Everyone wants to live forever. Or at the very least, leave something behind that will last. In some ways, that’s the most basic driving force behind graffiti: I was here. Paint washes away, but rock carvings, on the other hand, have a considerably longer half life.
The device you see above is called The Petroglyphomat: A souped-up CNC mill that its creator, the young German artist Lorenz Potthast, has built on a backpack-like rig that allows the user to carry it anywhere. Potthast has also designed stabilising elements that let you operate it nearly anywhere too, whether strapped around a rock or leaning against a wall.
A built-in screen provides the control interface, which is composed of a matrix of “pixels”, each representing a drill hole. You program the icon or letter you want to mill:
And then the mill will cut the image into the surface on which it is placed, like a piece of stone or wood.
If it sounds like a sure-fire way to get arrested for destabilising structures or vandalising public art, don’t fret: Potthast doesn’t plan on doing any damage. Rather, the Petroglyphomat was the thesis for his final year at the University of Arts in Bremen, and it’s less about scribing his name into apartment building facades and more about communicate permanent messages that will last far into the future, like modern hieroglyphics. Here’s how Potthast explains the piece:
The idea is to use long existing, important places which most likely will also exist for a long time in the future as infrastructure and expand them with a new communication layer. The machine creates snapshots of our increasingly digitalized environment by converting pixel-based, iconographical symbols into modern stone engravings (petroglyphs).
Some of our earliest knowledge of humanity comes from the drawings and symbols early humans left behind scrawled on rocks and inside caves. Evidence of our time will go out with the bit-based devices we made it on — it sounds like Potthast wants to leave behind a few physical traces too.