Exhibition | The Key to Life: 500 Years of Mechanical Amusement

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on June 23, 2022

From the press release (30 May 2022) from the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden:

The Key to Life: 500 Years of Mechanical Amusement
Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Dresden, 3 June — 25 September 2022

Automatons, androids and robots—they now dominate our professional and private environments and are expressions of the human desire to create artificial life. The Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon and the Museum für Sächsische Volkskunst and Puppentheatersammlung of Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD) are presenting roughly 70 of these artefacts in the exhibition The Key to Life: 500 Years of Mechanical Amusement on view from 3 June to 25 September 2022 in the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau.

For the first time, the SKD is showing the full range of its unique collection of mechanical figurines and amusements in one exhibition, supplementing them with constructions of artificial life. Beside the unique wealth of mechanical objects spanning from the Renaissance to the present day from the inventory of the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salons, the Grünes Gewölbe, and the Puppentheatersammlung, the exhibition also features selected loans from the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, the Maximilianmuseum in Augsburg, and the Roentgen-Museum Neuwied, among others. Through several exhibition chapters on the mechanical figurines and tableaux from the period around 1600, 18th-century-androids and mechanical amusements in the 19th century, to the nickelodeons and slot machines of the early 20th century and contemporary moving art, the exhibition showcases how the mechanical has fascinated people for 500 years.

The items on display include complicated mechanical tableaux from the late 16th century that feature not only agile figurines and playing drummers, but also movements on the tableau itself. A fur-covered bear beats its drum every hour on the hour. The replica ‘iron hand’ of knight Götz von Berlichingen is an excellent example of early modern prosthetics. Contemporary research is also represented: the prototype ‘mika²’ from Dresden University of Technology’s historical acoustic and phonetic collection is a mechanical simulation of the main parts of the human vocal tract, which was developed at the Chair of Speech Technology and Cognitive Systems. The exhibition’s interactive design allows visitors to bring the amusements to life themselves and understand their movements. There will be a varied program of tours and workshops, including some during the school holidays and the Dresden Night of Museums.

Peter Plaßmeyer, Hagen Schönrich and Igor A. Jenzen, eds., Der Schlüssel zum Leben: 500 Jahre mechanische Figurenautomaten (Dresden: Sandstein Verlag, 2022), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-3954986828, €38.

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