06 April 2016

Activism, engineering, satire in Tim Hunkin's subversive universe

Me giggling whilst being brainwashed
by one of Tim Hunkin's machines. It tickles!

Tim Hunkin is an artist who makes subversive and humourous arcade machines, automata, ride simulators and all kinds of brilliant stuff. I had the pleasure of visiting his Under the Pier Show in Southwold at the weekend, and not for the first time. If you are ever in the vicinity of his work, make sure you have a supply of 20ps to pop in the slot, you won't regret it. If you have several hours to kill, I sincerely advise you to spend them knocking around his extensive website.

I've been wanting to mention Hunkin on the blog for a while because of three of his pieces: The Doctor, QuickFit and Instant Weightloss. They gently puncture medical pomposity, quackery and the bullshit of weight loss with amazing style and joy.

The Doctor is one of the older machines, made in 1987. You stand in front of the wooden doctor, hold a stethoscope to your chest and he slowly writes you an illegible prescription. The Doctor is old school, to say the least, and oh so recognisable to anyone who has ever had an awkward or horrible encounter in a clinic. I really love the way that Hunkin presents clinical encounters as bewildering and not particularly helpful. Regardless of your ailment, you get the same conveyer-belt style prescription as everyone else. Just like real life!

QuickFit is a ride built from an old toning table. Remember them? A fad that lay at the intersections of weight loss, femininity, beauty and pseudo-exercise. You lie on the table, it moves your body around whilst you watch a strange animated exercise video based on Jane Fonda's iconic workout. Hunkin and his collaborators brilliantly skewer prancing weight loss guru-dom through lo-fi animation and bare-faced cheek. You don't even have to lift a finger.

Instant Weightloss is a stunning piece of work and one of my favourite Hunkin machines of all. You put 40p into the machine and a little suction pipe drops a single piece of popcorn onto a little pedestal. A heat gun then pops the single piece of corn right in front of your eyes, and then delivers it to you via a chute. As this is happening, a mirror bends and gives the optical illusion of making you appear thinner. As with all the machines, the explanatory text is really witty, Hunkin's parody of diet company product claims ("precision-engineed weight-free nutrients") is so spot on.

There are many other machines, Hunkin's website tells you where to find them. I think it's great that the supposedly enlightened and scientific worlds of weight loss and medicalisation are presented here as part of a broader landscape of subjects worthy of satire. Some of his other works are just silly but most have a political edge to them, poking fun at self-importance, scientific arrogance and stupidity. They are activist machines as well as beautiful oddball pieces of art.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your website and your work.