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History Machines: Donovan and Siegel

Perhaps you’re reading this on paper, or maybe you’re reading this on a screen. A lot of significant things have happened over a significant amount of time, to get you to this very insignificant event.

Picture a series of minds evolving idea after idea, a series of hands building machine after machine. These people have made the sharing of knowledge and ideas physically possible, yet rarely do we think of them whilst absorbing the words in front of us. In their exhibition ‘History Machines’ shown at Edinburgh Printmakers, Canadian art duo Donovan and Siegel visually express the poetry in this unseen chain of people and ideas with subtlety and imagination.

Toronto-based Matt Donovan and Hallie Siegel centre their work on the physical side of technology and how it relates to other mediums, using sculpture, video, and text, collaborating with Edinburgh Printmakers would always be a natural fit. The modest exhibition space lends itself to the concept of the artworks; the second of two small rooms has a window looking out onto the printmakers’ workshop floor, and with two pieces positioned either side, the window becomes part of the exhibit, adding another layer to Donovan and Siegel’s concept of art in the process of creation.

The works themselves consist of black texts on white paper, metal sculptures and wooden text-producing contraptions. The visual simplicity of the exhibition may create little impact at first, yet this superficial blandness contradicts the complexity of the subject itself. The two print pieces created here in Edinburgh are the least complicated as images alone, yet the idea that Donovan and Siegel are using print to capture something relating to digital technology is a paradoxical and genuinely interesting concept.

In And So It Goes, the four words appear embedded in thick white paper, with the black text formed from blurred pixels of varying tone and size. The impression left on the viewer, a vaguely bleak sensation of something not quite grasped or fully realised , is quietly profound.

The older pieces in the exhibition are physically and textually much more elaborate, and it is here that Donovan and Siegel most directly address the poetic science that goes into the production of texts. Haikube is an ebony cube with six haikus written on each side, and 25 Rotations are the new haikus, which the Haikube printing block produces when rotated like a Rubik’s cube.  

The result is an exhibition that has a small but unique impact. In place of grandiose images, these pieces leave the viewer with a residue of fresh ideas and perspectives. History Machines doesn’t quite move the viewer to an emotional response, yet it succeeds in something much more rare: originality.

At Edinburgh Printmakers, run ended 

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