tim   .


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.   hunkin





I’ve never been divorced, I was cautious. I lived with my partner for 25 years before getting married.

 The idea for the machine came from researching old arcade games. I found a sole ‘Tug of War’ game. It was not a successful machine but it set me thinking. 


Gruesome Execution video

I was also amazed by the number of working models depicting executions. American Executions (electric chair), French executions (guillotine), English executions (hanging), and even Chinese executions (beheading). They were mostly made in the first half of the twentieth century, in living memory of the time when real executions were public. I asked Nik Costa (the expert on the history of arcade machines) if they were considered ‘bad taste’, but he said the public’s main complaint was not offence but that they couldn’t see enough gory detail.    

So ‘Divorce’ is a combination of a tug of war and the bad taste of the executions. My initial idea was to have a child in the middle being pulled apart. I told quite a few people and they were mostly horrified. I’m not used to censoring my ideas, but I wanted the machine to be entertaining, not to ‘shock’, so I settled for a house. A house also had more potential for entertaining content. 

However, making Divorce has made me generally more conscious of political incorrectness, I never used to think about it. I simply felt I was celebrating our great irreverent tradition started by the 18th century cartoonists like Gilray and Rowlandson. But just as the Victorians reacted against the tastes of the 18th century (regarding them crude and vulgar) we now seem to be in another more puritanical age, this time maybe a reaction against hippy culture. My arcade is becoming more retro than I ever imagined.       


Initially I was thinking of divorce as a legal process. The producer of my Secret Life of Machines series went through a very expensive divorce that absorbed all the profits from the films. But my wife’s divorce to her previous husband involved no lawyers, though emotionally just as upsetting. Halfway through making the machine I still had no idea what it should look like. 

One day Graham and I decided the mechanisms were so decorative they should be left exposed. This resolved my previous dilemma. I ditched the legal aspect and tried to keep everything simple. This wasn’t easy because real tugs of war are boring to watch. Usually nothing moves much until one side gives way (this was why it was never a popular arcade game). In my mind I had the idea of the house being tugged from one side to the other. By adding an extra ‘see red’ control I found that I could produce the effect I wanted, but it inevitably made everything more complicated.


prototype video

The prototype only took a week to make. The final version always takes much longer, but in this case it was only couple of months. I started by making the heads of the divorcees out of clay. The popping eyes (button head screws) came from this. I then carved the final versions from Jelutong. I spent ages fiddling with the husband’s head and I’m still not sure about him but carving the wife’s head was very quick and I much prefer her. I really enjoyed carving them. I used to carve things often but I haven’t done much for a few years. I bought some Flexcut palm chisels which have very thin blades made of springs steel – they are lovely to use.


The motors that pull the couple back together at the end of each go are battery drill motors. They are made in such vast numbers they only cost about £10 – amazing value. The electromagnetic clutches that engage the handles came from old photocopiers.


The main technical problem was that both the house and the couple are top heavy. Getting them to split theatrically but not so violently that they destroy themselves required lots of modifications and adjustments. I still feel a bit nervous every time they split. My grandchildren came to stay after Christmas and spent lots of time testing it. I invited Paul Spooner to help make the interior of the house. We spent a very happy week making tiny furniture, lights, pets and children to fit inside.


I was booked to spend a day at London’s Institute of making in February so I took the finished machine along. People tested it enthusiastically and made me realise I’d got the logic wrong. I had thought that if you divorced quick enough it was a clean divorce, so one partner should get the whole house – but people who managed to do it quickly felt cheated because they felt the ‘reward’ of the game was seeing inside. So now one partner only gets the whole house if they finish separating when their partner has got less than 70% of the way.


At the beginning quite few people I asked said I should drop the whole idea because it was bad taste and would disturb children whose parents were divorcing. The machine has now been in the arcade for a few weeks and a hundreds people have tried it – so far no complaints. Unlikely combinations of friends or fathers and sons seem to enjoy divorcing.




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