Jeremy Mayer’s love for the typewriter manifests itself in unique ways. Each time he is in a room with the obsolete machine, he finds himself gravitating towards it, not with a desire to type letters but in the hope of disassembling and reassembling it. For years now, the California-based sculptor has been using typewriter parts to create anatomical figures — usually exalted nude human forms or figures of animals and insects. This, according to him, upsets those who have a visceral affection for the computer’s predecessor. “They think I am evil for taking the machines apart.” In a six-month residency programme at Godrej’s Mumbai office in Vikhroli, the artist was recently tasked with paying homage to the final set of Godrej & Boyce typewriters. The company was the last to stop producing typewriters in 2011 with about 100 Prima machines left in its stock. The mild-mannered Mayer typically works alone. Here, with two young artists to help him out, he was able to take up an ambitious 13-foot sculpture. They began in March and finished in August, spending some nights sleeping in the studio. The results were a mechanised lotus, a design driven by aesthetics and not politics, as Mayer points out, and several mandalas or circles symbolising the universe. Mayer never enjoyed the traditional function of the typewriter because it is a dreary reminder of school reports. He used an IBM model growing up and found it tedious to type each alphabet. “It was a torture device. I like my backspace key.” But the outward appearance of the contraption appealed to him, especially the decorative Underwood No 5 his mother used. That 1920s vintage was big and black with gold detailing and wooden elements. Through its glass case, he could see the linkages and forces at work. Eventually, at age 23, he gave in to the urge of unraveling and studying the components. He has not stopped since. Mayer’s works over the years could easily be mistaken for robots or elements from a science fiction movie.
For a human figure, he always begins building the spine and pelvis first. In Mayer’s universe, the typewriter lever that helps with spacing mimics bones of the hands and feet, typebars become shoulder blades and ribbon spools form the trachea. He loves springs because they give the illusion of movement even if the piece is inactive. While the sculpture he created for Godrej moves, Mayer’s other works are typically motionless. But he does not use welding, or soldering to hold together a piece. These leave obvious signs, according to him. Mayer relies instead on building the sculpture like a Meccano set, and the constraints of this process “create surprises” for him. He also chose not to get professional art training, preferring to learn from experience and aesthetic mistakes. Over time, his pieces have become bigger and subtler with more expressive forms. The time taken to make them has never reduced though. On his own, a full sculpture consumes a year or 1,000 hours. His other favourite materials to work with are ancient stained glass windows, which he learnt to restore on an assignment. People now send him vintage typewriters from thrift stores, yard sales or their own collections. Assemblage sculpting is a way to give the typewriter longevity, he reckons. “You have to navigate the past and the future and appreciate both. That way, it does not remain a cold dead machine.”
The typewriter sculpture is installed at Godrej Hubble, Vikhroli. One can view it by making a prior appointment with Godrej Archive.