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I THANK ALICE SPAWLS, assistant editor at London Review of Books, for introducing me to the works of Paul Spooner. Collectively, Spooner and his pals form the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, a showcase of automata combining mechanical levers, gears, cranks, and cams, all full of wonder with whimsy.
Alice Spawls’ article “At the Architects’” is in London Review of Books, July 4, 2019. She begins by noting that architectural firm Rodíc Davidson is next-door neighbor to the London Review Bookshop. At the moment, Spawls observes, the firm’s window displays “six stirring, whirling automata created by Paul Spooner.”
Here are tidbits about Paul’s delightful assemblies, together with Internet links to videos of these and other automata from the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre.
Cork Cathedral. Spawls quotes Spooner saying that some automata “express anger about the dehumanising mechanisms of war, policing, bureaucracy or about the increasing distance between people who seem always to be on the phone but seldom talk to the people next to them. My machines are even more useless than those because I’m not even angry….”
Paul, 67, lives in Stithians, Cornwall, in southwest England. How did he get into a lifetime of making these contraptions? “… because I’m completely unsuited to making anything else,” he says.
On Creating Whimsy. Paul describes his artistic process: “I have an idea, I draw it, make it, find that it doesn’t work, then move on….” More often than not, though, his ideas transform into Spooner reality very well indeed.
“I have a very short attention span,” Paul says. “If somebody laughs at something, it’s better than stroking their chins for a fortnight figuring it out.”
Automata History. The LRB’s Spawls notes that such devices “go back at least as far as the ancient Greeks.… The Pre-Reformation world bustled with religious automata.” She also cites Jerome K. Jerome’s story “The Dancing Partner,” in which a toymaker’s automated dancer waltzes his partner to death.
Spawls notes, “There aren’t many traditional automatists remaining—the field has moved on to robots and modelling for video games….”
The Cabaret Mechanical Theatre consists of Spooner and 15 other talented automatists; one of them, Tim Hunkin, cited as mentor. Their website offers news, exhibitions, and social media links, as well as an array of books, videos, and kits for those wanting to take up this endeavor.
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019