Jean Tinguely’s Incertitude No. 5, created in 1958, is an exquisite example of the artist’s inventiveness, of his exploration between man and machinery and the introduction of dynamism into contemporary art. Pristine white elements, fluid in both form and movement, contrast starkly against the deeply black panel. The binary nature of the palette is brilliant in its simplicity, calling to mind the works of modern masters such as Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian. Yet Tinguely strays from them by incorporating movement into the composition, transporting the work into a system of ever-changing motion and transforming the work from a three-dimensional object into one of four dimensions with the inclusion of time. This sense of movement in space is foreshadowed somewhat by the sculptures of Alexander Calder, who began exploring in the 1930s the sense of organic rhythm that could be achieved through hanging mobile elements. Tinguely’s wall-mounted elements take the sense of movement one level further—one achieved mechanically. Tinguely, in essence, grants the artwork the ability to constantly modify itself.
Jean Tinguely had a fascination with the mechanical processes of modern life and this was eventually what drove him to explore new territory with his amalgamation of art and mechanics. Notions of ‘anti-art’ always followed the artist, and he was keen to accept a role as a neo-Dadaist. “[T]he machine is an instrument that permits me to be poetic. If you enter into a game with the machine then perhaps you can make a truly joyous machine—by joyous, I mean free” (J. Tinguely quoted in C. Tomkins, Ahead of the Game: Four Versions of the Avant Garde, Harmondsworth, 1968, p. 140).