrete design. Cornell is particularly invoked in Osborne's Lauren Bacall Clock, a 'found' broken clock filled, Arman style, with assorted worthless 'prizes' and a black and white photograph of the Hollywood actress, who also features in Cornell's Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall 1945-46, a hauntingly surreal homage depicting the glamorous icon, whose beauty is preserved from decay by being 'trapped', both in time and in the artist's own invented world.

The interiors of Osborne's Slot Machine constructions, opened up as if sliced in half like an Arman musical instrument or Damien Hirst animal, often hide a neo-Constructive or art deco beauty. And an unlikely, though effective marriage ensues between the 'high art' geometry of Constructivist art and the colourful downmarket symbolism of folk-inspired Pop Art. Since his prototype Margate (1998 ), a framed box containing postcards, sweets, cigarette packets, a laughing sailor and copper coins, the spate of story-telling constructions have similarly played formally between pictorial and the sculptural elements and thematically between theatrical and real life imagery. A carefree holiday humour, seaside sauciness and end game eroticism, inspired by the legendary postcards of Donald McGill, animates these hybrid pictorial dioramas of the imagination.

In Broken Slot Machine 1 and 2 Osborne makes minor adjustments to the intricate interiors of these worn and beaten up fairground objects in which metal spirals, rings or red, blue and yellow diagonal plastic strips create elegantly mechanical relief-like compositions. Rodchenko inadvertently meets Kenneth Noland or Bridget Riley. These slot machines remind one of Jean Tinguley’s Kinetic sculpture contraptions gone to sleep, their former recreational function now presented in stasis and silence for our post-industrial contemplation.

The fairground sources provide a quintessential repository of items from folk and popular culture. Concerning the aesthetic aspects of such content Osborne has written:

‘The use of bright primary colours and bold lettering on English penny arcade machines proved a visual counterpoint to a largely drab and monochrome post-war Britain and predicated the vibrant brashness of pop art design that lit up the 1960’s. The romantic connection to gipsy mythology and fortune telling, combined with a bawdy innuendo and an air of the unexpected, created an atmosphere where sunlight streamed in to a world that also contained sinister and criminal undertones, as captured by the film Brighton Rock (1947), with a screenplay written by Graham Greene and based on his 1938 novel, featuring the author’s anti-hero running a slot machine racket.

I have always been fascinated by the tawdry eroticism of the ‘What the Butler Saw’ genre of penny arcade machines. Some of my slot machine constructions engage the spectator in the act of looking and this becomes a vital part of the artwork. The viewer who is ‘outside’ becomes an unwitting voyeur by observing the drama of the trapped images within the box through small windows of glass. This ‘peeping tom’ conceit is enhanced by the use of mirrors, often cracked or broken, or tears in post-war deck chair ticking where the spectators can catch glimpses of themselves in the act of looking’.






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