Rise and shine: kinetic artist Joseph Herscher's sleep avoidance machine

Yawning at work is generally deemed socially acceptable. But lapsing into sleep at the desk is a definite a no-no. Thankfully, Joseph Herscher, a New Zealander living in New York who references the work of Rube Goldberg and creates overly elaborate machines to carry out menial tasks, has devised a solution.

Yawning at work is fairly normal and generally deemed socially acceptable. But lapsing into sleep at the desk is a definite a no-no. Thankfully, Joseph Herscher, a New Zealander living in New York who references the work of Rube Goldberg and creates overly elaborate machines to carry out menial tasks, has devised a solution. 

Herscher's hobby has slowly developed into a fully-fledged business. He has created a web-series called Jiwi's Machines, he makes regular appearances on TV shows like Sesame Street and he also creates a fair swag of content for brands. And in the below video, a special project for Fast Company, Herscher has found an ingenious way to keep your eyelids up (full credit to Taika Waititi's hi-tech sleep disguiser, too). 

Born in Auckland, Herscher arrived in New York in 2009, with a job lined up as a software developer. His parents were both musicians (duo act “The Jew Brothers Band”), so he didn’t fancy the path of a struggling artist. Creating Rube Goldberg machines remained a hobby. 

“I’d come home [from work] every day and work for four hours on my machine, because I never thought it could be a more serious thing,” Herscher says. “Who would?”

But his first video, Crème That Egg, featuring the complicated demise of a Cadbury Creme Egg, had gone viral. 

Herscher decided he couldn’t ignore the urge any longer. He went part-time at his “grown up” job and in 2012 turned to his passion full-time: creating machines, filming them, and sticking them on YouTube. 

Somewhat to his surprise, ad agencies and businesses started pestering (and paying) him to make his mad machines. He led a children’s workshop at the 2011 Venice Biennale. And his 2011 video The Page Turner, has more than eight million YouTube views. Not bad for a two-minute clip about opening a newspaper.

The rags to riches (creativity-wise) story would have resonated with Goldberg himself, who in the early 1900s left a job as an engineer for the San Francisco Sewers Department and became a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, sculptor and author. 

Last year, a documentary about one of his machines that dresses him from head to toe (using, among other things, a giant rolling clock, a swinging chandelier, a yellow squirrel and two ironing boards) was made. The film Joseph Gets Dressed was directed by Kiwi writer, musician, film producer and fellow New Yorker Gemma Gracewood.