Since his early twenties, Mayer has been collecting and dismantling typewriters to create life-sized sculptures of humans and animals abiding by one simple rule: he doesn’t introduce anything that ‘is not indigenous to the typewriter.’
Mayer describes the process as ‘cold assembly’, that is, the sculptures are pieced together without any glue or soldering. Mayer says, “I don’t like the appearance of welding or soldering or outside fastening. It’s the same with woodwork for me, I like not to be able to see the joinery.”
Instead, he hunts for screws, nuts, pins and springs that he can find in the machines – sometimes using up to 40 typewriters for one sculpture – to slowly piece the parts together. Mayer says, “I just use the stuff that’s there and I use it very much like in an Erector Set to slowly accrete little components that look like parts of the human body or the animal anatomy.”
I don’t like the appearance of welding or soldering or outside fastening
His human sculptures are very reminiscent of Ted Hughes’ Iron Man. However, in one sense, Jeremy Mayer’s work is an inversion of the poet’s. Where Hughes sees the mechanical in the organic, describing the bird in his poem Thrushes as, ‘more coiled steel than living’, Mayer is turning the mechanized into the natural.
Among the artists that Mayer cites as influences are Jacob Epstein – especially his terrifying machine-man straddling the rock drill – and the Dada kinetic artist, Jean Tinguely, both of whom were interested in the relationship between industry and nature. But while the modernists were concerned with a world rapidly being altered by emerging technology, Mayer’s work is retrospective, considering past contraptions from the perspective of the post-industrial age.
He says, “We are almost done with the physical, mechanical machine… we’re playing with machines that just have an esoteric dance of electrons racing around inside them. Very few people actually know how these things work.”
For Mayer, the typewriter sculptures represent his ambivalence to the technological advances of the 20th century. He says, “There is a lot about the last century that I like and would like to maintain and hold onto myself but then there is a lot I would like to participate in tearing down…I do have a lot of respect for the design (of the typewriter), it’s beautiful, it’s elegant but then that is exactly why I want to take them apart too.”
It’s beautiful, it’s elegant but then that is exactly why I want to take them apart too
In the 18 years since he has worked with typewriters, Mayer has made around 120 sculptures, all of which he has sold except for one. He says, “I have a hard time doing a show because I sell everything before I amass enough work to put one on.”
He does do commissions, though as his sculptures can take up to a year to make, you’ll have to be rather patient if you’re looking to get your hands on one.