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Jelle Korevaar

Crosscutting machinery:

the machine as a story and social vehicle

Jelle Korevaar creates complex, moving machines, reflecting his world view. Generally these machines are about human emotions and the way people act.  ‘Cultivering’ (Cultivation) (2015) is good example of this: a flying parrot skeleton is set in motion by an enormous, rigid geometrical construction. First time I saw this work was at the exposition In ontreddering de kalmte bewaren in Arnhem.* Angst (Fear) a second example, is a work that looks like a closed Nautilus shell. It starts moving when people remain at a distance. After being left alone for some time, the shell opens slowly, the armoured parts slide upward enabling you to see the mechanism that is mostly on the inside. Title and description of the work give an indication of the meanings that Korevaar wants to convey. It seems like he wants to illustrate emotions and social interactions. Yet, the metaphor is only just one of the abstract levels the works functions at. In this article I want to zoom in on the layering of the work, whereby I will en passant discuss the history of kinetic works.  

The origin

An ambivalent way of dealing with the machine

The tradition of machines as artistic medium is relatively young. It goes back to the beginning of the last century, when the use of machines and new techniques was democratized. At the invention of the steammachine, more than a century before the latest techniques were applied on a large scale, for instance in factories and for transportation; around 1900 the ordinary man was also reached, machines  become commonplace. As electricity becomes available at a large scale, everyday life becomes literally enlightened. Besides this, many gadgets are being introduced: cars, cameras, washing machines … And once the machine had entered the households, it didn’t take long before it was introduced in visual arts.


At first machines were depicted in paintings, for instance by the impressionists. But soon the machine also started playing a role as an art-thing. The French author and bohemian Alfred Jarry was an important link in this development. In 1898 he writes his ‘neo scientific’ novel, Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien, a story that starts in a boat as leaky as a sieve and ends in ‘ethernity’ (or as originally described by Jarry ‘Éthernité’) The tone is set with a quote about a paintingmachine: machines, war and factory halls of cast iron and glass.


“… Meanwhile, after there was no one left in the world, the Painting Machine, animated inside by a system of weightless springs, revolved in azimuth in the iron hall of the Palace of Machines.”**

Jarry is an important source of inspiration for the Surrealists, Cobra and Art Brut. His influence ranges from literature and theatre to visual art. In descriptions of his work it will mostly be about his most unique literary collage techniques, but because of his fascination for science and his great love for the bicycle you could also see him as the archetypal grandfather of machine art. For Jean Tinguely who combined his kinetic art with theatre, he was of great importance. The fact that Panamarenko focuses on failure and creates machines that were nearly working, indicates affinity with Jarry. 

Between Science Fiction and Fantasy

Tinguely and Panamarenko are only two examples of artists who through their machines make statements about the development of modern society. They combine a great fascination for machines with a suspicious glance. In the seventies this way of looking at the world and art begins to live a life of its own. From Gerrit van Bakel, an artist who made his machines run painfully slow on rain water to Jelle Korevaar, from Christiaan Zwanikken to Reuben Heyday Margolin – two artists that are mentioned by Korevaar as his source of inspiration – every time making a machine reflects a form of  social criticism.*** Not all works are carnivalesque or absurd, like in the work Jarry. In work that originated in the nineties of the last century, it is more likely to refer to alternative or peripheral ways of living and film. Thus it seems that Zwanikken who had exhibition in 2014 in Museum Valkhof in Nijmegen, is referring stylistically to something between Science Fiction and Fantasy. While the work of Margolin, like the strandbeasts of Theo Jansen, have artisanal references. It is interesting to compare their work with Korevaar’s as in doing so his esthetical and substantive starting points get a profile. 

