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Vanitas Machine

Vanitas Machine is a work by Verena Friedrich which explores the interrelations between materiality and time.

Vanitas Machine

Vanitas Machine, first prototype

In the Middle Ages, ordinary candles have been used as timekeepers as one could visually determine the passage of time based on the material consumption caused by the burning process. Furthermore, being one of the classical vanitas symbols, a burning candle recalls the futility of the moment, the transience of human life and the certainty of the end of all existence – death and decay. But is this end really still inevitable?

In the course of the last two centuries and in the industrialized countries, average human life expectancy has significantly increased due to diverse medical and biotechnological interventions. Aging and death have become biological phenomena to be studied and, potentially, conquered. Numerous theories of aging have been developed, some of which are controversial. The so-called “metabolism theory” for example claims that the lifespan of living beings is reciprocally related to their energy turnover and related herewith, their calorie intake, oxygen consumption and heart rate.

In Vanitas Machine, a candle is placed in the center of a machinery where it becomes part of an experimental setup. Similar to the human breathing process, a burning candle consumes oxygen and produces carbon dioxide and water. Whilst this process generates energy, it finally leads to the extinction of the candle. Using technological means, Vanitas Machine aims at making the candle burn as long as possible. By protecting it from environmental factors and regulating its “metabolism” the burning behavior can be influenced, thus increasing the lifetime of the candle.

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