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Sublime Gadgets
  • Sublime Gadgets solo show
    Curated by Alexandra Midal

  • Sublime Gadgets
    Curated by Alexandra Midal

  • Sublime Gadgets
    Curated by Alexandra Midal


Gadgets are the most ephemeral of domestic objects. Their dazzling but fleeting existence is a consequence of two combined factors:

1: The value of a gadget is found in its novelty and ability to provide spectacle.
2: This novelty is provided by the latest technological innovations.

Arthur C. Clarke’s often quoted 3rd law describes the relationship between these points:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

It is in this magical element that the spectacle resides but as a consequence it follows that just as the illusion dies when the magician reveals his slight of hand, so the technology becomes distinguishable from magic when it becomes familiar. This normalising of technology leads to the death of the gadget.
Sublime Gadgets aims expand the lifespan of these ephemeral objects through introducing notions of the romantic sublime. This shifts the focus away from technological fetishism towards objectifying ‘pleasures of the imagination’ (Addison), the infinity of time and space (Shaftesbury), agreeable kinds of horror (Addison), randomness found in nature and the management of life and death.
We have built seven working prototypes:

  • Sublime gadget #1: Ripple Counter.
    The Ripple Counter is committed to the ambitious and relentless task of counting the un-countable. As it attempts to quantify the humble ripple over time it will generate spectacular numbers. In a culture that is increasingly ‘data hungry’ the Ripple Counter acts as a bridge for data-philes who have become detached from the nature.

  • Ripple Counter mechanism. The moving parts are heavily over-engineered to support the open-ended time frame through which the gadget could hypothetically operate.

  • Ripple Counter float

  • Ripple Counter remote numerical display. The display has 24 digits – If we imagine that the device counts 1 ripple per second the display would take 31709791983764586.5043125 years to max out.

  • Sublime gadget #2: Reciprocating Motion Counter.
    This gadget celebrates a revolutionary invention from the mechanical era – the internal combustion engine. Using the ubiquitous Honda C90 Cub as a vessel for the celebration, the intervention literally counts revolutions of the crank – not per minute as is normally the case but cumulatively and for the life span of the vehicle. Like the ripple counter, this offers the potential to count very large numbers. The counter exists as a 24 digit display which, with the motor ticking over at 1500RPM would take 92,246 times the age of the universe to reach its maximum number.

  • Reciprocating Motion Counter numerical display.

  • Sublime gadget #3: The Bionic Requiem.
    The Bionic Requiem initially exists as an anticipatory device: its music box poised to play a tune once the motor turning the barrel receives electricity. This electricity is supplied by a microbial fuel cell generating electrical energy from the consumption of captured flying insects. This quiet activity continues in the background until one day sufficient energy has been harvested to turn over the motor, linked via the belt to the music player and revealing its mysterious tune.

  • The Bionic Requiem.

  • The Bionic Requiem: Close-up on UV LED detail – The UV LEDs are used to attract the flies and lure them into the glass vessel where they expire and fall into the microbial fuel cell below.

  • The Bionic Requiem: Glass detail

  • Sublime gadget #4: The God Machine.
    The execution of unwanted animals is an action that most of us engage with little or no thought. The design of the humble fly swatter has gone through countless iterations from rolled newspaper to electronic device. This transgression into gadget reveals a dark entertainment. In dispatching unwanted life forms we act as gods in our own sitting rooms with a whimsical power of life over death.
    The ‘God Machine’ allows us to execute from the comfort of our sofas. Technological superiority permits decisions of destiny with the push of a button. Requiring little more than a glance from our television set, we sit and wait for a fly to be drawn to its web, where it is electrified with the push of our godlike fingers.

  • The God Machine: etched web detail

  • The God Machine: remote control

  • Sublime gadget #5: Moon Creeper.
    During the Apollo program retro-reflectors were left on the surface of the Moon. These reflectors can be illuminated by laser beams aimed through large telescopes on Earth. The reflected laser beam is also observed with the telescope, providing a measurement of the round-trip distance between Earth and the Moon. This technique has proven that the Moon is receding from Earth at a rate of 3.8 centimetres per year. The Moon Creeper represents this divergence with an extruded rod that moves at exactly the same rate as the Moon. After one year the rod measures 3.8cm in height, after ten years 38cm, after one hundred years 3.8 metres…hypothetically the device has the potential to follow the Moon into the infinite future, however, at some point, the pragmatic law of gravity begins to conflict with the imaginary potential of the infinite.

  • The Moon Creeper: 6 year support structure detail

  • The Moon Creeper after 6 months

  • Sublime gadget #6: The Asteroid Impact Probability Drive.
    This device displays information, provided by NASA and other agencies, concerning potentially hazardous asteroids (PHA’s).
    Internet statistics for PHA’s vary between the official agencies as well as more amateur alarmist web sites. These properties are represented as a dynamic and democratic display of impact probability. The system that generates this number uses the Monte Carlo Algorithm used in gambling houses to fluctuate between the values obtained from NASA and amateur data-bases. The device reconfigures a sense of universal vulnerability and permits reflection on invisible threats from beyond our stratosphere.

  • The Asteroid Impact Probability Drive
    Animation by Trevor Harvey

  • Sublime gadget #7: The Final Journey.
    The Final Journey employs a contemporary favourite of the gadget shop – the spy camera, here used to document a sublime final journey. The device facilitates a quiet and dignified memorial through the gentle lifting of a symbolic portion of the ashes into space. The ashes and wireless camera are attached to a helium filled balloon. Family and friends tune their receiver into the camera’s frequency, let go of the balloon and it gently rises capturing the moving image of them waving goodbye. Eventually the signal breaks and the picture turns to white noise. The ashes continue to rise into the sky and a destination with unlimited imaginary potential.

  • The Final Journey


Exhibition commissioned and curated by Alexandra Midal for the Design Project Room, HAUTE ÉCOLE D’ART ET DE DESIGN – GENÈVE
All images ©Baptiste Coulon 2012.
HEAD Design Project Room
Trevor Harvey