Heureka Useless Machine – Zurich, Switzerland - Atlas Obscura

Heureka Useless Machine

One of a series of no-purpose kinetic artworks by Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely. 


Jean Tinguely was a Swiss sculptor famous for his no-purpose kinetic artworks. Heureka one such useless machine.

The title, “Heureka,” is Ancient Greek for “I’ve got it!” This is meant to be ironic. The sculpture, created in 1964, is an allegory of consumerism in advanced industrial societies. The machine churns and churns but with no purpose, just absurdity.

The Heureka sculpture is made from everyday objects like scrap metal and junk; it’s comprised of various tubes, wheels, iron bars, metal pipes, and electric motors assembled together to create an intricate machine when turned on — or rather, the illusion of one.

Tinguely meant there to be humor in the creation, a poetic recycling of the industrial world. He was a follower of the French Nouveau Réalisme art movement, a 1960s avant-garde style that incorporated elements of the real world and everyday life into artworks, creating a new way to perceive reality.

Part of the movement’s ideology was responding to the new consumerism in Western society. Tinguely was inspired by Dadaism, which challenged the norms of bourgeoisie high society, a kind of artistic anarchy. 

Heureka is one of several kinetic works, or “metamechanics” of Tinguely’s career. Another sculpture, called “Homage to New York,” intentionally partially self-destructed at the Museum of Modern Art.

Tinguely created the Heureka sculpture for the Swiss National Exhibition in Lausanne and it was later moved to Zürich, where you can marvel at it today in all its complex futility.

Tinguely is also responsible for a monstrous, whimsical monument called Le Cyclop hidden deep in the forest of Milly-la-Forêt, France, and was the partner of Niki de Saint Phalle, a prolific outsider sculptor. 

Update August 2018: Unfortunately the sculpture is now heavily obstructed by the popular Allianz Cinema Zürich. A sign has been placed nearby to educate visitors on its significance, but the operation of the machine and the ability to view it closely now remain severely impeded. 

Know Before You Go

From April to October the sculpture is turned on every day at 11:00, 15:00 and 19:00 for 8 minutes.

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