10 February 2013

Art & Industry #2: Beautiful Machinery

Double cylinder engine produced for a mill in Nottinghamshire, 1797.

Historically, art and industry are separate, industry was of course responsible for smoke filled skies, ugly manufactories, poor working & living conditions, child labour and the destruction of acres of green land and forests. Art was generally painting; a creative pursuit that preserved what time and industry took, and sculpture. The industrialists in Birmingham though, fought for their manufactured goods to be seen within the bracket of 'arts', they were often called the 'useful arts', which seems fair, as the definition of an artwork is surely that it has no other purpose other than its own existence within the world of ideas. But when these objects are removed from their original purpose, when they are collected, stored and displayed, they become art, as the boundaries in which these objects originally existed are removed. What were individual fragments within a chain of industrial production, a chain from design to building (in this case the building of engines), become a collection relocated within a new framework. Within this new framework we can explore the beauty of late Georgian engine design separate from the process in which it existed, and so they are more works of art than they are historical markers, as history is messy and sporadically located across time and space, thus difficult to collect in one singular time and space. This is the paradox of any museum collection.

These engine plans were produced by Boulton & Watt at the Soho manufactory near Birmingham. They have been digitised by Digital Handsworth and placed online here, with additional information.   

Engine for Henry Whately, gun manufacturer, Smethwick. 1796.

Six horse power crank engine for the Cockshead Colliery in Staffs. 1793.

Alteration to an engine by Boulton & Watt. 1776-7.

Pumping engine from the Paris Water Works, 1779.

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