George Brecht

universal machine


Artist / Artist group
George Brecht
universal machine
Edition / Serial number
Copy Number
Material / Technique
shaking box with different objects
Dimensions / Duration
28 x 28 x 3,5 cm
ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe

Fluxus artist George Brecht’s »Universal Machine« is a flat box designed to be shaken, causing the loose objects sandwiched between the glass cover and the picture-printed base to reorganize themselves and form random constellations. With the help of instructions on the underside of the box’s lid, observers can attempt to interpret the objects’ meaning in relation to the images below. "It’s a Universal Machine for doing everything. For writing a novel, making a poem, composing a piece of music, for finding lost objects. You can use it as a watch, as a calendar. It can invent new mathematics, a new form of thought. Map out an itinerary for a trip."[1]

Named after British mathematician Alan Turing’s universal machine, a theoretical model of how a computer could function, Brecht’s »Universal Machine« reacts playfully to the principles of combinatorics. The innumerable possibilities and combinations available are Brecht’s way of introducing the element of chance. The international Fluxus movement in the 1960s and 1970s often toyed with the law of chance in its performances, playfully undermining the seriousness of so-called high art.

The »Universal Machine« first existed as an artistic one-off, and later appeared as a multiple in a second version named »Universal Machine II« in »Edition MAT MOT« in 1965. Fluxus artists distributed boxes and kits—mass-produced consumer goods that are themselves reproducible, marketable and for sale—to differentiate themselves from standard art-market practice.

[1] George Brecht in conversation with Ben Vautier, cited in »The Universal Machine, 1965,«

Author: Dorothea Deli