Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises

David Gatten

Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, or, The Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing, 26 minutes, black and white, silent, 16mm

USA 1999


“Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises” is the first chapter in the ongoing series Secret History of the Dividing Line: A True Account in Nine Parts (begun in 1996), based on numerous books, journals and letters Gatten has discovered in the library of the William Byrd II family from 18th century Virginia. The film is based on one of the books from Byrd’s huge library, the first manual of style for printers by Joseph Moxon from 1703. Gatten says: “I wanted to let this interesting text rub up against something else, specifically the Gutenberg Bible [...] [which is] a point of transition from scribal reproduction to mechanical reproduction. I decided to use the Joseph Moxon text as a source for instructions on how to recompose the Gutenberg Bible material that I’d collected by using Scotch tape to ‘translate’ text from the pages of books onto a strip of plastic that could move through a projector” (McDonald 2009: 311).

Gatten gives a detailed account of the making of his own, home-made “ink-and-tape emulsions”: “[...] the tape goes on the paper, I rub it down, I soak it in warm water, and, after an hour or two, the pulp starts to fall away and the glue from the tape soaks up the ink and that is now the negative. I register that on clear film leader, go to the darkroom, and make a print of it” (Willis 2013: 50). “Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises is not only an example of close contact between the artist’s hand and his material, but also perfectly illustrates a creative inadequate use of existing technology” (Jutz 2011: 82).


David Gatten, born in 1971 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.



Gabriele Jutz, “Retrograde Technicity and the Cinematic Avant-Garde: Towards a New Dispositif of Production,” in Recherches sémiotiques/Semiotic Inquiry. Cinéma & Technologie/Cinema & Technology, eds. André Gaudreault and Martin Lefebvre, vol. 31, nos. 1-2-3 (2011), pp. 75–94.

Holly Willis, “The Pleasure of the Text. Avant-Garde Filmmaker David Gatten Transforms Writing,” Film Comment, March-April (2013), pp. 48–51.

Scott MacDonald, “Interview with David Gatten,” in Scott MacDonald, Adventures of Perception. Cinema as Exploration: Essays, Interviews (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009), pp. 296–329.

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