Jake Chapman, Dinos Chapman
Little Death Machine (Castrated) 1993

Artwork details

Jake Chapman born 1966
Dinos Chapman born 1962
Little Death Machine (Castrated)
Date 1993
Medium Aluminium, steel, wood, glass, plastic, rubber, paper, leather, soap and coffee
Dimensions Displayed: 1384 x 742 x 943 mm
Acquisition Presented anonymously 1997
Not on display


The process of making Little Death Machine was empirical. The Chapman brothers assembled various objects they had in their studio and experimented with different systems to make them work. On a wooden surface two brains, cast in latex, and a rubber dildo are linked by plastic tubing and a crude system of wheels and pulleys to a hammer and a milk bottle. The whole mechanism is mounted on a metal framework and encased in a perspex box. Six bottles of liquids simulating milk in various stages of decomposition are displayed on the perspex base underneath the machine. Originally, before becoming 'castrated', the machine operated as a closed circuit. An electric pump directed liquid soap, simulating milk, from the milk bottle to the first brain. A blow from the hammer would then cause it to be pumped from the brain up into the penis, which in turn would ejaculate the liquid into the second brain. From here it would return through the tubing to the milk bottle, whence it would be recycled. The artists disconnected the mechanism in order prevent it from destroying itself. Initially displayed without a cover, the piece has accumulated a layer of dust and dirt, which now seems intrinsic to it. Now under a perspex box and ageing noticeably, it has acquired the look of an archive exhibit.

Little Death Machine … was like a do-it-yourself libido … It doesn't look like a libido but in its action, from the end of the penis to the upturned brain, between those two points, the representation is actually quite correct. It's uncanny that an apparatus so unlike the human can produce something that is mechanically like this splutter from the genitals.
(Chapmans quoted in Hilty: 'Dinos & Jake Chapman: Shock, Boredom, Modernism', Art Press, no. 234, April 1998, p.40.)

The title of Little Death Machine (Castrated) refers to the French term for masculine post-orgasm flaccidity - le petit mort - meaning literally 'little death'. It proposes an endless cycle of self-involved and enclosed cerebral-sexual activity leading to death. Reducing human (particularly sexual) activities to their most mechanical and banal is a Chapman speciality, graphically illustrated by this work. In its state before becoming 'castrated', the machine suggests the sterility of masturbation, as opposed to the possible fertility of real intercourse with another body. Mechanically disconnected, it represents a double-death. With its aged and preserved appearance Little Death Machine (Castrated) recalls the mechanical objects of the surrealists. The inclusion of a paper McDonald's cup containing coffee residues connects the work with Coffee Mill 1911 (Tate T03253) by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), a painting depicting a mechanical device for grinding coffee, and simultaneously brings it back into the late twentieth century.

Further reading:
Chapmanworld, exhibition catalogue, ICA, London 1996, [pp.45-6]
Stuart Morgan, 'Rude Awakening', Frieze, no. 19, Nov.-Dec. 1994, pp.30-33
Unholy Libel: Six Feet Under; exhibition catalogue, Gagosian Gallery, New York 1997, reproduced (colour) fig.ii, [p.82]

Elizabeth Manchester
May 2000