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Feature: Exhibition - Artist Tom Foulsham fuses obsolete contraptions with innovative ideas - Minni Weisz studio,

Tom Foulsham with his Man Making Machine

Published: 4 March 2010

THEY are Frankenstein machines, carved out of the guts of obsolete technology – and make up the nuts and bolts of the art work made by inventor Tom Foulsham. While the comparisons to contraption cartoonist W Heath Robinson are inevitable, Foulsham’s work differs by not being restricted to fantastical machines on the page: instead, he gets soldering and builds them from scrap.

Foulsham, whose show is currently running at the Minnie Weisz gallery in King’s Cross, recalls happy hours spent with his dad salvaging discarded equipment from skips and taking it to pieces. 

“I love messing around and taking things apart,” says Tom. “My dad would bring all sorts of things home and rip them to pieces so we could have a look at how they work.”

He cites other influences as being the Science Museum – “Who doesn’t like turning handles and pulling levers?” he asks – and a burning desire to watch things in motion. 

Tom studied architecture at UCL’s Bartlett school, and then completed an MA at the Royal College of Art, and before exhibiting his pieces at the small gallery under Victorian arches on St Pancras Road, Tom has had shows at such prestigious venues as the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the V&A.

The show includes something he calls The Wiggle Table. He explains that the machine it is based on is a precursor of the ink jet: the machine “clutches” a handful of pens and then move about, creating an image. 

He calls it the “Table That Can Tell Stories”, and it works like this: beneath the table is a contraption linked to a website – Tom uses the BBC news – and then a piece of paper is placed on top of the wiggle table and you hold a pen on it. The table then, literally, wiggles – and the clutched pen traces out the words of the story the machine is linked to. But apart from finding a new use for an obsolete piece of kit, the contraption is fun to play with.

Another of his machines makes people. Using an electromagnet from a video player, a paraffin lamp attached to a hair wax tin and the remnants of a dust pan and brush, it’s operated by flicking a switch and the Man Making Machine cranks into life – little paper people come out of the end of a wonderful, archaic process, which is mesmerising to watch. 

“It makes one little paper man every 140 seconds,” he says proudly. 

Tom Foulsham’s show is at the Minni Weisz studio, 123 Pancras Road, NW1, until March 16.
Viewing by appointment only: email



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