The Indestructible Object or, “Oh Man Ray, we have a new Prime Minister”

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Object to be Destroyed. Man Ray. 1923.
Object to be Destroyed. Man Ray. 1923.

Australia has a new Prime Minister. Overnight. I’m not a political scientist. I’m far from it. So instead I will outline the chronology of a work of art that reminds me of Timeline: The Resurrection of Rudd, published today in The Australian.

In 1923 the artist Man Ray created Object to be Destroyed. Assembled from a second-hand German metronome with a print of an eye on the hand, he used to keep it ticking in his studio while he painted;

The faster it went, the faster I painted; and if the metronome stopped then I knew I had painted too long, I was repeating myself, my painting was no good and I would destroy it. A painter needs an audience, so I also clipped a photo of an eye to the metronome’s swinging arm to create the illusion of being watched as I painted. One day I did not accept the metronome’s verdict, the silence was unbearable and since I had called it, with a certain premonition, Object of Destruction, I smashed it to pieces.(Schwarz, p.206.)

10 years later, Man Ray recreated the object. He replaced the original eye with the eye of former lover Lee Miller. Images of the object were printed in the magazine This Quarter (September 1932) with instructions on it’s construction and use;

Cut out the eye from a photograph of one who has been loved but is seen no more. Attach the eye to the pendulum of a metronome and regulate the weight to suit the tempo desired. Keep going to the limit of endurance. With a hammer well-aimed, try to destroy the whole at a single blow

Gillard enters the chamber for the first time as a backbencher. Global Mail. Photograph Mike Bowers.

In the mayhem of relocation to America from Paris during World War 2, the object was lost. A new model was created in it’s place and titled Lost Object but following a misprint in an art catalogue it also became known as Last Object.

On this object, Man Ray affirmed his wish to “some day while the eye is ticking away during a conversation …lift my hammer and with one well-aimed blow completely demolish the metronome”(Schwarz, p.206.) Man Ray’s words, preempted the object’s destruction, but maybe not quite as he had expected. In Paris in 1956, art students destroyed the item in protest at a Dada exhibition.

Unrelentless, in 1958, Man Ray remade the object. This time, he gave it a more hefty title- Indestructible Object. 7 years later he made some 100 reproductions of the Indestructible Object. In 1970 he changed the eye of the metronome- from then the eye blinks with each swing of the metronome’s hand.

Man Ray would be proud. Photograph Mike Bowers.
Man Ray would be proud. Photograph Mike Bowers.

Man Ray’s last statement on the object-

It finally annoys me always to repeat the same thing, so I introduced a small variation, I changed the eye of the metronome. Well, since I have repeated it now for the third time, I will call it Perpetual Motif. After all, the movement of the metronome is a perpetual motif. (Schwarz, p.206.)
The Indestructible Object. Man Ray. 1965.



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