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Klee, Twittering Machine

Paul Klee, Twittering Machine (Die Zwitscher-Maschine), 1922, 25 1/4 x 19" watercolor, ink, and gouache on paper (MoMA) Speakers: Dr. Juliana Kreinik and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Michael Le Clech
    Is this where the social network twitter got it's name from? I notice parts of the machine look like birds.
    (8 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Alex Hallmark
    At the beginning of the talk, about , the speakers hit tangentially on the brilliance () of this painting saying that it is Fanciful, Playful, Mischievous, but they do not get at the real skill of this artist, and skill is very important to me. The skill shown by Klee is his ability to recreate a child's naivety or first-sight but with the composition and thought of an adult. This is much harder than it sounds. Any comments?
    (9 votes)
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  • marcimus pink style avatar for user kai whitton
    why does he call it a twittering machine
    (5 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Does anyone see the line that the "birds" are standing on and think of of one of the lines from Ducamp's "metre"?
    (4 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user luiz eduardo borges
    The extreme lack of craft in rendering of this is extremely uncomfortable for me. I had trouble even understanding what is on the canvas. Did I just think that?
    (2 votes)
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    • leafers tree style avatar for user Daryl Fell
      I think the very "lightness" is part of the technique. He is making "light" of technology/machinery. How often do we conceive of the machine as something precise, running in an organised, rhythmic way, not subject to the fluctuations of say human emotion. Here he seems to combine the natural (the birds) with the manufactured. This seems a much more playful approach than the dense intensity of the futurists (e.g. Duchamp-Villon's "Horse") where the animal to me seems totally dominated by the machine.
      (4 votes)

Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] STEVEN ZUCKER: This is Steven Zucker. JULIANA KREINIK: And Juliana Kreinik. STEVEN ZUCKER: And we're talking about "Twittering Machine" by Paul Klee. JULIANA KREINIK: Or "Zwitscher-Machine." STEVEN ZUCKER: So this is one of my favorite works by Klee and I think many people's. It's perhaps, for me, one of the most fanciful, one of the most playful works of art I can think of. JULIANA KREINIK: These little figures which, to me they look like half bird-like creature, half puppet, half doll, even though you can't have three halves. They have these different faces where you can see details if you look really closely. Each of them has a sense of individuality. But they all seem a little bit-- STEVEN ZUCKER: Mischievous, right? JULIANA KREINIK: Mischievous is the perfect word. They seem mischievous and about to do something. And you know, it's funny, because I look at the characters, and then I'm thinking, what's the twittering machine? STEVEN ZUCKER: Well, he's exposed for us this wonderful kind of mechanical object. It's drawn in the simplest pen and ink on a kind of watercolor wash, really subtle and lovely, but not too finished, and still quite sort of open. But there's this fabulous kind of invitation for the viewer to somehow reach in, and to turn the handle, and to bring this to life. JULIANA KREINIK: You know what I'm just thinking of, and I'm thinking of this because Klee is Swiss, and I'm thinking of this because it's turning and then there's birds-- I'm thinking of a cuckoo clock. STEVEN ZUCKER: Oh, I think you're absolutely right. JULIANA KREINIK: Do you think he was maybe creating this sort of inner workings of the cuckoo clock deconstructed and sort of turned on its head? STEVEN ZUCKER: I think so, absolutely. JULIANA KREINIK: Like the birds have been freed. STEVEN ZUCKER: But here they are freed because this is not about the mechanics of time. It's not about the structure of time at all. This is a kind of human-powered machine. We have to reach in to bring this thing to life. And if it was brought to life, you'd get a sense of the chaos of these birds, which is completely at odds with the notion of the precision of the Swiss clock. JULIANA KREINIK: Oh, the precision of the Swiss clock, absolutely. It doesn't have that kind of precision at all. It's not that kind of machine. It's a machine of frivolity. STEVEN ZUCKER: Look at the way he's done it. Because when you look at, for instance, the shapes that come out of each of the mouths, or the beaks, of these birds-- JULIANA KREINIK: Mm-hm. Yeah, they definitely have a beak-like quality. STEVEN ZUCKER: They do. Those are different shapes. And they become almost visual signs. They become notations of the sounds that you can imagine they would be making. It would be a fracas. It would be a kind of cacophony, but each with a distinct kind of tone. JULIANA KREINIK: So this second figure from right, with this spiral-- I feel like he would make sort of a boing, boing, boing sound. [LAUGHTER] STEVEN ZUCKER: Maybe so. JULIANA KREINIK: Like up and down, and up and down. STEVEN ZUCKER: A spring-like sound. JULIANA KREINIK: Yeah. STEVEN ZUCKER: Yeah, absolutely. JULIANA KREINIK: And some of the others would just sort of be wraw, wraw, wraw. And you can sort of imagine all those things happening all at once as soon as anyone starts to turn the handle. STEVEN ZUCKER: I think that's right. And you could also imagine sort of the chaos visually of how this would look. If you turn the handle, because each bird is perched on a wire that sort of arcs in space, you can get the sense of them balancing up and down, and sort of gyrating. And maybe that almost bow-tie like double triangle-- JULIANA KREINIK: Oh, they might rotate around that! STEVEN ZUCKER: That would spin, exactly. JULIANA KREINIK: It would spin around. So you turn it up and the whole thing sort of spins around that axis. STEVEN ZUCKER: So what Klee has done-- and it's just incredible, it's brilliant-- is in an ecstatic, frozen drawing, he's been able to evoke sound, and energy, and motion, and also an invitation for us to somehow power the entire image, as a viewer so often really does. JULIANA KREINIK: It really calls for us to interact with it. And it calls for us to play with it. I mean it just, it seems like it's just an invitation to have fun. STEVEN ZUCKER: Now, that's so interesting because Klee is at the Bauhaus for a year now. And so often when we think of the Bauhaus, we think of something that's slightly dour, something a little serious. JULIANA KREINIK: Very serious, I think it's very serious. You know, I mean, I think that they certainly had a lot of fun. But even their fun was so serious. Like, we must make new things and we must have new parties. And we must find new ways to make trouble. STEVEN ZUCKER: And yet Klee seems to making trouble in just a simply and wonderfully playful way here. [MUSIC PLAYING]