History Told in Clockwork Pigs, Gilded Chestnuts and Vitrines - OZY | A Modern Media Company

History Told in Clockwork Pigs, Gilded Chestnuts and Vitrines

History Told in Clockwork Pigs, Gilded Chestnuts and Vitrines

By Jim Knipfel


Because delight can be shaped like a pig’s udder, or a digested chestnut turned to gold.

By Jim Knipfel

London-born, New York–based conceptual artist Paul Etienne Lincoln is part sculptor, part clockmaker, part historian and part imp. His work often takes the form of unexpected, unpredictable, mind-bogglingly complex mechanical devices inspired by exhaustively researched — and obscure — historical events.

In the 18th century, for instance, a German monarch outraged some villagers when he allowed a herd of pigs to trample and destroy an expansive, elaborate and beloved garden in their search for chestnuts. Lincoln marked the event by not only replanting the garden but also constructing an interactive, armor-plated clockwork pig. (C’mon … you know you wish you’d thought of it first.)

Visitors were encouraged to pull on the pig’s udders, which would then trigger the pig to utter one of several phrases. When the pig declared a visitor to be “the Chosen One,” a chestnut was dropped into the pig’s mouth and the visitor was asked to turn the pig’s tail. As the tail was cranked, a small pipe organ concealed within the pig’s body played a tune and the chestnut slowly worked its way through the internal gears before emerging, newly gilded, from, well, the other end. Then everyone went to the bar to celebrate.

Lincoln’s most recent work, The Tenaciousness of Subterfuge (which contains The Glovers’ Depository), was installed in late 2015 at Guido Costa Projects, a museum in Turin, Italy. Within a large metal and curved glass vitrine, Lincoln built a clock mechanism designed after Big Ben. Within the vitrine, 24 gloves are on display, rotating slowly through the mechanism. Each glove once belonged to a historical figure famed for either deceiving others or being deceived by them. The gloves, which span some three centuries, belonged to con artists and dupes, ranging from a king who survived 15 assassination attempts to Mary Toft, an 18th-century woman who was able to convince the entire British medical establishment that she’d given birth to a rabbit. Furthermore, Lincoln has calibrated the mechanism so that each glove will make one full rotation for each year its former owner was alive.

Lincoln’s installations have appeared in major museums across Europe and the U.S., and he has one of those brains that works in different ways, on different levels and wanders in different directions. Who knows what he might come up with next.

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