<h1>on Architecture and related Media … </h1>

Kurt, Volker, Cripple —

Automatons by Nikolaus Passath
Online since May 2007
Last changes: 3rd of February 2012

'Kurt' (Tattoo Robot) by Nikolaus Passath, 2002
V.) Img. _01

'Kurt' 2002

» It's a remarkable piece of apparatus. « I.) 1 A machine created by the artist Nikolaus Passath, titled or better called "Kurt", in order to tattoo his creator's forearm in a unique session. In its conversion this fine example of precision engineering is not unlike one of the first sphygmographs Img. _02 from the mid-19th century.

Sphygmograph by Marey approx. 1860
III.) Img. _02

Sphygmograph by Marey, II.) 2 approx. 1860

Marey’s II.) 2 invention, made around 1860, magnified the regular movement of patient's pulse waves and recorded a tracing of it on paper. Kurt, built in 2002, utilizes algorithmic arbitrariness (of elapsing time codes) to mark the skin of his creator permanently.


Tattoo by 'Kurt', 2002
V.) Img. _03

Tattoo made by 'Kurt' 2002

The graph, III.) 3 used as a diagnostic tool and regarded as mechanical representation of the living organism in medicine for more than a century, turns into an intrinsic symbol of the machine itself. But unlike Kafka's sadistic judiciary apparatus described "In the Penal Colony", I.) 1 Kurt doesn't kill his victims, when cutting his sign into their skin.

'Volker' by Nikolaus Passath, 2004
V.) Img. _04

'Volker' 2004

Confronted with the body, the skin serves as immediate interface for jet another object. "Volker" seduces observers to assume the possibility of male (pro)creation, through invention. Stripped off, the robot clings to men, using the living organism as an extension, to incorporate the prosthetic god of technological evolution.

Transferring this Freudian notion of the incomplete being, which compensates weaknesses with tools, to automatons, naturally augments their fragile features with sentient vulnerability.

Equipped with the formal repertoire of contemporary media myths — Tetsuo, Cyborgs or Matrix shape the popular context of these works — the artist succeeds, with reference to classic settings, in staging the fall of man due to technology in terms of sensual (auto)erotic episodes.

Anyway, true (Promethean) shame IV.) 4 comes to us modern humans merely in the face of our own inventions, reproaching our inadequacy. We fail to live up to our constructions. For a machine to fall short of such anticipation is pitiful.

'Krüppel' (Cripple, 'Something For The Pain') by Nikolaus Passath, 2005
V.) Img. _05

'Krüppel' (cripple) 2005 [since 2007 'Something For The Pain']

"Cripple" is an imperfect apparatus. Limited in motor functions, pathetically groaning, he (indeed) is wasting away as a kinetic work of art. This object by Nikolaus Passath shows that the strange flaw of » having become instead of having been made « IV.) 4 can be projected onto automatons as well.




  1. IN:
    'The complete short stories' by Franz Kafka, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, published by Minerva 1996

    1 a 'In the Penal Colony [In der Strafkolonie]' by Franz Kafka, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir
    » "It's a remarkable piece of apparatus," said the officer to the explorer and surveyed with a certain air of admiration the apparatus which was after all quite familiar to him. […] « [page 140|

    English online translation differing quite substantially from my Minerva copy.
    German original.
  2. IN:
    'The Virtual Laboratory. Essays and Resources on the Experimentalization of Life, 1830-1930' from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin [ISSN 1866-4784] online since 2002 http://vlp.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/ []

    2 Marey, Étienne Jules, 1830 – 1904
    Pioneer in the study of blood pressure and the developer of the first practical sphygmograph. Img. _02

    http://vlp.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/ 2
  3. IN:
    'form + zweck' 16 / 1999 / 31.Jahrgang, Berlin http://www.formundzweck.com/

    3 'Information at a glance - On the history of the diagram [Information auf einen Blick - Zur Geschichte der Diagramme]' by Joachim Krausse [pages 4 - 23]
    Img. _02 Sphygmograph by Marey, II.) 2 approx. 1860
    caption: » Pulsschreiber (Sphygmograph) von Étienne-Jules Marey, 1860 « [page 16]
    See also: vlp.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de for reference details of a very similar drawing
    and again vlp.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de for a slightly different depiction of Marey's device.
  4. 'The Outdatedness of Human Beings (Volume 1) On the Soul in the Era of the Second Industrial Revolution [Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen (Band 1) Über die Seele im Zeitalter der zweiten industriellen Revolution]' by Günther Anders, published by C.H. Beck, Munich 2002 [published first 1956]

    4 a » […] To have to stand before the eyes of flawless apparatuses, in his creaturely inaccuracy as fleshly blunder, was indeed unbearable for him; he was truly embarrassed –
    Trying to track this "promethean shame", it seems that its subject matter, that is the "basic flaw" of the one [who's feeling] ashamed [of himself], is descent. T. is ashamed to have become, instead of having been made. He is embarrassed by the fact to owe his existence, unlike those impeccable and thoroughly calculated products, to the blind and unpredictable, most antiquated process of procreation and birth. […] If he's embarrassed by this outdated decent of his, [consequentially] of course he’s ashamed of the inadequate and inescapable result of such birth: himself.* «
    [translated by me]

    » […] In seiner fleischlichen Tölpelhaftigkeit, in seiner kreatürlichen Ungenauigkeit vor den Augen der perfekten Apparaturen stehen zu müssen, war ihm wirklich unerträglich; er schämte sich wirklich –
    Versuche ich, dieser "prometheischen Scham" nachzugehen, so erscheint als deren Grundgegenstand, also der "Grundmakel" des sich-Schämenden, die Herkunft. T. schämt sich, geworden, statt gemacht zu sein, der Tatsache also, im Unterschied zu den tadellosen und bis ins Letzte durchkalkulierten Produkten, sein Dasein dem blinden und unkalkulierten, dem höchst altertümlichen Prozeß der Zeugung und der Geburt zu verdanken. […] Wenn er sich aber dieser seiner antiquierten Herkunft schämt, so natürlich auch des mangelhaften und unentrinnbaren Ergebnisses dieser Herkunft: seiner selbst.* «
    [page 23, 24]

    See Prometheus
  5. Nikolaus Passath
    Img. _01 Img. _03 'Kurt' 2002, image by Sue Sellinger
    Video by David Kleinel
    Img. _04 'Volker' 2004, image by Christian Stiendl
    Video 2 by Ella Esque
    Img. _05 'Krüppel' (cripple) 2005 [since 2007 'Something For The Pain']
    All images courtesy of Nikolaus Passath, all rights reserved.





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<h3>&copy; Franz Sdoutz, February 2012</h3>

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