The French artist Marcel Duchamp once said that the only universally understood ‘ism’ was eroticism. In one of his most famous works, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (1915-23), Duchamp represented the erotic relationship between men and women using analogies drawn from physics and engineering. He described the wasp-like ‘bride’ figure in the upper half of the work, and the ‘bachelors’ in the lower half, as ‘desire motors’, destined to continually ‘spark’ each other.
The works in this room explore this concept of mechanised desire, often with a liberal dose of humour. Francis Picabia and Man Ray shared Duchamp’s taste for irony and satire, and all three went on to become associated with the surrealist movement. In Man Ray’s photographs, objects such as an eggbeater and a bell-push mimic parts of the body. Picabia’s Paroxysm of Suffering (1915) depicts machine parts that resemble the figure of a woman. The title suggests her turning action would cause pain. If sex was merely a physical process, like the action of machines, then the body of the beloved might equally be seen as a system of cogs and gears, albeit one linked to human emotions.