Eureka (plastic)

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Heureka on the Zürichhorn
Side view

Heureka is the title of a kinetic sculpture by the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely that moves for no discernible purpose. It was Jean Tinguely's first public work and was created in 1963 and 1964 for the Swiss National Exhibition in Lausanne in 1964 . It has stood at the Zürichhorn in Zurich since 1967 .


The title " Eureka " (from the Greek. Ηὕρηκα [ hɛːǔ̯rɛːka ]) is a quote of Archimedes of Syracuse , meaning "I have found it." He is said to have shouted that with joy when he discovered the buoyancy principle through a flash of inspiration while bathing . It is a saying that applies to inventors or researchers when they have made a groundbreaking and mostly useful invention or discovery. It is therefore to be understood ironically for an absolutely useless machine. Tinguely himself said the title was a joke. The French Swiss were in contrast to the German Swiss never accepted the title correctly, the idea behind the plastic, however better understood than the German Swiss.

Tinguely said during the radio debate “Tinguely sur Tinguely” of Radio-télévision belge in Brussels on December 13, 1982: The French- speaking Swiss “(...) only ever talked about Tinguely's machine . For them it was a synonym for a machine that performs superfluous acts, the useless machine that somehow stood for the discovery of non-development, of non-productivity. For the first time the Swiss had doubts about progress and capitalism! That was in 1964, and the French-speaking Swiss responded immediately to the philosophical meaning of the machine, while the German-Swiss Heureka carefully examined (which does not mean that they understood them correctly), but were less sensitive to what the machine actually means. The title Eureka - positive, beautiful, correct - should obviously be misleading. It's actually a joke. "


The machine measures 780 × 660 × 410 cm. It consists of iron bars, steel wheels, metal pipes, wooden wheels, metal pans and various electric motors that are operated with a voltage of 220 V. The sculpture consists of five different animated units, each with a motor. Together they lead to the dynamics of the machine and the individual movements of the parts, such as lifting / lowering movements, contraction, expansion, back and forth movement. The machine was painted rust-colored.

Tinguely designed the large kinetic sculpture in the spirit of the French art movement of the Nouveau Réalisme . Pierre Restany , art critic and the theoretical head of Nouveau Réalisme , called for "the world to be accepted as it was" after the shock of the war . Tinguely built small drawing machines with which he mocked abstract art and giant machines out of junk.


Example of a hay tedder as it was used for plastic.
A hay tedder's pitchforks and wheel in plastic.

For the 1964 national exhibition in Lausanne, the artist was commissioned by the chief architect of Expo64, Alberto Camenzind, to build a “signal tower”. Jean Tinguely lived in Paris at the beginning of 1963. But since the studios of Impasse Ronsin were demolished, he moved with Niki de Saint Phalle to Lutry near Lausanne . They later moved back to France to a former tavern and dance hall Auberge au Cheval Blanc ( hostel for the white horse ) in Soisy-sur-École in the Fontainebleau area . During this time (1963 to 1964) he worked for six months on the Eureka. Jean Tinguely first designed the sculpture on paper in a number of sketches. Then he built it at the location at the national exhibition in Lausanne next to the “Swiss Path”, the general part of the exhibition. To do this, he surrounded his assigned place with all sorts of scrap iron pieces, rails, rods, transmission wheels, metal sheets and mining carts, weighing several tons. He spent days looking for these parts together from the old scrap piles of the factories of the last century, the “industrial age”. And he was specifically looking for parts, such as an old hay tedder with wheel and forks.

