A violent marriage of nature and industry, the crazy contraption in Twittering Machine mechanizes the songs of birds. All but one bird are tethered to a perch that can be turned by a handle over a pit, a potential trap for the latest choir member. Constructed with Klee’s characteristic wiry, agile black line, the birds lurch and cry out, their tongues resembling both musical notes and fishhooks. Klee described drawing as “an active line on a walk, moving freely” and connected his liberated line to his belief that “through the universe, movement is the rule.” In this drawing, humans turn movement and song against nature, making them activities of enslavement.
Klee treated line and color independently of each other, creating tension between the paper’s surface and the work’s atmospheric depth. He employed an oil-transfer process to copy the image from another sheet onto this one, using a needle to trace the original, which he had placed over a page covered with dried oil paint that was, in turn, placed facedown against this sheet. Distancing the artist’s hand from the final drawing, this process resulted in seemingly accidental smudges that emphasize the flatness of the picture plane. By contrast, the painted blue backdrop opens into boundless space. As an acid-pink stain of watercolor encircles the scene, the world appears to close in on the birds, reverberating with the cacophonous chaos of their songs.
Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)