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Monday, 8 April 2013

Not available at bijouteries

Saturday Night And Sunday Morning belongs to a cluster of British films in the sixties aimed at proving if you took a scalpel to the tripes of a member of the working class what spilled out was remarkably similar to that which would have emerged had the unfortunate Celia Johnson been subjected to the same process. That people who were paid for making things had lives, loves and a tendency to procreate. Unfortunately the movie also encouraged directors to believe that projectile vomiting is a facinating cinematic event, something we - as moviegoers - are still suffering from.

All of which is a long-winded way of introducing SNASM's opening scene in which the central character, working at a lathe in a bicycle factory, tosses yet another finished bottom-bracket spindle into a box pallet. The key word being "finished" and the implication is that Barrett Bonden is back, albeit only briefly.

Metal enters a factory in rough form - typically as sheet, billets or castings - is subjected to various types of cutting and exits in a much smoother form. Why? Because these smooth bits will eventually be assembled into a moving mechanical system and their smoothness is an aid to more efficient movement.

And now I'm getting to the point. Smoothed metal can be  pretty. The aforementioned spindle (see pic) is deceptively simple: mounted on a nicely carpentered wood stand it could stay your eye. As could the bearing race (which looks almost like a coronet). Enhanced by a black velvet background and carefully positioned spotlights so might the crankshaft.

I'm not such a damn fool as to say these objects are art. Simply that devices created to fulfil specific engineering tasks may be pleasing to look at. Form follows function. But you knew all that, didn't you?

5 comments:

Avus said...

Well I'm blowed! I am just about to go out to the garage (used as a workshop and motorcycle/cycle store - far too useful to house the car) to take apart and renew the worn bottom bracket of a bicycle. It will, though, not be even approaching a "work of art" - but a dirty, greasy mess containing worn ball races.
In the old days (of SN&SM) these would have been loose ball bearings which would have spilled all over the floor when released, but we have progress.
SN&SM - the work place scenes were filmed in the once great Raleigh factory. Only a name now - the bikes arriving from China.

Sir Hugh said...

Something I am sure you will have never seen is the coffee table in the Top Gear studio - it stands on a stripped down motor car engine block.

At the stage when something different has been created (added value) incorporating one of these engineering artefacts it may qualify as a work of art, but where do you draw the line between acclaimed design and art?

I devoured all those Angry Young Man novels back in the fifties and sixties being pretty close to the action myself.

Joe Hyam said...

I never doubt for a moment that tools and components have a distinctive beauty. The response to utility when it is efficiently achieved is almost an aesthetic definition in itelf. Nature meanwhile unless you are a creationist seems for the most part to set the example which designers and engineers have followed. The spindle is indeed delightful to behold and to think about.

Ellena said...

My late husband worked at a lathe, I think. High precision work. Whether creating or repairing, his work was as much appreciated as that of a goldsmith. The big ships would come into the harbour in Montreal, something needed repair or replacement quickly because each additional hour of docking cost thousands of dollars. The shop knew whom to call. The 'phone would ring in the middle of the night, he'd rush down to the port and come back 36 hours later.

Roderick Robinson said...

Avus: The bearings in the bottom bracket are largish and therefore less of a hassle. It was the tiny Jimmy-Dodgers in the steering head that were tedious. Bedding them down in Vaseline, ah, unhappy days.

Sir Hugh: Although practitioners of conceptual art would disagree, my theory is that art depends on artistic intent. Thus a con-rod
lying on a table is not art; however a con-rod glued to a Kellogs cornflake box might be.

Joe: The spindle is quite close to being a simple cylinder which would be aesthetically unremarkable. What transforms it are the two shallow shoulders (which help secure the two sets of bearings). Plus the machined shininess.

Ellena: Lathe operators are at the very heart of manufacturing things (in metal) - the pinnacle of being an artisan. Not only are the end-products precise and shiny but the act of arriving there (via equally precise curls of swarf) is also fascinating. And then there's the smoky smell of cutting fluid. The opposite of magic.