Plzeňské sympozia

Alice Dubská

Life through Machines or Tschugmall’s Automata in the Czech Lands

pp. 284–292, summary p. 293

The article studies the entertainment productions in the Bohemian Lands with a predominance of manipulated material artefacts. In the 18th and 19th centuries, they included mainly automata, okor mechanical figures with a preprogrammed motion sequence. From the entire range of mechanics who came to the land with their products, the attention of Czech audience was attracted mainly by the mechanic Christian Josef Tschuggmall (1785–1845) from Tyrol. The author deals briefly with his biography, the formation of his automaton group Mechanisches Kunsttheater, which Tschuggmall created inspired by Matthias Tendler’s productions, and observes Tschuggmall’s trips to Prague in 1830, 1835, 1840 and 1844 as well as the guest appearances by his heirs in 1848, 1852 and 1877. With his automata, imitating the movement of living beings, Tschuggmall wanted to inspire the audience’s curiosity, imagination and playfulness. He composed the individual scenes such that they would result in short pantomimic études, mostly with a comic effect. And in an attempt to emphasise the theatricality of the performance, he did not show his automata as solo performers, but already by their arrangement on the stage he implied the relations between them and created at least the basic plot situations. As soon as the audience succumbed to the illusion of living creatures, Tschuggmall entered the scene, because the automatons perfectly imitating living beings had lost not only their attractiveness but also their sense. It was precisely the oscillation between illusion and its intentional breaking, produced by a constant confrontation of the movement of living creatures and puppets, that consequently was the main source of the audience’s emotional experiences, from which admiration for human inventiveness arose.

Key words: Bohemian Lands, 19th century, cultural history, theatre, automata 

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