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— urbantick

Der Mensch als Industrie Palast – Body Machines by Fritz Kahn

The late 19th century was the time of the machines and the industrial revolution was in full swing. Machines where everything and adored by a great number of people, including scientist (guess they are still today), architects and artists. Le Corbusier was a big fan of the automobile and the ocean liner. The fascination was very strong and in many of his projects references to these machines can be fond. He even wrote: “A house is a machine for living in” (Times). The “Form follows function” coined by Louis Sullivan phrase could also be seen in this context. Others were looking at the city for example Antonio Sant’Elia the Italian artist with his machine dreams of the city. Several movies pick up this topic, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The idea of the city as a machine has replaced the image of a medieval city, that is dark, narrow, alive but out of control. The industrial city as a machine had an internal function and each piece was understood to be full filing a role, there is a very strong sense of control. To some extend this is still how the city is imagined, as a huge interlinked machine that someone is in charge of. Only in the very late century some new description of the city emerge linking it to organic structures.

Image by Antonio Sant’Elia, 1914 – La Città Nuova – taken from storiacontemporanea

During the machine period also the human body was subject to imagination as being a machine. It is the time where sport and sport competition became important and the training of the human, mostly male body, as a machine was convenient.
The artwork of Fritz Kahn falls into this period and illustrates the ideas beautifully. Metaphors have probably always been used to explain human body events. Phrases like “Butterflies in our stomach”, “eardrums”, “and eyeballs“, the heart is ”broken“ or our ”mind’s eye“. These mental visualizations can illustrate feelings to help make them better understandable for others, since they are very personal and experienced individually.
The time was all about efficiency and industrial production was reaching very high levels of production. In this context is easier to understand how people have tried to push the human body. Suddenly the in context of the machine the unpredictable aspects of the human body became a threat that medical science tried to overcome and probably still is.
But some other aspects of understanding of the body are important at the time. The industrial evolution also introduced the human body to new forms of movement. The train and the car meant that dramatically different speeds could be experienced and time and distance in relation to the body had to be newly defined. The very big change was the fact that flying was now possible. The human body was able, with the help of the machine, to fly in the air, just like birds.

Image by Fritz Kahn – taken from morbidanatomy and dreamanatomy