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

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.

One of the talented Idealog Team Content Producers made this post happen.

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