The Dysfunctional Machine: Chindogu Meets Pataphysics

By Jane Venis.

Published by The International Journal of New Media, Technology and the Arts

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This paper is based on my recent sculptural studio project, Gymnauseum, which engages with chindogu, a Japanese creative form for intentionally producing dysfunctional "products" in response to problems that are not particularly pressing to begin with (Kawakami 1995). Gymnauseum is a pseudo-gym in which visitors can ride nonsensical fitness machines that question the obsession with obtaining (and retaining) an "ideal body." In Gymnauseum, I utilise the tenets of chindogu and the black humour of the related pseudo-science of pataphysics (Jarry 1911) to critique the notion of the "ideal body" as physical capital(Bourdieu 1984) within a system that, according to sports theorists Frew and McGillivray, promotes “distinction for the few... and aesthetic frustration and dissatisfaction for the many” (2005, 172). Pataphysics, a chindogu-like practice underpinned by an absurdist philosophy that parodies the theory and methods of science, was first developed by French playwright Alfred Jarry at the turn of last century. Jarry described pataphysics as “the science of imaginary solutions” (Grossman 1967, 474). It has strong links with the theatre of the absurd (Grossman 1967) whereby the senselessness of the human condition is accepted as an unalterable fact as the distinction between comedy and tragedy is broken down, as comic techniques serve serious aims (and vice versa). Chindogu also work in this way. The humour of the dysfunctional chindogu object initially attracts the viewer who may be drawn into deeper concerns evoked by the work. My work lies in the tension between these two approaches.

Keywords: Futility, Utility, Absurdity, Humor, Social Critique, Chindogu, Studio Practice

The International Journal of New Media, Technology and the Arts, Volume 9, Issue 3-4, April 2015, pp.1-8. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 865.638KB).

Dr. Jane Venis

Senior Lecturer, Academic Leader, Creative Studies, Schools of Design and Art, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand