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Student Showcase Archive

Mark Selby

PhD Work

PhD work

Machines at Play: The Attraction of Automation

Taking as its starting point the ubiquitous nature of automated technology, my research asks how ‘play’ may be used in an antagonistic form against the regimentation of machines but, conversely, may also be employed to instrumentalise them. The work undertaken specifically focuses on how ‘play’ (a quality considered here as intrinsic to human culture and nature following Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens) can expose issues of control, agency and authority within a technological context.

While automated machines have become increasingly complex over time (synchronous to the trickle-down availability of computing devices to the everyday consumer), the understanding of their function and the means through which they produce, represent or declare forms of ‘knowledge’ are today even more opaque. An automated machine, thought of here as being any set of infinitely repeatable, programmed procedures, therefore raises anxiety as to the human condition; machina ludens, the figure of the playing machine that I propose takes this model a step further, using ‘attractive’ effects to produce a false play in order to hide the ramification of any social or political design. Following Vilém Flusser and Bruno Latour’s notions of the ‘black box’, how then can an artist open up an automated machine and its script in order to declare this? 

The research is undertaken through an interlinked practical and written component. These components use a methodology that undertakes a cultural analysis of the ‘play’ phenomena, alongside a technological and engineering analysis of the ‘machine’ phenomena. In practice, following a lineage of artists who have similarly made use of technology in the production of machines in their artwork, from Jean Tinguely and the E.A.T group to Harold Cohen’s AARON, the research examines various forms of the art machine. Both the written and practical works use the tension (or contention) between disciplines, the researcher thus overtly taking the position of being simultaneously engineer and artist. As such, this research is a re-reading of Huizinga’s play-element of culture through a contemporary, technological lens that bridges the gap between a humanities/philosophical approach and an engineering approach, applying this to contemporary issues surrounding automated ‘art machines’.



  • PhD


    School of Arts & Humanities


    Arts & Humanities Research, 2014–2021

  • Mark Selby is an artist, writer and researcher. His practice mainly evolves around sculpture, installation and film with an engineering (mechanical, computational and material) focus that uses these methods of production to explore the affect of technological rationality upon human agency.

  • Degrees

  • MA Fine Art (Sculpture), Wimbledon College of Art (UAL), 2008; BA Fine Art, Nottingham Trent University, 2003; PGcert Learning and Teaching in the Creative Arts, UCA, 2010
  • Exhibitions

  • A detailed CV is available at: