Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff

PAUL SPOONER—AUTOMATIST EXTRAORDINAIRE

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….”

Rodíc Davidson’s video includes Spooner’s Cork Catherdral, above, and his We Want a Window. And We Want It Here, below.


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.

Paul Spooner, Lancashire-born 1948, English “artist/mechanic.” A member of Cabaret Mechanical Theatre.

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.

An interview with Paul Spooner describes his technique of creating what he calls his “mechanical jokes.” This one is titled An Allegory of Love.

“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.

Perhaps not historically accurate, Spooner’s Poisoned Milk celebrates the Borgias. The interview video already cited shows its lamentable fate.

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.

Two of my favorites: Above, An Elephant Thinking About Inventing the Wheel, image from Cabaret Mechanical Theatre. Below, The Dream, image from cabaret.co.uk


To pique your interest, other videos of Spooner automata include Summer, and An Allegory of Love, and, part way through the presentation, Zuppa Turca. Enjoy. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: