THE WORLD MACHINE

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From Raw Vision #42, an article about Franz Gsellmann’s wonderfully eccentric kinetic sculpture, the World Machine:

Tucked behind the southern Austrian hills in a farmhouse outbuilding sits the Weltmaschine (the World Machine). Created over 23 years by Franz Gsellmann, the machine is made up of hundreds of separate parts, including a ship’s propeller, two gondolas, a Dutch windmill, a Persian goblet, a salt and pepper set, five crucifixes, 560 wooden beads, a glass Jesus and a glass Mary, eight lampshades and a barometer, held together with a brightly coloured lattice of wire, pipes and gear wheels. Once powered into action the 25 motors, one-armed bandit, 64 bird whistles, 20 fan belts and 14 bells, whistle, clang and whirr. The 200 coloured lights flash. The poky Austrian farm building is filled with a blaze of noise, colour and light.

The creator of the machine, Franz Gsellmann, grew up dreaming of becoming an engineer, but with just four years of schooling, he seemed destined to spend his life on the family smallholding. His life changed in 1958: seeing an article in the local newspaper about the Brussels Atomium, a huge structure symbolising a crystallised molecule of iron, created by the engineer André Waterkeyn for the International Exhibition, Gsellmann travelled out of Austria for the first time, visited Belgium, and studied the architectural structure for himself.

Back home in Kaag, Gsellmann abandoned working on his family’s smallholding and began to construct his own machine, his own unique engineering project. Starting with a model Atomium, constructed from 25 hula-hoops, he began to build in secret. For the first eight years he offered his family no explanations, locking himself away each morning and resurfacing exhausted at night, occasionally leaving the house on trips to search out new components.

It took some time for other people to appreciate his work: neighbours would often laugh at the tiny 90-pound man wheeling his barrow of selected oddities, and his family would react with rage and shame. A silent man, frequently reduced to tears, Gsellmann insisted that ‘one day it will be good for something’, drawing courage from his faith that ‘God gave me this gift’.

He believed the machine had its own life. He cleaned his creation every morning, breathing onto and polishing each tiny part. He obsessed about its health, incorporating a ‘computer’, a counting machine which was supposed to indicate malfunctions.

* The World Machine’s official home page.

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