After the exhibition, the industrialist and patron Walter Bechtler bought the sculpture for the city ​​of Zurich . It was dismantled and deposited on his factory site. The search for a location sparked controversy in the city, as some citizens feared noise and criticized the aesthetics of the plastic and therefore did not want them to be near them. Many locations were evaluated, such as at the Kunsthaus , on the SAFFA island in Wollishofen or next to the Hallenstadion . The search for a location dragged on. In order to produce a three-part report on Switzerland («Switzerland») for Expo 67 , the filmmaker Ernst A. Heiniger put pressure on those responsible for the sculpture to be set up so that it would be in full operation for the representation of the contemporary Was able to document the art of Switzerland. It should be seen as the example of the cultural life in Switzerland in the last part "Creation" of the three-part film "Switzerland". (For this film, Ernst Heiniger received the Zurich Film Prize in 1968. ) The sculpture was mounted on the Zürichhorn “temporarily”. It was therefore deliberately set up provisionally, because the ETH Zurich expressed the wish that the sculpture would later be placed on the newly built Hönggerberg campus. Nothing came of it.

In the summer of 2011, the “Heureka” was on loan from the City of Zurich at the ARTZUID art exhibition in Amsterdam .


For Jean Tinguely, the machine represents humor and poetry. As an artist, he creates “free and happy” machines. The many wheels of plastic are symbols of wisdom and madness rolled into one.

The French art journalist and critic Michel Conil-Lacoste lists three interpretations. The sociological interpretation sees the machine as a glorification of the industrial age . The literary interpretation sees an allusion to Edgar Allan Poe's work The Pit and the Pendulum because of the dilation and contraction movements . In this story, a protagonist is sitting in the dungeon. The dungeon is getting smaller and smaller as the walls and ceiling move together. A sickle-shaped pendulum on the ceiling threatens to cut the protagonist. A psychoanalytical interpretation sees the machine as a complex structure of moving bars and tubes, which nonetheless fluidly follows the path outlined. It can thus represent collective repression. Each individual goes a predetermined path in life without breaking out of his way or being able to break out. It is reminiscent of the iconography of Osiris . On the one hand, he is interpreted as the god of vegetation who enables growth (the liveliness of the machine), on the other hand, he is the god of death, before whom every human being has to answer at the end of his life (marked paths).


There were different opinions during the national exhibition. Some thought the machine was a bad joke, others interpreted it as a satire on the tyranny of technology in civilization, and still others judged the sculpture to be a very imaginative structure and, in its entirety, a beauty.

According to an official statement from the letters to the Zurich city council, the installation of the sculpture in Zurich met with approval, especially among people aged up to 50 years. Older people, on the other hand, reacted rather negatively.



Web links

Commons : Heureka (Jean Tinguely)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Georg Kohler , Stanislaus von Moos (Ed.): Expo Syndrome? Materials for the national exhibition 1883–2002 . Zurich 2002, ISBN 3-7281-2744-2 ; P. 143
  2. a b c d e f Heidi E. Violand-Hobi: Jean Tinquely . Prestel Verlag, Munich, New York, 1995, ISBN 3-7913-1473-4 . P. 59 - p. 60. p. 165 and P. 171
  3. a b c d Michel Conil Lacoste: Tinguely, l'énergétique de l'insolence . SNELA La Différence, Paris 2007, ISBN 978-2-7291-1672-9 , p. 116 - p. 119
  4. Uwe M. Schneede: The history of art in the 20th century . Munich 2001, p. 205; Quote from Pierre Restany there himself
  5. a b c Christina Bischofberger: Jean Tinguely. Catalog of works sculptures and reliefs 1954-1968 . Edition Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Küsnacht / Zurich 1982, pp. 317–318
  6. a b c d Peter Zimmermann: Ballet with scrap, Jean Tinquely's "Heureka" on the Zürichhorn. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, The Weekend, morning edition sheet 5/6, No. 919/920, weekend 17/18, Saturday, March 4, 1967
  7. a b c Swiss National Exhibition, Lausanne 1964, Golden Book, Librairie Marguerat SA, Lausanne 1964, p. 211 - p. 212
  8. Press release City of Zurich , published on May 26, 2011.

Coordinates: 47 ° 21 '10.9 "  N , 8 ° 33' 8.3"  E ; CH1903:  six hundred and eighty-four thousand one hundred forty-three  /  245283