The Tarim Machine, or Loooooooooooooong-loooooooooooooong futures of Central Asia

Recently I’ve made an interesting, yet also shameful, discovery; the shame on me is that I could have made this discovery nearly ten years ago, but never managed to do so until now. But better later than never, and in the very specific time context of this concept the delay of ten years means next to nothing.

I used to come to a lobby of the main building of the TU/e pretty often, and saw this construction many times in the past; I’ve never been quite sure whether it’s a piece of steampunk art or a garbage left after the next renovation. The University is know for its collection of contemporary art, but usually all sort of sculptures and installations densely populating the campus have a clear description somewhere next to them. Which was not the case for that strange construction, or at least I never managed to find it, until recently, that is. Few days ago we’ve been been to the TU/e to see the show of its Department of Industrial Design, and I finally bumped into a small place on the wall, saying:

The Tarim Machine

“The machine will cover a distance of approximately 1060 km over the course of 36,000,000 years. This is the distance for the world speed record per hour on land (Blue Flame), which was set in Utah. The technology of the machine can be adapted every 50 to 100 years, using the technology of the time. The materials for the machine can be altered, too. The machine now consists of iron, stainless steel, bronze, gold, titanium, iridium, and carbon fiber.

“The machine should receive maintenance from a new tribe of people, which should be composed of the following peoples: Cossacks (Sic! They meant Kazakhs, of course, a typical flop of, I guess, the curators rather than the artist), Kirghiz, Salar, Tartar, Ugrian, Uzbek, and Yugur (the point being to link as many gene types to the machine as possible).”

“The Tarim Machine consists of eight tubes, which are paired together and lie in extension of each other. There are four wheel spokes between the tubes that have movable feet, which allow the machine to move into any position. The tubes are filled with oil. Oil pressure on the membranes within the tubes activates four engines” two that pull and two that push. if the machine rotates then all four engines are activated. The direction the machine moves in always remain the same from the perspective of the machine.”

The idea of the machine that will be moving itself for 36 million (!) years though the basin of the Tarim River (otherwise known as Taklamakan Desert) is breathtakingly beautiful. It is such an amazingly clever concept of managing the futures, the Long Wiki Future of Central Asia if you will, that it’s difficult to imagine that the concept was created as early as 1970s (btw, the time of the Soviet Afghan War, if to remind a history).

This is how the place of the presumed journey looks today:

And that’s how the artist imagine the machine in the field

It didn’t manage to get to this field, as yet. But having in mind its presumed time-span, isn’t it too early to say ‘didn’t’, as yet? For me, who comes from Central Asia, it’s very tempting to think about a possible cultural/design project that would launch this machine into its true spatial context. Could be a really great project, serioulsy.

Thanks to me ‘discovery’ I also learned about Gerrit van Bakel, Dutch sculptor and designer (‘critical desinger’, as he would be labeled today). There’s an interesting site about him, but his figure seems to be quite enigmatic, I’d love to learn more about his life and projects.

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