You might wonder about the value of a device that eliminates one type of work while creating another, more time-consuming type in its place. And in fact, Greg Block hopes you do just that when you see his winking machine.
Viewed in profile, his wooden creation looks like a pair of 5s held parallel by a mask of flywheels, arms, counterweights and wedges mounted on a wooden scaffold. After placing it over your head — it rests on your shoulders — you have to reach up and pull a string that causes copper eyelids to wink for you.
"It's saving your eyelids work, but you have to use your hands and put the thing on," says Block. "So it's minimizing effort in a certain respect and maximizing it in many others."
Not to mention that winking, according to Block, "is an effort in inconspicuousness." And that's the machine's ironic drawback: You would surely attract that undesired attention.
The first of his inventions, Block's winking machine came about via an introductory sculpture class at Colorado College. The assignment was to create something that would allow a person to perform an action the body couldn't naturally. He says that rather than designing a machine that gives an advantage, he made one that saved the human work while creating a disability.
Two years later, Block's "unnecessarily complex machines" include a guillotine corkscrew that slices the tops off of wine bottles, flooding the floor with wine and glass, as well as an apple-stemmer that pierces the apple with 72 nails to steady it and leaves behind a residue that makes the fruit unsafe to eat.
Held together with only wood and glue and accented with metal where function necessitates, his contraptions illustrate what he says is a never-ending cycle. It's the process of "how something works, how it works on us and then how we continue to work on it," Block says, referencing the reciprocal nature of our relationship with technology.
Mostly, though, the 23-year-old Steamboat Springs native says, it's just interesting machinery.
Both playful and dark, Block's interactive Machines exhibit at Smokebrush Gallery includes contraptions in various stages of production accompanied by diagrams, several paintings and a large, wooden book that comprehensively details biological systems and mechanical contraptions.
Block says the idea that modern machines "isolate us from the activity that we're performing" sparked his inventiveness. Several of his machines, including working models of the heart and ear, are inspired by children's museums and shortcomings in 2-D textbook diagrams.
And for a guy who graduated from CC this past spring with a major in biology and a minor in art, there's a lot of value in that: Instead of relying on words, he says, "It's a way of teaching biology through art."