Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

'Meccano Work': Eduardo Paolozzi's Kits

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

'Meccano Work': Eduardo Paolozzi's Kits

Article excerpt

In an interview with Eduardo Paolozzi in 1965, Richard Hamilton suggested that the logic of the toy kit might have made its way through to Paolozzi's construction methods:

RH 'I mean in your most recent works you make separate elements and then assemble them - it's Meccano work, whether it's drawing or sticking bits of paper together or making bronzes...'

EP 'Yes, that's true. But the ship, the aeroplane ... are made from ... component parts. They have to be constructed and one uses this same means. But there is also the other idea in collage ... it is a very direct way of working ... One is able to manipulate, to move and use certain laws that are blocked off if you do a pencil drawing...'1

Hamilton and Paolozzi's exchange suggests how we might employ the idea of the 'toy kit' as a way to revitalize and re-engage with Paolozzi's methods that, in the present literature, so often seem to stop short in their characterization of his various approaches as collage.2 The two terms 'collage' and 'Meccano' are already aligned in the Hamilton interview and it is almost as if collage and 'component parts' have become the grown-up equivalent of their parallels in the world of toys. But in taking Hamilton's characterization literally, one need not simply swap one term for another, or remain on the abstract level of concepts. A direct look at the toy kit provides a way to engage with a substantial quantity of Paolozzi's collected material now housed in the Krazy Kat Arkive, together with the means to explore how these objects, through their accumulation in Paolozzi's studio environment, came to have an impact on his working methods. Indeed, the Krazy Kat Arkive - Paolozzi's personal collection of popular culture housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum - provides evidence of an 'obsession' with the toy kit through an overwhelming range of examples that seem to offer a world in kit form, from Japanese robots to The Sense of Taste (fig. 1).3 The art historian, curator and critic Wieland Schmied has observed that 'Toys play an important role in Eduardo Paolozzi's studios. They are virtually everywhere. Each and every assemblage seems to be streaked with them. They are the dominating finds. They change all other things and give them back elements of toys.'4 In light of Schmied's comments and Hamilton's characterization, this article will consider how Paolozzi's enduring love of toys - particularly the toy kit - informed a distinctive working approach to mass culture and the 'as found'.

The paediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott provides a way of thinking about the paradox of the toy. According to Winnicott, during infancy 'transitional objects' are used to bridge the gulf between the physical and the intangible, the meeting of object and imagination creating for the baby the sense of a living, autonomous being. The child's relationship to these initial 'comfort blankets' later evolves, in Winnicott's view, into an engagement with toys and the development of imaginative play. Winnicott goes on to observe that such objects present the necessity of accepting a paradox, in that 'the baby creates the object, but the object was there waiting to be created...'5 Or, perhaps, in the context of Paolozzi's work, one could say waiting to be found.

The 'as found' is a term that has been attributed to the architects Alison and Peter Smithson. It has come to stand for a particular approach to contemporary culture exemplified by the work of Paolozzi, Nigel Henderson and the fellow members of the Independent Group. In their publication As Found, The Discovery of the Ordinary, Claude Lichtenstein and Thomas Schregenberger describe the 'as found' as 'a matter of process, and it cannot be achieved with a formal reductionism as a goal'.6 For Lichtenstein and Schregenberger the 'as found' is 'the technique of reaction'.7 Significantly, it is possible to draw parallels with Schregenberger and Lichtenstein's characterization of the 'as found' as a 'process' of 'reaction' and Winnicott's description of the 'special qualities in the relationship' with the transitional object. …

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