Projects / Art Works

The Air Loom, A Human Influencing Machine (2002)

The Air Loom, A Human Influencing Machine, 2002, Rod Dickinson

Sculpture and Audio Guide App, Sculpture Aprox 10m x 10m x 7m, wood, brass, leather and barrels


The Air Loom is a very large sculpture and audio guide.

It is currently on display at Bethlem Museum of the Mind, London, UK September 2016 - September 2017.

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The sculpture is a life size recreation of a room sized 18th century machine that is based on a series of delusions of a famous bedlam patient dating from 1810. The patient, James Tilly Matthews, believed that the imaginary machine was a 'mind control device'. His delusion is the first psychiatric case of someone believing to be under the control of an imaginary machine. Matthews also believed that the machine was controlling the British government at the time, and was operated by French spies or assassins.

Using original drawings and documents for reference the sculpture is the first ever physical manifestation of the imaginary device. Constructed in painstaking detail the sculpture used many of the tropes of popular historical representations to interrogate ideas of authenticity and historical veracity.

The sculpture is accompanied by an audio guide app (available for iOS and Android) that takes the visitor on a tour of the The Air Loom and it's workings. The audio guide is written from the perspective of James Tilly Matthews enveloping the visitor in his delusion.

Further information, images and information about the app are on the project web site:

The Air Loom was originally commissioned by, and exhibited at, The Laing Art Gallery (4 Oct 2002- 4 Jan 2003), Newcastle as part of a larger exhibition titled 'All you Need to Know' curated by Andrew Patrizio.

Review Snippet:

Now it might be assumed that one would have little difficulty in brushing aside Dickinson's version of a figment of a Iong-deceased schizophrenic's fevered imagination. How in all honesty could one take seriously a Heath Robinson assembly of Chippendale furniture, leather pipes, giant piano keys and beer barrels topped off by what looks like a miniature windmill?...

...Yet there is something about The Air Loom's sheer size, its meticulous attention to detail and, above all, its complete lack of what I would call Panamarenko-ish whimsy, which makes it very compelling - which indeed almost tempts one to think of it in Matthews' terms.

All very timely then. With our rulers once again telling us that we are embroiled in a titanic struggle with who-knows-what mysterious forces out there, the topic of belief systems and social control to which Dickinson's brilliant coup de theatre alludes is surely one that we all need to be thinking about right now.

Art Monthly, Paul Usherwood, Review of 'All You Need To Know', Dec 2002 - Jan 2003.


4 Min video of the Sculpture

Further information on the project web site: