Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Man as a Machine

Or better yet: the human body as a whole factory, complete with control and production systems operated by tiny little… men! You certainly must have seen some graphical illustration with the metaphor of heavy machinery to explain how our body works, and the animation above, by German artist Henning Lederer must be the first detailed video, with a special touch.

At the “intertwining of science, culture, art and technology”, as Lederer writes, he paid homage animating the original poster by Fritz Kahn, “Man as Industrial Palace”, published in 1927. Almost a century ago, Kahn is the inspiration, if not the direct source, for all the graphics of giant men as huge factories we came to know. You can see his original illustration in high resolution clicking below.


Kahn, a physician in Berlin, was a writer and illustrator who spread science and, in particular, medical and biological findings through wonderfully illustrated books. Going beyond the reduction of biological systems to what may look now as outdated machines, Kahn also did the opposite. At an age of extreme confidence in technological progress, he showed how many organic structures incorporated the most sophisticated engineering solutions.


It’s inevitable to consider his wonderful art in context. “Man as Industrial Palace” depicts a human being as a giant chemical factory, at a time when Germany was leader in the field. It was also the between-wars era, and besides being a doctor, Fritz Kahn was Jewish. His books were banned and burned by the Nazis, and the author escaped to the USA with the help of none other than Albert Einstein.

That his art portrayed humans as assembly-lines when shortly thereafter Nazis would put in effect their assembly-line genocide may at first cause some repulse to these illustrations, but we must remember: Kahn was a doctor. And Jewish.

Portraying our bodies as machines is a beautiful and adorable metaphor, valuable exactly for its over-simplification, and these works are quite simply beautiful. There’s nothing leading those visions directly to fascism, one must not forget national-socialistic ideology was just as reliant and at the same time suspicious of both “reductionist” and “holistic” visions, whatever fit them best.

Banning those marvelous works, that is indeed Hitler’s job. [via Nerdcore]

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