In a world where everyone is obsessed with finding meaning, purpose, or usefulness within the simplest of objects, I try and create useless machines. Useless machines aren’t machines that don’t work. They are actually a genre in themselves where they do have a function but not necessarily a purpose. These machines intend to make a philosophical point, or are sometimes just an engineering hack that evokes a certain emotion. Like most artists, I came to know about useless machines through the ‘Useless Box’ designed by Marvin Minsky. The first time I saw the useless box, I was completely mesmerized by it. Despite it having no purpose, I just couldn’t stop playing with it. I couldn’t stop thinking about how a useless machine could spark so much curiosity in my brain. It was that magical feeling that led me to build my first useless machine. I love it when the audience interacts with my work. My practice has revolved around technology and interactions, using the former to facilitate, challenge, and complicate the idea of the latter. In a world full of difficulties, challenges, and stress, I try to solve the biggest problem the world faces, which is to make the user smile through my art. Inspired by Marvin Minsky’s Useless box, I created my first useless machine with the simple idea of how I did not like to work in certain spaces in my school. According to me, there are three parts to an interactive art installation. The setup, action, and trigger. The setup is the premise and the setting the artist builds around the installation to invite the user. This is followed by the user performing an action based on the behavior in response to the setup. This triggers a response by the installation and the looping interaction between the user and the machine takes place.

The Lamp That Does Not Let You Work

In my first useless machine, I decided to build a lamp that just wouldn’t let the user work as it would keep switching itself off. As part of the setup, I dimmed the lights in a room where the lamp was kept and a paper was kept on the table for the user to read. The basic human behavior makes the user take action by switching on the lamp in order to read the text on the paper. As soon as the user switches it on, the lamp starts switching itself off evoking a reaction and setting off a looping interaction that keeps surprising the user. The user keeps on playing with the machine as the machine has triggered the curiosity of the user by surprising and often ridiculing them with an action they weren’t expecting.

They say happiness is contagious. Well, watching people continuously interact with your useless machine and smiling throughout is not just contagious enough to make you smile but also pretty addictive in terms of making you create more such experiences. You want to keep innovating machines that evoke different emotions in the audience while keeping them curious. Riding on this addiction, I decided to build my next useless machine.

What is Uselessness?

After building various useless machines, I can say that uselessness is subjective. It is one perspective of looking at things. Usefulness goes beyond purpose. The beauty of useless machines lies in the conversations they spark. These conversations spark ideas that even the innovator is not aware of at the time of building them. They help us look at a problem through various different lenses. It gives us a perspective that we have never seen or tried before. Be it a young child or an adult, everyone can relate to it in some way or the other. And at the end of the day, everyone ponders over the same question—are useless machines actually useless?