First Christiaan Zwanikken; if you study his work is seems like the esthetical vocabulary is based on movies. In Nijmegen he showed his moving, half mechanical, half wrapped-up in plastic primeval animals in shining, neon lit white cubes. By esthetic and use of motifs his machines seem to be derived from the world of movies. Moreover a lot of noise is made. The work of Korevaar is hardly focused on spectacle. He tells his story in a solemn way, esthetic and social criticism go hand in hand. The small dancing parrot playing the main role in Cultivation, is hanging from a big strange structure, a construction of wooden bobbins, iron and rope, a constructivist, mechanical cloud which is a work of art in itself. In 2014 Korevaar makes silence audible with the help of softly streaming water. A bigger contrast with the primal screams and popmusic of Zwaninken seems hardly possible. 


Rueben Heyday Magolin works in a totally different way. His kinetic works and machines refer mainly to craftsmanship and manual work. He makes his mobile sculptures mostly from wood. With delicate small threads hundreds of moving wooden cubicles are attached to the ceiling. Apart from moving works, Margolin also makes insects and interstellar constellations made of wood. When you watch the work of Korevaar, you discover that indeed he has used elements from the work of Margolin, but there is also a great substantial difference. While Margolin hides the mechanical part that moves his works behind a wooden construction, Korevaar on the contrary shows this deliberately. ‘Golf’ (Gulf) (2011) is one of Korevaar’s graduation works. He makes it move from a suspended ceiling. You could argue that at that moment he creates a simplified version of Margolin’s work, but by the way this work is integrated in the room, more things are happening. The plastic tiles slowly move up and down, while the real ceiling with the same tiles and the machine that is used for the movement are still clearly visible. This construction broadens the meaning. It’s  not just a beautiful work of art, but it also refers to the space surrounding it. There is no element that is more representative for modern building than the ceiling tile. Moreover, when looking at the mechanism that makes the tiles move, it makes you think what is behind the loose plates – wiring, tubes etcetera. 

Social criticism

A unique way of working

Korevaar with his kinetic works moves in his own unique way through the artistic field. Slowly, carefully and fully transparent because in every piece of work he shows the moving parts. Everything has meaning: The way in which the machines move and the way they were finished; the way they make sound and the way they are supplied with energy, it all relevant for its meaning. Besides that there is also a certain development. The attention from Korevaar is shifting from emotions to social mechanisations. Initially his work was introspective, but gradually he more and more attempts to involve the room and the public around the work.

Angst (Fear) (2015) was exposed in 2017 at a public program that he realised together with the Salvation Army. First the public was confronted with the sculpture. Then they were asked for their opinion. The format of this project was simple, but very successful given the reactions: people learn a lot and respond sincerely to the robot’s behaviour. The pilot created expectations for the future. The way in which people react to machines is interesting because mechanisation and digitalisation of society are still increasing. If we can deal well with machines, they can be deployed effectively. Emotions play an important role in this. Could things and machines also have a ‘soul’, how do we engage them in our social networks? What counts for societies with an animist worldview, might also be true for technique. Possibly a better understanding of how to deal with things might help to get a grip on current ecological and social problems. 

The commitment of Korevaar is striking. Making use of narrative elements, he wants to tell people about different social developments. Moreover, he wants his public to participate. Thus, with his kinetic art he is at the beginning of a career. Golf, Stilte, Cultivering and Angst give an interesting view on technique and society. Korevaar is an integer artist and I am curious about what is to come, yet. 


Saskia Monshouwer 

* In ontreddering de kalmte bewaren │group exhibition in response to the last letter of Vincent van Gogh │ curators: Vrienden van Job, Rinke Nijburg & Wout Herfkens │12.06- 12.07.2015 │circa…dit, Arnhem 

**  Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysicien, 1897, first publication 1911 / quote: translation Simon Watson Taylor, publisher Exact Change 1996 (pag. 88) 

*** In this context it is relevant to mention Gerrit van Bakel (1943-1984). He made extremely slow moving machines that work on rainwater among other things. Part of his heritage has been included in the collection of the Kröller Müller Museum in Otterlo. 

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