Gavin Turk’s film The Mechanical Turk, presented by the Gervasuti Foundation in collaboration with the Hotel Metropole is a site specific installation within the context of the hotel’s Byzantine, historical and cultural references. The film shows the artist impersonating Wolfgang von Kempelen’s famous automaton ‘The Turk’ (1769) which was capable of playing a game of chess against a human opponent. This ingeniously constructed mechanism was exhibited by its various owners and captivated audiences across Europe and America, until Edgar Allen Poe exposed it in the early 1820s as a hoax
In the film, the Mechanical Turk is transposed against a peculiar setting where a mystic dressed with a turban sits in a deceptively simple room, reminiscent of the exotic and distant whilst retaining a sense of the familiar and domestic; a liminal space begins to appear, on the brink between reality and illusion. Each element in the film has been deliberately chosen to echo several of the artist’s recurring motifs and themes such as Magritte’s pipe, the candle or the tombstone found in Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David. (1793). Caught in the artist’s loop, the viewer witnesses the mesmerising automaton repeatedly performing the knight’s tour, a strategic move in chess that consists of moving the Knight until it has occupied every square of the chessboard only once.
Turk aptly redeploys the story of this well-known automaton as a means to question the notion of authenticity in art, the meaning of being an artist and how art is understood under the guise of celebrity and fame. In previous works, Turk has cast himself in several sculptures as life-size romantic heroes such as Jean-Paul Marat, Sid Vicious and Che Guevara.