Rope Machine was the result of being unable to design and manufacture a swarm of floating robot jellyfish within the limited time frame of my fourth and final year at art school. Still working within the subject matter of 'the swarm' and the ease with which scales are tipped and entire ecosystems destroyed, Rope Machine was conceived as metaphor for man's hand in jeopardised ocean ecologies.
As such, it was designed to both be and look like a hideously industrial, obnoxious, overly-complicated and impossibly heavy beast-like machine.
Design of the machine took the better part of five months and this was largely done in AutoCAD and Inventor. Of the over 500 parts I was only able to make about 30% using hand tools, workshop machinery, and the school's CNC-router and -plasma cutter. The rest of the components were bought, bought and then modified or fabricated entirely from scratch. The modification and fabrication was done by the very generous technicians at the UCT engineering workshop.
Although always envisaged as an artwork first and a functional object second, the machine does actually make rope. The length of this rope is determined by the height at which the machine is installed (theoretically up to 10 metres).
It has two main components, namely the head and base units which run freely up and down two guide ropes. The latter maintain alignment while allowing the base unit to move upwards as the yarn loops become shorter during the rope manufacturing process.
There are four stages to this particular method of rope making: looping the yarns, twisting the yarns, wrapping the yarns, and finally tying off the resultant rope. However, in Rope Machine, the typical header unit design has been altered so as to allow the twisting of the yarns to continue indefinitely and it is only by the intervention of the operator that the next stage - the wrapping of the yarns - can take place. Thus man's hand tips the delicate balance and produces something physical that takes a very long time to unravel.
Rope Machine is currently housed in the permanent collection at WHOW studios in Cape Town, South Africa.