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Max Siedentopf, who is no stranger to reconstructing the ordinary into the extraordinary, turns everyday objects into Transformer-like creations in his latest series, Mundane Machines. We speak with him about the origins of this series, the humour he finds in any situation, and his strong ties to the idea rather than the end result. An ideas-person first, Max speaks of the need to be flexible and unafraid to fail when bringing a concept to life.
Hey Max, before we get to discuss your work, I’d like you to introduce yourself to our readers. How would you define yourself?
That’s a good question. The Google dictionary defines Max as:

max /maks/ Informal
Noun: A maximum amount – “the sound is distorted to the max.”
Adverb: At the most – “it took me ten minutes max to make this salad.”
Verb: Reach or cause to reach the limit of capacity or ability – "job growth in high technology will max out.”
Abbreviation symbol: max. maximum.

I think the salad definition probably comes closest.
And how did you get into photography?
Unintentionally – I’m mostly interested in coming up with ideas, and I started getting into photography to document those ideas.
Let’s deepen into your work. Can you discuss the creative process behind your recent series Mundane Machines?
For quite some time, I’ve been interested in very mundane and ordinary objects. A few years ago, I founded the magazine Ordinary, which takes a closer look at all these ordinary objects that surround us every day, with the intention to turn them into something extraordinary. I love these very simple transformations into something completely new, and that was also the starting point of Mundane Machines.
The objects around us are all turning into smart-devices that already do the work for us, like fridges ordering food, heaters knowing exactly what temperature an individual person likes, or cars that drive in auto-pilot. Inspired by that, I imagined a Transformer-like scenario where not only cars would turn into advanced robots but even your boring sofa or washing machine would too!
Actually, I’d like you to tell us more about this idea, where a car, a sneaker, a washing machine, or an armchair transform into quirky superhero-looking characters. How did you go about deciding the original object and its transformation? And were there any ideas you had to discard because of technical difficulties, for example?
Those were just the first objects that came to mind, and I think there are still many more that could be made in the future, like vacuum cleaners, fridges, toasters and transformer-toilets.
Mundane Machines speaks of the technological evolution of objects, and how, very soon, everything surrounding us will be ‘smart’ – fridges, e-cigarettes, cars, heaters… Even though you approach it with humour, is there a more political intention behind it? A way to criticize that technology might become smarter than us, maybe?
Technological evolution brings just as many positive aspects as negative ones, so I wouldn’t necessarily say it criticises it. However, I think with most of my work, I try to inspire to have a critical point of view and not take everything that’s around you for granted.
Something I love about this series is the clarity. The idea is so clever, but it is executed in a clear way, rather than trying to hide the message or overcomplicate things. This seems present throughout your work. Is that a deliberate choice?
Probably. I like when anyone, including people that have absolutely nothing to do with art, can understand and relate to a message. I think often overcomplicating doesn’t make something better; stripping it back to its core usually shows if something works or not.
Of course, the end result is brilliant, but were any of the models sceptical about putting on a machine/burger suit, or did they trust the vision from the outset?
None of the models were aware of what they would be doing that day, but I think at this point, most people that work with me have just given up to complain.

Has it taken a while for you to trust in your ideas completely even when the process does go in a different direction? Or have you always been good at believing in the concept enough that you know you’ll end up with something good?
I don’t pay too much attention if something will be good or not; it’s just something you need to try and get out of your head, and the idea can often turn out completely different to what you first imagined and you just need to do it to see what happens. I think one of the biggest tragedies are all the people that have fun ideas but they’re not confident enough to do it. Who cares if it turns out to be a failure? Learn from it and try again!
How has the pandemic affected you creatively? Is the lockdown part of what inspired Mundane Machines, in being surrounded by these everyday objects and devices more than usual? You seem to have taken it in your stride, but has it been hard to find inspiration in lockdown?
I had a very mixed reaction. On one hand, I questioned everything we do as creatives and the pointlessness of it all, but at the same time, it also brought a ton of new inspiration and themes to work with. And during the lockdown, I made a few dozen new projects inspired by this new reality we were living in.
You also seem very good at finding humour in any situation. For example, the lockdown, with your previous series Zoom Out and How-To Survive a Deadly Global Virus (or, with Mundane Machines, the not-so-irrational fear of technology taking over the world). Is that something that comes naturally? How has that shaped what you do artistically?
I think it’s very important to try and find humour in even the worst of situation, otherwise you’re already three-quarters dead. Generally speaking, I think it’s just a way for me to process current topics. Often, we only hear about something in a very serious way, so humour usually helps to digest the same subject in a more approachable way.
Am I right in saying that your work is often about the idea, and seeing how that plays out, rather than a specific visual? Is it sometimes more interesting when things don’t go exactly as planned? The example that springs to mind is the music video you directed for Sigrid’s Mine Right Now, where you had to step in for her as her flight was delayed: do you enjoy when the end result is something you could not have accounted for?
If I could, I would stop after the idea part – that’s when it’s the rawest and purest, and executing it will always influence and warp it a little bit. However, in the case of Sigrid, it taught me a valuable lesson about how important it is to stay extremely flexible and adapt. The result can sometimes be more exciting when you don’t try to control everything.
The shoot was an absolute catastrophe, and we could only show half of what happened. However, I think considering we just went with the flow while everything was crashing down on us, we ended up with a much better video than what I actually had in mind in the first place. It taught me that you can make something nice whatever is thrown at you, you just need to keep an open mind.
You clearly have to be good at adapting to whatever is thrown at you. Is that variation what draws you to this job? Or can it be stressful?
Life is very short, and it’s nice to try and learn as many different things as possible.
You have such a unique point of view as an artist, though I know your book Same, Same but Different is about challenging the perception that having the same ideas or copying is a bad thing. I think you’re right, as we’re always taking inspiration, consciously or otherwise, from our surroundings and interests. What are some of your main influences that have brought you to where you are now as a visual artist?
A magician never reveals his secrets.
I know you recently made the decision to focus on your own personal projects, much like this series, going forward. You seem to always have something on the go, whether it's photography, video, sculpture. What’s next?
More books, more photos, more sculptures, more videos and a whole lot more love.

Rachel Campbell

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