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Not ‘type’cast

Published Aug 23, 2015, 8:17 am IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 2:52 am IST
Jeremy Mayer
 Jeremy Mayer

Jeremy Mayer spends hours at the typewriter, creating sci-fi masterpieces. But he isn’t a writer. Jeremy is a sculptor, who works solely with typewriter parts (through a process of “cold assembly” — no welding, soldering or gluing) to create anatomically correct, Transformers-like figures. His best-known work has been a sculpture called Nude IV or Delilah — a gorgeous female robot that took Jeremy 1,400 hours to build.

The sculptor has been in India for over five months now, working on a sculpture for the Godrej Archives, as part of its first artist-in-residence programme. For the installation, which uses 60 typewriters, Jeremy travelled around Mumbai for a month, absorbing influences from all over the city.


Jeremy’s “tryst” with the typewriter began early. He recounts being fascinated with the one his mother had, although it was much later, as a young man, that he finally dismantled a machine and got hooked. He has been creating his highly detailed, painstaking sculptures with typewriter parts in the two decades since.
For Jeremy, the typewriter resonated as the material he wanted to build with, for several reasons. “Initially, it was because I wanted to be a sculptor, and I just didn’t have the resources (to build), as a young man with no money and no formal (art) education,” he says. Typewriters, then on the way to becoming obsolete, were free.

Jeremy had also drawn since a very young age (moving around from town to town during his childhood, drawing became his way of “settling in” when he was always the odd kid out at a new school. He would even take down notes in class in the form of a doodle shorthand), and when he took apart that first typewriter, its parts reminded him of the sci-fi designs he sketched. And then there was what the machine itself stood for

Jeremy explains, “I started working on these (sculptures) in 1994, when the Mackintosh computer became popular. Suddenly there were these typewriters everywhere people had just stopped using them. So here essentially, was this ‘junk’ that I could re-purpose. And that resonated with me, because I didn’t want to make a mess, I didn’t want to consume more. I wanted to take what was already there and reimagine it.”

Over the years, as Jeremy meditated on what the typewriter signified to him, he realised it was not just an icon of the transformation in technology from analog to digital — it was also a symbol of the social change that accompanied it. “Being born in the ’70s, using very analog technologies and then experiencing the transition into a fully digital world — and experiencing that transition in a way that children born in the age of the Internet don’t or people from my father’s generation who can’t quite bridge the gap to the digital world. So my generation is uniquely able to talk about this transformation that’s happening to everyone,” says Jeremy.

The process by which Jeremy creates his sculptures is as extraordinary as the material itself. Just dismantling two typewriters takes him about eight hours; all parts are categorised (Jeremy has his own nomenclature for the typewriter components, and he memorises where each of the parts is stored after sorting. Much like the doodles he drew as a child, the pattern in which he stores the typewriter parts is a kind of memory aid in itself.

If even a single nut or bolt is moved out of the pattern, Jeremy says, an entire swath of parts would be rendered blank in his mind). He starts with a simple form and builds on it until the end product he has visualised comes to life. Jeremy — who counts Leonardo da Vinci, M.C. Escher, Jean Tinguely, Anish Kapoor, Jacob Epstein and American folk art among his influences — admits the work is both “messy” and “maddening”.

“People ask me if I’m a patient person, and I’m not!” he says. “It drives me crazy, it takes so long! But it’s very satisfying when it’s done Because a lot of the pieces I do are people or animals, it’s ‘done’ when I see the personalities, Sometimes I come into the studio and I’m startled by the piece then I know that I’m close, and maybe I’ll turn one screw and step away and that’s when I know that a whole year of work is done. I work towards that The process itself is intensely satisfying, it engages my mind in a way that nothing else possibly could. It’s very complex and challenging and in the end there’s the reward that’s very gratifying.”