“But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

In the piece Babel, a decommissioned coin-operated pachislo (a Japanese hybrid pachinko/slot machine) is repurposed as a speaking device. To elicit an utterance, a participant inserts three coins, and then spins the three reels together by nudging a lever; pressing an illuminated button under each reel stops the reels one by one.

I have replaced the familiar bells, watermelons and sevens on the reels with Andrew Comstock’s 1846 engravings of lips and mouths, frozen in the process of pronouncing the sounds that make up English words. When the machine utters a recognizable English word, coins pour out of the machine into a bin below.

This playful piece also requires more active participation from the viewer. Until activated by inserting coins, it stands silent. That the participation takes the form of gambling is a reminder of the close ties between language, chance, and divination. Also the metaphorical similarity between language and money (exemplified by the English idiom “to coin a phrase”) was argued for by Boethius, who compared the transformation of sounds into words to the transformation of metal into coins through a significant impression.

As exhibited

© 2018 chad eby