They infuse their monsters with the energy from our imaginations.

From two blocks away, passing the construction site of a trendy new condo highrise, you hear the roar of a great beast. From a block away, next to the shuttered warehouse building, constant whining and rumbling noises become apparent to you. Then, suddenly, in the middle of this industrial cityscape, a figure emerges that ignites your imagination and awakens your curiosity and wonder: a giant elephant. Indeed, a pachyderm of prehistoric proportions. Here, in the middle of a French industrial city of over 275,000 people, is an animal that is living, breathing, and clearly not supposed to be here. Or is it?

Upon inspection, this beast is not actually living and breathing. It is a carefully assembled collection of wood and steel (and other miscellaneous materials), wires and pistons, motors and wheels. It is a large-scale creation born of the dedication of a team of designers and craftsmen. It is run by a staff of operators and maintenance technicians. It is, in fact, a machine. And as such has as much right as any to claim this area as its home.

Upon a closer inspection, however, it turns out it is living and breathing. Not in the strict biological sense, of course. But it does have breath, given to it by a combination of air compressors, pneumatic pistons and a highdecibel speaker system. And it does have life, given to it by a combination of well crafted and articulated appendages, adroit operation and a crowd of willing, believing onlookers. It is the audience that finally breathes life into this mish-mash of mechanics, willing to look past the clearly segmented limbs, the visible structural supports, the giant tires that allow its movement and the engine that ultimately gives it forward momentum. We see what we believe, and we believe what we see.

Then again, maybe it isn’t being able to look past the obvious mechanics that allows us to believe. Perhaps it is the direct, unaccountable presence of them that allows us to convince ourselves that what we see in front of us is real. We are not given a clear elephant. We are given clues, impressions of elephantiness, juxtaposed against elements that are very un-elephanty. These deliberate holes and intentional incongruities confound our notions of what we see and what we know, and force our imaginations to rev up and reconcile the situation. The wonder of La Machine, the creators of this and many other wildly fantastic contraptions, is that they stimulate the imagination by egging it on and allowing it freedom.

Their creations are not attempts to visually replicate living things. They are attempts to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Frankenstein and bring inanimate objects to life through action. Only instead of lightning, they infuse their monsters with the energy from our imaginations.

– Nathan Doud