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The Marvellous Mechanical Museum


If you are someone who loves to press buttons, fiddle with knobs, and is generally curious, then you will enjoy this exhibition of automata entitled The Marvellous Mechanical Museum. Interact with them this summer at Compton Verney art gallery and park, Warwickshire


Roland Emett’s A Quiet Afternoon in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Photograph by Neil Hennessy-Vass

Looking at automata from around 1625 up to the present day, The Marvellous Mechanical Museum is an exhibition for everyone who is generally curious about moving toys. But this display offers more than that, as it has created a fusion of art, design and engineering all in one place and made it engaging. Children will delight in the ancient toys that passed for entertainment before the TV and internet era, and there is so much more on offer.

The exhibition coincides with the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, who is believed to have seen the famous automata of Pierre Jaquet-Droz, the 18th-century watchmaker, that was possibly inspiration for her own literary creation. The items on show encompass a broad field, with large-scale works and tiny creations such as the 4cm-tall Fabergé Silver Elephant.


Fabergé Silver Elephant. Photograph by Neil Hennessy-Vass

Roland Emett’s A Quiet Afternoon in Cloud Cuckoo Land is his whimsical response to Dr Beeching’s savage rail cutbacks in 1963. It is the largest piece, at 15m long, and it is a joy to watch the train and carriage choreography. He worked with Walt Disney, and most famously brought Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to life in the 1968 film. But sometimes it’s the simple things that catch one’s eye; I loved a small electronic circuit board with the image of a bird in solder by Jane Edden. Press the button and it makes the sound of birdsong.

The simulating animal forms of Taiwanese artist Ting-Chong Tang’s Digesting Goose are attention grabbing; there is something quite creepy about this creation as it ‘talks’ to you about the digestive system and moves its head around angrily. Tim Lewis’ Crimson Prince is a 4m-tall mechanical arm and articulated hand covered with a long velvet glove. This stops and starts in fits and beckons you to come closer, then berates you in mime. Curious and mildly compulsive, I felt unsettled but unable to leave its spell.


A Different Drummer by Rodney Peppé. Photograph by Neil Hennessy-Vass

Alongside the automata is a companion exhibition (included in the admission price) celebrating Rodney Peppé. This prolific author, toy maker, television programme creator, illustrator, automata and kinetic art polymath offers a bright and (mostly) cheerful take on the medium. His vibrant colours are a polarised view of the dark and sinister workings in the first section of the displays. His playful use of recycled household junk and clear love of the circus are splendid and give inspiration to all aspiring model makers.


Compton Verney is set in acres of beautiful parkland. Photograph by Neil Hennessy-Vass

With pieces on loan from the British Museum, the V & A and the Royal Collection, the assembled offerings shine a light on an often overlooked aspect of the creative sciences. For example, early loom designs are said to have taken form from automata.

As a companion piece to the exhibition, there is a commissioned short film The Machinery by Sarah Angliss and Caroline Radcliffe on view in a room at the end. This mesmerising film highlights the humdrum life of mill workers in the north by staging clog dancing as a metaphor. It builds to a choreographic crescendo and is utterly compelling, and a worthy continuation of the theme.

The Marvellous Mechanical Museum

Compton Verney, Warwickshire, CV35 9HZ

Showing until: 30th September 2018

For more information, CLICK HERE

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