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The Unstable Object Explores The Unseen Fabrication Of Everyday Items

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 26, 2012 6:00PM

2012_04_26_unstable_object.jpg You can buy them everywhere from Sears to Office Max, and you can see them hanging in many a government office, but you can't find out what's special about the clocks from Chicago Lighthouse Industries just by looking at them. These clocks are easy to read, accurate, and last forever. But what's truly special is the circumstances in which they were produced, for while the chances are good that you've seen them hundreds of times, the people who put the clocks haven't seen them once: everyone who puts them together, and many of the people managing the process, are legally blind.

The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, a non-profit over 100 years old, was began producing wall clocks for the federal government a little over 30 years ago. Today, they sell clocks to the General Services Administration, Department of Defense and other federal agencies, and through commercial outlets as well. They are one of the last manufacturers of clocks left in the country.

Filmmaker Daniel Eisenberg, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, filmed the factory floor for his visual essay The Unstable Object, which screens at the Siskel Film Center next Tuesday. How do workers who literally can't see what they are doing achieve assemble precision devices with a guaranteed accuracy of +/- 2 minutes/year? What does such a place look like?

Eisenberg captured two other manufacturing environments for his work, a deafening factory in Turkey where cymbals are cast and hammered out by hand exactly as they have been for hundreds of years, and a Volkswagen factory in Dresden where customers can watch their own luxury automobiles being manufactured along a balletically automatic, state-of-the art assembly line. Eisenberg's exploration of the complex environments where our objects take shape is fascinating.

The Unstable Object screens Tuesday, May 1st at 6 p.m. at The Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Filmmaker Daniel Eisenberg will be present for audience discussion.